Life of Euphrosyna, (continued). Book 1dLife No 20
(Also St Mary the Harlot further down this page)
She was frightened of being recognised and making things worse for him, but she nevertheless wanted to bring him some comfort.
"I am quite sure that God is not turning his face away from you," she said. "And if your daughter's soul had been lost, God would have revealed that to you, and would not blame you, or debar you from light perpetual, because of her soul being claimed by the devil. But I am confident that she must have chosen a better part for herself (Luke 10.42), as I have already said, in accordance with the Gospel where it says, 'Whosoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me' (Matthew 10.37). And 'Anyone who has not renounced everything he possesses cannot be my disciple' (Luke 14.26). But God is quite able to reveal her to you sometime in the course of this life. So until then, be content. Why destroy yourself by excessive grief? Just give thanks to God, doubting nothing.
"Now my teacher Agapitus has told me several times that someone called Paphnutius, a man abounding in good works, has been visiting us in great grief because he believes his daughter must be dead, without any idea of that has really happened to her, but in great sorrow because she was his only daughter. He has been falling at the feet of the abbot, begging that God will reveal the truth to him through the prayers of the abbot and all the brothers. So you pray to God also, as I will, unworthy though I am and aware of my many sins. I will pray that God will give you patience and longsuffering and that he will fulfil in you, as in your daughter, what it is best for you both. For that reason I would like to see you and talk to you more often, so that perhaps I may humbly be able to give you some consolation."
At this point she bade Paphnutius farewell, fearful that too prolonged a conversation might give her away. As Paphnutius moved away her soul was filled with compassion for him, her cheeks paled and tears flowed and she coughed up blood, weakened by fasting as she was, and not having eaten that day. But Paphnutius was greatly comforted, and went back to the abbot.
"That brother has really done my soul good," he said. "His words of comfort have brought me such happiness and grace from God that it is almost as if I had found my daughter again."
And commending himself to the prayers of the abbot and all the brothers he went back home magnifying God.
When Smaragdus had lived in her cell for thrifty-eight years she fell ill and died. A few days earlier Paphnutius had paid one of his usual visits to the monastery and after being greeted by the brothers and praying with them he said to the abbot, "With your permission, father, may I see Smaragdus, for I have a great longing to see him?"
The abbot called Agapitus and told him to take Paphnutius to Smaragdus' cell. Paphnutius went in and found him lying there mortally ill, burst into tears and embraced him.
"Alas, where are your promises now? Where are your sweet words promising me that there would come a time when I would see my daughter with my own eyes? I shall never see her, and not only that but you are leaving us as well, the only one who could give me some comfort. Woe is me! Who shall comfort me in my old age? To whom can I go? Who can help me? I am weighed down now by a double grief. It is thirty-eight years since I lost my daughter, without any news of her at all which I have prayed for day and night, and now another grief overwhelms me, for I have never found anyone like unto this brother. What hope have I left? Where do I find comfort? I shall go down in sorrow to my grave."
Smaragdus became aware of his tears and inconsolable grief.
"Why are you in such a turmoil and, killing yourself with worry?" she said. "The arm of the Lord is not weakened. Is there anything that God finds too difficult? Put away your sadness. Remember how God revealed to the patriarch Jacob that Joseph for whom he had mourned was alive. But I have a request to make. Stay with me for three days without leaving my side."
So Paphnutius stayed for three days wondering within himself whether God was about to reveal to Smaragdus something about himself.
"I have waited as you asked, my brother," he said on the third day, "and have not gone off anywhere else."
Smaragdus, who was really Euphrosyna, knew that this was the day of her death
"Almighty God has taken up my wretchedness and fulfilled all my desires," she said to Paphnutius, "for he has defended me from the snares of the enemy, against whom I have striven manfully right up to the end, not in my own strength but by his power. I have finished my course and there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4.8). I don't want you to worry any more about your daughter Euphrosyna, for I am she, and you are my father. So now you have seen me and have achieved your desire. But I would rather you did not tell anyone; don't let anyone else strip my body and wash it, but do it yourself. And I declared to the abbot that I had great possessions, and that if I proved able to persevere and endure in this place I would leave them all to him. So please fulfil what I have promised, for this place is worthy of respect, and pray for me."
So saying she gave up her sprit. It was the first of January.
Paphnutius saw that she was dead, and his stomach heaved and he fell to the floor as if dead. Agapitus came in and saw that Smaragdus was dead and that Paphnutius was lying half dead on the floor. He threw some water in his face and picked him up.
"Are you all right, Paphnutius?" he asked.
"Let me be. Let me die on this spot," he said. "I have seen wonderful things here today."
He got up and gazed upon her face, while his own tears streamed forth.
"Woe is me, my most sweet daughter!" he cried. "Why did you not reveal yourself to me sooner, so that I could have willingly joined you here myself. Woe is me! Why did you hide? How is it that you have endured the snares of the enemy and the spiritual powers of darkness in this life and now have entered into life eternal?"
As Agapitus listened to him, he realised the wonderful thing that had happened and was amazed. He ran to tell it all to the abbot, who came and fell down before Euphrosyna.
"Euphrosyna, bride of Christ and daughter of the saints," he cried, "forget not your servants in this monastery and pray for us to the Lord Jesus Christ, that we may strive manfully to enter the gateway of salvation and receive our portions with him and his saints."
He assembled all the brothers and with all due honour he ordered her holy body to be buried. As they were all together as witnesses of this stupendous miracle, they glorified God who had worked such a great miracle even in the weaker sex. One of the brothers who was blind in one eye tearfully kissed her face, and as soon as he touched her his sight was restored. All the brothers who were there and saw what had happened blessed the Lord and gave thanks to him from whom all blessings flow. Greatly strengthened and edified, they buried her in her family grave. Her father gave everything he possessed to the church, the hospice and the monastery, but the greater part to the monastery, which he joined, and dwelt in the same cell as that in which Euphrosyna had fallen asleep.
Paphnutius lived in this holy life for ten years before departing to the Lord, and the abbot and all the brothers buried him next to his daughter, glorifying God. The anniversaries of their departure to the Lord are celebrated to this present day, glorifying the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit. to whom be honour and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
The Life of St Mary the Harlot, the niece of Abraham the Hermit
[Celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on 29 October]
by St Ephraem the Archdeacon
translated into Latin from the Greek by an anonymous author.
This is the rest of Life of Abraham, begun in
Life No 7 in Book 1a
Beloved brethren, I would like to respond to your unanimous request that I should tell you about another admirable matter which this blessed man dealt with in his old age. For wise and spiritual men it provides an instructive example of humility and compunction. This is what it was all about:
The blessed man Abraham had a brother who died leaving a daughter seven years old. Her father's friends decided that as this girl had now lost both her parents, she should be immediately handed over to her uncle. The old man accepted this, and put her in the outer room of the cell. There was a little window in the wall between the rooms, through which he was able to teach her the psalter and the scriptures. She joined with him in praising God in the vigil services, and she strove to emulate her uncle in his practice of abstinence. She readily accepted this regime and made great advances in all the virtues. The holy man unceasingly prayed with tears to the Lord that her mind should be freed from attachment to the affairs of this world, for her father had left her a large sum of money. But with her father now dead, and her uncle in charge, the servant of Christ ordered that the money be distributed to the needy and orphans. The girl daily asked her uncle to pray that she be kept safe from the divers snares and traps of the devil, and kept faithfully to the rule he had given her.
Her uncle gave thanks that he could see her unhesitatingly moving forwards in the practice of all the virtues, that is in tears, humility, modesty and silence, and what was even more wonderful, in a profound love of God. She had lived with him in abstinence for twenty years, as pure as a lamb and as unspotted as a dove, when the devil began to rage against her, and tempted her with his usual tactics. He sought to ensnare her in his nets, hoping to turn her mind away from God and give the blessed man great cause to worry about her.
There was a certain monk (a monk in name only) who was in the habit of coming to visit the holy man under the pretext of seeking for instruction. He could see that blessed woman through the window, and began to be stirred with desire for her. He sought pretexts for speaking with her, and the urgings of lust began to set his heart on fire. Over the space of a year he insinuated himself into her affections by degrees, until her thoughts were quite overwhelmed by the sweetness of his words, and at last she opened the window of her cell and went out to him. He immediately contaminated and polluted her in the wickedness of his sinful lust.
Afterwards, she was horrified at how wicked was the deed she had done. She tore the tunic she was wearing and lacerated her face with her nails. In her excessive grief, she wished she were dead. Her anxiety oppressed her like a dead weight, in her mental storm she could not see the prospects of any harbour, her fevered thoughts flew backwards and forwards and she bewailed her fate unceasingly.
"This feels like a wound unto death," she cried. "The labour of my days and my abstinence have gone for nothing, the work of my prayers, tears and vigils has been rendered completely worthless. I have grievously offended my God and have destroyed myself. What a miserable wretch I am, drowning myself in tears! I have inflicted the most bitter sorrow upon my holy uncle, my soul is burdened with guilt, and I have simply become a bit of sport for the devil. What point is there in prolonging my miserable existence any further? Alas, what have I done? Alas, what shall I do now? Alas, what evils have I brought upon myself? Alas, how could I have ever sunk so low? How did my mind come to be so darkened? I could not see that I was doing wrong, I did not realise I was being despoiled, I cannot understand how my heart came to be hidden in a cloud of darkness. How is it that I did not realise what I was doing?
"Where can I hide myself? Where can I go? Where is there some ravine I can throw myself into? Where now are all the teachings of my most holy uncle? Where are the warnings of his colleague, Ephraem? They taught me to preserve my virginity so that I might offer an immaculate soul to my immortal bridegroom. 'Your bridegroom,' they said, 'is holy and ardent'. Alas, what can I do? I don't dare so much as lift up my eyes to heaven, for I know that in the eyes of both God and man I am as good as dead. I don't dare to go anywhere near his window. I am a sinner full of sordid uncleanness - how shall I even try to speak with my holy uncle? If I even dared to attempt it, wouldn't a blast of fire burst from him to burn me to ashes? Seeing that I am already dead and have no hope of gaining salvation, I had better leave here and go to some foreign land where nobody knows me."
Hastily, she left, went to a foreign land, changed her clothes and found employment in a brothel.[stabulum, a word which can mean simply 'fixed abode'. In Chapter VI, below, it seems to mean 'inn, hostelry', but is also, obviously, a brothel]
This disaster which happened to her was revealed to the holy man by a vision in his sleep. What he saw was a terrifying, enormous dragon, hissing loudly and stinking most horribly, which burst out from somewhere towards his own cell, where it found a little dove, which it devoured and then returned to its own pit. He woke up in great distress, weeping bitter tears, interpreting the vision as an attack of the devil against the Church of God, turning many away from the faith and creating some schism in holy Church. He fell on his knees and prayed to God.
"O God, lover of men, nothing is hid from your sight. You know the meaning of this vision."
Two days later he saw the same dragon coming back to the cell in the same manner as before. With its belly torn open it lowered its head down at his feet, and he could see the dove which it had devoured was still alive in its stomach. He put his hand in and pulled it out alive. When he woke up he called out for his blessed niece several times, thinking that she was still in her cell.
"What has been the matter with you, Mary" - for that was her name - "that you have not opened your voice to praise God these last two days?"
He got no reply, and since he had not heard her singing the psalms as usual for the last two days it began to dawn on him that the vision most certainly was about her. Then he groaned and wept bitterly, pouring out floods of tears.
"Woe is me! A wolf has carried off my little lamb and taken my daughter captive! O Christ, Saviour of the world, give me back my little lamb Mary. Bring her back to the fold, lest in my old age I depart this world in grief. Do not turn your ears away from my prayer, O Lord, but speedily send down your grace that she may be snatched unharmed from the mouth of the dragon."
The two days of the vision turned out to signify two years, during which his niece lived out her shameful life as if in the disgusting belly of the dragon. But the holy man never ceased at all times day and night from praying for her to God.
After two years, he found out where she was and what she was doing, and he asked someone he knew very well to go there and find out everything about her that he could. After having gone there and actually seen her, he came back and gave Abraham a full and truthful report. At Abraham's request he then lent him a soldier's uniform and a horse to ride. Disguised as a soldier, and wearing voluminous headgear to conceal his face, he opened his door, came out, mounted his horse, and hurried off, taking with him just one solidus. Anyone who ventures into any foreign country or city always assumes the dress of that country so that he won't be noticed; just so did Abraham wear aggressive clothing, to frighten off any possible attacker. Take a lesson, my beloved brothers, from this second Abraham. Just as the first Abraham went forth to do battle with kings and struck them down in order to rescue his nephew Lot (Genesis 13.12-16), so did this second Abraham sally forth to do battle with the devil, to conquer him and bring back his niece in triumph.
When he arrived at the place where she was, he turned aside into the inn (stabulum) and looked about him carefully in all directions, hoping to catch sight of her. Having lingered there for the best part of an hour without having caught the slightest glimpse of her, he approached the landlord with a grin on his face.
"I have heard, my friend," he said, "that you have a most beautiful girl here. I would gladly have a look at her, if you will allow me."
The landlord looked at Abraham's grey hairs, and thought to himself that this person could hardly have any thoughts of lust in his mind, considering his obviously advanced age.
"You have been told correctly," he replied. "She really is outstandingly beautiful."
And indeed it is true that Mary was of an almost preternatural beauty.
"What is her name?" he asked.
"I should be delighted if you would bring her in to me," he said, filled with joy at hearing her name. "Perhaps she might dine with me today, for I have heard great stories about this girl."
He called her in, and when her uncle saw her, dressed like a prostitute, a shudder of grief shook his whole frame, but he hid the bitterness of his soul with a smile of pleasure. He restrained himself from breaking out into tears, lest she recognise him and take refuge in flight.
They sat down and had a drink, and this wonderful man then began to lead her on. She got up from her seat, put her arms around his neck and gave him a few gentle kisses. But as did so, the familiar scent of an abstinent body assailed her sense of smell, and the remembrance of the days when she lived in abstinence herself suddenly burst upon her mind. She cried out, as if pierced by a javelin, and tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Woe, woe is me!" she cried, unable to restrain the pain in her heart.
The landlord was shocked.
"What is the matter Mary?" he cried. "Why these cries of pain? You have been here two years and I have never heard you moan like this before. I don't understand what's bothering you."
"It would have been better for me if I had died three years ago!" she said.
Her blessed uncle, hoping not as yet to be recognised, said to her quite calmly:
"We were enjoying each other's company a moment ago. Could it be that the memory of your sins has just come into your mind?"
O Almighty God! How wonderful is the way you shed your mercy upon us! Wouldn't you think that by now the girl was at least thinking to herself, 'What a close resemblance there is between this man and my uncle!' But you alone are the lover of mankind, O God, from whom all goodness and wisdom flows; you so decreed that she did not recognise him and so run away in confusion. The only possible reason for this servant of yours, her uncle, being able to hold back his tears, must surely be that you intervened to make the impossible possible.
The holy man gave the landlord the solidus he had brought with him.
"Prepare the best meal for us that you possibly can," he said, "so that the girl and I can dine together. I have come a long journey for the love of her."
O loving wisdom of our God! O truly spiritual fount of knowledge! The wisdom of your saving ways is a perpetual cause for celebration. For fifty years of abstinence Abraham had tasted nothing but bread, and here he was now eating meat without hesitation, simply in order to save a lost soul. The choirs of Holy Angels looked on and applauded with exultation at the discretion this blessed man was displaying, for he was eating and drinking enthusiastically with no qualms at all simply in order to rescue a lost soul from the lowest deeps O wisdom of the wise, O knowledge of the knowledgeable, O discretion of the discreet! You cannot but admire the simplicity of this man. Come, stand in awe of how this man, so perfect and wise and prudent and discreet, has made himself into something quite different, into someone ignorant and completely lacking in discretion, simply in order that he might snatch a soul from the mouth of the lion, and free an imprisoned and conquered soul from the chains and oppression of darkness.
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