Humility (continued), Book V
(Patience begins further down page, and Charity further down still)
V.xv. 81. An old man said, "I would rather be taught than teach. Don't teach before you are ready, otherwise the whole tenor of your life will be diminished intellectually."
V.xv. 82. One old man when asked about humility said that this great and godlike work consisted in undertaking bodily labour, remembering that you are a sinner, and considering yourself to be the least of people in that you pay no attention to the sins of others but be aware of your own and pray to God without ceasing."
V.xv. 83. (Also in III.85) A brother asked an old man if he could given him one precept which he could keep and live by. And the old man said, "It is a great thing above all if you can put up with suffering insults."
V.xv. 84. An old man said, "He who can put up with contempt and insults and condemnation is on the way to salvation."
V.xv. 85. An old man said, "Don't draw the abbot's attention to yourself, or have too much to do with him, lest you get presumptuous and begin wishing that you held that position.
V.xv. 86. (a shorter version of iii.29) There was a certain brother in the community who took upon himself all the burdens which threatened the well being of the others, even going so far as to accuse himself of sexual sins. Unaware of why he did this the other brothers began to murmur about him, saying, "Look at all the things he does wrong and doesn't seem to do anything about it." The abbot however understood what was going on and said to the brothers, "I would rather have one wretch who is humble than all the rest who are proud." And in order to demonstrate by a judgment of God what this brother was like he took some of each one's work, together with the mat of the one they were complaining about, and threw them all in the fire. The works of the others were consumed but the brother's mat came through unharmed. When they saw this the brothers were awed, and apologised, and from then onwards held him in the same esteem as the abbot.
V.xv. 87. An old man was asked how it was that some people could say that they gazed at the faces of the angels, and the old man said that it was better to look at your own sins.
V.xv. 88. A certain brother who heard that another brother was angry with him went to see him to try and explain, but he found the brother's door was closed to him. So he went to one of the old men, who said to him, "You should realise that however justified your complaint may be, in blaming him and condemning him you are thereby justifying yourself, and because of that his heart is not moved by God to open his door to you. What I am telling you is true, that even if he has sinned against you, bear in mind that you may have sinned against him. Make excuses for him, and then perhaps God will put it into his heart to be friendly to you." And by way of an example he told them this story - (Here follows a long story about three monks who "castrated themselves for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" but were condemned by their Archbishop for so doing. So they went to three other bishops to try and get them on their side, including the "highest Archbishop, the Patriarch of the city of Rome" who also condemned them. Concluding that they were all simply just "sticking together" they decided to go to a solitary who had a reputation for prophecy, who also condemned them. He was able to convince them they were wrong, and so they went back to their Bishop and confessed their sins, who then received them back into communion.) Hearing this he went back and knocked at his brother's door again, who opened up as soon as he heard him, before he had even had time to apologise, and they embraced each other whole-heartedly, and made a lasting peace with each other.
V.xv. 89. (A shorter version of III.18) There were two monks living together who were brothers according to the flesh, and the devil wanted to separate them. Once when the younger of the two lit the lamp and put it on the lampstand a demon intervened and knocked it over. The elder brother was angry and struck him but he apologised and said, "I'm sorry, brother. I'll light it again." And the presence of God came down among them and tormented that demon till morning. When the demon reported to his master what had happened he was overheard by a pagan priest who immediately went out and became a monk. And from the beginning of his conversion he grasped hold of humility, saying, "Humility overcomes all the power of the devil, for I have overheard them saying, 'When we stir up strife among monks and one of them apologises all our power is as naught.'"
Libellus 16 Patience
V.xvi. 1. (Also in iii.30) The brothers told how abba Gelasius possessed a parchment codex worth eighteen shillings (solidi) containing the complete Old and New Testaments, which he put in the church so that any of the brothers who wanted to could read it. Gelasius was visited by a certain pilgrim brother who saw the codex, coveted it, stole it, and hastily departed. But the old man did not chase after him to get it back even though he knew what had happened. The thief went into the city and after a bit of a search he found a prospective purchaser from whom he asked sixteen shillings. The purchaser wished to compare it with others and asked if he could borrow it first in order to show it to somebody else before giving the price asked for. So the thief gave him the codex, which he then took to abba Gelasius to find out whether it was a good codex and worth the price which was being asked for it. He told the abba the price, and the old man replied; "Buy it. It's a good book and worth the price." So he went back to the vendor and told him a different story from what he had heard from the old man, saying, "I showed this to abba Gelasius and he said you were too dear. It's not worth what you are asking." "Didn't he say anything else to you except that?" asked the thief. "Nothing at all," was the reply. Somewhat shaken the thief said, "I don't think I want to sell it now", and he went back to Gelasius in a very penitent frame of mind, begging him to take the codex back. The old man demurred, however, so the brother said, "I simply can't feel at ease unless you do take it back." The old man said, "Well if it makes you feel happy I will take it back." And the brother stayed with him for the rest of his life, profiting greatly from the old man's patience (long-suffering?).
V.xvi. 2. Abba Evagrius once made a speech at a meeting in the Cells, after which the presbyter of the monastery said to him, "If you were in your native land, abba Evagrius, we are quite sure you would be made a bishop, a leader of many people, but here you are among us as a pilgrim." Rather embarrassed, but quite calm, Evagrius bowed his head, looked at the ground and wrote with his finger, saying, "For all that I made a speech, yet there was nothing in it which added anything to the plain truth of Scripture."
V.xvi. 3. Once when abba John the Dwarf was sitting outside the church surrounded by brothers asking him about their thoughts, one of the old men moved by jealousy said to him, "That's a lot of strange potions you are brewing up out of your storehouse, abba John." "How right you are, father." said abba John. "And you've said that having seen only my outer veneer. Whatever would you have said if you had been able to see inside me!"
V.xvi. 4. It was said of John the Lesser of the Thebaid, the disciple of abba Ammon, that he ministered to the old man for twelve years, caring for him in his illness, and finally not leaving his bedside. The old man felt he was a burden, but however much John had to do, he never once urged him to live a more free and healthy life, until finally on his deathbed, with the other old men of the place standing round, he took John by the hand and said, "Live well, live well, live well." And he confided him to the care of the old men, saying , "He is not human, this man, he's an angel."
V.xvi. 5. It was said of abba Isodore, the presbyter in Scete, that if there were a brother who was weak, or smallminded, or troublesome whom they wished to expel, he would say, "Bring him to me." And taking him under his wing he would bring healing to that brother's mind by his very patience.
V.xvi. 6. (Also in III.73 and VII.iii.1) When abba Macarius was in Egypt there was a man who came with a pack-horse to steal his goods, and Macarius acting as if he were some passer-by helped the thief to load the beast up, and let him go with a completely undisturbed mind, saying, "We brought nothing into this world. The Lord gives. As he wills so is it done. Blessed in all things be the name of the Lord."
V.xvi. 7. Once when there was a meeting of the brothers in Scete, some of the old men decided to test abba Moyses and teased him saying, "What does this Ethiopian think he is doing, coming in to our meeting?" He heard, but said nothing. At the end of the meeting those who had insulted him asked, "Weren't you upset?" And he said , "I was upset, but I said nothing."
V.xvi. 8. Abba Pastor's brother Paysius became friendly with a monk from another cell much against abba Pastor's will. Abba Pastor went to abba Ammoun and said, "My brother Paysius has become friendly with someone, and I find that difficult to put up with." Abba Ammon said to him, "Abba Pastor, are you still alive? Go back to your cell and think that in a year you may be in the grave."
V.xvi. 9. Abba Pastor said, "Whatever troubles you may have they can all be overcome by silence."
V.xvi. 10. (A slightly longer version also in III.77 and VII.vii.1) A certain brother with a grievance against another said to abba Sisois of Thebes, "This brother has really done me a great deal of harm and I am determined to get my own back on him." The old man begged him not to think like that and leave vengeance to the Lord, but he said, "I won't get any peace till I have paid him back." "Let's pray, brother," said the old man. And rising up he said, "O God we don't need you to think about us any more, since we are now doing all the retaliation ourselves." At this the brother fell at the old man's feet and said, "Pray for me, please. I won't strive with my brother any more."
V.xvi. 11. (Also in VII.ix.1) Someone who saw a devout person carrying a corpse in a stretcher said, "Carrying the dead are you? you should rather be carrying the living." [VII.ix.1 adds, For the peacemakers shall be called the sons of God]
V.xvi. 12. It was said of a certain monk that the more anyone annoyed him and attacked him with insults, the more he sought his company. For he said, "People like that form a most useful corrective for anyone trying to live a converted life. It is the ones who praise you who lead you astray. As Scripture says, 'Those who call you blessed cause you to err.'" (Isaiah 3.12)
V.xvi. 13. Some robbers came to the cell of an old man and said, "We are gong to take everything you've got in your cell." And he replied, "You're welcome, my sons, to what you can see." So they packed up all they could find in his cell and departed. But they had overlooked a little sacred object (crucifix, perhaps?) which had been hidden in the cell, and he picked it up and ran after them shouting out and saying, "Take this also, my sons. You overlooked it in the cell." They were overwhelmed by the old man's patience, and restored everything into his cell with deepest penitence, saying to each other, "Truly, this is a man of God."
V.xvi. 14. Some brothers came to a holy old man in the desert and outside the monastery they met up with a servant feeding the cattle and using some very unbecoming language. After they had seen the old man and opened their hearts to him and been helped by his replies, they asked him how he could put up with having such servants around him and not teach them not to swear. And he replied, "Believe me, brothers, there was a time when I would have done so but I thought to myself, 'If you can't put up with a little thing like that how will you be able to bear any really severe test which the Lord might permit you to undergo? ' So I said nothing to them, to get me used to whatever might come."
V.xvi. 15. The story was told of an old man who had a young boy as a disciple in his cell, and when he was misbehaving on one occasion the old man rebuked him once with the words; "Don't do that." But the boy was not obedient to him. When he saw that, the old man stopped taking pains with him and left him to his own devices. Then for three days the boy locked the door of the cell where the bread was and left the old man fasting. But he said not so much as, "Where are you and what are you doing outside?" He had a neighbour, however, who when he saw that the boy had been absent for such a long time, cooked a few lentils and offered them to him over the wall, and said, "How is it that you boy is so long in coming back?" And the old man said, "He'll come back when he is ready."
V.xvi. 16. It was said that some philosophers once wanted to put the monks to the test. They saw a monk passing by who was very well dressed and they called to him, "Hey, you, come here." the monk took exception, replied rudely, and went on his way. Another monk came along who was obviously a peasant and they said to him, "Hey, you miserable old monk, come here." And he came. And they began to give him a few blows, and he turned the other cheek, until at last the philosophers changed their tune and gave him due respect, saying, "This is indeed a true monk." They sat him down in the midst of them, and began to question him. "What do you do in your solitude that we don't do? You fast, so do we. You keep your body in subjection, so do we. Whatever you do we do exactly the same. So how does sitting in the desert make you more diligent than us?" The old man said, "We trust in the grace of God, and keep guard over our thoughts." "Now that is something we don't know how to do," they said. And they left him, greatly edified.
V.xvi. 17. An old man who had a well tried and experienced disciple once got angry with him and drove him out. But the disciple patiently sat outside waiting. When the old man opened the door and found him there he was smitten with contrition, and said, "You are a father to me, for your patience and humility have overcome my own mean-mindedness. Come back in and from now on you be my father and senior, I will be the youth and the disciple, since by what you have done you have superseded the authority due to me because of my age."
V.xvi. 18. Some of the elders used to say that they had heard of holy men who had claimed that young men could sometimes give a lead to their elders in this life, and they told the following story, There was once an old man who was an alcoholic, and having made a mat in one day would go to the neighbouring village and spend the price of it on wine. After some time a disciple came and stayed with him who also made a mat a day and the old man spent the price of both mats on wine, while giving to his disciple only a meagre ration of bread. He bore this for three years but made no complaint, until at last he said to himself, "My clothes are threadbare, I am forever hungry, I will get up and leave this place." But again he answered himself, "Where have I to go to? I'll stay here. After all it is for God's sake that I persevere in this common life." And at once an angel of God appeared to him, saying, "Don't go away form here. Tomorrow we shall be coming for you." And that same day the brother begged the old man not to go out anywhere for the angels were coming to take him. But when the time came at which the old man was accustomed to go to the village, he said to the brother, "They won't come today, brother. It's already getting quite late." The brother insisted that at all events they would come, and as he was speaking he peacefully fell asleep. The old man wept. "Alas, my son," he said, "these many years I have living in neglect of my salvation because of wine. You have found salvation in a short time because of your patience." And from that day on he was sober and serious (probatus).
V.xvi. 19. (Also in III.74 & VII.iii.2) It was said of a certain brother who lived near to a greatly respected old man that he would go in to the old man's cell and steal whatever was there. The old man saw him and nursed no resentment against him but pushed himself to work harder than usual, saying, "I expect that brother needed what he took." Forcing himself to produce more than usual, he yet curbed his appetite and ate hardly any food. When he came to be on his death bed, with the brothers standing around, he looked at the thief and said to him, "Come close to me here." And he took his hands and kissed them, saying, "I give thanks for these hands of yours, brother, for because of them I am about to enter the kingdom of heaven." Cut to the quick and deeply repentant that brother became an exemplary monk, his life changed because of what that old man had done.
Libellus 17 Charity
V.xvii. 1. Abba Antony said, "I no longer fear God, I love him, for love has driven out fear."
V.xvii. 2. He also said, "Your life and death come to you from your neighbour. For if you win the respect of your neighbour you win the respect of God, and if you scandalise your neighbour you scandalise God.
V.xvii. 3. Abba Ammon from Nitria came to abba Antony and asked, "It seems to me that I work harder than you do so why do you have a greater reputation among people than I have?" And abba Antony said to him, "Perhaps I love God more than you do."
V.xvii. 4. Abba Hilarion once came from Palestine to Antony in his mountain, and abba Antony greeted him, "Welcome! You are like the sun bringing light every morning." And abba Hilarion said, "Peace be with you! You are like a pillar of fire giving strength to the world."
V.xvii. 5. (Also in VII.xxxiv.1) Abba Marcus said to abba Arsenius, "Why do you shun us?" And abba Arsenius said, "God knows I love you, but I can't be both with God and with people. Thousands upon thousands of the heavenly hosts are all driven by one single purpose, among people there are multifarious purposes. No, I can't leave God to be among people."
V.xvii. 6. Abba Agathon said, "I've never willingly gone to sleep bearing a grudge against anyone, nor allowed anyone else to go to sleep holding anything against me."
V.xvii. 7. Once when abba John was going up from Scete with some brothers the leader of the party lost his way and night began to come on. And the brothers said to abba John, "What shall we do, father? Now that this brother has lost us we are liable to die wandering about." And the old man said, "If we say anything to him he will be ashamed. So, look, I'll say that I am tired and can't walk any further and want to stay here till morning." Which is what they did, for the others said, "We won't go on either but we'll stay here with you." So they stopped until morning, all to avoid upsetting the brother.
V.xvii. 8. There was an old man in Egypt long before abba Pastor went there, a man of great reputation and held in high esteem among people. When abba Pastor arrived with his company people began to leave the old man and go to abba Pastor. The old man was jealous and took to speaking evil of abba Pastor. When abba Pastor got to hear of this he was sorry and said to his brothers, "What shall we do about this fine old man? All those people leaving him and coming to me, a mere nothing, are causing me a great deal of worry. What can we do to make it up to him?" And they said to him, "Let's get together something to eat and some wine and go to him and have a meal together. Perhaps that will suffice to propitiate him." So they prepared food and went to visit him, and when they knocked at his door his disciple came out asking who they were, to whom they said, "Tell your abba that it is Pastor and he wants your blessing." When the disciple todl him this he replied, "Tell them to go. I haven't got time." But they persevered outside in the heat, saying, "We won't go till we have earned a blessing from the old man." The old man was at last conquered by their perseverance and humility, and they went in and ate with him. While they were eating the old man said, "Truly I haven't heard the half of what you are like. You are a hundred times greater from what I can see." Thus he was a friend from that day on.
V.xvii. 9. Abba Pastor said, "Try as far as you are able to do no evil to anybody, and keep your heart single in the sight of all people. (lit. preserve your heart chaste for every human)
V.xvii. 10 Again he said, "'Greater love hath no one than to lay down his life for his friend' (John 15.13). If you are subjected to harsh words and as far as you can you struggle to bear with them, without being harsh in return, or even if you suffer injury in any matter and bear it patiently, without seeking retribution from those who humiliate you or injure you, then in this way you are laying down your life for your friend."
V.xvii. 11. It happened once that abba Pambo went on a journey into Egypt with some brothers, and on the way they met up with some seculars sitting down, to whom he said, "Get up and greet us, and embrace these monks that you may be blessed. For they speak often with God and their mouths are holy." (Bighead !)
V.xvii. 12. It was said of abba Paphnutius that he did not readily drink wine. Once as he was walking on a journey he came upon a band of robbers, drinking. The leader recognised him and knew that he did not drink wine, but seeing that he was tired after a long walk he filled a cup with wine and offered it to him with a drawn sword in his other hand. He said to the old man, "Drink, or I'll kill you." The old man knew that the robber really wanted to follow God, so wishing to win him over he accepted the wine and drank. The robber then felt ashamed, and said, "I'm sorry, abba, I've put you out." And the old man said, "I do believe that by this cup God will have mercy on you now in this life and in the world to come." And the robber leader replied, "I too believe in God, and from now on I will do no harm to anyone." And the old man won over the whole band of robbers, simply because for God's sake he had abandoned his own will.
V.xvii. 13. Abba Hyperichius said, "Rescue your brother from his sins, as far as you prudently can, for God does not reject those who turn to him. And don't harbour evil and malicious thoughts in your heart against your brother, that you may be able to say, 'Forgive us our sins a we forgive those who sin against us.'"
V.xvii. 14. There were two brothers in the Cells, and the elder of the two said to the younger, "I hope we can always stay together, brother." And the younger said, "I'm such a sinner I don't know whether I can, father." "Yes, we can," the old man begged him. Now the old man was pure in heart and did not want to hear that a monk could have thoughts of fornication. So the brother said to him, "Leave it for a week and we'll talk about it again." When the old man came back the brother, wishing to put him to the test, said, "I have fallen into great temptation during this week, for when I had to go in to the village on some errand I went with a woman." And the old man said, "Do you repent of that?" "Yes, I do," said the brother. And the old man said, "I carry the burden of that sin with you." Then said the brother, "Now I know that we can live together," and they stayed together till death.
V.xvii. 15. One of the fathers said, "If someone asks a favour of you and you feel indignant about it, turn your mind towards giving, as it is written, 'If someone compels you to go one mile, go with him two.' What this means is that when anyone asks anything of you, give it with all your heart and soul."
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