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

ONCE there was a man among the brethren whose name was Sylvanus, who for a period of twenty years had worn the garb of a monk; now he was originally an actor, and at the beginning of his life as a monk he was exceedingly anxious about his soul, but after a short time had elapsed he began to be so negligent about his redemption, that he wanted to make merry and to enjoy himself, and besides this he used to sing fearlessly among the brethren snatches or the lewd and ribald songs which he used to hear in the theatre. Then Abbâ Pachomius, the holy man, called this brother before the brethren, and commanded him to strip off the garb of a monk, and having received such apparel as was worn in the world, to go forth from among the brethren and from the monastery. And that brother fell down at the feet of Pachomius and entreated him, saying, “O father, if thou wilt forgive me this once, and wilt not cast me forth, thou hast it from me that from this time forward I will repent of those things wherein I have hitherto shown negligence, in such a manner that thou shalt be able to see the change which hath taken place in my soul.”

And the holy man answered and said unto him, “Dost thou know how much I have borne from thee, and how many times I have admonished thee, and how many times I have beaten thee? I am a man who hath no wish to stretch out my hands in a matter of this kind, because when, of necessity, I was obliged to act thus in respect of thee, [my] soul suffered far more by the mention of association with passion than thou didst, although the stripes were laid upon thee. I beat thee for the sake of thy salvation in God, so that by that means I might be able to correct thee of thy folly; but since, even though I admonished thee, thou didst not change [thy course of life], and didst not follow after spiritual excellence, even though I entreated thee so to do, and since even when beaten thou wast not afraid, how is it possible for me to forgive thee any more?”

But when Sylvanus multiplied his entreaties, and begged for his forgiveness long and earnestly, and promised that he would amend his life henceforward, Rabbâ demanded a surety from him that after he was forgiven he would no more continue his evil behaviour; and when the venerable man Petronius had made himself a surety for him concerning the things which Sylvanus had promised the blessed man forgave him. Then Sylvanus, having been held worthy of forgiveness, contended with all his soul, and to such good purpose, that he became the pattern of all excellence of the fear of God, both among all the younger and all the elder brethren. Now the virtue which surpassed all the other virtues which he possessed was that of absolute humility, and tears flowed from his eyes so unceasingly that even when he was eating with the brethren he was not able to restrain his weeping, and his tears were mingled with his food. And when the brethren told him that he should not behave thus before the face of strangers (i.e., visitors), or before any people, he took an oath, saying, “I have sought many times to restrain [my] tears for this reason, but I have never been able [to do so].” Then the brethren said, “Is it not possible for him that repenteth to seek to be alone? And would it not be better for him to act thus when he was praying with the brethren than when he was eating at the table with them? And is it not possible for the soul to weep continually with tears other than those which are visible?” [Then turning to him, they said,] “We wish to know what thou hast to say on the matter. For thou art so overwhelmed with [thy] tears that many of us who see thee in this state are ashamed to eat and take our fill.”

Then Sylvanus said unto those who had asked him [those questions], “Do ye not wish me to weep when I see holy men waiting upon me, men, the dust of whose feet I am unworthy [to sweep away]? Is it not proper that I should weep over myself? I weep then, O my brethren, because a man from the theatre is ministered unto by such holy men as these, and I am afraid lest I be smitten even as were Dathan and Abiram. And I weep especially because, being in ignorance, I cared so little at the beginning about the redemption (or salvation) of my soul, that I came in danger of being expelled by the brethren from the monastery, and I was obliged to give surety [for my better behaviour], and to take awful oaths that I would never again treat my life with contempt. For this reason I am not ashamed [to weep], and I have turned away from such things; for I know my sins and that if I was obliged to deliver up my soul I should find no happiness [in heaven].”

And as this man strove nobly in this manner Rabbâ himself bore testimony before all the brethren, and spake thus: “Behold, I bear testimony before God that, from the time when this monastery came into existence, among all the brethren who have lived with me therein, there hath been none who hath resembled completely the example [which I have conceived in my mind] with the exception of one.” Now when the brethren heard these things some of them thought that the one man of whom he spake was Theodore, and others thought he was Petronius, and others thought he was Arsenius, and at length Theodore asked the holy man of which monk he had spoken when he said this thing; but Rabbâ did not wish to say. But because Theodore and the other great fathers continued to entreat him [to tell them], for they wished to learn who he was, Rabbâ answered and said, “If I knew that vainglory would come to him of whom I am about to speak, and that he would be greatly praised, I would not shew [you] who he is; but, because I know that the more he is praised, the more humble he will become, and the more he will think scorn of himself, and because [I wish] you to emulate his example, I will, before you all, fearlessly ascribe blessing to him. Thou, O Theodore, and all those, who like thee, strive in the fight, have bound the Calumniator with fetters like a kid of the goats, and have placed him under your feet, and daily ye trample upon him as ye trample upon dust; but if ye are the least unmindful of yourselves, the Calumniator, who hath been cast under your feet, will rise up again, and will set himself against you like an armed man. But this young man Sylvanus, who but a short time since was about to be expelled from the monastery, hath, by his strenuousness, so completely subjugated the Calumniator, and slain him, that he will never again be able to approach him, for he hath vanquished him utterly by his exceedingly great humility. Ye have humbled yourselves as if ye possessed works of righteousness, and the addition which ye would make to your spiritual excellence is reduced, for ye rely upon the things which have already been performed by you; but this young man, however much he striveth, never sheweth himself to the gaze [of his fellows], and he thinketh with all his mind and soul that he is a useless and contemptible being. And tears are always nigh unto him because he is always belittling himself, and because he saith that he is unworthy of the things which are visible. Ye, in your knowledge, and in your patient endurance, and in your strivings against the Calumniator, which cannot be measured, are better than he is, but he hath surpassed you in humility, because he, in this manner, cutteth off for the Calumniator nothing but humility, and the power of action which ariseth from the whole soul.” Now therefore when Sylvanus had striven in this manner for eight years, he completed his fight, and laid down his life in such wise that his servant, a mighty man of God, testified concerning his departure, and said that an endless throng of holy angels, with great rejoicing and singing, received his soul as a choice sacrifice, and that they offered it up unto God like the marvellous incense which is found among the children of men.








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