Chapter XXXI, Valens (continuied) Book VIII
(Life of Ero begins further down page)
"Go and tell Macarius," he said, "that I am not inferior to him that he should bestow blessings on me."
Macarius realised that he was suffering from delusions and went to see him next day in order to admonish him.
"Valens," he said, "you are being led astray. Give it up and ask God's pardon."
Valens would not listen to his warning, and Macarius went away very troubled in mind, lamenting because Valens had fallen.
The demon was now convinced that Valens believed in his deceptions implicitly. He decided to impersonate the Saviour and at night time sent to Valens a vision consisting of a thousand angels bearing torches and a fiery wheel in which could be seen the image of the Saviour. One of the angels proclaimed, "Christ loves what you are doing. He loves the freedom and confidence of your life. He comes to greet you. Go out of your cell, and do not fail to fall down and worship him when you see him and then go back to your cell."
He went out of his cell for about a mile, following the vision of torches, and there fell down and worshipped the Antichrist. The next day, in a state of mental disturbance, he went into the church and said to the assembled brothers, "I have no need of Communion, for I have today seen Christ himself."
The fathers then imprisoned him for a year in iron shackles, and prayed that he might be cured of his shameful behaviour. By this extremely severe treatment his delusions were drawn out of him. As the saying goes, contrary things are cured by contrary medicines.
It is very necessary to include the lives of such people in this book to serve as a warning to the lector. There are sacred twigs on the tree of paradise, that is, the knowledge of good and evil, so that if anyone plucks them while doing the right thing they might not get carried away and fall from virtue. For virtue itself can often be the occasion of sin, if not performed with the right aim. For it is written, 'I saw the righteous perishing in his own righteousness. This also is vanity.' (Ecclesiastes 7.15).
My neighbour Ero was a city youth from Alexandria, very intelligent, and of an upright life. He too, after working and struggling exceptionally hard, fell headlong into pride and presumption. In his pride he insolently defied the holy fathers, among them the blessed Evagrius, upon whom he poured scorn, saying, 'Those who listen to your teaching are deceiving themselves, for we should call no one our master except Christ." Thus he perverted the Testament by interpreting in his own foolish way the saying, 'Call no one on earth your father.' (Matthew 23.8). His mind was so darkened by the empty obstinacy of his own opinion that he too was shackled when he refused to come to the Sacrament.
But let us be faithful to the truth. In the beginning his life was extremely well planned and punctilious, so that many who lived near him spoke up for him, saying that sometimes he went for three months without a proper meal, being content with the Sacrament and whatever wild olives he could find. I also had had occasion to observe him when the blessed Albinus and I travelled with him to Scete forty miles away. In the course of those forty miles we ate twice and drank some water three times. But he ate nothing, and as he walked he recited first fifteen psalms, then the long psalm, then the epistle to the Hebrews, then Isaiah and part of the prophet Jeremiah, then the gospel of St Luke, then Proverbs. And we could not keep up with him as he walked.
But in the end he was captured by the evil workings of a demon, and stirred up by his burning fire he found he could stay in his cell no longer. In some mysterious dispensation of providence he went off to Alexandria, driving out one nail by another. He deliberately adopted a dissolute and careless way of life, which brought him later to a state of health he had not bargainedfor.
For from going to the theatre and the horse races, and giving himself up to gluttony and drunkenness, he eventually fell into a squalid lust after women. Having succumbed to this he associated with a certain actress and was rewarded by developing a sore spot, which by divine providence developed into a carbuncle in his testicles. In the space of a week he became so ill that his genitals went completely putrid and fell off of their own accord. As he convalesced after this he turned back to the things which he knew were of God. He went back to the desert and confessed all these things to the fathers, but before he could even return to his former work he died.
PTOLEMY WHO FELL FROM GRACE
There was another called Ptolemy who lived in further Scete in the part known (in Greek) as Klimax, that is, 'Ladder'. It is difficult to talk about his life but better that than not talk about it at all. Klimax is a place where no one should be able to live because the nearest well is eighteen miles away. But he had a great number of earthen jars, and during December and January he collected dew, soaking it up off the rocks with a sponge. There is a great deal of dew in those parts. For fifteen years he managed to live like this. But deprived as he was from the teaching and fellowship of the holy men, and from the benefits of regular participation in the Sacraments, he began to depart from the right path. Many people think that this is the root cause of all error, and he unfortunately is a good example of this, as the demon of error began to gain control over him. The enemy suggested to this empty headed man that res nullam habere essentiam, (lit. 'things had no essence', i.e. 'nothing had any essential meaning', or even 'his way of life had no foundation') since all things existed because the world itself existed of its own accord.
So the enemy of life insinuated into his mind these questions, "If this is the way things are, why do you live in these remote parts? What pleasure is there in it, Ptolemy, if there is no reward for it? And who is going to give you a reward for your many great labours if there is no one to do the giving? Is there any value in the judgement threatened by Scripture if there is no such thing as providence?"
Undermined by these satanic thoughts this miserable Ptolemy became so disturbed in his mind that he wandered off to Egypt where he gave himself up to gluttony and drunkenness, talking to no one, but silently frequenting the market place as a miserable and tear-jerking spectacle to the eyes of Christians and a laughing stock for those who were ignorant of our way of life.
This incurable disease afflicted the unfortunate Ptolemy from a sort of irrational arrogance, deceived by the seductions of a demon. He thought he was better off with his own brand of wisdom apart from all the holy fathers. His swelled head made him his own worst enemy and he rushed headlong into profound destruction, because he never paid attention to the wise leadership of any of the holy fathers and was not established in their spiritual teaching. He had no guide and so walked into the ways of death. A tree may be flourishing with healthy leaves and beautiful fruit but can be made sterile in a moment of time if stripped bare. Those without guides fall like leaves.
A LAPSED VIRGIN
I knew a certain virgin of Jerusalem who was enclosed and wore sackcloth for six years. She would not allow anything which tended towards self-indulgence but was renowned among women for her temperance. But pride, that root of all evils, made her a stranger to divine grace, so that she opened her door to the one who ministered to her and went to bed with him. They were not living for charity or the laws of God, but only on a human level, which leads only to vainglory and the beginning of depravity. For while she was busying herself in pious thoughts about damning others she was driven mad by the demon of pride who was absolutely delighted. The angel of temperance however deserted her entirely.
Now, O most faithful of men, I have written about the lives of those who have been upright and virtuous, and also about those who after many labours have fallen through laziness and stupidity from the high standard they had set, led astray by all kinds of devilish snares. Anyone who knows what hidden nets the demon will set for him in his own life may then know how to escape such snares. There are many great men and women who in the beginning faithfully pursued their chosen way of life but then were rooted up by the enemy of the human race. I have made mention of just a few of them. The rest I pass over in silence, for I will do neither them nor myself any good by dwelling on them to the neglect of describing the virtuous divine work of the athletes of Christ who prevailed.
THE LIFE OF ABBA ELIAS
Elias, best of workers, was a great friend of women, and took great care of the weaker sex. He was one of those people for whom the end in view acts as a spur to the exercise of all their skills. He gave a great deal of help to a group of women who were living a disciplined life, and used resources which he had in the city of Athribe to build them a large monastery, and there he gathered together all virgins who had gone astray. He took care of them in all things, supplying them with everything they needed, a garden and tools to cultivate it, in a word, everything necessary for a life of discipline. They had been drawn together however from living private lives in various diverse circumstances with the result that they quarrelled a great deal. So it was necessary for this holy man to listen to them and try to make peace among them. For he had gathered together about three hundred of them and for two years had been having to act as mediator among them, even though at about thirty or forty years of age he was quite young.
He began to be tempted by lust. He went out from the monastery and wandered about in the desert for a couple of days, beseeching and praying, "Either kill me lest I abuse them, or take away from me this disordered desire, so that I can look after them in a rational manner." That evening in the desert he dreamed. He told me that three angels came and confronted him, saying, "Why have you left this monastery of women?"
He told them all. "I am frightened that I will do both them and me some great injury."
"If you were to be liberated from these desires would you go back and continue to take care of them?"
"Yes, I would."
They told him he would have to swear an oath, and spelled out the details, "Swear this to us, 'By him who cares for me, so will I care for them.'" And he swore.
One of the angels then grasped his hands, another his feet, and the third took a razor and, in his vision, seemed to cut out his testicles. And it seemed to him in his dream that the dismemberment had cured him.
"Do you feel any benefit from this?" the angels then asked him.
"An enormous benefit," he said. "I feel I have lost a great burden, and been freed from the difficulty of controlling my desires."
"Go back to your monastery," the angels said.
Five days later he turned back and went in to the monastery to find them all mourning for him. From then on he lived in his cell by the side of the monastery, and because of his nearness he was able to govern them conscientiously to the best of his ability. He lived with them another forty years, and during all that time, so he told the fathers, he did not have a single lustful thought come into his mind.
Such was the life of that holy man Elias, his discipline and the way he ruled his monastery of women.
THE LIFE OF ABBA DOROTHEUS
Elias was succeeded by Dorotheus, a most worthy man, who grew old in the knowledge of how to live a good life. He found that he could not look after the monastery in the same way as the blessed Elias. Instead of living in Elias' cell he shut himself up in an upper room of the monastery and made a window overlooking the women which could be opened and shut. He was forever sitting at the window, ensuring that they lived together in peace.
There were no stairs, so he grew old in this upper room without anyone able to go up to him, nor was he able to go down. Such was the religious life, adorned with many virtues, of the blessed Dorotheus.
There was a virgin called Piamun who lived with her mother all the days of her life, spinning flax, and eating alone with each other every evening. She had the gift of being able to foretell people's future.
It so happened that one year when the Nile flooded, villages began to attack each other, quarrelling about sharing the water, causing injuries and deaths. A stronger village threatened to invade hers, and a crowd of men carrying spears and pointed sticks set out, intent on destroying the village. But an angel of the Lord appeared to this blessed woman telling her of this invasion. She called the village presbyters and said to them, "Go out of the village and run to those who are coming out against you and ask them to desist from these evils they are preparing against you, lest you perish along with the whole village."
The terrified presbyters fell at her feet. "We don't dare to go out and meet them," they implored her, "for we know only too well their drunken fury. But if you have any pity for us and the village and your own house go out to meet them yourself, calm them down and turn them back."
She would not agree to do that but went back to her own little house and stood all night in prayer, hardly prostrating herself at all.
"O Lord, judge of the world," she prayed, "who hate injustice, let this prayer come to you and let your power stop them in their tracks like a column of stone wherever it finds them."
And as this holy virgin prayed so it happened. Early in the morning, about three miles away, the enemy stood transfixed, like columns of stone, unable to move. And it was revealed to them that they had been brought to a halt through the prayers of Piamun, the servant of Christ, and they made peace with her village, saying, "Thanks be to God and the prayers of Piamun that we were prevented from doing you any harm."
THE LIFE OF ABBA PACHOMIUS AND THOSE WHO WERE WITH HIM
Pachomius lived in a place called Tabennesi, which is in the Thebaid. He was among those who lived in the greatest and most perfect way of life, and was found worthy of the gift of angelic visions and foretelling the future. He was a great lover of the poor and was full of charity to all.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him as he sat in his cave.
"Pachomius," he said, "You have done properly and thoroughly all the things given you to do. You no longer need to live in this place, so get up, go out, gather together all the young monks and live with them. Give them rules according to the formula which I will give you."
And he gave Pachomius a bronze tablet on which was inscribed the following:
Allow each person food and drink according to his strength.
Give difficult tasks to the strong. Give lighter, less arduous tasks to those who find things difficult because of their weakness.
Put several cells in each wing and put three in a cell, but let all the food be prepared in one building.
Let them not lie down to sleep, but provide semi-reclining chairs, give them blankets and let them sleep there sitting up. Let them wear at night linen shifts and girdles and let each person have a sheepskin of white wool. They should not eat or sleep without them.
When they go to the Communion of Christ on Saturday and Sunday let them put off their belts and sheepskins and let them go in wearing only their cowls which should have no shaggy wool on them, but have a purple cross superimposed on them.
Let there be twenty-four groups of monks according to the twenty-four letters of the [Greek] alphabet. Each group should be known by its Greek letter, from a, b, etc. down to w. If the archimandrite wants to enquire about any particular person out of such a great number, he should ask, "How is group a?" or "How is group b?" or "Give my greetings to group r," according to the letter belonging to each group. The more sincere and simple ones should be given the letter i, the more difficult ones the letter x. Thus you can conveniently match every group to each letter of the alphabet according to the discipline and style of life of each one, without anyone except the spiritual teachers understanding the meaning
Also written on the tablet,
If you have a guest from a different monastery which has a different rule let him eat and drink separately and do not admit him into the monastery unless he is simply on a journey.
Furthermore, when once a person has entered, do not finally admit him till he has proved his ability to endure the battle for three years. But when he has coped with this difficult life for three years then let him carry on with the contest.
Let the brothers wear their hoods up in the refectory so that one brother cannot see another chewing. They should not speak while eating, nor should they take their eyes off the table and their plates.
They should say twelve sets of prayers during the day, twelve at the lighting of the lamps in the evening, twelve during the night vigil, and three at the ninth hour. When they are eating together en masse let each group sing one psalm before each set of prayers.
When the great Pachomius objected to the angel that the prayers were rather few, the angel replied, "I have decided it this way so that even the least can fulfil the rule without being overburdened. The more proficient ones don't need to keep these laws; they can give their whole lives to contemplation when they are in their cells. These rules I have given for the sake of those whose understanding is less developed, so that like stubborn servants going in fear of their master they may fulfil the discipline of their lives securely and freely."
When the angel had finished his task in setting up these rules he departed from Pachomius. There are about seven thousand men in monasteries following these rules. The principal great monastery where Pachomius lived, from which the others sprang, contains about fourteen hundred men.
THE LIFE OF ABBA APHTHONIUS
Among them is a servant of God called Aphthonius, a close and sincere friend of mine, who is now second in command of that monastery. Because he is strong in Christ, stable and reliable, and unlikely to be distracted, they send him to do their business in Alexandria, by selling their goods and doing their shopping.
There are other monasteries of two or three hundred people, and I entered one of them in the city of Panos where there were three hundred men. They practice all kinds of trades, and besides what I list below they even build monasteries for women, and also prisons. After rising in the morning, they go according to their individual gifts, some to the kitchen, some to laying the tables with bread, country herbs, olives, cheese, animals' feet and diced vegetables. The weaker go in to dine first, at the seventh hour, others at the ninth, others at the tenth, others at evening, but some only after two days, some three days, four days or five days, so that each group had its own hour.
The work they did was as follows: some worked in the fields, some in the garden, some in the corn mill, some in the forge, some in building work, some in the laundry, some in the tannery, some in shoemaking, some in calligraphy, some weaving big baskets, some smaller baskets and some bread baskets. And all learned the Scriptures by heart.
There was also a monastery of about four hundred women who had the same rule and way of life, except that they did not have the sheepskin. These women were on the other side of the Nile, opposite the men. When one of them died the others saw to her burial by taking her out and placing her on the banks of the Nile. The brothers then crossed over, carrying palms and olive branches and singing psalms, brought her back and buried her in their own graveyard. Apart from the presbyter and deacon, and then only on Sundays, nobody else went over the river to the women's monastery.
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