Life of St Abraham (contiinued), Book 1a (Also St Basil, further down this page)Life No 8
There came a day when the inhabitants of that village got together and began to talk to each other in some fear and amazement.
"Just look at the enormous patience that man has!" they said. "The extraordinary charity that he shows towards us! We have given him so much trouble, but he has not gone away, he has not said an unkind word to anyone of us, he has not spurned any of us, but has put with everything completely cheerfully! Surely he would not have been able to do that unless this God that he talks about really is the true God, as he says, and the kingdom, and paradise, and the punishment of the wicked are all true. We have to realise that all by himself he has overcome our gods and has not come to any harm. This man truly is a servant of God and everything we have heard about him is true. Come on then, let us also believe in this God whom he preaches about."
And as result of these conversations they all came together to the church shouting and crying;
"Glory be to the God of heaven who has sent his servant to us to save us from error!"
What an enormous joy filled the heart of the man of God at this sight! His face glistened like the dew of the morning and he opened his mouth to greet them.
"Come fathers, brothers, sons, let us give glory to God who has stooped down to enlighten the eyes of your minds, that you may come to know him and receive the life giving sign which will purge you from the uncleanness of idolatry. Believe with all your heart and mind that there is one God of heaven and earth and all that is in it, beyond understanding, giver of light, lover and redeemer of humankind, terrible and gentle. And believe in the only begotten Son who is the wisdom of God, and in the holy Spirit who gives life to all, so that you may be lifted up from earth to heaven and enjoy the life of heaven."
"You are our father," they said. "You are our guide through life. Whatever you tell us and teach us that we will believe and do."
Without delay the holy Abraham performed the rite of Baptism, and baptised them all from the greatest to the least, about a thousand souls in all. Day by day he read the holy Scriptures to them, and taught them about the kingdom of God, the delights of paradise, the hell of punishment, about justice, faith and charity. They were like good earth receiving good seed, and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirty, and as they progressed in the fear of God so did their fruits increase. In their sight he seemed like an Angel of God, holding the household together. His gentle teachings aroused such love towards him that that alone was enough to make them believe in God.
For the space of a year the blessed man Abraham did not cease to teach them day by day about the word of God, until he could see that their faith and their zeal for God had become strong. But he also saw that their love for him was excessive, and that they were paying him too much honour. He feared that their attachment to him was undermining his rule of abstinence and that his mind to a certain degree was being drawn away into earthly cares. He rose in the middle of the night and poured out a prayer to God.
"You alone, O God, are without sin for you alone are holy, and abide in the holy places. You alone are the merciful Lord and lover of humankind, who have opened the eyes of this multitude and freed them from the chains of the adversary, and rescued them from the toils of idolatrous error, and taught them how to know you. I beseech you, O Lord, to guide them and keep them to the end. In your mercy ever provide a generous measure of your help to this most wonderful flock, which you have possessed as your own. Surround them by the grace of your goodness as if with a strong wall, and ever illuminate their hearts that they may always do what is pleasing to you and earn the life everlasting. You have allowed me, weak as I am, to have been their prop and stay, but now hold it not against me as a sin if I do now speedily depart. You know the thoughts of all. You know that I desire only you, and I know that you are my Lord."
He began his journey as he spoke, signing the village of Christ three times with the Cross, and went away to another place where nobody was able to find him.
A crowd of people arrived next morning at the church as usual. When he was not be found they were totally bewildered and ran about like lost sheep seeking everywhere for their shepherd, tearfully weeping and wailing. They searched about for a long time without being able to find him, and at last, overcome with grief they went to tell the bishop what had happened. He also was very worried at the news, and immediately sent off several people to search for him. He was anxious to do everything he could for the people, for he could see how deeply concerned they were. When they had searched everywhere as if they were looking for some precious stone but still could not find him, the bishop took counsel with his clergy and they all went to the village. He offered the villagers words of comfort and tried with his gentle coaxing to soften the blow which Abraham's departure had given them. He discerned that they were very strong in the faith, so he chose likely men from among them to be ordained as presbyters, deacons and readers.
The most holy Abraham eventually got to hear about this, and he was overjoyed.
"What return can I make unto you, O Lord my God, most compassionate Father, most gentle lover of mankind, for all the benefits you have given unto me? I give honour and glory to you for everything you have done."
And he went back immediately to his former cell, where he built an extension in front of it and enclosed himself joyfully in the inner part.
O what a miracle was this, my beloved brothers! Worthy of praise and eternal glory! Throughout all those terrible troubles that he suffered in that village he never broke his rule of abstinence, and turned not either to the right hand or the left. Glory and splendour to God who granted him the forbearance which led to the conversion of others, and who gave him the grace to hold to his original purpose!
The devil, ever malicious towards good people, had not succeeded in turning the mind of the man of God, or separating him from the Lord, in spite of all the troubles he had stirred up against him. Worse, like gold tried in the furnace, he had emerged purified from the fire, and had grown into a greater patience and a keener love. The devil was so exceedingly annoyed and bitterly infuriated that he sent enormous phantasms against him, in the hope that by filling him with fear he might succeed in deceiving him and getting him to fall.
So while he was standing to sing psalms in the middle of the night a light as brilliant as the sun suddenly shone in the midst of his cell and he heard the voices of a great multitude.
"Blessed are you, Abraham, truly blessed and faithful, there is no one to be found like you in all the world, for you have done everything according to my will."
The holy man immediately experienced an exceeding great grief, and he lifted up his voice and cried:
"May you be lost in eternal obscurity, you receptacle of grief and deception, for I am a sinful human being, albeit fortified by hope, and by the grace of God I am in no way intimidated by your tricks. No matter how many phantasms you send against me I shall not be afraid. For the name of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, whom I love and serve, is to me as a strong wall of defence. In his name I curse you, you unclean, thrice accursed dog."
At these words the vision vanished as a smoke before his eyes, and the holy servant of God blessed the Lord with such eagerness and peace of mind as if he had never seen any phantasms at all.
A few days later while he was praying at night, the devil wielded a hatchet and tried to destroy his cell. When he had almost succeeded, he cried out with a loud voice:
"Hurry, my friends, come quickly! Let us go in and bring him to a violent death!"
But blessed Abraham stood up against him.
"All the nations surrounded me," he said, "but in the name of the Lord I will be avenged on them" (Psalms 118.10).
And the devil vanished immediately when he heard that voice, and the blessed man's cell remained whole and unharmed.
Again, a few days later when he was singing psalms in the middle of the night, his mat burst suddenly into flames. Completely unafraid, he stamped on the flames.
"I shall walk upon the asp and basilisk, the lion and the dragon I shall trample under my feet Psalms 91.13), and I shall overcome all the power of the enemy in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ who comes to my aid."
Satan was put to flight, crying out with a loud voice:
"I will bring you to an unpleasant death! You may now hold me in despite, but I shall find a way to conquer you."
On another day while he was taking food, the devil transformed himself into a young man who came into his cell and tried to overturn his bowl. But the man of God held on to it firmly and continued boldly with his meal. The devil jumped up and suddenly created another phantasm. It was as if there was a candelabra standing in front of him, and light shining above it, and psalms being sung from a polluted and ugly mouth.
"Blessed are they who are undefiled in the way," it sang, "and who walk in the law of the Lord" (Psalms 119.1).
More verses from this psalm followed, but the holy man said nothing until he had finished his meal.
"Unclean and thrice accursed dog," he said firmly as he rose from the table, "most pathetic liar of liars, if you are so sure that we are blessed, why are you molesting us? In any case, blessed are all they who love God with their whole heart."
"It is they who irritate me above all," the devil replied. "It is they whom I would conquer, bring all their good works to naught, and make them acquiesce in all kinds of evil."
"No good will come to you from that, accursed one. You will never succeed in overcoming or even hindering anyone who fears God, only those who like you have departed from God of their own free will. You conquer and deceive them because God is not in them. But those who love God can make you evaporate and dissipate like smoke in the wind. One prayer from such as they can so prick and disturb you that you become like bits of dust in the breeze. For God is a living God, blessed for ever, who will glorify me, so that I shall not be afraid though you never left my side. I despise you as a nothing, the runt of the litter reviled by all."
At these words the devil abruptly vanished, as usual.
Five days later, after his night psalms were finished, another powerful phantasm was constructed by the enemy. It was as if the holy man could see a great horde approaching him, all linked together, urging each other on with great shouts that they might cast the man of God into the pit. But the blessed man just looked at them surrounding him.
"They surrounded me like a swarm of bees," he said, "and burned like fire among the thorns, but in the name of the Lord I am avenged on them" (Psalms 118.12).
"Alas, alas!" cried Satan. "I don't know what else I can do! Look! He has beaten me and overcome me in everything I do. He has been defeated by none of my powers, and trampled me everywhere underfoot. Nevertheless I shall not leave you alone until I have overcome you, and humbled you and brought you into subjection."
"May you and all your powers be anathema, you most foul of demons!" said the man of God. "And glory and honour be unto the Lord, the only wise and holy God who gives you to be trampled underfoot by us who love him. Therefore we have no respect for your craftiness but only contempt. Know then, you frail and unhappy demon, that we have no fear either for you or your phantasms."
Time after time the devil assaulted this strongest of men with all sorts of arguments and tricks, but never was he able to make any impression on the fortress of his mind or even to make him feel afraid. The more he was attacked, the greater grew his zeal and love towards God. For because he loved God with all his heart, and arranged his life according to God's will, so he earned an overflowing measure of God's grace, and the devil was not able to harm him. He was forever knocking on the door, seeking for the treasures of God's grace to be opened up to him. And when the door was opened up to him he found there the three precious stones of faith, hope and charity, powerful adornments bringing all the other virtues to perfection. And with these he wove a crown of good works which he offered back to his Lord, the King of kings, from whom all his gifts did proceed.
Who has ever with his whole heart loved God and his neighbour as himself like this man (Luke 10.27)? Or who has ever endured such labours, or shown such compassion? Whenever he heard of any monk who had the reputation of a holy life, did he ever fail to pray for him to the Lord that he might be kept safe from all the snares of the devil, and maintain the blameless course of his life? Whenever he heard of any sinner or godless person, did he ever fail to pray to the Lord with tears day and night that he might be saved? In all the days of his religious life he did not pass one day without tears. Nor did laughter easily escape his lips. He never anointed his body with oil, and from the day of his conversion he never washed either his feet or his face. He always lived as one with the thought of his death always before him.
Truly, my brothers, what a glorious miracle he was! Constant vigils washed with tears, disciplined in body by sleeping on the ground, never weary, never weakened or dulled by lethargy, never prone to apathy, but always like someone hungering and thirsting, he gladly endured all things, never allowing his mind to be deflected from its purpose by any relaxation. He appeared as a flower forever in bloom, his face mirrored the purity of his soul. There was nothing lacking in his whole body, which always seemed healthy and strong, enjoying divine grace in all its parts and enlivened with spiritual joy. In the hour of his death his face shone with such splendour that it seemed impossible that his whole life had been spent in abstinence. And there was another miracle in the way he managed things; he never once changed the tunic in which he was originally clothed.
For other things in the Life of Abraham and his niece, see the Lives of the Women (Book 1d, Life No 20).
The Life of Saint Basil, [c.330 - 379
Celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on Jan 2. Regarded as one of the great Doctors of the Church]
Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia
by Bishop Amphilochius Iconius,
[c.340 - 395. Celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on November 23]
translated into Latin from the Greek
by Ursus, subdeacon.
[Sometime around the year 860, according to Rosweyde]
Preface by Ursus
It is to comply with your request that I have translated into the Latin tongue the Life of the blessed Basil, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. It is right that I should accede to your request. I am indebted to all my brothers and neighbours, and I certainly ought not to be disobedient to you. I could wish that this work had been done as well and promptly, and as usefully and felicitously as you have asked it to be, especially as you have emphasised how necessary it is for this great man to be celebrated as much among the Latins as he is among the Greeks. So let the Latin language have these salutary writings, for it is not yet known there how admirable the life of this man was. It is certainly not right that what he taught and did should not be more widely known, for this holy man not only taught human beings the words of God, but first of all performed them, as a great man called into the kingdom of heaven. He was an imitator of him whom Luke wrote about, who described what Jesus began both to do and to preach (Acts 1.1). So then, enjoy these teachings to your soul's health, and lest you should think that this man taught but did not do, you shall know now that what he taught that did he also do, and what is more, you will have a model to imitate.
I have not up to now presumed to approach this work, as you know, because I thought it had been translated by someone else whose merits might have put me to shame. Nevertheless, although some people had already translated the holy Scriptures, was that any reason why there should not be other translators later on? If that were the case, the Latin race would never have been able to drink deep from the holy Scriptures translated into Latin from the original Hebrew by the blessed Jerome, Presbyter of the Roman Church and champion of the holy Bible.
But when I had made enquiries, I found nothing in Latin about the life of this Saint except two of his miracles: the liberating of the boy who denied Christ, and the woman rescued from a life of sin, which however I found to have been so badly done that I could see that it was preferable to translate them afresh rather than try to amend them.
It should also be noted that if any reader asserts that what the holy Amphilochius writes is different from what S Gregory Nazienzus [An associate of St Basil in monastic life. A great Doctor of the Church] wrote in his elegy on this great man, let him remember that what one person might mention another might well omit, which is what we find in reading the Gospels. Amphilochius has written the lives of many great men. Let it be known that he is a most suitable person for this task.
Beloved, it is right and proper that devout sons should grieve over the death of a father, and offer the gift of tears. That we have compassionately done. Now, having set aside the turmoil of grief, we have been moved to respond to the grace-giving prayers that all have offered to our Lord Jesus Christ, by producing a Life, and indeed an account of the true miracles, of Basil, our pastor and master, which have been crying out to be preserved in writing lest in the passage of time they be lost in the deepest oblivion.
It might seem that I am wasting my time when there are three most sacred and outstanding men, and others elsewhere as well, who have already produced memoirs of this great and dazzling man. I refer to Gregory of Nazianzus, the memorable Gregory, [died.c. 395. A younger brother of St Basil]. bishop of the city of Nyssa, and the blessed Ephraem, [See chapter XI, below] from whose hands I have received the stories which each of them has gathered together. But I have added things which they have omitted, in the manner of a devoted son repaying a debt to his father. It may be thought that I am deliberately aware that I am conniving at theft, but just as clouds hide the sun, so do fractious criticisms of good stories make one forget how good the stories are.
Basil, our father, was among the greatest, famous throughout the world, expounder of heavenly virtues, a fellow-servant among the order of Angels, a preacher and Doctor of the Church, a monument of incorrupt orthodox dogma, who used simple language to explain the nature of things, discredited Julian [332 - 363. Roman Emperor who promoted paganism].who denied the Trinity, closed the blaspheming mouth of Valens, [Emperor after Julian exposed the wicked error of the Arians, and strengthened unceasingly the beliefs of true Christians. He was a Pastor cherished by the people of the Church, a co-inheritor of a royal priesthood, clothed about in the truth of Christ, the ram of the flock, an outstanding teacher of divine faith, who after his death as in his life shines with great miracles, who by his oratory brought about, as we have said, the downfall of the hateful Julian who lifted up his horn on high and spoke evilly against God. After Julian, Valens accepted the Imperial purple in this illustrious city of ours, Caesarea. He favoured the teaching of the Arians who, as it were, killed off the Father, but it is not our intention in this present narrative to go into the reasons for that. We simply hold to our purpose of celebrating his virtues, from the womb to the end of his life.
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