Charity (continued), Book V
(Second Sight begins further down page)
V.xvii. 16. The story is told of a brother who had made some baskets and put handles on them when he heard his neighbour monk saying, "What shall I do? It's nearly time for the market and I have run out of handles to put on my baskets." So the brother who heard this undid the handles which he had put on his baskets and gave them to his brother next door, saying, "Look, I've got these to spare. Use them for your baskets." Thus he supplied what was necessary for his brother to complete his work, while leaving his own work unfinished.
V.xvii. 17. The story is told of an old man in Scete who fell ill, and longed to have some fresh bread to eat. Hearing this one of the more experienced brothers put some dry bread into his cloak and went to Egypt where he changed it for some fresh bread and brought it to the old man. When the other brothers saw the fresh bread they were surprised, but the old man was unwilling to eat it, "for," he said, "it represents my brother's life blood." But the old men begged him for God's sake to eat, "lest," they said, "your brother's sacrifice is all in vain." When it was put like this, he ate.
V.xvii. 18. (Also in VII.xix.1) A brother questioned an old man, saying, "There were two brothers. One of them stayed in his cell fasting for six days and undergoing many labours, the other went out to tend the sick. Which is the more acceptable work in God's sight?" And the old man replied, "Even if that brother fasting for six days were to hang himself up by the nose he could not equal that brother going out to tend the sick."
V.xvii. 19. Someone asked one of the old men, "How is it that those who walk in this way of life today are not as full of grace as they were of old?" And the old man said, "In those days there was love, and each one reckoned his brother to be the greater. Nowadays love has grown cold, and each one drags his neighbour down. It is because of this that we do not deserve to receive grace."
V.xvii. 20. There were three brothers who once went harvesting and agreed to reap sixty measures of corn. On the first day, however, one of them fell ill and went back to his cell. One of the two that remained said to the other, "Now that our brother has gone off sick let us each concentrate our minds and believe in God that with the help of our brother's prayers we shall be able to reap not only our own share but his as well." When they had finished the reaping of the whole area to which they had agreed they went to get paid and said to the other brother, "Brother, come and get your pay." But he said, "How can I be paid when I haven't reaped?" And they replied, "It's only because of your prayers that the reaping got done. Come on, take your pay." And there arose a great contention among them, the one brother saying he couldn't accept and the others insisting that he had his share, until they decided to submit the matter to the judgment of one of the seniors. (The brothers repeat the story to the old man) And the old man when he heard the story marvelled and said to one of his monks, "Sound a clapper outside these brothers' cell to summon all the brethren together." When they had all gathered he said to them, "Come brothers and hear today a just judgment." After laying the whole matter before them, he gave judgment that the brother ought to accept his pay to do with as he willed. And that brother went away weeping in great distress as if the judgment had gone against him.
V.xvii. 21. An old man said that the fathers' custom was to visit the cells of new brothers wanting to become solitaries, to make sure that none of them should suffer mental damage (lit. be injured in their cogitations) because of the temptation of demons. Anyone who was in trouble they would take to the church and filling a basin with water they would pray for him. All the brethren would wash their hands in the basin and then pour the water over the brother who was being tempted. In this way the brother was immediately delivered (purgabatur).
V.xvii. 22. There were two old men who had lived together for many years without quarrelling. And one of them said to the other, "You know, we really ought to have a quarrel, such as other men have." And the other replied, "I don't know how to have a quarrel." The first one said, "Look, I put a brick in between us and say, 'This is mine,' and then you say, 'No it isn't. it's mine,' and that's how you start a quarrel." So they put a bit of broken tile in between them and the first one said, 'This is mine,' and the other one said, 'No it isn't, it's mine,' and the first one said, "Oh, all right, it's yours. Keep it, quick!" And they went their ways, totally unable to be at odds with each other.
V.xvii. 23. A brother said to an old man, "If I should know about a brother who had a bad reputation I couldn't bring myself to have him in to my cell, but I would gladly have a good one." And the old man said, "If you wish to benefit a brother who is already a good man do it sparingly, but give a double measure to the other for he is the one who is sick."
V.xvii. 24. An old man said, "I have never wanted to do anything which while profiting me would be to my brother's loss, for I cling to the hope that my brother's gain is a source of blessing (or 'will bear fruit') for me."
V.xvii. 25. There was a brother who was ministering to an old man who had sores on his body which exuded foul-smelling pus. His thoughts began to say to him, "Why don't you stop doing this? How can you put up with the stink of this stuff?" But this brother, in order to counteract these thoughts, took a basin and washed the old man's sores, saved the water in the basin and used it for drinking water. His thoughts again began to bother him, saying, "If you don't choose to leave, at least stop drinking the stuff." But he kept on with this work, putting up with it freely, and drinking the water in which he washed the old man's sores. And by means of this unseen medicine, the old man gradually got better.
Libellus 18 Second Sight (Praevidentia) or Contemplation
V.xviii. 1. A brother went to the cell of abba Arsenius in Scete and looking through the window saw the old man as if he were totally enveloped in flame. The brother was the sort of person who was well qualified to see such things. When he knocked at the door the old man came out and seeing the look of astonishment on the brother's face he said, "How long have you been here? Did you see anything?" "No, nothing," he replied. And after some conversation they parted.
V.xviii. 2. (A slightly shorter version of III.38 & VII.xxxvi.3) Abba Daniel, the disciple of abba Arsenius, described how Arsenius told the following story as if it had happened to somebody else, though Daniel was convinced Arsenius was actually talking of himself, A certain old man was sitting in his cell when a voice came to him, saying, "Come with me and I will show you the things people do." And he got up and was led to a place where he was shown an Ethiopian cutting wood, and making a big pile of it, and trying to carry it away but being unable to. And instead of taking some wood out of the pile, he kept on cutting more and making the pile even bigger. And he went on doing this for a long time. Going on a little further he was shown a man standing by a lake, filling a jug with water and pouring it into a leaky cistern from which the water flowed back into the lake. "Come, I will show you something else," said the voice, and suddenly he saw a temple with two men on horseback outside it, each carrying one end of a long piece of timber. They were trying to get through the door of the temple but they couldn't because they were carrying the timber crosswise, instead of going one behind the other so that the timber would go lengthways, and thus they remained outside the door of that temple. Asking who these men were he was told that they were those who carried burdens such as pride or unfair dealings and because they were unwilling to humble themselves and amend their ways by walking humbly in the way of Christ they remained outside the kingdom of God. The one cutting the wood was someone who had committed many sins and instead of repenting and lessening the burden went on adding iniquity to iniquity. the one filling the cistern with water was someone who although he did some good things always had a lot of evil things mixed in with it, and so lost the benefit of even the good things which he did. Wherefore it behoves all people to think seriously about the way they act, lest they be seen to labour in vain.
V.xviii. 3. Again abba Daniel passed on to us a story which our father abba Arsenius told, about a certain old man of simple faith who had a great reputation because of his way of life, but who in his simplicity had strayed from the truth by saying that the bread which we took was not the natural body of Christ but only a sign of it. There were two old men who heard he had said this, but knowing the quality of his life they realised that he had said it in all innocence and simplicity, so they came to him and said, "Abba, we have heard that some infidel has been saying that the bread which we take is not the natural body of Christ but only a sign of it." And the old man said, "I'm the one who said that." And the begged him not to hold to that view, but to embrace the teaching of the Catholic Church. "For we believe," they said, "that the bread is the true body of Christ and the chalice the true blood of Christ, and not just a sign of it. In the beginning he took the dust of the earth and fashioned it into a human being 'after his own image', so although we can't understand how this can be, nevertheless we can't deny that this is the image of God. In the same way, we believe that the bread over which he said, 'This is my body,' really is the body of Christ." And he replied, "Unless I can see this thing for myself, I can't really be satisfied with what you say." So they said to him, "Let's all pray to God about this mystery for the rest of the week , believing that God will show us the truth." The old man gladly accepted this suggestion and prayed to God saying, "Lord, you know there is no malice in my being dubious about this matter. If I am wrong through simple ignorance, please enlighten me, O Lord Jesus Christ, you who are Truth itself."
The old men went back to their cells and also prayed, saying; "O Lord Jesus Christ, reveal the mystery to this old man, that he may believe and not lose the reward of his labours." God heard the prayers of them all, and at the end of the week the three of them went to church on the Lord's day and sat on their seats of rushes tied into bundles, the old man in the middle. And the intellectual eyes (oculi intellectuales) of them all were opened and when the bread was put on the altar it seemed to all three of them that there was a small child lying there. When the presbyter stretched out his hands to break the bread an angel of the Lord came down from heaven with a knife in his hand and having pierced the small child poured his blood into the chalice. As the presbyter broke the bread into small pieces so the angel cut the child's limbs into several parts. When the old man went up to receive Communion he alone was given flesh stained with blood. Seeing this he was afraid, and cried out saying, "I do believe, Lord, that the bread placed on the altar is your body and the chalice is your blood." And at once the portion put into his hand turned to bread again, according to the mystery, which he put in his mouth giving thanks to God. The other old men said to him, "God knows that it is not in human nature to eat raw flesh, therefore he changes his body into bread and his blood into wine for those who take it in faith." And they gave thanks to God for this old man, for God had not allowed him to lose the fruit of his labours, and they went back to their cells with joy.
V.xviii. 4. Again, abba Daniel told a story of another renowned old man in Lower Egypt who in his simplicity had said that Melchisedech was the son of God. This was brought to the notice of Cyril of holy memory, archbishop of Alexandria, who sent for him. He knew that this old man was a man of signs and wonders, and that whatever he prayed to God about was revealed to him, and that what he said was merely due to his simplicity, so he spoke to him in the following way, "Abba, I am seeking your advice because in my thoughts sometimes it seems to me that Melchisedech was the son of God, and at others it seems that he wasn't that but just a human being and a priest of God most high. Wondering about this I have sent for you that you might pray to God about it, so that he might reveal to you which is true." Confident in his own way of life, the old man said with assurance, "Give me three days grace, and I will pray to God and come to you again to tell you what has been revealed." He went to his cell and prayed to God about what the archbishop had said and after three days came back to Cyril of blessed memory and said, "Melchisedech was human." "How did you come to that conclusion, abba?" asked the archbishop. "God showed me all the patriarchs," he said, "each one of them passing before me from Adam down to Melchisedech, and the angel with me said, 'See, this is Melchisedech.' So, Archbishop, you can be quite sure that this is the way it is." The old man went away and of his own accord preached that Melchisedech was human. And Cyril of blessed memory rejoiced greatly.
V.xviii. 5. While Ephraem of blessed memory was still a boy he had a dream or revelation in which he saw a vine growing out of his mouth, and it increased till it filled the whole earth, bearing a great deal of fruit, and all the flying creatures in the heavens came to feed on the fruit, and the more they ate the more it bore.
V.xviii. 6. One of the holy people saw in a dream the whole angelic order descending from heaven in obedience to God's command, having a book in their hands written within and without, and they said one to another, "Who is worthy to be entrusted with this book?" And some said one person and others another, but they all agreed in saying, "Though these you mention may be holy and righteous, yet the book cannot be entrusted to them." Many other names of holy people they mentioned, till at last they said, "Nobody can be entrusted with this book but Ephraem." And the old man saw in his dream that Ephraem was given that book. Next morning he arose and heard Ephraem preaching and it was like a fountain of living water coming out of his mouth. And the old man who had dreamed knew that what came from the mouth of Ephraem was the work of the Holy Spirit.
V.xviii. 7. The story is told of abba Zenonis that when he was living in Scete he got up one night to answer a call of nature (lit. go to the marsh, pond or bog) and for three days and nights he kept on walking until he fell down half dead with his exertions, when suddenly there was a young person standing before him with bread and a jug of water who said to him, "Arise and eat." Fearful lest this might be a ghost he began to pray, whereat the young person said, "Well done." He prayed again, a second and third time, and again came the answer, "Well done." Only then did he arise and take and eat. The young person then said, "All the time that you have been walking you have got further and further away from your cell, but come, follow me." And immediately he found himself back at his cell, and he said to the young person, "Come inside, and say prayers for us." But when he got inside the other suddenly disappeared.
V.xviii. 8. Abba John said, "An old man once saw in a trance (in excessu mentis) three monks standing by the sea side and a voice came from the other shore saying, 'Take wings of fire and come to me.' Two of them did take wings and flew across to where the voice was coming from. The third one stayed where he was, shouting and weeping loudly. He later got wings for himself, but they lacked fire. They were unsteady and fragile, and it was with great difficulty that he crossed over, constantly falling into the water and making a great effort to struggle out again. So it is with this generation - If they get wings at all they are not of the fiery sort. Unsteady and fragile ones are all they can manage.
V.xviii. 9. (Also in III.61 and VII.i.8) Abba Macarius lived in a very deserted place; he was alone in his solitude. There was another lonely place lower down where several of the brothers lived, and one day Macarius looked out and saw Satan in human shape passing by along the road, wearing an old linen tunic with many gashes, and from every gash hung a small bottle. "Hey, my friend, where are you off to?" asked Macarius. "I'm going to meet ('commemorare', lit. call to mind, remember) the brothers," he replied. "What are all those little bottles for?" asked the old man. "Little samples for the brothers to taste," he said. "You seem to have tastes of everything there is." said the old man. "You're absolutely right," he said. "If someone doesn't like one I offer him another, and if that's no good I offer a third, and so on through them all until if he hasn't taken the whole lot at least there will be one that takes his fancy." And having said that he passed on. The old man kept an eye on the road until he reappeared, and when he saw him coming he said, "I hope all has gone well with you." "What do I know about 'well?'" he said "Oh, how's that?" he asked. "Because they've all got so holy that no one would listen to me," he said. "So you've got no friends at all down there, then?" he asked. "I got only one of the brothers," he said. "He was the only one to listen, though I must say that he came rushing towards me like the wind as soon as he saw me." "What was his name, I wonder," asked the old man. "Theoctitus," he said as he went on his way. Abba Macarius straight away got up and went off to the lower desert, and when they saw him coming the brothers got palm branches and ran to meet him, and each one tidied up his cell in case Macarius should choose to stay there. But the old man asked which one among them in that place was called Theoctitus, and when he had found out it was his cell he went to. Theoctitus welcomed him joyfully. Once they were able to converse privately abba Macarius asked him, "How's things with you, brother?" And he replied, "Oh, fine, thanks to your prayers." And the old man said, "You don't have any troublesome thoughts?" "No, I'm fine at present," he said. But he blushed as he said it, and the old man said, "Well I don't know how many years I've spent in this sort of life here, and everyone respects me, and yet even in my old age I still get bothered by sexual temptations." And Theoctitus replied, "Can you believe it, father, so do I." And the old man pretended to be the victim of lots of other evil thoughts, in order to get him to confess. Finally he said, "How long do you fast today?" "Until the ninth hour," he replied. "Fast until later," said the old man, "and be abstinent, read the Scriptures, learn them by heart, let the furthest recesses of your mind meditate on the Scriptures, and if any evil thought comes to your mind, don't lie down under it but rise above it, and God will come immediately to your aid." Having given this help to the brother he went back to his solitude. Once more he saw the devil and asked him where he was going, and the devil replied that he was going to the brothers. And when he came back the old man asked, "How are the brothers getting on, then?" "Terrible", said the devil. "How's that?" asked the old man. "They have all become totally holy," he replied, "and what's worse that one friend I had who would listen to me has also been subverted, I don't know how. It's not just that he won't listen to me, He's now become holier than all the others. So I've sworn not to wear out my shoe leather again for a very long time." He left the old man and went on his way, while the saintly old man himself went into his cell worshipping and giving thanks to God his Saviour.
V.xviii. 10. In order to strengthen the brothers abba Macarius told them how a woman once came there with her son who was vexed by a demon. The son said to his mother. "Let's get out of here." But she said, "I can't. My feet won't let me." "Well, I'll carry you, then," replied the son. And Macarius was astonished at the sharpness of the devil in wanting to get away from that place.
V.xviii. 11. On the subject of the desolation of Scete he said, "When you see a a cell being built next to the pond know that the desolation of Scete is not far off, when you see trees it is already at the door. When you see young boys gather your cloak about you and go."
V.xviii. 12. (This story also in III.10) Abba Moyses was once fiercely attacked by sexual temptations when living in Petra, and when he found it quite impossible to stay in his cell any longer he went to abba Isidore and told him all about it. The old man begged him to return to his cell but he protested that he couldn't. So he took him in and gave him what comfort he could. "Look to the west," he said. And as he looked he saw a great multitude of demons in a confused mass, milling around in battle array. Abba Isidore then said, "Look to the east." And he saw a countless company of angels in glory. "Just look at all those who are sent to help us," said abba Isidore. "Those in the west are those who fight against us. But those who are for us are more than those who are against us." And giving thanks to God, abba Moyses took courage and went back to his cell.
V.xviii. 13. Abba Moyses said in Scete, "If we observe the commandments of our fathers I promise you, trusting in God, that the barbarians will not come here. But if we don't this place will be despoiled.
V.xviii. 14. With his brothers sitting around him abba Moyses said, "You see now the barbarians are invading Scete. You should get up and flee." But they said to him,, "Are you not going to flee, abba?" To which he replied, "I have been expecting this day for years, in fulfilment of what our Lord Jesus Christ said, 'All those who live by the sword will die by the sword.'" (Matthew 26.52) "We are not going to run away," they said. "We will die with you." Moyses said, "It is not for me to argue that one way or the other. Each one of you must look to his own position." There were seven brothers with him and they said to him, "The barbarians even now are at the door." And when the barbarians came they killed them all, except one who, petrified with base fear, (timore carnali) ran and hid under some palm leaves, where he had a vision of seven crowns descending on the heads of Moyses and the six brothers who were killed with him.
V.xviii. 15. It was said of abba Silvanus that when he had made up his mind to go to Syria his disciple Mark said to him, "Father, don't go. I can't let you go yet, abba. Wait here for three days more." The abba waited, and on the third day Mark his disciple peacefully fell asleep.
V.xviii. 16. Abba John who was exiled under Marcian said that when he and his companions went from Syria to abba Pastor they wanted to ask his opinion about hardness of heard. Pastor however knew no Greek, nor was there an interpreter available, but when he saw their difficulty he immediately began to speak in Greek. He said that water was by nature soft, but stone was hard. But if you hang a container of water over a stone in such a way that the water falls drop by drop it will wear the stone away. So also the word of God is gentle, our hearts are hard. But when anyone frequently hears the divine word, the heart is opened to the fear of God.
V.xviii. 17. Abba Pastor said, "'Like as the hart desireth the water brooks even so my soul longeth after thee, O God.' (Psalm 42.1) Harts in the wilderness gorge themselves on serpents, and when they burn with the poison they long to find the water brooks. In the same way monks in solitude burn with the poison of evil demons and therefore on the Lord's day they long to come to the fountains of water, that is the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they may be cleansed of all the bitterness of the evil demons.
V.xviii. 18. Someone asked abba Pastor how he interpreted the Scripture "Return not evil for evil." (1 Thess.5.15) Abba Pastor said, "The passion of evil has four stages, first in the heart, second in facial expression, third in speech, finally in the act of returning evil for evil. If you can purge your heart evil won't show in your face. Guard your speech, but if perchance you have spoken act quickly to prevent yourself actually doing any evil. "
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