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The Paradise Of The Holy Fathers Volumes 1 and 2 by Saint Athanasius Of Alexandria

IT is not meet that we should veil the history of this holy man in silence, for we must set it down plainly in writing, both for the help and edification of those who shall come across it, and for the glory of that God Whose wont is to change bitterness to sweetness; we shall, therefore, make clear the history of the blessed man from the beginning, and tell how he journeyed step by step to the goal of spiritual excellence, and how he was carried onwards to the ascetic life, and how he arrived at purity of heart, and how he departed from this world at the age of fifty-four years.

Now this blessed man came from Pontus, where his family lived, and where his father held the office of visitor; and the blessed man Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, appointed him to be a reader. And after the death of the blessed man Basil, Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus, seeing his perspicacity, and his great skill in the Divine Books, and that he was free from passions, and was adorned with virtues, brought him nigh to the grade of the priesthood, and he went up to the synod which was held at Constantinople with the blessed man Gregory, who loved him greatly. And when the blessed man Nectarius, Bishop of of Constantinople, met him, he was drawn to love him, because he saw that he was a man of strong character, and he attached him to himself. Now Evagrius was beloved by all men, and he was held in honour by all men, and for this reason Satan was envious of him, and he disturbed his understanding through the vision of his mind, which he set in a blaze through the love of a certain woman; and this woman was the wife of one of the noblemen of the city, according to what he himself related unto us. And when, by the will of God, he was set free from these thoughts, the woman herself began to love Evagrius; now she was a great lady of high degree.

Then Evagrius, setting before his eyes the reproach of fornication, prayed unto God with labour that, in His Grace, He might bring this matter to naught, and that he might extinguish the mad lust of that woman; to chide her himself the blessed man was not able, because he was bridled by the large numbers of gifts [which he had received] from her. And his prayer having been heard, when as yet he had not had union with her sinfully, an angel appeared unto him in the form of a soldier of the prefect, who seized him, and cast him into prison, and who loaded his neck and his hands with chains, but who did not inform Evagrius for what reason he had to bear this ill-treatment; and the thought sprang up in his mind which said, “Perhaps that woman’s husband has laid an accusation against me before the judge.” Then Evagrius found himself in great agony of mind, because he saw that other men, who had been committed to prison for offences similar to his own, were condemned to judgement before his eyes, and the angel changed his form, and appeared unto him in the guise of one of his friends, and he began to say unto him, when he saw that he was loaded with chains and had been placed with the malefactors, “What is this which hath happened unto thee, O brother?”

And Evagrius made answer unto him, saying, “My brother, in truth I know not. I think that perhaps some prince of the city hath laid [an accusation] against me before the judge, because of some vain jealousy (or envy) which hath burst into flame in him, and I am afraid lest, through a gift of much money, the judge may issue a decree of death against me.” And the angel said unto him, “If thou wilt receive the words of thy friend I counsel thee not to remain in this city”; and the blessed Evagrius said unto him, “Thinkest thou that thou wilt see me in this city if God will deliver me from this trial? Thou mightest as well think that I am enduring these evils righteously!” Then the angel said unto him, “Swear unto me that thou wilt depart [from the city], and wilt have a care for thy soul, and I will deliver thee from these trials”; and Evagrius took an oath unto him by the Book of the Gospel, [saying], “I will not tarry here more than the one day which will be necessary for me to put my things in the ship.”

And when Evagrius woke up from his sleep, he thought within himself and said, “Although the words of the oaths have been uttered in a dream, it is right that I should fulfil that which I have promised”; so he put his things in a ship and departed to Jerusalem, where the blessed woman Melania received him gladly; now Melania had come from the city of Rome. And, because Satan had made the heart of Evagrius as hard as that of Pharaoh, he failed to call to mind that which he had promised to do, and he went back to his former habits and returned to his pride, and was arrayed in filthy garments. But God, because He is in the habit of bringing to naught on our behalf things of evil, kindled the fire of a great fever in Evagrius, and He cast him into a sickness which lasted for six months, and none of the physicians was able to bring healing unto him. Then the blessed woman Melania said unto him, “My son, thy long illness pleaseth me not; tell me, then, concerning it, for peradventure there is something hidden in thy mind; thy illness is not like unto that of every [other] man.” Then Evagrius confessed unto her the whole matter. And Melania said unto him, “Promise me truthfully that from this time onward thou wilt take care of thyself in a habitation of monks, and that thou wilt work unto God; and however great a sinner I may be, I will pray for thee, and relief shall be given unto thy tribulation.” Then he promised [to do] that which she required at his hands, and before a few days had passed by the blessed man was healed, and he rose up [from his bed], and from that day his whole mind was changed.

And he departed and went to the mountain which is in Egypt and which is called Nethrâ (i.e., Nitria), and dwelt there for two years, and in the third year he departed into the inner desert, and dwelt there fourteen years in the place which is called “The Cells”; and he lived upon one pound [of bread] a day, and a box of oil [every] three months. He had been a man great in pomp and he had made great his body, and had been ministered unto by slaves, yet he laid down a rule that he should pray in the course of [each] day one hundred prayers. He lived by the labour of his hands, and he only accepted the bare price of his daily food [for] all the work he did; and his work was to write books. Before, however, the fifteen years had passed by, he had cleansed his heart, and was held to be worthy of the grace of God, and wisdom and understanding were given to him, and he knew the power of spirits. He composed three volumes, and taught us [therein] the cunning of devils and the snares [laid by the] thoughts.

And the blessed man Evagrius himself related unto us that the devil of fornication [once] made an attack upon him, and that he stood up naked the whole night long in the desert (now it was the season of winter), until his flesh was quite shrivelled and dried up. And the devil of blasphemy [on another occasion] made an attack upon him, and according to what he told us, he passed forty days under the open sky in winter until his flesh became like that of the beasts of the desert. And he also told us that once three devils came to him in the daytime, in the form of three members of a religious body, and they began to discuss the faith with him; one of these declared himself to be an Arian, the second said that he was a Eunomian (i.e., a follower of Eunomius, Bishop of Cyzicus, A.D. 360–364), and the third confessed himself to be of the sect of Apollinarius (Bishop of Laodicea; he died about A.D. 390); but by the Divine Grace which was with him he drove them away, having put them to shame.

And again he told [us] that one day he lost the key of his cell, but he made the sign of the Cross over the door and then put in his hand and opened it, having called Christ to his help. He was beaten with innumerable stripes by the devils, and he learned by experience very much concerning their cunning. He made known unto one of his disciples by prophecy that which should happen unto him after [a period of] eighteen years, and what he said actually came to pass. And he said, “From the time when I entered the desert I have never washed, and I have never eaten any vegetable, or any fruit, or any grapes.” At the end of his life, however, that is to say, in the sixteenth year wherein he departed from the world, he ate compulsorily food which was cooked by fire, and he was obliged to do this because of a weakness of the stomach which had overtaken him, and he was compelled to take food which had been cooked because of this.








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