Superlative Observance of some holy people (continued), Book VI
(Seven sayings of Abba Moses further down page)
And again his face suddenly became like the sun, such that everyone was awestruck, as he said, "Look, the Lord is here, saying, 'Bring me this man who pledged himself to choosing the desert.'" And suddenly he gave up his spirit, and the whole place was filled with a sweet odour.
VI.iii.7. It was said of Abba Hor that he never told a lie, never swore, never cursed anyone and never spoke to anyone unless it was absolutely necessary.
VI.iii.8. The same Abba Hor said to his disciple, "See that you never allow any unseemly speech into your cell."
VI.iii.9. Two well known old men were walking through the desert near Scete when they heard a sort of murmur coming out of the ground, and they saw the entrance to a cave into which they went to find a little old woman lying there, ill.
They said to her, "How long have you been here, old woman? And who is looking after you?" For they could see noone else in the cave except this solitary woman lying there ill.
And she said, "Thirty-eight years I have been in this cave in the desert, trying to serve Christ as well as I can, and have seen no man until today. God has sent you to bury my body."
As she said this she came to her rest in peace. The fathers gave glory to God, buried her body and returned to their own place.
VI.iii.10. The story is told of a certain solitary who went into the desert clad only in a shapeless tunic made of flax. When he had wandered about for three days he climbed up on to a rocky mound and saw below some green grass and an old man feeding on it like an animal. He went quietly down and grabbed hold of him, but since the old man was naked and evidently upset by another human presence he managed to wriggle out of his hands and run away.
But the brother followed, running after him and shouting, "Wait for me. It is for God's sake that I am following you."
And the old man turned round and cried, "And it is for God's sake that I am running away."
So the brother threw off behind him the tunic that he was wearing and kept on following. When the old man saw that he had cast off his clothing he gave way, and as the brother got near to him he said, "When I saw that you had cast off your last vestige of worldliness then I stopped."
The brother said, "Father, give me a word whereby I may walk safely."
And he replied, "Flee from mankind, keep silence, and you will be safe."
VI.iii.11. When a certain solitary came out of Egypt to Raythum (where the seventy palm trees are in the place where Moses strove with the people), he told the brethren this story:
"It occurred to me once that I should go into the inner desert to see if by chance I could find any servant of the Lord Jesus Christ living further inside the desert than I. After four days and nights I came upon a cave, and when I went in and looked inside a saw a figure sitting. I knocked according to monastic custom so that he might come out for me to greet him. He didn't move, for he had gone to his rest. Without hesitation I went in and when I laid hold of his scapular it fell to pieces and turned to dust. I looked up and saw his tunic, which also fell to pieces and became as nothing.
"As I was wondering about this, I went out and wandered further into the desert and it wasn't long before I found another cave with traces of human habitation. My curiosity was aroused even more, but when I went up to it and knocked and received no answer I went in and found nobody. I went outside and thought to myself that the servant of God would have to come back here, wherever he might be at the moment. At last as daylight was fading I saw some cattle approaching together with a servant of God, who had nothing covering his nakedness but his long hair. When he saw me he thought I was a spirit and stood still to pray. For he had been greatly troubled by spirits, as he afterwards told me. I had already realised this must be the case so I called out to him, 'Servant of God, I am only a man like you. See my footprints. Touch me. I'm only flesh and blood.'
After he had said the Amen to his prayer he looked at me and was reassured. He took me into his cave and asked me how it was that I had come thither. I replied, 'I have come into this lonely place hoping to find a servant of God and God has not disappointed me of my desire.'
"I questioned him further about how he had come to be there, and how long he had been there, and what food he ate, and why he was naked, not seeming to feel the need for any clothing.
"He replied, 'I used to be in the cenobium at Thebes where my work was linen weaving, and a thought came into my mind telling me that I should go out and live by myself, and live in quietness, and give hospitality to travellers, and that I should gain greater rewards in that way than in my present work. I consented to this thought and lost no time in acting upon it. I went out and built my own hermitage, to which many people came bringing me work. When I had made a bit of money I gave it to the poor and to passing travellers. But our old adversary the devil, envious then as always, began scheming to take away from me the future rewards for what I had been hastening to offer God through my labours. For he saw a certain holy virgin casting glances at me, which I capped by returning them, and soon he put it into her head to expect these glances more and more. When this and even greater boldness had become a habit, it eventually got to holding hands, laughter and, eating together, until we fell into the ultimate trap and fell into sin. I stayed in this ruinous state for six months and then thought to myself, "Today, or tomorrow, or many years hence I will still have to die and suffer eternal punishment, for if someone who violates his neighbour's wife is liable to eternal torments how much more worthy of punishment is someone who has defiled a bride of Christ?" So I quietly hurried off to this desert, leaving everything to that woman, and when I got here I found this cave and a spring of water, and this palm tree which bears twelve-branched clusters of date. Each month it bears one cluster which lasts me for thirty days, by which time another has got ripe. After a time my hair grew very long, and by the time my clothes wore out it was long enough to cover my body.'
"I asked him whether he had found it all very difficult at the beginning and he replied, 'At first I was greatly troubled with pains in my liver so much that I was unable to stand to sing the psalms but lay on the ground crying out to the Most High. When I had got to the stage of being so weak and ill in my cave that I could not go outside I saw a man come in who stood opposite me and asked me what was the matter. I was rather glad to see him and told him that I was under a curse. When he asked me where the pain was I showed him and he joined his fingers together and cut me open as if with a sword, took out my liver and showed me where it had been attacked. He scraped off the diseased bits and wrapped them up in a cloth before putting the liver back and closing up the wound. And he said to me, "Now you have been healed, as befits a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ." And from that time on I have been perfectly well, and have lived here without any further trouble.'
"I begged him to let me stay with him in the desert, but he said to me that I would not be able to withstand the attacks of the demons. I thought about this and asked him to pray for me and let me go with a blessing. So he prayed, and let me go. And all this I tell you that you may be enlightened thereby."
VI.iii.12. Another old man repeated the following story told by the worthy bishop of Oxyrynchus, who in the first place had told it as if it had been someone else:
"It occurred to me," he said, "to go on a visit to the inner desert around Oasis, the territory of the Mazices, to find out if there were anyone there serving God. I began my journey with a few loaves and four days' supply of water. After four days with all my provisions gone I wondered what I should do, but struggled on in faith nevertheless. I walked on and managed to survive for four more days without food. Travel-weary and famished I was then no longer able to push my body further and collapsed on to the ground, when someone came and touched my lips with his finger, as if he were a doctor examining my saliva. I was at once strengthened, as if I had not felt hungry or walked any distance at all.
"Feeling my strength coming back to me I got up and kept on walking into the desert. After another four days had passed I once more felt faint with fatigue. I raised up my hands to heaven, and that same person who had helped me previously came again to moisten my lips and give me strength. Seventeen more days went by until I arrived at a hut in a grove of palms, and a man standing there whose only clothing was the hair of his head, which was totally white with hoary old age. He presented a formidable appearance. When he saw me he started to pray, and at my Amen he realised I was human. Taking me by the hand he asked me why I had come, and how things were in the world, and whether there were persecutions still. I told him that I had come into the desert for the sake of finding him who truly served our Lord Jesus Christ, and that through the power of Christ the persecutions had ceased. And then I asked him how it was that he had come to this place.
"He replied with tears and lamentation, 'I am a bishop and during the persecutions I was tortured so severely that I could bear the torment no longer, and so I sacrificed to the gods. Returning home I realised the depth of my wickedness, and resolved to give myself to the desert until death. For forty-nine years now I have been acknowledging my sins and praying to God that he may forgive me. God has given me these palm trees to sustain my life, but I gained no assurance of forgiveness for the first forty-eight years. But now in this forty-ninth year I am at peace.'
"Having said this he got up and went outside to pray, standing for a long space of time. His prayer completed he came back to me, and as I looked on his face I was awe-struck, for it shone like fire.
But he said to me, 'Don't be afraid, for God has sent you to give me the last rites and bury me.'
"As soon as he had finished speaking he stretched out his arms and legs and gave up his spirit. I tore my tunic in half, kept half for myself, and wrapped his holy body with the other half before burying it. As soon as the body was covered the palm trees withered and the hut collapsed in ruins. I wept profusely, beseeching God to restore the palm trees for me so that I might persevere for the rest of my life in that place. But nothing happened, so I said to myself it was not God's will. I prayed, and began my journey back to the world. I was again visited by the person who moistened my lips. He came to give me strength, and enabled me to return to my brethren to whom I told my story, urging them never to despair but to seek God through penitence."
VI.iii.13 A brother asked an old man, "Which is more important for salvation, who you are or what you do?"
The old man replied; "What you do. I know a brother who was praying once and his prayer was heard. A thought had come into his mind that he would like to see the way in which the souls of both the righteous and the wicked were taken up out of the body. And God satisfied his desire, so that as the brother was sitting in his cell a wolf came in and tugged at his clothing, dragging him outside. With the brother following, the wolf led him towards a city and then left him. He found himself inside a monastery near the city where there was a renowned solitary who was ill and at the point of death. He saw great quantities of tapers and candles being arranged around that solitary, as if it had all been owing to him that God had kept the inhabitants of that city safe and provided them with food and water, and that if that should come to an end we should all die.
"But at the hour of that solitary's death that brother saw a denizen of hell with a fiery trident descending on to him and heard a voice saying, 'Inasmuch as that soul never ceased to cause me unease in this life, so have no pity on it as you come to pluck it out.' The demon then plunged his trident into the solitary's heart, tormenting him for several hours before plucking out his soul.
"The brother then went into the city and found a pilgrim lying on a sick bed, with no one to look after him, and stayed with him for the whole day. The hour of his death drew nigh, and the brother saw Michael and Gabriel coming down towards his soul. They sat one on each side of him and entreated the soul to come out of him but it would not, as if reluctant to leave the body.
"Gabriel said to Michael, 'Tear out his soul and let us go.'
"But Michael replied, 'We have orders from God that it should depart painlessly, so we cannot tear it out.'
"Michael then cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, what do you want us to do with this soul that will not agree to leave the body'
"And a voice came saying, 'See now, I am sending David with his harp and all the singers of Jerusalem, so that when he hears the psalm they sing he will come out.'
"As they all descended around him singing their hymns the soul came out into the hands of Michael and was taken up with great joy."
VI.iii.14. The same person related how an old man once went into the city to sell some pottery which he had made, and having done that happened to sit down outside the door of a certain rich man who was dying. As he sat there he saw black horses with fearsome black riders, each one with a fiery staff in his hand, arriving at the house. They left their horses outside and rushed in.
When the sick man saw them he cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Lord, help me!"
But they said to him, "You're calling on God now that your sun is setting. Why did you not call upon him this day while the splendour of light was still with you? At this hour now there is no portion of hope or consolation left for you."
VI.iii.15. The fathers said that a certain Macarius was the first to set up a monastery in Scete. That place is a long way off from Nitria, distant by a journey of about a day and a night. There are many dangers for those who would go there. None but the strong are able to survive in that harsh place; it is totally arid, furnishing nothing of what is necessary for life. This Macarius, a townsman, at one stage joined up with Macarius the Greater, and when they came to cross the Nile, it so chanced that they were able to board a sizeable ship along with two tribunes whose possessions proclaimed their importance. They had a bronze chariot, the horses had golden bridles. A number of soldiers were with them, their slaves had ornamental necklaces, some of them with golden girdles. When these tribunes saw the two old monks sitting in a corner dressed in rags they reverenced them for their poverty.
One of the tribunes said to them, "Blessed are you, for you have made this world look absurd."
The Macarius who came from the town said, "We have indeed made this world look absurd, but this world makes you look absurd. For you must know that you did not realise the full import of what you have just said, since we are both us called 'Macarius', which does in fact mean 'blessed'." And the tribune so stirred by his words that he went back home, discarded his expensive clothing and became a monk after giving much alms.
VI.iii.16. The story is also told of this same Macarius the Greater that once when he was walking through the desert he came across the head of a dead man lying on the ground. When he touched it with the staff which he had in his hand the head spoke to him. The old man asked him who he was, and the head said, "I am priest of the pagans who used to live here, and you are Abba Macarius who is filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Whenever you take pity on the souls in torment and pray for them they gain a little comfort."
The old man asked, "What sort of comfort?" And the head replied, "As far as the heavens are from the earth, so great is the fire above us and below us. As we stand in the middle we can then no longer see our neighbours face to face."
The old man wept and said, "Woe to the day in which a human being was born if that is all the comfort he gets in his punishment. Are there greater torments?"
The head replied, "Those underneath us are punished more severely."
The old man asked, "Who is down there?" The head replied, "We who did not know God do have a little bit of mercy shown to us, but those below us are the ones who knew God but denied him and did not do his will."
The old man then took the head and buried it.
VI.iii.17. (Also in III.97) As this same Abba Macarius was one day meditating in his cell he heard a voice saying, "Macarius, you have not yet become as perfect as two women who live in the city." The old man got up next morning and taking his staff of palm in his hand set off for the city. When he had found the place where they lived he knocked on the door. Someone came out and invited him in, and when he had sat down called the two women who came in and sat with him. The old man said to them, "I have gone to a lot of trouble for the sake of meeting you. Tell me now about your way of prayer (operatio), how and what you do."
They said, "It is not as if we are separate from our husbands at night time. What sort of way of prayer do you think we might have?"
But the old man pressed them to satisfy his curiosity and reveal what they did.
And at last they said, "By the world's standards we were of no account, so we were pleased to be able to marry two brothers. For fifteen years now we have spent our days in the same house and I don't think either of us has complained about the other or spoken spitefully to each other, but have passed the whole time in peace and concord. We did think we would like to enter a house of virgins, but we asked our husbands and they wouldn't allow it. Since we were not worthy to be given that kind of blessing we made a vow between ourselves and God that we would not allow worldly talk to pass our lips till the day of our death." When Abba Macarius heard that he said, "I declare truly that God sends his Holy Spirit on all, not because they are virgins, nor wives subject to a husband, nor monks, nor seculars, but according as each person is able to receive it."
iii.18. The fathers told of a well known old man that as he was walking in the desert he saw two angels walking with him, one on the right and one on the left. As they went on they came across a corpse lying in the way. The old man held his nose because of the smell, and the angels did likewise. After a little while the old man said, "So you smelt him too?"
"Not at all," replied the angels. "It was because of you that we held our noses. We can't smell the smells of the world, they don't affect us. What we do smell is the smell in the souls of sinners."
Libellus 4: Seven sayings of Abba Moyses to Abba Poemen. And how those who keep them may avoid punishment.
VI.iv.1. Abba Moses said, "A man ought to be as if dead in his neighbour's sight. To be dead in this sense is to refrain from passing judgment on him in anything."
VI.iv.2 He also said, "A man ought so to put to death every evil in himself that before he comes to the hour of his death he gives offence to no one."
VI.iv.3. He also said, "If a man does not know in his heart that he is a sinner God does not hear him."
A brother asked what is meant by knowing in the heart that one is a sinner, and he replied, "When you are aware of your own sins you don't see those of your neighbour."
VI.iv.4. He also said, "Unless what you do is in agreement with how you pray, your labour is in vain.
A brother asked "How should our acts be in agreement with our prayers?"
And he replied, "We pray for things which we do not yet perform, but when we give up our own will then we are reconciled to God and God hears our prayers."
The brother asked, "What help do we get in all our human labour?"
And he replied, "God is our helper. For it is written, 'God is our help and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.' (Psalm 46.1)"
VI.iv.5. A brother asked, "What is the purpose of the fasts and vigils which a man undertakes?"
And the old man replied, "These are the means whereby the soul learns humility. For it is written, 'Look upon my lowliness and labour and forgive me all my sins.' (Psalm 25.18). If a soul does these things the Lord will have mercy on him because of them".
VI.iv.6. A brother asked what he should do in all the temptations which came upon him, and in every thought from the devil.
And the old man said to him, "With the goodness of God before his eyes he ought to weep and ask for help. He will soon find peace if he asks in total awareness, for it is written, 'The Lord is my helper. I shall not fear what men can do to me." (Psalm 118.6)"
VI.iv.7. Again, a brother asked, "If a man beats his servant because of the things he has done wrong, what should that servant say?"
The old man replied, "If he is a good servant he will say, 'Forgive me, I've done wrong'".
"Nothing else?" asked the brother.
"No," replied the old man, "for in accepting the blame and saying he has done wrong the master will forgive him at once. The point in all this is 'Don't condemn your neighbour'. When the hand of the Lord slew the first-born in the land of Egypt there was not a single household without a death" (Exodus 12.29-30).
"What does that text mean?" asked the brother.
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