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

BLESSED be God Who desireth the welfare of all the children of men, Who wisheth that they may live and come to the knowledge of the truth, Who hath led us also into Egypt, and hath shewed us the great and marvellous things which are worthy to be remembered at all times, and to be written down in a book, Who hath given us the Cause of our salvation and of every one who wisheth to be helped further, and Who hath given unto us a demonstration of the good life and the doctrine which is able to rouse up the soul to the excellent rule of the ascetic life. Now therefore, I am not worthy to begin this history, for inferior men are not capable of approaching the histories of great men, since they are unable to narrate them as they really are, and still less are they able to set them down in writing in a book, and they ought not to be so bold as to attempt to explain matters which are difficult in mean and halting words; and it must appear to be great presumption which will bring danger in its train, for incapable men to undertake such things, and to be so bold as to write in a book sublime histories. But inasmuch as I have been requested, earnestly and frequently, on several occasions, by the brotherhood of blessed men who had their habitation in the Mount of Olives, to write an account of the lives and deeds of the blessed men, and of the solitary dwellers who were in Egypt, according to what I myself have seen of their abundant love, and their patient endurance, and their vexatious toil for God’s sake, I have then put my trust in their prayers, and have been so bold as to narrate the following history, and to set it down in writing, so that I myself may gain a fair and abundant reward, and so that those who hearken unto the same may be benefited [thereby], and may emulate such beautiful deeds, and may depart from the world in a state of perfection, and may enjoy peace and rest through the excellent long-suffering of their toil. For in very truth I have observed and seen the treasure of Christ which is hidden under human garments, and I have not buried it for the advantage of many, but have brought it forward that it may be for the good of every one. And I am sure that for me to give this benefit to the blessed brethren will be noble merchandise for me, for they will pray for the redemption of my soul.

At the beginning of this book then I make [mention] first of all of the coming of our Redeemer Jesus Christ, by Whose doctrine the blessed and holy brethren who are in Egypt are led, for I have seen many fathers there who were living the lives of angels, and were fashioning their lives into the similitude of that of the Redeemer. And I have also seen others, who were young men, and who were like unto the Prophets; and they did work which was divine and marvellous, and they were men who were indeed servants of Christ, and they had no care of this earth and nothing belonging to time vexed their minds. Verily these men, although they appeared to be living upon earth, had their habitation in heaven; for some of them were not even conscious that it was the world [wherein they lived], and did not even know that there were wickednesses committed in the world. And verily [it was with them] even as it is written in the Psalm, “Great is the peace of those who love Thy Law” (Psalm 119:165); and again it is written, “I will be to them a Father, and they shall be unto Me sons and daughters, saith the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:18), the Stay of all creation.

And, moreover, many of them when they heard of what was spoken in the world [found it] to be strange unto them, and all the good things and all the cares of this world were forgotten by them; for a man saw them sown in the desert, and they were, like true sons, expecting their father Christ, and like husbandmen of the truth and honourable servants they waited for Christ their companion. They had care neither for houses, nor meats, nor raiment, for the coming of Christ their hope was the one thing for which their thoughts waited. Therefore, whensoever any of them lacked the things which were necessary, they sought neither city, nor village, nor brother, nor friend, nor parents, nor children, nor servants that the things which they lacked might be supplied by them, but their desire and their faith were sufficient for them, [and they only needed] to spread out their hand in supplication, and to offer up the confession of their lips to God, and immediately their prayers were ended everything [they needed] was found before them. Why is it necessary to speak at length concerning their faith in Christ, which was able to remove mountains? And, moreover, many of them restrained fountains and streams of running water, and walked upon the floods of the river Nile, and destroyed serpents, and worked cures, and wonders, and mighty deeds, even like unto those of the holy Prophets, and the blessed Apostles, by the might of their Lord. And it is a well-known and evident thing to every inhabitant of that country that the world standeth through their prayers, and that through them the life of the children of men is held to be precious by God.

And I have also seen [in Egypt] a numerous nation of monks who could neither be defined nor counted, and among them were men of every sort and condition, and they lived both in the desert and in the villages, and no earthly king hath ever been able to gather together so great a number of men into his service; for there is neither village nor city in Egypt or in the Thebaïd which is not surrounded by monasteries as by walls, and many multitudes of people rest upon their prayers as they do upon God. Some of the monks live quite close [to the towns and villages] in caves and on the waste land, and many of them afar off, and they all in every place make manifest their labour in a marvellous manner as if theywere envious of each other. The object of the zeal of those who [live] afar off is that none of their fellows shall surpass them in the labours of the fear of God, and the greatest anxiety of those who [live] near is to vanquish by their life and deeds those who lived at a distance and are famous, even though the things of evil (or wickednesses) vex them from every place. Therefore, as one who hath obtained great benefit from them, and as one who hath examined carefully the labours of the life and deeds, whereby I have also obtained benefit, I now approach this history with the view of making the successful monks [more] zealous by the memorials which I hand on [to them], and for the edification and profit of those who are beginning to emulate strenuously their rules of life. First of all then, by the grace of God, I will write at the beginning of this history the narratives of the lives and deeds of the great and holy fathers, by whose hands our Lord hath wrought at this present time the same kind of things as he wrought by the hands of His Prophets and Apostles; for it is our Lord Himself, Who then, as now, worked, as He still worketh, everything in every man.








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