Chapter II, Julianus Sabas (continued), Book IX
(Marcianus begins further down page)
Valens took up the reins of Roman power after Julian, departed from the truth of the gospel and decided to impose the erroneous teaching of Arius. A great campaign against the Church began, the leaders were everywhere driven into exile, and replaced by hostile plunderers. I won't go into the whole course of that tragedy at present, but omit everything except just one event which plainly shows how the grace of the divine Spirit flourished in that old man.
Now the great Meletius had been driven out of the church of Antioch, the pastoral care of which it was believed had been given him by the God of all. People of the same opinion as himself, professing belief in the one essence of the Trinity, together with some of the clergy, were also expelled from the holy churches. They came to a hollow in the mountains to celebrate the holy mysteries. They made the river bank an oratory, which at one time had been an army training ground in front of the northern gate. But the enemy would not permit these pious people to gather together all in one place, and infiltrated them with lying adherents of theirs who spread rumours among them that Julianus himself was in communion with those who held to this false teaching.
Now Flavianus and Diodorus, those blessed divine men, had the honour of being the priestly leaders of the people [at that time]. Together with Aphraates, whose life I intend to give you an account of, if God wills [see chapter VIII], they persuaded the great Acacius (whom I have already mentioned) to make an approach to the illustrious Asterius, his teacher and, of course, the disciple of Julianus. Their aim was to go as quickly as possible to Julianus, that splendid example of devotion and upholder of gospel teaching, to beg him to put aside his predilection for solitude and come to the aid of the thousands of people in danger from false teaching, in the hope that his arrival would be the means of extinguishing the flames of Arianism. Acacius hastened on his way, taking with him as requested the great Asterius, and came to Julianus.
"Tell me, father," he said after greeting him, "what are your reasons for all these great labours that you gladly undergo?"
"The worship of God," he replied, "is more precious to me than body and soul and life itself, than everything to do with life. So I try, as far as I am able, to serve him free from all stain and please him in all things."
"Let me put it to you," said Acacius, "that there is a way in which you can serve him even more greatly than you do at present. I shall not be giving you any logical argument, but simply put to you what I learn from the Lord's own teaching. For he asked Peter if he loved him more than the others (John.21.15), and then heard Peter say (what he knew already): 'Lord, you know that I love you.' The Lord then showed him what he must do to serve him even more. 'If you love me then' he said, 'feed my sheep, feed my lambs.' This also is what you must do, father. For the sheep are in great danger from the wolves, and he whom you love so greatly also loves the sheep. It is right for lovers to do things which, when done, are pleasing to the beloved. Moreover, if you by your silence negligently allow the truth to be vigorously attacked, and do nothing to prevent the followers of truth being led astray, there is a great danger that all their many great achievements will be brought to naught. Your great name should be brought to the support of them in their persecution. For the leaders of the Arian abominations boastfully assert that you are on their side."
On hearing this, the old man cautioned them that although silence was to be cherished in its due context, nevertheless he would not steer clear of the noise of the city. And he set off to Antioch. After journeying through the desert for two or three days they came at nightfall to a farmhouse belonging to a rich woman. When she heard this holy band of people coming she ran out to ask their blessing, fell at their feet and begged that they should refresh themselves at her house. The old man agreed, even though he had not enjoyed such accommodation for the previous forty years. While this admirable woman was emulating the hospitality of Sarah (Genesis 18.6), and ministering to the needs of these holy men, her only son aged seven fell into the well in the darkness of the evening. As might be expected he cried out loudly, but when his mother heard she bade everyone not to worry about it but put a lid on the well while she carried on with her ministrations. She put the meal before the holy men, and the old man bade her to bring her son to receive a blessing. She said he was not feeling well, but the old man persisted that he should be brought in. At last the woman told him what had happened. The old man immediately left the table, ran to the well and lifted the lid. Having called for a light to be brought he could see the boy sitting on the surface of the water and splashing the water about childishly with his hand, thinking that it was all a game, when really he ought to have been dead. Ropes were brought and let down to him so that he could be lifted up out of the well, and at once he ran to the feet of the old man.
"I could see you below me in the water," he said, "lifting me up and preventing me from sinking."
What a reward the woman received from the blessed man for her hospitality!
I won't say any more about what happened on their journey, but when they arrived at Antioch, people came running towards him from everywhere wanting to see the man of God, each of them seeking a cure for their ills. He was living in a cave on the side of the mountain where the divine apostle Paul is said to have lived in hiding. But no sooner had they realised that he was the man they were looking for than he was struck down by a violent fever. When the great Acacius saw how ill he was and then looked at the vast crowd of people who had gathered, he wondered whether they would all be worried about catching a disease from one who they hoped would be able to heal them.
"Don't worry," the old man said, "God will give me health if health is what is necessary."
Having said this, he straightaway turned to prayer, according to his custom, kneeling and touching the ground with his forehead. He begged God to restore him to health if that would be of benefit to those who had gathered there. He had barely finished his prayer when he began to sweat profusely, which extinguished the flames of his fever.
When he had freed many people from all kinds of diseases, he then went to a convent of religious, and as he was going through the gate a beggar who could only walk by dragging himself along on his buttocks stretched out his hand and touched the old man's cloak. By faith his illness left him, and he jumped up and ran about just as well as he could before he was disabled, imitating the lame man whom Peter and John had healed. (Acts 3.8). This deed caused the whole population to gather together; the army training ground was crowded out. The liars and deceivers were covered in shame, while the followers of truth rejoiced with tranquil minds. And from here, those who had come seeking healing carried the light of truth back to their own homes. A man who held one of the most important public offices, that of signalling the beginning of each day, then sent Julianus a message asking him to come and heal him urgently of an illness. He went without delay, poured out his prayers to God and with a courteous word delivered him from his illness, adjuring him to give all his thanks to God.
After doing this and other such deeds he decided to go back to the monastic observances of his cell. As he was travelling through Cyrus (about two days' journey from Antioch), he turned aside to the church of the blessed martyr Dionysius. The people there were outstanding in the true and proper religion and worship of God, and they begged for protection from a calamity which had been foretold and which they were daily expecting. The people there were well known to be of the orthodox [recta] religion and true worship of God, but they could foresee that a disaster was about to come upon them and they were asking him to help them avert it. For they said that Asterius, who had joined the heretical faction, had succeeded in becoming bishop. He was well versed in the art of clever but false argument, was a vigorous advocate for erroneous teaching and was mounting vicious attacks on the truth.
"We fear," they said, "that many of the more simple among us may be deceived by the way he hides his lies beneath many layers of eloquence, and throws out a web of syllogisms like a net. This is the reason why those opposed to him have called for help."
"Don't worry," said the old man. "Join with us in beseeching God, and mingle some bodily mortification and eloquence into your prayers."
They all engaged in prayer, and on the eve of a popular feast day when that enemy of truth and defender of falsehood was planning to make a speech, he suffered a stroke, sent by God. Over the course of the day his condition worsened till he departed this life, doubtless hearing a voice saying, 'You fool, this day your life is required of you (Luke 12.20), and you will be ensnared in the coils and traps that you have prepared for others.' A similar tale is told of Balaam, who when summoned by the wicked Balak to utter curses against the people of God prophesied that he would instead be killed by the right hand of Israel (Numbers 24.17). So likewise Asterius, thinking to propagate his deceitful opinions among the people of God, by the God of the people was deprived of his life. This deliverance was granted to Cyrus through prayer.
It was the great Acacius who told me all these events which I have related, to my mind a truly divine story. He was acutely aware of everything that Julianus did.
He went away from there and returned to his companions, living among them for some time before moving on gladly and willingly to a trouble-free life of old age. As one who had prayed for passionlessness in this life he was looking forward to immortality of the body. But I shall now turn from him to someone else, standing in prayer and begging that all who read this tale will by their prayers obtain for me a blessing from heaven.
So glorious was his life, how can I possibly have enough time to do justice to that celebrated Marcianus? For he along with Elijah and John and the like are to be reckoned among those who wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being in want, afflicted, tormented, of whom the world was not worthy, wandering in deserts, in mountains, in caves and in hidden places of the earth (Hebrews 11.37).
His native land was that Cyrus which we were writing about earlier. Later he lived in the desert. He has now departed from both native land and desert and has his dwelling in heaven. His native land gave birth to him, the desert nourished him and gave him the victory, and heaven accepted him as a crowned king who had held as naught his exalted family rank. For he came from a noble family of royal splendour, among whom he prospered, nature's handiwork having given him a magnificent bodily appearance and a mind adorned with the marks of genius. But he transferred all his love towards God and everything to do with him.
He cherished all God's commandments, he laid hold on the lifeline offered by solitude, and built himself a little shelter, barely big enough for his bodily needs, which he surrounded with a wall. There he purposefully shut himself up, cut off from all human intercourse, conversing however with the God of all, and listening for his sweet voice. For as he practised divine eloquence so he reckoned to hear the divine voice. He conversed with God in prayer and supplications, and although always enjoying great delights was always thirsting for more [lit. never accepted satiety]. For he listened to what the great David sang about in his psalms: 'He who meditates on the law of the Lord day and night is like a tree planted by the waterside, which shall bring forth its fruit in due season and its leaves shall not wither' (Psalms 1.3). He longed for this fruit and joyfully embraced the work. His psalmody led on to prayer, and prayer led on to psalmody, and both led on to reading the wisdom of the divines. He ate nothing but bread, which he measured out exactly; and the amount he allowed himself would scarcely have satisfied a newly-weaned child. They say that he divided a pound of bread into four portions which he shared out over four days, one part to each day. His daily meal was at eventide. He never fully satisfied either his hunger or his thirst; he allowed his body only sufficient to support life. He used to say that to take food only after many days fasting meant that the work of God could not be properly performed during the time of fasting, and that when the time came to eat, a greater amount than usual was taken, weighing down the stomach, and making the mind less vigilant. So that it was better to eat daily, but never to satisfy the appetite fully. True fasting consists in perpetual deprivation. This divine man always kept to this regimen, and although he had a large body, and was the tallest and most handsome of all the men of his time, he survived on that small ration of food.
After some time he accepted two attendants, Eusebius who inherited his holy shelter, and Agapetus who introduced all these angelic rules into Apamea. There is a large and densely populated town there called Nicerte, where he established two schools of wisdom [gymnasia philosophiae], one of which is named after him, the other after the greatly admired Simeon who was a shining light of wisdom there for a space of fifty years. At the present day there are more than forty men living there, athletes striving after virtue, and lovers of the religion and worship of the one true God, and who are scaling the heights of heaven by their labours. Agapetus and Simeon were the legislators of this republic, establishing the laws which they had learnt from the great Marcianus. It would be difficult to enumerate the many settlements, founded in pursuit of the virtues, and governed by these same laws and institutions, which these two founded. But the founder of all these later ones was that divine Marcianus, for he who sows the goodliest seed may rightly be recognised as the author of the good fruits that spring from it.
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