Book III (continued)
The old man kept a watch on the road for his return, and when he came into sight he greeted him and the demon replied,
"What would you say if everything had gone amiss with me and no one sampled my wares?"
"You didn't make any friends there then?"
"Well, I did get one to go along with me. Whenever he sees me he is soon dancing about hither and thither."
"What was his name?"
After he had gone, Macarius immediately went down to the lower desert. When the brothers heard him coming they went out to meet him, each one ready in the hope that Macarius would come to him. But he asked to be shown the cell of Theopemptus, and went straight there. He was welcomed gladly and as soon as they were alone together the old man began to question him.
"How is it going with you, my son?"
"Thanks to your prayers, I'm fine."
"Your thoughts not bothering you at all then?"
"I'm fine, mostly," blushing as he said it.
"Just think how many years I have been in the desert, honoured by all, and even now in my old age my thoughts bother me."
"Oh, yes, father, they do bother me as well."
Then the old man went through all the thoughts which he pretended to be attacked by himself, until finally Theopemptus confessed all.
"How much do you fast?" the old man asked him next.
"Until the ninth hour."
"Fast then until vespers, and meditate constantly on something from the Gospel or the other Scriptures, and whenever any unclean thoughts occur don't look at them, but rise above them, and the Lord will come to your aid."
And abba Macarius then went back to his solitude.
Some time later, as he looked out, he saw the demon coming once more.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Down among the brothers as before," he replied.
When he came back he asked him how the brothers were getting on.
"Peasants, the lot of them," he said, "and what's worse, even the one obedient friend I did have has somehow or other been converted and is harder on me than all the others."
And he swore that it would be a long time before he ever went back there again, and having said that, he went on his way.
62 (Also in V.v.31) "What shall I do, father," a brother asked an old man, "for I don't know how to bear with my thoughts."
"I am never embattled in that area," the old man replied.
Scandalised, the brother went to another old man.
"Look at what that old man said to me. I am scandalised at him, for he boasts of something beyond the power of human nature."
"What that old man told you was not all that straightforward. Go and apologise to him so that he can tell you what was behind what he said."
So he went back to the first old man.
"Forgive me, father," he said, "I have acted foolishly in leaving you without even saying goodbye. But please tell me, explain to me how it is that you never feel embattled?"
"Ever since I became a monk I have never completely satisfied my desires for bread, for water or for sleep. And so I think so much about those things, that my thoughts do not allow me to enter into the battles that you have told me about."
And the brother went on his way greatly helped by him.
63. (Also in V.v.9 & VII.i.9) Abba Poemen made this reply to another person asking about thoughts, "If a monk guards his stomach and his tongue and does not hanker after wandering about let him be quite certain that he will not die but live for ever."
64. (Also in VII.i.10) Two brothers who were worried about their thoughts came to abba Elias, and when the old man saw that they were rather fat he spoke laughingly as if to his own disciple, "Truly brother I blush for you that you have nourished your body so, when you profess to be a monk - monks should be thin, pale and humble."
65. (Also in V.ii.7) At the time when Arsenius was living in the plains, a certain woman came to Alexandria from Rome hoping that she might be found worthy of visiting him. She was a virgin, rich, godfearing, well aware of Arsenius' fame. She was hospitably received by Archbishop Theophilus of that city, whom she asked if it would be at all possible to persuade the blessed Arsenius to grant her an interview. So Theophilus went to Arsenius and said, "There is a certain excellent wealthy Roman woman, whose reputation excels all others, who would dearly love to see you and get your blessing. She has come such a long way, I hope you will grant her request."
When she realized that Arsenius had not agreed to meet her, she ordered her horses to be saddled, saying, "I trust in God's help that I will see him, and I will not be defrauded of this intention. I have not come to see a mere man. There are plenty of them in Rome. It is a prophet that I want to see." So she marched off to the blessed Arsenius' cell and happened to see him walking about outside. She prostrated herself face down at his feet.
Immediately he made her rise, saying, "If it's only my face you want to see, here it is, look at it." For she from sheer shamefastness had not dared to look up.
"If you had been aware of any of the things I have done," he said, "you would have done better to look at them. And why have you bothered to cross such a great ocean? Don't you realize that you are a woman, with whom it is not lawful for any of us to have any dealings? You have probably only come here so that you could go back to Rome and boast to all your women friends that you have seen Arsenius, and thus encourage a whole flock of women across the sea to visit me"
"May it be God's will that he allows no one to come," she replied. "But pray for me, I beg you, keep me in mind."
"I pray to God that he will wipe out the memory of you from my heart," Arsenius replied.
Once she had taken these words in, she returned to Alexandria, quite ill because of what she had suffered. The bishop came to visit her because of her illness and asked what the matter was. She told him what the old man had said about herself and his memory which had upset her so much that she felt she would like to die. But the bishop comforted her in this way, "Don't forget that you are a woman, and the devil uses women to attack men. That is why he said that he would wipe the memory of your face out of his heart. But he will nevertheless pray to the Lord for your soul."
By these words the woman was restored to her usual self.
66. (Also in V.iv.19, attributed to Abba John the Dwarf) Abba Moyses said, "If the Emperor wants to attack an enemy city he first of all cuts off their food and water supply, so that his enemies will suffer from hunger and want and surrender to his rule. In the same way, if you live in fasting and hunger, the carnal passions grow weak and bring no strength to bear against the soul. Who is so strong as a lion? And yet even he through hunger may hide in his den with all his power laid low."
67. (Also in VII.ii.1) A certain young man kept on thinking he would renounce the world, but as often as he went out to do so, various considerations turned him back, involved as he was in business deals. He was, in fact, very rich. One day as he decided to go the demons stirred up a dust cloud around him. He immediately divested himself of everything he had, including his clothes, and fled naked to the monastery, where the Lord appeared to a certain old man telling him to "get up and go to meet my athlete". The old man went out to meet the naked man and upon learning his story gave him the monastic habit. The other brothers came to the old man and reminded him of the usual conditions, but he had an answer ready for them, and to those who thought they knew all about renunciation he said, "Ask this brother about that, for I have not yet arrived at his level of renunciation."
68. (Also in V.vi.i) There was a brother who renounced the world, gave all his possessions to the poor except for a certain amount which he kept for himself, and then went to abba Antony. The old man soon understood what the situation was.
"If you will," he said, "please go into the village and buy meat. Dispose it all over your naked body and come back to me."
When he had done this, birds as well as dogs attacked his whole body to get at the meat, and tore him with beak and claw. On coming back he was asked by Antony if he had done what was asked of him.
"Just look at my torn flesh," he replied.
"Anyone who renounces the world," said Antony, "and keeps money back for himself, is torn as you are, but by demons."
69. (Also in V.vi.22) A certain brother asked a question of one of the old men.
"Is it all right if I put two solidi by in case I get ill?"
The old man could see that the brother did want to save the money, so he told him to do so.
But when the brother returned to his cell he began to think things over.
"Have I really got the old man's blessing for this, or not?" he asked himself. And he got up and went back to the old man.
"In the name of God tell me the truth," he said. "I am really bothered in my mind about these two solidi."
"I could see that in your mind you wanted to keep them," said the old man, "so I agreed with you that you should. But it is not a good thing to hang on to anything more than what is strictly necessary for the body. If you have put your whole hope in these two solidi and then perhaps you lose them, won't God still keep on thinking of us? 'Cast all your care upon God, for he cares for us'" (1 Peter 5.7)
70. (Also in V.vi.5) Serapion, one of the monks, who possessed a copy of the Gospels, sold it and gave the money to the poor, acting in obedience to a memorable text.
"For," he said, "I have sold that word which constantly tells me to sell what I have and give it to the poor." (Matthew 9.21)
71. (Also in V.vi.17) Someone urged abba Agathon to accept some money for his own needs, but he refused.
"I don 't need it," he said, "for I feed myself by the work of my own hands."
"Perhaps you might accept it to give to the poor," persisted the man
"That could be doubly shameful," he replied, "for I should be accepting something I don't need, and then run the risk of vainglory by giving it to someone else."
72. (Also in VII.ii.2) Abba Paul used to say, "If a monk wants to have things in his cell apart from what he needs to keep alive he often thinks of going out from his cell, and is in this way deceived by the demon." This same Paul while making a mat one Lent found that he had only a small vessel of water left and very few rushes, so rather than go out for more he unravelled the mat and rewove it.
73. (Also in V.xvi.6 and VII.iii.1) Abba Macarius in Egypt had occasion to go out of his cell one day, and when he returned he found there was someone in the process of stealing the contents of his cell. So as if he were a passing pilgrim he helped the robber load up his beast, with complete equanimity, and sent him on his way.
"We brought nothing into this world," (1 Tim.6.7), he said. "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. As it pleases the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the Lord in all things" (Job 1.21) .
74. (Also in V.xvi.19 & VII.iii.2) A brother who used to visit the cell of a certain old man was in the habit of stealing his food. The old man realised what was happening and did not make a fuss, but took a wider view.
"Perhaps this brother is in need," he said, although he was suffering severe hardship, for lack of bread.
But when this old man was dying, with all the brothers gathered round him, his eye chanced upon the brother who used to steal his bread. He bade him come closer, took his hand and kissed it.
"I give thanks for these hands of yours, brother, for I believe they have helped me into the kingdom of heaven."
He was conscience-stricken by these words and repented. He became a most fervent monk as a result of the old man's actions, which he had witnessed.
75. Abba Agathon kept a strict curb on himself and managed everything with great discretion, both in his manual work and in what he wore. His clothing was such that nobody noticed whether it was either over elaborate or over untidy.
76. (Also in VII.vi.1) An old man said, "Anger arises in four different situations. Firstly through greed when either paying or receiving money, secondly through loving one's own opinion and defending it even when to anyone else it doesn't seem to be either very good or very bad, thirdly when wanting to be promoted to high honour, and lastly when wishing to be thought of as a teacher wiser than anyone else. Anger also causes confusion through four human attitudes, dislike of your neighbour, envy, contempt, character assassination. Likewise the remedy for this passion lies in four areas, firstly in the heart, then in the facial expression, thirdly in the tongue, fourthly in actions. For if you are able to suffer evil without letting it enter into the heart it won't show in your face. If however it shows in your face guard your tongue so that you say nothing. But if you do say something take care that you quickly apologise so that it does not develop into deeds. Human beings attacked by the passion of anger fall into three categories. Anyone who is harmed or injured and forgives has the nature of Christ. Anyone who does nobody any harm and therefore suffers no harm has the nature of Adam. But whoever harms others or injures them or slanders them or seeks revenge has the nature of the devil.
77. (A slightly longer version of V.xvi.10 and VII.vii.1) One of the brothers had suffered an injury from another brother, and came to abba Sisois to give him an account of his grievance, adding that he would really like to avenge the insult.
"You should leave judgment to God," the old man urged.
"I shan't give up," he said, "until I am avenged."
" Seeing that you have made up your mind about that," said the old man, "let us now say a prayer."
And he prayed thus:
"God, we do not need you any more to look after us, for as this brother says, we are quite able to avenge ourselves."
Hearing this made the brother fall down at his feet and beg forgiveness, and promise not to quarrel with the brother who had angered him.
78. (Also in VII.vii.2) A certain brother when insulted by another came to an old man and told him all about it. The old man said, "Calm yourself down with the thought that it was not you he was getting at but your sins. In every trial which comes to you from another human being, don't argue, but say to yourself, 'It is because of my own sins that this is happening to me'"
79. (Also in VII.vii.3, and in V.x.53 ascribed to Pastor) Abba Poemen often used to say, "Never let yourself be overcome by malice. If someone does evil to you, give him back good, so that the good may overcome the evil.
80. (Also in VII.vii.4 and V.xvi.12) There was a brother who always rejoiced the more when anyone harmed him or insulted him.
"They are giving me an opportunity to advance towards perfection", he would say. "Those who praise us up to the skies put our minds in a turmoil. The Scripture says, 'Those who flatter you are deceivers." (Isaiah.3.12)
81. (Also in VII.vii.5) Another old man, if anyone slandered him, would go and visit the slanderer if he lived nearby and thank him personally. If he lived at a distance he would send him a gift.
82. (Also in VII.viii.1) A certain brother asked Abba Sisois, "If robbers or barbarians attacked me and tried to kill me, should I kill them if I had the opportunity?" He replied, "Not on any account, but commit yourself totally to God. Whatever the misfortune think that it comes because of your sins, ascribe it all to divine providence."
83. (Also in VII.vii.2) There was a famous hermit in Mount Athlibeus who was attacked by robbers. He called for help so loudly that some brothers who lived nearby came rushing in and overpowered them. They were then taken to the city where a judge sent them to prison. Now the brothers began to be very upset because they had caused the robbers to be handed over to the judge, and they came to Abba Poemen and told him all about it. Poemen wrote to the hermit urging him to look carefully into where the mistake first originated, "for", he said, "if you had not first been deceived in your heart the second mistake would not have happened." The hermit was so conscience-stricken by this that, famous though he was for not having gone out for such a long time, he immediately got up and went to the city and got the robbers publicly exonerated and freed from the prison and the tormentors.
84. (Also in VI.iv.12) The disciple of a certain wise man (philosophus) sinned and asked for pardon.
"I shan't forgive you," said the wise man," until you have spent the next three years carrying burdens for others."
After three years he came back, having made satisfaction for his sins, but the wise man said,
"I will not forgive you for your sins yet, not until you spend another three years earning money for those who insulted you and quarrelled with you."
When he had done all this his sins were forgiven.
"Come with me, now," said his master, "into the city of Athens, where you may learn some wisdom."
Now there was a very wise old man (senex sapientia studiosus) who sat at the gate, testing the mettle of all those who entered by offering them insults. When he gave the young man this treatment it provoked nothing but loud laughter.
"How is this, then?" asked the old man. "I insult you and all you do is laugh?"
"And wouldn't you expect me to laugh?" he replied, "I've spent three years having to make payment to those who insulted me, and shouldn't I suffer what you have given me today for free?"
"Go into the city," the old man said. "You are worthy of it."
Abba John used to tell this story, and would add,
"This is God's gateway, through which our fathers entered into the city of God by means of many tribulations and injuries."
85. (Also in V.xv.83) A brother asked an old man if he could give him one guideline to keep and be saved.
"If you can suffer insults and injury in silence, this is a great thing above all the other commandments."
86. (Also in V.xv.17) When some of the brothers asked abba Moyses for a word, Moyses bade his disciple Zacharias say something. Zacharais threw his mantle down on the ground and stamped on it.
"You can't be a monk unless you are willing to be trampled on," he said.
87. Abba Macarius used to say, "A true monk is one who is in control of himself in all things. For if in arguing with anyone he is moved to anger he has been conquered by his own passions. Nor must he consent to imperilling his own salvation even though it were to save someone else."
88. (Also in V.viii.2) A certain brother was being praised by other brothers in the presence of abba Antony, but when Antony examined him he found that he could not put up with insults.
"You are like a building beautifully ornamented in front, brother," he said, "but attacked by robbers through the back door."
89. (Also in V.iv.22, attributed to Isodore) A certain brother asked abba Isaac, "Abba, why are the demons frightened of you?"
"Ever since I became a monk I made up my mind that anger should never come out of my mouth. That is why the demons fear me."
90. (Also in V.iv.9) One of the fathers visiting abba Achillas saw that he was spitting blood and asked him what was the matter.
"I was deeply saddened by something that one of the brothers said to me," he said, "and struggled hard not to say something in reply. So I prayed to the Lord to lift this burden from me, and he turned the brother's words into blood in my mouth. After I had spat it out, I was at peace, and no longer remembered either my sadness or what the brother had said."
91. Some brothers came to a holy old man living in solitude and found there some children feeding the cattle, some of whom were using very bad language. After getting answers to some of the questions that the brothers asked the old man about their thoughts, they said to him, "How is it, father, that you can put up with the voices of those children without telling them not to speak like that?"
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