Chapter VII (continued), Book VII
Hearing this made the brother fall down at his feet and beg forgiveness, and promise not to quarrel with the brother who had angered him.
VII.vii.2. (Also in III.78) A certain brother when insulted by another came to an old man and told him all about it. The old man said, "Calm yourself down with the thought that it was not you he was getting at but your sins. In every trial which comes to you, don't argue, just say to yourself, 'It is because of my own sins that this is happening to me.'"
VII.vii.3. (Also in III.79 & V.x.53) Abba Pimenius often used to say, "Never let yourself be overcome by malice. If someone does evil to you, give him back good, so that the good may overcome the evil."
VII.vii.4. (Also in III.80 & V.xvi.12) There was a brother who when anyone harmed him or insulted him always went back for more.
"These insults are giving me an opportunity to advance towards perfection", he would say. "Those who praise us deceive us, and turn aside our feet from the path."
VII.vii.5. (Also in III.81) There was another old man who would hurry over to anyone who slandered him, if he was near at hand, in order to thank him for it. If he lived at a distance he would send gifts.
No revenge on one's enemies
VII.viii.1 (Also in III.82) A certain brother asked abba Sisois, "If robbers or barbarians attacked me and tried to kill me, should I kill them if I had the opportunity?"
He replied, "No don't do that. You will simply be called a murderer. Just commit yourself totally to God. Whatever the misfortune, think that it comes because of your sins, and whatever good comes to you ascribe it all to divine providence."
VII.vii.2. (Also in III.83) There was a famous hermit in Mount Athabeos who was attacked by robbers. He called for help so loudly that some brothers who lived nearby came rushing in and overpowered them. They were then taken to the city where a judge sent them to prison. Now the brothers began to be very upset because they had caused the robbers to be handed over to punishment, and they came to abba Pimenius and told him all about it. Pimenius wrote to the hermit urging him to look carefully into where the mistake first originated, "for", he said, "if you had not first been deceived in your heart the second mistake would not have happened." The hermit was so conscience-stricken by this that, famous though he was for not having gone out for such a long time, he immediately got up and went to the city and got the robbers publicly exonerated and freed from the prison.
VII.ix.1. (Also in V.xvi.11) Someone who saw a a corpse being laboriously carried in a stretcher said, "Carrying the dead are you? you would to better to be carrying the living. 'For the peacemakers shall be called the sons of God'" (Matthew 5.9).
VII.ix.2. (Also in III.86 & V.xv.17) When some of the brothers asked abba Moyses for a word, Moyses bade his disciple Zacharias say something. Zacharias threw his mantle down on the ground and stamped on it.
"You can't be a monk unless you are willing to be trampled on," he said.
VII.ix.3. Abba Antony spoke a prophetic word to abba Ammon:
"You have got a great deal to learn about the fear of God."
He took him outside the cell and showed him a stone, saying, "Insult this stone. Beat it without ceasing."
After he had done this, holy Antony asked him whether the stone had made any reply.
"No," he answered.
Abba Antony said, "You also will arrive at the realisation that nothing can do you any harm."
Giving up even good things for the sake of peace
VII.x.1. (Also in III.94) There was a time when abba Motois built a monastery [= 'cell'] for himself in the place called Heracleona. But when he found the presence of so many other people irksome he went somewhere else and built himself a similar monastery. By the wiles of the devil he came up against another brother there who enviously quarrelled with him, so he left and went back to his original neighbourhood where he built another monastery, inside which he shut himself up. After a while the old men in the place that he had left gathered together and decided to go and ask him to come back, taking with them the brother who had quarrelled with him. When they got near to where he was they left that brother in charge of their cloaks and went themselves to knock on the old man's door. He recognised them through the open window, and after having said the usual prayers said, "Where are your cloaks?"
They replied, "They are nearby with that brother who quarrelled with you."
After the old man had heard this and recognised the name of the brother who had come with them he joyfully took an axe to break down his door behind which he had shut himself up and ran to where the brother was. He apologised first, and embraced him, and invited them all into his cell where he entertained them for three days, even though he had the reputation of never being in the habit of relaxing his fast. In the end he got up and went back with them.
VII.x.2. A brother asked abba Elias how he should go about being reconciled with someone whom he had upset. The old man replied, "Go and apologise to him from the bottom of your heart, and God who sees what you have done will win him over".
Sadness which leads to despair
VII.xi.1. (A shorter version of V.xv.51) Abba Arsenius said, "If you put a bit of unbaked tile into your foundations near a river, it won't last for a day. But if it is well baked it becomes like a stone. Now it was said of Joseph that the word of the Lord inflamed him (Psalms 105.19). But if a man has not been baked in the fire he will perish at the first onset of carnal thoughts.
VII.xi.2. He was also asked by another brother what he should do if at the moment when he committed a sin his thoughts took over and began to argue with him about why he committed the sin.
The old man answered, "Whenever you fall into sin say from the bottom of your heart, 'Lord God I have sinned, forgive me', and your thoughts will cease, being filled with remorse."
VII.xi.3. (Also in III.101) Abba Pimenius used to say that abba Isidore was the only one who truly knew himself. Whenever his thoughts told him how great he was he replied, "Are you the equal of Antony, or, indeed, abba Piamon or the rest of the fathers who were all pleasing to God?"
These thoughts quietened him down. When a demon worried him with thoughts of despair and punishment, saying, "After all this you will have to go to the place of torment", he replied, "Even if I am sent into torment, at least I shall find that you are lower down than I."
VII.xi.4. (Also in III.102) Evil spirits often appeared to abba Moses saying, "You have beaten us, Moses, and we can't do anything to you, for as often as we try to humiliate you into the depths of despair you are uplifted, and as often as you are uplifted you humiliate yourself in such a way that none of us can get near you."
VII.xi.5. (Also in III.103) A certain brother frequently used to come to Abba Sisois saying, "I have fallen. What shall I do, father?"
To which he replied, "Get up again."
And he did get up.
And again he confessed that he had fallen
And again he replied, "Get up again."
The brother kept on confessing his fallings and risings and the old man kept on telling him not to fail to get up again, until at last the brother said, "Explain to me, father, how long it is possible to go on getting up."
And the old man said, "Until you die - caught either in the midst of a good deed or a bad one. For in whatever kind of deed you are taken, by that you will be judged."
VII.xi.6. He also said, "Anyone who works hard and congratulates himself on having done something, will receive his reward in this life."
The Spirit of Vainglory
VII.xii.1. (Also in III.110) A certain brother asked Abba Pimenius whether it was better to live by yourself or with others, and the old man said, "If people are critical of themselves they will persevere anywhere, but if they exaggerate their own importance they will nowhere endure. People should not boast about any good they might have done, for it might well be perishable."
VII.xii.2. If anyone approached abba Macarius reverentially for advice, as if he were a saint, he would find himself subject to suspicion and hardly get any reply at all. But if he affected to despise him and used some such words as these: "Abba Macarius, when you were a camel driver and were in the habit of stealing salt weren't you caught stealing and condemned to be flogged by the magistrates?" then he replied quite freely to whatever he was asked.
VII.xii.3. (Also in V.viii.12) Abba Nistoron the Greater was walking in the desert with some others when they saw a large snake and fled. One of the brothers said to him, "And you were afraid, too, father?"
"I wasn't afraid, my son," he replied. "But it was a good thing to flee, since if I hadn't I could not have avoided being accused of being vainglorious."
VII.xii.4. (Also in III.111) On one occasion a certain brother from Egypt visiting Abba Zeno in Syria began to accuse himself of his own thoughts in the old man's presence. And the old man marvelled, saying, "These Egyptians conceal the virtues which they do have and display vices that they don't have, whereas Syrians and Greeks preach about virtues which they don't possess and keep hidden the vices which they do possess."
VII.xii.5. (Also in III.116 & V.xi.38) One old man said to another, "I am dead to this world."
"Don't be too sure of yourself," said the other, "until it is time for you to depart from out of your body. However much you may say that you are dead, the devil is not dead, and his wiles are without number."
VII.xii.6. Abba Sisois was sitting down with another brother when he was taken up into an ecstasy, and unwittingly heaved a great sigh, which the other brother heard. He began to apologise, saying, "Forgive me, brother, I realise that I am not yet a real monk, sighing like that with someone else listening to me.
VII.xii.7. (Also in III.118 VI.iv.35) There was an old man living in the inner desert who stayed there quietly, ministered to by a devout secular man. It so happened that the son of this man fell ill, and with many prayers he begged the old man to come to his house and pray for the child. The old man got up and was walking back with him when the man ran on ahead to his house and went in crying, "Come out to meet the anchorite." When the old man saw them from afar, carrying torches, he realised that they were coming to meet him, so he stripped off his clothes and plunged them into the river, and began to wash them as he stood there naked.
When his friend saw it he blushed, and cried to his companions, "Go back, for the old man has lost his wits."
And going up to the old man he asked him what he was doing, for everyone who saw him had said, "The old man has a demon!"
"And that is exactly what I wanted to hear," he said.
VII.xii.8. (Also in V.viii.18) On another occasion a judge came looking for him and some clerics came before him and warned him, saying, "Father, get yourself ready, for a governor who has heard of you is coming to see you to receive your blessing."
"Right. I'll get ready then," he replied, and going to his larder he got out some bread and cheese and sat down to eat it in the doorway of his cell, dressed in shabby garments, with his legs stretched out. The judge arrived with his staff, and when he saw the old man he was disillusioned, saying, "So this is the solitary monk of whom so many tales are told!" And he turned round and went home.
The Spirit of Pride
VII.xiii.1. (Also in III.112 & V.xv.56) An old man said, "Anyone freely praised by people is in not a little danger to his soul. But anyone not held in honour among people will finally be given glory."
VII.xiii.2. (Also in III.113 & V.viii.20) The same man said, "Seed will not germinate among weeds, and it is impossible for those who get praise and glory from the world to enjoy the harvest of heaven.
VII.xiii.3. (Also in III.115 & V.xv.54) The same man said, "When you are assaulted by thoughts of vainglory or pride, examine yourself whether you have obeyed all God's commandments, loved your enemies, rejoiced in the success of your enemy and been saddened at his fall. If you constantly realise that you are an unprofitable servant and a greater sinner than all others, you will never then think highly of yourself however much good you may do, for you will remember that any boastful thought undoes all the good."
VII.xiii.4. (Also in V.xv.55) An old man said, "Do not set yourself up against your brother, claiming that you are more reliable or abstinent than he. Be subject to the grace of God in the spirit of poverty and unfeigned charity, lest puffed up by the spirit of pride you lose all the fruit of your previous labours."
VII.xiii.5. (Also in III.171 & V.xv.77) Again he said, "Insofar as a man immerses himself in humility, so may he be exalted on high. Pride which would exalt itself to the skies is brought down to hell, and humility if it goes down to hell is lifted up to the heavens."
VII.xiii.6. (Also in III.124 & V.xv.26) Abba Macarius was once returning to his cell at daybreak carrying a bundle of palm leaves, when the devil met him carrying a sharp reaping hook. He tried to strike him down but failed.
"I suffer a great deal from you, Macarius," he said, "for every time I want to harm you I am unable to do so. For whatever work you do I am forced to do even greater. You fast sometimes, I am never able to partake of any food; you frequently keep vigil, but I can never allow sleep to overcome me; but I declare that there is one thing in which you always come out the winner."
"And what may that be?" inquired Macarius.
"Your humility alone it is that beats me."
As the devil said this, the blessed Macarius lifted up his hands in prayer, and the unclean spirit vanished into thin air.
VII.xiii.7. (Also in III.126) One of the fathers said, "Everything a monk labours at is worth nothing without humility. Humility goes before love just as John Baptist went before Christ, drawing all people to him. Humility draws you towards love, that is, to none but God, since God is love."
VII.xiii.8. A brother asked an old man what humility was. He replied, "It is the tree of life, growing up into the heavens."
VII.xiii.9. He also said, "Humility is the ground in which God told us to offer him sacrifice."
xiii.10. An old man when asked how the soul could acquire humility replied, "Think only of your own sins." He added, "Humility marks the perfection of a human being."
VII.xiii.11. Abba Motois said that humility consisted in never getting angry and never causing others to get angry.
VII.xiii.12. He also said that humility consists in forgiving the brother who sins against you, even before he has repented.
People who have arrived at perfection are as far as possible unwilling to work miracles or be held up as examples
VII.xiv.1. (Also in III.168 & VI.ii.10) When abba Joseph and some other old men came to a meeting with abba Pimenius, the parent of abba Pimenius brought along a child whose face the devil had disfigured and sat with him outside the monastery, weeping. One of the old men heard the sound of weeping and went outside to ask why.
"I am abba Pimenius's parent," said the man, "and I have come here so that he could see this child. Just look, sir, how this child has been attacked by Satan. I have hesitated about bringing him here up till now, because I thought he might not want to see me, and if he knew that I were here now, he might well try to drive me away. But seeing that all you fathers are here, I decided to come. Please, abba, have pity on me and take this child inside with you, so that Pimenius may pray for him."
The old man took him inside and devised a clever plan. He did not take the child straight to Pimenius, but went first to the younger brothers, asking them to sign the child with the cross and pray for him, and after that to the seniors with the same request. Last of all he took the child to abba Pimenius, who at first did not want to have anything to do with it. But when he was asked to do as everyone else had done and pray for the child, he groaned and prayed.
"O God, make your servant whole, and free him from the domination of the devil." He signed the child with the cross, and he was immediately returned to his father, cured.
VII.xiv.2. (Also in III.121 & VI.ii.4) A secular man came to the church suffering from an unclean spirit. They all prayed for him but the unclean spirit would in no way depart.
"How can we deal with this spirit?" the brothers asked among themselves. "No one except Besarion can drive this one out. But if we tell him that, he will refuse to come to the church. So let's do this: he is accustomed to coming to church early, so let's get this poor sufferer to sit here, and then we will say to Besarion, 'Abba, abba, wake up this sleeper.'"
So that is what they did. Abba Besarion came to church, they all stood for prayer, and then they said, "Abba, wake up this sleeper."
"Wake up, and go outside," said Besarion, shaking him. And immediately the spirit went out of him, and the man was healed from that same hour.
It is sometimes useful to be entrapped in sordid thoughts lest we be puffed up
VII.xv.1. (Also in III.128 & V.xv.80) The blessed Antony often used to say, "If the miller does not blindfold the eyes of his animal it will consume the fruits of his labour. In the same way, by the dispensation of God, we put a blanket over our good deeds so as not to pay any attention to them, lest we beatify ourselves, and become puffed up, and lose our due reward. And when we are assailed by evil thoughts it is necessary that we should see them coming and always condemn ourselves and our attitudes, lest the evil things in us should obscure what little good we have done. Even if people have good intentions, they cannot be really good unless God dwells in them, for no one is good save God. We must therefore always accuse ourselves honestly. Anyone who does not rebuke himself will lose his reward."
VII.xv.2. (Also in III.130) Once when blessed Antony was praying in his cell he heard a voice saying, "Antony you are not yet equal to the leather worker in Alexandria." When he heard this, the old man got up next morning and taking his staff hastened off to Alexandria where he sought out the leather worker, who was absolutely astonished to be visited by such a great man.
The old man said, "Tell me what it is you do, for I have left the desert in order to come here and see you."
"I don't know that I have done anything special In fact when I get out of bed in the morning, before I settle down to work, I reflect that everyone in this city from greatest to least will enter the kingdom of heaven because of their goodness. I alone for my sins will suffer eternal punishment. And before I go to bed I truthfully repeat these words from the bottom of my heart."
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