Do nothing for show (continued) Book V
(Judge no one & Discretion begin further down page)
V.viii.9. Abba Cassian told how a certain brother came to abba Serapion, who asked him to say the prayers according to custom, but he wouldn't, saying that he was a sinner and unworthy to be called a monk. When abba Serapion offered to wash his feet he likewise demurred using the same words. But the old man gave him something to eat and began to admonish him quite kindly, saying, "My son, if you wish to progress, go and stay in your cell, and look to yourself and your manual work. It will be more profitable for you to stay put rather than go out." Abba Serapion could see from the young man's face that he was very displeased at these words, so he went on to say, "You've just been saying that you were a sinner and almost unfit to live, so should you really get so upset because I give you some charitable advice? If you would be really humble learn to carry out cheerfully the tasks laid upon you by others without squandering yourself in shabby verbiage." At this the brother begged the old man's pardon and departed greatly edified.
V.viii.10. The provincial governor once heard of abba Moses and journeyed into Scete in order to visit him. When someone warned the old man he was coming he got up and fled to the marshes, but the governor and his entourage met him and asked where the cell of the abba Moses was. "What do you want to see him for?" he said. "He is a daft old man, heretical even." The governor went to the church and told the clergy there that he had heard of abba Moses and wanted to see him but that when they had asked an old man from Egypt where his cell was he had replied, "What do you want to see him for? He is a daft old man, heretical even." Hearing this the clerics were rather shocked, and asked who this old man was who had spoken like this about a very holy man. "A tall, dark man, wearing a very ancient habit," he replied. "That was abba Moses himself," they said. "He said this about himself because he didn't want to be a spectacle for you." And the governor departed, greatly edified.
V.viii.11. A brother asked abba MathoŽs, "If I should go away and live somewhere else how should I order my life?" And the old man said, "Wherever you live don't try and make a name for yourself in any way by saying; 'I don't mix with the other brethren' or 'I don't eat this that or the other'. These things may give you a sort of futile reputation, but will prove a burden in the long run, for when people get to hear about you they will all flock round to see you."
V.viii.12. Abba Nistoron the Greater was walking in the desert with a brother when they saw a large snake and fled. The brother said to him, "And you were afraid, too, father?" "I wasn't afraid, my son," he replied. "But it was a good thing to flee from the sight of the snake since I now have no need to flee from a spirit of vainglory."
V.viii.13. (A shorter version of III.20) The governor of the province once wanted to see abba Pastor but he wouldn't agree. The governor then had abba Pastor's nephew arrested as a criminal and cast into prison, saying, "If the old man will come and plead for him I will let him go." So the boy's mother came to her brother, abba Pastor, and began to weep at his doorway, but he would not give her any reply. Overcome with grief she implored him, saying, "You may have a heart of iron unable to be moved by compassion, but at least you should have pity on your own flesh and blood." But he was adamant, saying, "Pastor has not fathered anybody." And she departed. When the governor heard of this he sent a message to the effect that he only needed to say a word and the boy would be freed. But the old man urged in reply, "Examine his case according to the law. If he is worthy of death, let him die. But if not, you know what you should do."
V.viii.14. Again, abba Pastor said, "Teach your heart to observe what your tongue teaches others." And again, "People often want to appear to be perfect because of what they say, but their deeds don't always match their words."
V.viii.15. Abba Adelphius, the bishop of Nilopolis, once came to abba Sisoe in the mountain, and when they were about to depart again he gave them something to eat early in the morning even though it was a fast day. As he was putting the food on the table some brothers knocked on the door, and the old man said to his disciple, "Give them a few beans which are due to them because of their work." And abba Adelphius added, "Send them away in the meantime lest they should spread it around that abba Sisoe is eating food so early in the morning." But the old man heard him and said to the brother, "Go on, give it to them." When they were given the food they asked; "You've got guests with you, haven't you? And I suppose the old man is eating with you all?" "Yes", the brother replied. At this they looked very troubled and said, "God forgive you for letting the old man eat at this hour, for don't you know that he will now fast for several days instead?" When the bishop heard this he began to apologise to the old man, saying, "Forgive me, father, for I was thinking the thoughts of sinful humanity, but what you were doing was of God." And Abbot Sisoe said to him, "Unless God gives the glory, the glory of any human being is of no account."
V.viii.16. Abba Ammonas of Raythum once said to abba Sisoe, "When I read the Scriptures I am forever making a sermon out of them in my mind, so that I shall be ready to explain them to whoever asks me about them." And the old man said, "There's no need of that. Rather look to simplicity of mind in order to be sure of being able to give an answer."
V.viii.17. The governor of the province once came to see abba Simon, who took off the belt he was wearing and climbed up a palm tree as if to trim it. When the travellers arrived they asked where the old man was who lived in this solitude. He replied, "There is no solitary here." And the governor departed.
V.viii.18. On another occasion a different governor came looking for him and some clerics came before him and warned him, saying, "Father, get yourself ready, for a governor who has heard of you is coming to see you to receive your blessing." "Right. I'll get ready then," he replied, and going to his larder he got out some bread and cheese and sat down to eat it in the doorway of his cell. The judge arrived with his staff, and when he saw the old man he was disillusioned, saying, "So this is the solitary monk of whom so many tales are told!" And he turned round and went home.
V.viii.19. Holy Syncletica said, "Just as treasure is soon spent when brought out into the open, so does virtue quickly perish when publicly taken notice of. Just as wax soon melts when brought to the fire so the soul is weakened by overmuch praise and loses its former strength.!
V.viii.20. She also said, "Just as it is impossible to be both seed and full-grown plant all at the same time, so it is impossible for anyone basking in worldly glory to gather heavenly fruit."
V.viii.21. (Also in III.54) On a feast day once in the Cells the brothers were eating together in the church. One of the brothers said to the steward, "I don't eat anything cooked, only salted." And the steward called to another brother through the crowd, "This brother doesn't eat cooked food. Bring him some salted." And one of the old men got to his feet and said, "It would have been better for you to have sat in your cell eating flesh today rather than have this shouted out among so many brothers."
V.viii.22. Somebody very abstemious in food who ate no bread visited a certain old man who happened to be entertaining some pilgrims and had prepared a little lentil dish for them. When they all sat down to eat this abstemious brother soaked a little dried chickpea and ate that. After they had got up from the table, the old man took him aside and said, "Brother, if you are going to visit anyone, don't make a show of your way of life. If you must keep to your rigorous rule stay in your cell and don't go out." He accepted what the old man said, and from then on shared in whatever he found among the brothers.
V.viii.23. Taking care for the morrow in a human manner impoverishes people and dries them up.
V.viii.24. An old man said, "Whether you avoid other human beings, or whether you scorn the world and the people in it, become as a fool yourself in the eyes of many."
Libellus 9: Judge no one
V.ix.1. It happened once that a brother of the congregation of abba Elias, having fallen into temptation, was expelled and went to abba Antony in the mountain. After spending some time with him, he was sent back to his congregation. But when they saw him they drove him out again, and again he went to abba Antony, saying, "They won't have me back, father." So the old man sent a message to them, "A ship has suffered shipwreck in the open sea, lost all the goods it was carrying and although empty has with great difficulty arrived in port. Would you then sink a ship which has escaped into port?" They realised that abba Antony was talking about the man he had sent back to them, and reinstated him at once.
V.ix.2. A certain brother who had sinned was ordered by the presbyter to leave the church. Besarion got up and left with him, saying, "I too am a sinner."
V.ix.3 Abba Isaac of the Thebaid visited the congregation of brethren and finding one of them guilty of crimes passed judgment upon him, and went back to the desert. But an angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door of his cell, forbidding him to enter. "Why not?" he asked. "God has sent me," the angel replied, "to ask you where do you wish he should send the guilty brother whom you have sentenced?" Abba Isaac immediately apologised, saying, "Forgive me, I've done wrong." And the angel said, "Don't worry, God has forgiven you, but take care in future not to judge anybody before God has judged him."
V.ix.4. When a brother in Scete was found guilty the seniors called a meeting and sent a message to abba Moses, asking him to attend, but he would not. The presbyter also sent a message to him begging him to come for the whole body of the brothers wanted him to. So he came. He arrived dragging behind him a battered old wicker basket filled with sand, and those who went out to meet him asked, "What is this all about, father?" And the old man said, "My own sins follow me about, although I can't always see them, and should I come today to judge the sins of somebody else?" Hearing this they said nothing to the brother but pardoned him.
V.ix.5. Abba Joseph asked abba Pastor how to become a true monk and the old man replied, "If you would find peace now and in the world to come say to yourself in every crisis, "What am I?" and pass judgment on nobody.
V.ix.6. A certain brother also asked him, "If I see my brother committing a fault is it a good thing to conceal it?" And the old man said, "Whenever we overlook a brother's fault God overlooks our own. And whenever we proclaim our brother's faults God likewise proclaims ours."
V.ix.7. When a certain brother had transgressed the Abbot went to a certain nearby solitary who had long since stopped going out and told him about the offending brother. And the solitary said, "Expel him." So the brother was expelled from the congregation and went to hide in the marshlands, where he wept copiously. It happened however that some of the brothers who were on the way to visit abba Pastor heard him weeping in the marshlands and turning aside to him found him overwhelmed with grief. They suggested to him that he should go to that same old solitary, but he would not, saying, "Let me die here where I am." When the brothers got to abba Pastor they told him about it. And he asked them to go and tell the brother that abba Pastor would like to see him. When they told him this, he came, and when the old man saw how downcast he was he embraced him and comforted him and begged him to take some food. Abba Pastor then sent one of the brothers to that solitary with this message, "For many years I have been hearing about you and wanted to see you but have never managed it, because of our mutual neglect. Now, however, by God's will, there does seem to be a pressing reason for it. So I hope it won't be too much trouble for you that we should meet." He did not, however, leave his own cell. But when the solitary got the message he said to himself, "Unless God had inspired the old man he would not have sent to me." So he went. And they greeted each other with joy, and sat down to talk. And abba Pastor said, "There were two people living near each other and both of them had suffered bereavement. And one of the two left his own dead body and went over to weep for the dead body of the other." The old man's conscience was pricked by these words, and realising what he had done he said, "Pastor has already risen up to heaven, while I am still earthbound."
V.ix.8 A brother asked abba Pastor, "What shall I do, for I become faint-hearted when I sit still by myself?" And the old man said, "Despise no one, condemn no one, disparage no one, and the Lord will give you peace, and your time of meditation will pass smoothly."
V.ix.9. A meeting was held in Scete where the fathers discussed the guilt of a certain brother. Abba Prior, however, said nothing and afterwards went out and filled a large bag with sand and lifted it up on his shoulders, while putting a small amount of sand in a little wicker basket which he carried in front of him. When the fathers asked him what he meant by that he replied, "This bag with a lot of sand represents my sins, and since there are so many of them I have put them behind me where I can't see them and grieve or weep for them. This little lot in front of me represents the sins of this brother, upon whom I am busy trying to pronounce judgement. This is quite wrong. I should rather keep my own sins before me and be thinking of them and asking God to pardon me." Hearing this the fathers said, "This is the true path of salvation."
V.ix.10. An old man said, "Although you may be chaste don't condemn the unchaste, for that is to make a mockery of the law. Didn't he who said, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' also say, 'Judge not'?"
V.ix.11 A presbyter from the basilica was in the habit of going to a certain solitary to consecrate the oblation (i.e. bread and wine) for his Communion. But somebody came to this solitary and blackened the name of this same presbyter, so that when he came the next time as usual to consecrate the oblation the scandalised solitary would not open the door to him, and the presbyter went away. And behold, a voice came to the solitary saying, "Human beings are taking my judgements upon themselves." And he was rapt up in a trance and saw as it were a golden well with a golden bucket and a golden rope and beautiful pure water. There was a leper, however, drawing water and pouring it out into a container, and although he was thirsty he couldn't bring himself to drink because of the leper drawing the water. And a voice came to him a second time, saying, "Why aren't you drinking this water? Does it matter who draws it? All he is doing is drawing it and pouring it into a container." The solitary came to himself and thought hard about the meaning of the vision, then called the presbyter and asked him to come and consecrate the oblation as usual.
V.ix.12. There were two brothers greatly respected by the congregation who had each been given the gift of being able to see the grace of God in the other. It happened that one of them once went out among the congregation one Saturday morning and saw someone eating and said to him, "What? Eating, at this time, on a Saturday?" The next day Mass was celebrated as usual and the other brother noticed to his sorrow that the grace of God had departed from his brother. When they got back to their cell he said, "What have you done, brother, for I can't see the grace of God in you as I used to?" And the other said, "I'm not aware of having done anything wrong in thought or deed." "You haven't scolded anyone, by any chance?" he asked. Suddenly remembering, "Oh yes," he said. "Yesterday morning I saw someone eating and said to him, 'What? Eating at this time on a Saturday?' That was wrong of me. But do penance with me for a fortnight and let us ask God's forgiveness." They did so and at the end of a fortnight he saw the grace of God once more returning upon his brother, and they were greatly comforted, giving thanks to God who alone is good.
Libellus 10: Discretion
V.x.1. Abba Antony said, "There are many who chastise their bodies by their abstinence, but because they lack discretion in it they are far from God."
V.x.2. Some brothers came to abba Antony to tell him of certain showings they had had and to ask whether they were true or whether they were deceptions of the devil. They had started out on an ass which had died on the way and when they got to the old man he forestalled them by asking them how it was that their ass had died on the way.
"How did you know that?" they asked. "The demons showed it me," he said.
"Well, we were coming to ask you about that," they said, "for we have had some showings and they are generally true, unless we are much mistaken."
And so by the example of the ass the old man was able to satisfy them that these things came from the devil. It happened that a hunter chanced upon them as he was seeking wild game in those remote parts, and seeing abba Antony laughing with his brothers he held them in contempt. But the old man wished to show him how necessary it was to relax sometimes with the brothers, and said to him, "Put an arrow in your bow and draw it", which he did.
"Draw it again", he said, and he did.
"Further" and he did, at which point the hunter said, "If you keep on drawing it too far the bow will break."
And abba Antony said, "It's the same in the work of God. If you stretch the brothers too far they will fall apart. You need to relax the rules from time to time."
At this the hunter was contrite and departed greatly edified by what the old man had said, and the brothers, refreshed, went home.
V.x.3. A brother asked abba Antony to pray for him and he replied, "Neither God nor I can do anything for you unless you yourself take care to cast yourself on his mercy."
V.x.4. Again, abba Antony said, "God doesn't allow this generation to get involved in many battles for he knows that they are not able to endure them."
V.x.5. Abba Evagrius once asked abba Arsenius why it was that although they worked hard at gaining knowledge and learning they did not seem to possess the virtues that the Egyptian peasants had. Abba Arsenius replied, "Being intent upon the discipline of worldly learning we gain nothing. But these Egyptian peasants gain virtue from the way they work."
V.x.6. Abba Arsenius of blessed memory said, "A monk following a life of pilgrimage in other places should not make himself out to be of central importance in anything. In this way he will be free from strife."
V.x.7. Abba Marcus, in talking with abba Arsenius, said, "It is a good thing not to have any sort of luxury in the cell. I knew a brother who had a few kitchen greens in his cell and he threw them out."
"Yes, that's fine," said Arsenius. "Nevertheless each person must act in accordance with the way in which he is being led. Even if at first he is not capable of that kind of valiant act, at a later date he might well be able to encourage it to grow."
V.x.8. Abba Peter, a disciple of abba Lot, told how once he was in the cell of abba Agathon when a brother came in and said, "I would like to go and live in community, but tell me how I should order my life among them."
And the old man said, "From the first day that you go in among them, keep quiet about the details of your pilgrimage all the days of your life, and don't be full of your own importance."
"What are the effects of self-importance?" asked abba Macarius.
"It's like a heat-wave which when in full flow causes everyone to flee. It will even destroy the fruit on the tree."
"And self- importance is like that?" asked Macarius.
"There is no other passion worse," said abba Agathon. "It is the generator of all other passions, and a monk had better not take self-importance upon himself, or let him sit alone in his cell."
V.x.9. Abba Daniel said, "When abba Arsenius was about to die, he charged us not to have a funeral service (agape) for him, "for", he said, "I think it would seem that I had ordered it to be done for my own benefit."
V.x. 10. ( A shorter version of III.23) It was said of abba Agathon that some people visited him having heard that he was a man of great discretion. In an attempt to find out whether he could lose his temper they said to him, "So you are Agathon. We have heard that you are a very self-opinionated person, given to sexual sins."
And he said, "Yes, that's true." "You are also that Agathon who spreads scandal and has a lot to say for himself?" they said.
"I am indeed," he said.
"You are also Agathon the heretic?" they continued.
"Not a heretic," he said.
And they asked him how it was that he had borne all the insults patiently, but denied it when accused of being a heretic. "All those insults at the beginning I put up with", he said, "for they were good for my soul. But I wouldn't agree when you called me a heretic, for that would mean separation from God, and I have no desire to be separated from God." His hearers were greatly impressed by his discretion, and departed greatly edified
V.x.11. This same abba Agathon was asked, "Which is the more important, manual labour or interior watchfulness?" The abba said, "A human being is like a tree. Manual labour is like the leaves, interior watchfulness is like the fruit. Therefore, as Scripture says, 'Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.' (Matt 3.10) So we ought to take every possible care of the good fruit in ourselves, that is, watchfulness of the mind. But we do need our outward leafy covering, that is our manual work"
Abba Agathon was a wise and thoughtful person, a diligent workman, thorough in all he did, keen and reliable in his manual work, sparing in food and clothing.
V.x.12. This same abba Agathon, when there had been a meeting in Scete to judge a certain case, came to them after judgement had been delivered and said, "You haven't judged this case very well."
"Who are you to say?" they asked.
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