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

AND we saw also the place of the dwelling of the blessed Paphnutius, a great and glorious man who had departed from this world, and had brought his life to a close but a very short time before in the district of Herakleia which is in Thebaïs; and concerning this man many men relate very many mighty things. For after he had performed great spiritual deeds, he entreated God to inform him which of the saints whose lives had been pleasing unto Him he resembled; and an angel appeared unto him and said, “Thou art like such and such a singer who liveth in such and such a city.” Then the blessed man made his way to the singer with great zeal and diligence, and having found him, he asked him about his deeds, and made enquiries [concerning his life]. And the singer made answer unto him, telling him at the same time what was actually the truth, saying, “I am a sinner, and a miserable wretch, and a whoremonger, and it is only a short time ago since I gave up a life of theft and became as I am.” And when Paphnutius enquired of him, “What hast thou done which is good?” he made answer unto him, saying, “I did not know that I had ever done anything good except once. When I was a thief I saw a certain virgin of God being forced by thieves, and she was nearly seduced, and I rescued her from them and carried her by night to the city.

“And on another occasion I found a beautiful woman wandering about in the desert, and she had fled from the men of the company of the general and counsellor because of a debt for taxes which her husband had incurred; and she was crying to herself because of her troubles, and because she was compelled to roam about and wander in the desert, and when I saw her I asked her the cause of her weeping. And she made answer unto me and said, ‘My lord, ask me no questions, and make no enquiries about a miserable woman [like myself], but take me to be thine handmaiden, and carry me whithersoever thou pleasest. My husband oweth a debt of three hundred darics for taxes to the governor, and behold, during the whole of the past two years he hath been scourged and kept in prison; my three beloved children have been sold into slavery, and I myself have been seized on several occasions, and carried off and beaten cruelly, and [finally] I escaped and fled, and I have been cast forth from place to place. And now I am here wandering about in this desert, and behold, for the last three days I have eaten nothing whatsoever.’ Thereupon I had compassion upon the woman, and I took her to my cave, and gave unto her three hundred dînârs, and then I carried her off to the city so that she might be able to free herself, and to redeem her children and her husband.”

Then the blessed Paphnutius made answer unto him, and said, “I do not know in myself that any such thing as this hath been done by me, but thou must have heard concerning my labours and that I am famous, for I have never passed my life in negligence; now God revealed unto me concerning thee and told me that thou wast not inferior to me in thy works. Since the care which God hath for thee is not small, even as He Himself hath shewn me, O brother, neglect not thyself as if thou wert of no account.” And immediately the singer cast away from him the reed pipe which he was holding in his hands, and he abandoned the songs which he used to sing to cheer the workmen, and he turned to the sweet words of the Holy Spirit, and he clung to Paphnutius and departed to the desert. And having passed three years in strenuous labour [there] he brought to an end the period of his life with praises and prayers, and with other works of ascetic excellence, and he travelled the road of the heavenly beings, and was numbered among the company of the holy ones and among the army of the righteous, and went to his rest.

And having despatched this man unto God with good and glorious works, and since he had added excellence to his own labours, Paphnutius asked God again to inform him which of the saints he resembled. And again a divine voice came to him, and said, “Thou art like unto a certain chief of a village which is near thee”; and straightway Paphnutius went down thereto, and when he had knocked at the door, the master of the house came nigh, as was his wont, to receive strangers, and he opened the door, and brought him inside, and he washed his feet, and set a table before him and entreated him to eat. And the blessed man asked him, saying, “Tell me, O man, what fair deeds and actions thou doest, for, according to what God hath made known to me, thou art more excellent than many monks.” Then the man said unto him concerning himself, “I am a sinner, and I am not worthy of the heaven of the monks.” And the blessed man having made enquiries of him persistently, the man answered and said unto him, “I do not feel constrained overmuch to relate to thee the history of my deeds, but since thou hast said, ‘I have been sent by God’, I will shew thee what I have done. Behold, for the last thirty years I have kept myself away from my wife, and three times only have I had intercourse with her; I have three children by her, and they minister unto my affairs. But to this very day I have never ceased to receive strangers, and no man in my village can boast that he hath excelled me in hospitality to strangers, and no poor man and no stranger have ever departed from me with an empty hand, or without having been suitably supplied by me with provisions for the way. I have never neglected to comfort with my gifts the poor man who hath been brought low. I have never accepted the person of my son in judgement. The possessions of strangers have never entered my house. No strife hath ever taken place near me which I have not ended peacefully. The members of my house have never been blamed for the committal of abominable deeds, and my flocks and herds have never drawn nigh to the fruits of strangers. I have never sowed my fields except for the poor, and I have set them aside for the pleasure of every man, and I have gathered in that which remained over. I have never allowed the poor man to be carried away by the rich man by force. I have never made a man to grieve in [all] my life. And I have never passed a decree of wickedness upon any man. These, according to the will of God, I know within myself that I have done.”

And when the blessed Paphnutius heard the glorious character of the life and works of the man, he kissed him upon the head, and said unto him, “May the Lord bless thee out of Zion, and mayest thou look upon the prosperity of Jerusalem! (Psalm 128:5.) For these things thou hast performed well, but thou art lacking one of the prime virtues, that is to say, the knowledge of the wisdom of God, which thou wilt not be able to acquire without any labour whatsoever, for a man must deny the world and himself, and must take up the Cross of our Lord, and follow Him.” And when that man had heard these things, straightway, without taking counsel with the children of his house, he clung to the blessed man, and went forth with him to the mountain. And when they had come to the bank of the river, and found that there was no boat to be seen, the blessed Paphnutius commanded that they should pass over it on foot, a thing which no man had ever done at this place because of the depth of the stream. And as they were passing over at that place, the water reached up to their backs; and when they had passed over, Paphnutius left him at the place in that country where he, the first one, went to his rest and completed [his life].

Now when he had gone from him a little way, Paphnutius entreated God that he might see which was the most excellent of these, and after the short period of three years, he saw angels carrying the soul of that man up to heaven, and praising God, and saying, “Blessed is the man in whom Thou hast pleasure, and whom Thou bringest to dwell in Thy habitation” (Psalm 65:4); and the righteous were also returning answer, and saying, “May the peace of those who love Thy law increase” (Psalm 119:165); and Paphnutius knew that that man had filled full his measure.

And when he had continued in prayer, and had fasted for very long periods, he prayed to God and again entreated Him to shew him which of the saints he resembled, and again the Divine Voice said unto him, “Thou art like unto a merchant who is seeking for beautiful pearls. But arise, and make no long tarrying, for thou shalt meet a man who resembleth thee.” So the blessed man went down [from the mountain], and he saw a certain God-fearing Alexandrian merchant, who was trafficking with twenty thousand [pieces of] gold and three ships, and who had come down from the upper part of the Thebaïd, and he used to give all his possessions and merchandise to the poor, and to the brethren [and] monks, and he and his household used to take up ten sacks of garden herbs to the blessed man every year. Now when the blessed Paphnutius saw him, he said unto him, “What [meaneth] this, O my beloved?” And the merchant said unto him, “The fruits of my trafficking are for the relief of the righteous, and I offer them unto God.” Then the blessed man said unto him, “Wherefore is it that thou art not honoured by the same name as that which we have?” And the merchant answered and said unto him, “I confess that I have great anxiety so to be called”; and the blessed man said unto him, “How long wilt thou occupy thyself with such earthly things, and wilt not draw nigh unto the things of heaven? Leave, even this very moment, such things to others, and do thou cling to Christ in the things which are [more] excellent, for after a little thou shalt depart unto God.”

Then the merchant with joy commanded the members of his household to distribute the remainder of his possessions among the poor, and he went up the mountain, and he confined himself to that place wherein the two men had been crowned, and he awaited God with prayers, and tears, and abundant fastings. And after a short time he also left his corruptible body, and became a son of the city of the heavenly beings. Now since Paphnutius had escorted this man also to heaven, he asked for death for himself also, after the manner of one who was not able to live the life of the upright and glorious deeds which are exalted in majesty; and an angel stood by his side, and said unto him, “Come now, O blessed old man, and take thy rest in the everlasting tabernacles which God hath prepared for the blessed, who stand there [waiting] to receive thee, that is to say, the Prophets in their companies, and the Apostles in their grades; these are they whom thou resemblest. I did not reveal this unto thee earlier, lest through being exalted [overmuch] thou mightest lose somewhat of thine honour.” Now after these words Paphnutius lived one day only. And when all the things which had been done by him had been narrated in the presence of the elders who had come unto him through a revelation, he delivered up his soul, and those same priests, after his death, plainly saw him carried upwards with the companies of the saints, and with angels who were praising God.

Here end the Triumphs of Paphnutius








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