The Paradise of the Desert Fathers

Author: Unknown


The following are excerpts from what is widely  known as "The Monks' 
Garden"  (called "Bustan  al-rohbaan" by the Copts),  also referred to 
in English as the "Paradise of  the  Desert Fathers". Bustan al-rohbann 
is not a single  book, rather it  is a collection of sayings  and 
accounts written  by and  about the Desert Fathers of Egypt.   The 
excerpts presented   here are adopted  from an abbreviated book edited 
by Dr. Benedicta Ward. 


        In the desert of the heart,  let the healing fountain start; 
        In the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise. 
                                                      -- W. H. Auden 


     A prayer from the desert 
   Lord  Jesus Christ, whose will all things 
   obey: pardon  what I have done  and grant 
   that I, a sinner,  may sin no more. Lord, 
   I believe that  though  I do not  deserve 
   it, you can cleanse me from  all my sins. 
   Lord,  I know  that  man looks  upon  the 
   face, but  you see the heart.   Send your 
   spirit into  my  inmost  being,  to  take 
   possession of my soul and body.   Without 
   you  I  cannot   be  saved; with  you  to 
   protect  me, I  long  for your salvation. 
   And  now   I ask you  for your salvation. 
   And now  I ask you for wisdom,   deign of 
   your  great goodness  to  help and defend 
   me.  Guide my heart, almighty God, that I 
   may remember your presence day and night. 

     ++ Amen ++ 

In  the  fourth century, an intensive experiment  in Christian living began to 
flourish  in Egypt, Syria and Palestine.  It was  something new  in  Christian 
experience, uniting the  ancient forms of  monastic  life with the Gospel.  In 
Egypt the movement was soon so popular that both the civil authorities and the 
monks themselves became anxious: the officials of the Empire  because  so many 
were following a   way of life  that  excluded both military  service and  the 
payment  of taxes, and the  monks because the  number of  interested  tourists 
threatened their solitude. 

The first Christian  monks tried every  kind of experiment  with the way  they 
lived and prayed, but there were three  main forms of  monastic life: in Lower 
Egypt there were hermits who lived alone; in Upper Egypt there  were monks and 
nuns living  in communities; and  in Nitria and  Scetis there   were those who 
lived solitary lives but in groups of three or four, often  as disciples  of a 
master. For the most part they were simple  men, peasants from the villages by 
the Nile, though  a few,  like Arsenius  and  Evagrius,  were well   educated. 
Visitors who were impressed and moved by the life of the  monks imitated their 
way  of  life  as far  as  they  could, and  also  provided  a literature that 
explained and  analyzed this way  of life  for those outside it.  However, the 
primary written accounts of  the monks of Egypt are  not these, but records of 
their words and actions by their close disciples. 

Often, the first thing  that struck those  who heard about the  Desert Fathers 
was the negative aspect of their lives. They were people  who did without: not 
much sleep, no baths, poor food, little company, ragged clothes, hard work, no 
leisure, absolutely  no sex,  and even,  in some places,  no church either - a 
dramatic contrast of immediate  interest to  those  who lived out  the  Gospel 

But to read their  own writings is to  form a rather different   opinion.  The 
literature produced among the  monks themselves is  not very sophisticated; it 
comes from the desert, from the place where the amenities of civilization were 
at their lowest point  anyway, where there was nothing  to mark a  contrast in 
lifestyles; and the emphasis is less on what was lacking and more  on what was 
present. The outsider saw  the negations; disciples  who encountered the monks 
through their own words and actions   [discovered they were]  practical 
men, not given either to mysticism or to theology, living by  the Word of God, 
the love of the brethren and of  all  creation, waiting for the coming  of the 
Kingdom with  eager   expectation, using  each moment  as   a step  in   their 
pilgrimage of the heart towards Christ. 

It was because of this positive desire for the Kingdom of heaven which came to 
dominate their whole lives that they went  without things: they  kept silence, 
for instance, not because of a proud and  austere preference for aloneness but 
because they were  learning to listen to  something more  interesting than the 
talk of men, that is, the  Word of God.  These men were  rebels,  the ones who 
broke the rules of the world which say that  property  and goods are essential 
for life, that the one who accepts the direction of another  is not free, that 
no one can  be  fully human without sex  and  domesticity.  Their name itself, 
anchorite, means rule-breaker, the one who does not fulfill his public duties. 
In the solitude of the desert they found themselves able to live in a way that 
was hard but simple, as children of God. 

The literature  they have left behind  is full of  a good,  perceptive wisdom, 
from a clear, unassuming angle. They did not write much; most of them remained 
illiterate; but they asked each other for a "word", that  is, to say something 
in which they would recognize the  Word of God,  which gives life to the soul. 
It is not a literature of words that analyze and  sort out personal worries or 
solve theological  problems; nor is  it a  mystical   literature concerned  to 
present prayers and praise to God  in a direct  line of  vision; rather, it is 
oblique, unformed, occasional, like sunlight glancing off a rare  oasis in the 

These  life-giving "words"   were  collected and   eventually written  down by 
disciples of the first monks, and grouped together  in various ways, sometimes 
under the  names of  the monks with whom they  were connected sometimes  under 
headings  which  were  themes of   special interest,  such  as  "solitude  and 
stability",  "obedience", or "warfare that lust arouses in us".  Mixed in with 
these sayings  were short stories about  the actions of  the monks, since what 
they did  was often   as revealing  as what they   said. These  collections of 
"apophthegmata" were  not meant as a dead  archaism,  full of nostalgia  for a 
lost past, but as a direct transmission of practical wisdom and experience for 
the use of the  reader. Thus it   is  as part  of  tradition that   this small 
selection  has been  made  from some  of  the famous   collections of   desert 
material, most of which have been translated and published in  full elsewhere. 
They are placed in pairs, so that a  "word" faces a  story and illustrates its 
central,  though not its  only meaning.   Each  saying-and-story pair has been 
given a heading; these are arranged in two series, the  first part relating to 
the commandment to love one's neighbour, the second to the commandment to love 

This material first appeared among  uneducated laymen; it  is not "churchy" or 
specifically religious. It  has its roots   in  that life in Christ  which  is 
common to all the baptized, some of whom  lived  this out as monks, others who 
did not. There is common a universal appeal in these sayings, in spite of much 
which is at first strange.  I have not tried to  eliminate all the strangeness 
of the  material, but  to present a  very  small part  of it as it is,  in the 
belief that the  words and deeds of these  men can still  make the fountain of 
life spring up in the  arid deserts of lives  in the twentieth century as they 
did in the fourth. "Fear not  this  goodness", said  abba Antony,  "as a thing 
impossible, nor the pursuit of it as something alien,  set a great way off; it 
hangs on our own choice. For the sake of Greek learning, men go overseas.  But 
the  City of God has its  foundations in every  seat of human habitation.  The 
kingdom of  God is within.   The goodness that is  in  us asks only  the human 

--Benedicta Ward 

Abba Pastor said,  "Judge not  him who is guilty  of fornication,  if  you are 
chaste, or you will break the  law  like him. For  He who  said "do not commit 
fornication" said also "Do not judge"." 

A brother asked  abba  Poemen, "If  I see my brother sin,  is it right  to say 
nothing about it?" The old man replied, "whenever we cover  our brother's sin, 
God will cover  ours; whenever we tell people  about our brother's guilt,  God 
will do the same about ours." 

A  brother in Scetis  committed  a fault. A council was   called to which abba 
Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to 
him, saying, "Come, for everyone is waiting for you".  So he got  up and went. 
He took  a leaking jug and filled  it with water and carried  it with him. The 
others came  out to meet him  and said, " what is  this,  father?" The old man 
said to them, "My sins run out behind me, and  I do not see  them, and today I 
am coming to judge the errors of another." When they heard that,  they said no 
more to the brother but forgave him. 

A  brother sinned and  the priest  ordered him to go  out of  the church; abba 
Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, "I, too, am a sinner." 

One of  the brothers asked  abba Isidore,  a  priest  of scetis,  "Why are the 
demons so terrified of you?" And the old man said, "Ever since I became a monk 
I have tried never to let anger rise as far as my mouth." 

Abba Joseph asked  abba Nisteros, "What  should I do about  my  tongue, for  I 
cannot control it?"  The old man  said to  him,  "When you speak,  do you find 
peace?" He replied, "No." The old man said to him, "If you do  not find peace, 
why do you  speak? Be silent, and when  a conversation takes  place, prefer to 
listen rather to talk." 

Two old men had lived together for many  years and  they had never fought with 
one another. The first said to the other, "Let us also have a fight like other 
men." The other replied, "I do not know how to fight." The  first said to him, 
"Look, I will put a brick between us and I will say: it is  mine; and you will 
reply: no, it is  mine; and so   the fight will  begin."  So they put  a brick 
between them and the first said, "No, it is mine", and the other said, "No, it 
is mine." And the first replied, "If it  is yours, take  it  and  go." So they 
gave it up without being able to find a cause for an argument. 

A brother asked abba Poemen,  "How should I behave in  my  cell  in the  place 
where   I am   living?" He replied,  "Behave as  if you  were  a stranger, and 
wherever you are, do not expect your  words to  have an influence and you will 
be at peace." 

The holy Syncletia said, "I think that for those living in community obedience 
is a greater virtue than chasity, however  perfect. Chastity carries within it 
the danger of  pride, but obedience  has within it  the promise of  humility." 

The old men used to say, "If  someone has faith  in  another and hands himself 
over to him in complete submission, he does not need to pay attention to God's 
commandments but he can entrust his whole  will to his  father. He will suffer 
no reproach  from God, for  God looks  for nothing from   beginners so much as 
renunciation through obedience." 

Abba Mios of Belos said, "Obedience responds to  obedience. When someone obeys 
God, then God obeys his request." 

They said  that  abba Sylvanus had  a   disciple in Scetis,   named Mark,  who 
possessed  in great measure  the virtue of obedience.  He was a copyist of old 
manuscripts, and the old man loved him for his  obedience. He had eleven other 
disciples who were aggrieved that he loved more than them. 

When the old men nearby heard that he  loved Mark above the others,  they took 
it  ill. One day they visited  him and abba Sylvanus took  them  with him and, 
going out of his cell, began  to  knock on the  door of each of his disciples, 
saying, "Brother, come out, I have work for you." And noe old men, "Where are  the 
other brothers?", and he 
went into Mark's cell and found the book  in which he had  been writing and he 
was making the letter O; and  when he  heard  the old  man's voice, he had not 
finished the line of the O. And the old men said,  "Truly,  abba, we also love 
the one whom you love; for God loves him, too." 

Some old men said, "If you see a young man  climbing up to  the heavens by his 
own will, catch him by  the foot and throw  him down to the  earth; it  is not 
good for him." 

At first abba Ammoe said to abba Isaiah, "What do you think of me?" He said to 
him, "You are an angel,  father." Later  on he said to him,  "and now, what do 
you think of me?" He replied, "You  are like  Satan. Even when  you say a good 
word to me, it is like steel." 

Abba Moses asked abba Sylvanus,  "Can a  man lay a new foundation  every day?" 
The  old man said,  "If he works hard,  he can  lay a new  foundation at every 

It was said of abba John the Dwarf that one day he  said to his elder brother, 
"I should like to be  free of all care, like  the angels who do  not work, but 
ceaselessly  offer worship to God."  So he took leave of  his brother and went 
away  into the desert.  After a week  he  came  back to his brother.   When he 
knocked on the door he heard his brother say, "Who are you?" before  he opened 
it. He said, "I am John,  your brother."  But he replied,  "John has become an 
angel and   henceforth he is  no  longer  among men." Then John  besought him, 
saying, "It is I."  However, his brother did not let him in but left him there 
in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to him,  "You are a 
man and you   must  once  again work  in  order to   eat." Then John    made a 
prostration before him, saying, "Forgive me." 

Abba John said, "A monk is toil. The monk toils in all he does. That is what a 
monk is." 

An old man was asked, "What is humility?" and he said in reply, "Humility is a 
great work, and  a  work of God. The way of  humility is to  undertake  bodily 
labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all." Then a 
brother said, "What does it mean, to be subject to all?" The old man answered, 
"To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins  of others but 
always to give your attention to your own sins and to  pray without ceasing to 

An old man  said, "Every time  a thought of   superiority or vanity moves you, 
examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the  commandments, whether 
you  love your enemies,  whether you consider   yourself to be an unprofitable 
servant  and the greatest  sinner of  all.  Even so,  do not  pretend to great 
ideas  as though  you  were  perfectly   right,  for  that   thought  destroys 

As  abba    Macarius was returning  to   his  cell  from the   marsh  carrying 
palm-leaves, the devil met him  with a sharp sickle and  would have struck him 
but he  could not. He cried  out, "Great is the violence  I  suffer  from you, 
Macarius, for when I want to hurt you, I cannot. But whatever you do, I do and 
more also. You fast now and then,  but I am  never refreshed by any  food; you 
often keep vigil, but I never  fall asleep.  Only in one  thing are you better 
than I am and I acknowledge that."  Macarius said to  him, "What is that?" and 
he replied, "It is because of your humility alone that I cannot overcome you." 

The old men used to say, "When we do not experience warfare, we  ought so much 
the more to  humiliate  ourselves.  For God seeing  our weakness, protects us; 
when we   glorify ourselves, he  withdraws  his  protection and we  are lost." 

Abba Theodore, surnamed Pherme, had three good books. He went to abba Macarius 
and said to him,  "I have three good  books, and I am  helped by reading them; 
other monks also want to read them and they are helped by  them. Tell me, what 
am I to do?" The old man said, "Reading  books is good but  possessing nothing 
is more than all.' When  he heard  this, he  went  away and sold the books and 
gave the money to the poor. 

Someone asked amma Syncletica of blessed  memory, "I---- 
When abba Macarius was in Egypt, he found a man who had brought a beast to his 
cell and he was steeling his possessions. He went up to the thief as though he 
were a traveller who did not live there and helped him  to load the  beast and 
led him on his way in peace, saying to himself,  "We brought nothing into this 
world; but the Lord gave; as he willed, so is it done; blessed  be the Lord in 
all things." 

Someone brought money to an old man and said, "Take this and  spend it for you 
are old and ill", for he was a  leper. The old  man replied, "Are you going to 
take me away from the one who has cared for me for sixty  years?  I  have been 
ill  all that time  and  I have not needed anything  because God has cared for 
me." And he would not accept it. 

Once  abba Arsenius fell  ill in Scetis  and in this state he  needed just one 
coin.  He could not  find one  so he accepted one as a gift from someone else, 
and he said,  "I thank you, God, that for your name's  sake you have  made  me 
worthy to come to this pass, that I should have to beg." 


Amma Syncletica  said, "We ought to  govern  our souls  with discretion and to 
remain in  the community, neither following our  own will  nor seeking our own 
good. We are like exiles: we have been separated from the things of this world 
and have given  ourselves in one  faith to the one Father.  We need nothing of 
what we have left behind. There we had  reputation and plenty  to eat; here we 
have little to eat and little of everything else." 

Abba Antony said, "Our life and  our death are  with our neighbour. If we gain 
our brother, we have gained our God; but if we scandalize our brother, we have 
sinned against Christ." 

A brother asked, "I have found a place where my peace is  not disturbed by the 
brethren; do you advise me to live there?" Abba Poemen replied, "The place for 
you is where you will not harm the brothers." 

There was an anchorite  who was gazing  with the antelopes  and who  prayed to 
God, saying, "Lord, teach me something more." And a voice came to him, saying, 
"Go into  this monastery and   do whatever they tell you."   He went there and 
remained in the monastery,  but he did not know  the work of the brothers. The 
young monks  began to teach him how  to work  and they would  say to  him, "Do 
this, you idiot," and "Do that, you fool." When he  had borne it, he prayed to 
God,  saying, "Lord, I  do  not know the work  of  men; send  me  back to  the 
antelopes." And  having been freed  by God, he went back  into the  country to 
graze with the antelopes. 

A beginner who goes from one monastery to another is like a wild animal who 
jumps this way and that for fear of the halter. 

Having withdrawn  from the palace  to the solitary  life, abba Arsenius prayed 
and heard a voice saying to him, "Arsenius,  flee, be silent, pray always, for 
these are the source of sinlessness." 

A  brother in scetis went to  ask for a word from  abba  Moses and the old man 
said  to   him,  "Go and sit   in   your cell  and your  cell   will teach you 

Abba  Nilus  said, "The   arrows of  the   enemy cannot  touch  one  who loves 
quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded." 

Theophilus of holy memory, bishop  of Alexandria, journeyed  to Scetis and the 
brethren coming together said to abba Pambo, "Say a word or two to the bishop, 
that his soul may  be edified in this place."  The old man  replied, "If he is 
not edified by my  silence, there is  no hope that  he  will be edified  by my 

This place was called Cellia, because of the number  of cells there, scattered 
about the desert. Those  who have already begun their  training there [i.e. in 
Nitria] and  want  to live a  more  remote life,  stripped of external things, 
withdraw there. For this is  the utter desert  and the cells are divided  from 
one another by so great a distance  that no one can see  his neighbour nor can 
any voice be   heard.  They live   alone in their  cells and  there is a  huge 
silence and a great quiet there. Only on  Saturday and Sunday  do they meet in 
church, and then they see each other to  abba Antony in  his desert that there was  one 
in the city 
who was his equal.  He was a doctor by  profession, and whatever he had beyond 
his needs he gave  to the poor  and  every day  he  sang the sanctus  with the 

Amma Matrona said, "There are many in the mountains who behave as if they were 
in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is better to have many people 
around  you and to  live the solitary  life in your will than  to be alone and 
always longing to be with a crowd." 

Abba Isidore said, "If you fast regularly,  do not be  inflated with pride; if 
you think highly of yourself because  of it, then you had  better eat meat. It 
is better for a  man to eat  meat than to be inflated  with pride  and glorify 

When blessed Antony was praying  in his cell,  a voice  spoke to him,  saying, 
"Antony, you  have not yet come to  the measure  of the the  tanner who  is in 
Alexandria." When  he heard this, the old   man arose and   took his stick and 
hurried into the city. When he had found the tanner...he said to him, "Tell me 
about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you." 

He replied, "I am not aware that I  have done anything  good. When I get up in 
the morning,  before I sit down to  work, I say that the   whole of this city, 
small and great, will go into the Kingdom of  God because of their good deeds, 
while I alone will go into eternal punishment  because of my evil deeds. Every 
evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart." 

When blessed Antony heard this he said, "My son, you sit in your own house and 
work well, and you have  the peace of  the Kingdom of God; but  i spend all my 
time in solitude with no distractions, and i have not come near the measure of 
such words." 

Once three brothers came to visit an old man in Scetis and one of them said to 
him, "Abba,  I have committed  to memory the  Old and New Testaments." And the 
old man answered, "You have filled the air with words." The second one said to 
him,  "I have written out the  Old and New Testaments with  my  own hands." He 
said, "And you have filled the window-ledge with  manuscripts." Then the third 
said, "The grass is growing up my chimney." And the old man replied, "You have 
driven away hospitality." 

Once two  brothers came to  a certain old man. It  was  his custom not  to eat 
every day but when he saw them he received them joyfully and said, "A fast has 
its own reward, but he who eats for the sake of love fulfils two commandments: 
he leaves his own will and he refreshes his brothers." 

A brother came  to  see a  certain  hermit and,  as he was  leaving,  he said, 
"Forgive  me  abba  for preventing you   from  keeping your  rule." The hermit 
replied, "My rule is to welcome you with  hospitality and to  send you away in 

It was said of  an old man that he  dwelt in Syria on the  way to  the desert. 
This was his    work: whenever a monk came     from the desert,   he gave  him 
refreshment with all his heart. Now  one day a  hermit came and he offered him 
refreshment.  The  other  did not    want   to  accept   it,  saying  he   was 
fasting. Filled  with sorrow, the old man  said to him,  "Do not  despise your 
servant, I beg you, do not despise me, but  let us pray  together. Look at the 
tree  which is here; we will  follow the way  of whichever of  us causes it to 
bend when he kneels on the ground and prays." So the hermit knelt down to pray 
and nothing happened. Then the hospitable one knelt  down and at once the tree 
bent towards him.  Taught by this, they gave thanks to God. 

Abba Nilus said, "Prayer is the seed of gentleness and the absence of anger." 

We came from Palestine to Egypt and went to see one of the fathers. He offered 
us hospitality and we said, "Why  do you not keep the  fast when visitors come 
to see you? In Palestine they keep it." He replied, "Fasting is always with me 
but I cannot always have  you here. It  is useful and  necessary to fastbut we 
choose whether we will  fast or not.   What God  commands  is perfect  love. I 
receive Christ in you and so  I must do everything possible  to serve you with 
love. When I have   sent you on  your way,   then I can  continue my   rule of 
fasting. The  sons of the bridegroom cannot  fast while the bridegroom is with 
them; when he is taken away from them, then they will fast." 

A hunter in the desert saw abba antony enjoying himself with the brothers, and 
he was  shocked. Wanting to  show him that it was  necessary sometimes to meet 
the needs of the brothers, the old man said to him,  "Put an arrow in your bow 
and shoot it." So he  did. And the old man  said, "Shoot another," and he  did 
so. Then the old man ssaid, "Shoot yet  again," and the  hunter replied, "If I 
bend my bow so  much, I will break it."  Then the old  man said to him, "It is 
the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brothers beyond measure, they 
will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs." 

Some  monks came to see abba  Poemen  and said to  him,  "When we see brothers 
dozing in the church, should we rouse 
Abba Theon ate vegetables, but only those that did not need to be cooked. They 
say that he used to go out of his cell at night and stay in the company of the 
wild animals, giving them drink from the water he had. Certainly one could see 
the tracks of antelopes and wild asses and gazelles and other animals near his 
hermitage. These creatures always gave him pleasure. 

Once when a hippopotamus was ravaging the neighbouring countryside the fathers 
called on abba Bes to help them. He stood at the  place and waited and when he 
saw the beast, which was of  enormous size, he commanded it  not to ravage the 
countryside any more, saying, "In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to 
ravage this countryside  anymore." The  hippopotamus vanished completely  from 
that district as if driven away by an angel. 

Abba  Xanthios said, "A dog is  better than I am, for  he has love and he does 
not judge." 

We came near to a tree,  led by our kindly host,  and there we stumbled upon a 
lion. At the sight of him my guide and I quaked,  but the saintly old man went 
unfaltering on and we followed him. The  wild beast -  you would say it was at 
the  command of God - modestly  withdrew a little  way and sat down, while the 
old man plucked the fruit from the lower branches.  He held out his hand, full 
of dates; and up the creature ran and took them as frankly  as any tame animal 
about the  house; and  when  it had  finished  eating, it  went away. We stood 
watching and trembling; reflecting as well  we might what  valour of faith was 
in him and what poverty of spirit in us. 

While abba Macarius was praying  in his cave  in the desert, a hyena  suddenly 
appeared and began to lick  his feet and taking him  gently by the hem of  his 
tunic, she drew  him towards her own cave.  He followed her, saying, "I wonder 
what this animal wants me to  do?" When she had led  him to her cave, she went 
in and brought her cubs  which had been  born blind. He  prayed over them  and 
returned  them to the hyena with  their sight healed. She in  turn, by wayn of 
thankoffering, brought  the man the  huge skin of  a ram  and  laid it  at his 
feet. He smiled at her as if  at a kind  person and taking  the skin spread it 
under him. 

Amma Syncletica said, "In the  beginning there are a great  many battles and a 
good  deal  of suffering   for  those who    are  advancing towards   God and, 
afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire. At first 
they are ckoked with smoke and cry, until they obtain what they seek. As it is 
written, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:24); so we also must kindle 
the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work." 

Abba Hyperichius said, "Praise God  continally with spiritual hymns and always 
remain in meditation and  in this way  you will be  able to bear the burden of 
the temptations that  come upon you. A traveller  who is carrying a heavy load 
pauses from  time to time  and  draws in  deep  breaths; it makes  the journey 
easier and the burden lighter." 

When abba Apollo heard the sound of singing from the monks who welcomed us, he 
greeted us  according to  the custom which  all  monks  folow... He  first lay 
prostrate on the ground, then got up and kissed us and having brought us in he 
prayed for us; then, after washing our feet with  his own hands, he invited us 
to partake of some refreshment... 

One could see his monks were filled with joy  and a bodily contentment such as 
one cannot see on earth. For nobody among them was gloomy or downcast. 

If anyone  did appear a   little downcast, abba  Apollo at  once asked him the 
reason and told each one what was the secret recesses of his heart. He used to 
say,  "Those  who are  going to inherit   the Kingdom of  heaven  must  not be 
depondent about their salvation... we  who have been  considered worthy of  so 
great a  hope,  how shall we  not  rejoice without ceasing, since  the Apostle 
urges us always, "Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks"?" 

Abba Poemen said, "There is no greater love than that a man lays down his life 
for revenge; then you are laying down your life 
for your neighbour." 

One of the beloved of Christ who had  the gift of mercy used  to say, "The one 
who is filled with mercy ought to offer it in the  same manner in which he has 
received it, for such is the mercy of God." 

Abba Antony said, "I no longer fear God, I love him; for love casts out fear." 

Abba Agathon said, "If I could meet a leper, give him  my body and take his, I 
should be very happy." That is  perfect charity. It  was also said of him that 
when he came into the town one day to sell his goods, he  met a sick traveller 
lying in the  public place with  no one to care for  him. The old man rented a 
room and  lived with him  there, working with  his hands to  pay the  rent and 
spending the rest on the  sick man's needs.  He stayed there four months until 
the sick man was well again.  Then he went back to his cell in peace. 

A soldier asked abba  Mios if God  accepted repentance. After  the old man had 
taught him many things, he said, "Tell me, my dear, if your  cloak is torn, do 
you throw it away?" He replied, "No, I mend it and  use it again." The old man 
said to him, "If you are so careful about your  cloak, will not god be equally 
careful about his creature?" 

God is the life of  all free beings. He is  the salvation of all, of believers 
or  unbelievers, of the just or  the unjust, of the  pious  or the impious, of 
those freed from passions or those caught up in them, of monks or those living 
in the world, of the educated and the illitrate,  of the healthy and the sick, 
of the  young or the old. He  is like the  outpouring of light, the glimpse of 
the sun, or the changes of the weather which are the same for everyone without 

Abba Pambo said, "If you have a heart, you can be saved." 


There was an old man living in the desert who served God for so many years and 
he said, "Lord, let me know if I  have pleased you."  He saw an angel who said 
to him, "You have not  yet become like  the gardener in  such and such place." 
The old man marvelled and said, "I will go off to the city to see both him and 
what it  is that  he  does that surpasses all  my  work and toil of  all these 

So he went to the city and  asked the gardener about his  awy of life.... When 
they were getting  ready to  eat in the   evening, the  old  man heard  people 
singing in  the  streets, for   the cell of   the gardener   was in a   public 
place. Therefore the old man said to him, "Brother, wanting as  you do to live 
according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you 
hear them singing these songs?" 

The man said, "I tell  you, abba, I have never  been troubled or scandalized." 
When he heard this the old man said, "What,  then, do you  think in your heart 
when you hear these things?" And he replied, "That they are all going into the 
Kingdom." When he heard this,  the old man   marvelled and said, "This is  the 
practice which surpasses my labour of all these years." 

They asked  abba  Macarius, "How should  we  pray?" And the old  man  replied, 
"There  is no need  to speak much in prayer;  often stretch out your hands and 
say, "Lord, as  you will and as you  know, have mercy on me."  But if there is 
war in your soul, add, "Help me!" and because he  knows what we need, he shows 
mercy on us." 

Abba Lot went to see abba Joseph and he said to him, "Abba, as far as I can, I 
say my  little office, I fast a  little, I pray  and meditate, I live in peace 
and as  far as I can I  purify my thoughts. What else  can I do?" Then the old 
man stood up and streched his hands toward heaven; his fingers became like ten 
lamps of  fire and he said to  him, "If you will, you  can become  all flame." 

Abba paul said, "Keep close to Jesus." 

Some monks came to see abba Lucius and they said to him, "We  do not work with 
our hands;  we  obey Paul's command  and  pray without  ceasing."  The old man 
said, "Do you not eat or sleep?" They said, "Yes, we do."  He said, "Who prays 
for you while you are asleep?... Excuse me, brothers, but  you do not practice 
what you claim. I will show you how I pray without ceasing, though I work with 
my hands." 

"With God's  help, I collect  a few palm-leaves and sixteen pence. Two of these I put 
ouside my door and with the rest I buy 
food. And he who finds the two coins outside the door prays for me while I eat 
and sleep. And so by the help of God I pray without ceasing." 

It is clear  to all who dwell in  Egypt that it is through  the monks that the 
world is kept in being and that through them  also human life is preserved and 
honoured by God... There is no town or village in Egypt that is not surrounded 
by hermitages as if by walls, and all the people  depend on the prayers of the 
monks as if on God himself. 

Palladius said,  "One day when  I was  suffering from boredom   I went to abba 
Macarius and said, "What shall  I do? My thoughts afflict  me, saying, you are 
not  making any progress, go away  from here." He said to  me, "Tell them, for 
Christ's sake, I am guarding the walls." 

     From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers 

Abba Ammonas  was asked, 'What  is the  "narrow and hard  way?" (mt.  7.14) He 
replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this,  to control your thoughts, and to 
strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning 
of the sentence, "Lo,  we have left  everything and followed you." (Mt. 19.27) 

It was said of  him that he  had a hollow  in his chest  channelled out by the 
tears which fell   from his eyes  all his  life  while he  sat  at his  manual 
work. When Abba Poemen learned  that he was  dead, he said weeping, 'Truly you 
are blessed, Abba Arsenius, for  you wept for  yourself in this world!  He who 
does not weep for himself here below  will weep eternally  hereafter; so it is 
impossible  not  to  weep,   either  voluntarily or  when   compelled  through 
suffering.'  [i.e. the latter suffering in hell] 

It was also said of him (Abba Arsenius) that on Saturday evenings, preparing 
for the glory of Sunday, he would turn his back on the sun and stretch out his 
hands in prayer  towards the  heavens, till once   again the sun shone on  his 
face. Then he would sit down. 

       + + + 

It was said of Abba Ammoes that when he went  to church, he  did not allow his 
disciple to walk beside him but onlly at a certain distance; and if the latter 
came to ask him about his thoughts, he would move away from him as soon as he 
had replied, saying  to  him,  'It  is  for fear that,  after  edifying words, 
irrelevant conversation should slip in, that I do not keep you with me.' 

It was said of Abba Ammoes that he had fifty measures of wheat for his use and 
had put them out in  the sun, Before   they were properly   dried off, he  saw 
something in  that place which  seemed to him to be  harmful so he said to his 
servants, 'Let us go away  from here.' But  they were grieved at this.  Seeing 
their dismay he said to  them, 'Is it because of  the loaves that you are sad? 
Truly,  I have seen monks fleeing,  leaving  their white-washed cells and also 
their  parchments, and they  did  not close the doors,  but  went leaving them 

Abba Abraham told of a man  of Scetis who was a  scribe and did not eat bread. 
A brother came to beg him to copy a book. The old man whose spirit was engaged 
in  contemplation, wrote, omitting  some phrases and  with no punctuation. The 
brother, taking the book and wishing to  punctuate it, noticed that words were 
missing. So he  said to the old man,  'Abba, there are some phrases  missing.' 
The old man said to him,  'Go, and practise first that  which is written, then 
come back and I will write the rest.'  [Scetis=Sheheet] 

       + + + 

There was in the Cells an old  man called Apollo.  If someone came to find him 
about doing a piece of work, he would set out joyfully, saying, 'I am going to 
work with Christ today,  for the salvation of my  soul, for that is the reward 
he gives.' 

Abba Doulas, the  disciple  of Abba  Bessarion said, 'One   day when  we  were 
walking beside the sea I was thirstty and I said to Abba Bessarion, "Father, I 
am very  thirsty." He said a prayer  and said to  me,  "Drink some of  the sea 
water." The water proved sweet when I drank  some.  I even  poured some into a 
leather bottle for  fear of being thirsty later  on. Seeing this, the old  man 
asked me why I was taking some. I said to him, "Forgive  me, it is for fear of 
being  thirsty   later on."  Then  the old  man  said,  "God is here,   God is 
everywhere." ' 

A brother questioned Abba Poemen in this way, 'My  thoughts trouble me, making 
me put my sins aside,  and concern myself with my  brother's faults'.  The old 
man told him the following story about Abba Dioscorus (the monk), 'In his cell 
he wept over himself, while his disciple was sitting in another cell. When the 
latter came to see the old man he asked him, "Father, why are you weeping?" "I 
am weeping  over my sins," the old  man answered him.  Then his disciple said, 
"You do not have any sins, Father."  The old man replied, "Truly, my child, if 
I were allowed to see my sins, three or four  men would not  be enough to weep 
for them. " 

       + + + 

This is what Abba Daniel, the Pharanite, said, 'Our  Father abba Arsenius told 
us of an [old man who had lived a long]  life and of  simple faith; through 
his  naivete he was  deceived and said,  "The  bread which  we  receive is not 
really the body of Christ, but a symbol. Two old men having learnt that he had 
uttered this saying, knowing that he was outstanding  in his way of life, knew 
that he had not spoken through malice, but through simplicity. So they came to 
find him and said, "Father, we have heard a proposition  contrary to the faith 
on the part of someone who says that the bread which we receivve is not really 
the body of  Christ, but a symbol." The  old man said,  "it is I who have said 
that." Then  the  old men exhorted  him  saying, "Do not  hold  this position, 
Father, but hold one  in conformity with that  which  the Catholic  Church has 
given us. We  believe,  for our part, that  the  bread itself is  the  body of 
Christ as in  the beginning, God formed man  in his image,  taking the dust of 
the earth, without anyone being able to say that  it is not  the image of God, 
even though it  is not seen  to be so;  thus it is  with teh bread of which he 
said that  it is his  body; and so we believe  that it is   really the body of 
Christ." The  old man said to them,  "As long as  I have not been persuaded by 
the thing itself, I shall not be fully convinced." So they  said, "Let us pray 
God about this mystery throughout the whole  of this week  and we believe that 
God will reveal it  to us." The old man  received this saying  with joy and he 
prayed in these words, "Lord, you know that it is not through malice that I do 
not believe and so that  I may not err through  ignorance, reveal this mystery 
to me, Lord Jesus Christ." The old men  returned to their  cells and they also 
prayed God,  saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, reveal  this mystery to the  old man, 
that he may believe and not lose his  reward." God heard  both the prayers. At 
the end of  the week they  came to church on Sunday  and sat all  three on the 
same mat, the old man in the middle. Then their  eyes were opened and when the 
bread was placed on the holy table, there  appeared as it  were a little child 
to these three   alone. And when  the priest  put  out his  hand to break  the 
bread,   behold an  angel descended from  heaven with  a  sword and poured the 
child's blood into  the chalice. When   the priest cut   the bread into  small 
pieces, the  angel also cut  the child  in pieces.  When    they drew near  to 
receive the  sacred elements the  old man  alone  received a morsel  of bloody 
flesh. Seeing  this he was afraid and  cried out, "Lord,   I believe that this 
bread is your flesh and this chalice  your blood." Immediately the flesh which 
he held in his  hand became bread, according to  the  mystery and he  took it, 
giving thanks to God. Then  the old men  said to him,  "God knows human nature 
and that man cannot eat raw flesh and that is why he has changed his body into 
bread and his blood into  wine, for those who receive  it in faith."Then  they 
gave thanks to God for the old man, because he had allowed him not to lose the 
reward of his labour. So   all three returned with joy   to their own  cells.' 

       + + + 

It was said of Abba Helladius that he spent twenty years in the Cells, without 
ever raising his eyes to see the roof of the church. 

(Abba Epiphanius) added, 'A man who receives something from another because of 
his poverty or his need  has therein his  reward, and  because he is  ashamed, 
when he repays it he  does so in  secret. But it is the  opposite for the Lord 
God; he receives in secret, but  he repays in the presence  of the angels, the 
archangels and the righteous.' 

It was said concerning Abba  Agathon that some monks came  to find him  having 
heard tell  of his great  discernment.  Wanting to  see  if he would  lose his 
temper they  said  to him  'Aren't  you that   Agathon who is   said to  be  a 
fornicator and   a  proud man?'  'Yes,  it  is very true,'  he  answered. They 
resumed,  'Arn't you  that Agothon who   is always talking  nonsense?' 'I am." 
Again they said 'Aren't you Agothon the heretic?' But at that he replied 'I am 
not a heretic.'  So  they asked him,  'Tell us why  you accepted everything we 
cast you, but repudiated this last  insult.' He replied 'The first accusations 
I take to myself for that is  good fono   said, ' The 
Egyptians hide the virtues they  possess and ceaselessly accuse themselves  of 
faults they do not have, while the Syrians  and Greeks pretend to have virtues 
they do not have, and hide the faults of which they are guilty.' 

In a village there was said to be  a man who  fasted to such  a degree that he 
was called 'the Faster'. Abba Zeno had heard of him, and he  sent for him. The 
other came gladly.  They prayed and  sat  down. The old man  began  to work in 
silence. Since he could not succeed in talking to  him the Faster began to get 
bored. So he said  to the old  man 'Pray for me, Abba,  for I want to go.' The 
old man said to him. 'Why?' The other replied,  'Because my heart  is as if it 
were  on fire and I do  not know what is the  matter with it.  For truly, this 
when  I was in the village  and I fasted  until the evening, nothing like this 
happened to me.'  The old man said, 'In  the village you fed yourself  through 
your ears. But goo away and from now on eat at the ninth  hour and watever you 
do, do it secretly.' As soon as he had begun to act on this advice, the Faster 
found it difficult to wait until the ninth hour. And those  who knew him said, 
'The Faster is possessed by the devil.' So he went to tell this to the old man 
who said to him, 'This way is according to God.' 

One day Abba Moses said  to brother Zacharias,  'Tell me what  I ought to do?' 
At  these words the latter threw  himself on the  ground at the old man's feet 
and  said, 'Are you asking me,  Father?' The old  man said to him 'Believe me, 
Zacharias, my son, I have  seen the Holy Spirit descending  upon you and since 
then I am constrained to ask you.' Then  Zacharias drew his  hood off his head 
put it under his feet and  trampled on it,  saying, 'The man  who does not let 
himself be treated thus, cannot become a monk.' 

Abba Zeno said, 'If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he 
prays for anything else, even  his own soul,  when he stands and stretches out 
his hands  towards God, he   must pray with  all his   heart for his  enemies. 
Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.' 

       + + + 

Abba Gerontius of Petra said that many, tempted  by the pleasures of the body, 
commit fornication, not    in  their body   but in  their   spirit, and  while 
preserving their bodily virginity, commit prostitution in their soul. 'thus it 
is  good, my well-beloved, to do  that which is  written and  for  each one to 
guard his own heart with all possible casre.' (prov. 4.23) 

One day Abba  Arsenius consulted an  old Egyptian monk  about his own thoughts 
Someone noticed this and said to him, 'Abba Arsenius, how is  it that you with 
such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this  peasant about your thoughts?' 
He replied, 'I have indeed been taught Latin and Greed, but I do not know even 
the alphabet of this peasant.' 

Abba Elias, the  minister, said, 'What  can sin do  where  there is penitence? 
And of what use is love where there is pride?' 

       + + + 

(Abba  Isaiah) said to  those  who were  making a  good  beginning by  putting 
themselves under the direction of the  holy Fathers, 'As  with purple dye, the 
first colouring is never lost.' And, 'Just as young  shoots are easily trained 
back and bent, so it is with beginners who live in submission.' 

(Abba Isaiah)  also said that when there  was an agape  and the  brethren were 
eating  in the church  and talking to  one another, the  priest of Pelusia re- 
primanded them in these words, 'Brethren, be quiet.  For I have seen a brother 
eating with you and  drinking as many cups as  you and his prayer is ascending 
to the presence of God like fire.' 

(Abba Isaiah) also said 'When God wishes to take pity on a soul and it rebels, 
not bearing anything and doing its own will, he then allows  it to suffer that 
which it does not want, in order that it may seek him again.' 

       + + + 

The old men said to Abba Agothon to Abba Elias, in Egypt, 'He is a good abba.' 
The  old man answered  them,  'In comparison  with his own  generation, he  is 
good.' They said to him, 'And what is he in comparison with the ancients?'  He 
gave them this  answer, 'I   have saidthe 
heavens.' At these words they were astounded and gave glory to God. 

(Abba  Theodore) said 'If  you are friendly  with someone who  happens to fall 
into the  temptation  of fornication, offer  him  your hand,  if you can,  and 
deliver him from it. But if  he falls into heresy and  you cannot persuade him 
dto turn from it, separate yourself quickly  from him, in  case, if you delay, 
you too may be dragged down with him into the pit. 

A brother came  to Abba Theodore and began  to converse with him about  things 
which he  had never yet put into  practice. So the old man   said to him, 'You 
have not yet found  a ship nor  put your cargo aboard it  and before  you have 
sailed, you have already arrived at the city. Do the work first; then you will 
have the speed you are making now.' 

       + + + 

Abba Theodore of Pherme  said, 'The man  who remains standing when he repents, 
has not kept the commandment.' 

A brother said to Abba Theodore, 'I wish  to fulfil the commandments.' The old 
man told him that Abba Theonas had said to him, 'I want to fill my spirit with 
God.' Taking some flour to the bakery, he had made loaves which he gave to the 
poor who asked  him for them;   others asked for   more, and he gave them  the 
baskets, then the cloak he was wearing, and he came back to  his cell with his 
loins girded with his cape. Afterwards he took himself to task telling himself 
that he had still not fulfilled the commandment of God.' 

The same Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren 
who  were assembled said  to Abba Pambo,  'Say something to the Archbishop, so 
that he may be edified.' The old man said to them, 'If he is not edified by my 
silence, he will not be edified by my speech.' 

       + + + 

It was said about (abba Theodore) that, though he  was made a deacon at Scetis 
he refused to exercise  the office and fled to  many places from it. Each time 
the old men brought him back to Scetis, saying, 'Do not leave your deaconate.' 
Abba Theodore said to them, 'Let me pray God  that he may  tell me for certain 
whether I  ought to take my part  in the liturgy.' THen he  prayed God in this 
manner, 'If it is your will then I should stand in this place, make me certian 
of it.' Then appeared to him a column of  fire, reaching from earth to heaven, 
and a voice said to him, 'IF you can become like this pillar, go be a deacon.' 
On hearing this he decided never to accept the office. When  he went to church 
the brethren bowed before him saying, 'If you do  not wish to  be a deacon, at 
least hold   the chalice.' But  he refused,  saying, 'If you   do not leave me 
alone, I shall leave this place.' So they left him in peace. 

Abba Theodore of Scetis said,  'A thought comes   to me which troubles me  and 
does not leave me free; but not being able to lead me to  act, it simply stops 
me progressing in virtue;  but a vigilant man would  cut it off  and get up to 

Abba  Theodor said,  'Privation of  food  mortifies the   body  of the  monk.' 
Anotherold man said, 'Vigils mortify it still more.' 

       + + + 

Amma Theodora said,  'Let us strive  to enter by the narrow  gate, Just as the 
trees, if they have not stood before the winter's storms cannot bear fruit, so 
it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is  only through many trials 
and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.' 

The  same amma said that a  teacher ought to  be a stranger  to the desire for 
domination,  vain-glory,  and pride;  one should not  be able  to  fool him by 
flattery,  nor   blind him by  gifts,  nor  conquer him  by  the  stomach, nor 
dominate   him by anger;   but  he should   be patient, gentle   and humble as 
far as possible; he must be tested  and without partisanship, full of concern, 
and a lover of souls. 

She  also said that  neither asceticism, nor vigils nor  any kind of suffering 
are able to save, only true  humility can do that. There  was an anchorite who 
was able to  banish the demons;  and he asked  them, 'What makes you go away?' 
'Is it fasting?' They replied, 'We do not eat  or drink.' 'Is it vigils?' They 
replied, 'We do not sleep.' 'Is it separation from the world?' 'We live in the 
deserts.'  'We leave in  the 
evening and return the following  morning. At the  end of three years the wood 
came  to life and bore fruit.  Then the  old  man took some  of  the fruit and 
carried it to the church saying to  the brethren, 'Take and eat  the fruit of  

It was  said  of Abba John  the  Dwarf, that  one   day he  said  to his elder 
brother,'I should like  to be free  of all care, like the  angels,  who do not 
work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God.' So he took off his cloak and went 
away   into the desert.  After a  week  he came  back  to his brother. When he 
knocked on the  door, he heard  his brother say,  before he opened it 'Who are 
you?' He said, 'I am John, your brother.' But  he replied, 'John has become an 
angel, and henceforth he is  no longer among  men.' Then the other begged  him 
saying. 'It is I.' However, his brother did not let him in, but left him there 
in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to  him, 'You are a 
man  and you  must   once agian work  in  order   to eat.' Then   John  made a 
prostration before him, saying, 'Forgive me.' 

One day   when  he was  sitting in  front  of the   church, the brethren  were 
consulting  him about their thoughts. One  of the old men who  saw it became a 
prey to jealousy and said to him, 'John, your vessel is  full of poison.' Abba 
John said  to him, 'That  is very true, abba; and  you have said that when you 
only see the outside, but if you were able to  see the inside, too, what would 
you say then?' 

       + + + 

Some brethren came  one  day to  test him to  see  whether  he would  let  his 
thoughts get dissipated and  speak of the  things of this  world. They said to 
him  'We give thanks  to God that  this year there has been  much rain and the 
palm trees  have been  able to drink,   and their shoots  have grown,  and the 
brethren have found manual work.' Abba  John said to them, 'So  it is when the 
Holy Spirit descends into  the hearts of  men; they are  renewed and  they put 
forth leaves in the fear of God.' 

It was said of him (Abba John the Dwarf) that one  day he was weaving rope for 
two baskets, but  he made it into one  without noticing, until  it had reached 
the wall, because his spirit was occupied in contemplation. 

Abba John said, 'I  am lke a man sitting  under a  great  tree, who  sees wild 
beasts   and  snakes coming  against him  in   great numbers.  When  he cannot 
withstand them any longer, he runs to climb the tree and is  saved. It is just 
the same with me;  I sit in  my cell and  I am aware  of evil  thoughts coming 
against  me, and when I have  no more strength  against them, I take refuge in 
God by prayer and I am saved from the enemy.' 

       + + + 

Abba  Poemen said of  Abba John the  Dwarf that he had prayed  God to take his 
passions away from him  so that he might become  free  from care. He  went and 
told an old man this; 'I find myself in peace, without an enemy,' he said. The 
old man said to him, 'Go beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain 
the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it  is by warefare that 
the soul makes progress.'  So he besought  God and  when  warfare came,  he no 
longer prayed that it might be taken  away, but said,  'Lord, give me strength 
for the fight.' 

Abba John said, 'We  have put the light burden  on one side,  that is  to say, 
self-accusation, and we have  loaded ourselves with  a  heavy one, that  is to 
say, self-justification.' 

He also said, 'Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues.'  

       + + + 

Abba John gave this advice, 'Watching  means to sit in the  cell and be always 
mindful of God. This is what is meant by, "I was on the watch  and God came to 
me."  (Matt. 25:36) 

One of the Fathers said of him, 'Who is this John, who by his humility has all 
Scetis hanging from his little finger?' 

Abba John the Dwarf said, 'There was a spiritual old man  who lived a secluded 
life.  He  was  held  in  high estimation in   the  city and  enjoyed  a great 
reputation. He  was told that  a certain old  man, at the  point of death, was 
calling for him, to embrace him before he  fell asleep. He thought to himself, 
if I go by day, men will run after me, giving me great honour, and I shall e sent by God 
with lamps 
to give him light. Then the whole city came out to see his glory.  The more he 
wished to Flee from glory, the more he was glorified. In this was accomplished 
that which is  written: "He  who  humbles himself will  be  exalted." '  (Luke 

       + + + 

Abba John the Dwarf  said, 'a house  is not built by geginning  at the top and 
working down. You must begin  with the fundations in order  to reach the  top. 
They siad  to him, 'What  does this saying  mean?' He said, 'The foundation is 
our neighbour, whom we must win, and that is  the place to  begin. For all the 
commandments of Christ depend on this one.' 

Abba Poemen said  that Abba John  said that  the saints are   like a group  of 
trees, each bearing  different  fruit, but watered from  the  same source. The 
practices of one saint differ from those of another, but it is the same Spirit 
that works in all of them. 

Abba John said to his brother,  'Even if we are entirely  despised in the eyes 
of men, let us rejoice that we are honoured in the sight of God.' 

       + + + 

The old man  (abba John the Dwarf)  said,  'You know that  the  first blow the 
devil gave  to Job was  through his possessions;  and he saw  that he  had not 
grieved him nor separated him from God. Whith  the second blow, he touched his 
flesh, but the  brave athlete did  not sin by  any word that  came out of  his 
mouth in that either. In  fact, he had within his  heart that which is of God, 
and he drew on that source unceasingly.' 

An   old man came to abba   John's cell and   found  him asleep  with an angel 
standing above him, fanning him. Seeing this,  he withdre. When jAbba John got 
up, he  siad to his  disciple, 'Did anyone  come in  while I was  asleep?'  he 
said, 'Yes, an old man.' Then Abba John knew that  this old man was his equal, 
and that he had seen the angel. 

       + + + 

(Abba Isidore) said,  'When I was  younger and remained  in my  cell I set  no 
limit to prayer; the night was for me as much the time of prayer as the day.' 

Abba Isidore went one day to see Abba Theophilus, archbishop of Alexandria and 
when  he returned to  Scetis the trethren asked him,  'What is going on in the 
city?' But he said to them, 'Truly, brothers, I did not see the face of anyone 
there, except that of the archbishop.' Hearing this they were very anxious and 
said to him, 'Has there  been a disaster  there, then, abba?'  He said 'Not at 
all,  but the thought  of looking at  anyone did not get the  better of me' At 
these   words they  were  filled with   admiration,  and strengthened in their 
intention of guarding kthe eyes from all distraction. 

(Abba Isidore  of Pelusia) said,  'Prize virtues  and  do not be the  slave of 
glory; for the former are immortal, while the latter soon fades.' 

He also said, 'The  heights  of humility are  great  and so are the  depths of 
boasting;  I  advise you to attend  to  the  first and not  to  fall  into the 

       + + + 

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba as far as  I can I say 
my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as 
far as I can, I  purify my thoughts.  What else can   I do?' then the old  man 
stood up and stretched  his hands towards  heaven. His fingers became like ten 
lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.' 

(Abba James) said, 'Just as a lamp lights up a  dark room, so  the fear of God 
when it  penetrates the heart of a  man illuminates him,  teaching him all the 
virtues and commandments of God.' 

He also said, 'We do not need words only, for, at the  present time, there are 
many words  among men, but  we need works,  for this is  what is required, not 
words which do not bear fruit.' 

       + + + 

Abba John of the Cells told us this story: 'There was in Egypt a very rich and 
beautiful courtesan, to whom  noble and powerful people came.  Now one day she 
happened to be near the church and she wanted  to go in.  The sub- deacon, who 
was standing at the  doors, would not allow her  to enter saying, "You are not 
worthy to enter the house of God,j jfor you  are impure." The Bishop heard the 
noise of their argument and came out. Then the courtesan said to him, "He will 
not let me enter the church." So the Bishop said to her,  "You are not allowed 
to enter it, for you are not pure."  She was filled  with compunction and said 
to him, "Henceforth I will not commit fornication any  more." The jbishop said 
to her, "If you bring your wealth here, I shall know that  you will not commit 
fornication any more." She brought  hying, "If this has 
happened to  me  below, what  would I not   have suffered above?" So  she  was 
converted and became a vessel of election.' 

(Abba Isidore  the priest)  said, 'If you  fast regularly,  do not be inflated 
with pride, but if you think  hightly of yourself  because of it, then you had 
better eat meat.  It is better for a man to eat meat than  to be inflated with 
pride and to glorify himself.' 

It was said of Abba John the Persian thast when some evildoers came to him, he 
took   a basin and  wanted to  wash  their feet.  But  they   were filled with 
confusion, and began to do penance. 

       + + + 

From Palistine, Abba   Hilarion went to the mountain   to  abba Anthony.  Abba 
Anthony  said to him,  'You are welcome,   torch which awakens  the day.' Abba 
Hilarion said, 'Peace to you, pillar of light, giving light to the world.' 

The holy Fathers were making predictions about the  last generation. They said 
'What have we ourselves done?' One of  them, the great abba Ischyrion replied, 
'We  ourselves have fulfilled  the commandments of  God.'  The others replied, 
'And those who come after us, what will they do?' He said, 'They will struggle 
to achieve half our works.' They said, 'And to those who come after them, what 
will happen?' He said,  'THE MEN  OF THAT GENERATION  WILL NOT  

Abba Copres said, 'blessed is he who bears affliction with thankfulness.' 

       + + + 

One day,  the inhabitants of Scetis assembled  together to discuss Melchizedek 
and they forgot to invite Abba Copres. Later on they called  him and asked him 
about this matter.  Tapping  his mouth  three times, he  said 'Alas  for  you, 
Copres! For that which God commanded you do,  you have put  aside, and you are 
wanting  to learn something  which you have not been  required to know about.' 
When they heard these words, the brothers fled to their cells. 

Abba Cyrus of Alexandria was asked about the temptation of fornication, and he 
replied, 'If you do not think about it, you have  no hope, for  if you are not 
thinking about it, you are doing it. I mean, he who does not fight against the 
sin and sresist  it in his spirit will  commit the sin  physically. It is very 
true that he  who is fornicating in fact  is not worried about thinking  about 

       + + + 

Some of the monks who are  called Euchites went  to Enaton to see Abba Lucius. 
the Old man asked  them, 'What is your manual  work?' They said  , 'We  do not 
touch manualj work but as the Apostle says,  we pray without ceasing.' The old 
man asked them  if they did  not eat and they replied  they did. So he said to 
them  "'When you are eating, who  prays for you then?' Again  he asked them if 
theydid  not sleep and they replied  they did. and he said  to them, 'When you 
are a asleep, who prays for you  the?' They could not find  any answer to give 
him. He said  to them, 'Forgive me, but  you do not act as  you speak. I  will 
show you how, while doing my manual  work, I pray  without interruption. I sit 
down with God, soaking my  reeds and plaiting  my ropes, and  I say "God, have 
mercy on me, according  to your great goodness and  according to the multitude 
of your mercies,  save me from my sins."  ' So he  asked them if this were not 
prayer and they replied it was. Then he said  to them, 'So  when I shave spend 
the whole  day working and praying, making  thirteen  pieces of money  more or 
less,  I put two pieces of  money outside the door and  I pay for my food with 
the rest of the mony. He who takes the two pieces of maney prays for me when I 
am eating and when I  am sleeping; so   , by the  grace of  God, I fulfil  the 
precept to pray without ceasing.' 

       + + + 

They said of Abba Macarius the Great  that he became, as it  is written, a god 
upon  earth, because, just as God  protects the world,  so Abba Macarius would 
cover the faults which he saw, as though he did  not see them; and those which 
he heard, as though he did not hear them. 

       + + + 

The angel when giving the  rules of monasticism  to St. Pachomius said to him: 
"... He at the ninth hour  three. When the multitude goes  to eat, he laid 
down that a psalm should be sung before each prayer.  As Pachomius objected to 
the angel that the prayer were too few ..." 

       + + + 

The same Abba  Macarius while he  was in Egypt  discovered a  man who owned  a 
beast of burden  engaged in plundering Macarius' goods.  So he came up to  the 
thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him 
off in great peace of soul saying,  'We have brought  nothing into this world, 
and we cannot take anything out of  the world.' (1Tim.6.7)  'The Lord gave and 
the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' (Job 1.21) 

Abba Macarius was asked, 'How should one pray?' The  old man said 'There is no 
need at all to make long discourses; it  is enough to  stretch out one's hands 
and say, "Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy." And if the conflict 
grows fiercer say, "Lord, help!" He knows very well what we  need and he shews 
us his mercy.' 

A brother went to Abba  Matoes and said to him,  'How is it  that the monks of 
Scetis  did more thatn  the Scriptures  required in loving  their enemies more 
than themselves?' Abba Matoes said to him, 'As  for me I  have not yet managed 
to love those who love me as I love myself.' 

       + + + 

It was said  of Abba Silvanus  that at Scetis he had  a dijsciple called  Mark 
whose obedience was great.  He was a scribe. The  old man loved him because of 
his  obedience. He had  eleven other disciples  who were hurt because he loved 
him more than them. When  they knew this,  the elders were  sorry about it and 
they came one day  to him to  reproach him about  it. Taking them with him, he 
went to knock at each  cell, saying, 'Brother  so  and so,  come here; I  need 
you,' but none of them came immediately. Coming to Mark's cell, he knocked and 
said, 'Mark.' Hearing the  old man's voice,  he jumped up immediately  and the 
old man sent him off to serve and said to the elders,  'Fathers, where are the 
other brothers?'  Then he went  into Mark's  cell and picked   up his book and 
noticed  that he had  begun to write the letter  'omega' ["w"] but when he had 
heard  the old man,  he had not  finished writing it.   Then  the elders said, 
'Truly, abba, he whom you love, we love too and God loves him.' 

       + + + 

Abba Poemen said of Abba Nisterus that he was like the  serpent of brass which 
Moses made for the healing of the people:  he possessed all virtue and without 
speaking, he healed everyone. 
Abba Xanthias said,  'The thief was on  the  cross and he  was  justified by a 
single word; and Judas who was counted in the number jof the apostles lost all 
his labour in one single night  and descended from  heaven to hell. Therefore, 
let no-one boast of  his good works,  for all  those  who trust  in themselves 

(Abba Poemen) said, 'The beginning of evil is heedlessness.' 

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