Obedience (continued), Book V
(Humility begins further down page)
V.xiv. 15. The old men used to say, "God requires nothing from beginners except the labour of obedience.
V.xiv. 16. There was a certain solitary who was provided for by certain estates which he owned, and it so happened once that he began to run short of supplies because the steward of those estates hadn't turned up. When some time had passed and the steward still hadn't arrived, and both his food and the things he needed for his manual work had almost completely gone... he said to his disciple, "Would you mind if I asked you to go to my estates and tell my steward to bring our usual supplies?" And the disciple replied, "Of course, I'll do whatever you say." But the old man put it off for a while, being not really willing to send him. But after worrying and agonising about the steward's non-arrival for a while he said to his disciple, "Would you really be willing to go to my estates and bring the steward back here?" "I'll do whatever you want." he said, even though he was rather perturbed at the idea of going to the estate for fear that he might be shocked by people. But he agreed to go for the sake of being obedient to the wishes of his spiritual father. So the old man said, "Go then, and trust in the God of your fathers who will protect you in all temptations." And they prayed together and off he went. When the brother arrived at the estate he enquired where the steward lived and found the house, where it so happened that the steward and everyone else had gone out except one of his daughters, who opened the door in answer to his knock. He asked to see her father, and she invited him to come inside, even putting her hand on his arm to draw him in. He did not really want to go in but her insistence at last prevailed and she began to touch him and invite him into bed. But he, confused in thought and seeing himself about to be enticed by lust groaned and cried out to God, saying, "Lord, by the prayers of my spiritual father set me free in this hour of need." As soon as he had said this he suddenly found himself by the river on the way to the monastery, and was reunited safely with his abba.
V.xiv. 17. Two brothers according to the flesh came to live in a monastery, one of whom excelled in abstinence, the other in obedience. The abbot would say to him, "Do this" and he would do it, "Do that" and he would do it, "Eat tomorrow" and he would. Because of this obedience of his he was held in high regard in the monastery. His abstemious brother however was pierced with the dagger of jealousy and said, "I'll test him, to see how obedient he really is." So he went to the abbot and asked him to let his brother be with him so that they could go out somewhere. And the abbot let them go. Going along with his abstemious brother he set about testing him. They came to a river infested with crocodiles and he said, "Go into the river and swim across." He went in immediately, and the crocodiles came and licked his body without doing him any harm. Seeing this his brother cried, "Alright, get out again." Going on a bit further they came to a human body lying on the pathway, and the abstemious brother said, "If we had some sort of cloak we could have covered him over with it." And the obedient brother said; "Better still, let us pray and perhaps he will be all right." So they prayed earnestly and the dead came back to life. The abstemious brother seeing this praise God and said, "It's because of my abstinence that the dead has come back to life." It was all revealed by God to the abbot of their monastery how he had tested his brother by the crocodiles and how the dead was raised to life, and when they got back to the monastery he said to the abstemious one, "Why did you treat your brother like that? See now, it was obedience which brought the dead to life."
V.xiv. 18. Another man living in the world with three sons joined the monastery, leaving his sons behind. And after he had been there three years, thoughts of his sons frequently began to fill his mind, making him feel very sad. Now he had not told the abbot that he had three sons, but when the abbot noticing his sadness asked him what the matter was he told him that he had these three sons and that he would like to bring them to the monastery with him, and the abbot granted his request. When he got back home he found that two of the sons had died and there was only one left whom he took back to the monastery with him. Asking for the abbot and not finding him he was told that he had gone to the pounding-mill, so taking his son with him he likewise went to the pounding-mill. The abbot saw hi coming, and greeted him, taking the child and giving him a hug. "No doubt you love him?" said the abbot to the father. "Indeed, yes," he replied. "Are you really very fond of him?" the abbot asked. "Yes, I am," his father said. "Then if you love him take him and throw him in this oven," the abbot then said. Now the oven was very hot. And the father took his son and threw him into the oven, and the oven immediately became as cool as the refreshing dew. So they became glorious in their own lifetime, in the same manner as the patriarch Abraham.
V.xiv. 19. An old man said that the brother who gave his whole mind to being obedient to his spiritual father was worthy of a greater reward than one who lived alone in the desert. "One of the fathers," he said, "had discerned four orders in heaven, of which the first consisted of people who were not very strong but who constantly gave thanks to God, the second those who were given to hospitality and unremitting service, the third those who maintained their solitude apart from the rest of humanity, the fourth those who for God's sake gave themselves in obedience to their spiritual fathers. Those in this order of obedience wore a golden crown and neckband and excelled the others in glory. So I asked the father who had said these things, 'Why should this last order which is small in numbers excel the others in glory?' And he replied, 'Those who are given to hospitality follow their own will. Likewise those in the desert have separated themselves off from humanity by an act of their own will. But those who give themselves to obedience have denied their own will and depend solely on God and the directions of their spiritual father. Therefore they are given the greater glory. For all these reasons, my son, obedience entered into for God's sake is good. Take note therefore, all of you, of all the various aspects of this virtue. Obedience is the salvation of all the faithful. Obedience is the root of all virtues. Obedience brings the kingdom of heaven into sight. Obedience opens the heavens and lifts human beings up from the earth. obedience lives with the angels. Obedience is the food of all the saints. On this they were nursed and by this they arrived at perfection.
Libellus 15 Humility
V.xv. 1. Abba Antony, failing to understand the judgments of God, asked, "Lord, why is it that some die young, and others live to a ripe old age, and why are some incompetent while others abound in all manner of skills, and why are some people unjustly rich while others live in the extremes of poverty?" And a voice came to him saying, "Antony, mind your own business. It is not for you to understand all the judgments of God."
V.xv. 2. Abba Antony said to abba Pastor, "It is an enormous human task to arrive at acknowledging your guilt before God, and to accept that you will be tempted up to the last moment of life."
V.xv. 3. Again abba Antony said, "I saw all the snares of the ungodly set in place throughout the world, and I groaned and said, 'Who shall be able to pass through these?' And I heard a voice saying, 'Humility.'
V.xv. 4. Some old men once came to abba Antony, among them abba Joseph. Wishing to test them abba Antony quoted some texts of holy Scripture and began to ask the younger among them what they meant. And each one had something to say. But he replied to them all, "You're not quite there yet." Then he turned to abba Joseph and said, "What about you? How do you interpret this text?" And abba Joseph said, "I don't really know." And abba Antony replied, "Truly, abba Joseph is on the right path because he knows that he does not know."
V.xv. 5. The demons once came to abba Arsenius as he sat in his cell and greatly troubled him. When the brothers who usually ministered to him came and stood outside his cell they heard him crying out to God and saying, "Lord, do not abandon me for being of no worth in your sight, but of your great mercy at least show me how to make a beginning of a useful life."
V.xv. 6. It was said of Arsenius that when he lived in the Emperor's palace no one dressed more fashionably than he, and after he had been a monk for a while nobody dressed more meanly.
V.xv. 7. Abba Arsenius was once seeking advice about his thoughts from an elderly Egyptian, and someone listening to this said, "Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with your vast scholarship in both Greek and Latin are seeking advice about your thoughts from this rustic?" And he replied, "I may have gathered a great deal of erudition in Greek and Latin according to a worldly view, but as for this rustic I haven't even begun yet to learn his ABC."
V.xv. 8. The old men told of how someone once gave a few figs to the brothers in Scete, but because they were so small they did not send any to abba Arsenius lest he should be insulted. But when he heard about this he absented himself from his usual attendance at the offering of the Opus Dei, saying, "You have excommunicated me by not sharing with me the gifts which the Lord has sent to the brethren and which I wasn't worthy to receive." They were all impressed by his humility, and the presbyter gladly took him some of the figs and welcomed him back into the congregation.
V.xv. 9. It was said of Arsenius that people found it difficult to grasp his way of life. Once when he was settled in the lower parts of Egypt he was greatly troubled by the unruliness of those about him, and was seen to abandon his cell. He said to his disciples Alexander and Zoilus, "Alexander, take a ship out of here, and Zoilus come with me to the river and find a ship for me going to Alexandria and then go along with your brother." Zoilus was very upset by this but had no answer to it, and so they all parted from each other. Arsenius departed to a place near Alexandria, where he fell seriously ill. In the meantime his disciples began to wonder whether he had left them because of something they had done to upset him, but they could not find in themselves any ingratitude or disobedience towards him. When Arsenius had recovered from his illness he said to himself, "I will go back to my native land", and he came to a place called Petra where his two disciples were. But near the river an Ethiopian woman grasped his cloak and he shook her off angrily. "If you are a monk, go back to the mountain," she said. Smitten by these words he too said to himself, "Arsenius, if you are a monk, go back to the mountain." At this point Alexander and Zoilus chanced upon him, and when they fell at his feet Arsenius also threw himself on the ground and they all wept together. "Had you heard that I had been ill?" asked Arsenius. "Yes, we had heard," they replied. "Why didn't you come and seek me out, then?" he asked. "Because we were angry that you had left us," they answered, "though many disappointed people were beginning to say that you wouldn't have left us if we hadn't been disobedient to you." And the old man said, "Yes, I thought people would say that. But in future they will be able to say, 'The dove, finding no rest for her feet flew back to Noah in the ark' (Genesis 8.9). By these words the minds of his disciples were healed, and they remained with him to the end of his life.
When he was dying they were very distressed. But he said, "I'm not dead yet - I will tell you when the time has come. And I will hold you responsible before the judgment seat of Christ if you allow anyone to have anything to do with my body." "What should we do, then?" they asked. "For we don't know anything about laying out the dead and burying them." "Surely you would know how to tie a rope around my feet and drag me up the mountain?" he said. When he was at the point of giving up his spirit they saw him weeping and said, "Surely you are not frightened of death, father?" they asked. "I am indeed afraid," he said, "because the flaws that made me want to become a monk are still in me." And saying this, he peacefully fell asleep. One of his favourite sayings was, "Why have you come? I have often had to repent of what I have said, but never of keeping silent." When abba Pastor heard that Arsenius had departed this life he wept and said, "Blessed art thou, Arsenius, for you grieved in this present world. Anyone who grieves not in this world will assuredly weep in the next. We cannot avoid grief, either willingly in this world or goaded by torment in the next."
V.xv. 10. Abba Daniel said of abba Arsenius that he was never very willing to talk about Scripture, though he could do so magnificently when he wanted to, nor was he prompt in writing letters to anyone. When he came back into the assembly after a considerable absence he would sit behind a column, so that no one could see him and he would not need to see them. His was angelic of expression, like Jacob, a handsome creature, elegant of body though spare and lean. He had a long beard reaching down to his waist, his eyelashes were all worn away from much weeping, he was tall though very bent in old age, and he died at the age of ninety-five. He spent forty years in the palace of the Emperor Theodore of blessed memory, the father of Arcadius and Honorius, forty years in Scete, ten years in a place called Trohen near Babylon by the city of Memphis, three years in Canopus near Alexandria before returning again to Trohen, completing his course of life in peace and the fear of God. He was a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
V.xv. 11. Abba John described how abba Anub and abba Pastor, together with his brothers according to the flesh, were monks in Scete when the Mazici invaded and laid the place waste, whereupon the left and went to a place called Therenuthum until they could decide where they were going to live. And they stayed for a while in an old temple. Abba Anub said to abba Pastor, "Let us each live our own lives this week, you and your brothers too, if you would kindly agree to that, but let us all come together again in a week's time." Abba Pastor said, "Let's do as you wish," and so they did. Now there was a stone statue in that place and every morning when Anub got up he threw stones at it and every evening he begged the statue's forgiveness. He did this for the whole week until on the Saturday they all met together. And abba Pastor said to abba Anub, "I have watched you, abba, throwing stones at the face of that statue all week and then begging the statue's forgiveness. Why is a man of the faith doing that?" And the old man replied , "When you saw me throwing stones at the face of that statue, did it speak to me, or get angry at all?" "No, it didn't" said abba Pastor. "And again when I begged forgiveness from it did it rant at me and refuse forgiveness?" "No." "Well then if we seven brothers wish to stay together we ought to be like that statue which took no offence when ill treated. But if we don't want that, well, there are four doors to this temple. Anyone who wishes to go has got a choice as to which one he uses." When they heard this they threw themselves at abba Anub's feet and said, "Whatever you wish, father, so be it. We will do whatever you say." In later life abba Pastor reflected on this saying, "We remained together for the rest of our life working and living according to the old man's directions. One of us was made cellarer, and we ate whatever it was he gave us. None of us could say, "Bring me something different" or "I don't want to eat that." And so we passed out time in peace and quietness.
V.xv. 12. The story is told of abba Ammon that two women came to him asking him to judge between them, but the old man hid. And one of them said to the other standing next to her, "This old man is just a waste of time." He overheard her, however, and coming out to her said, "How much toil do you think I have undergone in various solitary places in order to acquire this wastefulness, and because of you today I have lost it."
V.xv. 13. The story is told of Affy, the bishop of Oxyrinchus that as a monk he had lived a very austere life. He tried to continue with this straitened existence in the city just as he had done previously in the desert, but found it impossible. So he prostrated himself in the sight of God and said, "O Lord, now that I am a bishop have you withdrawn your grace from me?" And it was revealed to him, "Not at all, but when you were in solitude with no human company God was your only support; now that you are back in the world, your help is mediated to you by other human beings."
V.xv. 14. Abba Daniel told a story about a distinguished citizen of Babylon whose daughter was possessed of a devil. A friend of his who was a monk told him that no one could cure his daughter except some solitaries that he knew, but that if asked they would refuse out of humility. "But what we could do," he said, "is to say you wanted to buy some of their goods when next they bring them here to sell. When they come into the house to get the money then ask them to pray and I am sure your daughter will be healed." Going out into the market place they found a disciple of one of the old men sitting in front of the baskets he was selling, and they asked him back to the house as if to receive the money for some baskets. As soon as they went inside the devil-possessed daughter gave the monk a box on the hear. His response was to offer her the other cheek, according to the divine command, and the devil, conquered, began to shout, "Oh! Murder! the commands of Jesus Christ have driven me out!" And the daughter was healed in that self-same hour. When the disciple got back he told his abba everything that had happened, and they glorified God, saying , "The pride of the devil can always be conquered by the humility of the commands of Jesus Christ
V.xv. 15. Abba Evagrius said, "The beginning of salvation is to distrust your own arguments."
V.xv. 16. Abba Serapion said, "I have performed many more feats of abstinence (lit. 'bodily labours') than my son Zacharias, but I haven't got anywhere near him in humility and silence."
V.xv. 17. (Also in III.86) Abba Moses said to Brother Zacharias, "You should really be giving me some instructions." At these words Zacharias threw himself on the ground before him and said, "You're asking me, father?" And the old man said, "Believe me, my son, I have seen the Holy Spirit coming down on you, and because of that I am led to ask you for advice." Zacharias took the cowl from off his head, threw it down and trampled on it, saying, "Unless you are trampled on like this you cannot be a monk."
V.xv. 18. Abba Pastor said that when Brother Zacharias was dying abba Moses asked him, "Can you see anything?" "Nothing better than to keep silence father," the brother replied. "How true, my son," said Moses. "Say nothing." Abba Isidore was with him when he died, and he looked up to heaven and said, "Rejoice, my son Zacharias, for I have seen the doors of the kingdom of heaven open up to you."
V.xv. 19. Theophilus of blessed memory, bishop of Alexandria, once went to Mount Nitria where he was met by the Abbot (or, 'an abba' ), to whom he said, "What have you found to be the most important thing in this sort of life, father?" And the old man replied, "To blame and berate myself unceasingly." And the bishop said, "There can't be a better path to follow than that."
V.xv. 20. When abba Theodore ate with the brethren, they drank wine (lit. accepted the chalices) in silence and with reverence, and without the usual apology (lit. nor did anyone say Pardon, according to the custom.) What on earth is this all about?
V.xv. 21. They said of this same abba Theodore that when he was chosen to be the Deacon in Scete he ran about from place to place, trying to escape from this ministry. But the old men summoned him and said, "Don't turn your back on this ministry." Abba Theodore said, "Well, let me go and pray to God about it, and if I am shown that it is my duty to take this on I will do it." And he prayed to God, saying, "Show me, O Lord, if it is your will that this ministry is for me." And he was shown a column of fire reaching from earth up to heaven, and he heard a voice, saying, "If you can be like this column of fire, go, minister." At these words he immediately decided that he couldn't possibly be a minister. But when he came back to the church they told him that they would be very upset if he wouldn't be ordained to administer the chalice. He wouldn't agree however, and said, "If you don't stop worrying me about it I shall have to leave this place." And so they left him alone.
V.xv. 22. Abba John the Dwarf said, "The gateway to God is humility. Our fathers lived through many humiliations and have entered with joy into the city of God. Humility and the fear of God are greater than all the other virtues."
V.xv. 23. Abba John of Thebes said, "Above all the monk should be humble, for the first of the Saviour's charges is, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matt.5.3)
V.xv. 24. Once when some brothers in Scete were meeting together without having thought to ask abba Copres hey began to argue about the priesthood of Melchisedec. Eventually they did invite abba Copres to give his opinion on this question, and he tapped his mouth with his finger three times and said, "Woe to you Copres, for you have often left undone what God requires of you, and now you presume to scrutinise what God does not require of you." At this the brothers fled each one to his cell.
V.xv.25. (Also in III.99) Abba Macarius told this tale about himself, "When I was a young man in my cell in Egypt, they took me and made me the cleric for the village. But I didn't want that and fled to another neighbourhood. There I was joined by a devout secular who shared with me the labour of the manual work I was doing and helped me in everything. Now it so happened that a young woman in that place being tempted by the devil was corrupted and fell. And when her pregnancy became obvious she was asked who the father was and she replied, 'It was that solitary who slept with me.' They rushed out of the town, seized me, dragged me back to the town, hung bags of excrement around my neck, and made me go right through the town, beating me as I went, and crying, 'This is the monk who corrupted our daughter. Get rid of him! Get rid of him!' (tollite) And they beat me nearly to death, until one of the older men intervened saying, 'How much longer are you going to go on beating this pilgrim monk?' Now the man who lived with me had followed on behind me in some distress, for people had turned on him too, shouting, 'You supported this solitary monk and look what he has done!' And when the parents of the girl said, 'We can't let him go till he can produce someone who will guarantee the girl's support', this man stepped forward as my guarantor and swore an oath on my behalf. We went back to the cell, where I gave him all the baskets I had and told him to sell them and give the money to 'my wife' For I had already said to myself, 'Macarius, seeing you seem to have got yourself a wife you will have to work twice as hard in order to feed her.' and I worked night and day for her support. When the time came for her to give birth she spent several days in labour with no result. 'What is the reason for this?' they wondered. 'I know why I am suffering thus,' she said. Her parents asked her why and she replied, 'It's because I laid the blame for this on that monk and falsely accused him when it wasn't his fault at all.' And she named the youth who was really responsible. When my companion heard about this he came to me with great joy and said, 'That girl was unable to give birth until she had confessed that you were not to blame in the matter, and that she had lied about you. And all the inhabitants of the town have decided to come out to you here, to give thanks to God and to make amends to you.' When I heard this I immediately got up and fled here to Scete, for fear that I should be once again importuned by people, and that is the main reason why I began to live here."
Home List of Contents Next Top of Page