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

AND a certain brother came to the monks who lived in that spot wherein there were twelve wells of water, and seventy palm trees, where Moses and the people [of Israel] encamped when they went forth from Egypt, and that brother told them the following story, saying:—I once had it in my mind to go into the inner desert and see if there was any man living therein, and I went a journey of four days and four nights, and found a certain cave; and having approached it I looked inside it and saw a man sitting therein, and I knocked at the door according to the custom of the monks, so that he might come out to me, and I might salute him, but he never moved, for he was dead. Now I did not hesitate or draw back, but I went in and laid my hand upon his shoulders, and he crumbled into dust and became nothing at all; and in wonderment I came out of that place and journeyed on again in the desert.

And I saw another cave by the side of which were traces of men, and I plucked up courage, and drew nigh to it, and though I knocked no man answered me; then I went inside and found no man, and I rose up [and came] outside, and said within myself, “The holy man will soon come here.” Now when it was the season of evening, I saw a number of beasts, which are called “buffaloes,” and the servant of God was in their midst, naked; and his hair had been made into a covering for his shame. And when he saw me he stood up in prayer, for he thought that I was a spirit, and he was greatly vexed by an evil spirit, as he subsequently told me; and I understood this matter, and said unto him, “I am a man, O holy one. Look at my footprints, and touch me, for I am flesh and blood.” And after he had prayed, and I had answered “Amen,” he looked at me and took heart, and brought me into his cave, and asked me, “Why didst thou come here?” Then I said unto him, “That I might be blessed by the servants of God have I come into this desert, and He hath not deprived me of my desire”; and I also asked him, “How didst thou come here? and how dost thou live?” And he began to speak unto me thus:—I was once in a monastery, where my work was [to weave] linen, and the thought came to me that I would leave it and dwell by myself, and [my mind said], “Thou wilt be able to live in seclusion, and to entertain strangers with the results of thy labour, and thy wages will be more than enough for thee”; and I agreed with my thoughts, and I carried them into effect. So I built me an habitation, and took up my abode therein, and men used to come to me and carry away my work. Now whilst I was doing thus, and was giving my work for the benefit of strangers and the poor, Satan, the Enemy, with his wonted envy cast his arrows at me, and instead of the reward of my labours wherewith I expected to be rewarded, he flattered me by causing a certain virgin to come to me, with the excuse that she wished to buy the labour of my hands, and I gave her that which she wanted. And he stirred her up, moreover, and with one excuse or the other she was always coming to me; and when she had been accustomed to come, and had acquired freedom of speech with me, she began to come near me, and she would take hold of my hands, and laugh, and she was so bold as to eat with me; and subsequently we conceived and brought forth iniquity. And having lived with her in this fallen condition for six months I thought in my mind that whether it was to-day, or to-morrow, or at some future time, however far off that time might be, I should be delivered over to everlasting torment. The man who taketh out [of her house] the wife of another man, and seduceth her, is delivered over to the punishment of the Law; how much greater then will be the punishment of the man who hath seduced a woman who hath been betrothed to Christ? Then straightway I determined to come to this desert, and leaving everything I had behind me I went forth secretly, and I came and found this cave, and this fountain, and this palm which is in front of it, which produceth twelve clusters of dates each year, and thus yieldeth each month that which is sufficient for me for the whole month. Now after some time the hair of my body grew long, and my clothes wore out, and my hair covered my bodily shame; I have now been here for thirty years, and the air (or climate) always supplieth me in moderation with what is necessary.

And I questioned him further, saying, “Was thy mind disturbed about anything during the first years of thy life here?” And he said unto me, “I was greatly afflicted at first, and I used to throw myself upon the ground by reason of pain in my liver, and I could not stand up to say my prayers, but was obliged to make my supplications unto God lying on the ground. Now whilst I was in this tribulation I saw a man who came, and stood by my side, and said unto me, ‘What is thy pain?’ And at these words I gained a little strength, and I said unto him, ‘My liver troubleth me and causeth me pain’; and he said to me, ‘Shew me where the place is.’ And having shewn him, he spread out his fingers and his hands, and slit up my body as with a sword and he took my liver and shewed me the sore on it; then he removed the pain, and having made the place whole again, he said unto me, ‘Behold, thou art healed. Serve thou Christ, thy Lord, as is meet for Him’; and I have been healed since that, and have lived here without any pain. Then I entreated him to permit me to live in the first cave, wherein I had seen the dead monk, and he said unto me, ‘Thou art not able to endure the attack of the devils’; and knowing that what he had said unto me was right, I entreated him to pray for me and to dismiss me.” I have narrated this story unto you, O my brethren, so that we may be zealous in the spiritual life and its works of excellence, and may attain to everlasting life; may our Lord in His grace and goodness make us worthy to receive it!








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