Chapter IX (continued) Copres and Patermutius, Book II
(Syrus, Isaiah, Paulus, Anuph, Helenus, Elias, Pithyrion all further down this page)
"'Sleep then in peace, my son,' he replied, 'and pray for me.' And immediately he lay back on the bed and fell asleep. Those present were astounded. 'Truly this is a man of God,' they said. He then clothed the young man appropriately according to his custom and kept vigil the whole night with psalms and hymns before giving him decent burial.
"There was another brother whom he visited in bed sick, and he could see that this brother felt himself to be condemned by his own conscience and was frightened of dying. 'Why are you unprepared for death, my son?' he asked. 'It is laziness, as far as I can see, that your conscience is accusing you of.'
"The brother then begged him, 'Please, father, intercede for me to God that I may be allowed a little more time in which to amend my life.'
"He replied, 'You are asking for more time now, when you have come to the end of your life? What were you doing for all the rest of the time in your life? Weren't you able to cure your own wounds? Haven't you been adding even more wrongdoings right up till now?' The brother continued to implore him, until the old man said, 'As long as you don't add any more sins to the ones you have already committed, we will pray to God for you. For he is good and long-suffering and will allow you a little more time in this life to enable you to make up for all your failings.' He then prayed to God and when he had finished he said, 'See, the Lord has given you three years more in which you can apply yourself to doing penance.' And stretching out his hand he raised him up from the bed. Without any delay he followed him back to the desert. Three years later the old man summoned him back to the place where he had raised him up, so that everyone could be enlightened by [the example of] his way of life, asserting before God that rather than being a mere human being, he was now more like a man turned angel. He called an assembly of brothers and set him in the midst of them. Using him as an example he then discoursed to the brothers the whole night through on the subject of his conversion and the fruits which penitence brings forth. As he was preaching, the brother began first to look a little drowsy and then suddenly fell asleep for good. He prayed over him, did everything necessary for his burial according to his custom, and hastily went back to his hermitage.
"He frequently walked across the vast river Nile, with the water coming only up to his knees.
"On another occasion he came in to the brothers through closed doors when they were gathered together in an upper room, and would often be transported in a moment of time to somewhere else, however far away it might be.
"It is said that at the time of his first conversion when he was in the desert, after fasting for a week a man came to him out of the desert bringing with him bread and water, begging him to accept it for it had been sent to him from heaven.
"Once a demon came to him and showed him a great treasure hidden in the earth which had once belonged to Pharaoh. 'Take your treasure with you to perdition in the middle of the earth', he replied. The Lord did all these things and many more through him. But there were many other fathers as well of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11.38), performing heavenly signs and marvels. Why should you be surprised if it is only very small things that we small people can do, such as caring for the blind and the lame, which any doctor can do by means of his art?"
As Copres was telling us these things one of our brothers was evidently sceptical about what was being told us and got so bored with it all that he fell asleep. In a deep slumber he saw in a vision Copres holding a book written in golden letters, from which he seemed to be reading what he was telling us. Beside him was someone of most venerable gray-haired appearance who severely rebuked him, saying, "Why aren't you listening intently to what is being said, instead of falling asleep in disbelief?" Greatly troubled he woke up, and quietly told us in Latin what he had seen.
While all this was going on we also noticed a peasant coming to Copres' door carrying a bowl full of sand, patiently waiting until Copres had finished talking to us. Having seen him, we asked Copres what the peasant wanted, standing there with a bowl of sand in his hand. "I really shouldn't tell you," he said, "for fear that we should be seen to boast about God's work in us and so lose the due reward of our labour. However, for your edification and benefit, bearing in mind that you have come such a long way to visit us, I cannot let myself hide from you the works of God which he has deigned to do among us.
"All the cultivated land round here was very sterile and unfruitful. But the seed still had to be sown, even though it only returned twofold. Maggots were appearing on the stalks of the new shoots, which consumed the grains as they grew upwards. Now the peasants in that place had been pagans, but since we had taught them to believe in God and to become Christians, they came to us as newly made Christians asking that we should pray to God for their crops. We told them that we would indeed pray, but that God required from them a faith that would deserve such prayer. So they filled the fold of their robes with sand that we ourselves had walked on and brought it to us begging that we would bless it in the name of the Lord. I said to them, 'Be it unto you according to your faith.' They took the sand away with them and mixed it with the seed they were sowing and scattered it over the fields. The crop which resulted was greater than anything which the land of Egypt had ever previously been able to produce. From then on the custom arose of them coming to us twice a year with the same request.
"I won't leave you ignorant either about something else which the Lord for the glory of his name did through me. I had gone down to the city once and found there a Manichaean teacher subverting the people with whom I began a dispute. But he was a very crafty individual, and I was not able to convince him by words, so, fearing that the people would come to some harm if he seemed to win the argument, I said so that the people could hear me; 'Make a big fire in the centre of the square and let us both walk into the midst of the flames, and if there should be one of us that is not burned in it, let the faith of that one be believed to be the true one.' The people were pleased with what I said and immediately set a big fire going. I took him and began to drag him towards the fire, but he said, 'No, not like this. Each one of us should go in separately, and since this is your idea you should go in first.' Committing myself in the name of Christ I walked into the midst of the flames, which began to part here and there and move away from me almost entirely. I stayed in the midst of that fire nearly half an hour and in the name of the Lord hardly came to any harm at all. The watching people shouted out with great approval and blessed God, saying, 'God is wonderful in his saints!' (Psalms 68.35) [AV: O God thou art terrible out of thy holy places]. Then they began to goad the Manichaean into going into the fire, which he was very reluctant to do and tried to get away. Whereupon the crowd seized him and threw him into the fire. The flames immediately licked round him and delivered him up again half burned and still on fire. The people reviled him and threw him out of the city. shouting, 'Let the deceiver burn alive'. But me they took with them to the church, blessing the Lord.
"On another occasion I was passing by a temple where I saw the pagans offering sacrifices, and I said to them, 'You are people endowed with reason. Why are you offering up these dumb and insensible images? Are you not even more insensible than what you are offering up?' And because of what I had said the Lord opened up their minds and they stopped being governed by error and followed me, believing in our God and Saviour.
"I used to have a little garden near my cell where I used to grow vegetables in order to entertain any visiting brothers. One night a pagan came in and stole some vegetables. He took them home and began to cook them on the fire, but after three hours over a steadily burning flame they would neither get hot, nor soften up nor get warm to the slightest degree, remaining as fresh as they were before. The water just would not get the slightest bit warm. This made him realise in himself that he was a thief, and he snatched the vegetables off the fire and brought them back to us, where he prostrated himself at our feet and begged that he might find forgiveness for his sins and become a Christian, which indeed was brought to pass.
"And it so happened that on that very same day a number of brothers came to us as guests. The vegetables therefore were already most opportunely prepared for them. We gave thanks to God for his wonders, having a twofold cause for rejoicing: the salvation of a human being and gifts from God besides."
ABBAS SYRUS, ISAIAH, PAUL AND ANUPHIUS
He also added this story:
Three abbas, Syrus, Isaias and Paul met together at the bank of a river. They were upright men, of great abstinence and very religious. They were intending to visit a certain Anuphius, whose cell was three days journey away. They wanted to cross the river but there was absolutely no transport available, so they said among themselves, "Let us ask for God's grace that the good work of this journey will not be hindered." And turning to Abba Syrus, the other two said, "You especially must pray to God, for we know that God listens to you and always provides what you ask for." So he urged them to bend their knees along with himself, and prostrated himself face down before the Lord. Their prayer completed they got up and behold! they saw that a boat had been called up, ready to cross the river and help them on their way in the journey they were making. They got aboard, and were carried so quickly up river that in the space of one hour they covered the whole journey which they had expected would have taken three days. When they came ashore Isaias said, "The Lord has given me a vision of this man we are hurrying to meet, coming towards us, being told all the secrets of the heart of each one of us." And Paul said, "And the Lord showed me that in three days time he will be taken from this world."
They had progressed a little way from the river on their journey to the cell, when they saw coming towards them the man they were coming to visit. He greeted them and said, "Blessed be God who has often shown you to me in spirit, but now in the flesh." And he began to spell out the virtues of each one of them in the sight of the Lord, and all the things they had done. And Paul said, "Since the Lord has revealed to us that in three days time he will take you from this world, we beg you to tell us about all your virtues and deeds which have been pleasing to the Lord, and don't be frightened that we will think you boastful. Leave us with a memorial of your doings before you die, as an example for posterity."
"I don't know that I have done anything remarkable," he said, "but I did succeed in this, that I confessed the name of my Saviour through all the persecutions, nor did any lie ever proceed out of my mouth after this confession of truth, nor have I loved the things of earth more than the things of heaven, and the grace of God has never failed me in these things. He has never failed me in anything I have needed on earth; by the ministry of angels he has always supplied me with sufficient food. The Lord has always shown me what was happening on earth, and his light has never departed from my heart. Sustained by that light I have done without sleep, nourished always by a longing to see him. His angel has always been sent to stand by me, teaching me about each and every virtue in the world. His light has never been shut out of my mind. Anything I have asked for I have immediately carried out. He has often showed me multitudes of angels standing round about him, I have seen the assemblies of the just, the congregations of martyrs, the gatherings of kings and of all the saints, that is, of all those whose task is nothing other than to praise and bless the Lord for ever in simplicity of heart and faith. As against that I have seen Satan and all his angels cast into eternal fire, and again, the just enjoying eternal bliss."
After telling them about these things and many more for three days, he gave up his spirit. And straight away they saw his soul taken up by the angels and carried to heaven, and they heard the sound of the hymns with which his soul was praising God along with the angels as he was going to the Lord.
There was another holy man called Helenus who had been serving the Lord since boyhood. Schooled in the ways of chastity and moderation in all things, he had become a very praiseworthy person. While he was still a boy in the monastery, if he needed to ask a neighbour for fire, he would carry burning coals away in pieces of cloth without their getting burnt. All the brothers admired him and tried to follow the example of his attitude of mind, and the good points of his way of life. Once when he was alone in the desert he felt a sudden craving for honey. Looking around, he saw a honeycomb fixed to a rock and immediately recognised it as a deception from the devil. Angrily he said within himself, "Depart from me you deceiver with your illicit desires. For it is written 'Walk in the spirit and do not fulfil the desires of the flesh'" (Galatians, 5.16). And from then on he left his own home and went to the desert, where he began to discipline himself with fasting in order to punish his fleshly desires. In the third week of his fast he saw several apples scattered about in the desert, but knowing the wiles of the enemy he said, "I won't eat them, I won't even touch them, lest I cause offence to my brother, that is, my soul. For it is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word of God'" (Deut. 8.3 & Matthew. 4.4). After he had fasted another week he had been asleep for a little while when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said, "Get up, and what you find put ready for you, eat without fear." He got up and found a gently flowing stream of water, with its banks teeming all around with tender and sweet-smelling fruits. He went up to them and picked and ate, and drank from the stream. He realised that never in his whole life had he tasted anything quite so sweet and delicious. In this same place he found a cave where he stayed for quite some time. And whenever his body needed refreshment he prayed to the Lord and by the grace of God he lacked nothing.
He was once making a rather difficult visit to some brothers, loaded up with various things for their bodily needs. As he journeyed his burden was getting heavier and heavier when he saw at a distance some wild asses going through the desert. He shouted out "In the name of Jesus Christ let one of you come and take my load!" And behold, just one out of all that herd came gently up to him, offering its services of its own free will. He loaded it up, sat on it himself, and was carried in no time to the cells of the brothers he wanted to visit.
On another occasion he visited a certain monastery on a Sunday and found that they were not observing the solemnity of the day. Upon asking why, he was told that the presbyter who lived on the other side of the river had not come. No one indeed was willing to cross the river for fear of the crocodiles. "If you like," he said, "I'll go across and get him." And he immediately made his way to riverbank. He called upon the name of the Lord, and suddenly a crocodile appeared, ready to stop being a terror to mankind and change into a ferry for the righteous. It offered him his back, which he accepted, all fear cast aside, and was carried to the opposite back. Helenus went straight up to the presbyter and begged him to come to the brothers. Now his clothing was quite mean and dishevelled, and the presbyter wondered wherever this person had come from and asked him what he wanted. But when he realised that he was indeed a man of God he began to follow him to the river. He mentioned that there was no boat to be found in which they could cross, but abba Helenus said to him, "Don't worry, father, I am now about to call up a ferry." And in a loud voice he commanded the beast to appear. It came as soon as it heard his voice, and peacefully offered his back. Helenus got on first and then invited the presbyter to do so. "Come on, don't be afraid," he said. But the presbyter was so frightened at the appearance of this monster that he took to his heels and fled.
Fear and amazement fell on all his companions when they say him being carried across the waters of the river by a crocodile. When got back, he led the beast up the bank with him and said, "Death would be a better thing for you than to be burdened with the guilt of so many assaults and homicides." And immediately the beast durst asunder and died.
The holy Helenus remained three days in this monastery, giving talks to the brothers on spiritual matters. As a result many of them brought out into the open the thoughts and secret workings of their hearts. One said that he was troubled by the spirit of fornication, another by the spirit of anger, another by the love of money, and several admitted to being deceived by boasting and spiritual pride. He drew attention to the gentleness of one, the justice of another and the patience of someone else. And so by underlining quite impartially the vices of some and virtues of others, he encouraged in a wonderful way the advancement of them all. Some of the sceptical among them were cut to the quick and changed their minds after certain things came to pass among them exactly as he had foretold. For as he was about to leave he said to them, "Prepare some food against the arrival of some more of the brothers." As they were making preparations some brothers did arrive on the instant and were gladly welcomed, while he went back to the desert.
One of the brothers asked if he might be allowed to live with him in the desert. He replied that it was a very serious matter, and very laborious, to withstand the temptations of the demons, but the young man urged it all the more vigorously, protesting that he would be able to put up with anything as long as Helenus would give him generous support. So he gave him permission and the young man followed him into the desert, where Helenus told him to live in a cave not far away from his own. That night the demons flocked around him, first of all stirring up sordid and filthy thoughts, and then violently threatening to rush in and kill him. But the young man rushed out and fled to the cell of the holy Helenus to tell him of the evils that were assailing him. Then the old man gave him a few words of comfort, advocating the virtues of faith and patience, before going back with him to the cave from which he had fled. There he traced a line in the sand before the cave with his finger, and in the name of the Lord he forbade the demons to dare trying to cross this boundary. And it was so, that by the power of his word the young man was safe from then on.
It was said of him that when he himself was a young man in the desert he often received food from heaven. Some brothers were visiting him when he had nothing to offer them, but a young man came bringing bread and other necessaries, and having put them down in front of the cave was no longer to be seen. "Let us bless the Lord," said Helenus, "who provides food for us in the desert."
All this and much more father Copres told us of the life and doings of the holy fathers, enlightening us with great kindness. After his very instructive talk he took us to his little garden and showed us the palms and other fruit trees which he had planted. "It was the faith of the local peasants" he said, "which encouraged me to plant these in the desert. For I saw what great faith they had when they took the sand that we had walked on and scattered it over their fields, thereby turning sterile soil into abundant fertility. It would have been a shame if we had been seen to be inferior to them in faith, when it was through us that God had granted faith to them."
ELIAS (cf. VIII.51)
We saw another venerable old man called Elias in a remote part of the territory of Antinoe, a city of the Thebaid. He was said to be a hundred and ten years old, and the spirit of Elijah was said to rest upon him. Many marvellous things were told about him. They said that he had spent seventy years in the depths of this vast wilderness, a desert so fearful and inhospitable that no word was adequate to describe it. This old man had lived there all that time having no contact with any place of human habitation. The trackway which led to him was narrow and stony and very difficult for visitors to find. The place where he actually lived was a horrible cave, striking terror into the hearts of those who found it. He himself had trembled and shaken in all his limbs for all his adult life. But every day he was doing signs, for he loosed the bonds of all who came to him, whatever troubles they might have been burdened with. All the fathers agreed that no one could remember when it was that he had come to this hermitage. For food he took a little bit of bread and a few olives, even in his extreme old age. In his youth, however, he had frequently fasted the whole week through.
After this we returned to the Thebaid to see a rugged mountain, overhanging a river, a very menacing, rocky apparition, fearful to look at, and in this precipitous place there were caves which were terribly difficult to approach. Many monks dwelt here, the leader of whom was a father called Pithyrion. He had been a disciple of the blessed Antony, after whose death he had lived with the holy Ammon. When Ammon died he settled in this mountain. He was so abundantly virtuous, so greatly endowed with the grace of being able to give sound counsel, and with such power against the demons, that he seemed to have inherited a double portion, worth two of the greatest men all by himself. He encouraged many with his words of warning, and was the source of much sound teaching. In particular he taught us about the discernment of spirits, saying that there are certain demons who latch on to whatever definite vices people have. Anyone who seems to be passively subject to any vicious motions in the soul they turn to positive deeds of evil. So if there is anyone who is looking to be dominated by demons, be sure they are first of all dominated by their own passions and vices. But whatever vice with its appropriate passion you have been able to cut off in yourself, you will then have the power of expelling the demon of this vice from those possessed by it. He took food only twice a week, accepting a few little portions of gruel made from flour (pulticulas ex farina), nor would he ever eat meat, allowing no alteration to his customs because of his age.
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