Book VIII (continuied)
(cf.II.iv) We saw another old man called Be who excelled all others in gentleness. The brothers who lived near him said that he never used strong language, never lied about any one, never berated anyone, was never angry. He was always quiet and mild in manner as an angel, of great humility, counting himself as nothing. We asked him eagerly to give us a word of exhortation, but he could hardly bring himself to believe that he could teach us anything about gentleness.
When a hippopotamus ran wild in neighbouring country the farmers asked for his help. He stood near the river where he could see this enormous beast and said, "In the name of Jesus Christ I forbid you to do any further damage to this region." As if driven by an angel it completely disappeared. He also dealt with a crocodile in the same way.
(cf.II.vi) Theona was another we saw. He lived in solitude not far from the city, a holy man who had shut himself up in his little cell and had practised silence for thirty years. He was held to be a prophet because of the many virtues he possessed. A great number of sick people went out to him every day, on whom he laid his hands through the window and sent them away healed. He seemed to have the face of an angel, with smiling eyes, totally full of grace. Not long ago some robbers broke in one night ready to kill him for the sake of the gold they imagined they would find in great quantity. But he prayed, and as a result they remained rooted to the spot in the doorway until morning.
When the usual morning crowd arrived they would have burnt the robbers alive, he just said one word to them, "Let them go in safety, otherwise the grace of healing will depart from me." They listened to what he said, they did not dare disobey, and the robbers went well away to some monasteries which were scattered about, where they changed their way of life and did penance for what they had done.
He was able to speak and write in three languages, Latin, Greek and Egyptian, according to what many people said and as we can testify ourselves. For when he realised that we were foreigners he wrote on his tablets in Latin that he gave thanks to God for us.
His food was uncooked cereals. It was said that at night he went out and mingled with the wild beasts, giving them water out of his own supply. You could see all around his cell the tracks of the wild asses, oxen and goats in which he delighted.
(cf.II.xii) Another old man we saw was called Elias, who was a hundred and ten years old and lived in the desert which takes its name from Antinous, the chief city of the Thebaid. The spirit of the prophet Elijah was said to have fallen upon him. He was well known for having lived in that terrible desert for seventy years. Words are not adequate to describe the harshness of the mountain in that desert place where he lived, and from which he had never come down into the inhabited regions. There were a few footpaths by which people visited him, offering very little foothold, so jagged were the rocks they were built up with. He sat in a rocky cave, an awe-inspiring sight. His whole body trembled, a sign of his great age. He performed many signs daily, and always brought relief to the sick. The fathers who lived near him said that nobody could remember the time when he came to the mountain. In his old age he ate a three ounce loaf and three olives every evening, though in his youth he used to eat only once a week.
THE LIFE OF ABBA APOLLO
(cf.II.vii) We saw another holy man in the valleys of the Thebaid near Hermopolis, which is the place to which the Saviour came with holy Mary and Joseph, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, 'Behold the Lord shall come into Egypt upon a swift cloud and the idols of Egypt shall shake before his presence and fall to the ground' (Isaiah 19.1) We saw there the very temple in which the idols fell to the ground on their faces when the Saviour entered the city. In the deserts there we saw a man called Apollo who had a monastery in the mountains. He was the father of about five hundred monks, and was very well known and admired throughout the Thebaid. He did great things, the Lord endowed him with many powers and many signs and wonders were done through him. From boyhood he had used a strict discipline and he grew in grace with age. When he was eighty he had gathered a great monastery of flawless men, who were all capable of performing signs.
He had left the world at the age of fifteen and spent forty years in solitude, developing all the virtues, when he seemed to hear the voice of the Lord saying, "Apollo, Apollo, through you I will confound the wisdom of the wise in Egypt and the prudence of the peoples. For my sake you will do away with the wise men of Babylon and pluck from their midst all their worship of demons. Now go to the place where they live, and you will bring forth for me a peculiar people eager for good works."
"Take pride away from me, O Lord," he replied, "lest if I be placed above a brotherhood I corrupt any good work that may be done."
Again he heard the divine voice. "Put your hand upon your neck, grasp what you find there and bury it in the sand."
As soon as he had done so he found that he had grasped a small Ethiopian, whom he buried in the sand as he cried out "I am the spirit of pride."
And again the voice came to him, "Go, What you have asked for you will be given." And he went immediately to the inhabited places (it was in the time of the tyrant Julian), and from there to the nearby desert.
He remained there on (the side of) the mountain, having occupied a small cave. This was how he worked, He said prayers throughout the whole twenty-four hours, a hundred at night, and the same number by day, with prostrations. His food had always been supplied in the same way; contrary to any reasonable expectation he was fed directly by God. In that desert place the angels brought him food. He was clothed in a simple tunic [lebiton (Greek) or colobium (Latin)], with a small linen head covering. These did not wear out while he remained in the desert which was not far away from inhabited places. He performed many signs and wonderful deeds in the power of the Spirit. No one could tell the exact number, there were so many of them, according to the old men who had had dealings with him. Some of them were men of very advanced stature (viri perfecti), and had many brothers under their care. He was famous and for ever being talked about, as if he was some new prophet or apostle for our generation, and as his fame spread all the monks scattered about nearby always used to come to him as to a father, freely opening their hearts to him. Some of them he guided towards contemplation, others he taught how to actively cultivate the virtues, first of all illustrating by his own example what he was advocating by his words. He often showed them the way he disciplined his life, mingling with them only on Sundays, taking no bread, fruit or vegetables, none of the cooked dishes that people are accustomed to use, nothing except wild herbs.
During the reign of Julian he once heard that a brother had been conscripted into the army and chained up in prison. He visited him along with some brothers, urging him to remain strong and steadfast in adversity, and to hold his imminent danger in contempt. He warned him about a coming time of conflict, when his resolution would be sorely and suddenly tried. No sooner had he encouraged him with these words than the tribune arrived. Someone pointed the monks out to him, whereupon, yielding to some evil impulse, he closed the gates of the prison, shutting in Apollo and the monks who were with him as suitable to become soldiers in future. Having appointed a sufficient number of guards he went home without even allowing them a hearing. In the middle of the night an angel bearing a torch appeared to the guards, illuminating everyone in the prison, and making the guards fall down in a stupor. When they came to they opened the doors of the prison and begged everyone to go, for they said that they would rather be put to death for doing that than ignore the liberty which was being offered by God to these people who were being wrongly detained. And when the tribune arrived in the morning with the magistrates he saw to it that those prisoners should get right out of the city, for he said that his house had collapsed in an earthquake during the night and crushed the best of his slaves. At this they gave thanks to God and departed into the desert, where, as the Apostle puts it, they were all of one heart and mind.
He taught that one should daily develop in virtue, especially in the power of continually repelling the attacks of the devil through thoughts. For if you can crush the serpent's head its whole body dies. The Lord warns us that we should look out for the serpent's head, that is, that we should refuse entry right at the start to all evil and sordid thoughts, not just in order to drive obscene fantasies out of our minds but to overwhelm them by contrary virtues, and to let no other prize be more valued than this. For this is the sign that you have progressed in virtue when you are free from the power of all urges and desires. This is the highest of the gifts of Christ. But when God gives anyone miraculous powers let him not get proud as if he has no need for further progress, nor get carried away by the thought that he is honoured above other people, or draw attention to the graces that he has received, lest with a closed mind he deceives himself and is deprived of grace. His teaching was full of this most important doctrine, as we later often heard from him ourselves. But the things he did were greater, for his every petition was immediately granted by God.
He was even granted visions. He had an elder brother who had also lived out his life in the desert and even surpassed him in the beauty of his life. He had lived with him in the desert for a long time. This brother he seemed to see sitting on the same sort of throne as the apostles, having left him a legacy in the shape of all his virtues. So he prayed to God that his own translation might be swift so that he might enjoy the peace of heaven with his brother. But it seemed that the Saviour said to him that he had to stay on earth for a while yet, in order that many might be brought to perfection, since there were many who would come to emulate his virtues. His faith would be responsible for a vast number of monks, a devoted army whose labours will give great glory to God. This is what he saw, and so it turned out, for many who had heard about him came to him from far and wide to become monks. Through his teaching and way of life a great number totally renounced the world, so that a community of up to five hundred brothers came into being, living a common life, eating at a common table, all clothed in white. In them was fulfilled the Scripture, 'Rejoice, O desert without water, break forth and shout you have not given birth, for many are the children of the desert, more than the children of men (Isaiah 54.1).
That eloquent prophecy has indeed been fulfilled by the existence of the church gathered up out of all the nations, but shown up to perfection in this Egyptian desert, where more children of God can be seen than in the inhabited places. Where in the cities can you find as many flocks on the road to salvation as you can find in the deserts of Egypt? There are as many monks in the desert as there are ordinary people in the cities, and it seems to me that this also is a fulfilment of what the Apostle said, 'Where sin abounded, there grace abounded more abundantly' (Romans 5.20). For in Egypt there used to be a great deal of idolatrous worship, more than in any other country. Some worshipped dogs and monkeys, others garlic and onions, many humble vegetables they thought to be gods, according to what this same holy father told us as he explained the ignorance of former times.
"For since the people who lived here in former times," he said, "had tamed the ox for agricultural purposes, they made a god out of it. The same with the waters of the Nile, since it watered all the fields, making the land cultivated there more fertile than any other. All the other abominations, the dogs and the monkeys and the rest of the disgusting collection of animals and vegetables, they made cults out of because they had been saved by them in Pharaoh's time when he had been drowned in pursuit if the Israelites. Those who did not follow Pharaoh made gods out of whatever they had been occupied with at the time, for they said, "This is my god today, for it has been the reason that I did not perish with Pharaoh." So Apollo in his discourses taught us.
It is more important, however, to write about what he did than what he said. Now there were a number of heathen (gentiles) worshipping demons scattered about in various places fairly near at hand, and ten particular districts even closer. In one of the villages there was a great temple containing a very famous idol made of wood. It used to be carried about in a procession through various villages by disreputable priests in drunken revels with the crowds, as they celebrated the mysteries of the waters of the River. On one occasion, however, it so happened that Apollo was there with some of his brothers and when he saw the crowds throughout the region going mad in their devilish celebrations, he prostrated himself before the Saviour, with the result that all those people suddenly became rooted to the spot. They could not move out of the place, however much they pushed each other, but sweltered all day in the burning heat, unable to understand why this should have happened to them. The priests however told them that it was a certain Christian living nearby in the desert who was responsible, meaning Apollo. He would need to be approached, if not they would all be in great peril.
Meanwhile, people living at some distance had heard their shouts and weeping.
"What is this which has suddenly hit you?" they asked, as they came running up. "How did it happen?"
"We are not sure," they said, "but we suspect a certain person who will have to be appeased."
"Yes, we saw him going along with us," others said. And all begged that help be speedily brought to them.
They brought oxen and tried to move the idol, but it remained immovable, along with the priests. After exhausting all means of trying to move, they sent the neighbours on a delegation to Apollo promising to renounce their errors if they were freed. When Apollo, the man of God, heard this he immediately went down, prayed, and released them. With one accord they all came to him professing belief in the God and Saviour who could do such great things and consigned the idol to the fire. They were then enrolled in the catechumenate and added to the churches. Many of them since that day have been in monasteries right up till now. The fame of this happening spread everywhere, and so many believed in the Lord that soon no heathen (gentilis) could anywhere be found in those districts.
Not long after this two villages began to fight with each other in a dispute over some fields. When Apollo heard about this he went down immediately to try and make peace between them. The aggressive side did not make an appearance, but refused, relying on a certain robber chief who was an outstanding man of war. Apollo went and confronted him in his refusal, saying, "If you make an appearance, my friend, I will pray to God for your sins to be forgiven." Hearing this he laid down his arms without hesitation, fell on his knees and begged for mercy. Peace was restored at his plea, and he ordered his men back to their own place.
When they had agreed to make peace and had gone away, their famous fighting leader followed Apollo, openly fulfilling what he had promised. Apollo took him back with him into the desert, taught him and encouraged him to be patient and steadfast of heart, for God was able to forgive. That night they both had a dream in which they saw themselves before the judgment seat of God. Both of them gazed on the Angels adoring God along with the saints. They both fell down with them and adored the Father. And they both heard the voice of God saying, "'What has light got to do with darkness? Or what part do the faithful have with the unfaithful?' (2 Corinthians 6.14-15). How is it that a murderer who is unworthy of such contemplation stands among the righteous? Come away, O man. To you it has been granted to be born again and abandon your former life."
They fervently told their companions of many other wonders they had seen and heard, which speech dare not describe nor ear dare hear. All were filled with wonder as they each described exactly the same vision. A murderer no longer, the former leader of the robbers remained with these disciplined men, amending his life right up to the time of his death, changed from a wolf into a simple and innocent lamb. In him was fulfilled the word of Isaiah the prophet, 'The wolf and lamb shall graze together, the lion and the ox shall both eat straw.' (Isaiah 65.25). Ethiopians also could be seen working with the monks, and surpassing many of them in virtue, and the Scripture was fulfilled in them also, 'Ethiopia shall hold out her hand to God.' (Psalms 68.3).
On another occasion there were some heathen (gentiles) in a dispute with Christian farmers over their land. There was a large band of armed men among them, to whom Apollo went with the intention of making peace. The heathen battle-leader, a big, savage man, had no intention of cooperating. He swore positively that he would die rather than make peace.
['battle leader, in pugna antesignanus. The name for the soldiers who fought in front of the standards as the army went into battle.]
"Be it unto you even as you have chosen," said Apollo. "No one will be killed before you. But after your death you will not be buried in the earth. You will fill the bellies of the wild beasts and vultures." And it so happened that these words came true almost immediately, since on both sides of the battle no one was killed except this battle-leader. They buried him in the sand, and the next morning they found his limbs torn to bits by hyenas and vultures. When they saw the miracle of how things had turned out exactly as he had said they acknowledged that he was a prophet, and all believed in the Saviour.
Much earlier than this the holy Apollo had just five brothers with him in his mountain cave. These were his first disciples after coming out of his solitude. When Easter had come and they had worshipped God they prepared to eat what food they had. But all there was were a few dried loaves, and certain dried herbs.
"If we are faithful members of Christ's family, my sons, " Apollo said to them, "let each one of you ask God for what he would most like to eat." But with one accord they all entrusted that task to him, considering themselves to be unworthy of receiving such a great grace. With shining face he prayed, and they all said Amen. And that very evening there arrived at the cave some complete strangers, who said they had come from a long way away. They brought all sorts of things with them, things which nobody had ever heard of, things which did not grow in Egypt, garden fruits of all kinds, grapes and pomegranates, even some honeycomb and a jar of fresh milk, large nicolai, fresh warm foreign made loaves. The bearers of this food handed it all over as if from some great rich person and promptly went away again. When the monks had taken stock of all this food they found that there was enough to see them through to Pentecost, so that they all marvelled and said, "These things truly are sent by God."
One of the monks asked Apollo to pray for him as a father that he would be granted some kind of grace. Apollo prayed, and the monk was given the grace of humility and gentleness, so that they were all amazed at how gentle he had become. The brothers who were with him told us of these powers, and there were many other brothers to corroborate it.
Not long before this there had been a famine in the Thebaid. The people in the neighbouring regions heard that, contrary to all hope and reason, those who lived near the monks were eating daily. With one accord they came with their wives and children, seeking both food and blessing. Without any fear that the food supply might run out, Apollo gave to everyone who came sufficient food for one day. When the famine grew worse and there were only three large baskets of bread left, he ordered the baskets to be put in the middle of the place where the monks were to eat, and in the hearing of the monks and the crowds of people shouted aloud, "Can the hand of the Lord not keep these full? Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'The bread in these baskets will not fail until we have been fed to the full with new grain.'"
And those who were there have testified that the bread lasted four months. And the same thing happened with the grain and vegetables.
Then Satan appeared. "Who do you think you are? Elias? Or some other prophet or apostle, doing this?"
"What's the matter with you?" Apollo replied. "Weren't the apostles and prophets holy people who handed this tradition on to us? If God was with them then why should he now have departed far off? God can always do these things and there is nothing that God cannot do. If God is good why are you evil? Why should we also not speak of what we have seen, brothers going in to take bread to the tables, satisfying the appetites of five hundred people, and finding the baskets still full?"
It is right that we should also describe another miracle we saw which astonished us. When we went to visit him, we had been on the way for three days when the brothers met us, having seen us in the distance after having been told by Apollo we were coming. They hastened towards us on the road, singing psalms, as it is customary for monks to do. They first prostrated themselves, then embraced us, each one in turn.
"See now," they said, "these brothers our father told us about three days ago have arrived. He told us that in three days time there would be three brothers arriving from Jerusalem."
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