Book X (continued)
The wonderful vision of a Palestinian GENERAL and how he also was compelled to renounce the aforesaid heresy and communicate in the Church of Christ.
This same presbyter Anastasius told us how Gevemer, a Palestinian general, once came to venerate the holy resurrection of Christ our Lord. As he began to go into the holy shrine he saw a goat charging towards him, threatening him with his horns. He took fright and hastily turned back. The guardian of the holy cross, Azarias, was startled, as were the lictors with him.
"What's the matter, sir?" they said. "What's wrong? Why are you not going in?"
"Why have you allowed that goat in there?" he replied.
Astonished, they inspected the holy shrine but found nothing.
"Go on in," they said. "There's nothing like that in there."
Again he began to go in, and again he saw the goat rushing towards him preventing his entry. He did this several times, he being the only one to see the goat while the others saw nothing.
"Believe me, sir," said the guardian of the holy cross, "there must be something in your soul which prevents you worshipping at this holy, venerable and life-giving shrine of our Saviour. I urge you, confess your sin to the Lord. He has been showing you this miraculous sight because he is clement and merciful and desires your forgiveness."
"Indeed, I am guilty of many great sins," he said in tears. And he prostrated himself face downwards, remaining there for a long time weeping and confessing to the Lord. But when at last he got up and tried to go in, again the goat prevented him.
"There must be something else preventing you," said the guardian.
" Could it be, perhaps," asked the general, "that I am prevented from going in because I am not a member of the holy Catholic Church, but belong to the communion of Severianus?" Then he asked the guardian to bring him the holy and life-giving mysteries of Christ our God. The holy chalice was brought, he made his communion, he went in and adored unhindered, seeing nothing of what had previously prevented him.
The vision of abba GEORGE the anchorite, and what he said.
Scythopolis is the second city of Palestine, and there we met abba Anastasius who told us about abba George the anchorite as follows:
I am the one who has been put in charge of the clappers used to call the brothers together, and one night when I arose to sound the signal I heard the old man weeping, and went out to him to ask him what the matter was and why he was weeping like that. He answered me not at all. Once more I asked him to tell me why he was weeping.
"Why shouldn't I weep," he said, groaning and sighing from the bottom of his heart, "when our Lord Jesus Christ refuses to change his mind towards us. For I seemed to be standing before someone sitting on a lofty throne, with thousands of people praying in front of him and begging him for something. But he remained unmoved by their prayers. Then a woman clothed in purple came near and fell down before him, begging him as her son to relent for her sake. But he remained inexorable nevertheless. This is why I am weeping and moaning, for I am afraid of what is to come."
Abba George was telling me this at dawn on a Thursday (Quinta illuscencente feria coenae Domini). Next day, that is on the Friday (parasceve), at the ninth hour, a big earthquake caused severe damage to a city on the coast of Phoenicia.
This same abba Anastasius told us how abba George a little while later was standing at the window when he began to weep copiously.
"Woe betide us, brother," he said, "for we have no sorrow for sin but live in negligence, and I am afraid for the time when the Lord takes us and we stand before the gates to be judged."
And the next day fire appeared in the heavens.
The life of JULIAN, an old man of the monastery of the Egyptians
Anazarbus is the second city of the province of the Cilicians. About twelve miles distant from it is a monastery known as "of the Egyptians". The fathers of that place told us that five years previously an old man called Julian had died, who had lived for seventy years in a very narrow cavern, with no possessions in this world except a cloak, a blanket, a wooden bowl and a book.
They also told us this about him, that for the whole of his life he lit no lamp, for the light of heaven so shone upon him during the night that he was able to read quite clearly.
The saying of abba ELIAS, a solitary.
A certain brother went to abba Elias, a solitary in the coenobium of our ancient father Saba, and asked him for a word.
"In the days of our fathers," the old man said to the brother, "there were three virtues which the monks loved and strove after, detachment from material things, gentleness and continence. Nowadays there is greed, bitterness and impudence. Apply to yourself whichever of these pleases you."
The life of the old man CYRIACUS, of the monastery of St Saba
Abba Stephen told us about an old man called Cyriacus who lived in the monastery of our holy father Saba. He came down one day from Mount Tuthela and having stayed for a while beside the Dead Sea began to go back to his cell. It was so hot that the old man was nearly fainting, but he stretched out his hands to the heavens and said, "O Lord you know that I am so thirsty that I can hardly walk", and at once a cloud surrounded him and stayed with him until he had reached his cell, about twelve miles away.
This same abba Stephen also told us that some of the old man's family came to see him one day and when they got near to the place asked where his cell was. After some people directed them they went to the cell and knocked on the door. When he recognised them the old man prayed to God that they need not see him, and opening the door he ran out so quickly that they hardly even caught a glimpse of him. He ran out into the desert and refused to return until he was satisfied that they had gone away.
The life of the monks of SCYTHIA, and of the old man AMMONIUS.
After this we travelled to Terenuthis and met abba Theodore of Alexandria.
"My sons," he said to us, "just as the old men foretold, the monks of Scythia have lost a great deal of the great charity, abstinence and discretion which, believe me, they used to have. I saw how the old men there would not take any food unless visitors came to see them. One of these old men called Ammonius lived near me. I knew what his customs were, so I used to visit him every Saturday so that he would take some food during my visit. It was their general rule, that whenever anyone visited any of them, they would ask the visitors to pray, and during the prayers they would prepare the food and afterwards all dine together."
The life of a certain OLD MAN dwelling in Scythia and abba IRENAEUS.
Abba Irenaeus told us about an old man living in Scythia who one night saw the devil providing hoes and mattocks and baskets for the brothers.
"Why these?" the old man asked the devil.
"I'm preparing a distraction for the brothers, " the devil replied, "so that they will busy themselves with these and neglect to pray and glorify God."
Abba Irenaeus also told us that when the barbarians invaded Scythia he left there and went to the Gaza region, where he accepted a cell in the monastery.
"The abbot there gave me a book to read," he said, "containing the deeds of the old men. As soon as I opened the book my eyes fell upon a passage in which a brother came to an old man and asked him to pray for him.
"'As long as you were one of us' the old man said, "We prayed for you. But now that you have gone off on your own we pray for you no longer.'
"When I had read this passage, I closed the book and said to myself. 'Woe betide you, Irenaeus, for you have gone off on your own and the fathers are no longer praying for you.' I took the book back to the abbot straight away and came back here. So, my sons, that's how I came to be here."
The life of JOHN, the disciple of a great old man who lived in the town of Caparasima
There is a region of Phoenicia called Ptolemais, in which there is a village called Caparasima. In this village there was a great old man who had a disciple called John, who had a great reputation as well, especially for his obedience. One day the old man sent him off on an errand, giving him a bit of bread to sustain him on the way. John went off and carried out the errand, then came back to the monastery and gave back the bread to the old man.
"My son," said the old man as he gazed at the bread, "why have you not eaten the bread I gave you?"
"Forgive me, father," he said, as he prostrated himself before the old man, "but you gave me no blessing when you sent me off, and you did not tell me the bread was to be eaten, so I didn't touch it."
The old man was amazed at the brother's discretion, and gave him a blessing.
After the old man's death this brother fasted forty days and a voice from heaven came to him saying, "If you lay hands on anyone sick they will be cured." The next morning, by divine providence, there came a man and to him bringing his wife with him who was suffering from cancer of the breast. the man asked him to cure his wife.
"I am a sinner," said the brother," and unworthy to do such things."
But the man persisted in begging him to agree to have pity on his wife. At last he did lay hands on her, and made the sign of the cross on her breast, whereupon she was immediately cured. From that time on God did many other signs through him, not only during his own lifetime, but even after his death.
The death of SIMEON the Stylite, and abba JULIANUS, also a Stylite.
Simeon the Stylite was about forty miles from the city of Aegis in Cilicia; he was struck by lightning and died. Now abba Julianus also was a Stylite, and quite contrary to his usual practice and at an unusual time he told his disciples to put some incense in the thurible.
"What for?" they asked him. They begged him to explain.
"Because my brother Simeon has just now been knocked over by lightning and is dead," he said, "and look, his soul is going, leaping up with exultation."
Another story about JULIANUS.
Abba Stephen Trichinas, superior of the monastery of our holy father Saba, told us this also about abba Julianus the Stylite -
Not far from the place where he lived a lion had appeared which had become accustomed to killing numbers of the local population as well as foreigners. So one day he called his disciple Pancras to him.
"Go about two miles south from here and you will find the lion lying down. Say to him, 'Julianus humbly asks you in the name of Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, to go away from this province.'"
The brother went, found the lion lying down, spoke the words of the old man to him, and the lion immediately went away.
The life of THALALEUS of Cilicia.
Abba Peter, a presbyter of the same monastery, told us about abba Thalaleus of Cilicia who spent sixty years in the monastic life weeping continuously. He was always saying that our time here is given to us for penitence, and we will be held to account if we neglect it.
The extraordinary deed of the HOLY VIRGIN by means of which her adolescent admirer was conscience-stricken and became a monk
When we were in Alexandria one of the faithful told us the following story -
There was a holy virgin living a solitary life in her own home who worked very hard at her own salvation. She regularly gave herself to fasts and vigils, and gave alms freely. But the devil who hates everything good found the virtues of this woman so insufferable that he prepared a campaign against her by stirring up in a certain young man a devilish lust for her. He haunted the space outside her house. When the woman tried to leave the house in order to go to church and pray, this young man harassed her with lustful and impure looks. He would not let her pass with subjecting her to seductive propositions and shameless suggestions, so that in the end the aggressive behaviour of this young man prevented her from leaving her house at all.
One day the woman sent her servant out to the young man
"My mistress wants you," she said. "Come inside."
He went in, delighted, eager for the shameful deed, to where she was sitting on the bed.
"Sit down," she said. "Tell me please brother, why do you harass me so grievously that I can't go out of my own house?"
"Truly, I love you very much," he said, "and whenever I look at you I am totally inflamed with desire."
"What can you see so beautiful in me that you should love me so?"
"It's your eyes. That's what has led me on."
When the woman realised that it was her eyes which had led him on she took a distaff and gouged her eyes out.
When it sank in to the young man that she had actually gouged her own eyes out he was conscience stricken and went off to Scythia to become a monk.
[I can't forbear commenting that this is the sort of thing which have given the hermits a bad name! BB]
The life of abba LEONTIUS of Cilicia.
Some of the fathers used to say of abba Leontius of Cilicia that he had a great devotion to our Lady, the holy birthgiver of God, and for forty years he was to be seen in a church dedicated to her. He had a wonderfully grave presence which he preserved at all times.
They described how he dealt with any beggars who came to him. If they were blind he would put some money into their hands, but if they were not he would put the money at the base of a column, or on a bench, or on the steps of the sanctuary, for the beggars to pick up. If any one asked him why he did not simply put the money into their hands, he would reply, "Forgive me father, but it is not me giving the alms, but my lady the holy birthgiver of God, who provides food for both them and me."
The life of abba STEPHEN, a presbyter of the monastery of the Aeliotes.
One of the old men said of abba Stephen a presbyter of the monastery of the Aeliotes that the devil would trouble his thoughts as he sat in his cell saying "Leave this place. You are not doing any good here." He would reply, "I am not listening to you. I know who you are. It is not possible for anyone to be deceived by you for Christ the son of the living God himself is your adversary."
It was also said of him that when he was sitting in his cell reading the devil appeared to him visibly and said, "Leave this place. You are not doing any good here."
"If you want me to go," he said to the demon, "make this chair I am sitting in move about."
Now the chair he was sitting in was of wicker-work, and the devil made it move about all over the cell.
"In spite of your speed and cleverness," he replied as he observed the devil's tricks, "I have no intention of going away." He prayed, and the devil disappeared.
Three old men visited abba Stephen the presbyter, and while they kept on talking about what might be of benefit to the soul Stephen said nothing.
"You are not saying anything, father," they said to him. "We are visiting you because we hoped to hear something helpful."
"Forgive me," he said, "but up to now I had not taken much notice of what you were talking about. However I will share with you this thought that I have: day and night I gaze upon nothing other than Jesus Christ hanging on the cross."
They were greatly edified on hearing this and so went on their way.
Abba Johannes Molybas told us another story about that blessed and venerable old man, the presbyter Stephen.
He became ill with a disease of the liver which resulted in that holy soul of his departing from the body. During his illness the doctors had ordered him to eat meat. He had a brother living in the world who was very religious and lived a godly life, but when he visited Stephen and saw him eating meat he was scandalised, and very sorrowful to think that from a life of great abstinence and continence he had lowered himself in his last hours to eating meat.
Later he fell into an ecstasy and someone appeared to him who said, "Why are you so scandalised by this presbyter simply because you saw him eating meat? Don't you realise that he was compelled to this by necessity, and did it purely through obedience? You had no business being scandalised, and if you want to know your brother's merits and glory, turn round and look behind you."
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