Prayer without Ceasing (continued) Book V
(Hospitality begins further down page, and Obedience further down still)
V.xii. 11. It was said of abba Sisois that if he did lower his hands fairly quickly when standing to pray his mind would get caught up into higher realms. If another brother happened to be praying with him he hurried even more quickly to lower his hands lest his mind get caught up and he die.
V.xii. 12. An old man said, "Earnest prayer heals the mind."
V.xii. 13. One of the fathers said, "Just as you can't see your own face in water which is disturbed, so is it impossible to contemplate and pray to God if the mind is full of strange thoughts."
V.xii. 14. An old man visiting in Mount Sinai was about to leave when he met another brother who said to him in some distress, "We are in dire trouble, father, because of this drought; there is no rain at all." And the old man said, "Why don't you pray and beseech God?" "We have done that", he said, "and begged God earnestly. but it still hasn't rained." And the old man said, "I don't believe you have prayed earnestly enough. Would you like to know why? Come, stand here and pray with me." And lifting up his hands to heaven he prayed, and it began to rain. When the brother saw this he was greatly afraid, and fell down to worship him, but the old man fled.
V.xii. 15. Some brothers told of how they once went to visit some old men and after the customary greetings and prayers they sat down to talk. And when they were about to depart after their talk they asked if there could be some further prayers. One of the old men then asked them, "What? Haven't you already said some prayers?" "Yes," they replied, "but the prayers were said when we arrived. Since then we have been talking right up to this minute." And the old man said, "I'm sorry, brothers, but there is one who has been sitting and talking here who has said a hundred and three prayers." Having said that he did say a prayer and let them go.
Libellus 13 Hospitality
V.xiii. 1. (Also in III.47, slightly different) Some fathers once came to abba Joseph to ask him how you should receive visiting brethren and whether you should relax your usual rule of abstinence and rejoice with them. Before they had had a chance to ask him he had already said to his disciple; "Mark well what I am doing today and concentrate on it." And he placed two chairs made of rushes bound into small strands, one on the left and one on the right and said, "Please sit down." He then went into the cell and put on some old clothes, came out to them, and then went back and put on the clothes he was previously wearing before coming back to them again. Astonished at what he was doing they asked him what it was all about, and he said, "You've seen what I have been doing." "Yes, indeed," the said. "Was I a different person, wearing the old clothes?" he asked. "No, of course not," they said. "And was I any the worse for wearing better clothes?" he asked. "No," they said. "So I was the same person in both cases, and just as I wasn't different wearing the old clothes or any the worse for wearing better clothes so should we be in receiving visiting brethren. It says in the gospel, 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's (Matt 22.21); so when brothers are with you, you ought to rejoice, time enough to mourn when you are alone." They were very impressed with what he had said, since he knew what they had had in mind even before they had asked him anything at all, and they glorified God.
V.xiii. 2. Abba Cassian said, "After we had left Egypt we visited a certain old man in Palestine, who overwhelmed us by his hospitality, and we asked how it was that when he received visitors he did not observe the rule of fasting as was customary in Egypt. And he replied, 'I can fast any time, but you I only have for a while. Fasting, of course, is useful and even necessary, but it depends on our own will. It is the law of God, however, which enjoins the fulness of charity. Receiving you as we would Christ we are bound to take every care to fulfil every thing that charity demands. After you have gone then I can resume my rule of fasting. "Can the sons of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is still with them? When the bridegroom is taken away, then they will fast. "(Matthew 9.15)'"
V.xiii. 3. Again he said, "We visited one old man who gave us a meal and after we had eaten enough he still kept on urging us to have some more. And when I said, 'I really couldn't eat another thing' he said, "I have entertained various brothers six times recently, and pressed food on all of them, and eaten myself at the same time, but I still have a good appetite. So why should you not be able to eat any more when you have only been feasted once?'"
V.xiii. 4. The rule was once made in Scete that they should fast for the whole week before celebrating Easter. It happened, however, that some brothers came from Egypt that week to visit abba Moses, who cooked a little pulse for them. When the neighbours saw the smoke of his fire they reported him to the clergy of the local church, saying, "Look, Moses has broken the rules and is cooking pulse." "We'll speak to him about it when he comes," the clerics said. On the Sunday, when they realised what hospitality Moses had been offering they said to him in the presence of all the people, "Moses, you have broken a man-made rule but you have committed yourself totally to the Law of God."
V.xiii. 5. A brother came to abba Pastor in the second week of Lent to seek some advice about what was going on in his mind, and when he had had a satisfactory answer he said, "I wasn't quite sure whether to come to you today or not." "Why not?" the old man said. "I was afraid that seeing it was Lent you wouldn't open your door to me," he replied. And abba Pastor said, "I don't know anything about shutting a door of wood. It is the door of the tongue that we need to keep shut."
V.xiii. 6. A brother said to abba Pastor, "Whenever I give my brother a piece of bread or anything the demons always spoil it for me, making out that I am only doing it for the sake of human praise." And the old man said, "Even though such acts do seem to be like that, nevertheless it is always right to supply your brother with what he lacks." And he went on to tell this parable, "There were two farmers living in the same area, and one of them sowed seed but reaped a harvest which was meagre and of poor quality. The other one, however, sowed no seed at all, and consequently reaped nothing. If there had been a famine which of them would have been able to get by?" "The one who had gathered a harvest," said the brother, "even though it was small and deficient." And the old man said, "Well then, let us just sow a few little things, even if flawed, lest we die in the time of famine."
V.xiii. 7. A brother visited a certain solitary and when it came time to leave he said, "Forgive me, father, I've hindered you in your rule of life." "My rule," he said, "is to welcome you hospitably and send you on your way in peace."
V.xiii. 8. There was a solitary fairly near a monastery who observed a number of strict rules. It so happened that some people visiting at the monastery went out to visit the solitary as well, with whom they had a meal even though it was not the regular mealtime. Afterwards the brothers said to him, "Wasn't that a great grief to you, father?" And he replied, "The only grief I ever have is to be self-willed."
V.xiii. 9. It was said of an old man who lived near the road to the desert that he took upon himself the task of eagerly offering hospitality, no matter what time it was, to any monk as he came out. He offered one such solitary a meal on one occasion, but he refused, saying that he was fasting. The old man was disappointed and said, "I wouldn't want you to neglect what is important to you, but on the other hand please don't ignore me entirely. Come, let's pray together, and as you will see, this tree here will imitate anyone who bends the knee and bows in prayer." So the solitary knelt in prayer, but the tree did not move. The old man then knelt and immediately the tree bent forward with him. When they saw this they were delighted and gave thanks to God for this great miracle.
V.xiii. 10. Two brothers visited an old man who did not usually eat every day. But when he saw them coming he welcomed them and said, "Fasting has its own reward, but anyone who eats for charity's sake (friendship's sake?) fulfils two commandments, for he both abandons his own will and also obeys the commandment to give refreshment to the brethren."
V.xiii. 11. There was an old man in Egypt who lived in a remote place quite a long way away from a man called Manichaeus, who was one of those who called themselves presbyters but weren't really. Manichaeus was on a journey to someone else of the same misguided persuasion when night overtook him near the dwelling of this other holy and orthodox old man. Rather worried, he felt like knocking on the old man's door to ask if he could stay the night but hesitated because he knew that he would be recognised as Manichaeus and refused entry, but necessity at last overruled him and he knocked. The old man opened the door, recognised him, welcomed him perfectly happily, prayed with him, gave him food and showed him where to sleep for the night. Manichaeus thought about this during the night and was quite astonished, wondering how it was that this old man had not treated him with suspicion. "This is truly a man of God," he said to himself. When he got up in the morning he fell at the old man's feet, saying, "As from today I return to orthodoxy, and would like to remain with you." And so he did from that time forth.
V.xiii. 12. There was a monk of the Thebaid whose gift from God was to minister to the poor according to their need. It so happened once that when doing an agape somewhere a woman came in dressed in very shabby old clothes. Seeing her dressed so poorly impelled him to put his hand in his pocket and give her a considerable sum, but when he opened his hand it contained almost nothing. There was another woman there very well dressed and her clothing made him want to give her very little, but when he opened his hand it contained a large sum. After making enquiries about both the women he learned that the well dressed one was an honest woman who had fallen on very hard times and had been given the good clothing because of her family's reputation, whereas the other one had deliberately worn shabby clothing in the hope of being given more.
V.xiii. 13. Hardly worthwhile translating - being a story the point of which is that if seculars give alms to monks the monks will bless them and the secular work of the almsgiver will prosper accordingly. "Medieval" notions of the monasteries being the praying class for the benefit of seculars seem to have crept in remarkably early!
V.xiii. 14. An old man told a story of how a certain person who gave alms frequently could be afflicted by the devil with so much scrupulosity in small things that he lose the reward due to him from all the others. It concerned a presbyter whom he was visiting in Oxyrinchus, who gave many free handouts. A widow came to him asking for a little wheat, and he told her to bring a standard measure back to him and he would fill it up. When she brought the measure however he complained to her that it was oversize, which made the widow feel very ashamed. After the widow had gone the old man asked the presbyter, "Were you lending the widow that wheat, or what?" "No, it was a gift," he replied. And the old man said, "Well, if it was a totally free gift what was the point of your scruples about a trifling amount extra. All you achieved was to make her feel ashamed."
V.xiii. 15. There was a very kindhearted old man who lived a common life with one other brother. It happened that there was a famine and people began to come to him in the hope of receiving charity (agape), and the old man did indeed share his bread with all who came. When the brother saw what was happening he said to the old man, "Let me have my share of the bread, and you can do what you like with yours." So the old man did indeed divide the bread up and continued to give some of it away as usual out of his share. Lots of people began to come, having heard that he was giving to everyone, and the Lord seeing how his mind was set blessed the bread. But the brother who had taken his share and was giving to no one soon ate it all and said to the old man, "Father, there is only a little bit left of my share of the bread. Can you take me back into a common life again?" "Just as you like," said the old man. And they began to live their common life again. Another shortage of food occurred and the needy came once more to beg alms (agape). And it happened one day that the brother went in and found that the bread supply was almost gone when a poor person came begging alms. The old man said to the brother, "Give him some bread," and the brother replied, "There isn't any, father." And the old man said, "Go in and make sure." The brother went in and looked, and found the place where the bread was kept full of bread. When he saw this he was dumbfounded and gave some bread to the poor person, and suddenly realised the faith and goodness of the old man, and he glorified God.
Libellus 14 Obedience
V.xiv. 1. Abba Arsenius of blessed memory once said to abba Alexander, "When you have used up all your palm leaves come to me and we shall have some food, but if any pilgrims turn up eat with them." Abba Alexander however was but a rather slow and indifferent worker and when the usual time for a meal came he still had some palms left. Wishing to fulfil what abba Arsenius had said, he kept on working in order to use his palms up. When abba Arsenius realised he hadn't turned up, he began the meal without him, thinking that perhaps some pilgrims had arrived and that he was eating with them. He didn't come back to abba Arsenius until Vespers were over and abba Arsenius said, "You had some pilgrims then?" "No," he said. "Why didn't you come then?" he asked. And he replied, "Because you said not to come until I had used up all my palms. So I kept in mind what you had said and didn't come because I was only half way through." The old man was very impressed by how exactly he had obeyed, and said, "You can stop your work now, and sing some psalms, and refresh yourself with some water lest your body suffers."
V.xiv. 2. While abba Abraham was visiting abba Arem and they were sitting down together a brother came and said to abba Arem, "Tell me what I should do to be walking on the path of salvation." And the old man said, "Go and spend a year waiting till after Vespers before eating your bread and salt, and then come back and I will talk to you," which he conscientiously did. After a year he came back to abba Arem and it so happened that abba Abraham was again with him at the time. Abba Arem said to the brother, "Go and fast for another year, eating only every other day." After he had gone abba Abraham said to abba Arem, "Why do you impose only light regimes on all the other brothers except this one whom you load up so heavily?" And the old man said, "Other brothers come and go, but this one is really searching for the word of God and works diligently. Whatever I tell him he carries out with the utmost care. So therefore I speak to him the word of God."
V.xiv. 3. It is said of abba John the Dwarf that he went to an old man of Thebes who at that time was living in the desert of Scete. This old man took a dry stick and planted it in the ground. saying, "Pour a jug of water around it each day until it bears fruit." The water was such a long way off that when he went to get it at a late hour he wouldn't get back till morning, but after three years the stick thrived and bore fruit. The old man took some of the fruit to the church and said to the brethren, "Have some of this and eat the fruit of obedience."
V.xiv. 4. (A shorter version of III.27) John, the disciple of abba Paul was said to be of remarkable obedience. There were some tombs in a certain place frequented by a fierce lioness, and when abba Paul saw some of her droppings in that place he said to John, "Go and bring those droppings back here." "And what if I should see the lioness, father?" he asked. And the old man just smiled and said, "If it comes at you tie it up and bring it here." John went out that evening and there was the lioness coming towards him, but mindful of what the old man had said he rushed towards it trying to grab it. The lioness fled and he rushed after it, crying, "Wait! My abba has told me that I have to tie you up" And catch her and tie her up he did. The old man had been waiting for him for a long time and was beginning to get worried, when at last he came back, leading the lioness after him. The old man was amazed, but wishing to give him a lesson in humility he struck him a blow, and said, "Stupid! Why have you brought back this ridiculous dog to me?" and he loosed the lioness and let her go back to her own place.
V.xiv. 5. It was said of abba Silvanus that he had a disciple in Scete called Mark who copied ancient writings, and whose obedience was exemplary. Silvanus loved him for his obedience. He had eleven other disciples who were however jealous because he loved Mark more than he loved them. When the neighbouring seniors heard about this they were annoyed that he should love one more than the others, so one day they went to visit Silvanus who came out of his cell and beckoning them to follow went and knocked on the door of each of his disciples in turn, saying, "Brother, can you come please? I need your help." And there wasn't one who came out immediately. He then knocked on Mark's door, and called him, "Mark!" And as soon as he heard the old man's voice he came out ready to do whatever job he was asked. So abba Silvanus said to the old men, "See now, where are the other brothers?" And going into Mark's cell he found a manuscript which he had just begun and had got only as far as a letter O. When he had heard the old man's voice he hadn't formed it completely, the pen had not been turned around the whole way in order to finish off the letter which he had started. And the old men said, "Truly, father, the one you love we must love too since it is obvious that he is beloved of God"
V.xiv. 6. The mother of this Mark, together with several companions, once came to visit him. Abba Silvanus went out to meet her and she asked him to ask Mark to come out so that she could see him. Silvanus went in and said to Mark, "Go out. Your mother wants to see you." So he put on an old sack, torn and patched, and put ashes and soot from the fire on his head and face, before fulfilling his obedience to his abba by going out. He greeted his mother and those with him with his eyes all screwed up and just said, "I hope you are well." No one, not even his mother, recognised him, so she went again to the old man and said, "Father, send my son out so that I can see him." Abba Silvanus said to Mark, "Didn't I tell you to go out and see your mother?" to which Mark replied, "But it was me who went out just now as you told me to, father, only please don't ask me to go out again lest I should seem to disobedient to you." The old man went out again and said to the mother, "It was your son who came out to you just now and greeted you with the words; "I hope you are well." With that she had to be satisfied, and so she made her departure.
V.xiv. 7. Four brothers dressed in skins once came from Scete to abba Pambo, and each of them spoke of the others' strong points while they were out of earshot. One of them fasted a lot, another had no possessions, another was brimming over with charity, but the fourth was said to have lived for twenty years in continuous obedience to the seniors. Abba Pambo said, "I tell you that this last one is greater than all the others, for each of the strong points of the others is exercised without any denial of self will. This last, however, has mortified his self will (or 'ceased to follow his own bent'?) and has made himself subject to the will of another. Such men are to be rated as 'confessors', if only they can persevere in this path till the end."
V.xiv. 8. Someone wanting to be a monk came to abba Sisois in Thebes, and Sisois asked him if he had any worldly responsibilities. "I have a son," he replied. "Go and throw him in the river, "said the old man, "and then you can become a monk." As he went away intending to do this, the old man sent one of the brothers to prevent him doing so. The brother stopped him as he was on the point of throwing him in and said, "Wait! What do you think you are doing?" "The abba told me to throw him in," he replied. "Well, the abba has sent me to tell you not to." said the brother. So he left his son and went back to the abba, and became an exemplary monk because of his obedience.
V.xiv. 9. Holy Syncletica said, "We who live in community can prove to anybody that obedience is an even greater virtue than continence. For continence is always in danger of breeding arrogance, but obedience always brings humility in its train."
V.xiv. 10. Again she said, "We who live in community should discipline ourselves not to be always seeking to serve our own interests, or bend everything to our own will. Rather, living as exiles, we should have handed ourselves over to a single fatherland of faith, distancing ourselves from any worldly ways. Having left the world we should not feel the need for anything further from it. There we might have achieved fame. There we had luxury living. Here there is but a meagre supply of bread."
V.xiv. 11. Abba Hyperichius said, "Obedience is the chief work of the monk, for he who has it hears what is demanded of him and with complete trust adheres to the cross. The Lord himself endured the cross, having become obedient unto death."
V.xiv. 12. An old man said, "If you trust someone and give yourself to him in obedience, you need not concentrate on keeping the commandments of God, because as long as you commit yourself wholeheartedly to your spiritual father and obey him in everything, you are sure to be free from sin in God's eyes." [This could possibly be used as a good succinct exposition of what obedience is not]
V.xiv. 13. An old man said, "What God requires of Christians is that they obey (or 'live by'?) the divine Scriptures wherein they may find a model of how to speak and act, and to consent to the teachings of the orthodox fathers."
V.xiv. 14. A brother in Scete was on the way out at harvest time when he approached an eminent old man and asked him, "Tell me father what shall I be doing in the harvesting?" And the old man said, "If I tell you will you do as I say?" "Yes, I will follow your instructions," replied the brother. And the old man said, "If you are willing to listen to me, don't go out to the harvesting but come with me and I will tell you what to do." So the brother turned back from going to harvest and went with the old man. And the old man said, "Go into your cell and spend fifty days without a break eating bread and salt once a day. Then come back and I will tell you what to do next." This he did, and so came back to the old man, who, knowing that this brother was a diligent workman, then told him how to conduct himself in his cell. The brother went to his cell and stretched himself out on the floor for three days and three nights, weeping in the sight of God, after which his thoughts said to him, "How greatly exalted you have now become," but he countered the wickedness of such thoughts by humbly calling to mind his frailty, saying; "And what about all the sins which I have committed?" and if the thought of how he had neglected the commandments of God threatened to overwhelm him he said, "Nevertheless I will do what little I can to serve God and I believe he will have mercy on me." In this way he conquered the demons of his evil thoughts, until they visibly appeared to him, saying, "You have put us to confusion. When we praised you up to the heights you ran back to humility, and when we brought you down low you rose up on high."
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