Chapter LII, Apollo (continued) Book VIII
(Life of Copres begins further down page)
And some went on in front of us, some followed on behind, all singing psalms, until we got near to Apollo, who when he heard the psalmody came out to meet us, as he always did for every brother. When he saw he prostrated himself, embraced us, introduced himself and said some prayers. He washed our feet with his own hands and urged us to take some refreshment. He always did this for any brother who came to visit him. But those who were with him did not eat anything till after receiving the Eucharist of Christ, which they celebrated at the ninth hour.
Having eaten they sat listening to Apollo teaching them over a wide range of subjects (docentem omnia praecepta, lit. 'teaching all the precepts') until time for the first spell of sleep.
[The practice was to sleep for a while after Vespers before waking up again for the psalmody of the Night Office, Mattins, after which there was an opportunity for a 'second sleep' (Cassian, Institutes, book iii). Some monks evidently carried on psalmodising even during their sleep time.]
After that some of them went back into solitude, reciting the Scriptures from memory for the rest of the night, others stayed on, praising God with fervent psalms until the next day. I saw with my own eyes how some had begun with the psalms of Vespers and kept up their singing until Mattins. There were many who only came down from the mountain at the ninth hour and went back again after the Eucharist, satisfied with that spiritual food until the next evening. Many of them kept this up for many days at a time. They could be seen to be really happy in their solitude, and unable think of enjoying any other form of pleasure or relaxation on earth. And there was no one among them sad or gloomy, although if anyone did seem to have a bit of gloominess about him Apollo as a father would ask him why, and he would reveal the secrets of his heart.
"It does not do to be gloomy about your prospects of salvation," he would say, "for we are heirs of the kingdom of heaven. The heathen may be sad, the Jews may weep, sinners may be fearful, but the righteous can only rejoice. Those who are worried about earthly matters have only got earthly things in which it is possible for them to rejoice. But we who have been found worthy of being given such great hope, how can we fail to rejoice perpetually? Indeed it is the Apostle who urges us to rejoice always and give thanks in all things." (1Thessalonians 5.16,18). We cannot adequately describe the gracefulness of his speech, or the rest of his virtues, which we observed for ourselves and which others told us about. They are so miraculous they strike us dumb.
He talked to us a great deal about their discipline and way of life. In the matter of welcoming visitors he often said how we ought to worship brothers on their arrival. "For it is not them you are worshipping," he said, "but God. You have seen your brother? You have seen the Lord your God. We learn this from Abraham. From Lot who welcomed angels we learn that you should always offer brothers refreshment, and we learn that monks should receive the Sacrament daily, if at all possible. If you separate yourself from the Sacrament God will separate himself from you. But if you partake devoutly you devoutly receive the Saviour. 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood,' the Saviour said, 'remains in me and I in him.' (John 6.56) A monk should daily prepare himself for celebrating the saving passion with a pure heart, so that he is ready at all times to receive the heavenly Sacrament, especially since the remission of sins follows on from this.
"The general Catholic fast days should not be neglected except in cases of great need. For the Saviour was betrayed on Thursday and crucified on Friday. To neglect these days is to be identified with those who betrayed and crucified. But if a brother comes to you who really needs refreshment on a fast day give him a table by himself, but don't compel him to if he objects. We do have a tradition of living in common."
He was particularly scathing about those who went to great trouble to keep their hair trimmed. "Those people are simply drawing attention to themselves and trying to please others rather than disciplining their bodies with fasting and keeping their good deeds secret. That is what they don't do; instead they parade themselves in full view of everyone."
What need I say more? All his teaching was mirrored in the way he lived his life, which no one could adequately talk or write about. Many other things he said to each of us individually, often over the course of the whole week, until dismissing us with the words, "Be at peace among yourselves and stay together on the way."
He asked the brothers with him which of them would like to take us to visit some of the other fathers, then chose three men to go with us who were accomplished in word and deed and skilled in Greek Latin and Egyptian. He told them not to leave us until our desire to see the fathers was satisfied, although of course a whole lifetime would not suffice to see them all. He bade us farewell with a blessing, "May the Lord bless you out of Sion, that you may see the good of Jerusalem all your life long." (Psalms 128.5).
As we were walking through the desert in the middle of the day we saw the tracks of a large beast, (draco, a dragon) as big as if a tree had been dragged through the sand. We were absolutely terrified at the sight. But the brothers who were guiding us urged us not to be afraid but to be of good courage and follow the beast's tracks.
"You will see how our faith will enable us to overcome the beast," they said. "We have killed many a beast and horned serpent in fulfilment of the Scripture, 'I have given you the power of treading down serpents and scorpions and over every power of the enemy,'" (Luke. 10.19).
We were not convinced, overcome as we were by great fear, and we begged them not to follow the tracks of the beast but to keep to the beaten path. But one of the brothers said farewell to us at that point and set off with great eagerness in pursuit of the beast. He found it not far away near a cave.
"The beast is in a cave," he shouted. "Come and see what is going to happen."
The other brothers urged us not to be afraid, and so we all began fearfully to go off to see the beast. But another brother suddenly ran up to us and took us by the hand into his own cell.
"You have never seen such a beast," he said, "and you would not be able to endure it, whereas I have often seen such beasts of up to fifteen cubits long. You stay here."
He then went off to the brother in front of the cave and suggested that he come away, which he was unwilling to do until he had done his best to kill the beast. But he was at last persuaded, and came back with him, mocking us for being of little faith.
We stayed with that brother, whose cell was about a mile away, until we had recovered sufficiently to continue.
THE LIFE OF ABBA AMUN
(also in II..viii) This brother also told us that he had been a disciple of another holy man of many virtues called Amun, who used to live in that region. Thieves often came and robbed him of bread and other food. Unable to put up with this any longer he went out into the desert one day and brought back two wild beasts which he ordered to stay and keep guard over his door. When those murderers arrived as usual and saw this miracle they gasped with astonishment and fell flat on their faces. Amun came out and found them dumb and half dead. He roused them up and told them what he thought of their misdeeds.
"Look! You are worse than these animals," he said. "They at least out of respect for God are obedient to my will. But you neither fear God nor have any respect for the religion of the Christians."
He took them into his cell, gave them a meal and urged them to change their way of life. They departed, and immediately became known as leading better lives than many others. Not long afterwards they also had the reputation of being able to do similar miracles.
On another occasion there was a wild beast creating havoc in the region, killing so many cattle that the people living near the desert all came to Amun begging him to rid the place of this beast. But he sent them away, saying that there was nothing he could do to remedy their distress. But next morning he got up and went to the place where the beast usually passed by. When he had prostrated himself in prayer three times the beast appeared, breathing out heavy vapours with discordant noise, swollen up, hissing, totally repulsive in appearance.
"May you be subject to Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, who has power over all beasts." he said, turning towards the beast without a sign of fear. As soon as he had spoken the beast burst asunder, spewing out poison and blood from his mouth. When the villagers came back next day and saw this great miracle their hearts sank within them. They were afraid to come too close to it even though it was dead, so merely piled up a lot of sand round it as the old man stood by.
There had been a boy tending his flocks who had seen a living wild beast and fainted with shock, lying there lifeless all alone all day. At evening time his friends found him barely breathing but beside himself in a sort of trance. They could not understand what had happened to him but they took him to Amun who prayed for him and anointed him with oil. The boy immediately came to his senses and told them why he had been struck down. It was this event which moved the old man to be converted to the idea of eliminating wild beasts entirely.
THE LIFE OF ABBA COPRES, A PRESBYTER.
(cf.II.ix) There was a certain presbyter called Copres who had a cell in the desert, a holy man, nearly ninety, leader of about five hundred brothers. He was a man of many strengths, a physician to the sick who cured many, who drove out demons and performed many great deeds, some of which were done before our very eyes. After he had met us, greeted us, prayed with us and washed our feet, he asked us how we were getting on in the world. But we told him we would much rather he tell us about the virtues of the way of life he was leading and the gifts which God had given him and the way in which he was sharing in God's grace. Without showing any signs of being flattered by what we had asked he quite simply told us about his life, and the life of those who had gone before him on whom his own life was modelled.
"There is nothing marvellous about me, my sons," he said, "compared with what was shown forth in the lives of our fathers."
And while he was in the midst of telling us about the good and virtuous deeds done by the fathers, one of our brothers began to get drowsy, as if he was not setting much store by what was being said. He suddenly saw in Copres' hands a beautiful book with golden letters and a man in white standing by who said, "Are you listening attentively, or are you going to sleep?" He gave a start, and as we eagerly listened, told us immediately in Latin what he had heard and seen.
While Copres was speaking a peasant came towards us carrying a wicker basket full of sand, and stood waiting until Copres had finished speaking.
"What does this peasant with the sand want?" we asked.
"My sons," he replied, "it is not for me to glorify myself, not even in telling you of things done by our fathers, lest we become puffed up and lose our reward. However, to help you in the quest which has brought you from such a great distance, we won't deprive you of any possible benefit, but will tell you brothers here now of what the Saviour has done through us.
"Farming land near us owned by the peasants used to be so sterile that they were barely able to reap the same amount of grain as they had sown. Pests flourished in the new ears destroying the hope of harvest. We introduced them to the catechumenate and made Christians out of them, and they asked us to pray for the harvest.
"'If you have faith in God,' I said to them, 'even the sand of the desert will bring forth fruit for you.'
"They lost no time in filling their laps with the sand we walk upon and brought it to us asking us to bless it. I prayed that it might be done to them according to their faith, after which they sowed some of the sand in their fields along with the seed. The land then brought forth bumper harvests, better than anything else in Egypt. So they have been in the habit of doing this for all the years since they had this trouble.
"God also did a marvellous miracle through me in the presence of many people. Once when I went down into the city I found a Manichaean had been leading the people astray. I failed in public to get him to change his teachings, so I turned to the people and said, 'Build up a funeral pile out in the open and let us both go up into the flames. Let the one who stays unharmed in the flames be the one who has the true faith.'
"No sooner said than the crowd built up a funeral pile and dragged us both towards the fire.
"'Each one ought to go in separately,' the Manichaean said. 'You were the one who suggested it. You should go first.'
"I signed myself in the name of Christ and walked into the flames. They divided on either side of me, and I suffered no harm even after having been in there for half an hour. The crowd shouted loudly when they saw this miracle and began to compel the Manichaean to go into the pyre, but he was terrified and refused. The people picked him up and threw him into the middle of it. Totally engulfed in flames he was eliminated from the city as the people cried, 'Burn this impostor alive!'
"As for me I was taken in procession into the church, preceded by the crowd singing praises."
"Once I happened on a certain temple where some of the people were sacrificing to their idols.
"'Since you are people with the gift of reason,' I said to them, 'why are you sacrificing to things totally lacking in reason? Are you even more devoid of reason than they?'
"Realising that I had said something that was absolutely right they believed on the Saviour and began to follow me.
"I once used to have a garden plot on a neighbouring farm, looked after by a certain poor man, in order to provide vegetables for brothers who came to stay with me. A certain heathen person broke in to steal the vegetables, and when he had loaded himself up with them he went away and tried to cook them, but for the space of three hours had no success. They stayed in the bottom of the pot in exactly the same state as when he had put them in, for the water just would not come to the boil. Gathering his wits together he picked up the vegetables and brought them back to us, asking us to forgive his crime and make him a Christian, which we did. In that same hour we received some brothers as guests, so it was most opportune that the vegetables had been brought back to us. After we had eaten we were doubly thankful to God, as much for the hospitality shown to the brothers as for the salvation of a soul."
THE LIFE OF ABBA SURUS
(cf.II.x) He (i.e. Copres, see chapter LIV) also told us about the abbas Surus, Isaiah and Paul, well known for their devout and disciplined lives, who unexpectedly met together on the banks of a river when they were on their way to visit the great Abba Anuph. They were still a three days journey away from their destination.
"Let us reveal to each other the way we lead our lives and how God has blessed us in our lives," they said.
"I ask as a gift from God," said Abba Surus, "that by the power of the spirit we get to our destination without being tired out." He was the only one of them to make this prayer, but immediately they found that a ship was ready and the wind was favourable, so that in a moment of time they had crossed the river and found themselves at their destination.
THE LIFE OF ABBA ISAIAH
(cf.II.x) Isaiah in his turn said, "Would it not be a wonderful thing, my friends, if the man himself (i.e. Anuph) came to meet us and told us what the life of each one of us was like?"
THE LIFE OF ABBA PAUL
(cf.II.x) Paul in his turn said, "What if God revealed to us that he would take this man to himself after three days?" They had hardly gone on any distance before this man came to meet them and greeted them.
"Tell us how you have lived such a righteous life," said Paul, "for the day after tomorrow you go to God."
THE LIFE OF ABBA ANUPH
(cf.II.x) "Blessed be God," Anuph said to them, "who has warned me of your coming and revealed to me your way of life." He then went though all the good things each one of them had done before telling them of his own deeds.
"Since the time when I openly confessed the name of the Saviour in this world there has no falsehood come out of my mouth. I have taken no human food but have been fed daily by an angel with food from heaven. There has been no other desire in my heart than desire for God. There is nothing on earth which God has hidden from me, he has shown me how to interpret all things. I do not sleep much, I get no rest at night but continue to seek God. There is always an angel with me warning me of the powers of this world. My lamp of meditation has never been extinguished. God has always answered my petitions. I have often seen numberless myriads of angels in the presence of God, with the choirs of the righteous, the company of martyrs, the ranks of the monks, all of them praising God. I saw Satan cast into the fire and punished with his angels and the righteous rejoicing in eternity."
Many other things he told them, and on the third day he yielded up his spirit. And they saw the angels and the choir of martyrs and heard their songs of praise as they took up his soul and bore it into heaven.
THE LIFE OF ABBA HELLEN
(cf.II.xi) There was another father called abba Hellen, who from an early age had lived a life of discipline. Time and again he would give quite fiery exhortations to the brothers who were with him, urging them not merely to be disciplined in their lives but to show results by increasing in virtue.
Once when he was by himself in the desert he was obsessed by a desire for some honey, when believe it or not he came across a honeycomb under a rock.
"Be off, you inordinate desire!" he cried. "For it is written 'Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfil the desires of the flesh'" (Galatians 5.16). And he left the honeycomb where it was and walked away.
After fasting three weeks in the desert he found some fruits which had been scattered about, but he said, "I won't eat them, I won't even touch them, lest I shock my brothers, never mind do harm to my own soul. For it is written, 'Man does not live by bread alone.'" (Luke 4.4).
After fasting another week he fell into a heavy sleep and an angel came to him in a dream, saying, "Arise, take what you find, and eat." He got up, looked about him, and saw a spring which had made various plants grow in a circle all around it. He ate the fruits and drank the water, declaring that he had never tasted anything so delicious.
He found a small cave nearby and stayed there fasting for several days. When he needed food he prostrated himself and prayed, and immediately all kinds of food were placed before him, warm bread, olives and various kinds of fruit.
He would sometime visit the brothers to give them instruction, after which he would hasten back to the desert, taking with him anything he needed. He saw some donkeys feeding, and said, "In the name of Jesus Christ, one of you come and carry my parcels." And immediately one of them came. He put his sheepskin on it and sat on it, and arrived back at his cave after only one day. He left his bread and fruit outside in the sun, but when the wild beasts came to drink as usual at the spring they fell dead if they so much as touched any of it.
On another occasion he went to visit some monks on a Sunday and asked them why they had not celebrated the synaxis. They immediately replied that it was because the presbyter had not come.
[Synaxis A Vigil service consisting of psalms and readings, beginning on the Saturday night and culminating in the Holy Eucharist on Sunday morning.]
"I will go and get him," he said.
"You won't be able to cross the river," they replied. "It's too deep. Besides, there is an enormous beast of a crocodile there which has eaten many people."
Without delay he got up and went to the crossing point, where the crocodile took him on its back and carried him across to the other side of the river. When he found the presbyter at home he begged him not to neglect the brothers. The presbyter looked at Hellen's clothing, all patched and tattered.
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