Chapter IX (continued), Life of St Pachomius, Book 1a
One day, as Palaemon and Pachomius were about to light the fire before the vigil, a brother arrived wanting to stay with them. After they had received him they conversed for a while as usual, when he suddenly stood up and said,
"If you have any faith at all, let fire fall upon this charcoal!" And he began to recite the Lord's Prayer slowly, a bit at a time.
"Stop this madness, brother!" cried Palaemon, who had sensed that the brother was deceived and puffed up by pride. "Do not say anything more!"
But the brother took no notice of the old man's reproof. Carried away even more by his own pomposity, he became quite out of control and brazenly stood on the fire. The fire affected him not one bit, and it was obvious that with the Lord's permission, he was under the influence of the enemy of the human race. What he was thus doing with impunity served only to make his madness worse. As the Scripture says, 'The Lord has sent them into the paths of iniquity' (Proverbs 28.10 & Ecclesiastes 2.16). Next morning he departed quite early, not without giving them a parting reproof.
"Where is your faith?" he cried.
But not long after this the devil saw that this brother had given himself into his hands, and that it would be easy to drive him into whatever evil deeds he wished. So he changed himself into the appearance of a beautiful woman clothed in the most beautiful garments, and knocked vigorously on the door of the brother's cell. The brother opened the door.
"I beg you for help," said the devil disguised as a woman. "I am being pursued by my creditors, and I am afraid they will do me great harm. Please take me into your cell, for I am not able to pay my debts. How grateful I shall be if you let me hide here, for it is the Lord who has guided me to you."
Darkened and mentally blind, totally unable to discern who it was who was saying these things to him, he took the devil inside. The enemy of our existence could see that he was susceptible to all kinds of depravity, and began to put lustful thoughts into his mind. Before very long he gave in to them, and begged her for her womanly embraces, whereupon the unclean spirit flooded into him and dashed him savagely to the floor. He rolled about there for a while, then lay there as if dead. It was several days before he came to himself, feeling frantically sorry for his acts of madness. He came back immediately to the holy Palaemon and with floods of tears told him what had happened.
"I know, Father," he cried, "I know that I am the cause of my own perdition. You did well to reprove me, and I am cursed for not listening to you. But I pray you, give me the help of your holy prayers, and prevent the enemy from driving me completely to ruin, placed as I am in such great danger."
As he thus poured out his laments and tears, both the holy Palaemon and the blessed Pachomius wept in sympathy, but he was suddenly convulsed by the evil spirit, fled from their presence and rushed out headlong through the desert. When he came to a town called Panos, in his madness he threw himself into the furnace of a bath-house and so came to a miserable end in the flames.
When Pachomius heard about this, he set himself to hold on even more closely to the practice of abstinence, and to remain vigilant in everything that he did, but especially in his prayers, in accordance with what is written, 'Keep custody of your heart with all diligence' (Proverbs 4.23). The old man was amazed that he not only kept outwardly to his accustomed rule of abstinence, but that he strove inwardly to purify his mind into a heavenly pattern, as the blessed Apostle says, 'Our glory is the testimony of a good conscience' (2 Corinthians 1.12), sure that in this a reward was being prepared for him in heaven. In reading Scripture he endeavoured to commit it to memory, but not indiscriminately. He would dwell on some particular precept, turning it over devoutly in his mind, and then would endeavour to put into practice day by day what his memory had retained.
Above all he strove to excel in the gifts of patience and humility, and most of all in purest love towards God. We learned about these things, and many others, from holy men of God who dwelt with him at many different times. He provided them with an example of godly life, and after reading the divine scriptures he would diligently point out to them the pieces which were relevant to the edification of their souls. There are so many examples of this that it is beyond my powers to describe them, so that I will write no more about them in these present writings. I have not sufficient eloquence to do justice to the merits of such a man.
Near the mountain where these holy men dwelt there was a desert place where many thornbushes grew. Pachomius often went there to gather firewood, treading on the thorns with his bare feet. But he rejoiced that his feet were pierced with thorns, remembering how graciously our Lord was fixed to the cross with nails. He was greatly attracted to solitude, and would frequently spend long hours by himself in prayer, beseeching God to deliver him from any suspicion of self-deception.
It chanced one day that Pachomius wandered a long way off from his cell and came to a hamlet called Tabennisi, where hardly anybody lived. After he had spent a long time in prayer in that place, according to his usual custom, he heard a voice from heaven:
"Stay here, Pachomius, and build a monastery. For many will come to you seeking to profit from your instruction. You shall guide them in accordance with a rule with which I will provide you."
And an Angel of the Lord appeared to him, with tablets in his hand, in which were laid down all the details of the sort of life which he was to teach to those who came to submit themselves to his direction. Tabennisi still keeps to this same rule today, using the same diet and wearing the same habit, and observing carefully the same discipline. The monks who live there come from many different places, and differ greatly in stature and culture; it follows then that they need a Rule different from what they have been used to.
Divine grace and the integrity of his own life had together brought this voice to him, and Pachomius listened to it with sincerity of heart, in the sure knowledge that it came from God. He eagerly accepted the divine Rule. Returning to the venerable old man, Palaemon, he recounted what he had been charged to do by the divine voice, and begged him to come back with him to that place, where they might fulfil the commandments of the Lord together. Not willing to disappoint a beloved son in anything he might be asked to do, Palaemon yielded to his prayers, and they both went back to that hamlet where they built a cell, rejoicing in the Lord and waiting for the fulfilment of his promises.
After some time, Palaemon made a proposition to Pachomius:
"I am very much aware that the grace of God has been conferred upon you, and that you will always order your life accordingly; let us then make a pact between us that we should never leave each other, so that for as long as we still live in the light of day we should be able to encourage each other with tireless mutual support."
They were both pleased with this idea, and for as long as they lived the blessed old man and Pachomius together took care to abide by this agreement.
Soon after this the venerable Palaemon began to suffer from kidney trouble, brought on by his practices of abstinence, and his whole body began to suffer with a most debilitating illness. For sometimes he had been eating while abstaining from drinking anything, and at others he would drink without eating anything. There were some other brothers with them who had come on a visit, and they advised him to cease from the daily offices, in order to give his body some rest, and that he should take up a more suitable diet to build up his wasted limbs and prevent his body from being totally ruined. But he would not agree to this regime for very long. His illness became even worse, and feeling that this new diet was an extravagance, he reverted to his old ways without any relaxation.
"The Martyrs of Christ," he said, "were some of them torn to pieces, some decapitated, some burnt in the fire, but endured bravely to the end for the sake of their faith, and should I, then, impatiently scorn what rewards might come to me through suffering, and give in to these insignificant discomforts, by becoming attached to this present life and frightened of a few momentary pains? I agreed to your persuasion and adopted a diet which I was not used to, and it made my illness even worse than it was before, rather than giving me any relief. So I go back to my former regime, and I will not give up my battle for continence, in which I am certain lies all peace and true joy, except for the peace and joy we will find in God. I have not taken up arms in this battle to please human beings; I have set myself to strive for the love of Christ"
So he carried on manfully, but within a month he became exceedingly weak. Pachomius attended him, caring for him as a father, kissing his feet and embracing him, in the knowledge that he was in the process of saying farewell. And the venerable old man, laden with every virtue, gently rested in peace. Holy Pachomius buried his body, and choirs of Angels lifted his soul and carried it up to heaven. Pachomius carried on with his own path of pilgrimage.
Not long after this his own brother, John, came to join him, having heard about everything he was doing. This gave Pachomius the greatest possible joy, for out of all those baptised Christians who had chosen the solitary life, he had up till then not found anyone from his own family. So John, Pachomius' true brother, followed in his footsteps and stayed with him, following the same rule, united with him in the same love for God. They meditated on the law of God day and night (Psalms 1.2), their minds undistracted by any worldly cares. Whatever was left over from what they produced by their manual work they gave to the poor and gave no thought to the morrow, in obedience to the precepts of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 6.34). They kept to the use of only one lebiton [sleeveless tunic] until it got to be so dirty that it had to be washed. This lebiton was a linen garment, similar to the colobium [long tunic] and is still worn today by the monks of the Thebaid and Egypt. But the blessed Pachomius preferred to mortify his own body and generally wore only a cilicium. [Shirt of goat's hair.] He lived for fifteen years like this, in laborious toil and sweat, in vigils and abstinence. He did not lie down to sleep at night, but sat in the middle of his cell without even learning against the wall for support. He did not find that an easy practice, but bore it quite cheerfully, in anticipation of the eternal rest being prepared for him in heaven. He studied the injunctions of many of the fathers, endeavouring always, with his brother, to rise to the very heights of virtue. They worked hard at it, and each of them lived to the utmost of their ability in the greatest humility and patience and in faith unfeigned (1 Timothy 1.5).
During this time Pachomius was given more divine guidance about the Rule which was to be observed by those who because of him would put their trust in the Lord. He began to make additions to the building in which he and his brother lived, and he constructed other buildings as well in order to accommodate all those who would undoubtedly be renouncing the world and coming to serve Christ. He constructed enough accommodation for a great number of people.
But while the holy Pachomius had been widening the area over which the monastery extended, as we have said, and increasing the number of buildings, his brother had been thinking about solitude and the life of an anchorite. He loved the smallness of his dwelling place. He was the elder of the two, and had no hesitation in making his views known to Pachomius.
"You should give up this idea," he said. "Why are you doing all this unnecessary work? It's stupid to extend yourself like this."
Pachomius took this reproach hard; he wasn't used to being criticised, but nevertheless said nothing in reply, kept calm and continued with what he was doing. But next night he went into the smallest room of a house that he had built himself, prostrated himself in prayer and wept bitterly.
"Woe is me!" he cried. "For fleshly prudence has bought itself a foothold in me! I am still walking according to the flesh, as I have just discovered. For I have taken on all this activity, and it is not right that sometimes it makes me impatient, sometimes gloomy, sometimes furious, even though I might have cause to be angry. Have mercy on me, O Lord, lest I perish, lest I succumb to the deceits of the devil. For if your grace has deserted me, and the enemy has discovered in me some share in his own evil deeds, then I must have become a slave to his own demands, as it is written, 'You are designated a slave of whomsoever it is that overpowers you' (2 Peter 2.19). And again it is written, 'If someone who is bound to fulfil the whole law offends in only one particular he is guilty of the whole' (James 2.10).
"I believe, O Lord, that your mercies are without number. They support me and help me for no merit of mine. Enlightened by you I shall walk in the way of your saints, and 'looking towards what is before I shall forget what is behind' (Philippians 3.13). It is thus that the company of your servants who have pleased you from the beginning, protected by your help, have evaded the attacks of the devil and have shone resplendent far and wide for the salvation of the many. But how should I, O Lord, presume to train in the monastic life others whom you might send to me, when I have not yet conquered the passions of the flesh myself, nor kept your commandments with a spotless mind? And yet I put my trust in you, O Christ, that your power may come to my aid in everything that happens, so that what I do may be pleasing in your sight. O most merciful God, forgive, forgive I pray, all my sins, and purify my heart by your visitation."
He persevered all night with tears and weeping in this prayer to the Lord. He poured out so many tears and so much sweat (for it was summer time) that the floor on which he was praying became so wet that you would think it had had water poured out all over it. When he stood in prayer he was accustomed to stretching out his hands for several hours without lowering them while keeping his body still as if fixed to the cross, and by keeping this up for long periods at a time he spurred on his soul to be vigilant in prayer. And although he was powerfully endowed with all kinds of virtue, he showed incredible humility and the greatest gentleness in the way he lived with his brother, whom he supported always without fail.
Not long after this his brother came to the end of his earthly life, and Pachomius celebrated his funerary rites with due honour. He spent a whole night keeping vigil by his body with psalms and hymns, commended his soul to the God in whom they had both put their trust, and reverently gave him burial.
Unwearyingly, he continued to discipline himself in his strait and narrow way of life, striving for integrity and purity in all things. When illicit thoughts assailed him he straightaway put them to flight with the help of God, and kept on going, rooted in the fear of the Lord. He was ever mindful of eternal punishment and never ending grief, where the worm does not die and the fire is unquenchable (Mark 9.44). While Pachomius was thus abstaining from forbidden practices and progressing onwards to better things, he was all the time taking great pains in extending his monastery in preparation for receiving many others. And the devil began to obstruct him fiercely, gnashing his teeth at him like a wild beast, stirring him up with all kinds of temptations in the hope of finding some opening for his deceits to enter. But protected by the shield of faith he vigilantly warded off the attacks of the enemy, and sang the holy Scriptures which he had committed to memory.
One day when Pachomius was beseeching the Lord and bending his knee in prayer, a great pit appeared in front of him by means of the devil's tricks. The enemy of the human race showed him a crowd of strange and meaningless shapes tumbling about in it, trying by stealth and deception to distract the mind at prayer from its proper intention, so that it was no longer able to offer prayer to the Lord in purity. By the revelation of Christ Pachomius recognised the stratagems of the demons and held them in contempt, gaining a great increase in faith thereby. In this kind of conflict he was constantly giving thanks and blessing the Lord.
One of his customs was to go off to places some distance from the monastery to pray. On his way back the unclean spirits would often amuse themselves by forming into a troupe and disporting themselves in front of him, urging each other on as if they were clearing a path for some great official, by shouting out, "Make way for the man of God!" But Pachomius, armed with the hope of Christ our Redeemer, poured scorn on their ridiculous playacting, and held them to be as futile as barking dogs.
They soon found that the great constancy of this man prevented them from being able to break down his defences by any number of these games, so they formed themselves into a great phalanx and rushed in upon him to surround his house and shake the foundations to such an extent that the holy man thought the whole place was about to fall in. But he remained undaunted, and as usual plucked the strings of his spiritual harp, by declaiming in a loud voice, "God is our refuge and strength, our help in the troubles which come upon us. Therefore we shall not fear though the earth be shaken" (Psalms 46.1-2). His psalmody brought immediate peace, and the attacks of the enemy vanished like smoke.
But they only retreated for a little while, just like dogs who will leave off what they are doing when they get tired of it, but come back more aggressively than ever later on. For when the holy man after his prayers sat down to his work as usual, the enemy appeared in the shape of an enormous cock in the midst of his hens, crowing repeatedly, and making other unusual noises, before jumping on him and tearing him grievously with its claws. He made the sign of the Cross on his forehead and blew at the cock, putting it to flight. He became familiar with all the shapes which the enemy could take, but forearmed with the fear of God he made sure their deceits were of no effect. Frequently attacked, he never wearied, but like an impregnable fortress endured every struggle with the greatest patience.
On some occasions the demonic army busied themselves by tempting the holy servant of God with what are called phantasms. Many of them would gather themselves together into a massed attack, seemingly as many as the leaves on a tree, and drag him into a mighty struggle, with their cohorts arrayed on the right hand and on the left. They would urge each other on, and strenuously oppress him so that he felt as if the weight of an enormous stone was moving against him. The wicked spirits carried on like this in the hope that they could so unnerve him that his mind would relax into some kind of mockery, through which they might find some way of giving him a mortal wound. But Pachomius discerned their impudence, and had recourse to the Lord as usual in prayer. By the power of Christ their attack was brought to naught.
When he sat down to eat giving thanks to God, the demons would frequently appear in front of him looking like beautiful women of various shapes and sizes, decked out in scandalously shameless scanty clothing, seeming to sit down next to him and come close to him and touch him. Our strong and sturdy athlete was much troubled by this, but nevertheless closed his outward eyes and turned his inward eye upon the Lord, whereby he was able to trample their best endeavours underfoot. For the mercy of the Lord was with him, deigning always to come to the aid of those with an upright and contrite heart, according to his promise, 'Fear not, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world' (Matthew 28.20).
On another occasion the devil began a most severe campaign against him, and attacked him so fiercely that from evening to morning his whole body was lacerated with many stripes. But although he was being crucified in immense pain, he never gave way to despair, but was mindful of the Lord who never deserts his servants in the time of trial. It was at this time that a monk called Apollo came to visit him. As Pachomius was conversing with him on the subject of salvation and recounting the manifold ways in which the devil attacks, he began to tell Apollo about all the ways in which he himself had been attacked, and in particular how bitter had been the beating that he had suffered.
"Keep on fighting manfully," said Apollo, "and be strong in heart, venerable Father. For the devil knows that if you fall victim to his devices, he will also be easily able to overcome us as well. We rely for strength on living under the shadow of your contests, and we look to you as the greatest possible example of virtue. So don't cease from fighting vigorously. You are strong in the protection of the Lord; be strong in his power, lest you are called to account for us as well, which God forbid. For if you, who stand out among us all, grow slack in any way, you will become a cause and occasion of ruin for many."
To hear this gave Pachomius great encouragement in his battle with the demons. He glorified God for the company of this brother, and begged him not to desert him. Apollo kept that in mind and often thereafter came to visit the old man.
Shortly afterwards, however, when paying a visit to Pachomius for a few days, he was struck with an illness which put him beyond any human help, and to Pachomius' dismay completed the course of his life. He buried him with his own holy hands, singing the usual psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
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