Book IX (continued) End of Book IX
In emulating the life of the divine Maro, whom I have already written about (see Chapter XVI), the admirable Domnina built a small hut in the garden of her mother's house. She made it out of reeds. With floods of tears she not only watered her cheeks but also the garment made of hair with which she covered her body. Around cock-crow she would go to the nearby church, along with other men and women, to offer praise to the God of all. She did this not only at the beginning of each day but at the end, setting an example to others by her conviction that a place consecrated to God was more suitable for worship than any other. By doing this she exerted a widespread influence, as well as persuading her mother and brothers that they should given themselves to this discipline.
Her food was lentils soaked in water. She undertook such labours that her body was dried up and only half alive. A lightweight skin garment, almost as thin as piece of paper, was what she threw over her slender bones, from which the flesh and fat was all wasted away because of her labours. She would not look at the faces of anyone who came to see her, whether they were men or women, nor would she show her face for anyone else to see. She was almost entirely concealed beneath her garment, and she would bend forward almost down to her knees when speaking in a very small, indistinct voice. Often, when she took my right hand and turned her eyes towards it, it was thoroughly soaked by the time she let it go before shaking the tears off her own hand.
What can I say in praise of the great works she undertook in her search for wisdom, her weeping, her lamenting, her groaning as if she were in the depths of poverty. The force of her love for God brought forth her tears, ignited her desire for divine contemplation, goaded her with pangs of remorse, and urged her onwards to her future departure from this earth.
But however much she was occupied night and day in such exercises, she did not overlook her concern for other schools of virtue, but encouraged the development of the most pre-eminent athletes, both those whom I have written about and those I have not. She took thought also for those who came to visit her, getting some of them to live near the pastor of the community, while she herself supplied all their necessities. She also persuaded her mother and brothers to gain a blessing by subsidising this venture. She even provided me with bread and fruit and steeped lentils when I came to this district (it is in the southern part of our region).
I have carried on my writings as far as this in an endeavour to describe all these kinds of virtue, since it behoves us to have examples offered us of lives which can be imitated, such as Domnina and the others whom I have mentioned. There are many other women, some of whom have embraced the solitary life, some who have chosen to live with groups of between two and five hundred or more, and a few who dine together, but who sleep on rush mats outside the institution, turning their hands to spinning, and consecrating their tongues to psalmody. There are countless schools of wisdom like this, not only in this region but indeed throughout all the East. Palestine, Egypt, Asia, Pontus and the whole of Europe are full of them. Christ the Lord holds virginity in great respect, and fertilises the natural flowers that are born of virginity, gently anointing them, and offering to the Creator flowers that will not fade away. He makes no distinction between male and female, nor allows any differences in their search for wisdom; there is a difference of bodies but not of souls. In Christ Jesus, as the Apostle says, there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3.28). There is one faith for both women and men, 'there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, on God and father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all' (Ephesians 4.5). The lifelong battle promises one kingdom of heaven to the victors, this is the reward for all who take up the struggle.
So, as I have said, there are many establishments of godliness both for men and for women not only among us, but also in the whole of Syria. Palestine and Cilicia, and in the land between the two rivers. They say that in Egypt there are more than five thousand men who have functioning monasteries, where they praise God and celebrate him with psalmody, not only providing for their own necessary food by the work of their hands, but also providing hospitality, and giving alms to the needy.
But neither I nor all the writers in the world could possibly tell it all, and I think that it is unnecessary for everything possible to be recorded. Such a desire springs from those to whom the opportunity of fame has not been given. What has already been written is quite sufficient to set forth what is needed by those who are seeking for guidance.
So we have described a diverse selection of lives, both of men and of women, so that old men, young men and women might have set before them examples of the search for wisdom, and let each individual person choose the life story which most nearly gives expression to what is in their own heart, and make of that life a rule and benchmark for their own life. Let them imagine what their chosen example was like, let them imitate his eyes, his nose, his cheeks, his forehead, his head and the hairs of his beard, the way he sits and the way he stands, even the expression of his eyes whether they are happy and keen, or severe and angry. This is what everyone who reads these writings must do if they wish to imitate any particular life and make it their own. Carpenters mark their boards in red and cut off what they do not need, until they can see that their boards correspond to what is in their plans. In the same way, anyone wishing to imitate the life of another should set a plan before himself, cut off his superfluous vices, and develop the virtues in which he is lacking. This is the only reason we have undertaken these writings, in the hope of being of some use to anyone who will.
I beg all my readers to take pleasure without any effort in the labours of others, and to add their prayers to those labours. And I pray to those whose lives I have written that they do not forget me, living as I do far from their spiritual choirs, but draw me after them, raise me to the heights of virtue and make me a member of their choir, so that not only I may praise the riches of others, but that I may also have the opportunity of giving praise, glorifying in deed and word and thought the Saviour of all, to whom with the Father and the holy Spirit be glory now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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