THE PARADISE OF THE DESERT FATHERS
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
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."
HOW TO BECOME A DISCIPLE
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
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
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
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
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
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 FOR ALL
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
"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
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
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
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
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
WORKS AT ALL AND TEMPTATION WILL COME UPON THEM; AND THOSE
WHO WILL BE
APPROVED IN THAT DAY WILL BE GREATER THAN EITHER US OR OUR
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.'
Provided courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210