Book VII (continued)
The Fear of God
VII.xxi.1. Abba Piemon was asked by a brother how it was that a soul could resist and be unwilling to fear God. And the old man replied, "It is not that the soul does not want to fear God but that it is not yet ready for it. For the Fear of God is the height of perfection."
VII.xxi.2. (Also in V.i.19) "How does the fear of God come into the soul?" a brother asked the old man.
"He must first have humility, judging no one, condemning no one, and giving alms to the point of possessing nothing," replied the old man. "Then the fear of God comes into the soul."
VII.xxi.3. (Also in V.i.20) The old man said, "Let fear and humility and abstemiousness dwell in you."
VII.xxi.4. (Also in V.iii.22) A certain brother asked the old man, "How is it, abba, that my heart is hard and does not fear God?"
"I think," replied the old man, "that if you keep on goading your heart it will come to possess the fear of God.'
"What do you mean by 'goading'?" he asked.
"In every thing he does, let a man 'goad' his soul by saying to it, 'Remember you must meet your God', and 'What have I to fear from men?' I think, if you persevere in these things the fear of God will come to you."
VII.xxii.1. A brother asked abba Pimenius how he would define penitence, and the old man replied, "The penitence of a sinner is shown in not sinning any more. There is also this voice shouting at human beings until their last breath, 'Turn again today, lest sudden death come upon you like a thief.'"
VII.xxii.2. Abba Pimenius groaned and said, "All the virtues are in evidence in my cell except one. And in that lies all the work of a human being."
The brothers asked him, "What virtue is that, abba?" and he replied, "Always to accuse himself."
Reconciliation with God the same day through Penitence
VII.xxiii.1. (Also in III.166 & VI.i.16) One of the fathers related how a certain bishop had heard that two men of his flock were disgraceful adulterers, and he asked God to show him if this were true. So after the consecration of the offering, when they both came up for Communion, he looked carefully at the faces of each one. The faces of sinners always appeared to him as black as charcoal, with bloodshot eyes, others always appeared with clear faces dressed in white garments. And after receiving the body of the Lord, the features of some seemed to be lit up, the others in flames.
In order to find out which of them had committed the crime he gave them Communion, and saw that the face of one of them was fair and honest, the other's black and ugly. And as the grace of the divine mysteries began to take effect he saw a beam of light illumine the face of one, while flames burnt all over the other. The bishop prayed that he might know the meaning of what he had been shown about each one. And an Angel of the Lord came and stood beside him.
"Everything that you have heard about them is true," he said. "But one of them persists in his disgrace and is determined to go on sinning. That is why you saw his face was black and all in flames. The other has also done exactly as you have heard, but you saw his face illumined with a clear light because it is recorded that he has renounced those evil deeds which he formerly committed. With tears and groans he has begged pardon from God, promising that if his sins might be forgiven he would not commit them again. So his former sins have been wiped out and he has come into that state of grace which you have seen."
"I marvel," said the bishop, "that the grace of God has not only rescued this man from the torments due to such a disgraceful life but that it has rewarded him with such honour."
"You do well to marvel," said the Angel, "for you are only human, but your God and ours is naturally good, and kind to those who cease from their sins. Those who come to him in confession he not only forgives but crowns with honour. For God so loved mankind that he gave his only begotten son for sinners, and for sinners he gave him up to death (John 3.16). While we were yet sinners he chose to die for us (Romans 5.8), so how much more must he love us when we have become his own! Know therefore, that there is no human sin which can extinguish the love of God, if only each one can wipe out his past evils by penitence. For the Lord is merciful, and knows how strong the passions are, and how strong and malicious is the devil. He cares for his children when they fall into sin, and offers them amendment of life, he has compassion on those who are slow to repent, but when he has loosed them from their sins he bestows upon them the rewards of the righteous."
Hearing this the bishop marvelled and glorified God.
VII.xxiii.2. (Also in III.167 & V.xviii.20) Abba Paul the Simple had this gift that as he looked at the faces of those going in to the church he could tell whether their thoughts were good or bad. As they came to church the old man saw them going in with bright faces and cheerful minds and their Angels joyfully going in with them. But he saw that one person was very black, the shape of his body shrouded in mist, with demons dragging him this way and that by a rope through his nose, and his holy Angel standing sadly a long way off. As he sat in front of the church the blessed Paul began to weep bitterly and beat his breast at such a sight. All the other old men who saw him weeping begged him to tell them if he had seen anything amiss in them, and to come with them into the church. He would not go in, however, but continued to weep for the man he had seen.
A little later, when the congregation had been dismissed he again looked at people's faces to see whether they were the same as they had been when they went in. And the man whom he had formerly seen as black and shrouded in mist he now saw with a bright face and gleaming body, the demons a long way off from him and his Angel right beside him, happy and greatly rejoicing. Paul then rose up and joyfully blessed the Lord.
"How great is the mercy and kindness of God!" he said. "How great is his compassion!"
And going up to higher ground he shouted out, "Come and see the works of the Lord (Psalms 46.9), come and see how he wills all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2.4), come let us adore him saying, "You alone can forgive our sins."
When all had gathered near him Paul described to them what the man was like that he had seen before church and what he was like afterwards. And he asked the brother whom he had seen to declare what his thoughts and deeds had been, and how God had granted him such a great change of heart.
"I am a sinful man," he began to say, "and have often committed fornication. But as I came into the church today I heard the words of the prophet Isaiah, or rather the voice of God speaking through him, 'Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, cast out from your hearts the evil in the sight of my eyes. Learn to do good, seek judgment. And though your sins be as scarlet yet shall they be washed white as snow. And if you will be willing and obedient you shall partake of the good things of the land' (Isaiah 1.16-19). And I, a miserable fornicator, was conscience-stricken by this word of the Prophet, and I looked into my heart and said to God, 'Lord, you are he who came to save sinners. So what you have today promised through the Prophet, fulfil in me an unworthy sinner. Look, I make a promise to you, and confess from the bottom of my heart, that I will no longer do evil, but renounce all my wickednesses, and serve you from now on with a clear conscience. Now, O Lord, from this moment accept my penitence, as I adore you and renounce all my sins. I have sworn in my heart that I will keep all your commandments' (Psalms 119.145). With this vow I came out of church determined never to go back to my former sins."
Then all the old men shouted with a loud voice, "How great are your works, O Lord! You have done all things in wisdom" (Psalms 104.24).
Penance accepted by God even if death should intervene before penance completed
VII.xxiv.1. A brother came to abba Pimenius saying that he had been suffering the most severe temptations. The old man said to him, "Go away from here for as far as you can walk in the space of three days and three nights, and spend a whole year fasting till nightfall."
"What if I should die before the end of the year?" the brother asked. "What would happen to me then?"
"I have faith in God," said abba Pimenius, "that if you left me now taking this advice to heart and were determined to carry it out, even if death came upon you very soon, God would accept your good intention for the deed."
VII.xxiv.2. (Also in III.217) There was a brother in Egypt noted for his great humility, who had a sister working as a prostitute in the city, leading many souls to perdition. The old men frequently urged the brother to go to her and perhaps persuade her by his admonitions that it was possible for her to give up the sins she was committing.
When he came near to her place someone who knew him ran on before him and announced his arrival.
"Look, your brother is coming to see you from the desert" he called.
When she heard this she joyfully left her clients and ran out to meet him with her head uncovered. And when she saw him she ran to embrace him.
"Dearest sister," he said to her, "Spare a thought for your soul, and for the many you are leading to perdition. Think of the torments prepared for you unless you hasten to repent."
"Do you think, brother," she asked, trembling, "that there is still hope of salvation for me?"
"If you really want it," he said, "salvation is still there for you."
She threw herself at his feet and begged him to take her with him into the desert.
"Put something on your head, then," he said, "and come with me."
"No, let's go at once," she said. "I would rather appear among people improperly dressed than have to go back into that house of shame."
As they walked along he gave her some instruction on how to do penance, until they saw some brothers coming towards them.
"Not everyone knows that you are my sister," he said, "so move away from the road for a while until they have gone past."
After they had gone he called out to her.
"Come sister, let's be on our way."
There was no reply. He went off in search of her and found her dead. Her footprints were all full of blood for she had not been wearing shoes. Weeping and crying he went back to the seniors and told them everything that had happened, and they began to wonder about her salvation. And God revealed to one of the old men that because she had taken no thought for her bodily needs if only her own wounds might be healed, because she had abandoned everything she had, mourned deeply and repented of her sins, therefore God had accepted her repentance.
The assaults of the Devil
VII.xxv.1. (Also in III.173 & V.xv.58) "Why are monks attacked by demons?" a brother asked an old man.
"Because we throw our weapons at him," he replied, "patience, humility, gentleness and obedience."
VII.xxv.2. (Also in III.174 & V.xv.45) A brother asked a question of abba Sisois.
"Do you think, father, that the devil persecutes us more than he did the ancients?"
"Much more," he said, "for he knows that the time of his punishment is approaching and he is worried. And he does not bother to seek out the weaker brethren, for he knows how to get them whenever he wants. It is the strong and great that he attacks."
xxv.3. (Also in V.x.62) A brother put a question to abba Sisois.
"Do you think, abba, that the devil persecutes us in the same way as he did the ancients?"
"Much more, the men of our time," he replied, "for his punishments are approaching fast, and he and his legions will be brought into dire straits, and will be burned in the lake of fire and sulphur. That's why he infests human beings. He does not bother very much with the weak, for he can quickly get at them whenever he likes. It is against the strong and great that he prefers to use all his wiles to bring them down.
VII.xxv.4. A brother asked abba Achilles about the way in which the demons gain power over us.
He replied, "Through our will. The cedars of Lebanus say, 'How strong and tall we are, and it is a very insignificant little piece of iron by which we are being attacked. As long as we don't give the iron anything of ours it won't be able to cut us down.' But men came and made a wooden handle for the axe and then the trees could be cut down. The cedars are the soul, the axe is the devil, the handle is our will. So then, it is by our evil will that we are brought down."
How to mortify our human vices
VII.xxvi.1. (Also in V.x.63) "How can a human being be mortified?" a brother asked abba Moyses.
"Unless he imagines to himself that he has been in the tomb for three years, he will not be able to come anywhere near this requirement."
VII.xxvi.2. Abba Pimenius said, "A monk can reckon himself to be dead to the world if he has a horror of two things - vainglory, and giving way to the desires of the flesh.
VII.xxvi.3. (Slightly different from III.179) An old man said, "A monk will be completely free if he is wholly intent on pursuing good. For if what he is doing is good the devil may come but will find no foothold for himself and depart. But if a monk is preoccupied with evil things, the devil will often come to the attack and lead him into worse things."
xxvi.4. Blessed Antony warned his disciples that if they desired peace they should despise as if dead to the world the stomach, worldly needs, evil concupiscence and worldly honours.
VII.xxvii.1. Abba Antony said, "If a monk works for a few days then stops, then starts again, then gives up, he achieves nothing, for he has not learned to persevere with patience."
VII.xxvii.2. An old man said, "What good is it to begin a work if you don't learn to finish it? Something begun and not finished is worth nothing."
The work of the Saints
VII.xxviii.1. (Also in III.180) One of the old men said, "A monk ought to work hard at possessing Christ, but once he has possessed him he is no longer in danger. But he is allowed to go on labouring, so that bearing in mind the difficulty of that labour, he will always keep watch over himself, in fear lest he lose the reward of those labours. Even so God led the children of Israel through the desert for forty years, so that remembering their tribulations they would not want to go back there again."
VII.xxviii.2. A brother asked an old man, "How do people get on when seeking remission of their sins?" The old man replied, "Before they become filled with the grace which comes with their labour they are ineffectual and overburdened. But when through patience the grace of Christ comes upon them they flourish, their souls rejoice, their faces shine like the sun coming out of the clouds. Just as the sun pales when covered with clouds, so does the soul when hidden by passions and temptations. When cleansed by the grace of God they shine, as it is written, "Great is the glory of him who lives in your salvation" (Psalms 21.1).
VII.xxviii.3. The same man said, "Although the holy men go on labouring here, yet in another way they are at rest because they are free from the thoughts of this world."
VII.xxviii.4. (Also in III.181 & V.xvii.19) A brother had a question for an old man.
"Tell me, father, how is it that we who labour today in the monastic way of life are not given the grace that was given to the fathers of old?"
"In those days their charity was so great," he replied, "that each one drew his neighbour upwards. Today our charity has grown cold, and each person drags his neighbour downwards. That is why we are not given so much grace."
The encouragement of lessons learned
VII.xxix.1. Someone asked abba Pimenius about hardness of heart, and he replied, "The nature of water is to be soft and the nature of stone is to be hard, but if water drips steadily on to stone it will wear a hole by its dripping. Likewise the word of God is soft and sweet but our hearts are hard. So anyone who hears and meditates often upon the word of God makes room for the fear of God to enter in."
VII.xxx.1. It is not for a monk to go enquiring what this person is like or how that person does, because enquiries of that sort take him away from prayer and lead him off into slander and verbosity. It follows that there is nothing better than to keep silence.
VII.xxx.2. A brother asked an old man what he should do if another brother came to him telling him tales of what was going on elsewhere. "Should I tell him that all that is nothing to do with me?"
The old man replied, "You should not say anything which we might not be able to observe ourselves. For we need to be careful about saying to our neighbour, 'Don't do such a thing', lest we later do the same thing ourselves, or even worse."
"What should I do, then?" the brother asked.
"If you just decide to stay silent," the old man said, "your example will be sufficient for your neighbour."
VII.xxx.1. (Also in III.185) One of the old men said, "If anyone speaks about Scripture, or anything at all, don't argue with him. Agree with him if he speaks accurately, but if not, just say, 'I'm sure you know what you are talking about.' As the Apostle says, 'Strive not about words' (2 Timothy 2.14). In this way you will act in humility and avoid hostility. If you argue and persist in defending your own opinions you will start a quarrel. But if you are frequently praising the other person you will have no reason for a quarrel. Whatever the circumstances if you have not steered clear of contention you will in no way be able to find peace. Rather study to maintain your silence and don't worry. Keep meditating morning and night, and you will fear no attack of the enemy."
VII.xxxii.1. Blessed Antony used to say to his disciple. "If you are embracing silence, don't think you are being virtuous, but rather that you are not worthy of having anything to say."
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