Compunction (continued), Book V  (Self Control begins further down page)

"What does 'sepulchre' mean?" the brother asked.
"A place of weeping and mourning." he said.
V.iii.14. Athanasius of pious memory asked abba Pambo to come down to Alexandria from the desert. And when he arrived he saw a woman of the theatre and wept. Asked by his companions why he wept he said, "Two things move me. First that this woman is lost, and secondly that I myself have not tried to please God half as much as this woman has tried to satisfy the desires of men."
V.iii.15. As abba Silvanus was sitting once with his companions he fell flat on his face into a trance. When he recovered after quite a long time he was weeping. And when his brothers asked him what was the matter he said nothing but continued to weep. After repeated urging he said, "I was caught up to the Judgment Seat and saw a crowd of people wearing the habit going into torment, and many seculars entering the kingdom."  And he continued to lament, from then on reluctant to leave his cell. But if necessity forced him to, he covered his face with his hood, saying, "What need to gaze upon this earthly scene in which there is no profit?"
V.iii.16. Syncletica of holy memory said, "There is immense labour and strife for the sinner who turns to God, but afterwards unspeakable joy. If you are trying to light a fire, before you succeed you get smothered in smoke, which irritates and brings tears to the eyes. Just so, it is written that our God is a consuming fire, and it is fitting that the divine fire should be lit in ourselves with tears and hard work."
V.iii.17 Abba Hyperichus said, "The monk labours night and day in watchfulness, praying unceasingly and as he is stirred in his inmost self he brings forth tears which draw down more readily the mercy of God."
V.iii.18. Some brothers who had some secular visitors came to abba Felix to ask him if he would give them a word. The old man however said nothing. But after they had pressed him for some time he said to them, "Do you really want a word?"
"Yes, indeed, father," they replied.
"A word is worth almost nothing." the old man then said. "At one time when the seniors were questioned the brothers acted on the advice given to them, and thus God acted through what was said. Now, however, since people ask and don't act on what they hear, God withdraws his grace from the seniors. They don't know what to say since their words bring no results."
V.iii.19. It is told of abbas Hor and Theodore that they took a goatskin into their cell and then said to each other, "If God should suddenly visit us what should we do?"  And they wept, left the place to itself and returned to their separate cells.
V.iii.20 An old man told how a certain brother wanted to become a monk but was put off by his mother. He persisted in his desire, however, saying, "I want to save my soul."  She continued to do all she could to prevent him, but when she realised that she couldn't prevail she agreed. He went away and became a monk but then wasted his time in idleness. It happened that his mother died and shortly afterwards he fell ill with a very serious disease. In his delirium he was snatched up to the Judgment Seat and found that his mother was among those condemned. When she saw him she was astonished.
"What's this, my son?" she said. "Have you also been condemned and sent here? What's happened to what you said about wanting to save your soul?"
Put to shame by these words and struck dumb by sorrow he stood there unable to reply to his mother. After this vision, by the merciful dispensation of God he began to get better and recovered from his illness. Realising that this vision could only have been sent by divine intervention he took it to heart and sat down to think about his own salvation, lamenting and repenting of those things in which he had failed because of his former negligence. He concentrated on this so intensely that many begged him to spare himself a little lest he harm himself because of all the tears which beyond measure he was shedding. But he refused to be comforted, saying, "If I didn't take to heart the reproaches of my mother how would I stand up against the accusation to be made against me by Christ and the holy Angels in the Day of Judgement?"
V.iii.21. An old man said, "If it were at all possible for human souls to die of fright at the coming of the Lord after the Resurrection, then the whole world would perish from dread and terror. For what must it be like to see the heavens opened and God appearing in anger and wrath with innumerable hosts of Angels before the whole race of humankind? For this reason we ought to live as those who must give an account of all our deeds before God."
(Also in VII.xxi.4) A brother asked an old man, "Why is it, father that my heart remains hardened and I have no fear of God?" 
"I think if you keep on goading your heart you will possess the fear of God," the old man said to him.   
"What do you mean by 'goading'?" the brother asked.
"In everything you do," the old man replied, "goad on your heart, saying, 'Remember you must appear before God'. Also say this, 'What need I fear from human judgment?'  And I reckon that if you persevere in this the fear of God will grow."
V.iii.23. An old man saw a certain person acting the fool and said to him, "We have to give an account of our whole life before God, and you play the fool?"
V.iii.24 An old man said, "Just as we carry our shadows with us wherever we go so we ought always to know tears and compunction wherever we are."
V.iii.25. A brother asked an old man, "Father, give me a word." 
"When God struck the Egyptians there was not a household escaped mourning," the old man said.
V.iii.26. A brother asked another old man, "What should I do?" 
"We ought always to weep," the old man said. "It so happened that a certain old man gave up the ghost but after a while returned to life again. We asked him what he had seen and with tears he replied, 'I heard a voice there lamenting and repeating incessantly, "Woe is me."' We likewise should always weep."
V.iii.27. A brother asked a certain old man why it was that he longed in his heart to be able to weep, for he heard the seniors weeping but tears would not come and that troubled his soul.  And the old man said, "It was forty years before the children of Israel entered the promised land. The gift of tears is like the promised land; if you get there you no longer fear the battle. God wills that the soul be troubled so that it might constantly desire to enter into that land."

Libellus 4: Self Control

V.iv.1.  Certain brothers from Scete, wishing to visit abba Antony, took ship in order to make that journey. They met on board a certain old man who also was going to visit Antony, although they did not realise this.  As they sat in the ship they talked about the sayings of the fathers, the Scriptures, and the way in which they themselves worked, but the old man remained silent through it all. It wasn't until they got to the harbour that they realised that he too was on his way to Antony. When they had arrived abba Antony said, "You've had good company on your journey in this old man." And to the old man, "You've brought some good brothers with you." 
"Good, indeed," said the old man, "except that their dwelling place has no gateway. Anyone who wants to can go into the stable and let loose the ass." 
He said this because each one of them had been saying whatever first came into his head.
V.iv.2.  Abba Daniel said that abba Arsenius used to keep vigil all through the night, and when towards morning he decided as a concession to nature to have some sleep he would say, "Come on then, sleep, you wicked servant", and he would snatch some sleep sitting down before getting up again soon after.
V.iv.3.  Abba Arsenius used to say, "If a monk is any sort of a warrior at all one hour's sleep should be sufficient."
V.iv.4.  Abba Daniel said of him, "During all the years that he was with us we gave him a small share of the harvest for him to live on during the year, and whenever we went to see him he fed us as well out of that."
(also in III.37) He also said that he kept on topping up the water in which he soaked his palm leaves and changed it only once a year. He used to make mats out of these palms and worked at them up to the sixth hour. Some of the seniors asked him why he didn't change the water, as it stank.
"In the world I used to make use of sweet smelling lotions and herbs," he replied, "so it is fitting that now I endure this stink."
V.iv.6.  Again he told how when Arsenius heard that all the different kinds of apple had ripened he asked for some. And he took one tiny taste only of each sort, giving thanks to God.
V.iv.7. It was said of abba Agathon that for three years he kept a stone in his mouth to help him learn how to keep silent.
V.iv.8.  Abba Agathon was once going on a journey with some of his disciples when one of them found a small packet of green bracelets on the way and said to the old man, "Father, should I pick these up?" 
The old man looked at them and admired them greatly.
"Did you put them there?" he asked.
"No, father." the brother replied.
And the old man said, "What is it makes you want to pick up what you haven't put down?"
V.iv.9. One of the old men once came to abba Achilles and found him spitting blood out of his mouth.
"What's this, father?" he said.
And the old man said, "A certain brother has said something to me which plunged me into gloom, and I tried very hard not to let it affect me. So I prayed to the Lord that it might be taken away and he has made those words as blood in my mouth which I have spat out, since when I have found peace and forgotten all my grief."
V.iv.10 Abba Achilles once went to visit abba Isaiah in his cell in Scete and when he went in he found Isaiah partaking of some refreshment. (He had put some salt and water into a bowl). When he saw that Isaiah hid the bowl under some palm mats he asked what it was that he had been eating.
"Forgive me, father," he replied. "I was splitting palm leaves and got very hot so I dipped a little bit of (
bucella) in salt and put it in my mouth for my throat was all dried up. But I could not swallow it, so I was driven to pour a little water on to the salt to try and help me swallow - but forgive me."   
And abba Achilles said, "Come and see the sort of broth Isaiah eats in Scete. If you want real broth, go to Egypt."
V.iv.11 It was said of abba Ammoy that he fell ill and was confined to bed for several years, but never expressed any curiosity about getting up to see what he possessed inside his cell; for because of his illness he had been receiving many gifts. When his disciple John came in and went out he shut his eyes lest he should see what he was doing. What he did know was that he was being faithful to his monastic calling.
V.iv.12. Abba Benjamin, the presbyter in the Cells, said that when he went to a certain old man in Scete, with the intention of giving him a little bottle of oil, the old man said to him, "Look at this little bottle of oil which you brought me three years ago. There it still is in the place where you put it down."
Hearing this we marvelled at his attitude.
V.iv.13. It was said of abba Dioscurus of Namisia that he ate only barley bread and crushed lentils, and that for a year at a time he kept one or other of the following rules, either to visit no one, or to keep absolute silence, or to eat nothing cooked, or to refrain from fruit or olives.  And he kept to this whatever he did. Having done one of these things for a year he then switched to another, and kept to that, year after year.
V.iv.14. Abba Evagrius told of an old man who said that he avoided anything that pandered to his senses in order to cut off all occasions of discontent, for he was aware that his discontent increased always in proportion to sensual satisfaction, and stirred him up emotionally and made him unreasonable.
V.iv.15. Epiphanius, the bishop of Cyprus once sent to abba Hilarion saying, "Come, let's meet before we die."  And when they met and sat down to eat there was brought to them a portion of poultry which the bishop picked up and offered to Hilarion.
"Forgive me, father", he said, "but since taking the habit I have never eaten anything killed."
"And since I have taken the habit," Epiphanius replied, "I have never let anyone go to bed still bearing a grudge against me, nor have I slept still holding a grudge against anyone else." 
"Forgive me, father," the old man said. "Your deeds are better than mine."
V.iv.16. It was said of abba Elladius that for twenty years in his cell he never lifted up his eyes to look at the ceiling.
V.iv.17. (
A slightly shorter version of III.7) Once when abba Zeno was travelling in Palestine he sat down after work by a cucumber patch to eat his meal. A thought arose in his mind, "Pick a cucumber and eat it. It wouldn't matter much, would it." 
To this thought he replied, "Thieves are condemned to torment. Find out first whether you would be able to bear such torment." 
So he got up and stood in the sun for five days, becoming thoroughly dehydrated, until he said to himself, "I can't bear this torment." His better judgment then said to him, "If you can't bear torment then you had better not steal in order to eat."
V.iv.18. Abba Theodore said, "Fasting keeps the body under control." But another senior said, "Vigils are more effective."
(Also in III.66) Abba John the Dwarf said, "If a king wishes to annex an enemy state he first of all cuts off their water and food supply, until perishing with hunger they submit to him. It's the same with the demands of our stomach. If you accustom yourself to fasting and hunger, the enemy seeking to overcome your soul is weakened."
V.iv.20. He also said, "Once when I was going up on the road to Scete with my palm mats I fell in with a camel driver whose conversation aroused me to furious anger. So I dropped what I was carrying and fled."
V.iv.21. Abba Isaac the presbyter of the Cells once said, "I know of a brother who when reaping in the fields felt like having an ear of wheat. So he asked the owner, 'Would you mind if I had an ear of wheat?'  The owner was astonished at hearing this and said, 'You are in charge of the field, father, and you are asking me?' Such was the scrupulous honesty of this noteworthy monk."
V.iv.22. One of the brothers asked abba Isidore, one of the old men of Scete, "How is it that the demons are so afraid of you?" 
"Ever since I became a monk," the old man said, "I have never allowed anger to rise as far as my throat."
V.iv.23. He also said, "For the last forty years I have felt the temptations of sin in my heart, but I have never consented either to concupiscence or to anger."
V.iv.24 Abba Cassian had this to say about abba John who lived near abba Esaius for forty years in the farthest depths of the desert: "He had a great atmosphere of charity about him, and I questioned him about his fidelity to charity, saying, 'You've been on your own for so long that you haven't been likely to have suffered injury from anyone, so tell me, how have you managed this?'  And he said, 'Since becoming a solitary I have broken my fast only after sunset. Nor have I ever let the sun go down upon my wrath.'"
V.iv.25. (
Also in IV.47) He also narrated how abba Serapion had told abba Moses, "When I was young I lived and ate with Theonas, my abbot, and when leaving the refectory I succumbed to the wiles of the devil and picked up a slice of bread to eat in secrecy without my abbot knowing. After having done this several times I began to be thoroughly addicted to this vice and couldn't give it up, but consulted no one about it except my own conscience, being too embarrassed to discuss it with the old man. However in a dispensation of God's mercy some of the brethren met together with him for spiritual direction and questioned him about private thoughts. The old man said in reply that there was nothing which harmed monks and pleased the devil so much as concealing private thoughts from your spiritual father. He spoke also about self-control. As he was saying all this I suddenly found myself crying, thinking that God must have told him about me, and plucking from out of my sleeve the bread which my bad habits had led me to steal I fell down before him, begging forgiveness for my past sins and prayer for future amendment. And then the old man said, 'Your confession, my son, has of itself freed you from captivity, without any need for me to say anything. By your self-accusation you have put to flight the demon who was able to darken your soul because of your silence, and who up to now had been allowed to dominate you without contradiction or rebuke. Now that you have driven him out into the open there is no longer any room for him in your heart.' He had hardly finished speaking when something happened which bore out what he had said, for a flash of fire came out of my sleeves and the whole house was filled with such a horrible smell that those who were there thought that there must have been a quantity of sulphur being burned. And the old man said, 'See, my son, the Lord has shown by this token that he has confirmed both my words and your deliverance.'"
(Also in III.53) It was said of abba Macarius that when relaxing in the company of the brothers he made a rule for himself that if wine were offered him he would drink it, but that for every cup of wine he would afterwards go for a whole day without water. But as all the brothers wanted was for him to have some relaxation they did offer him wine, and the old man gladly drank it but afterwards punished himself for it. But a disciple who had found out about this said the brothers, "For Heaven's sake don't give it to him, for afterwards he compensates for it by punishing himself."  When the brothers realised this they stopped offering it to him.
V.iv.27. Abba Macarius the great in Scete said to the brothers, "After Mass in the church, brothers, flee." 
"Where can we flee to in this solitude, father?" one of the brothers asked.
And he put his finger on his lips, saying, "This is what you must flee from", and going in to his cell he shut the door and stayed by himself.
V.iv.28. Again abba Macarius said, "If you are moved to anger when you decide to rebuke someone, keep your passion within bounds. Don't jeopardise your own salvation in order to save your brother."
(Also in III.52, attributed to Poemen) Abba Pastor said, "If Nabuzaradan the captain of the guard had not invaded, the temple of the Lord would not have burnt by fire (2 Kings. 25). In the same way, if bodily indulgence had not invaded your heart, the mind would not have broken down in its fight against the enemy."
V.iv.30. It was said of abba Pastor that when he was bidden to the common meal he wept, but would still go there lest he offended his brothers by disobedience.
V.iv.31. When abba Pastor was told of a certain monk who wouldn't drink wine he replied, "A monk should have nothing to do with wine."
V.iv.32.  Again, abba Pastor said, "Just as bees are driven out by smoke so that the sweetness of honey can be removed, so bodily indulgence drives the fear of God out of your heart so that all your good works are brought to naught."
V.iv.33. One of the old men told how the mother of abba Pastor and his brothers wanted to visit them in Egypt and was not allowed. So one day she watched closely and when they went to church she came to meet them. But when they saw her they turned back into their cell and shut the door in her face. She stood at the door shouting and weeping in great grief. Abba Anub heard her and going over to abba Pastor asked, "What shall we do about this old woman, weeping in front of your door?" 
Abba Pastor then got up, went to the door and still standing inside listened to her weeping very sadly and said, "Why are you crying, old woman?" 
Hearing his voice she cried and shouted all the more, saying, "You are my children. I just want to see you. Why shouldn't I see you? Am I not your mother? Have I not suckled you? Are we not totally of one flesh? It is very moving to hear your voice."
"Do you really want to see us now, in this world?" the old man said to her. 
"Well, if I don't see you here, my children," she replied, "shall I see you in the world to come?" 
"If you can bear it not to see us here," he replied, "you shall certainly see us in the world to come."
And the mother departed rejoicing, saying, "If I am really going to see you in the world to come I don't need to see you here."
(mentioned in III.31) It was said of abba Pior that he used to eat while walking about. And when someone asked him why he ate in this way he replied that he wanted to show that food was not as it were something he really needed but rather something superfluous. And to another who questioned him he said that it was so that he shouldn't dwell on the pleasant taste of the food.
V.iv.35. Abba Peter, surnamed Pyonius, who lived in the Cells was said never to drink wine. When he got old, however, they begged him to take just a little. When he wouldn't agree they warmed a little water and offered it to him, and he said, "Believe me, my sons, I will accept this as if it were medicine." And he professed himself to be quite content with warm water.

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