Chapter XV (continued) Book VII
When he heard this, the blessed Antony replied, "Truly, my son, like a good workman sitting peacefully at home, you have arrived peacefully at the kingdom of God. But I who have spent my time badly in solitude have not arrived at equality with you."
VII.xv.3. (Also in III.131 ) A certain brother asked Abba Pimenius, "What does the Apostle mean, father, when he says, 'To the pure all things are pure'?" (Titus 1.15)
And he replied, "To succeed in being able to understand this you must first see yourself as the least of all creatures."
"How could I possibly see myself as less than a murderer, say?"
"If you want to understand this saying of the Apostle, and you see someone who has killed someone else, you should say to yourself, 'This person has committed just this one sin, but I commit homicide every moment, for I am killing myself by reason of my sins.'"
And when the brother queried this he replied, "A person is righteous only when he blames himself. He is righteous because he condemns his own sins."
VII.xv.4. A brother said to an old man, "My thoughts tell me that I am a good person."
The old man replied, "If you don't see your own sins you will always believe that you are good. When you do see them your thoughts cannot possibly persuade you that you are good. It is a great labour checking up on yourself. It is negligence, laziness and carelessness which blind the eyes of the heart."
VII.xv.5. A brother said to abba Pimenius, "My thoughts don't allow me to look at my sins, but the fathers are always urging me to think about them."
Abba Pimenius referred him to abba Isodore, saying, "At a time when Abba Isodore was in his cell weeping his disciple from the next cell came to see him and asked him why he was weeping.
"I am weeping for my sins," he replied.
The disciple said, "You have no sins, abba."
The old man said, "My son, if God were to reveal my sins to everyone they wouldn't amount to just three or four. They are numberless."
How to prevent slander
VII.xvi.1. (Also in III.133) A brother asked Abba Pimenius how it was possible to avoid speaking evil of one's neighbour.
"My neighbour and I each have an image," he replied. "If I look at my own image and condemn it, the image of my brother seems to be praiseworthy by comparison. But when I praise myself the image of my brother seems contemptible. So therefore I can never disparage my brother as long as I always blame myself. The man who never looks at himself will always despise even the greatest of men."
VII.xvi.2. (Also in III.153 & V.i.21) An old man said, "Any act which a man holds in abhorrence he is not likely to do to anyone else. Would you hate it if someone spoke rudely to you? Don't speak rudely to anyone else. Would you hate it if someone slandered you? Don't slander anyone else. Would you hate it if someone despised you or injured you or stole from you, or did anything at all of that kind? Don't you do likewise in any of these things to anyone else. Keeping this rule suffices to keep you in the way of salvation."
VII.xvi.3. When one of the holy fathers saw someone being lazy, he wept bitterly and said, "Woe is me, for it may be that man is sinning today, whereas it could be me tomorrow."
And he warned his disciple accordingly, "Although you might see someone sinning grievously, don't condemn him. Consider yourself as being a greater sinner than he, even if he is not a monk, lest he blaspheme God as heretics do."
VII.xvi.4. (Also in III.140) A certain anchorite called Timothy heard about a brother who had been negligent, and when asked by the abbot what should be done about it replied that the brother should be expelled from the monastery. After he had been expelled Timothy himself was beset by temptation. He wept in the sight of God and cried, "Have mercy on me", and he heard a voice saying, "Timothy, you are in the midst of this crisis because you despised your brother in the time of his temptation."
Submission to the will of your neighbour
VII.xvii.1. A brother asked abba Pimenius how he defined faith, and he replied, "Faith is living always in charity and humility and doing good to your neighbour."
VII.xvii.2. Abba Theodore was once talking about the work of one's hands and the work of the soul (anima), when a brother asked, "Explain what you mean both by the work of one's hands and the work of the soul, abba."
The old man said, "Everything whatsoever that you do in obedience to the commandments of God is reckoned to be among the works of the soul. What you do for your own benefit or convenience is known as the work of one's hands."
VII.xvii.3. If one of the brothers asked abba Apollo what was his aim in all the work and labour he undertook he hastened to say with great joy, "Today I go forth with Christ my king to work for the salvation of my soul. For this is reckoned to be spiritual merchandise (merces animae).
Giving up self-will
VII.xviii.1. (Also in III.150 & V.xiii.8) An anchorite living in a cell near the coenobium practised many virtuous acts. When some monks from the coenobium visited him, he was obliged to eat outside his usual fixed time.
"Were you not upset, abba, because today you have not kept to your usual rule," the monks asked him.
"The only time I am upset is when I follow my own self-willed inclinations," he replied.
VII.xviii.2. A certain brother came to Scete asking to see abba Arsenius. Some of the brothers suggested that he rest a while first, but he replied that he would not eat till he was allowed to see him. One of the brothers then led him to Arsenius' cell, knocked on the door and introduced him. They were ushered inside, prayers were said and they sat down. Blessed Arsenius said nothing, and the brother who had acted as guide said, "I'll take my leave."
When the brother who had come with such high hopes realised that the blessed Arsenius had not said anything to him but remained modestly silent he said, "I'll go with you as well, brother."
So they both departed.
He then asked if he could be taken to see abba Moyses who had been converted from living as a robber. Moyses welcomed them and gave them great hospitality until the time of their departure. The guide asked him, "Now you have seen both of the ones you asked to see. Whom did you prefer?"
He replied, "Out of the two I preferred the one who welcomed us both and fed us."
When one of the fathers heard this he prayed to the Lord, "Lord, show me, I pray, how it is that one person refuses in your name to see or speak to anyone, while another in your name is available to everyone." And behold, he saw as in a trance two ships sailing. In one he saw the Holy Spirit in peace and silence, with Arsenius at the helm, in the other he saw abba Moyses and the angels of God bringing honey and the honeycomb in their mouth and between their teeth.
Tending the sick
VII.xix.1. (Also in & V.xvii.18 ) A brother questioned an old man, saying, "There were two brothers in the same cell. One of them fasted for six days, the other tended the sick. Which is the more acceptable work in God's sight?"
And the old man replied, "Even if that brother fasting for six days were to hang himself up by the nose he could not equal that other brother.
VII.xix.2. (Also in III.155 & V.xvi.4) John the Less of Thebaeus, the disciple of abba Ammon, looked after the old man in his illness for twelve years, and although the old man could see that it was hard work for him he never gave him a kind word of praise. But on his deathbed, with the other old men sitting round, he took John 's hand and said three times, "You will be saved, you will be saved, you will be saved."
And he commended him to the old men, saying, "This is not a human being, he is an Angel, for he has looked after me for such a long time in my illness without ever hearing a word of praise from me. He has cared for me with great patience."
VII.xix.3. (Also in VIII.26) Many brothers labouring under various disabilities came to Antony, amongst whom was one Eulogius, a monk of Alexandria, who was being overburdened with the care of someone suffering from elephantiasis. They say that he had come thither for that very reason.
This Eulogius was a scholar, an expert in secular literature, who, seized with a longing for eternal life, had renounced the world and divided up all his various possessions, keeping back a small portion for himself. He made use of this because he was incapable of working, for some defect of spirit overtired him; he found himself unable to live with the crowd in the monastery, nor could he patiently endure life as a solitary.
One day however he came across this man lying in the street, so stricken with this disease which we have mentioned that he seemed to have no hands or feet at all. His tongue however was unaffected by any defect, and he used it to earn help from those who looked upon his deformities. Eulogius saw him and came to his assistance, and he prayed to God, making a pact with the Lord in these words, "O Lord God, in your name I take this man into my care, grievously disabled as he is, if so be it that through him I may attain salvation. Jesus Christ be with me, and grant me patience in this ministry."
To the sick man he said, "Would you be willing for me to take you into my house and look after you with whatever means I have?"
He replied that he would willingly accept this, if Eulogius was willing.
"I'll go and get a donkey to carry you then," Eulogius said.
Overjoyed, the man agreed, and Eulogius acted without delay to carry him into his own house.
He gave fifteen years to this task, accepting the obligation of never-ending care and concern. Throughout all that time the invalid accepted gratefully all the service he was given. Eulogius' hands brought him medicine and food, Eulogius bathed him, and did everything necessary for the care of the sick.
At the end of fifteen years, stirred up by the devil, this invalid seemed to forget how hardworking and praiseworthy Eulogius was, and began wanting to leave him. He belaboured him with many hard words and insults. "You are really a fugitive from justice", he said. "You wasted your own patrimony and stole someone else's, and now you hope to find salvation through looking after me."
Eulogius questioned this and tried to mollify him, saying, "Please don't say such things, but rather tell me how I have upset you and I will try to amend my ways."
The invalid replied furiously, "Get out. I don't want your cringing deference. Put me back in the street. I don't need your care."
"Calm down, please," Eulogius said. "Tell me, please, my dear old man, how I have upset you."
"I won't put up with your ridiculous deceits any longer," said the invalid in fury. "I can't bear your false humility and substandard care. And I just don't like this restricted life of poverty. I hanker after some pandering to the flesh for a change."
He waved his limbs in front of Eulogius, who patiently waited, and continued, "You can't do what I want. I don't want to live with you in solitude any longer. I want to mix with people and go out in the world."
"Well, I'll bring in lots of people for you, then," said Eulogius.
"I don't even want to see your face," he replied even more fiercely, and almost blasphemously, "let alone the faces of those like you who all eat the bread of solitude."
He began to strike himself, and shouted out in a chilling kind of voice, "I don't want to stay here. I want to go out. I'm outraged! Take me back to the place where you got me."
So irrational had he become, so muddled was his brain and so grievously had the devil undermined his virtue that if he had hands to do it with he would even have hanged himself.
Eulogius ran off to some neighbouring monks. "What shall I do," he said. "This invalid is almost driving me to despair."
"Why is that?" they said.
"He is putting all kinds of hard things on to me, and I don't know what to do. Should I throw him out? But I have sworn an oath to God about him. I must respect that. I can't throw him out. But there are so many great evil things he does to me day and night that I don't know what to do about him."
They answered him in these words, "Since that marvellous man Antony is still with us - Antony 'the Great', as he is called - let's consult him. Get your invalid into a ship and take him to Antony's monastery and wait for him there till he comes out of his cave. When you see him tell him all your troubles and ask his advice. Do whatever he tells you, accept his advice, in the sure knowledge that that whatever he prescribes comes from God."
He gladly acted on the brothers' advice. He gently persuaded the invalid to agree and got him into a small river-boat which took them out of the city at night and brought them to the place where the disciples of that holy man Antony lived.
It so happened that the blessed Antony had arrived the evening before, dressed in his sheepskin cloak, so I was told by Cronius. It was his custom when he arrived to call for Macarius and ask him whether there were any visiting brothers. If he said there were he would ask whether they were from Egypt or from Jerusalem, for he had given instructions that those who were not capable of serious conversation should be designated as coming from Egypt, but that if they were men of holy and spiritual life they should be said to have come from Jerusalem. When Antony asked as usual whether the brothers were from Jerusalem or Egypt, Macarius replied that there seemed to be some of each. The blessed Antony then told him to make them welcome, give them food, pray with them and then bid them depart, except that when he learned who those from Jerusalem were he would sit up all night with them, talking of what would help them on the road to salvation.
On this memorable night they said that Antony had already sat down and called for each individual person from among those who were present. When he realised that none of those with him were called Eulogius he called through the darkness for him three times in his own voice. Eulogius did not reply thinking that perhaps there was someone else there called Eulogius. Antony said, "It is you Eulogius, from the city of Alexandria, that I am calling."
"How is it that you are calling me?" asked Eulogius.
"Tell me why you have come here," said Antony.
"Doubtless the person who told you my name must also have told the reason for my coming?"
"The reason for your coming I know," said Antony. "But tell it once more in front of all these brothers so that all can hear."
At the great Antony's instruction Eulogius the servant of Christ spoke to them all:
"I found this man afflicted with elephantiasis abandoned in a public place with no one to look after him, and I promised God that I would do so, as far as I was able, so that he through me and I through him might be brought into the way of salvation. It is now the fifteenth year since then that we have been together. I believe that your holiness has already had all these things revealed to you. Through all these years I have done nothing evil to him, but now he is persecuting me with all kinds of storms and tempests, to such an extent that I have been considering throwing him out. For this reason I have come to your holiness to counsel me as to what to do and to aid me by your prayers. I am totally exhausted. I am being crucified by all these most horrible disturbances."
Antony replied in a severe and wrathful voice, "So you would cast him out, Eulogius? But his Creator does not cast him out. Cast him out? You must come to a better frame of mind and allow God the protector of the poor to gather him in."
Eulogius, terrified, had nothing to say. Antony turned from him to the invalid and began to belabour him with seasonable rebukes. In a loud voice this is what he said, "You elephant man, you horrible filthy piece of dirt. You are fit neither for heaven or earth. Will you not stop shouting insults at God? Don't you know that he who ministers to you is Christ? How can you dare to say such things against Christ? For it was for Christ's sake that he gave himself up to caring for you and nursing you, just as it is Christ whom he is now abandoning, who himself was bruised by death dealing words."
He turned then to the other brothers and spoke to each one as their circumstances demanded before turning once more to Eulogius and the invalid. "Whatever happens, my sons, don't ever, either of you, separate yourself from the other. Go back in peace to your cell where you have lived for such a long time, and put all sadness behind you. For the Lord God will soon be sending you out. This temptation has come to both of you because you are coming to the end of your lives, when each of you will have earned the crown of life. So don't change your way of life at all, lest when the Angel comes for you he won't be able to find you in that place, as I have said, and you will be deprived of your crown"
They went quickly back to their cell with harmony restored, and within forty days Eulogius first of all died and then a few days afterwards the sick man, unquestionably healed in spirit.
Cronius however, after spending some time in the Thebaid, came down to Alexandria where it so happened to be the day that Eulogius was being given a fortieth day commemoration and the other a third. Hearing this Cronius was astonished. He related all things in order as they had happened, and taking the holy gospels in his hands he testified on oath that in this whole affair he had been the interpreter, for Antony did not speak Greek.
"I speak both languages," he said. "translating their Greek into Egyptian and Antony's Egyptian into Greek."
VII.xix.4. This Cronius also testified that the blessed Antony, on the same night that sent Eulogius back home, had said that he had prayed throughout a whole year to be shown a revelation of the proper place of the sinners and the just. He said that he had seen a giant of a noisome colour, stretching high up to the clouds, with his hands spread out towards the sky, and beneath his feet a sort of lake spread out like a sea, where he saw a crowd of restless souls flying up like birds. Some of them rose above his outstretched hands and head and were saved. Others were caught in his hands and drowned in the lake. He testified that he then heard a voice saying, "Know that all these souls whom you see flying upwards are the souls of the just, who rest in the dwellings of paradise. The others are the souls of those sent to the infernal regions, some punished for pandering to the desires of the flesh and some for nursing their own anger and trying to return evil for evil."
VII.xix.5. Cronius, as well as the holy Hierax and several other monks, also told us this next thing that I shall tell you, namely that one old man said that if a monk took great pains in providing for his bodily needs but nevertheless failed to consult someone else who he knew could profit him spiritually, then he did not believe in the existence of God.
VII.xix.6. (Also in V.x.90) An old man said, "The one who lives in the desert should be a teacher rather than one who needs to be taught, lest he come to harm."
Infirmity of body can profit the soul
VII.xx.1. (Also in III.157 & V.vii.16) A certain great old man said to his sick disciple, "Don't be depressed, my son, because of bodily sores or illness, for it is especially devout to be able to give thanks to God even in illness. If you are made of iron the fire will burn off your rust. If you are made of gold you will progress from great things to greater. Therefore don't be anxious, brother. If it is God's will for you to be suffering bodily pain, who are you to resist his will and take it badly? Endure it therefore and ask God to give you whatever it is that he wills."
VII.xx.2. (Also in III.158 & V.vii.41) There was an old man who was frequently ill and weak in body, but for the whole of one year he had no illness at all.
He took this badly and wept freely.
"You have abandoned me, Lord," he said, "you have not visited me for this present year."
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