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

IT was related by a certain old man who said:—There was a virgin who was far advanced in years, and who had grown old in the fear of God, and having been asked by me to tell me the reason why she left the world, she began, with sighs, to speak to me as follows:—Great and marvellous things have happened unto me. When I was a young girl I had a father, who was a pleasant man, and who was modest in his disposition; now he was a delicate man in health, and he was always suffering from some kind of sickness, and he lived entirely to himself, and never interfered in the affairs of other people, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he could be induced to see the people of his village. When he was in good health he devoted his attention unceasingly to the care of his estate, and he occupied himself at all seasons with the cultivation of his fields; but finally he was obliged to pass many long days of his life laid out on a bed of sickness, and he was so quiet that those who were not acquainted with him would have thought that he was deaf. And I had a mother, who, in all her ways and manners, was the opposite of my father, and she used to do things which were beyond her capacity; her words to every one were many, and she poured out her speech uselessly to every one, and she talked so much that every one imagined that her body was composed wholly of tongues. Moreover, she had quarrels with her neighbours continually, and she was always in a state of drunkenness, and she drank shamelessly at all times with wanton folk, and she managed the affairs of her house badly, after the manner of a harlot; and at length, though the house was well furnished with goods of every kind, it was with the greatest difficulty that the people could find enough to supply our wants. She was very lax in the care for the things which my father required in his illness, but she displayed the utmost attention in providing for her own body in a disgraceful manner, and the people of the village at length fled before her shameless appearance. No illness ever came upon her, and shehad never been ill in the whole course of her life, from the day she was born, and she was healthy in body until her death.

When therefore, I, a wretched girl, had lived for some time in such circumstances as these, it happened that, after struggling against a long illness, that is to say, my father was obliged to pass every day of his life in the infirmity of sickness, at length he departed from the world. Now at the very moment of his death the weather changed, and the rain poured down in torrents, and lightnings and thunders were tearing through the air, and disturbing it violently, and it was impossible to tell whether it was day or whether it was night; for this reason my father lay dead on his bier for three days, for the weather did not permit him to be buried. And, moreover, it made the people of the village to shake their heads, and they wondered, and said, “Perhaps great wickednesses were committed by this man secretly, and he may have been found to be such an enemy of God that even the earth will not permit his burial”; but, in order that his body might not go wholly to corruption, even though the weather was gloomy and threatening, and the rain had not ceased, by some means or other we carried him [to the grave], and laid him therein. Now my mother, as one who had found great relief, forthwith fulfilled unreproved her wanton lusts to the utmost, and she straightway turned my father’s house into an abode of harlots, and she lived there in such a state of luxury and lascivious pleasure that soon of all the goods in it only a mere remnant was left, and that remnant she left to me when I was very young. Then with difficulty came death to my mother, and in my opinion, he was afraid to approach her, for great worms grew in her, and with much trouble she was buried, the weather by its serenity, and the sun by his splendour helping [in the work].

Now after the death of my mother, and whilst I was still a little girl, I left the world. During the period when I was a young woman the lusts of the body were stirred up within me, and they goaded me severely, and I used to rise up in the evening (or night) that I might lie down again and find a little relief from the disturbance of my mind. And a struggle went on in my thoughts, for I wondered what manner of life I should choose for myself, and how I should end the days of my life, and whether they would be passed in quietness and happiness, and fair chastity, even as they were during my father’s lifetime. Then my thoughts spake unto me thus:—“Behold, in this world thy father did not enjoy any happiness whatsoever, but he passed all his life in sickness and wretchedness, and he departed from this world of trouble under the same circumstances, and even the earth was unwilling to receive his body; are [men] to receive such a life as this from (?) God, and why did my father deserve such treatment? On the other hand, supposing I chose to lead a life like that of my mother, will that be any better to deliver my body over to fornication, and lasciviousness, and the gratification of [my] lusts? For, behold, my mother left no kind of abominable wickedness which she did not commit, and she destroyed her whole life with her depravity, and yet she departed from this world having enjoyed health and prosperity every day [of her life]! What then? Is it not then right for me to live even as she lived? For it is better that I should believe with mine own eyes, and that they should see for themselves the variety and the ending of such matters, for there is nothing better than to understand thoroughly whatsoever we see openly before our eyes.”

And I, the wretched girl, vainly imagined that such thoughts were the thoughts of truth, and for this reason I determined to prepare myself to live even as my mother had lived. Now when the night had overtaken me, and immediately sleep had fallen upon me after thinking thoughts of this kind, a certain man, of huge stature, stood up above me; and his appearance was frightful, and his form made me tremble and terrified me, and his face was hard, and in a stern voice he asked me, saying, “Tell me, so and so, what are these thoughts which are in thy heart?” And, because I was terrified by his appearance and form, I scarcely dared to look upon him, and in a voice which was sterner than before, he commanded me to reveal to him the things which I had settled in my own mind to do. And being stupefied with fear I forgot all my thoughts and I said unto him, “My lord, I know not what thou sayest,” and having thus denied that I knew, he reminded me of everything which I had thought out in my mind, one after the other. Therefore, having rebuked myself, I turned and begged and entreated him that I might be held worthy of forgiveness, and I related unto him the reason for such thoughts. Then he straightway said unto me, “I am about to shew thee both thy father and thy mother, and the [different] manner of life which they lead, and the things which each doeth, and thou shalt choose which life thou wilt lead.” And he took me by my hands, and drew me away, and carried me to an exceedingly great plain, wherein there were many paradises, and thick trees heavily laden with fruits, which for appearance and beauty surpassed description. Now when I had entered into that plain, my father met me, and embraced me, and kissed me, and he held converse with me and called me “my daughter,” and whilst I was in his embrace I besought him that I might remain with him, but he said unto me, “At present it is impossible, but if thou desirest to walk chastely in my footsteps thou shalt come hither after no great time.”

And as I remained and was making my supplication unto him, he who had brought me to this place drew me on, and I was lifted up in his hands, and he said unto me, “Come and see thy mother also in the fire which is blazing fiercely, so that thou mayest know how to choose what is good, and towards which manner of life it will be useful and beneficial for thee to incline.” Then he showed me a fiery furnace which was burning fiercely, and every kind of thing of cruel wrath surrounded the furnace, and I heard proceeding therefrom the sound of weeping and of gnashing of teeth. And having looked down into the furnace I saw my mother sunk in fire up to her neck, and she was weeping and gnashing her teeth, and she was being consumed in the fire, and she was being gnawed by a multitude of worms; and when she saw me she cried out with tears in a loud voice and, addressing me with the words, “My daughter,” she said, “woe is me, O my daughter, for these things have come upon me because of my evil deeds, and because I held to be madness the things which were said unto me concerning chastity, and the punishments which were declared to fall upon those who committed fornication and adultery. And, behold, in return for my lascivious pleasure I have to suffer torture, because I did not think that vengeance was laid up therefor! And, behold, in return for a little pleasure and the momentary gratification of my desire, what everlasting punishment I have to endure, and what penalty is there which I am not compelled to pay? And consider, moreover, that in return for the short-lived happiness which I, O wretched woman, enjoyed, I have to pay a prolonged penalty. And because I despised God what evil wages I have to receive! All these things have overtaken me because I behaved rebelliously, but, behold, now is the time for helping me, O my daughter. Remember now with what anxious care and attention thy bringing up was carried out, and the helpful things which I brought thee, and to speak briefly, all the good things which I did for thee. Have mercy upon the woman who burneth in the fire. Have mercy upon the woman who hath been cast into such tortures as these. Have pity upon me, O my daughter, and stretch out thy hand, and lift me up out of this place.” Now I excused myself from doing this on account of him that stood by my side, and again she wept and cried out to me, saying, “O my daughter, help me. O my daughter, have pity upon me, and come to me. Neglect not thy mother who gnasheth her teeth [in pain], and treat not with indifference her who suffereth torment in Gehenna.”

Now as, after the nature of a human being, I felt pain because of her tears and her mournful voice, I began to cry out loudly, and to sigh and moan bitterly, and then all those who were sleeping in our house awoke, and when they had risen up, they questioned me and I told them the reason of the outcry and disturbance, and I narrated unto them everything which had appeared unto me. These are the things through which, by the rich mercy of God, I chose to follow the life and works of my father, and I was persuaded to be governed, and through Divine Providence I am confirmed in my belief that such punishments are laid up for those who desire to live an evil life.

Such are the things which we heard from the virgin who is worthy of blessing, and from them we may know what delights, according to the things which appeared unto her in the revelation, are laid up for those who wish to live in a state of spiritual excellence, and what punishments are prepared for those who choose to live a wicked and wanton life. And because of these things it is meet that we should strive to the utmost to live a life of virtue, and to excel therein, so that, by the help of God, we may through our life and deeds merit the happiness [of heaven]. Amen.








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