Book III (continued)
When the blessed senior saw them he went away to his cell and wept with loud groans for the whole night in mourning for our wretchedness. So the holy fathers sent an urgent message of warning throughout the monasteries:
"Brothers, put a curb on your conversations, and ban unnecessary talk, through which openings for evil are made into our souls, without realising how hateful we become in the eyes of God and his holy Angels. The Scripture says: 'In many words you shall not escape sin' (Proverbs 10.19). For they make the mind and soul weak and worthless."
37. There was a certain marvellous man, Arsenius by name, who had a position in the palace under the emperor Theodosius who when he was baptised adopted Arsenius' sons Arcadius and Honorius. Arsenius then, burning with desire for the love of God, left behind all the fleeting glory of the world and fled to the desert of Scete, having turned his back on a debilitating life of sensual luxury in order to live a secluded life among the holy fathers, free from the pressure of the world, devoting himself wholeheartedly to the Lord, the Saviour, in accordance with the Scripture 'My soul longs for you, your right hand has sustained me' (Psalms 63.8).
(From here on duplicated in V.xv.6) The holy fathers also said whereas in the world he had always worn the most costly clothes above anyone else, in the desert of Scete he afterwards took care to wear meaner and uglier garments than any of the other monks
38. (A slightly longer version of V.xviii.2 and also in VII.xxxvi.3) Abba Daniel said that the holy Arsenius told the brothers the following story as if it were about someone else, although it was obvious that it was himself who had had this vision:
"One of the seniors," he said, "suddenly heard a voice in his cell, saying, 'Go outside and I will show you what human beings do.' So he got up and went out. He was taken to where a black Ethiopian was cutting wood with an axe and making a big bundle of it, and then trying to lift it up but was unable to do so because of its size. But he still went back and cut some more to add to the bundle. Again he was shown another man standing by a lake, drawing water from it and putting it into a jar, but there was a hole through which the water was escaping and running back into the lake.
"The voice said. 'Come with me and I will show you something else.' And he saw two men on horseback outside a temple, each of them carrying on their shoulders a long wooden pole, and trying to go into the temple but unable to get through the door because they were carrying the pole crossways. Nor were they giving way to each other, but were both trying to get in at the same time; neither of them was humble enough to give way to the other.
"And the visions were explained to him. Those carrying the long poles are those who bear the holy yoke of monastic life, but they justify themselves proudly in their own estimation, they don't give way to each other, and have no desire to walk humbly in the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, 'Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest unto your souls' (Matthew 11.29). Because of the pride in their hearts they remain outside, excluded from the kingdom of Christ the King. He who was cutting wood and making his bundle even bigger is one who is burdened with many sins but keeps on adding more of them without repenting of what he has already done, preferring to pile sin upon sin. And he who was drawing water from the lake is one who does some good works, but his evil deeds are more numerous, so that even the good that he does is wiped out and perishes.
"It is absolutely necessary, therefore, as the Apostle says, to 'work out your salvation with fear and trembling'" (Philippians 2.12).
39. (A longer version of V.iv.5.) Abba Daniel had a story about Abba Arsenius, that when he was making baskets out of palm leaves he would put water into a bowl to soak the palms in, and when the water became pungent and stinking he would not let anyone tip the water out, but he simply put fresh water into it, so that it remained just as stinking as before.
"Why is it, father," some of the brothers asked him, "that you would rather let the whole cell be filled with this terrible stink rather than let the water be changed?"
"Since in my secular life," the old man said, "I constantly enjoyed sweet smelling herbs and ointments and such like, it behoves me now to endure a stink like this instead of sweet perfumes, so that the Lord will save me from the unspeakable stink of hell, and my soul will not be condemned along with that rich man who in this world feasted splendidly" (Luke16.19)
40. (An alternative version of V.v.32) One of the brothers said to the blessed Arsenius. "Look, blessed father, I meditate earnestly on what I learn from the holy Scriptures but I feel no compunction in my heart, so that I am not able to understand the power of the divine Scripture, and this is a great sadness to my soul."
"What you must do," said the blessed Arsenius, "is to meditate unceasingly on the words of the Lord, for I know what the blessed abba Poemen and many other holy fathers have said about soothsayers who use serpents in their incantations. They themselves do not understand the meaning of the words they use, but the serpents who hear understand the power of the word, and are tamed and subdued. Let us do the same. Even though we ourselves do not understand the power of the divine Scriptures, the listening demons are terrified by the power of the divine word and are scattered and put to flight, unable to bear the words of the holy Spirit spoken by his servants the apostles and prophets."
41. (Also in II.28) A murder was once committed near where Macarius lived and a certain innocent person was deemed to have been guilty of the crime. The victim of this calumny fled to the cell of the blessed Macarius. His accusers followed him and tied him up, saying that they themselves would be in danger unless this murderer were arrested and handed over to the law. But the accused person swore that he was not guilty of anyone's blood. They argued about it for some time until Macarius asked where the allegedly murdered person was buried. Having told him the place they all went off to the grave, where Macarius fell on his knees and calling upon the name of Christ said to those with him, "Now let the Lord show whether the accused person is guilty or not."
And he lifted up his voice and called upon the dead person by name. A voice came from the grave and the blessed Macarius asked, "In the faith of Jesus Christ I demand that you now tell us whether you have been killed by this man who stands accused before us."
From the grave came a loud voice saying; "I was not killed by this man." Dumbfounded, they fell to the ground in a circle around his feet and began to ask him to question the dead man about who really had killed him, but the holy man said, "I won't ask him that. Let it suffice that the innocent is freed; it is not for me to bring the guilty to light. By now he might well have repented of the evil deed and done penance to the salvation of his soul."
42. (Also in II.29) On another occasion a certain brother gave Macarius a bunch of grapes, who of his charity gave it to another brother whom he knew to be somewhat weaker in strength through sickness, thus putting another's good before his own. The sick man gave thanks to God for his brother's kindness, but nevertheless he too thought more of his brother than himself and gave the grapes to another sick brother, who gave it to another, and so on until that bunch of grapes had gone the rounds of all the cells scattered throughout the desert. Eventually, without anyone realising it, it came back to the original giver, and Macarius was delighted to see such abstinence in the brothers, such charity, that it inspired him to even greater levels of achievement in his own spiritual life.
43. (Also in II.29) We were given further proof of his faith by those who heard of the following incident from his own mouth. One night a demon in the shape of a monk came and knocked at the door of his cell and said, "Get up, Abba Macarius, and come to the meeting where all the brothers are gathered together for the Vigil."
But filled as he was with the grace of God he could not be deceived. He recognised him as a lying demon and cried, "Liar! Enemy of the truth! What benefit or fellowship are you likely to get from the meeting of the saints when they gather together?"
The other replied, "You must realise, Macarius, that no meeting goes on without us, let alone a gathering of monks. Come along, and you will see for yourself what we are doing"
The holy Macarius said, "May the Lord strike you down, you unclean spirit!" And he turned to prayer, begging the Lord to show him the truth about this boast of the demon. He went down to the meeting where the brothers were celebrating the Vigil, and again begged the Lord to show him the truth. Suddenly he saw something like black little Ethiopian boys running about hither and thither through the whole church, almost as if they were flying. As these Ethiopian boys ran about they were sporting with each of the brothers as they prayed or sang psalms. If they pressed two fingers on to anyone's eyes he went to sleep, if they put a finger into anyone's mouth he yawned. After the psalm, when they prostrated themselves for the prayer they ran about among them and would turn themselves into the appearance of a woman near one as he lay there in prayer, near another into someone building or carrying something, while others performed various different antics. Whatever images the demons produced those at prayer took deep into their thoughts. But when they tried any of these tricks on some of the other brothers they were violently driven back and thrown to the ground, no longer able to stand in front of them or walk past them. On other brothers they danced about on their necks and backs. When holy Macarius saw this he sighed deeply and wept copiously before the Lord, saying, "Look down, O Lord, don't keep silent, don't condone, O God (Psalms 83.1), but arise and scatter your enemies, make them flee from before your face (Psalms 68.1), for our souls reject their deceits."
When the service was over, to satisfy himself of the truth, he approached each one of those whom the demons had been mocking with their various shapes and appearances and asked them whether in their prayers they had had any thoughts of building anything, or going on a journey or any other of the various phantasms which he had seen being given to each one by the demons. Each one admitted that he had thought these things just as he described them. Thus it became absolutely clear that all the evil, unnecessary and empty thoughts each one had had while singing psalms or praying or sleeping had all been instilled by the wiles and illusions of the demons, but those dark Ethiopians and the thoughts they peddled had been driven back by those who had kept custody of their hearts in the fear and love of God. For if the mind is fixed on God, especially at the time of prayer, nothing evil, nothing else can enter in.
44. (Also in VII.i.1) A certain brother asked Abba Sisois how he ought to conduct himself in his own cell. And he replied, "Eat your bread with salt and water and you will have no need to cook anything, or to wander off to any great distance."
45. (Also in V.x.44 but attributed to Abba Pastor) Abba Pastor was asked how one ought to fast.
"I would have monks eating a little every day," he replied, "but so as not to be satiated. Two-day or three-day fasts only serve to encourage vainglory. The holy fathers looked into all these matters and decided that it was good to fast daily by eating moderately, and still feeling a little hungry. They have mapped out for us this royal road, which is by no means burdensome."
46. (Also in V.iv.40) Abba Silvanus and his disciple Zacharias arrived at a certain monastery, and before they continued their journey the monks gave them a little food to eat. After they had gone on a little way the disciple noticed a pool of water and would have drunk from it, but abba Silvanus said, "Zacharias, today is a fast day."
"Haven't we just eaten, father?" said Zacharias
"That was out of charity, " the old man said. "For us, let us keep to our fast."
47. (Also in V.xiii.1, slightly different) Some of the brothers in Panephus came to abba Joseph and asked him about giving hospitality to visiting brothers.
"Is it right to welcome them confidently and joyfully?" they asked.
Now before they had asked him this he had spoken to his disciple telling him not to be surprised at what he was going to do that day.
He put out two chairs for the visitors, asking them to sit. He put one of them on his left and the other on his right, then went in to the cell and came back wearing some ragged old clothes that he had put on. Then he went back into the cell and came out again having put on the better clothes which he usually wore on feast days. He went in again and came out wearing his everyday clothing and sat down between them. They were mystified and astounded at what he had done.
"You see what I have been doing?" the old man asked. They nodded.
"Tell me," he said.
"You came our first of all wearing old ragged garments and then wearing better ones."
"Did I change into being a different person, between the mean clothes and the good ones?"
"No," they said.
"So then, I am still the same person wearing either this or that. The former do me no harm, and the latter don't make me any better. Let this be a model for meeting with brothers. When they are with us, let us welcome them with confidence and joy. When we are alone that is the time for abstinence and mourning."
What they were hearing was what had been in their own hearts before they had even asked him, and they happily went on their way glorifying God.
48 (Also in V.x.99 & VII.i.3) One of the fathers said: "There was one man who ate quite a lot, but even though he still felt hungry he restrained himself so as not be satiated. Another ate much less, but was fully satisfied. The man who ate a lot but disciplined himself while still feeling hungry earns a much greater reward than he who eats little and is satisfied."
49. (Also in VII.i.4) A certain old man said, "Don't be choosy about what you eat. Eat what God sends you and give thanks without ceasing."
50. (Also in V.iv.60) The brothers told a story of how a certain old man had a hankering after cucumbers, and when he got one he hung it up where he could see it, but did not touch it lest he should be conquered by his desires. In this way he did greater penance by punishing himself for what he had desired.
51. (Also in V.iv.59) One of the seniors fell ill and was unable to take any food for many days.
"If you will let me, father," urged his disciple, "I will make you a few little cakes." The old man nodded, and the disciple did as promised. Now there were two little vessels, one containing honey and the other containing flax seed oil, which had become rancid. It was impossible to distinguish between them except in a good light. The brother was deceived and mixed the old man's food with oil, thinking it was honey. The old man tasted it, and said nothing, but went on to eat it without a word. But when he was offered it the third time he demurred.
"I can't eat it, my son," he said
"Come on, abba, it's good for you," said the disciple, trying to urge him on. "See, I'll eat some too."
But as soon as he had tasted it he realized what he had done, and he fell down on his face.
"Woe is me, abba," he cried, "I might have killed you! You have made me guilty of a great sin by not saying anything!"
"Don't worry about it, my son, " said the old man. "If God had wanted me to eat something tasty you would have put the honey in, and not what you did put in."
52. (Also in V.iv.29 attributed to Pastor) Abba Poemen said, "If Nabuzardan, that prince of cooks, had not entered Jerusalem, the temple of the Lord would not have been destroyed by fire. What this means is that if the urge to gluttony had not entered the soul the senses of mankind would not have been set aflame by the attacks of the devil."
53. (Also in V.iv.26) Abba Macarius made a resolution that whenever the brothers in charity asked him to dine with them, for every cup of wine that he drank he would go a whole day without tasting any water. So when the brothers offered him wine he enjoyed it, but afterwards punished himself for it. When his disciple realized what was happening he revealed what the old man was doing and begged them not to offer him wine, showing them that it was punishments he was receiving more than cups of wine.
54. (Also in V.viii.21) The monks were all gathered together in the church on a feast day, and when they were eating, one of the monks spoke to a servitor:
"I don't eat anything cooked. Please just bring me salted."
The servitor shouted out the order to another in the hearing of all, "This brother doesn't eat anything cooked. Bring him a little salted."
The blessed Theodorus then said, "It would have been better, brother, for you to have sat in your cell eating flesh than for all these brothers here to have heard what you said."
55. (Also in V.x.69) A pilgrim brother visited Abba Silvanus in Mt Sinai and noticed that the brothers were doing manual work.
"Why labour for the food that perishes?" he asked. "Mary chose the better part."
The old man said to his disciple, Zacharias, "Give this brother a book to read and put him in an empty cell."
At the ninth hour the brother looked out to see whether the old man was going to invite him to eat. When the ninth hour had long passed he went to the old man, and said, "Are the brothers not eating today, father?"
The old man assured him that they were.
"How is that you did not call me?" he asked.
"You are a spiritual man and have no need of food. We however are quite carnal people and need to eat, so therefore we work. But you, of course, have chosen the better part. You spend all day reading and feel no need for food."
These words led him to repentance.
"Forgive me, father," he said.
"Mary has great need of Martha," said Silvanus,"for if it hadn't been for Martha, Mary would not have been praised."
56 (Also in V.x.27) Abba John said to his senior brother: "I would like to be as free from care as the Angels, who do nothing except continually praise God."
And he picked up his pallet and went off into the desert. He endured this for a week, but then came back to his brother and knocked on the door.
"Who is there?" said the brother, without opening the door.
"It's John," he said."
But he still would not open the door.
"It is me," he protested.
But he still would not open the door until dawn the next day, when he said,
"You are only human, and you need to work if you are going to eat."
John prostrated himself at the old man's feet.
"Forgive me, abba," he said.
57. (Also in VII.i.5). A certain brother attacked by a spirit of blasphemy was too much ashamed to be able to talk about it, and although he tried to obey the seniors by going to them in order to bring his thoughts into the open he found that once he got there he was too frightened to talk. After he had come several times to Abba Poemen the old man realised that he was having trouble with his thoughts and said, "Now look, you have come to me several times burdened by a whole lot of thoughts and you have gone away again, despondent, still carrying them with you. Tell me, my son, what is it all about?"
He replied, "There is a devil of blasphemy attacking me and I have been ashamed to speak about it." And as soon as he had opened up about it, the burden of his battle seemed lighter.
And the old man said, "Don't be too worried, my son. When these thoughts come to you say, 'I don't accept this. May this blasphemy be upon your own head, Satan, I want nothing to do with it.' For whatever your soul rejects will not find a permanent home. "The brother went home cured.
58. (Also in VII.i.6) Abba Moyses said, "There are four things which give rise to the passions, over indulgence in food and drink, excessive sleep, idleness and jesting, and strutting about in fancy clothing."
59. (Also in V.v.8) Abba Poemen said, "Just as the Emperor's armour-bearer always stands before him in full armour, so should the soul always be likewise prepared against the demon.
60. An old man said "Just as there are stronger herbs and pigments to drive out the poison from beasts so do prayer and fasting drive out unclean thoughts."
61. (Also in V.xviii.9 and VII.i.8) Abba Macarius was living by himself in an isolated part of the desert, although lower down it was full of many brothers. He was looking out along the pathway late one day when he saw a demon in the shape of a man coming along wearing a linen tunic with many pockets in it, and in each one there was little vessel.
"Where are you going, evil one?" asked Macarius.
"I'm going among your brothers lower down."
"And what are those little vessels for that you are carrying?"
"I cater for the brothers' tastes," he said. "I carry so many of them that if they don't like one I can offer them another, and it is impossible that there should not be at least one that they will like." And so saying he went on his way.
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