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

The Epistle of Palladius, the Bishop of the city of thelenopolis, which be made (or wrote) to Lausus the prefect who asked him to write for him an account of the lives and deeds of the Fathers who were monks; and be wrote thus:

PALLADIUS the Bishop to LAUSUS the prefect: greeting (or peace).

I ascribe blessing to thy beautiful desire, for we may begin [this] epistle with blessing, because whilst many men are devoted unto vain things, and build buildings of stone wherein there is no profit, thou hast shown thyself strenuous to learn concerning the building of the words of the narratives of holy men. For there is One alone Who hath no deed of doctrine (or learning) that is to say, God, Who is over everything, for He existeth of Himself, and there is no other being who existed before Him. Now all rational beings are learners, because they are beings who have been made and created. The ranks of the celestial hosts who existed first of all, and the orders of beings who are the most exalted of all possess teachers in the Trinity, Who is exalted above everything. The orders of beings of the second group learn from the beings of the first group, and those which belong to the third group learn from those of the second group, which is above them, and in this manner each of the later groups learneth from that which is above it, even down to the lowest group of all; for those among them who are superior in respect of knowledge and excellence teach knowledge unto those who are inferior to them. Therefore those who imagine that they have no need of teachers, and who will not be convinced by those who teach them things of good, are sick with the want of the knowledge which is the mother and the producer of pride. Now those who are princes and the foremost ones among these in respect of destruction are those who intentionally (or wilfully) fell from sojourning in heaven, and from the service thereof, and these are the devils who fly in the air because they forsook the heavenly Teacher and rebelled.

For polished words and sentences, or words strung together in admirable order, are not doctrine, for these things are for the most part found with evil-doers and sinners; but this is doctrine, which is the correction of the natural habits and disposition, and the leading of a life of spiritual excellence according to rule, by which I mean the possession of the faculty which shall make a man superior to affliction and to emotion, and to timidity, and to wrath; and which shall make him to possess freedom of speech before every man, and which shall, through the fervour of Divine Love, produce works that shall be like unto coals of fire. For if doctrine be not this, the Great Teacher would not have said unto His disciples, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart” (St. Matthew 11:29), for He did not instruct (or order) His Apostles merely in the beauty of speech, without at the same time making manifest a proof (or work) in His own Person. And He caused grief unto no man except those who spurned doctrine, and those who hated their teachers. It is meet that the soul which leadeth its life in God should either learn in faith that which it knoweth not, or should learn wisely that of which it hath knowledge; but if it will do neither of these things it is, if it be possible, sick through madness.

The beginning of instruction (or discipline) is the fullness which is of doctrine, and density of speech is a helper of the fear of God, and for these things the soul of him that loveth God hungereth continually. Be strong then, and play the man. Farewell. And may God grant thee the gift of pursuing at all times the knowledge of Christ.

The Plan of the Book [of Paradise]

IN this book are written the excellent deeds and the marvellous lives of the holy and blessed Fathers, who took upon themselves the yoke of the solitary life, and who made themselves to be remote from the world, and who lived in the desert, and who wished to live wholly the heavenly life, and to travel on the road which leadeth unto the kingdom of heaven. Let us emulate their example and endeavour to do with all our might what they did! And together with these we commemorate also the marvellous women who led their lives in the Divine Spirit, and who waxed exceedingly old, and who with a brave mind brought to an end the strife of the labours of spiritual excellence, according to the Divine manifestation and ove, for they wished to lay hold upon their souls, and to bind [upon their heads] the crown of holiness and impassibility.

And as for myself, (because of the sweet manners of the man by whom I have been commanded [to write], whose mind is full of doctrine (or learning), whose habits are those of a lover of peace, who feareth God in his heart, who loveth Christ in his mind, who in the things which are needful is an associate, and who, because of all these qualities, hath been chosen from among many, and hath been honoured with the highest rank of all), being protected by the might of the Holy Spirit—especially if it be right to speak the truth—I would rouse up our heavy minds to the contemplation of the things which are spiritually excellent, so that we may strive to imitate the most excellent lives and deeds of the pious men, and of the immortal and spiritual fathers, whose lives in the flesh were passed in laborious and stern service and in pleasing God. Of the virtues of such athletes of the fear of God it is my desire to set down some account in writing and to send it to thee, and I would make clear in my discourse the manifest spiritual excellences of each one of these great men. And he who loveth a divine and spiritual desire like unto this is thyself, Lausus, who art triumphant among men, and who, in accordance with the Divine nod, hast been established as the guardian of this kingdom which loveth Christ.

But inasmuch as I have not been trained in language (or speech), and as I possess spiritual knowledge only in the very smallest degree, and am unequal to the task [of describing] the company of the holy Fathers and [their] spiritual lives and works, I am afraid of the greatness of [thy] command which surpasseth my capacity. I have, therefore, up to this present, been urging myself to escape (?) from this work, because I am in great need both of the wisdom which is [essential] externally and of spiritual understanding. But being put to shame first of all by the strenuousness of the excellence of him that stirred me up to [do] this work, and considering also the benefit which shall accrue to those who shall come across these histories, and being, moreover, afraid of the danger of the penalty of disobedience, which is right, I will first of all commit the weight of the matter unto the Providence of God, and I will, with all diligence, make use of the prayers of the holy Fathers, so that I may be able to mount up as upon wings to the place where their contests were waged, and may tell the story briefly of those athletes, who though young became great and divine men who did valiantly and who triumphed in the works and deeds of spiritual excellence. And I will also relate the histories of those blessed women who were adorned with the fair garb [of the monastic life], and who attained to pre-eminence in divine labours. Now some of these divine persons of whom I am about to tell the story I was held to be worthy to see face to face; and concerning the heavenly lives of the others who died in the contest of the fear of God I have learned from the athletes of Christ, who were arrayed in God.

Therefore, through very many cities, and villages, and in caves and holes in the earth, and in the tabernacles which the monks had in the desert for a distance as far as a man could walk have I gone round about for the sake of the labour of the fear of God, and I have set down in writing with exactness the things which I have seen. And I have also made known unto thee in this book the things which I have heard from the holy Fathers concerning the triumphs of great men, and concerning the women who for the sake of the hope which is in Christ performed mighty works which were above nature, and I have sent it to thy hearing which loveth divine words. O thou Lausus who art triumphant among men, and who art fair among the friends of God, and who art the ornament of this believing and God-fearing kingdom, and art the true friend and servant of God, I have written down for thee as far as my feebleness is able, the [history of] the strife of each of the athletes of Christ, both male and female, a name which is honourable and which meriteth praise. And I have narrated unto thee only very few of the very many exceedingly great triumphs which belong to each one of these athletes, and of many of them I have added [the names of] their families and cities, and also the places where they lived.

And we have also commemorated the men and women who, indeed, attained to the highest excellence in the labours of the spiritual life, and who, because of the pride (or arrogance), which is the mother of that [quality] which is called vainglory, were brought down to the lowest depths of Sheol, and so wasted the great work in the spiritual qualities which they had only acquired after a very long time, and the triumphs in the ascetic virtues which they had won, through [their] pride and boasting in one brief moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Nevertheless, by the Divine Grace of our Redeemer, and by the carefulness of the holy Fathers, and by the cherishing influence of the mercy of the Spirit, they were plucked [finally] out of the net of the Calumniator.








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