Chapter II (continued), Life of Hor Book II
(Ammon, Benus, Oxyrynchus, Theo, Apollonius, all further down this page)
So there was this splendid father, who among other good deeds was accustomed to deal like this with those who came wanting to stay with him: he would gather all the brothers together in order to build for the newcomer a cell that same day. The brothers all worked at this with a will. Each one of them would busy himself either in building up the walls, or plastering with clay, or digging a well or collecting firewood. When it was finished he handed it over personally to the brother, complete with all the necessary utensils.
On one occasion a deceitful brother came having hidden some of his clothing so that he might appear destitute. Hor denounced him in the midst of the community and produced in their midst the hidden clothing, so that he struck fear into them all. No one after that dared to try and deceive him, such was the virtue of his character, such the greatness of the grace given him by God, acquired by his laborious abstinence and his pure faith. And so full of grace were the multitudes of brothers around him that when they gathered in church they seemed like choirs of angels, with shining clothing and brilliant intelligence, keeping vigil with hymns and praises to God in imitation of the heavenly powers.
AMMON (cf. VIII.48)
While in the Thebaid we saw another man called Ammon, the father of about three thousand monks at Tabenna, men of great abstinence. They wear tunics with very short sleeves (colobii), seemingly made out of flaxen sacking (quasi saccis lineis), covered over by a cured sheepskin falling from the neck down the back and sides. Their heads were hidden under cowls, especially when they came to a meal, so that their faces were veiled and they could not see what each other was eating. There was complete silence at meal times, so that when sitting at the table you could hardly imagine there was anyone else there. Indeed their whole attitude towards each other was as if each one was totally alone. In this way the abstinence of each one was hidden, no one could see how sparingly the other was eating. It was as if they were just sitting at table together rather than eating food, but they never stayed away from table, even though they never fully satisfied their hunger. Great is the virtue of continence, and keeping custody of the eyes and hands.
BENUS (cf VIII.49)
We saw another old man who was gentle above all others. His name was Benus and the brothers with him asserted that no oath or lie had ever come from his mouth, that ho one had ever seen him losing his temper with anyone, or indulging in unnecessary, idle conversation. He lived his life in a profound silence, his manner was always peaceful, in all things he was a man who seemed to be angelic. His humility was very deep, counting himself as nothing in every way. We ourselves urgently pressed him to favour us with some encouraging conversation, but his modesty prevented him from giving us more than just a few words.
Once there was a certain beast called a hippopotamus causing a great deal of damage in a neighbourhood near him, and at the invitation of the farmers he came to them and when he saw this immense animal he said, "I beg you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you devastate this region no longer" From this time onwards, as if put to flight by a pursuing angel, it was no longer to be seen. Later on, so they told us, he also put to flight a crocodile.
THE CITY OF OXYRYNCUS
Eventually we came to a certain city of the Thebaid called Oxyryncus, which was so famous for good religious activities that no description could possibly do justice to them all. We found monks everywhere inside the city and also in all the countryside round about. What had been the public buildings and temples of a former superstitious age were now occupied by monks, and throughout the whole city there were more monasteries than houses. There are twelve churches in this very spacious and populous city where public worship is conducted for the people, as well as the monasteries which all have their own chapels. But from the very gates with its battlements to the tiniest corner of the city there is no place without its monks who night and day in every part of the city offer hymns and praises to God, making the whole city one great church of God. No heretics or pagans are to be found there, for all the citizens are Christians, all Catholics, so that it makes no difference whether the bishop offers prayer in the streets or in the church. The magistrates, the leaders of the city and other citizens keep watch over each gate, and whoever turns up, whether pilgrim or pauper, is informed of the preconditions to which it is necessary for him to conform.
But how can I possibly describe all the kind acts done to us by the people as they watched us going through the city, greeting us like angels, making us welcome. We were told by the holy bishop of that place that it contained twenty thousand virgins and ten thousand monks. I could not possibly tell you, not even by stretching the truth to its limits, how great was the kindness and hospitality shown to us, to the extent that the clothes were almost torn off our backs by those who were eager to seize us and take us home as their guests.
We saw there also many different holy fathers who were examples of various different God-given graces, some by way of preaching, some by abstinence, others by showing forth many signs and powers.
THEO (cf. VIII.40)
Not far away from the city we saw another man called Theo, in a place bordering on the desert, a holy man shut up by himself in his cell, who was noted for having kept silence for thirty years and who had done so many marvellous deeds that he was held to be a prophet. A great number of sick people came to him daily. He would put his hand out the window and lay it on the head of each person, blessing them and relieving them of all their ills. He was so gracious of countenance and excited such reverence that he was regarded as an angel living among people, so radiant and full of grace did he appear to people's view.
Not so long ago, so we were told, some robbers came one night thinking they might find he had some gold, but he overpowered them by prayer alone and caused them to remain fixed outside the door, unable to make the slightest movement. When the usual crowd arrived in the morning and saw the robbers fixed near the door they wanted to make a bonfire of them. But constrained by this emergency he actually spoke, saying, "Let these evil-doers go, for otherwise the gifts of healing will leave me." When the people heard this, not daring to contradict him, they drove them off. When the robbers realized what had been done to them they lost their desire for crime and did penance for their many past wickednesses by going to a neighbouring monastery and embarking upon a programme of amendment of life.
This man was moreover skilled not only in Greek and Egyptian but also in Latin, as we learned not only from those who knew him but from him himself. He evidently wished us to know this, for, desiring to give us some reward for the labour of our pilgrimage, he showed us just how grace-filled and learned his teaching was by writing to us on tablets. He never ate cooked food and it is said that when he went out to the desert at night he was usually accompanied by a great crowd of the wild beasts of the desert. He rewarded their companionship by drawing water from the well and pouring it into a bowl for them. Manifest evidence of this could be seen in the traces of oxen, goats and wild asses which lay about his cell.
APOLLONIUS (cf. VIII.52)
Another holy man we saw was named Apollonius, living in the Thebaid in the region of Hermapolis, the city which tradition says that our Saviour visited with Mary and Joseph, in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah, Behold the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud and shall come into Egypt and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence and fall to the ground (Isaiah 19,1). Indeed, we saw the very temple which the Saviour entered, where there is a memorial to the idols falling to the ground and shattering.
So we saw this man who had a monastery nearby in the desert by a mountain. He was the father of about five hundred monks and was held in great esteem throughout the whole of the Thebaid region. He was credited with many great works and powers, for God did many signs and prodigies through him. Brought up from boyhood in abstinence, he grew in the grace of God until he reached maturity. He was about eighty when we saw him flourishing in his monastery, and it seemed that his disciples also were so perfect and splendid that nearly all of them were able to perform signs. They say that he was fifteen years old when he departed into the desert, where for forty years he struggled in spiritual battles. It is said that then the voice of God came to him saying, "Apollonius, through you I will confound the wisdom of the wise in Egypt, and cast down the knowledge of the prudent. Through me you will confound those who are reckoned among the wise in Babylon, and you will bring to ruin all the worship of demons. Go now to the well populated areas where you will build up for me a great and perfect people, seeking eagerly after the works of righteousness."
But he replied, "Deliver me, O Lord, from a boasting spirit, lest raised up above my brothers I fall away from all your righteousness".
The voice of God came to him again, "Put your hand down your throat, pluck out what you find there and bury it in the sand". Without delay he groped down into his throat and pulled out what appeared to me a tiny Ethiopian. Immediately he thrust it into the sand as it cried out, "I am the spirit of pride".
After this a voice came from God, saying, "Now make haste, for everything you ask from God you will obtain". So then he went to a more populated area. This all happened in the time of the tyrant Julian.
In this place there was a cave a little way into the desert where he began to live, offering his prayers day and night without ceasing on bended knee, a hundred of them by day (so they said) and the same number at night, existing more on heavenly food than earthly. His clothing consisted of a tunic of coarse flaxen cloth, with a hood to cover his head and neck. They say that he continued wearing these garments in the desert and they never wore out. There he was in this place nearby in the desert, living in the power of the Spirit, doing wonderful signs and healings, so great that it is impossible to describe them (so we learned from the older men who were with him). So greatly was his fame noised abroad that he began to be held in honour as a prophet or apostle. Monks from various regions round about began to come to him, offering the great gift of their own souls to this deeply respected father. He received each one of them with total commitment, encouraging some to work and others to study, but he also showed them by his example what he taught with his words. As a general rule he allowed those with him to practise what abstinence they could, but on Sunday, of his charity, he begged them to come and dine with him, although he himself kept to his usual abstinence, eating only uncooked herbs and vegetables.
During the time of Julian, whom we mentioned above, he heard that one of the brothers was locked up having been conscripted into military service. He visited him with some brothers to support him and encourage him to remain steadfast in his time of need, and despise and scorn all the dangers which threatened him. "It is a critical time, now," he said, "when the resolve of the faithful will be tested and publicly proved." With these words and others in the same vein he was giving the young man courage, when the centurion arrived, very annoyed because they had dared to come in. He immediately locked the prison from the outside, shutting all those visitors up, presumably so that they too might be held for military service, and having set some guards he departed. In the middle of the night an angel resplendent with a brilliant light was seen to appear and open up the gates of the prison. The guards were amazed and terrified. They fell down at the feet of those holy men and begged them to depart, saying that they would rather die in their place than resist the power of a god who took such care of them. In the morning the centurion himself came early to the prison with other officers giving orders that all prisoners should be released, for he said that his house had been shaken by a great earthquake and certain of his servants had been killed. At this those holy men broke out into hymns and praises to God, and returned to the desert as one man, being of one heart and soul together after the example of the apostles (Acts 4, 32).
One of the older fathers gave them daily lessons in developing their virtues and refusing entry to the deceits of the devil which he tries to insinuate into human thoughts. "For if you break the serpent's head," he said, "his whole body is put to death. This is why the Lord bids us beware of the serpent's head, that right from the very beginning we refuse entry of all evil and sordid thoughts into our hearts. When repulsed at the very beginning it is so much the more difficult for mental fantasies to spread out into our senses." He also urged that each one of us should strive to outdo one another in virtue, so that no one should fall short of what the other was achieving. "You will know whether you have begun to advance in virtue if you have lost all desire for the delights of the world. This is the first of God's gifts. And if any one of you arrives at being able to do signs and wonders, don't let that make you proud, or entertain thoughts that you ought to be promoted above your fellows. Don't make a show of your gifts, lest you get carried away into deceit and lose grace."
It was a magnificent gift of teaching the word of God that he possessed, and we ourselves enjoyed a sample of it. But a far greater grace lay in the deeds he performed. Whatever he asked God for was granted immediately. He had had an older brother living with him for a long time in the desert, seeking after a life of perfection. After his death he had a dream, in which he saw him sitting in the company of the Apostles and made one with them, handing on to him his legacy of virtue and grace. He prayed to God that he might be taken quickly to enjoy rest eternal with his brother in the heavens, but the Lord replied that he must carry on for a little while longer until there were many more people emulating his manner of life. He should believe that there would be many more monastic families and a whole army of devout people, through whom he would find the reward from God which he deserved. And it all happened according to this vision.
Monks gathered around him from all directions, attracted by the fame of his teaching and above all by his example. There were so many of them renouncing the world that they built a splendid monastery in this same mountain, with one accord maintaining a common life and one refectory. It was obvious to us that they were a disciplined body of angels in heaven, adorned with every virtue. None of them wore anything grubby. The cleanliness of their clothing mirrored the splendour of their souls, so that, as Scripture says, the thirsty land breaks forth into singing, and in the desert a multitude (Isaiah 35.7). This saying refers to the Church, though as a matter of historical fact it is exemplified most fully in the deserts of Egypt. There were many who found salvation in the cities, but just as many were populating the Egyptian deserts. It seemed to me that in them was fulfilled the saying of the Apostle, "Where sin did abound, there grace was superabundant" (Rom.5.20). For at one time the poisonous cult of idols was rife in Egypt as in no other nation ever before. They worshipped dogs and monkeys and other such absurdities. They also believed that garlic, onions and other kinds of herbs and vegetables were gods, so we learnt from the father Apollonius, who expounded to us what their early superstitions had been like. At one time also they believed the ox to be a god, inasmuch as country dwellers derived from the ox not only food but a way of living. The Nile too they worshipped, for it fertilized the Egyptian plains, which they venerated as being more fruitful than other lands. The monkeys, dogs and various vegetables that we mentioned above they worshipped because it was held that salvation had come from them in the time of the Pharaohs. In connection with this an unusual custom seems to have arisen among them, in that Apollonius, following the custom of the fathers, was immersed in water, carrying some useful item which had been thought to be a god. To make it clear that they no longer followed Pharaoh they said, "Because this used to be a god for me, today I drown it along with myself, to show that I no longer follow Pharaoh."
This is the outline of what the holy Apollonius told us. But a great deal more can be written both about his virtues and about the things he did. At one time there used to be ten villages not far away in that area where devilish superstitions were seriously followed. There was one large temple in which there was an image which used to be carried about in procession by the priests, accompanied by a choir of females. Crowds of people followed it, performing profane rainmaking rituals. It so happened once that Apollonius and a few of the brothers were travelling through that place when these orgies were being performed. When he saw these unfortunate people rioting about through the fields as if possessed by demons, he felt sorry they were so deluded and called upon our Lord and Saviour on his knees. All those conducting these devilish ceremonies, together with the image, suddenly found themselves standing still, unable to progress further by a single step. All day they remained like this, scorched by the searing heat, unable to understand why they were stuck motionless in one place. Then the priests said that it was the work of a certain Christian called Apollonius living nearby in the desert, and that they could not be released from their dangerous predicament unless they begged him to intervene. This was heard by a large crowd which had gathered from all directions, wanting to know the reason for this miraculous event, unable to account for it themselves. So suspicion fell upon Apollonius, and they demanded that he be approached. But certain of them, even though they agreed with this and had even seen Apollonius going by with his companions, immediately began themselves to try and bring help. They brought oxen, thinking that they should be strong enough to move the image, but all in vain. Unable to achieve any progress, they sent a deputation to the man of God, promising that if he would release these people from their bondage, perhaps he might also free them from the bondage of their errors. On being approached he straightway went down to them, poured out his prayers to God and so released them. With one accord they all turned to him, believing in the salvation of our God and giving thanks. The image, which was made of wood, they immediately consigned to the fire. They all began to follow the man of God, and learning from him the faith of the Lord they became members of God's church. Several of them stayed with him permanently and even now still live in the monastery. The fame of this marvellous deed was everywhere spread abroad, and many were converted to the faith of the Lord, so that there remained hardly anyone in those parts who was a pagan.
A little while later there was a boundary dispute between two villages. When the man of God heard about it he hurried down to try and make peace. But they had become so angry in this dispute that they would in no way entertain any thoughts of peace, mainly because the people on one side were putting their faith in the strength of a certain robber who seemed to be the instigator of the struggle. When Apollonius saw that this man was firmly setting his face against peace he said to him, "If you would agree with me to work for peace I will pray to God and he will forgive you all your sins" When he heard this he did not even argue, but fell on his knees and begged for mercy. Then he turned to the crowd who followed him and bade them all disperse peacefully. When they had gone he remained with the man of God seeking the fulfilment of his promise. So Apollonius then took the robber back to the monastery with him, teaching him how he ought to change his way of life and patiently wait for God's mercy, looking for the promise by faith, for all things are possible for those who believe (Mark 9.23).
While both were asleep in the monastery that night each of them saw a vision of heaven, where they were standing before the judgment seat of Christ, together with the angels of God and his saints adoring the Lord. At this sight they also fell down and worshipped and they heard a voice from God saying, "Although it is not fitting for light to have any fellowship with darkness, nor the unfaithful to receive their portion with the faithful (1 Cor.6.14), nevertheless, Apollonius, salvation has been granted to him for whom you have made supplication." Many other things they heard in this vision beyond the power of tongue to relate or ear to hear, and when they arose from sleep they described their vision to the brothers. They were greatly astonished that each one had had the same dream as the other.
The robber, already in the process of becoming holy, remained with the brothers, changing his former habits and way of life into ways of innocence and devotion. So radically was he changed from a wolf into a lamb that in him was visibly displayed in full measure the prophecy of Isaiah that the wolves shall lie down with the lambs and the ox and the lion feed from the same manger (Isaiah 11.6). We noticed also that there were many Ethiopians living in the monastery, excelling many of the other monks in religious observance and spiritual virtue, so that in them was visibly fulfilled the Scripture that Ethiopia shall lift up her hands to God (Psalms 68.31).
The following story is also told about Apollonius. A dispute had arisen between two neighbouring villages, one Christian, the other pagan. A great crowd of armed men was coming out from both villages, when by chance Apollonius came in between them. He urged them to make peace, but the man who seemed to be the leader of the pagans and who was the prime cause of the dispute, a fierce and quarrelsome person, vehemently refused, saying that he would never make peace but would rather die. "So be it", said Apollonius, "and you will be the only one to lose your life. And your tomb will be no more than you deserve, not in the earth but in the bellies of beasts and vultures." In due course his words turned out to be true, for he was the only one on either side who fell. And when the battle was over and they returned next morning they found that the beasts had dug him up and torn him to pieces and vultures had helped to devour him. They were all amazed that the word of the man of God had been thus fulfilled, and were all converted to the faith of our Lord and Saviour, hailing Apollonius as a prophet.
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