Chapter IX Peter (continued) Book IX (Theodosius, Romanus, Zeno and Macedonius further down)
"Peace be with you, my daughter", he said. (This was his usual salutation.) I was told that she then opened her eyes, looked at him fixedly, and returned his blessing. The women around were all weeping, a mixture of joy and anxiety making them cry out aloud. The divine man urged them to join in prayer with him. For he said that Tabitha was restored to health in the same way, with the widows weeping as the great Peter offered to God their tears (Acts 9.39). They did as he had asked, and prayed as requested, and as the prayer came to an end so did her fever. Her body was suddenly bathed in sweat, her temperature subsided and she began to look better. God even now in our times performs such miracles through his devoted servants.
The touch of his clothing also worked in the same way as that of the most divine Paul. For I can tell you, without any exaggeration, but knowing that I speak the truth, that he divided his girdle in two (it was long and broad, woven of thick linen); he kept half for his own loins, and the rest he wound round me. My mother often laid it on me when I was ill, and on my father also, in order to drive away any illness. It was often used as a health giving medicine. Many of our friends also got to know about this girdle and made use of it as a cure for illness, and so Peter's grace worked in many places. There was one person who borrowed it and did not give it back, showing gross ingratitude to those who had been helping him. And so we lost this great gift.
Peter himself shone with glory and illuminated Antioch with his rays of brightness, until at length he was taken up from the battle, in expectation of receiving the crown laid up for those who overcome. I received his blessing while he was yet with us, and I pray that I may receive it even now, as I bring his tale to an end.
Rosus is a town on the right hand side of Cilicia as you look at it from the Cilician Sea. To the North and East of Rosus there is a high mountain, spread out over a wide area, forested, a home for wild beasts. The great and widely celebrated Theodosius found a grove in this mountain facing the sea, and built himself a little shelter where he embraced as a solitary the evangelical way of life. He came originally from Antioch, a distinguished member of a famous family, but he left his home and relations and all his possessions, in order, as the gospel says, to 'buy the pearl of great price' (Matthew 13.46). To anyone who has seen his disciples and companions, it would be superfluous to say anything about his abstinence from food, his sleeping on the ground and his rough clothing, for they all mirror his way of living. He carried out these disciplines conscientiously, providing an example to his followers. He also wore an iron yoke on his neck and iron bracelets on his wrists as well as having his loins girded with iron. His hair was untidy and unwashed, and stretched down to his feet and even longer, so that he had to tie it up to his middle.
By the assiduous practice of prayer and hymnody he subdued the passions of avarice and anger and arrogance and other spiritual diseases. He piled labour upon labour, not only doing the manual work of weaving baskets in osier wickerwork, but also converting some of the woodland into a little bit of cultivated ground, where he sowed seed which produced sufficient food for himself.
As time went on his fame spread abroad to such an extent that many people from many different places gathered around him, wanting to share his dwelling place, and his labours, and indeed his whole enterprise. He accepted them all and trained them in that way of life. Some could be seen manufacturing sails, some sheepskin cloaks, others wickerwork baskets, others tilling the soil. Because it was near the sea they built a small boat for transport, which they used to bring in any necessary materials, and carry out the products of those who lived there. They were mindful of the words of the apostle, 'Working night and day lest we be a burden to any of you' (2 Thessalonians 3.8), and 'These hands have supplied what I need' (Acts 20.34). He worked himself and urged on his companions that spiritual labour and bodily labour were two sides of the same coin.
"Those who live in the world," he said, "work hard to support wives and children, and pay taxes and commissions, and offer to God their first fruits, and alleviate the needs of beggars according to their ability; it would be absurd therefore if we did not provide for our needs by our own labour, however cheap and sparing our food and however inferior our clothing, but sat here with folded arms enjoying the fruits of someone else's labour."
With these and similar words he encouraged their manual work and the regular performance of the divine offices, the periods of time running seamlessly into each other. They took great care of guests, deputing men to provide for their needs who were gentle and kindly and experienced in taking thought for others. He himself oversaw and directed everything, to ensure that each person should do his duty within the rules laid down.
So famous and widely known became the fame of his doings, that sailors a thousand miles away would call upon the God of Theodosius when they were in danger, and by calling upon him could lessen the power of the storm. Even the bold and cruel brigands who were laying waste a great part of the East were afraid of him. Is there anyone in our habitable world who has not heard of the things that were being done at that time by those who used to be called 'Solymi', but are now known as Isauri'? They spared neither town nor village, they tortured their captives and consigned them to the flames; but they feared the wisdom for which Theodosius was famed, and from him they demanded nothing but food while at the same time begging him to pray for them. They left his monastery unharmed, and this not once but even twice.
But the leaders of the church were frightened that these barbarians sent from the devil might take this great luminary prisoner because of their greed. For it could quite easily happen that a great deal of money might be demanded as his ransom from all those who valued things divine. So they persuaded him to go to Antioch. (The barbarians had already taken two church leaders prisoner, and only allowed them to go back to where they had come from after being paid fourteen thousand gold pieces for each one.) In Antioch he lived in a house which he found near the river, and continued to attract the attention of those who had a nose for people like him.
I have got so carried away by my story that I have almost forgotten to tell you about a miracle which the divine man performed. Many will see it as having been something incredible, but the evidence of is still there to this very day, still talked about as proof of the grace and confidence which this admirable man enjoyed in the sight of God.
There was a steep rocky face overhanging the monastery that he had built, completely dry, without a trace of any moisture. He carved out a channel capable of carrying water from the top of the rock right down to the monastery. Full of confidence towards God, and believing without possibility of denial that God looked favourably on him, he ascended to the top of what is now an aqueduct with a faith that brooked not the slightest doubt. Here, before the brothers had got out of bed to say their usual prayers, he prayed to God, trusting in him who 'fulfils the desires of those who fear him' (Psalms 145.19), and struck the rock with the staff he had with him. The rock was shattered, water gushed out like a river, flowing down in the aqueduct to the monastery, supplying abundantly enough water for all their needs, with what was left over flowing on down to the sea. It works to this day, proof of how Theodosius enjoyed the same grace as Moses (Exodus 17.6). This alone should be sufficient to show the favour which this man had in the eyes of God.
He lived at Antioch for only a short time before passing over to the choirs of Angels. His holy body was carried through the midst of the city, decorated on its bier with what looked like golden crowns. All the leading men were present, and those of the administration who had placed great trust in his faith. There was great discussion and contention about who should carry the coffin, in the hope of gathering great blessings and benefits from it. The funeral procession carried him to the shrine of the holy martyrs, since he had been a companion of Julianus in his victory, and renowned for his athletic piety. He rests in the same place as the divine and blessed Aphraates.
The admirable Helladius took over the leadership of the monastery. He had been there continuously for sixty years. He then was elected to be the spiritual leader of Cilicia, but abated nothing of his former way of life. He simply added the daily responsibilities of the pontificate to the labours he was already undergoing.
After him the blessed Romulus, who had sat at Helladius' feet, was made leader of this great flock.
The monastery is there to this present day, pursuing its regular life. It is near the village called in Syriac Maratus.
And so I bring this story to an end, praying that Theodosius may give me a blessing.
The great Theodosius began in Antioch and lived his ascetic life in the mountains near Rosus, before returning to Antioch where his life ended. The divine Romanus, was born in Rosus where he had his early education, but he first began to strive after virtue at Antioch, pitching his tent outside the city boundaries on the side of the mountain, and in this little dwelling place he lived out his whole life. Right up to extreme old age he made no use of either fire or lantern. His food was bread and salt, his drink a flowing spring. His hair was like that of Theodosius, as were the items of iron which he wore.
He displayed great simplicity of life, and gave evidence of the splendour of divine grace in his gentleness and self-control. For 'to whom shall I look,' he said, 'if not to those who are meek and quiet and tremble at my words?' (Isaiah 66.2) He also said to his disciples, 'Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest unto your souls' (Matthew 11.29) And again, 'Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth' (Matthew 5.5). He was as well favoured a man as Moses the Lawgiver, for 'Moses', he said, 'was the most meek of all men that are upon the earth' (Numbers 12.3). And the most holy Spirit testifies of the prophet David: 'Remember David, O Lord, and all his meekness' (Psalms 132.1). And concerning the patriarch Jacob we learn that 'he had not been accustomed to living in a house' (Genesis 25.27). All these virtues he collected like a bee from the meadows of divine Scripture, and converted them into the honey of true wisdom.
His virtues overflowed most happily into other people, for in his gentle, sweet voice he urged all who came to him to love the brethren in harmony and peace. By his looks alone he persuaded many to become lovers of things divine. Who could not greatly admire this remarkable man in view of his bodily labours, his flowing hair, the iron weights he carried about his person, his hair shirt, and his custom of eating only sufficient to prevent him dying of hunger?
Grace poured into him in proportion to the greatness and number of his labours, persuading everyone to admire and honour him. He cured many deep-rooted diseases, and brought it to pass that many sterile women bore children. He gave ample evidence of being filled with the power of the divine spirit, but he described himself as a needy beggar. However many people kept on coming to him, he helped them all by speech and example all the days of his life.
When at length he departed and was translated into the angelic choirs, he left behind him a memory that did not go down into the grave with him, but which grows and flowers and produces seeds and which cannot be uprooted, but which remains forever for the assistance of all who will. Praying that I too may obtain his blessing, I now move on to narrate the doings of some of the other athletes, to the best of my ability.
Not many people know about the admirable Zeno, but those who do know him cannot praise his worthiness enough. He gave up great riches in his native land of Pontus, in order to drink at the fountains of Basil the Great, as he is called, who lived nearby, pouring out the waters of life to the whole Cappadocian region, and bringing forth admirable fruit thereby. Zeno had been a member of the Emperor Valens' swift courier service, from which he resigned after Valens was taken from our midst.
From living at court he went to live as a solitary in a tomb (of which there were many in the mountains) not far from Antioch. There he began to purify his soul, continually rebuking it by the practice of contemplation, seeking the vision of God, finding in his heart a way of ascending to God (Psalms 84.5), longing to possess the wings of a dove that he might fly off and be at rest (Psalms 55.6). This was the reason that he had no bed, no lantern, no hearth, no storage jar, no oil flask, no chest, no books or anything else; he was clothed in old rags, his shoes had no buckles, and their leather soles were torn and worn to shreds. One of his family brought him what food he needed, which consisted of one loaf which he made to last two days. He carried water himself from some distance away. Someone who realised what a burden it was to carry this water offered to lighten his load. He refused immediately, maintaining that he could not bring himself to drink water brought to him by some else. Unable to make Zeno change his mind he nevertheless gave him some pots of water, which he left in the doorway. But Zeno poured the water out and let it run away, before going back to the spring again, thus confirming what he had said.
Later on, I climbed up the mountain myself in order to see him, and I came across him carrying the water pots in his hands. I asked where was the cell of that admirable man, Zeno, but he replied that he knew no monk of that name. But from the graciousness of his speech I realised who he was, and I followed him. When I got inside his dwelling I saw a bed of straw, and a rush mat laid over the stones, providing a minimum amount of comfort for anyone seated on it. I had a long conversation with him on the subject of true wisdom, and when it was time for me to return home I asked him to speed me on my way with a blessing, but he would not agree to that, saying that it would be fairer for each of us to pray for each other. He said that he was just a private citizen, whereas I belonged to the army - for I was at that time a Reader for the people of God. I replied that I was very young and immature (I had only just begun to produce a little down on my cheeks), and that I would not feel able to come back again if I were obliged to say the prayers. In the end in response to my many requests, he did offer intercession to God, but made many excuses for doing so, saying that he was only doing it for love's sake and out of a sense of obedience. But I had, however, heard him praying as I was approaching earlier.
Who could adequately pay tribute to the deep love of wisdom, the modesty and self-control, of this old man? (For he had then been following a monastic discipline for forty years.) Who could find sufficient words of praise to acknowledge the magnitude of his achievements? He possessed a great wealth of virtue, while living in extreme material poverty, but he worshipped on Sundays in the church of God with God's people, listening to sermons and sharing in the mystical banquet, but returning afterwards to his dwelling which had no lock or key, no one to guard it. Possessing nothing but one rush mat he was immune from evildoers, who nevertheless held him to be sacrosanct anyway. He would borrow one book from his family, and having read it would return it in exchange for another. But although he had no locks or bars he was protected by grace from above, as we clearly learned from our own experience. For the Isauri treacherously captured the citadel by night, and in the morning advanced up the mountain, cruelly threatening the many men and women living the monastic life. But the divine man, sensing this disaster, prayed to God and they were all struck blind, so that having found the way in they could not see where to go next. And he bore witness to having clearly seen three youths driving out the whole crowd of them. God had openly poured forth his grace.
I think I have said sufficient to show what sort of a life this divine man led and how filled he was with divine grace. But I must add just one more thing. He was worried and distressed that he still possessed property and had not sold it and distributed it according to the evangelical precept. The reason for this was that his brothers were still very young. The money and other goods they all owned in common, but he was unwilling to return home in order to divide it up and he feared to sell his share of the estate to anyone, lest the buyers greedily cheat his brothers and humiliate them. He put off doing anything about it for a long time as he turned it over in his mind, but when eventually he sold everything to someone he knew he was able to give away the greater part of it. But then he fell ill, which compelled him to take counsel about the rest of it. So he approached the leader of the church in Antioch, the great Alexander who was a splendid example of true religion and virtue, and an exact and accurate image of a true lover of wisdom.
"I would like you, " he said, "O divine leader, to act as steward of these moneys, sharing them out in virtue of your divine office according to your best judgment. I have distributed most of it myself as seemed best to me. I would like you to distribute the rest in a similar manner. Since I am like to be called out of this life, I appoint you as the one to share it all out, for you are the pontiff, and you exercise your pontificate justly in accordance with the laws."
He handed over his money as if it had been required of him by God. He lived for forty years after this, and then like an Olympic victor he departed from his enclosed place, covered in glory not only by men but also by Angels.
I beg that he will intercede for me before God, and continue my tale in another direction.
Macedonius was called krithophalos, that is, 'barley-eater', and he was known as this throughout Phoenicia and Syria and Cilicia. The name was given him because of the food that he ate. People near and far knew about him, some because they had seen his miracles, others because they had heard their fame being celebrated. Not everyone knew everything about him, some knew this, some knew that, but what they knew they deservedly wondered at. I know more about this divine outstanding man than others (for I had heard many things which led me to go to him and be with him for quite some time), and I shall tell you a few things as far as I am able. I am putting him in this position in my narrative, after telling you of many other people, not because he was inferior in virtue to the others (for he was indeed the equal of the greatest and best), but because he lived a long life which did not come to an end until long after the others whose tale I have told.
He made the top of a mountain his palace and arena, but never always in the same spot. He did not stay long in one place before going on to another. This was not because of any dislike for any particular place, but because he was forever fleeing from the crowds of people who followed him and gathered about him. Forty-five years he lived like this, with no tent, not even a hut, content with a deep cleft in the rock, for which reason he was also known as Gubba. This name when translated from the Syrian into Greek means lakkos, that is, 'hollow'. When he got to be a bit older, he gave in to people's urging and built a hut for himself. Later, in response to his followers' entreaties, he made use of little cottages, which did not belong to him, but to others. Twenty-five years he lived in hut and cottage, making a total of seventy years during which he lived his life of constant struggle.
He ate no bread, but only clear barley, and drank only the water it was steeped in. For a long time it was my mother who supplied him with this food. She was a follower of his. Once when she was suffering an illness, he heard that she was refusing to eat the sort of food which would be best for her in her illness (for she too had embraced a monastic discipline), and he advised that she should do what her doctors ordered, and consider that food not to be a luxury but a medicine, taken because it was necessary.
"You know perfectly well," he said, "that I have eaten only barley for forty years, but when I was ill the other day I told the person living with me to bake some bread and bring it to me. For it occurred to me that if I were to die, I would have to explain to the just judge of the universe why I had fled from the battlefield and spoiled my work of serving him. For if a little bit of food could save me from death and let me live a little longer to work and discipline myself, gathering the rewards that go with it, I decided that it was better to avoid dying from hunger than stick to my rigid rule. With some apprehension, therefore, I 'kicked against the pricks' of my thoughts (Acts 26.14), and ordered bread to be brought, and when brought I ate it. And now I ask you to show me barley no longer, but bread."
It was from what he said here that we learned beyond any possibility of someone else's lies that he had eaten only barley for the last forty years. And that in itself should be sufficient to show how strenuously and laboriously he worked in his monastic discipline.
There are other things we can tell you as proof of his integrity and simplicity of life. After the great Flavian was consecrated to the pastoral care of the great flock of God he soon heard about Macedonius, that man of great virtue, and ordered him to be carried off from his mountaintop as if some accusation had been laid against him. In the course of offering the mystical sacrifice he caused Macedonius to be brought up to the altar and ordained him to the priesthood. He was entirely ignorant of what was actually happening, and when someone enlightened him after the end of the service he railed against them all at first with many hard words and reproaches. Then he took his staff (for he walked about leaning on a staff because of his great age), and complained to the pontiff and those who were with him. He feared that ordination would mean he had to leave his mountaintop and change his preferred manner of life. But none of the bishop's entourage could calm his anger.
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