Book II (continued)
(Apellen & John, Paphutius, Isodore, Serapion, Apollonius all forther down this page)
THE FATHER CALLED EULOGIUS (cf. VIII.75)
We saw another holy father called Eulogius, who had received from God the grace of being able to discern both the merits and the guilt of anyone who approached the altar of God, so that he would stop some of the monks coming to him for Communion saying, "How can you dare to approach the divine Sacraments when your mind and intentions are evil? In fact, last night you had thoughts of fornication, but you said to yourself, 'It makes no difference whether you come to the Sacrament as one of the sinful or one of the righteous.'"
And there was another who quibbled in his heart, saying; "Well, isn't Communion able to sanctify me anyway?"
He refused to give Communion to each one of these and said, "Go away for a while and do penance. Purify yourself by making satisfaction [for your sins] in tears. Then you may be fit to receive the Communion of Christ."
THE PRESBYTER APELLES, AND JOHN (cf. III.51)
We saw another presbyter, a righteous man, in the neighbouring region called Apelles. He was a smith and made whatever utensils the brothers needed. Once when working at the forge in the silence of the night, the devil came to him in the shape of a beautiful woman, bringing some work for him to do. But he picked up a hot iron from the furnace with his bare hands and thrust it into its face. It fled, shouting and screaming, and all the brothers round about heard the screaming as it fled. And from that time onwards he was habitually able to pick up burning iron with his bare hands without taking any harm. When we visited him he gave us a most kindly welcome. We asked him if he would speak to us on the subject of the virtues, using either his own deeds as an example or the deeds of those whom he knew to be of conspicuous sanctity. He replied:
"In the nearby desert there is an elderly brother called John who excels everybody in his life, his customs, and his abstinence. When he first came to the desert he stood underneath a protruding rock face for three years continuously, always praying, never sitting or lying down. He took only what sleep he could standing up. He took food only on Sunday. For on that day a presbyter came and offered the Holy Sacrifice for him, and the Sacrament was his only food. One day Satan, wishing to undermine him, disguised himself as the presbyter who usually came to him, and arriving at an earlier hour than usual, pretended to have come to administer the Sacraments. But, ever vigilant, he recognised the devil's deceits and indignantly said to him, 'O, father of all grief and fraud, you enemy of all justice, not only do you never cease from seducing Christian souls but you even dare to penetrate into the terrible and sacrosanct mysteries.' He replied, 'I thought you were a prize I could win, for I deceived another of you people like this so that he blew his mind and fell senseless. When I left him he thought he was insane because of what I had done, and the prayers of a great number of the righteous were hardly able to restore him to his former state of sanity'. Having said this the demon left him.
"He persisted in the task which he had begun and persevered in prayer. From standing still so long his feet became ulcerated, with pus oozing out of them. When three years were up an angel of the Lord came to him and said, 'The Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit have heard your prayers. They bring healing to the wounds in your body and grant you an abundance of heavenly knowledge and speech.' He touched his mouth and his feet, making him whole from his ulcers, and immune to the pangs of hunger. He ordered him to travel to another place and to visit the brothers in the desert nearby in order to instruct them in the words and teachings of the Lord. But on Sundays he always came back to his original spot to receive the Sacrament in the same way as before. On other days he worked with his hands, making harness for the draught animals, weaving palm leaves together as was the custom of that place.
"A lame man seeking a cure once decided to go and visit him. And it happened that the animal he was intending to ride had a girth which had been made by the man of God. He got on to the beast and as soon as his feet touched the girth he was healed. The man of God also sent blessed bread to whoever was ill, and as soon as they received it they were healed. The Lord did many other signs and healings through him.
"He excelled all the fathers and other people in one particular grace, that the way of life of all the brothers in the neighbouring monastery was revealed to him. He could write to their superiors and tell them that some person or other was lazy and did not rightly fear God, or that other people were making good progress in faith and virtue. But he also wrote to the brothers themselves, to some because they were lagging behind their brothers and showing little inclination for being patient, to others because they were constantly acting carefully, and were a great help to their brothers. He predicted the rewards due to this one because of his virtues and the punishment threatened by the Lord to that one because of his laziness. He even described the deeds, motives, merits or negligences of people in their absence, so that when they heard what he had said they were convicted by their own conscience and could not make any denials. He taught everyone that they should lift up their minds from visible and bodily things to things invisible and incorporeal. 'We have been given time,' he said, 'in order that we might transfer our attention to studies of that sort. We should not remain always as immature infants, but aspire now to the higher things of the spirit, take control of our senses and direct our intelligence towards perfection, so that virtues may shine in our souls."
This holy man of God, Apelles, commended to us most authentically many other things about this man, John, which if they were to be written down would be excessively long and so superhuman as to be scarcely credible to whoever might hear them.
PAPHNUTIUS (cf. VIII.62)
We also saw the monastery of the holy Paphnutius, the man of God, the most famous anchorite in those parts. He lived in the most distant part of the desert in the region of Heracleos, that splendid city of the Thebaid.
We learned about him from a very faithful account given to us by the fathers. When he was already living the angelic life he once prayed God to show him if there were any other holy people he could be compared with. An angel appeared and told him that there was a musician (symphoniacus) like him (cf. VIII.63) in a certain village, who made a living by practising his art. Astonished by this strange reply he made his way with all haste to the village and sought the man out. When he had found him he tried to lay bare everything that the man did and earnestly enquired of him why in the world he was performing holy and religious works. He replied that the fact of the matter was that he was a sinner, a man of a shameful kind of life. Not long since he had been a robber, but had turned from that disgraceful trade to what he was now seen to be doing. Paphnutius pressed him further to tell him whether if by chance he had done any good deeds in the course of his robberies. "I'm not in the least bit conscious of having done anything good," he said. "But I do know this - that when I was among the robbers we once captured a virgin consecrated to God. My fellow robbers wanted to rape her, but I stood up and objected. I rescued her from that degradation, and took her back to her village and her own home unharmed.
"Another time I found a respectable looking woman wandering about in the desert and I asked her what she was doing in that place. (cf.VIII.63) 'Don't ask me,' she said. 'I am a most unfortunate woman. Don't ask why - but if you want a servant take me wherever you like. I am unlucky enough to have a husband who because of his debts has been repeatedly hung up and beaten and punished by all sorts of tortures. He has been shut up in prison and is not let out except to be tortured again. We have three sons who have also been seized because of this debt. Since they started looking to punish me in my misery I have fled from place to place. I have no food, I am totally distressed, I have been wandering about without detection in this place for three days now without anything to eat.' Upon hearing this I took pity on her and led her to my cave, where I refreshed her spirits which were almost spent through hunger, and I gave her three hundred solidi, for the sake of which she and her husband and her three sons had become liable not only to slavery but to physical punishment. She went back to the city and freed them all with the money I had given her."
Then father Paphnutius said, "I have not done anything like that. I have been sent to you because the name of Paphnutius was fairly well known among monks. I am fairly well versed in being able to lead my life under monastic discipline. And it was for this reason that God revealed to me that you are just as worthy in the sight of God as I am. So, brother, don't neglect your soul, for you must see that you have a high place in God's eyes." And at once he put down the flute which he was holding and followed him to the desert. He turned his musical art into a spiritual harmony of heart and mind and for three whole years gave himself over to [a regime of] strict abstinence exercising himself day and night in prayers and psalms. Still pursuing his heavenly journey with all the power of his soul, he gave up his spirit at last into the choirs of the holy angels.
(cf. VIII.64) After Paphnutius had given up to the Lord this musician who had been blessed with the practice of every virtue, he himself worked even harder at his disciplines. And again he asked the Lord if there was anyone else like him upon the earth. And again the voice of the Lord came to him, saying, "Know that the headman of the next village is similar to you." On hearing this Paphnutius hurried to him without delay and knocked on his door. Now this man always welcomed guests, and he greeted Paphnutius, took him inside, washed his feet and set food before him, all in the most friendly manner. As he was eating Paphnutius began to question his host about his deeds, his disciplines, his rules of life. He replied in humility that he preferred to hide his good deeds rather than publish them, but Paphnutius insisted, saying that it had been revealed to him that he was equal in worth to any monk. This made him feel even more humble still. "I am not aware of anything particularly good in anything I do," he said. "But since the Word of God from whom nothing is hidden has come to you I cannot remain silent. So I will tell you of what I do in the midst of the many situations in which I am placed. No one knows that for the last thirty years my wife and I have agreed to be continent. She had given me three sons, they were the only reason for having sex with her, I have not been with anyone else, nor she either. I have always received guests, since no one before me seems to have been willing to give a welcome to visiting pilgrims. I have never let anyone go from my house without giving them food for their journey. I have never neglected the poor, but have contributed to their needs. When administering justice I have never practised any favouritism even to my own sons. The profits due to someone else's labour has never found its way into my house. Where I have seen strife I have spared no effort in trying to bring peace to the quarrelling parties. No one has ever been able to bring any reproach against my servants, my flocks have never caused any harm to my neighbour's produce, I have never stopped anyone from producing food in my district, I have never chosen the best bit of new ploughed land for myself leaving the less fertile to others, as far as I could I have never let the strong oppress the weak, I have tried throughout my life not to grieve anyone. If I have been involved in any lawsuit I have not condemned anyone out of hand, but have tried to bring adversaries to agreement. This, now, by the grace of God has been my way of life up to the present."
Listening to this the blessed Paphnutius kissed him and blessed him saying, "'May the Lord bless you out of Sion, and may you see the good things of Jerusalem' (Psalms 128.5). You have done all these things thoroughly and properly. One thing is lacking, the greatest good of all, that putting all else aside you seek that true wisdom of God, and search for those hidden treasures which you cannot arrive at in any other way than by denying yourself, and taking up your cross and following Christ" (Matthew.16.24). On hearing this he did not wait even to set things in order in his house, but followed the man of God to the desert.
When they came to the river there was no ferry to be found, but Paphnutius bade him walk into the water with him, even though it was quite deep at that place. They crossed over easily, the water coming scarcely up to their waist. When they arrived at the desert Paphnutius put him in a cell at a little distance from the monastery and gave him a spiritual rule to live by. He instructed him in the practice of striving after perfection, and initiated him into the more advanced levels of wisdom (scientiae secretiora). While giving him all this instruction he devoted himself anew to even greater efforts, because he judged that the works of this person who had been busied with the affairs of the world had been even more demanding. "For," he said, "if people living in the world can do such good works, how much more should we not endeavour to surpass them in works of abstinence, both in quantity and in quality."
After spending some time in this programme, Paphnutius had drawn him so far into the knowledge of wisdom (scientiae perfectionem) that he had already become perfect in what he was doing. And one day as Paphnutius sat in his cell he saw that man's soul taken up to heaven amidst choirs of angels singing "Blessed is he whom thou hast chosen and taken. He shall dwell in thy tabernacles." (Psalms 65.5). Paphnutius then continued in fasting and prayer, giving himself up to even greater efforts towards perfection.
Once more he prayed to the Lord to show him someone like himself. And again a voice from heaven replied, "You are like a certain merchant (cf.VIII.65) whom you will see approaching. Get up quickly and run to meet him. He is a man who I judge to be like you." Paphnutius went out without delay and went to meet this merchant from Alexandria, who was coming back from the Thebaid with three ships and a profit of twenty thousand solidi. And because he was a religious man always trying to do good works he had loaded his sons up with three bags of vegetables to take to the monastery of the man of God. Hence his meeting with Paphnutius, who as soon as he came into view cried out, "What is that you have done, that you are most precious and worthy in the sight of God? What sort of work have you been doing on earth such that your lot and fellowship has risen into the realms of heaven? Relinquish all these things into the hands of those who are of the earth and whose thoughts are earthy, and become a merchant of the kingdom of God to which you are called. Follow the Saviour, to whose presence in a short while you must be taken up." And without any hesitation he instructed his sons to disburse any superfluous profits to the poor, even though he had already distributed a great deal himself. But he followed the holy Paphnutius to the desert, where he was installed in the same place as those who had earlier been taken to the Lord. He was instructed in the same way, and persevered in spiritual exercises, and in the study of divine wisdom. After a short while he too was taken up into the congregation of the righteous.
Paphnutius himself continued to develop his life to the highest degree of abstinence and spiritual labours, and not long after this an angel of the Lord came to him saying; "Come, O blessed one, and enter into those eternal tabernacles which are your just deserts. Behold the prophets, who take you up into their choirs. You have not been told about this before lest you become conceited and receive only damnation as a reward for your labours." He was given one more day in the flesh after this while certain presbyters came to visit him, to whom he made known all that the Lord had revealed to him. He told them that no one living in the world should be given up for lost, even if they had been robbers, or actors, or farmers, or married, or merchants seeking profits. For in every sphere of life there were souls pleasing to God, doing in secret works with which God was well pleased. Whence it was obvious that it was not an outward profession of life or the wearing of a habit which was pleasing to God so much as sincerity and integrity of mind, and honesty in all one's dealings. He expressed a few similar sentiments on each of these topics and gave up his spirit. And the presbyter and all the brethren present plainly saw him taken up by the angels singing hymns and praising God all together.
THE MONASTERY OF ABBA ISIDORE (cf. VIII.71)
In the Thebaid we also saw the monastery of Isidore, a large enclosed space surrounded by a wall, within which could be seen a large number of buildings in which the monks lived. Inside there were several wells, irrigated gardens and sufficient apple trees and trees of paradise to supply all needs, in fact more than enough. This ensured that none of the monks living there had any need to go outside to get anything that was needed. At the gate sat a senior, chosen out of the leading men for his gravity, whose task it was to acquaint newcomers with this rule that once they were in they would not be allowed to come out. This was an unbreakable law for those who decided to go in, but the wonderful thing was that it was not the obligation of law that kept them in but the blessedness and perfection of their lives. This old gatekeeper lived in a guest house of which he was in charge and where he gave hospitality to visitors and showed them every possible human kindness. So when we were received by him we were not allowed to go inside, though we did learn from him what kind of blessed life was lived there. He said that there were only two of the senior men who had liberty to go in and out, with the responsibility for selling articles which the men had made and for bringing in anything which was needed. All the others lived in peace and quietness giving themselves to prayers and religious exercises, and cultivating the virtues of the soul of which they all showed evidence. And the most wonderful sign of all was that none of them ever fell ill. Even when they approached the end of their lives they were completely aware of it beforehand. Each of them would warn the other brothers of his departure and wish everyone farewell, whereupon he would lie down and give up his spirit with joy.
SERAPION THE PRESBYTER (cf. VIII.76)
In the region of Arsinoe we saw the presbyter Serapion who was the father of many monasteries. Many and diverse were the monasteries under his care, containing about ten thousand monks. They all worked together, especially in harvest time, to gather up the fruit of their manual labour, out of which they brought the greater share to the aforesaid father for distribution to the poor. This was the custom not only of them but of nearly all the Egyptian monks, that at harvest time they would hire out their labour to harvesting, as a result of which each one would collect eighty measures of grain, more or less, and give the greater part of it to the poor. This not only fed the poor of that region but ships laden with grain sailed to Alexandria in order to extend the benefit to those in prison, or pilgrims, or other needy people. For there were not enough poor people within Egypt to absorb the benefit and fruit of their almsgiving.
In the regions of Memphis and Babylon we saw great numbers of monks among whom we observed various gifts of grace and examples of virtue. There is a tradition that these places, which they call the treasures of Joseph, are where Joseph is said to have stored up the grain. Others say it is the Pyramids themselves in which it is thought that the grain was collected.
APOLLONIUS, MONK AND MARTYR (cf. VIII.66)
The elders among them related a tradition that at the time of the persecutions there had been a monk called Apollonius who as the culmination of a magnificent life among the brothers had been ordained deacon. During the persecutions took it upon himself to go around the brothers and encourage them to martyrdom. He was eventually arrested himself and cast into prison. where a great crowd of the gentiles came to mock him and cry out against him with many blasphemous and impious words.
A man called Philemon was one of them, a famous flute-player, greatly loved by the people. He piled insults upon Apollonius, calling him impious, wicked, deceiver of humanity, worthy of being held in abhorrence by all. After suffering all this and many other even worse insults, Apollonius replied, "May the Lord have mercy on you, my son, and impute to you as a sin nothing of what you have said." These words cut Philemon to the quick. In his own mind he felt the force of something that was more than human, so much so that he instantly declared himself to be a Christian. And immediately he rushed from there to the judge's seat and shouted out in the hearing of all the people, "You wicked judge. It is unjust to punish these religious men who are loved of God, for Christians neither do nor teach anything evil." At first the judge thought he was joking, seeing that he was a [well known] man of that place. But when he saw that he was persisting and carrying on without any let up he said, "You are mad, Philemon. You have had a sudden brainstorm."
He replied, "I am not mad. It is you who are unjust and crazy to persecute unjustly so many just men. For I am a Christian, a most noble sort of human being." The judge then in the presence of all the people began with many persuasive arguments to try and get him to recant from that which he saw he had become. But Philemon remained obdurate, so the judge threatened him with all kinds of tortures. He realised that this change had come about through the words of Apollonius, so he seized him and subjected him to very severe tortures, making a very big issue out of the crime of being a deceiver. Apollonius said, "I would to heaven that you, O judge, and all those present who hear what I am saying, would follow what you call this error of mine." The judge immediately ordered that he and Philemon should be thrown into the flames in the sight of all the people. From the midst of the fire the blessed Apollonius cried out to the Lord so that all could hear, "'Deliver not up to the beasts, O Lord, the souls that confess thee' (Psalms 74. 19), 'but show us clearly thy salvation'." (Psalms 84.8.) When Apollonius had spoken to the Lord so that all the people and the judge could hear, a rain cloud suddenly surrounded them and put out the rising flames of fire. The judge and people were stupefied, and began to cry out with one voice, "Great is the one God of the Christians, he alone is immortal."
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