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

IT is meet that we should call to remembrance his death, and should relate how it took place, and in what manner he finished his life, for I know that ye will be exceedingly pleased therewith. Now he was accustomed to go out and visit the memorial stones of the brethren in the outer mountain. Now the matter of his death also was not hidden from him, and he went forth [to visit them] even when he knew that his departure was nigh. And after he had spoken to the brethren according to his wont, he said unto them, “This act which ye have just performed is the end of all acts; and I marvel at this world. Let each look [for himself] alone; for it is time for me to die.” Now he was then about one hundred and five years old.

And when the brethren heard [these things], they wept bitter tears, and each of them began to embrace and to kiss him, and the old man, like unto a man from a strange country who is about to depart thereto, with great gladness besought them to be quiet, and exhorted them, saying, “Be not ye in despair by reason of your tribulations, and be not lax in your lives and works, but even as men who are dying daily prepare ye for life, and, as I have already said, be watchful ever. Keep ye your souls from thoughts of iniquity, and strive ye for good gifts, and guard ye yourselves against associating yourselves with the Meletians (see page 57), who are heretics, for ye know the cause of their schisms, and how cunning and bitter they are. And flee ye with all your might also from the doctrine of the Arians, for their wickedness is clearly manifest, and take good heed to avoid them, and be not like unto them for ever, neither if they be mighty in their help, nor if they be many in bearing burdens, for however often error raiseth up her nest (?) it shall never be able to contend against the truth. Be ye, therefore, free from all intercourse with them, and thus shall ye be able to take good heed to the true doctrine of our fathers, and to the preaching of the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which ye have received from the Scriptures.”

Now when the brethren heard concerning the matter of his departure, they entreated him that he would remain with them in order that his course might be ended there, but he would not accede to their request for many reasons which he had made known in his silence, but for the following reason especially. The Egyptians were in the habit of taking the dead bodies of righteous men, and especially those of the blessed martyrs, and of embalming them and placing them not in graves, but on biers in their houses, for they thought that by so doing they were doing them honour. And the blessed old man had on very many occasions besought the Bishops to preach to the people and to command them to cease from this habit. And he himself used to entreat and exhort the multitudes who came to him, saying, “This work is neither seemly nor right. Moreover, the burial places of the early Fathers, and of the Prophets, and of the Apostles are known unto this day, and even the grave of our Lord Who rose on the third day.” And by these words he showed forth that it was a transgression of a command for a man not to hide [in the ground] the bodies of those who were dead, even though they were righteous men. Therefore many hearkened and were persuaded not to do so, and they laid their dead in the ground, and buried them therein, and they thanked God because they had accepted [his] entreaty, which was seemly. And it was through fear of this thing that he would not grant the entreaty of the brethren and remain with them, but departed to his own place.

And after a few months he became sick, and he cried out to the brethren who were with him (now these were only two in number, and they had been with him from the time when his old age [began], which was nearly fifteen years before, and they ministered unto him with the greatest care), and said unto them, even as it is written, “Behold, I go the way of my fathers, for I have felt within myself for some days [past] that I have been called by my Lord. Observe ye now how carefully ye can maintain this contest, and take good heed that ye lose not the long-suffering which ye have acquired, and that, like men who are just beginning [the strife], ye increase it more and more and add to it day by day. Ye are well acquainted with the baneful devils and their craftiness, and ye know well this fact, that if ye please they shall be accounted as nothing by you. Be ye therefore not terrified by them, but always take refuge in Christ. And remember ye everything which ye have heard from me during all this time [which ye have been with me], that ye have no intercourse whatsoever with the Arians, the heretics, for ye know how filthy they are in my sight because of their blasphemy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Take ye also heed then diligently at all times that ye cleave to the Spirit of Christ and agree therewith, and be ye, moreover, friends and associates of just men that they may receive you into their everlasting habitations as friends and men of whom they have good knowledge. Therefore meditate ye upon these things and keep them in your minds. And if your minds are [set] upon me, and ye remember me as a father, permit no man to take my body and carry it into Egypt, lest, according to the custom which they have, they embalm me and lay me up in their houses, for it was [to avoid] this that I came into this desert. And ye know that I have continually made exhortation concerning this thing and begged that it should not be done, and ye well know how much I have blamed those who observed this custom. Dig a grave then, and bury me therein, and hide my body under the earth, and let these my words be observed carefully by you, and tell ye no man where ye lay me; [and there I shall be] until the Resurrection of the dead, when I shall receive [again] this body without corruption.

“And divide ye my garments [into lots], and give one leather tunic to Bishop Athanasius, and the covering of this my bed which he gave unto me when it was new; but now it hath become old. And to Bishop Serapion do ye give the other leather coat; and this covering of my bed which is made of hair ye yourselves shall keep; now therefore, my children, abide in peace, for, behold, Anthony bringeth his journey to an end, and he goeth whither Divine Grace shall bring him.”

And when he had spoken these words, he straightway stretched out his legs, whereupon the brethren began to cry out [to him], and to kiss him; now his face was full of joy unspeakable at the meeting of those who had come for him, and it resembled that of a man when he seeth a friend whom it rejoiceth him to meet. So the blessed man held his peace and died, and was gathered to his fathers.

Then the brethren, according to the command which they had received from him, wrapped him round in the garment which he wore, and they carried him out, and dug a hole in the ground and buried his body in the earth, and no man knoweth where they buried him except those two brethren who laid him in the earth. Now whosoever received any one of the clothes of the blessed Anthony regarded it as a most valuable possession, for whensoever a man looked thereat he imagined that he was looking at the blessed man in it, and whensoever any man put on one of his garments he felt as if he were arrayed in the commandments and promises of the blessed Anthony.

Here end the history of the life of the blessed old man in the body, and the previous narrative thereto which [dealt with] the beginning of his deeds and labours; and if these appear to be too small in comparison with [the number of] the triumphs of the blessed man, still from these ye will be able to imagine how great was this man of God, who, from his earliest youth to his old age, never desisted from his career in the fear of God. Old age did not reduce his vigour and compel him to gratify the body, and he was not urged by the sickness of his body even to touch water with his feet; and whilst he was thus keeping his body in restraint God preserved him unharmed. For, in spite of his great old age, his eye waxed not dim, and not one of his teeth dropped out, and both his feet and his hands were in a sound and healthy state; and notwithstanding that he kept his body low [in respect of food], his appearance was more glorious than that of all those who fed themselves luxuriously on dainty meats, and who wore fine clothes, and who made use of baths. And moreover he possessed strength which was out of all proportion to his aged body.

Now inasmuch as the fame of the blessed Anthony hath gone into every place, and every man holdeth him in wonder, and worshippeth him, it is a sure and certain sign of the truth of his acts and deeds and of his perfect love towards God. For he did not become known unto all the world by means of [his] discourse, or by the wisdom of words, or by means of crafty plans and schemes, but by radiant righteousness towards God, for it was God Who performed this work, and he who hath a doubtful mind about this shall be held in contempt. Otherwise how is it possible that a man who lived in seclusion and who dwelt alone in the desert should become known and proclaimed abroad in Spain, and in Âlânîâ, and in Rome, and in Africa and other countries unless God, Whom Anthony confessed from the earliest times, had revealed him [to them]? For although these men of God live in secret places and do not desire to be seen and known, yet our Lord [maketh them] to shine like lamps upon all men. Thus also let those who hear [me], and who are mighty men before God, and who love His commandments, be persuaded to keep [their] steps, not that they may be praised but that they may be justified. Let all the brethren then who are monks read these things so that they may know how it is meet for them to live their lives, and let this little book be unto every man like the testament of a righteous father who had divided his riches and possessions among his beloved sons in our Lord; for when we gather together and reveal unto the believers those means whereby he gained possession of and collected all his wealth, we deliver up riches and give them unto prosperous and beloved sons, even as doth the man who gathered up wealth [for his family].

Let every man know then and have confidence that our Lord Jesus Christ our Redeemer honoureth those who honour Him, and who serve Him unto the end, and that He doth not only invite them to the kingdom of heaven and lead them into it, but in this world also, even though they live in seclusion and hide themselves, He revealeth them, and proclaimeth abroad [their names] for their own glory, and for the benefit of our humanity. And if it be seemly, do not excuse yourselves from reading these things even in the sight of (or before) the heathen, for peradventure even by hearing the same they may become convinced that our Lord Jesus Christ is not only God and the Son of God, but also that for those who serve Him in purity of heart, and who believe in Him in truth, those devils who are imagined to be gods take to flight at the name of Christ. Now that they are not gods the matter itself maketh known, for behold, they are held in contempt, and they are trodden down like the furrows of a field, and they are expelled as thieves and destroyers by the believers everywhere.

Here endeth, by the help of our Lord, the History of the Triumphs of the blessed Anthony, the athlete and perfect man, who triumphed in the contest and received the crown of victory. By his prosperous trafficking be made double his merchadise through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who helped him and made him to triumph, the Lord [of righteous men] and the Conqueror.

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