A monk should not possess anything (continued)Book V
(Patience and Fortitude & Do nothing for show begin further down page)
V.vi.13. Syncletica of blessed memory was asked whether owning nothing was the highest perfection. She replied, "It is indeed a very good thing for those who can. For if you are able to put up with it you may experience bodily discomfort but you will have peace of mind. Just as clothing of good quality is laundered and restored to whiteness by being trampled on and turned over and over again underfoot, so is a strong person made stronger by voluntary poverty."
V.vi.14 Abba Hyperichus said, "Voluntary poverty is the treasure of the monk. Lay up treasure for yourself in heaven then, brother, for therein is peace, world without end."
V.vi.15. There was a holy man named Philagrius who lived in Jerusalem and worked busily to provide himself with bread. While he was standing in the market place selling his wares it so happened that someone dropped a bag containing a thousand shillings. The old man found it but stayed where he was, saying to himself that the person who lost it must soon come back, which indeed he did in great distress. He stopped him and gave him back his bag, whereupon the owner begged him to accept a reward, which the old man would in no wise do. This made the owner cry out, saying, "Come and see what this man of God has done." But the old man fled from view and left the town, lest he should be recognised and honoured for what he had done.
V.vi.16. When an old man was asked by a brother what he should do to be on the path of salvation, he took off his habit, ungirded his loins and stretched out his hands, saying, "In like manner a monk should strip himself of all worldly property and nail all temptation and worldly cares to the cross."
V.vi.17. (Also in III.71) Someone once asked a certain old man to accept some money for his future needs, but he refused since the work of his hands supplied all his needs. On being pressed repeatedly that at least he might accept something in order to give to the poor, he replied, "There are two reasons why I can't agree. Firstly I would be taking something I did not need, and secondly if I were to give it away it would only make me conceited."
V.vi.18. Some Greeks once came to the city of Ostracines wanting to give alms. So they approached the church treasurers to find out who was most in need. They were taken first to a certain leper to whom they offered an alms. But he refused, saying, "I have a few palms with which I weave mats which suffice to provide me with bread." They were taken then to the dwelling of a widow where she lived with her little daughters. When they knocked on the door it was answered by one of the daughters completely naked. Her mother had gone off to her work as a laundrymaid. They offered the daughter some clothing and money but she would not accept it, saying that her mother had come to her and said that, "Have faith. God willing I will find some work today to keep us going." And when the mother arrived they asked her whether she would accept something, and she refused, saying, "I have the Lord for my helper, and would you take him away from me today?" And they, seeing her faith, glorified God.
V.vi.19. An affluent stranger once came to the presbyter in the Scythian desert bringing some money which he asked to be distributed among the brothers. The presbyter said, "They don't have any need of it." He vigorously insisted, but the presbyter still refused, so he put the gold into a wicker basket by the church door, saying, "Anyone who needs some can take it." But nobody touched it, some didn't even notice it. And the old man said, "The Lord accepts your offering. Go and give it to the poor." And he departed, greatly edified.
V.vi.20. A certain man brought some money to an old man, saying, "Take this to defray the expenses of your old age and your illness", for he was a leper. But he replied, "You come here after sixty years to deprive me of my mainstay? Look, during the whole time that I have been ill I have lacked nothing, for the Lord has cared for me and fed me." And he would not accept the gift.
V.vi.21. The old men told of a certain gardener who gave away all the profit from his labours in alms, keeping back for himself only sufficient for his own needs. Then the devil whispered in his heart saying, "Set some money by for your needs when you get old or when you fall ill." So he began to save, and filled up a large jar with coins. Now it so happened that he fell ill, and his foot became badly infected, so he spent the money he had collected on doctors, but nothing did him any good. Finally there came a specialist doctor who said to him, "Unless I lance your foot it will go completely rotten." And they agreed on a time for his foot to be lanced. Returning home that night, however, he was sorry for what he had done, exclaiming with tears and groaning, "Be mindful, O Lord, of what I used to do when I laboured in my garden and ministered to the poor." As he said this an angel of the Lord appeared and said to him, "Where is the money you saved? And where is the hope in which you used to live?" Coming to his senses, he cried, "I have sinned, O Lord, forgive me. I will no longer carry on in this way." The angel then touched his foot and he was instantaneously healed, and getting up in the morning he went out in the fields to work. Presently the doctor arrived with his instruments, as agreed, and he was told that his patient had been working in the field all morning. In astonishment the doctor ran out to the field where he was working and when he saw him digging he glorified God who had given him back his health.
V.vi.22. (Also in III.69) A brother asked a certain old man whether he could be allowed to put by a few shillings in case of illness. The old man could see that his heart was set on it and said, "Alright." The brother went back to his cell and began to commune with himself, saying, "Do you think the old man was telling me the truth or not?" He got up and went back to the old man in penitence and said, "For the Lord's sake tell me the truth, for my thoughts give me no peace over these few shillings." And the old man said, "When I saw that you really wanted to keep them, I told you to keep them, although really it is not a good thing to keep more than is sufficient for your immediate bodily needs. If you had kept those few shillings that would be where your hope rested. And once they had gone why should you expect God to care for you? Therefore let us cast all our care upon the Lord for he cares for us" (1 Peter 5.7).
Libellus 7: Patience and Fortitude
V.vii.1 Once when holy abba Antony was sitting in his cell, afflicted with weariness and confusion of thought, he complained to the Lord, "Lord I crave for peace and my thoughts won't allow it. What can I do in this confusion in order to gain peace?" And getting up he began to go outside, when he saw someone who looked like himself sitting and working, then getting up from his work to pray, then sitting again weaving mats from palm leaves, and once again rising to pray. This was really an angel of the Lord sent to rebuke and chasten Antony. And he heard the voice of the angel saying to him, "This do and you will find peace." He took great comfort and steadfastness from this, and as he persevered he found the peace which he sought.
V.vii.2. A certain brother consulted abba Agathon, saying, "A certain commandment has been laid on me, and I am undergoing very severe strife in the battle area. I dearly wish to move beyond that commandment to the point where I can put paid to the strife." The old man said, "Agathon used to be like this. What I did was to fulfil the commandment and thus win the battle."
V.vii.3. Abba Ammon said that he had spent forty years in Scythia praying God day and night that he might have the grace to overcome anger.
V.vii.4. Abba Besarion said that he had remained standing forty nights among thorn bushes without sleep.
V.vii.5. A certain brother living alone was restless and upset, so went to abba Theodore of Therme and told him about his restlessness. The old man said, "Go, humble your pride, and force yourself to live in community." So he went away into the desert and lived with others. Later he came back to the old man and said, "I can't find any peace living with others, either." And the old man said, "If you can't find peace either living with others or living alone, what made you want to be a monk? Wasn't it simply in order to endure tribulation? Tell me, how many years have you been wearing the habit?" "Eight", he said. And the old man said, "Believe me, I've been wearing the habit for seventy years and never for one day have I found respite from the battle. And you think you should find peace in eight?"
V.vii.6. On another occasion a certain brother asked him, "If there were some sudden ear-splitting disaster, father, wouldn't you be afraid?" And the old man said, "Even though the heavens should fall to earth Theodore would have no fear." For in his prayers to God he had begged to be delivered from all fear, which is why the brother had questioned him.
V.vii.7. It was said of abba Theodore and abba Lucius of Alexandria that for fifty years they had encouraged each other by saying, "Once the winter is over let us depart hence." But when the summer came they would say, "Let us go once this hot spell is finished." And this is how they always carried on, as the fathers remember.
V.vii.8. Abba Pastor told of how abba John the Dwarf (Lit. 'of short stature') had prayed the Lord to take away all passions from him, and having become self-confident he came to a certain old man and said, "Behold a man at peace, with no internal battles." And the old man said, "Go and pray the Lord that strife may be stirred up in you, for strife nourishes the soul." And when the battlefield began again in his heart he no longer prayed to be delivered from it, but that the Lord might give him the strength to bear it.
V.vii.9. Abba Macarius the great visited Antony in the mountain, and after knocking at the door Antony came out and asked, "Who are you?" "Macarius," he replied. Antony sent him away, shut the door and went inside, but later, when he saw him patiently waiting, he opened up and welcomed him with the words, "I have heard of you and have wanted to meet you for a long time." And he offered him hospitality and refreshment, tired as he was from the exertion of his journey. When Vespers had been said Antony took a few palms and put them to soak. Macarius said, "Give me some too that I may soak them and work." "This is all I have", said Antony, and made a larger bundle to soak. So sitting together late into the night, discoursing of the things of the spirit, they wove away at their mats, till they stretched right out through the window into the cellar. And when Antony went out in the morning and saw the mats of abba Macarius he marvelled, kissed his hands and said, "These hands are hands of great power."
V.vii.10. This same Macarius once went on a journey to a place called Terenuthin, where he found an ancient tomb to sleep in where many pagans had been buried, and he laid one of the bodies under his head for a pillow. But the demons seeing his fearlessness were furious, and wishing to frighten him they began to call out as if beguiling a woman, "What about coming to the bathhouse with us, lady." And another demon replied as if from those very dead bodies underneath him, "I can't, because of this traveller lying on top of me." But the old man was not afraid. With perfect composure he gave the corpse a hard punch saying, "Get up and go, if you can." When the demons heard this they cried with a loud voice, "You've beaten us", and they fled in confusion.
V.vii.11 Abba Mathois said, "I would rather have reasonably easy work all the time than a difficult task soon ended.
V.vii.12. The story is told of abba Milido that once when he was living in the Persian borders with his two disciples two sons of the Emperor went hunting as was their custom, and set nets over a distance of forty miles, in order to kill whatever it was they might find trapped in them. What they found in the nets, however, was the old man and his two disciples. Gazing on his shaggy and unprepossessing appearance, they were astonished and asked him whether he was a man or a devil. "I am a sinner", he replied, "and I have come out here to do penance for my sins, and I worship the Son of the living God." The hunters replied, "The only gods are the Sun, and Fire and Water. Worship and sacrifice to them." "You are wrong - they are only creatures," he answered. "I beg you, be converted, and accept the true God who has created them and everything else. "But they laughed at him and said, "You call a condemned and crucified man the true God?" "Yes, indeed," he said. "What I am saying is that the true God is he who destroyed death by nailing it to the cross." But they put him to the torturers, together with his two disciples, demanding that they sacrifice. After a great deal of torture they beheaded the two brothers, but the old man they kept on tormenting for a long time. Finally they set him up in a certain place and used him as a target for archery practice, one from in front and one from behind. The old man said, "Because you have agreed together to shed innocent blood, tomorrow at this very moment of the day your mother will be left without sons, and will no longer enjoy your devotion. Your blood will be shed by each other's arrows." They greeted his words with mocking laughter, but the next day it happened that when they went out hunting, a stag escaped from their net, so that they mounted their horses and pursued it. Shooting arrows at it they transfixed each other in the heart, so that they died as the old man had prophesied.
V.vii.13. Abba Pastor said, "It is in temptations that the character of the monk is made manifest."
V.vii.14. He also told how Isidore, the presbyter of Scythia, once spoke to a gathering of the brothers, saying, "Brothers, was it not to engage in manual work that we came here? And now I observe that there is no work left. I shall therefore gather my mantle about me and depart to where work can be found. There I shall find peace."
V.vii.15. Holy Syncletica said, "If you fall out with someone in the monastery, don't go and live elsewhere. If you do that you only harm yourself. If a hen fails to keep her eggs warm they will go bad without producing chickens. Just so will monks or nuns grow cold and die if they persist in gadding about from place to place."
V.vii.16. Syncletica said, "When the devil fails to subvert us through the rigours of poverty, he uses riches in his endeavours to seduce us. And if he can't prevail through insults and indignities he makes use of honour and glory. But if he can't seduce us by means of pleasures and bodily satisfactions he tries to gain possession of the soul by unlooked for vexations. He can devise all kinds of burdens to be cast on to one whom he wishes to tempt, by means of which he reduces monks to a state of fear and upsets the charity which they ought to have towards God. But even though the body be chastened and afflicted with severe fevers or even intolerable thirst, remember that you are a sinner who suffers these things, and compare them with the punishments and everlasting flames of eternity, the torments which justice demands, and then you will not be overwhelmed by your present troubles but will rather rejoice that God has visited you. Let this pre-eminent saying be upon your lips, 'The Lord has chastened and corrected me, but he has not given my soul over to death' (Psalm 118.18). If you are like iron, by being put through the fire you will lose the rust. If you undergo all these things with integrity you will go from strength to strength. You will be like gold which is purified by fire. A messenger of Satan has been given to you to buffet your flesh. Rejoice therefore at the thought of who it is to whom you are being likened, for St Paul himself was found worthy of a similar visitation (2 Cor.12.7). If you are afflicted by illnesses or by excessive cold remember that when Scripture says, 'We went through fire and water', what follows is that 'we were brought out into a wealthy place' (Psalm 66.11). While you are in the middle of the one, hope confidently for the other, using what strength is given you. Shout aloud the words of the prophet, 'I am poor and in heaviness' (Psalm 89.30). It is through tribulations of this sort that you will be made perfect, as it is written, 'Thou hast set me at liberty when I was in trouble' (Psalm 4.1). It is in these practices above all that he tries our spirits, for then we have our adversary always before us.
V.vii.17. She also said, "If you should become seriously ill, don't worry because you are no longer able to stand for prayers or chant the psalms aloud because of weakness and bodily infirmity. For all these things are necessary to dispel the lusts of the flesh in the same way as fasting and labour act against unlawful desires. So when sickness is working towards that end all those other observances are no longer necessary. For just as illness can be cured by strong and efficacious medicine, so vice is cut off by that very illness. It is a great virtue to be patient in the face of illness and give thanks to God. Don't be overly depressed if you lose your sight - you may have lost one means of praising God, but you can still contemplate with your interior eye. Have you gone deaf? Be thankful that you can no longer hear things that are unseemly. Is your sword-arm weakened by some sort of wasting sickness? You can still carry on the inner fight against the temptations of the enemy. Is your whole body diseased? Your inner man can nevertheless grow in holiness."
Libellus 8: Do nothing for show
V.viii.1. Abbot Antony once heard of a young monk who performed a spectacular miracle on the public highway in that when he saw certain old men struggling to walk along on their journey he ordered some wild asses to come and carry them to him. When these old men told abba Antony of this he said, "This young monk seems to me to be like a merchant ship laden with precious gifts, but who knows whether it will ever reach port?" And shortly after he suddenly began to weep and tear his hair out in great distress. "What is the matter, father?" asked his disciples when they saw this. "A great pillar of the church has just fallen" the old man said. He was of course referring to that young monk, and added that they should go to him and see what had happened. So they went and found the young monk sitting on his mat weeping for his sins. When he saw the old man's disciples he said to them, "Ask the old man to pray to God to give me just ten days of grace in which I hope I may make satisfaction." And within five days he was dead.
V.viii.2. When Antony heard the monks talking favourably of a certain brother, he took the opportunity of a visit from this same brother to find out whether he was able to put up with being insulted. When he found out that he couldn't, he said, "He is like a house which outwardly is beautifully decorated but inwardly has been despoiled by robbers."
V.viii.3. It was said of both abba Arsenius and abba Theodore of Pherme that they despised having a good reputation more than anything else. Abba Arsenius would hardly ever meet anybody. Abba Theodore would meet people but as if carrying a sword.
V.viii.4. There was a certain presbyter-disciple of Archbishop John called Eulogius, whom people held in high esteem because of his abstinence and fasting, going for two days at a time, or even sometimes for a whole week, eating nothing but bread and salt. Once he went to visit abba Joseph in Panephus, expecting to find in him someone given to an even stricter regime. The old man gave him a friendly welcome and gladly prepared for him what food he had. Eulogius' companions said that Eulogius ate nothing but bread and salt, but abba Joseph went on eating without comment. At the end of three days they had heard no psalmody or prayer for this was a work which abba Joseph kept hidden, and they went away with no feeling of uplift whatsoever. In the mercy of God, however, they were enveloped by a dust cloud and losing their way found themselves back with the old man. As they were about to knock on his door they heard the sound of psalmody, and waited to listen to it for quite some time before they knocked. The old man again gave them a friendly welcome. Because of the heat those with Eulogius picked up a waterpot and gave it to him to drink, but he could not because it turned out to be a mixture of sea and river water.
Turning this over in his mind he began to question the old man about the way he lived, saying, "How is it father that at first you were doing no psalmody but began to do so after we had left, and why was the water I wanted to drink salty?" "It was one of the brothers", the old man said. "He must have mixed sea water in by mistake." But Eulogius kept on asking what was the real truth of the matter. And the old man said, "I keep a little cup of wine for hospitality's sake, but this large water pot is what the brothers are happy to drink from."
In these words he showed him how to maintain discipline over his thoughts and to prevent his mind being motivated by what others might think. As a result he stopped trying to be different from others and began to eat whatever it was that was set before him. So he learned to keep his good deeds hidden, and said to the old man, "The way you work is true charity indeed."
V.viii.5. Abba Zenon, the disciple of abba Silvanus, said, "Don't stay in fashionable places, or with famous people. And don't put down foundations when you build your cell."
V.viii.6. A brother once came to abba Theodore of Pherme and spent three days pestering him for advice. But he got no reply and went away disappointed. Theodore's disciple then asked him, "Father why didn't you speak to him, for look, he's gone away disappointed?" "Believe me," the old man said, "The reason I said nothing was that this man is like a wholesale dealer. He makes himself out to be somebody by peddling other people's words around."
V.viii.7. Another brother asked this same abba Theodore whether he should go without bread on some days, to which the old man replied, "Fine. I do the same myself." And the brother said, "I would nevertheless like to take some chickpeas to the mill to be ground into flour." "If you are going to the mill," replied abba Theodore, "you might just as well make some bread as well. It's not much of an extra, is it."
V.viii.8. Another brother in conversation with this same abba Theodore, began to speak and speculate about matters of which he had not yet had any experience, and the old man said, "You haven't even found a ship yet in which to stow your baggage, let alone begin to navigate it, and would you then think you have already arrived in the regions you are disposing of so freely? When you have experienced those things you were talking about, then you can talk from experience.
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