Chapter LXVII, Philemon (continuied), Book VIII
When their fellow Christians found their bodies cast up on the shore they made there one single shrine for them all, where many powerful signs are now worked. For this man was so full of grace that the Lord honoured him by answering whatever he asked for in his prayer. We saw it ourselves and prayed there, along with others who were deeply moved by this martyrs' shrine. We worshipped God and paid our respects to this holy place in the Thebaid.
THE LIFE OF ABBA DIOSCURUS, PRESBYTER.
(cf. II.xx) We also saw another presbyter in the desert called Dioscurus, the father of a hundred monks. When anyone by the grace of God came to be with him he would say to them: "See that you do not come to the Holy Sacrament if you have had fantasies about women during the night. None of you should have gone to sleep under the influence of visions and fantasies. It is a different matter if you have simply had a nocturnal emission of semen without any fantasies. They do not come to anyone by a deliberate act of will but involuntarily. They are a perfectly natural expulsion of superfluous matter, and there is nothing sinful about them. Visions and fantasies are something which are subject to your own free choice, and are symptomatic of a sick mind. It is incumbent upon a monk to transcend the laws of nature, to purify the body so that no weakness of the flesh be found in it, but rather to chastise the flesh until there is no superfluous matter to be found in it. Strive therefore to wear it down by frequent and severe fasting, so that we shall be less likely to be aroused by our appetites and desires. It is not right for a monk to be at the mercy of his mental desires. In this we are different from those in the world. Don't we often see such people abstaining from certain pleasures for health reasons, or some other such strange irrational impulse. How much more should a monk take care for the health of his mind and spirit.
THE ANCHORITES OF NITRIA.
(cf. II.xxi) We also visited Nitria where we saw many great anchorites, some native born, some foreign. They rivalled each other in virtue, living their lives with great zeal, each of them trying to outdo the others. Some of them were given to contemplation, others to action. When any of them saw us coming afar off, some would run to us with water, others would wash our feet, others our clothes, some would offer us food, others would share their contemplation and knowledge of God with us. Each one was eager to do whatever he could for us. And what can we say about their virtues? It is impossible to do justice to them.
They live in this desert place at great distances from each other, so that none can be easily seen heard or recognised by his neighbour. They live in complete quietness, each one shut up by himself. They meet each other only on Saturdays and Sundays when they gather together in the church. Many therefore often go at least four days without even seeing anyone else, until they gather together. Some of them are so far apart from each other that they have to travel three or four miles to get to the meeting. They show a great deal of love among themselves, far more than other monks do, so that anyone seeking salvation in the company of so many like them is more than content to find that his own cell provides him with all the refreshment that he needs.
THE LIFE OF ABBA AMMON, AND THOSE WITH HIM.
We saw the father of those anchorites, a man called Ammon, who had a really splendid cell, with a large front room, a well and other necessary rooms. A brother wanting to save his soul came to him and asked him to find him a cell to live in.
"Stay here and don't go away till I have found you some little place," said Ammon, and leaving him in charge of everything, cell and all, he went and occupied another tiny little cell himself.
If a group of people came wanting to save their souls he gathered the whole brotherhood together and organised some to bring building materials, some to fetch water, and in the space of one day new cells were ready. He summoned their future occupants to a welcome party in the church, and while they were all there rejoicing and relaxing the brothers filled sheepskins and baskets with bread or other necessary things and left them in the new cells so that none of the newcomers would know who had given what, but found everything they needed when they came back to their cells at night. There were some who ate no bread or fruit but only wild intyba (herbs ?). There were some who did not sleep at night but sat or stood until dawn, persevering in prayer.
THE LIFE OF ABBA ISODORE, AND THOSE WITH HIM
(cf. II.17).In the Thebaid we also visited the monastery of a certain Isodore, a great man, where there were a thousand monks. There were wells and gardens inside, providing everything necessary for the life, so that no one needed to go outside the monastery. There was a presbyter at the door who would not allow anyone out; nor allow anyone in unless he had an intention of staying there till death without going anywhere else. Some however who came in through the gate he offered hospitality in a small guesthouse, and having spoken kindly to them next morning sent them on their way in peace.
There were two presbyters who were the only ones to go out, in order to sell what the brothers had made and bring back what they needed for their work. The presbyter who kept the gate told me that those inside were so holy that that they were all able to do miracles. None of them ever fell ill before death, but when the time for their departure had come they told all the others before lying down and falling asleep
THE LIFE OF ABBA AMMON, PRESBYTER
(cf. II.xxxii) There is another place of solitude in Egypt, in very difficult country near the sea not far from the city of Diolcos, where many great anchorites lived. We met there a holy and very humble presbyter called Ammon who had visionary gifts. Once when offering the sacrifice to God he saw an angel standing at the right hand of the altar taking note of the brothers who came seeking God's grace and writing their names in his book. If anyone was missing from the synaxis he saw their names being crossed out, and within three days they were dead. Demons often tortured him so badly that he was unable to stand at the altar to make the offering, but an angel came and took him by the hand and immediately gave him strength so that he was able to stand firmly at the altar. The brothers were amazed at the sight of his torments.
THE LIFE OF ABBA JOHN
(cf. II.xxxiii) We saw someone else in Diolcos named John, the father of a monastery, who also was blessed with many graces. He had the clothing of Abraham and the beard of Aaron. He did many miracles and cures. Especially he cured many paralytics and those suffering from gout.
THE LIFE OF ABBA PITYRION, AND THOSE WITH HIM
( cf.II.xxxi) We also saw in the Thebaid a high mountain overhanging the river, precipitous and fearsome. The monks lived there in caves. Their father was called Pityrion, who was one of Antony's disciples, and the third person to live in that place. He showed forth many virtues and was an adept at driving out spirits. In succeeding Antony and his disciple Ammon he deservedly inherited their gifts. He gave a great deal of teaching to us and many others with us, discoursing on the accurate discernment of spirits. He said that there were some demons associated with psychological patterns (motus animi), who were able to turn our desires (affectiones) into evil paths.
"So, my sons," he said to us, "anyone wanting to expel demons must first get his desires under control. The measure of being able to expel demons is the measure of being able to control your desires. Little by little therefore you must conquer your desires so that you can drive out the demons associated with them. The demon loves gluttony. Anyone who overcomes gluttony drives out the demon of gluttony."
He himself ate only twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays. His meal was a little pulse without flour, which he had got so used to that he simply could not eat anything else.
THE LIFE OF EULOGIUS, PRESBYTER
(cf.II.xiv) We saw another presbyter called Eulogius, who was given such a gift of knowledge when offering the gifts to God that he was able to read the minds of those monks who were drawing near. He frequently stopped monks from approaching the altar, saying, "How can you presume to approach the Holy Sacrament when your thoughts are so evil; you have been entertaining filthy thoughts of fornication last night. There is another who thinks that it doesn't matter whether you are a sinner or a righteous person in approaching the grace of God, and another who reasons that surely the mere fact of offering the gifts at the altar will sanctify him. Stay away from the Sacraments for a while, do penance that your sins may be forgiven and you will then be worthy of the communion of Christ. Unless you first clean up your thoughts you cannot enter into the grace of Christ."
THE LIFE OF SERAPION, PRESBYTER .
In the Arsinoe area we also saw a certain presbyter called Serapion, the father of many monasteries, making him the leader of a large brotherhood of about ten thousand monks. He administered an extensive charity on behalf of the brothers, in that at harvest time they all handed over to him the profits received from the sale of their grain. Each one was able to supply twelve artabas (one artaba = approx 2 gallons), the equivalent of what we would call forty modii. He used this to help the poor, so that there was no one destitute in the surrounding region, and he even sent some to the poor in Alexandria. But throughout the whole of Egypt none of the fathers neglected this service, so that because of the labours of the brothers they were able to send so many ships full of grain and clothing to Alexandria that there was scarcely any real poverty there.
THE LIFE OF ABBA POSIDONIUS
There are so many things about Posidonius of Thebes that it is difficult to tell of them all. He was very gentle, and very severe in his way of life, and there was an innocence about him such as I have never met in anyone else. I lived with him for a year in Bethlehem, in the place where Poemon had lived, and took note of all his virtues. Among other things, one day he told me the following:
"I lived in Porphyria for a whole year and saw no other human being for all that time, and therefore heard no sermons. I lived on wild herbs and ate very little bread except an occasional small portion. Once when I had completely run out of bread I left my cave to go to a village, but having walked all day I covered no more than two miles. Looking about me a saw a horseman dressed in military uniform and wearing a helmet. I realised he was a soldier and I followed him to a cave where I found a container full of grapes both dried and newly picked. I accepted them joyfully and so returned to my own cave with two months food supply."
There is also this miracle which Posidonius did in Bethlehem. A pregnant woman was possessed of an unclean spirit which was tormenting her grievously when she came to give birth. Her husband, seeing her being attacked by a demon, came and asked that holy man to help. We went in to offer prayers, he prayed, then stood up, and after doing this twice the spirit was driven out. He stood up and said to us: "Keep praying. Although the spirit has been driven out we need some sign to be quite sure." And as the demon went he split the courtyard wall from top to bottom. The woman had not spoken for six years, but after the exorcism she gave birth and began to speak.
From this holy Posidonius I also heard a word of prophecy about a certain Jerome. He was a presbyter who lived in this district, eloquently fluent in Latin writings and of a brilliant intellect, but so filled with a spirit of jealousy that his awareness of sound doctrine perished. Posidonius spent a lot of time with this man, and he said to me that . . .
A noble woman who looked after him, would be delivered from his jealousy only by dying before he did. He divined that because of this man no holy person would be able to live in that area, but that his jealousy would affect even his own brother. And so it turned out.
He drove the blessed Oxyperantius the Italian from this place…
And Peter, another Egyptian…
And Simeon. I knew all these men and they were admirable people.
Simeon told me about Posidonius, who was a most abstemious person who practised all the virtues. He ate no bread for the last forty years of his life and to the day of his death bore no grudge against any injuries done to him.
Such were the struggles and miracles of the famous Posidonius, such was his spirit of prophecy, the greatest of all his virtues. This is the end of the life of this blessed and outstanding man.
THE LIFE OF SERAPION SINDONITES
Serapion Sindonites was so called because he never wore anything except a sindon (a simple linen garment). He possessed no property and was totally unskilled, for which reason he was thought to be totally impassibilis (indifferent to all kinds of physical discomfort) Although unable to read he nevertheless learned the Scriptures by heart. Even though he had nothing and meditated on the Scriptures he was one who found it quite impossible to stay quietly in a cell, but this was not because he was led astray by worldly desires, but because he was drawn to an Apostolic life. He travelled the world over, embracing the most demanding form of poverty, and developed his powers of endurance to perfection. He was born with this kind of nature - for even though all people share one humanity there are many different kinds of nature (sunt enim naturarum, non substantiarum, differentiae).
The fathers relate that when he was approached by someone who wished to learn from him how to live the disciplined life he went instead into the city and sold himself as a slave to some non-Christian (gentilibus) actors for twenty solidi. This money he hid in a secret place and did not spend it. He continued to serve these actors who had bought him, eating nothing but bread and water, and speaking constantly of what he learned from Holy Scriptures, until he converted them to Christianity and turned them away from the theatre. First it had been the husband after quite a long time, then the wife and then the whole family. The saying is that even while they were taking no notice of him he was spiritually washing their feet.
Both of them were baptised. Both renounced the theatre. They embarked on a new life, honest and devout, and held their slave in great respect.
"Come, brother," they said, "we are going to give you your freedom, since you have liberated us from a sordid way of life."
"It is God who has done it all," he replied, "you have cooperated with him. And so you have saved your souls. Now I will tell you the hidden reason for what I have done. I was moved with compassion for you because of your false way of life. I am a free monk (liber exercitator) of Egypt, and it was in this cause that I sold myself to you and became your slave. Since it is God who has acted to bring your souls into safety, please take back the money you gave me, and let me go and bring help to someone else."
"But you are our lord and father. Please stay with us," they urged him again and again. But he would not be persuaded.
"Why not give the money to the poor - for it has been the cause of our salvation," they said.
"No, you give it to them, " he said. "It's yours, after all, I can't give somebody else's money to the poor."
"Well at least come back and visit us next year," they urged him. And so he departed from them.
In the course of his various wanderings he came at last to Greece, and stayed for three days in Athens without anyone offering him any bread. As for money, or a bag, or a sheepskin, or a staff, he had none of these things. He was dressed only in his sindon. By the fourth day he was very hungry, for he had eaten nothing all this time. Fasting which is forced upon you is a very serious thing, especially when you would not have believed it possible. He went to the place where the leading citizens were accustomed to congregate and stood up on the citizens' platform.
"Men of Athens, please help," he cried, with much weeping and urgent shouting. Some of the leading citizens (lit. 'those who wore the pallium and birrus') came up to him.
"What is the matter with you?" they asked. "Where do you come from and what's wrong with you?"
"I am an Egyptian," he said, "a monk by profession. Absent from my own true homeland, I have fallen in with three moneylenders. I have paid the debt to two of them and they have gone away; there is nothing else they can bother me with. But there is one that is still with me."
"Where are they then?" they asked, as they looked around impatiently in order to pay them off. "Who is it that is bothering you? Point him out to us and we will come to your assistance."
"It is Avarice, Gluttony and Fornication that bother me," he replied. "I have been delivered from two of them - Avarice because I have no money or anything else, and Fornication because I do not indulge in the kind of luxurious living which gives rise to it. But I can't get away from Gluttony, for it is now four days since I have had anything to eat, and my stomach attacks me vigorously, seeking payment of a debt without which I shall not be able to live."
Realising that he was spinning them an allegorical tale some of those wise men then gave him a solidus, which he took into a bakery, picked up some bread, left the city and did not come back there again. They realised then that he was a man of great virtue and paid the miller the price of the bread so that they could have their shilling back again as a souvenir.
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