Book IX (continued)
MARO (Abraames, Eusebius, Salamanus, Maris and Jacobus further down this page)
Maro is my next subject, for he also was an adornment to the divine choir of saints. Having embraced a life dedicated to God, he took possession of a mountaintop which used to be venerated by the pagans, and where there was a shrine to the demons. He consecrated it to God and went to live there, pitching a small tent inside it, which, however, he rarely used. He not only exercised himself in the usual labours, but thought up others as well, building up a great store of wisdom. His whole life of struggle measured out the grace which sprang from his labours. God in his liberal generosity gave him the gift of healing, so that his fame spread everywhere and people came from all parts to find from experience that his reputation was genuine. For they saw fevers extinguished by the dew of his blessing, trembling fits stilled and demons put to flight and various diseases of all kinds cured by his one universal remedy. Doctors supply medicines suitable for each kind of illness, but the prayer of the saints is the common remedy for all diseases.
He not only treated sicknesses of the body but also illnesses associated with the soul; curing avarice in one case, anger in another, to one person advocating the virtue of self-control, to another the exercising of justice, condemning intemperance in this person, stirring up the laziness of that person. By the use of this husbandry he brought forth many shoots of wisdom, and cultivated for God the garden which now flourishes in the region of Cyrus. This garden was originally the work of the great Jacobus, to whom may be applied the words of the prophet: 'He shall be multiplied as the cedars of Lebanon' (Psalms 92.12), and indeed all the other individual people whom I shall mention, God willing.
He kept on giving all his care to this divine agriculture of making both bodies and souls grow, until after a brief illness, in the course of which he suffered the weakness of nature with bravery of spirit, he departed this life.
A fierce dispute broke out over his body among people round about. But among all the villages nearby, one with a greater population poured out en masse and drove all the others off. They seized the much-desired treasure of his body and built a large shrine for it. They are aware of the benefit they draw from it, which they continue to enjoy to this day, honouring that outstanding victor with a publicly celebrated feast.
But we also enjoy his blessing, even at a distance. The memory of him is for us a sufficient monument.
It would not be right to pass over the admirable Abraames on the pretext that after his monastic life it was the pontifical see of which he became the ornament. Indeed he is all the more worthy of being commemorated by name for the simple reason that he did not change his way of life even though he had been compelled to change the circumstances in which his life was lived. For he carried over with him the burden of his monastic exercises, and lived all the rest of his life in maintaining his monastic labours in the midst of his pontifical responsibilities. He was one more fruitful product springing from the region of Cyrus. Here he was born and educated and began to put together a collection of monastic virtues. Those who lived with him say that he so subdued his body by fasting and keeping vigil standing up that he could remain completely motionless for extremely long periods. By divine providence he was liberated from that kind of helplessness, so that by divine grace he could undergo more serious testing.
He went to Lebanon, where he had heard there was a village covered in a cloud of godlessness. He changed his monastic appearance for the disguise of a merchant. He and his companions carried wicker baskets in which to put the nuts which they proposed to buy (for this was the chief product of this village). He leased a house and agreed a certain price with the owners, after which they stayed there quietly for two or three days. Then little by little they began to sing the divine offices, but in a very quiet voice.
But their psalmody was heard by someone who declaimed against it in a loud voice, and everyone came running to the spot, a crowd of men and women and children. They broke down the door, they climbed on the roof, and between them made such a pile of rubbish that Abraames and his companions were almost buried and suffocated. There was nothing they could do or say except pray to God. The older people of the village then prevailed upon the rest of them to cease from this madness. Through the open doors they pulled Abraames and his companions out of the rubbish and told them to get out of the village. But then the debt collectors turned up demanding payment of their rent. They tied some of them up, the others they abused and beat with rods.
But that divine man took no account of the things that were being done to them, and in imitation of the Lord on the cross had compassion on them, urging them to use self-control and clemency in making their demands. They demanded sureties, and Abraames said he himself would be the surety and promised to provide a hundred pieces of gold within the next few days. And then the dignity of the man aroused such admiration that those who had been most fierce against them began to ask pardon of these men who were so brave. They even asked that he would become the ruler of the village, for at present they were simply farmers and householders with no one in charge.
He went to the city, Emesa by name, and borrowed a hundred gold pieces from some people whom he knew, then returned to the village and fulfilled his promise. When they saw how conscientious he was, they repeated their request even more vigorously. He promised that he would agree if they in their turn would promise to build a church. They asked him to come with them immediately and took the blessed man to a suitable site. Someone else suggested another place, others somewhere different, but at last they agreed on the best situation. Foundations were laid, and it was not very long before they were able to put the roof on. Once it was finished he said they ought to have a priest. They replied that they would not have anyone else to be their priest except himself. They begged him to be their father and pastor. And so he submitted to be being given the grace of priesthood. He lived there for three years, instructing them beautifully in the things of God, until he had ensured that one from among their number could take charge instead of him, after which he returned to his monastic dwelling.
My story would become too long if I were to include everything about him, but I must make mention of the fact that he became bishop of Carrae, since in this he was quite outstanding. Carrae had been a city submerged in the most ungodly dissoluteness, given to drunken, demonic orgies. But it showed itself worthy of his husbandry, for it accepted his fiery teaching and was rescued from its former thorn bushes, and began to bring forth a fruitful harvest of the Spirit, offering to God its sheaves of ripened grain. This harvesting was not accomplished without hard work on the part of the divine man. He undertook countless labours, and, imitating the art of those who prescribe medicine for the body, he used sweet persuasiveness in some cases, but in others bitter medicines, and in some cases he used burning and cutting tactics in order to bring about good health. The brilliance of his life and discipline lent support to his teachings. People were enlightened by these things, and listened to what he said and freely accepted what he did.
During all the time that he was bishop he never ate bread, he never drank water, he had no use for a bed, and never lit a fire. They said forty psalms antiphonally at night and double that number of prayers in between. For the rest of the night he sat, and allowed his eyelids to rest a little. Moses, who saw God, said that man should not live by bread alone (Deuteronomy 8.3), and the Lord in his turn kept this in mind when he rejected the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4.4). There is no place in Scripture, however, which says that it is possible to do without water; even the great Elijah drank water from the stream, and when he visited the widow at Sarepta he bade her bring water and bread (1 Kings 17.6-11). But this admirable man, during the whole time of his pontificate, ate no bread or cooked vegetables, and drank no water which those learned in such matters reckon to be the most important of the elements because of its usefulness. Lettuce, watercress and parsley served him for food and drink, demonstrating that the skills of millers and cooks were for him superfluous. In the autumn he also ate a little fruit. But he never ate before Vespers. At the same time as treating his body to such rigours, he was indefatigable in caring for others. He was always ready to give hospitality to all comers; he would offer them the best bread which he had chosen himself and fragrant wines, and fish and vegetables, and everything else that goes with them. He would even sit with guests at noonday, offering each one of them a helping of what was set before them, giving each one a cup and bidding them drink, imitating him whose name he shared, that patriarch who prepared food for his guests but ate nothing himself (Genesis 18.8).
Sometimes he sat in judgment between those who were in legal disputes with each other, some he persuaded to be reconciled, the one with the other, with others he was more forceful when they seemed unwilling to accept his gentle and benign suggestions. No person in the wrong could ever by his own audacity ever gain a victory over the person in the right, because he always took the part of the one in the right who had suffered some injury, making sure that his case was unassailable, and impossible for the troublemaker to overcome. He was just like the best of doctors, who always inhibit the humours which are too active, and ensure a balance between all the faculties.
The Emperor himself wanted to see him, for he had heard that Abraames could always discern what was good and what was bad. He visited him and greeted him and embraced him, and declared that his country-style garments were more elegant than his own purple. A group of noble ladies also shook his hand and bowed to him [lit. 'seized his hands and knees'], and asked questions of this man who could not even understand the Greek language. This is a measure of how his way of life was held to be worthy of honour and respect by rulers and all kinds of people.
Is it not true that after God's lovers and followers have died they acquire an even greater glory? This can be borne out in many cases, but especially in the case of those who were associated with this divine man. For when the Emperor heard about his death he proposed that his body should be put into a sacred shrine, but then he realised that it would be right and proper to give the body of the shepherd into the care of his flock. The Emperor himself, therefore, led the funeral procession, followed by a chorus of noble ladies and everyone over whom he had ruled, all the people, military and civilian, together with the government officials. The city of Antioch and those associated with it gave him great respect, until he arrived at the great river Euphrates. But then on the riverbank people from the city all crowded together, both citizens and visitors, together with people from the country and even some from neighbouring lands, eager to get a blessing. The bier was protected by many lictors beating back those who were trying to denude the body in order to take away a rag of his clothing. On all sides could be heard some singing psalms, some weeping, a woman here mourning him as leader, another there as one who had provided spiritual nourishment, another as pastor and judge, a man weeping because he had lost a father, another a helper and healer. And so they committed that holy and sacred body to the tomb amid a vast cry of praises and tears.
For myself I admire him because after having to change the circumstances of his life he did not change his way of life. When he was a bishop he did not lapse into a relaxed and careless way of life, but even increased the rigour of his monastic exercises. I judge his place in history to be monastic, and I have taken nothing away from that holy company which was precious to him. I also desire his blessing.
To the holy men I have already mentioned I must now add the great Eusebius, who died not so very long ago. Even when he got quite old he gave just as much time as usual to his labours, and his labours were matched by his virtues. The rewards which he generated were manifold, the magnitude of his benefits are a measure of the struggles in which he won the victory. In the beginning he entrusted the development of his faith to others, and where they led he followed. Those divine men were athletes in the exercises of virtue, and when he had spent some time with them, and well and truly acquired the knowledge of how to seek for wisdom, he embraced a solitary life and went to live on the side of a mountain near a large village called Asicha. He dug a ditch and built a dry-stone wall, and spent the rest of his life in the open air, subduing his body, clothed in skins, subsisting on chickpeas and beans soaked in water. Sometimes however he did wear garments woven from reed grass as a protection for the weakness of his body.
When he got so old that he had lost most of his teeth he still made no alterations to either his diet or his dwelling. Freezing in the winter, burning in the summer, he bore all the vagaries of the weather with fortitude. His face was lined and his limbs were shrunken. His body was so wasted away by all his labours that he could not even keep a girdle from falling away from his loins. There was nothing that would stop it; his hips and buttocks were so thin that a girdle just slipped downwards. So he fixed the girdle to his tunic, thinking by this means to make it stay in position.
He could not abide a lot of conversation. For when he was caught up in contemplation of the divine he was reluctant to tear his mind away, but even though given primarily to this deep love, he did allow some people whom he knew to remove the barriers to his door and come in. After giving them the benefit of his divine teaching he would beg them to replace the barriers as they went away. There came a time when he felt he had had enough of that, and wanted to avoid even the minimum of human company, so he blocked up the approach to his cell completely, by piling up as many stones as possible into the entrance. But he left a gap through which he could talk to his friends without being seen, and though which he was able to receive his meagre supply of food.
I was the only one to whom he then did not deny the benefit of his conversation, in that sweet voice of his so pleasing to God. In fact he would often keep me with him discussing heavenly matters, when I wanted to get away. But many people still came to him wanting his blessing. He could not bear crowds, however, so in spite of his age, and with no consideration at all for his physical weakness, he climbed over the ditch and bank, which even a strong and healthy person would have found difficult to do, and went to a nearby monastery where he built himself a ditch and bank in the angle of a wall, and continued in his usual labours.
The superior of this monastery said that he brought an end to seven weeks of fasting by eating only fifteen figs. He came to the end of his earthly strife when he had lived more than ninety years. His bodily weakness it would be impossible to describe, but it was overcome by his keenness of mind. His love of God made everything easy and straightforward for him. In the midst of his labours he came to the winning post of his race, the end of his struggles in sight, longing for his crown.
I ask that I may know of the benefit of his intercession coming hither now, even though he is in heaven above. For I do believe that he lives even now in a more intimate relationship with God.
I believe I would be failing in my duty if I were not to leave for posterity an account of the life of the admirable Salamanus. I shall rescue him from oblivion by giving a short summary of his life.
There is a village on the western bank of the river Euphrates called Capersana, where he was born. In embracing a life of silence he found a small dwelling with no door or windows near the village on the other side of the river, where he shut himself up. He dug his garden once a year, from which he obtained a year's supply of food, but spoke to nobody. He persevered in this not just for a brief period but for many years. When the bishop of the city within whose jurisdiction the village lay heard about him he visited him with the intention of bestowing upon him the gift of priesthood. He entered the little house by making a gap in the bank, laid his hands upon him and said the prayers, and explained to him several times over the meaning of the grace that had been bestowed on him. He got no word in reply from Salamanus, before he went away leaving Salamanus to build up the ditch and bank again.
Not much later people who lived in the village from which he came crossed over the river by night, came into his house and carried him back to his own village. He made no protest or resistance. They built him a little house like the one on the eastern bank and forthwith installed him it. And still he kept complete silence in all their doings with him. After a few days the people of the village on the opposite bank came by night, entered his house and carried him off without his making any objection, or contention that he should stay where he was. But nor did he go back eagerly and happily, either. The point is that he had decided that he was completely dead to the world, illustrating what the Apostle had said: 'I am crucified with Christ. I live, but not I, it is Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live in Christ, is lived in the living faith in the son of God who loves me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2.20). That is what he was like. And that should be enough to show what the whole course of his life was like.
And now, in the hope of a blessing from him, I shall pass on to someone else.
There is a village in Homer which we know by the name of Netis. The divine Maris built a little dwelling near there and lived enclosed in it for thirty-seven years. Being so close to a mountain this house was very damp; in winter time the moisture dripped off the walls. Villagers and farm workers alike knew how harmful this was to the body, and how many diseases it gave rise to, but none of that could persuade that sacred exemplar to move house. He stayed there with fortitude and without interruption till his life's end.
Even in his early life he had laboured to acquire the virtues, especially chastity of body and soul; he told me quite plainly himself that his body remained as whole and incorrupt as when it came from his mother's womb. When he was a young man celebrating the feasts of the martyrs, the people were charmed by the beauty of his singing voice. He was often called upon to sing the psalms, and he was physically very beautiful. And yet the beauty of his soul never came to any kind of harm in spite of the beauty of his body, the purity of his voice, or the crowds of people who approached him with their many requests. He lived exactly like all those who are enclosed, developing the care of his own soul. He increased in virtue in proportion to the labours which he underwent.
I often used to see him. His door was always open to me. He would welcome me whenever I came and would talk with me freely at great length on the search for wisdom.
Moreover he lived in complete simplicity. He detested any variation in his routines. He much preferred to live with want than with an overabundant supply. Even at the age of ninety he still wore a shirt of goat's hair. When at length he wanted to be present at the offering of the spiritual and mystical sacrifice, he asked that the offering of the divine gift be brought to him. I was very happy to agree to that. I ordered the sacred vessels to be brought (the village was not all that far away), and using the hands of the deacons as an altar I offered the saving sacrifice. He took part with the greatest of spiritual pleasure, asserting that he had seen heaven, and that never before had he experienced such joy.
Having experienced his immense love towards me I would have thought it a great injury to him not to praise him now he is dead, and hold up his love of wisdom to others as an exceptional way to follow. I now pray that I shall always enjoy his help, and bring this story to an end.
I have given an account of the struggles of those athletes of virtue who have won the victory. I shall now turn to the way of life of those who even now are engaged in labour, who are suffering the trials of the battle, winning brilliant and very famous victories while yet with us, and striving to outdo with their labours those who have gone before us. I shall endeavour to keep their memory alive for the benefit of those who are coming after. The way of life of the saints who shone in their times is of enormous benefit to those who come after. May their stories be of benefit to those who come after us.
I shall take my cue from Jacobus the Great [see Chapter I], who was the first of all the others, both in order of time and in the amount of work he did. And the admirable things done by those who emulated him are beyond dispute. I don't know how it comes about that of those who are dead and those who are still with us, the name that stands out is Jacobus. Indeed in writing about these lives I began with that divine Jacobus who put to flight the Persian army with his prayers. When they attacked the walls around the city he prevented the city from being taken and put to flight the enemy by calling down on them a plague of mosquitoes and gnats. And he who by chance bears the same name is like him in his way of life, and takes pride of place among those of that athletic company who are alive now, not simply because he has the same name, but because he emulates him in virtue and has himself become an exemplar of those who search for wisdom.
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