Chapter CXLIV, Olympias (continued), Book VIII End of Book VIII
(Candida begins further down page)
All her leisure time (vita non vitalis) was given up to compunction accompanied frequently by floods of tears. This noble woman would rather the summer heat dry up her own household water supply than that her eyes fixed on Christ should fail to pour forth tears. What else can I say? For the more I turn my mind to the story of her struggles and virtues, her rocklike solidity, the more I find that my words are nowhere near doing justice to the facts. And don't let anyone think that I have gathered up all this splendid and magnificent material by seeking for information at second hand about this most chaste Olympias. She was a precious vessel filled with the Holy Spirit and I witnessed with my own eyes her blessed and angelic life. I was her spiritual friend, more familiar to her than all her relations. It was I who distributed much of her money at her directions.
There is no more to say about her but that she was down to earth, subject to the governors, obedient to the powers that be, respectful to the presbyterate, holding all the clergy in honour, valiant for truth having been found worthy to suffer various unjust accusations. The faithful in Constantinople regard her as a Confessor, and venerate her almost as they would Christ's mother, for she was tried and tested in all the struggles she endured for God's sake. For these things she has been given the blessing of glory after her death. Crowned in eternity she lives in splendour, dwelling in everlasting mansions with saints like unto her, where no ruin or evil may have place, receiving from Christ the due reward of her faithfulness and good works.
After Olympias there was the blessed Candida, living for the Lord in the same way. She was the wife of Trajan, an army officer, and had become a person of the highest integrity. She gave suitable alms to the churches, venerated the bishops for their privilege of administering the Sacraments of Christ, and gladly honoured all the Christian clergy. She gave her own daughter, the fruit of her womb, to Christ as a dedicated virgin. Later she followed in her daughter's footsteps. She was temperate, chaste and generous with her money.
I saw how this wonderful woman toiled and travailed all night making bread for the altar with her own hands to use up her bodily energy.
"Fasting isn't enough for me," she said. "I take part in this laborious vigil as well, in order to break down the Esau in me, that is, to weaken my lascivious desires."
She abstained from eating all living creatures, except that on feast days, and only then, she might eat some fish with oil and vegetables. At all other times she was content with dry bread and oxycratum [a mixture of vinegar, warm water and eggs]. After this austere life this blessed woman fell asleep into blessed rest, and now enjoys those eternal good things prepared for those who love the life of striving after virtue.
Gelasia, the daughter of a tribune, is worthy of being esteemed among the greatest. Inspired by the zeal of that good woman, Candida, she also entered into the way of truth and took on the yoke of virginity. He greatest virtue was that she never let the sun go down upon her wrath, towards slaves, maids or anyone. This blessed woman did not walk in the way of those who never forget injuries done to them. That leads to eternal death. She avoided this snare of the devil, hatred and rancour. She wanted sins to be eternally forgiven, so she overlooked the smallest peccadilloes in the hope that she would be forgiven for even the greatest.
Juliana was a most learned and faithful virgin in Caesarea of Cappadocia. She took the writer Origen in when he was escaping from the persecutions of the state. She hid him for two years, supporting him from her own income and with her own personal ministry. I discovered this while I also was being hidden by Juliana. It was in an ancient book of verses belonging to Juliana, which had been written in by Origen's own hand, though he himself used to say that he had been taken in by Symmachus the Jewish interpreter.
I have thought it right to put on record the virtues of these women as being not incompatible with the virtues of monastic life. We can be enlightened by all sorts of different circumstances, if we will.
A NOBLE WOMAN WHO RETAINED HER VIRGINITY
In another ancient book written by Hippolytus, who knew the apostles, I found the following story:
There was a certain noble and very beautiful virgin in Corinth who was living the life of discipline. She was accused of being someone who had cursed the policies of the Emperor and his statues, and was brought before someone who was a persecuting judge at that time. Filled with the lust that always threatens danger to women, her accusers who were brothel keepers brought her in all her beauty to this corrupt judge. He was a man who not only had little inclination to listen impartially (equinis auribus, lit.'with the ears of a horse'), but was of an habitually lustful cast of mind. He accepted their accusations when she was brought before him and became even more powerfully governed by lust. He showed this brave woman of God all the instruments of torture, and when this did not persuade her to submit to him he proceeded to use some of these instruments against her. But this could not persuade her to do what he wanted either, for by no means would she deny Christ. Instead then of handing her over to be crucified by the torturers, inflamed with cruelty he sent this chaste and temperate woman to the brothel.
"Take this woman," he said to the owner, "and I want three solidi a day for what you can get out of her."
The owner needed to profit from this wicked deed so he immediately offered her to anyone who wanted her in that factory of disgraceful obscenity. Those who habitually lusted after women came flocking around to this wicked factory of destruction when they heard about her, offering the usual price for their intended wicked act. But this most upright woman, whom we should venerate above all others, resorted to a little deception.
"I have got an ulcer in my private parts," she said, "which gives off a rather horrible smell. I'm afraid you would reject me and revile me because of this ulcer. Give me a few days and then perhaps you can do what you want with me."
By this means the blessed woman persuaded those lusting after her to desist. Her fervent prayers were pleasing to God and he had mercy on her for her compunction. God who knows all our thoughts was with her, and he provided for her salvation in proportion to the whole-hearted care she had taken to preserve her chastity.
There was a young man called Magistrianus, of handsome appearance and devout frame of mind, to whom God had given a burning spiritual zeal that was more important to him than death. Pretending a lustful desire he went to the brothel after dark, went in and gave the owner five solidi.
"Let me be with this girl tonight," he said. Together they went into a private room.
"Take my clothes," he said, "and save yourself. Put on my tunic, shoes, cloak, and all the rest of my male garments, and when you go out muffle yourself up in the cloak."
She did as she was bid, signed herself with the cross and went out from that place completely unpolluted and incorrupt. She was freed by the grace of Christ and the sacrifice of this young man, who by his own blood saved her from a horrible fate.
The affair came to light the following day and Magistranius was brought before an exceedingly wrathful judge. Having interrogated this bold athlete of Christ and got all the details out of him, he ordered him to be thrown to the beasts, thus covering with confusion even the evil-minded demon. For he thought that by this punishment he was subjecting the young man to disgrace, whereas in reality he was the cause of a two-fold witness to Christ. For not only had the young man fought bravely for the honour of his own soul, but by his labours he had given that blessed woman the means to persevere. For this double honour Christ in his kindness found him worthy to be given a double crown.
THE SENATOR'S WIFE
I have thought of another story which it would be a shame to omit. There was a gang leader [insurrector] who was in the habit of having pornographic sessions [consuetudo stupri] with many different kinds of people. He took it into his head to try this on with Christians. But they would rather die than take part in such shamelessness. He took a fancy to the wife of a government senator in a certain town he came to.
"Have her, by all means," said the senator, paralysed with fear.
Armed men came to get her.
"Just give me a few moments to put on my make-up as usual," she said.
She went into her bedroom, took a sword, and drove it into her stomach.
Hear this and blush, all you virgins who profess that Christ is your spouse and turn from him to lechery! May God grant that each one of us may serve the cause of virginity and shout in joy with the Psalmist, 'Let me fear you that my flesh may be subdued' (Psalms 119.120). St Paul said, 'I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me,' (Galatians 2.20), and let it be agreed that as you thoughtfully say to yourselves, 'My cousin (patruelus) is mine and I am his' (Song of Songs 6.3) you interpret 'cousin' sometimes as meaning 'brother' and sometimes 'spouse', to avoid any suspicion of carnality. If you understand the meaning to be 'husband' and 'bride', it is the spiritual union with the Father which is intended.
We visited many other fathers and monks throughout the whole of Egypt who did many signs and displayed many virtues. There are so many we can't record them all, but we give a selection on behalf of the many. What can we say about the Upper Thebaid beyond Syene, where there are an infinite number of praiseworthy monks? We believe that there is no one who has undertaken that kind of life who has not begun to live in a superhuman sort of way. Raising people from the dead and walking on water like Peter are commonplace occurrences. They do everything in our time that the Saviour did through the holy apostles.
We were not bold enough to go beyond the river Lycos because of the great danger of being attacked by robbers. But even visiting the fathers we have mentioned was not without danger, and it was very difficult getting to see those holy women. We had to suffer a great deal and go through many dangerous places in order to visit them. 'Seven times our lives were in danger and on the eighth time we suffered no evil for the Lord was with us.' (Job 5.19)
Once we walked for five days through the desert almost perishing for lack of food and water.
Again, we had to walk through dreadful prickly thorn marshes, which cut up our feet. This was exceedingly painful, besides which we were almost dead with cold.
Thirdly, we got stuck in mud up to our loins with no seeming way of escape and we shouted aloud the words of the blessed David, 'Save me, O Lord, for the waters are come in even unto my soul. I am stuck in a deep bog where there is no solid ground. Save me from the mire lest I am stuck for ever' (Psalms 69.1 & 14).
Fourthly we had to wade for four days through deep waters and half submerged doorways when the Nile was in flood. We cried out, 'Let not the stormy waters overpower me nor the deep swallow me up.' (Psalms 69.15).
Fifthly, we fell among thieves on the sea coast as we were coming in towards Diolcos. They followed us for ten miles trying to catch us until we had hardly any breath left.
Sixthly, while sailing on the Nile we were overturned and nearly drowned.
Seventhly, when we were in the marshes of Mareotis where the papyrus comes from, we were cast upon a small desert island. We remained there out in the open for three days and nights in heavy rain and cold. It was Epiphanytide.
It is almost superfluous to mention the eighth time, though it does have its points. It happened when we were crossing a certain part of Nitria, where there was a large hollow place in which a number of crocodiles had been left behind after the floods had receded. We went to have a closer look at three of them near the edge of the hollow, We thought that they were dead but they immediately charged us. We cried out loudly to the Lord, 'Christ save us!', and the beasts threw themselves back into the water as if turned away by an angel. We continued with our long journey through Nitria, meditating on the words of Job where he says, ''Seven times our lives were in danger and on the eighth time we suffered no evil for the Lord was with us.' (Job 5.19)
We give thanks to God who has defended us in such great dangers and shown us such marvellous things.
THE LIFE OF THE BROTHER WHO TRAVELLED WITH PALLADIUS
I will finish by saying something about the brother who came with me from his youth up to the present day. I have known him for a long time. He was never greedy about his food. He was not distressed by fasting, for he was one who had conquered his emotions. There was never a trace of avarice in him, he was content always with the present moment, he dressed simply, rejoiced when spoken ill of, willing to undergo danger for the sake of his friends, more knowledgeable about the wiles of the demons than thousands of others.
One day the devil tried to make a pact with him.
"Make peace with me," the devil said, "and sin just once, and I will give you whatever you ask for in this life, whether status or riches."
And again, he fought with him and trampled him underfoot for fourteen nights, so he told me.
"Stop worshipping Christ, and I will leave you alone," he said.
"I will worship him all the more," he replied, "and glorify him in many more places. I will pray more often, since worshipping him bodes evil for you."
He stayed for a while in a hundred and six countries, and journeyed through many more. He had never known a woman, not even in dreams, except when fighting the demon of fornication during sleep. I know that an angel brought him food three times when he was hungry. Once when he was in the far desert without a crumb to eat he found three freshly cooked bread rolls in a sheepskin, bread and wine on another occasion. And once a voice came to him, saying,
"I know you are short of food. Go to that man called N..... and he will give you some bread and oil."
So he went to this person.
"Are you the monk in question?" he was asked.
"I am," he replied.
"The head of the family has told me to give you thirty rolls of bread and twelve measures of oil."
There are other sides to his nature which I can describe and glory in. I have known him shed tears over those who had to work very hard for hardly any reward; he would share with them whatever he had apart from selling himself into slavery. I have known him shed tears over those who have fallen into serious sin, and I have seen his tears move sinners to repentance. He once said to me, 'I have begged God that no one, especially if they are rich and respectable, need ever find me such an object of pity that they felt obliged to provide me with the necessities of life.'
For myself it is sufficient that I have been found worthy to commit to writing all I could remember. It could not have been done without the help of God who inspired you to encourage me to write this book of the lives of the holy and blessed Fathers.
And you, Lausus, most faithful and venerable servant of Christ, my most dear and closest friend, as you read this book may you find it is an aid to your immortal soul in the resurrection of the just. May you cherish the way of life followed by these famous athletes, their labours, and the manner in which they endured the pains of living in such an austere way. Use these things as an example for yourself, sustained by an imperishable good hope, realising how short are the days that have already passed by, and pray for me as you keep yourself free from evil and maintain your integrity, as I know you have done consistently from the time of the consulate of Tatian right up to the present day. Your personal character has now been rewarded by being given the post of the Emperor's) personal private secretary (praepositum pii cubiculi). Although you have been given such a high dignity, with all the many great dangers which come with such great power, you have not acted otherwise than the fear of God demands.
"All these things I will give you if you fall down and worship me," (Matthew 4.9) is what the man dedicated to God hears the devil say. But the Lord gives him the grace to be able to say, "Get thee behind me."
Do you, therefore, walk in the same path. Care not for riches or the fragile glory of this present world. Strive after the immortal life of heaven, the eternal kingdom, the everlasting glory, and those hidden good things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and which have not entered into the human heart, which God has stored up for us along with the holy patriarchs and prophets, the apostles and martyrs and those whose memory we have celebrated in this book through the grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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