Book III (continued)
He replied, "I am most grateful, father, for your kindness in worrying about me. Truly I am feeling a lot better because of your prayers"
When the disciple got back he said to his abba, "He is now asking if you can wait till next Sunday and then he will go at once."
And when Sunday came and he still had not gone the old man took a cane, burning with envy and anger, and got ready to hurry off to beat him and drive him from the cell. But the disciple came to him and said, "If you like, father, I will go on ahead to see whether there are any brothers visiting him, for if they were to see you like this they would be scandalised."
So the disciple went on, and said to the visiting brother, "Look, my abba is coming to see you so go out to meet him quickly, showing by your actions how grateful you are for his great kindness and consideration in coming to see you."
So he got up immediately and hurried out to meet him. When he came in sight he prostrated himself on the ground before he got very close, and showed his reverence for the old man by his grateful words, "May God pour out upon you an everlasting reward, beloved father, for lending me your cell in his name, and may Christ the Lord prepare for you a glorious and splendid dwelling place in the heavenly Jerusalem among his saints."
When the old man heard this his conscience struck him, and throwing away his stick he embraced him and kissed him, and invited him back to his own cell to have a meal. Later he called his disciple to him and asked him whether he had conveyed his message exactly to the brother in the borrowed cell. Then the disciple confessed all, saying, "You are my teacher, and because of the respect that ought to be shown to you as father and teacher I did not dare to say anything to you when you sent me to that brother. But I did not tell him what you told me to tell him."
When the old man heard this he prostrated himself at the disciple's feet and said, "From today you shall be the father and I the disciple. Through the way you have quickly and discreetly acted in the fear and love of God, Christ the Lord has delivered the souls of both me and that brother from the snares of sin."
The thoughtfulness and good intentions of the disciple showed his faith and the perfect love he had in Christ for his abba. He had genuinely feared that through the vices of envy and anger his spiritual father might do something to cancel out all those holy labours at which he had persevered since beginning to serve Christ in the hope of everlasting rewards. And the Lord gave them grace to rejoice together in the peace of Christ.
27. (A longer version of V.xiv.4) The holy fathers used to say of John, the disciple of Abba Paul, that he possessed the virtues of great humility and obedience to such extent that he would make no objection whatsoever no matter how difficult the tasks the abba set him, nor did he ever grumble. When a certain tool was needed for the monastery workshop the abbot told him to go to the nearest village to buy it and bring it back as quickly as possible. Now although there was a fierce lioness in that place, the disciple John got up to go immediately as the abba asked. As he went out he said to the abba, "Father, I have heard that many people say there is a fierce lioness in that place."
The abbot half jokingly said to him, "Well if it comes upon you catch it, tie it up, and bring it back here!"
When he got to the place that evening the lioness rushed out at him and he tried to catch it, but the lioness slipped out of his grasp and ran off. John ran after her, crying, "But my abba commanded me to tie you up and bring you back with me." The animal immediately stood still, and he secured it and led it back in the direction of the monastery. By this time it was getting late and the abba was getting worried about him, when suddenly John appeared leading the lioness after him. Seeing this the abba was astonished and gave thanks to our Lord and Saviour.
"See, father," John said, "I have brought back the lioness as you said."
The abba decided to humiliate him lest the disciple should think he had done something marvellous and said, "Since you are so stupid, go and take this stupid beast back. Let it go, say goodbye to it, and let it go to its own place."
28 (A longer version of VI.ii.17) One of the senior holy men sent his disciple to draw water from the well, which was quite a long distance from his cell. The disciple forgot to take a rope with him, and he was very annoyed about it when he arrived at the well, for it way a long way back to the cell. He did not know what to do, or which way to turn; it would not do to return to the cell without any water. Greatly agitated, he fell on his face in tears.
"'Lord have mercy upon me according to thy great goodness' (Psalms 51,1)," he prayed. "You have made heaven and earth and everything in them, you alone do great wonders. Have mercy on me for the sake of your servant who sent me here. "
And when he got up from his prayer he addressed the well directly.
"O Well, O Well," he cried, "It is the servant of Christ, my abba, who has sent me to draw water!"
And immediately the water level rose up to the mouth of the well, so that he could fill his jar with water. And as he departed, glorifying the power of our Lord and Saviour, the water in the well sank down again to its own place.
29 (A longer version of V.xv.86) There was a brother called Eulalius in a monastery, who was adorned with great graces of humility. If some of the more careless brothers committed faults it was their custom to lay the blame on him, for when he was questioned by the senior brothers he would make no denials but would prostrate himself before them and admit that he was a sinner and should be found guilty. This happened again and again, but when condemned by the rules of the monastery to a fast of two or three days he simply bore it patiently. The most senior brothers did not realize that he was putting up with all this through the virtue of humility, and at last went in a body to the father of the monastery.
"Father," they said, "What is to be done? How much longer must we put up with all the breakages and general negligence committed in the monastery by this brother Eulalius? Nearly all the vessels and utensils in the monastery have been damaged or fatally broken through his negligence. Why should we put up with this?"
"Let us just bear with this brother for a few more days," replied the father of the monastery, "and then I shall decide what is to be done about him." And so saying, he dismissed them.
He went into his cell and prostrated himself in prayer, casting himself on the mercy of God that it might be revealed to him what should be said and done about this frequently accused brother. And the truth of the matter was then revealed to him.
He called all the brothers to a meeting.
"Believe me, brothers," he said, "I greatly prefer the mattula [probably a written list of monastic infringements] of brother Eulalius, with his humility and patience, to everything else that is done by those who, to tell you the truth, are nothing but grumblers as they go about their work in the monastery. And in order that the Lord may demonstrate how highly this brother is regarded in the eyes of God, I order that the mattulae of all the brothers be brought to me".
And when that was done he ordered that a fire should be lit and that they should all be cast into it. All were burnt except the mattula of brother Eulalius, which was found to be completely untouched by the fire. At this sight the brothers were very frightened and fell on their face on the floor, seeking pardon and forgiveness from Christ the Lord, at the same time commending with great admiration the patience and humility of brother Eulalius.
In the end they made such a fuss of him, singing his praises as one of the great fathers, that Eulalius found that he could not bear all this honour and praise.
"Woe is me," he cried. "I have been unlucky enough to have lost my humility, which for such a long time I have striven to acquire with the help and strength of Christ the Lord."
And he got up in the middle of the night, left the monastery, and fled to the desert where nobody knew him, and dwelt there in a cave. He had no desire for temporal human praise, but only for the celestial, eternal glory of our Saviour Christ in the world to come.
30. (Also in V.xvi.1) We must take note of the praiseworthy humility and virtuous patience of the blessed abba Anastasius, so that in meditating upon his generosity and peacefulness of soul we may follow his example. Now this Anastasius possessed a codex written in the most beautiful pergamenic script, worth eighteen solidi, containing the whole of the old and new Testaments. A certain brother came to visit him and saw the book in his cell, coveted it, stole it, and departed. Abba Anastasius that same day wanted to read from the book, and when he could not find it, realised that the brother had stolen it. But he did not chase after the brother and accuse him of it, fearing lest he might add perjury to the sin of theft.
The brother went down to the nearest city to sell the book, and asked for sixteen solidi from a prospective buyer.
"Lend me the book," said the buyer, "so that I can have it valued to see if it is worth such a great price."
The brother gave it to him and the buyer went straight away to show it to the holy Anastasius.
""Have a look at this book, father," he said, "and tell me whether it is worth sixteen solidi, the high price which the seller is asking from me."
"It is a very fine book," said Anastasius, "and well worth the money."
He went back to the person who wanted to sell it.
"I will give you your price for it," he said, " for I have shown it to abba Anastasius, who said it was a very fine book and well worth the money."
"Didn't the blessed Anastasius say anything else?" he asked.
"Hardly anything else," he replied.
"I've changed my mind," said the brother. "I don't want to sell the book at all."
Conscience stricken he went back to abba Anastasius, fell on his face before him weeping tears of repentance, and begged him to take back his book.
But the abba would not agree.
"Go in peace, brother," he said, "I give you my permission to keep the book."
But he tearfully persisted.
"If you won't take the book back, father, my soul will never be at peace."
At this, Anastasius took the book back, and the brother remained with him in his cell to the last day of his life.
31. (Also in VIII.lxxxvii & IV.iv.34) There was a certain hermit named Pior among the holy fathers who while still a young man had been initiated into monastic life by blessed Antony, but who lived with him for only a few years. For when he was twenty-five he went away to another secret part of the desert with Antony's full knowledge and permission. "Go, Pior," Antony had said, "and live where you will. But come back to me when God reveals to you that the time is right." Pior went to the region between Scete and Nitria and there dug a well, saying to himself, "Whatever the quality of the water here might be, with that I must be content." Doing this became the occasion of a great increase of merit in him, for the water proved to be so salty and bitter that anyone visiting him took care to take their own water with them in a flask. He stayed there for thirty years. The brothers used to say to him that he ought to go somewhere else because of the horrid taste of the water, but he said, "If in this life you seek rest and try to avoid the bitter labour of abstinence we shall not enjoy those truly beautiful and eternal good things after our departure from this world, nor enjoy the everlasting delights of that blessed paradise."
The brothers also used to say that he would eat no more than one small bread roll and five olives, and that while walking about outside. (This item mentioned in V.iv.34)
Many of the holy fathers also testify that for more than thirty years after leaving his parents' home he never sought to visit or even enquire about his relations, not even when he heard that his parents were dead. When his sister was widowed and left with two youthful sons she sent them into the desert to seek out her brother Pior. After going the rounds of various monasteries they at last managed to find him and said to him, "We are your sister's sons. She greatly longs to see you before she dies."
But he would not agree to their request. So the youths went to the blessed man of God, Antony, and told him of their request. Antony sent for him and said, "Why have you not come to me for such a long time, brother?"
"Blessed father," he replied, "you told me to come to you when God revealed to me that the time was right, and God has not revealed anything of the sort to me from that time to this."
"Go and let your sister see you," blessed Antony said to him. So he took another monk with him and went to the place and house where his sister lived and stood outside with his eyes shut so that he wouldn't have to look at this sister. She came out and threw herself at his feet, overcome with joy.
"See now," Pior said to her, "I am your brother, Pior. Look at me since that was what you wanted to do," after which he immediately went back to his cell in the desert. He did this in order to put to shame any monk who thought himself to be at liberty to visit parents or relations, even when given permission.
32. Abba John who lived in Mount Calamus also had a sister. She had been in a monastery from a very early age and had been instrumental in persuading this same Abba John to abandon the vanities of this world and enter a monastery. Once inside the monastery he did not leave it for twenty- four years, not even to visit his sister, although she greatly longed to see him and often wrote to him. She sent him a letter begging that he would come and see her before departing this life so that for the love of Christ she would be able to enjoy his actual company, but he made excuses, being unwilling to leave the monastery. This worthy servant of God, his sister, wrote again, saying, "If you won't come to me I must needs come to you, if only that after all this time I may be found worthy to be given your holy love."
On reading this Abba John was greatly disturbed and said to himself, "If I let my sister come to me it will be as good as giving permission for numerous other parents and relations to come visiting".
So he decided that it would be better for him to go and visit her, and he took with him two other brothers from the monastery. Arriving at the door of his sister's monastery he cried out, "Pray come out to us pilgrims and give us a blessing".
His sister and another servant of God came out and opened the door, and she did not recognise her brother at all, though he recognised her. He did not say anything, however, lest she recognise his voice. The monks with him said to her, "Reverend Mother, please may we have a drink of water, for we are very tired from our journey."
When they had been given a drink they offered a prayer, gave thanks to God and left to go back to their monastery. A few days later his sister wrote that she would come and see him before she died and offer a prayer in his monastery. He wrote back, sending the letter by a monk of his monastery, saying, "In the grace of Christ I did come to you and nobody recognised me. You came out and gave us a drink of water, which I took from your very hands. I drank, and gave thanks to God and returned to my monastery. Be satisfied with the fact that you have seen me and don't bother me any further, but pray for me always to our Lord Jesus Christ."
33. (Also in V.iv.61) There was another monk who went to visit his sister in her monastery, having heard that she was ill. She was a servant of God well known for her holy manner of life, and she would not agree to receive her brother or see him, not wanting to be the occasion of his going inside a monastery of women. But she sent him a message,
"Go, brother, and pray for me. By the ever-present grace of our God and Saviour I shall see you in the world to come, in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ."
34. (This story is told of Pachomius himself in Book I, Vita Pachomii ch 28) We must also mention Abba Theodore as an example of virtue. This Theodore was a disciple of Pachomius, a holy man among the holy fathers, the father of a great number of monks, and father to many monasteries in the region of the Thebaid. He was a shining example of all the holy virtues, and was rewarded by the gift of prophecy from the Lord who showed him many of the things to come. The sister of this Theodore once came to the monastery where he lived in order to set eyes on this brother whom she had not seen for a very long time. When he was told that his sister had arrived he immediately sent two of the monks who looked after the gatehouse to give his sister this message, "Look, my sister you have been told that I am alive. Believe it, and don't be sad that you won't be seeing me. Think rather of the transient vanity of this present world. Strive after living a holy life so that you may come to eternal life and the joys of heaven which the Lord has prepared for those that love him and keep his commandments. Think to yourself that the only true and firm hope lies in keeping the commandments of God and being found worthy of entering into the glorious and eternal promises of our Lord and Saviour Christ."
On hearing this she was conscience stricken and wept copiously in the sight of the Lord. Not long afterwards she entered a monastery of virgins, servants of God, which had been built in that same region, and as time went by she developed into a mature servant of God herself.
When their mother heard about all this she petitioned the bishops, who gave her a letter on the subject of her son which was addressed to the aforesaid Pachomius, father of the monasteries. She came and lodged at the monastery of virgins, from where she sent the letter to Pachomius, asking if she could see her son. The blessed Pachomius called Theodore to him and said, "I must tell you, my son, that your mother has come to see you, and we must comply with the letters which the bishops have sent me, so go and let your mother see you." Theodore replied, "You have told me, sir, to see my mother. But if I go and see her against all the wisdom of the spirit I fear lest I shall be found guilty before God. Nevertheless I suppose I must practise strength of mind as an example to the other brothers."
When the mother heard that he did not want to see her she was unwilling to go back home because of the great love she had for her son, but remained in the monastery of virgins, thinking that she would see him sometimes as he went out from the monastery with the other brothers on monastery business. "I shall be able to have spiritual talks with him," she said, "and profit from what he can teach me and advise me. His spiritual direction will strengthen my soul and help me to that eternal rest which the Lord Jesus Christ has promised to them that love him."
Many and marvellous were the miracles that the Lord did through the holy Pachomius. He frequently cured in the name of Christ our Lord those who were possessed of demons. Through his prayers the Lord had mercy on many paralysed people and those suffering from various diseases.
35. (cf Vita Pachomii ch 20). Like a good athlete in the service of truth, the blessed Abba Pachomius, just like blessed Antony, often fought a good fight against the unclean attacks of the demons. Indeed, for a time he asked the Lord with urgent prayers that he might carry on without sleep for a while and keep vigil day and night in battle against his demon enemies, until at last he overcame them and threw them down, according as it says in the psalm, "I shall not turn till they are beaten" (Psalms.18.37). The Lord heard his prayers because of his persistence. How stupid and ineffective the demons are, for any one of us with unquestioning faith and a wholehearted burning desire is able to do battle with them, trusting in the help of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
It was the brothers who told us about this blessed father Pachomius, who as we have said was head of many monasteries in the Tabennisi region. They told us that he frequently used to say to the brothers, "As the Lord God is my witness I have often heard these filthy demons discussing among themselves the various tricks which they play against the servants of God and especially against monks. Some would say, 'I am having to fight against a terribly difficult person, for as often as I put evil thoughts into his head he gets up at once and prostrates himself in prayer, with many sighs begging for divine help. When he gets up after a short while all I can do is get out.' Another would say, 'When I put thoughts into the heart of the one I am looking after he consents to them, makes them his own, and puts them into practice. So I often get him to explode in anger, get involved in quarrels, neglect his prayer, go to sleep during psalmody, and he doesn't resist me one scrap.' Therefore, my beloved brothers, you must always keep watch over your feelings and your mind, calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in obedience to the commandments of God turn to prayer and psalms, as the Apostle says, 'Be instant in prayer and watchful.' (Romans 12.1). Our filthy enemies the demons will not be able to prevail against us if we keep constant watch over our hearts in fear and trembling."
So this blessed father Pachomius taught the brothers how to be always mindful of the words of God for the salvation of their souls, and the brothers departed each to his own cell, working with their hands and meditating on what they had learned from the sacred Scriptures. Idle words were out of the question among them, they discussed among themselves only what they had learned from the holy Scriptures, strengthening them in the fear of God and lighting up their souls.
36. (A longer version of VI.i.3) There was a certain man among the holy seniors to whom Christ had given, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the great gift of being able to see what others did not see. The holy seniors bore witness to the fact that when a number of the brethren were sitting down together talking among themselves and discerning in the Holy Scriptures what was necessary to salvation, this holy senior saw a crowd of holy Angels around them, rejoicing with joyful countenances, taking delight in the wisdom of the Lord. But when they began to talk about something else the holy Angels were disappointed in them and immediately drew away, and miserable specimens of pigs appeared, full of diseases, cavorting about among them; for it was demons in the shape of pigs taking delight in the empty and unnecessary chatter.
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