Chapter XIX & XX, Macarius,(continuied) Book VIII
(Life of Abba Mark begins further down page)
In stature he was like this. (It behoves me to tell you this, O servant of Christ, as one who knows what I am talking about, since my poor life was contemporary with his.) He was small and thin and somewhat bent in stature, with hair growing only on his upper lip, and very little on his head. Because of the intensity of his physical discipline no hair grew on his chin.
I came to this holy Macarius one day rather distressed in mind and said to him, "What shall I do, abba Macarius, for my thoughts bother me saying, 'Give it up and go away'?"
"Say to your thoughts," said the holy father Macarius,"' For Christ's sake I will maintain the defences.'"
So, O loving and diligent servant of Christ, I have now told you about some of the many signs and struggles of the famous Macarius, who excelled in virtue.
Macarius told us (he was a presbyter) that at the time of the Communion of the Sacraments of Christ he never gave Communion to Mark, for an angel took it to him from the altar, but he saw only the finger of the hand that brought it.
THE LIFE OF ABBA MARK.
When Mark was young he learnt by heart the old and new testaments. He was a very gentle person with a calm temperament. Once when I had some time to spare in my cell I went to visit him when he was very old and I sat outside the door of his cell. As is natural in an inexperienced youth I reverenced him as someone superhuman, but so indeed he was. I could hear what he was saying and doing. As he sat there inside, for all that he was a hundred years old and had lost his teeth, he was still fighting with himself and the devil.
"What are you after now, you kakogere ('wicked old man')?" he was saying to himself. "Look, you are a winebibber and you massage yourself with oil. What are you after now, you tholiophage ('wallower in filth') and koiliodole ('slave to your stomach'), bringing blame and guilt upon yourself?"
And to the devil, "Get away from me, you devil. You have embroiled me in strife, you have brought me to infirmity of body, you have made me drink wine and use oil, turning me to dissipation. Do I owe you anything at this present time? You won't find anything in me that you can destroy. Get away from me this instant, you enemy of the human race."
And as if provoking and stirring himself up he went on saying; "Are you still there, you no-good, you wallower in filth, you elderly glutton. How much longer do I have to put up with you?"
THE LIFE OF ABBA MOYSES WHO WAS A ROBBER
Moyses was a black man, an Ethiopian by race, the slave of a certain prominent civic official. This official got rid of him because of his lax morals and thievery. Some say that he had even committed murder, and I must be quite frank about the depth of his depravity in order to emphasise the heroic virtue of his repentance. They say that he became the head of quite a large band of robbers. Among his other evil deeds it is said that he became very hostile and vindictive towards a certain shepherd, who together with his dogs had become an obstacle in his way when he was trying to carry out a raid. He vowed to kill him, and went off to find out where the shepherd was feeding his flocks. When he was told that the shepherd was on the other side of the Nile he swam across holding his two-edged sword between his teeth and carrying on his head the tunic he had been wearing, even though the Nile was in flood at the time and over a mile wide. The shepherd had time to hide away in a cave while he was crossing, and when Moyses could not find him he killed four prime rams, tied them together with a rope and swam back over the Nile. When he got to a certain small village he skinned the rams, ate the best parts of the meat, exchanged the skins for wine, drank about eighteen Italian measures of it and then set out to walk the fifty miles back to where he had left his band.
This robber chief later was overcome by remorse through something which happened to him, joined a monastery and did penance according to the measure of his crimes.
Among other things told about him it is said that four robbers burst in upon him in his cell, not knowing who he was. Blessed Moyses succeeded in tying them up like a bundle of straw, carried them on his shoulders to the door of the church.
"I took these men in the act of attacking me, but since I may not do harm to any human person, what do you think should be done to them?"
Having been captured thus by Moyses, they confessed their sins to God. When they realised that this man was Moyses, who had been the famous leader of a robber band, they glorified the name of Christ, renounced the world also, inspired by his change of heart, and ended up as most exemplary monks.
"If this enormously strong man could so fear God that he turned his back on his robbery," they thought, "why should we delay in seeking our own salvation?"
The demons then began to rise up against Moses the Blessed (for so we must call him), by driving him continually to violent thoughts of fornication. Up till then, so he told us, he had not been tempted by anything very much to make him renounce his calling. He went to the great Isidore in Scete and told him about his battle with fornication.
"Don't worry too much, brother," the holy man replied. "They are only just beginning, but they attack the more vigorously if there is a prior welcome for them. A dog who goes into a butcher's shop to gnaw a bone will not stop doing so if he is always made welcome. But if the shop is shut and no one gives him anything he is left hungry but comes no more. So if you keep on being continent, mortifying your members which are on earth, allowing no entry to anything which might give rise to disordered gluttony, the demon will find things difficult. If there is no one to give him food he will go away."
Moses the servant of Christ went back and from then onwards shut himself up in his cell, testing himself to the limit, abstaining from food to the extent that he ate nothing but twelve ounces of dry bread, working constantly and saying fifty prayers a day. .
After a while, however, although his body became somewhat emaciated, he still remained over-stimulated, especially in his dreams. He got up and went to see a certain well-respected holy monk and said to him, "What shall I do, abba? The dreams pour out from my spirit into the darkness of my mind as if I am still taking pleasure in the things I was once used to."
"You have not turned your mind away from the visions which come into it," the holy man said, "and that is why they still continue. Follow my advice and undertake a few vigils, pray judiciously, and you will soon be free from these things."
Moyses listened to these words coming from the mouth of an acknowledged expert, went back to his cell and decided to do what his own conscience prompted, namely to go all night with sleep, and not to prostrate himself under the pretext of praying, in order to banish the tyranny of sleep.
He spent six years standing up in the middle of his cell, without shutting his eyes, praying earnestly to God, but he still was not able to overcome his intemperate desires.
After this he thought up another method of living a hard life. This adversary of Satan would go by night to the cells of those monks who had grown old in the practice of their way of life and who were no longer able to carry water for themselves without help. He would take their water jars without anyone knowing and fill them with water. They had some distance to go to get water in these places, for some it was two miles, for others five, for some only a half. The demon noticed what he was doing and decided that he could put up with the tenacity of this athlete no longer. So one night he hit him in the back with a club as he was bending over the well to fill the jar of one of the monks, and left him there for dead, ignorant of who or what it was that had hit him. Next day another monk came to draw water and found him lying there lifeless. He went to tell Isidore, that great presbyter of Scete, who came with some others, picked him up and took him into the church. For a whole year he lay there grievously ill, with body and soul scarce hanging together. Then Isidore that fine priest of Christ said to him, "Brother Moyses it is time you stopped fighting with the demons and carrying on the battle in this particular way. You need some moderation in your way of life."
"I will not stop fighting with them," he replied, "until the phantasies of my dreams stop."
"In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" said Isidore the presbyter, the servant of Christ, "your foul dreams will stop from this moment of time, so that with a good and faithful conscience you can receive the Sacraments. But don't boast about this as if it were through your own efforts that your desires have been tamed. It is God who has shown his power in you, to your great benefit, lest you should fall into an overrated opinion of yourself."
At this Moyses returned to his cell and lived more quietly, having taken up a more moderate way of life. After two or three months the blessed Isidore asked Moyses whether the demon had been giving him any more trouble, to which he replied, "From the moment when the servant of Christ prayed for me nothing of that sort happened any more." But this holy man was found worthy of being given grace in his fight against the demons. He became as free from the attentions of demons as of flies in wintertime.
Such was the holy religious life lived by the indomitable athlete, Moyses the Ethiopian who was numbered among the great. He became a presbyter and died in Scete aged seventy-five, leaving behind him seventy-five disciples.
THE LIFE OF ABBA PAUL
There is a mountain called Pherme in Egypt on the edge of the vast desert of Scete where about five hundred men live the ascetic life. Among them was a fine monk called Paul who had never lived any other kind of life than this. He had never had paid employment, nor engaged in any sort of business, and never accepted more food from anybody than he could eat in the course of one day. He devoted his life to the work of perpetual prayer. He used three hundred distinct set prayers, and kept the same number of pebbles in one of his pockets.
[Pockets. The Latin has sinu, the 'fold' in a garment, especially in a Roman toga. The Latin also has that at each prayer he 'threw' a pebble. Is this the first ever recorded instance of the use of prayer beads?]
For each prayer he would transfer one pebble to another pocket. He once visited the holy man Macarius Pollicitus in search of grace and spiritual profit and said to him, "I am extremely distressed, abba Macarius." And the servant of Christ began to explain the reason why he was troubled by telling him of:
THE LIFE OF A VIRGIN WHO SAID 700 PRAYERS.
"In a certain village lived a virgin who had been an ascetic for 30 years. I have been told by many people that she ate nothing except on Saturdays and Sundays, dragging out the whole week without eating for five days, and saying seven hundred prayers daily. When I heard about this I felt very ashamed, for here am I, created with the strength of a man, and yet I can't manage more than three hundred prayers."
"Sixty years I have been at this life," replied the holy Macarius, "and I have said only a hundred prayers, as well as labouring with my hands to supply myself with necessary food, and carrying out my obligations to the rest of the brothers, and I have no reason to think that I have been negligent. So if your conscience is making you feel guilty about the three hundred prayers you say, you are obviously not praying properly. Either that or perhaps you could be able to say more prayers than you are doing."
THE PRESBYTER CRONIUS
(cf II.xxv) Cronius the presbyter of Nitria told me the following,
"I was very young when I began, and was very depressed and unstable, so much so that I fled from my monastery and archimandrite and wandered off to holy Antony's mountain. Blessed Antony lived between Heraclea and Babylon in that vast desert which leads to the Red Sea, about thirty miles from the River Nile. Antony's disciples Macarius and Amatas, who buried Antony after his death, had their cells near the river in the place called Pisper. After I arrived there I waited five days before I could see the holy Antony. I was told he came down to these cells sometimes at ten day intervals, sometimes twenty, sometimes five, to give help to visitors. Several of us brothers met him for various reasons, among whom was Eulogius, a monk of Alexandria, and with him someone disabled in all his limbs. The reason they had come was as follows":
EULOGIUS AND THE DISABLED MAN.
(This story is told in substantially the same words in Book VII.xix.3.) This Eulogius was a scholar of the liberal arts, but he became seized by the love of God, and he renounced the crowds in a desire for everlasting life. He disposed of all his property, retaining a small allowance for himself, for he was no longer able to work for a living. He was much perplexed in his mind and somewhat depressed, for he did not fancy the idea of living with others, and he could not sufficiently persuade himself to live alone. At which point he came across someone lying in the market place maimed and mutilated, for he had no hands or feet, although his tongue remained intact, enabling him to call out to the passers-by. Eulogius stopped and looked at him and prayed to God and made a promise:
"Lord, I accept this crippled man in your name, and I promise to look after him and provide for him to the hour of his death, so that I might be saved through him. Christ, give me patience that I might be his servant."
He went up to the man and spoke to him.
"Would you like to come home with me, where I shall look after you and provide for you?" he said.
"Would you really like to do that?" he said. "But that is more than I deserve."
"I can go and fetch my donkey and take you away."
And the disabled man gladly agreed.
So he lifted him up and took him to his own little cell, and began to see to his every need.
For fifteen years he looked after him compassionately like a father, washing him, anointing him, keeping him warm, and carrying him about, and over and above that, he even tended him in sickness. But then a demon possessed the man, with the intention of depriving Eulogius of his promise and his way of life, and his patient of his maintenance and the action of the grace of God. He began a campaign of harassment against Eulogius:
"Why don't you go away. You are just a wicked man on the run anyway. The truth is that you have stolen someone else's money and ruined his life, and you are using me as pretext to hide behind. Under the pretext of doing good you have taken me into your care, hoping that will save you."
"No, my friend, don't say that," replied Eulogius. "Just tell me how I have offended you, and I will try to make amends."
"I can't put up with your protestations. Just take me away and put me back into the market place. I don't want your patronage any longer."
"Please, let me keep on looking after you. Tell me what has upset you."
"I can't put up with your crafty and hypocritical attentions any longer. The parsimonious and miserable life you lead is ghastly. I would like to be able to eat meat sometimes!"
So Eulogius patiently brought him some meat. But even the sight of that did not satisfy him.
"Your company is just not enough for me," he said. "I would like to meet with some more people."
"Well I can ask a number of monks to come and see you."
"How can I support this! I can hardly bear the sight of your face, and you are proposing to bring me people like yourself, lazy idlers who have the same sort of diet! No, No! I want to go back to the forum." And he continued with a terrible tongue-lashing. "Murder and mayhem! Take me back to where you found me. I tell you, if I had hands I would either suffocate myself or fall on my sword."
With the demon continuing to stir things up, Eulogius consulted some neighbouring monks:
"What shall I do? This cripple is driving me to despair."
"Why, what's happening?" they asked.
"He is abusing me constantly, and I don't know what to do. Should I send him away? But I am frightened of doing that for I gave God my right hand on that. Should I keep him? But day and night he gives me no peace. I don't know what to do."
"The great man is still alive," they said (for this is what they called the holy Antony), "Go and see him. Take ship with your cripple and take him to the monastery, and wait there till the great man comes down there from his cave and submit the whole thing to his judgment. And what ever he says, stand by his opinion."
Eulogius took their words to heart, and persuaded the cripple to travel with him in a shepherd's skiff to the monastery of the great Antony's disciples. It so happened that the great man had arrived at the monastery late in the previous evening, wearing his sheepskin cloak, so Cronius told me, and was still in the monastery. It was his custom to call to his disciple Macarius.
"Macarius, has anyone come to see me today?"
"Yes, they have."
"Are they from Egypt, or from Jerusalem?"
Now the great man had told him that if there was someone who had come upon some trifling business, he was to say, "From Egypt". But if there was anyone rather more serious and thoughtful, he should say, "From Jerusalem." So as usual he asked Macarius whether the visitors were from Egypt or Jerusalem.
"A bit of a mixture," said Macarius.
If they were from Egypt Antony would usually say, "Prepare some food, give them some refreshment, pray with them, and let them go in peace." But if they were from Jerusalem he would quite likely sit with them all night and talk with them of the things pertaining to salvation.
On this evening the great man summoned them all. Now no one had told him that one of the visitors was called Eulogius, but even though it was late in the evening he called him.
"Eulogius, Eulogius, Eulogius!"
Eulogius did not stir, thinking he must be calling for someone else of the same name.
"You, Eulogius," he repeated, "from Alexandria."
"What must I do?" he asked.
"Tell me why you have come here."
"Surely he who revealed to you my name must have revealed to you the reason for my coming!"
"Yes, I know why you have come. But tell it out yourself, so that all the brothers can hear."
So Eulogius did as he was told and related the whole story.
"I found this cripple lying in the market place in ragged clothes, and had pity on him. I begged God that he would give me the grace to look kindly on him and take him in. I swore by my right hand that I would care for him in his disability, so that I might be saved through him and that he might be cared for by me. Fifteen years we have carried on like this, as has doubtless been revealed to your holiness. I am at a loss to know what harm I might have done him, but now after so many years he is continually getting at me, and I have a good mind to throw him out, which is what he keeps on urging me to do. This is why I have come to your holiness that you might advise me what I should do and to pray for me, for I am under terrible pressure."
"Would you really throw him out, Elogius?" asked Antony in a severe and wrathful voice. "His creator has not cast him off. Let God who cherishes him bring you to a better frame of mind."
Eulogius was silent, fearful at hearing what Antony had to say. Antony turned his attention away from Eulogius and began to give the cripple a tongue-lashing.
"You maimed and mutilated object, unworthy of either heaven or earth, how much longer will you contend with God and upset your brother? You don't seem to realise that it is Christ who ministers to you. How dare you make complaints against Christ? Isn't it for Christ's sake that this man has bound himself to your service?"
Having given them both a good talking to he then turned away from them and dealt with the needs of each of the brothers, before coming back again to Eulogius and the cripple.
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