Seven Sayings of Abba Moses etc (continued), Book VI End of Book VI
"It means that if we keep our own sins in mind," the old man replied, "we will overlook the sins of our neighbour. It would not make sense for someone with a death in the house to go out and mourn the death of a neighbour. To be as if dead as far as one's neighbour is concerned is to bear the burden of your own sins, and to refrain from passing judgment on everyone as to whether this person is good, this one bad. Do no evil to anyone, don't even think evil of anyone, neither reject the evil doer nor acquiesce in the evil anyone is doing to your neighbour, and all this is to be as if dead as far as one's neighbour is concerned. Don't spread slander about anyone, but say, 'God knows what is in each person', neither listen to anyone spreading slander or collude with him in that slander. And all this is what 'judge not that you be not judged' means (Matthew 7.1). Don't make an enemy of anyone and don't harbour a grudge in your heart. Nor should you feel hatred for anyone who slanders your neighbour, but don't give your assent to his slanders either. Peace of mind is his who does not despise the one who slanders his neighbour, and comfort yourself with these words, 'Short is the time of our labour, eternal the span of our rest', thanks be to the Word of God. Amen."
VI.iv.8. Another old man said, "Our Saviour was born a human being for you; the Son of God came that you might be saved. Without ceasing to be God, he became human; he became a child; he became a 'lector' when he took the book in the synagogue and cried, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and he has anointed me and sent me to preach the good news to the poor' (Luke 4,18) He became a 'subdeacon' when he made a whip of cords to drive the sheep and oxen etcetera out of the temple. He became a 'deacon' when he girded himself with a linen cloth and washed the feet of his disciples, urging them to wash the feet of their brothers. He became a 'presbyter' when he sat in the midst of the elders as he taught them, and he became a 'bishop' as he took bread and blessed it and gave it to his disciples, etcetera. For you he was whipped, for you crucified and killed, and rose the third day and ascended into heaven.
For you he took all these things upon himself, all in accordance with the dispensation of God, all in due order, from which it follows that he has done all things that he might bring us salvation, and will you not therefore bear all things for him? Let us be sober, let us be vigilant, let us give ourselves to prayer, let us do what is pleasing to him that we might attain salvation. Was not Joseph sold into Egypt, a foreign land? Who could take pity on each of the three children taken captive in Babylon? God alone was their protector; he it was who took them up and glorified them because they feared his name. He who has given his whole heart to God does not follow his own will but looks for the guidance of God without anxiety. For if you wish to fulfil your own will without the help of God your labour is but in vain.
VI.iv.9. A brother asked Abba Pastor the meaning of the Scripture, 'Take no thought for the morrow'.
And the old man replied, "This is aimed at the human condition of being constantly tempted and found wanting, so that we should not be worrying about how much longer this state of affairs is to go on, but rather think daily of what is for today, and accept the future without constraint."
VI.iv.10. A brother asked Abba John, "How is it that whatever their own faults people are not ashamed to castigate the faults of others?"
The old man replied by way of a parable: "A certain poor man met a woman more beautiful than the wife he already had and married her as well. Neither of them had any clothes. But when a market was about to be held in a certain place they both said to him that they would like to go with him. So he put them both, naked as they were, into a large wine jar, and crossed over the straits in a small boat to the place where the market was held. At noonday the people dispersed and when one of the women noticed how silent it was she jumped quickly out of the jar, found some discarded offcuts of cloth nearby in which she clothed herself and walked about quite boldly.
The other one, sitting naked in the jar said to the husband, "Just look at that tart, walking about with no proper clothes on."
The husband ruefully replied, "Oh, marvellous! She has covered her embarrassing nakedness as best she could. How is it that you who are completely naked can criticise her who at least is partly clothed?" That is what every fault-finder is like. They don't see their own sins, but they will always bring accusations against others.
VI.iv.11. Some brothers said to Abba Antony, "Give us a word of salvation".
And the old man said, "Look, you've got the Scriptures. Listen to them. What more do you need?"
But they said, "We want to hear what you have got to say, father."
The old man replied, "Hear what the Lord says, 'If anyone strikes you on the left cheek offer him the other" (Matthew 5.39).
They said, "We wouldn't be able to do that."
He said, "If you couldn't offer them the other cheek, at least take the first blow patiently."
They replied, "We couldn't do that either."
He said, "If you couldn't do that either, just be more willing to be struck than to strike."
They replied, "Nor that, either."
Then Antony said to his disciple, "Prepare some nourishing soup for these brothers, for they are very weak."
And to them he said, "If you can't do either this or that what can I do for you? Prayer alone is what you need."
VI.iv.12. (Also in III.84) Abba John said to some of the brothers, "There were once three friends, philosophers, and when one of them was dying he commended his son into the care of the other. When the young man grew up he committed adultery with his guardian's wife. When this was discovered the guardian drove him out, and would not let him back even though he expressed great remorse. He condemned him instead to spending three years with the convicts in the mines before he would consider forgiving him. When the young man came back after three years the guardian said to him, 'And now you can spend another three years paying for your sin by being constantly humiliated by me.'
"And so he lived for another three years like this, after which the guardian said, 'Come now to the city of Athens, where you can learn some philosophy.'
"Now at the gate of the city there was an old philosopher who sat there subjecting those who entered to all kinds of humiliations, this young man included. But when insulted, the young man laughed.
"The old man said, 'How is it that when I insult you, you laugh?'
"The young man replied, 'Wouldn't you expect me to laugh, when I've been subjected to insults for the last three years by way of paying for my sins, but now I'm being insulted free of charge! That's why I laughed.'
"And the old man said, 'Go up, and enter the city.'"
When Abba John had finished telling this story, he added, "This is the gate of the Lord, and the fathers entered rejoicingly after many humiliations."
VI.iv.13. Abba John depicted the pentitent soul like this: "There was a certain beautiful prostitute in a certain city who had many lovers. One of the leading men of that city came to her and said, 'If you would promise to be chaste I would take you for my wife.'
"So she promised, and he took her into his house. When her former lovers looked for her and discovered what an influential man it was who had made her his wife they said, 'If we go to the door of such a powerful man he will know what we want and deal with us accordingly, so let us go round to the back of the house and give our usual whistle. When she hears it she will come out to us and we shall be safe from blame.'
"But when she heard it she closed her ears and ran into the central room of the house and shut the door."
By telling this story the old man represented the prostitute as the soul, her lovers as the vices, the powerful man as Christ the prince, his house the everlasting heavenly mansions, the whistles the malignant demons. If then the soul would be ever faithful and chaste she must run to God.
VI.iv.14. Abba Pastor said, "It is written in Scripture 'If you have a tunic, sell it and buy a sword' (Luke 22.36). What this means is that if you are idle bestir yourself and prepare for battle, that is, the battle against the demons"
VI.iv.15. He also said, "There was a certain old man living in his cell in Egypt being cared for by a brother and a certain virgin. It happened one day that they both came to him at the same time, and it got so late that they were not able to return to their own place, so the old man put a mat down between them for them to sleep on. The brother however was overcome by the desires of the flesh and seduced the poor woman, causing her ruin. But the deed was done and in the morning they departed. The old man knew what had happened but with an eye to the future said nothing. The old man accompanied them a little on their way, appearing to be showing no signs of being upset, and when he turned back they said to each other; 'Do you think he knew about the shameful thing we have done or not?'
"Smitten with repentance they went back and said 'Holy father, were you aware that the enemy had seduced us and laid us low or not?'
"And he said 'I did know, my children.
"' They said 'Where were your thoughts, then at the time of our downfall?'
"He replied ' My thoughts at that time were with the crucified Christ. I was standing and weeping, as much for me as for you. But the Lord foretold me your repentance, so I declare that what you have lost through pride you will with the more diligence pursue, as your wounds are healed.'
"They accepted a penitential discipline from him, and departed each with renewed determination towards achieving the goal of being chosen vessels."
VI.iv.16. A certain philosopher asked holy Antony, "How is it, father, that you can be content with being unable to make use of books?"
He replied, "My books, my philosophic friend, consist in the works of natural creation, and whenever I want to read the word of God they are always there."
VI.iv.17. Someone parched with thirst in the midday heat once asked Abba Macarius for a drink of water and he replied, "Be content with this bit of shade, which is more than many travellers and sailors are able to enjoy at this moment."
VI.iv.18. When I asked that same person for advice about how to exercise moderation, he replied, "Act with confidence, my son. For myself, I have never fully satisfied myself in respect of food, drink or sleep for the last twenty years. I have a set measure of bread, and water accordingly, and I gladly take a little sleep to the extent of leaning up against a wall."
VI.iv.19. A brother asked an old man whether visitors should eat with the brothers. The old man replied, "It is only with women that you don't eat."
VI.iv.20. A brother asked Abba Isidore of Scete about thoughts of sex. He replied, "When thoughts of sex come, filling and disturbing the mind, even when they do not overcome us and spill over into acts, they do nevertheless hinder us in our search for virtue. The serious minded person however will cut them off and take himself to prayer."
VI.iv.21 On the same subject this old man added, "If we did not have thoughts we would simply be like brute beasts. But just as the enemy seeks out his own, so we ought to fulfil what is incumbent upon us. Stand in prayer and the enemy is put to flight. Spend time in meditating upon God, and you will conquer. Perseverance in good works brings victory. Strive and you will be crowned."
VI.iv.22. An old man said, "Keeping the thought of death in mind will invariably conquer fearfulness".
VI.iv.23. Amma Syncletica said, "Our adversary is more easily overcome by those who possess nothing, for he can't find anything to harm them with. Freed from care about money and other riches, they habitually conquer by being mindful of their dire straits and of temptations which separate from God."
VI.iv.24. Again she said, "There are those who work hard and risk the dangers of the sea in gathering together tangible riches, but the more they have the more they go on desiring more, and regard their present wealth as nothing. We, however, for the love of God have renounced possessing anything."
VI.iv.25. An old man said, "Anyone who nourishes malice in his heart is like someone keeping fire in the midst of chaff."
VI.iv.26. An old man said, "If you speak to anyone on the subject of eternal life, let your words be with compunction and tears for the one who is listening. Otherwise don't say anything lest you be found wanting by hurrying to try and save someone with unwelcome words. For God says to the sinner, 'Who are you to talk about my judgments, or to bear witness to me with your mouth?' (Psalm 50.16).
Rather say, "I am a dog, and less than a dog in so far as a dog loves his master and does not sit in judgment upon him."
VI.iv.27. A brother asked an old man, "How is it that the soul is attached to uncleanness?"
The old man replied, "The soul generally wants to give free rein to the passions. It is the spirit of God who keeps it safe. Therefore we ought to weep, and take diligent thought about our uncleannesses. You have the example of Mary who fell down before the sepulchre of the Lord and wept. And the Lord called her by name. It is the same with the soul."
VI.iv.28. A brother asked an old man, "How do you define sin?"
And the old man replied, "Sin is when people take no thought for their own misdeeds but presume to teach others. And so the Lord says, 'You hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck of dust out of your brother's eye' (Matthew 7.5)."
VI.iv.29. A brother asked an old man, "What shall I do, for I find it painful to undertake even the smallest of struggles."
And the old man replied, "Don't be surprised at that. Joseph when captive in Egypt, the land of those who worshipped idols, underwent many temptations boldly, and God glorified him in the end. Look also at Job who maintained his fear of God right to the end, so that no one was able to disturb his hope in God."
VI.iv.30. A soldier asked an old man whether God accepted repentance. The old man offered him many helpful thoughts and finally said to him, "Tell me, my friend, if your military cloak gets torn do you throw it away?"
He replied, "No, I patch it up and keep on using it."
The old man said to him , "If you take pity on your own clothing, will not God be forgiving towards his own image?"
VI.iv.31. There was a certain brother living in his own cell who would wait around till last after Mass in the hope that someone would invite him back for a meal. But one day at the end of Mass he went out before everyone else and ran back to his cell. The presbyter noticed him running and wondered why. Next week when the brother came into the church gathering the presbyter asked him, "Tell me truly, brother, how is it that you used always to wait till last after the service except that last Sunday you went out before everyone?"
The brother replied, "I used never to cook my own lunch, so I waited about in the hope that someone would invite me back for a meal. But last Sunday I cooked a few lentils before I came, so that at the end of the sacred mysteries I went home." When he heard this the presbyter made a rule that all the brothers should prepare a meal for themselves before coming to church so that they could speedily return to their own cells.
VI.iv.32. Once when the district judge came to the region where Abba Pastor lived the local people came to Pastor and asked him to come to the judge and plead for them.
"Give me three days, and then I will come", Pastor replied.
And the old man prayed to the Lord, saying, "Lord, please don't give me success in this undertaking, otherwise people will not leave me in peace in this place."
When the old man came before the judge to plead, the judge said, "Surely you are not asking favours for robbers, abba?"
The old man rejoiced that he did not find favour in the sight of the judge, just as he had asked, and he returned to his own cell.
VI.iv.33. The old men used to say, "Just as Moses spoke with God when he entered into the cloud, and with the people when he came out, so does the monk speak with God when he is in his cell, but when he comes out with the demons."
VI.iv.34. A young man came to Abba Macarius to be cured of a demon, and while he was waiting outside a brother from another monastery arrived and seduced that young man into sexual misconduct. When the old man came out he saw that brother sinning with the young man, but did not explode in anger, merely saying, "If God who made them can see them and be patient with them, even though he could burn them to ashes if he wanted to, who am I to say anything?"
VI.iv.35. They tell a story of a certain old man who lived in solitude in lower Egypt with a single secular to minister to him. It so happened that the son of that servant fell ill and he begged the old man to come and pray for him. So the old man bestirred himself and went with him. But the servant ran on before him and going in to his home he called out, "Come and meet this solitary".
When the old man saw them from afar coming out with torches, he realised that they were coming out to meet him, and took off his robes and began to wash them in the river, standing there completely nude. The servant was embarrassed to see him standing there nude and said to his companions, "Go back! This old man seems to be having a brainstorm!"
And going up to the old man he said, "Why did you do that? They were all saying that you had been overcome by a demon."
And he said, "And that was what I was wanting to hear."
VI.iv.36. Certain of the seniors asked Abba Pastor, "If we see a brother sinning should we rebuke him?"
Abba Pastor replied, "For myself if I were to pass by and see him sinning I would continue on my way and not say anything. I know it is written in the Scriptures 'Bear witness to what you see with your own eyes' but I also say to you 'Don't bear witness to anything that you have not touched with your own hands'.
"For there was once a brother who was deceived into thinking that another brother was sinning with a woman, and after much mental conflict, believing that they were having sex, he went up to them and kicked them, saying 'Stop that'. And it turned out that they were only bundles of harvested wheat. That's why I say, 'Don't bear witness to anything that you haven't touched with your own hands.'"
VI.iv.37. The story is told of a certain brother who lived in the desert and was led astray by demons for many years, although he thought they were angels. From time to time his father according to the flesh would go and visit him, and one day he took an axe with him thinking that on the way home he might cut some firewood. But a demon went before him and said to his son, "Watch out! There is a devil coming to you in the likeness of your father, carrying an axe in his basket in order to attack you. Get in before him, take the axe from him and fight him off."
And so when the father came to him as usual, his son took the axe from him, hit him with it and killed him. And the evil spirit continued to stick to him and dragged him down to nothingness ('ossocavit', not in my dictionary, but presumably related to ossis a bone, therefore 'ossified' him).
Home List of Contents Next Top of Page