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

WHEN Abbâ Arsenius was in the palace, he prayed to God, and said, “O Lord, direct me how to live”; and a voice came to him, saying, “Arsenius, flee from men, and thou shalt live.”

2. And when Arsenius was living the ascetic life in the monastery, he prayed to God the same prayer, and again he heard a voice saying unto him, “Arsenius, flee, keep silence, and lead a life of silent contemplation, for these are the fundamental causes which prevent a man from committing sin.”

3. A certain man said that there were once three men who loved labours, and they were monks. The first one chose to go about and see where there was strife, which he turned into peace; the second chose to go about and visit the sick; but the third departed to the desert that he might dwell in quietness. Finally the first man, who had chosen to still the contentions of men, was unable to make every man to be at peace with his neighbour, and his spirit was sad; and he went to the man who had chosen to visit the sick, and he found him in affliction because he was not able to fulfil the law which he had laid down for himself. Then the two of them went to the monk in the desert, and seeing each other they rejoiced, and the two men related to the third the tribulations which had befallen them in the world, and entreated him to tell them how he had lived in the desert. And he was silent, but after a little he said unto them, “Come, let each of us go and fill a vessel of water”; and after they had filled the vessel, he said unto them, “Pour out some of the water into a basin, and look down to the bottom through it,” and they did so. And he said unto them, “What do ye see?” and they said, “We see nothing.” And after the water in the basin had ceased to move, he said to them a second time, “Look into the water,” and they looked, and he said unto them, “What do ye see?” And they said unto him, “We see our own faces distinctly”; and he said unto them, “Thus is it with the man who dwelleth with men, for by reason of the disturbance caused by this affair of the world he cannot see his sins; but if he live in the peace and quietness of the desert he is able to see God clearly.”

4. On one occasion Abbâ Ammon came during the season of winter to Abbâ Sisoes, and he saw that the old man was grieved because he had left the desert; and Abbâ Ammon said unto him, “Why art thou distressed, O father? For what wast thou able to do in the desert in thine old age?” And the old man Sisoes looked at him fiercely, and said, “What sayest thou to me, Ammon? Are not the mere thoughts of the freedom which is in the desert better for us [than living out of it]?”

5. There were two brethren in the desert who were the equals of each other in the spiritual life, and they led a life of ascetic self-denial, and performed the exalted works which belong to spiritual excellence. And it happened that one of them was called to be the head of a habitation of the brethren, but the other remained in the desert, where he became a man perfect in self-denial. And he was held by God to be worthy of the gift of healing those who were possessed of devils, and he knew beforehand the things which were about to happen, and he made whole the sick. Now when he who had become the head of a habitation of brethren (i.e., a coenobium, or monastery) heard these things, he decided in his mind that his fellow monk must have acquired these powers suddenly, and he lived a life of silence and ceased from converse with men for three weeks, and he made supplication unto God continually that He would shew him how the monk in the desert wrought these mighty works, while he had not received even one of the gifts which he had. And an angel appeared and said unto him, “He who dwelleth in the desert maketh supplication to God both by night and by day, and his pain and anxiety are for our Lord’s sake; but thou hast care for many things, and thou hast converse with many, and the consolation and encouragement of the children of men must be sufficient for thee.”

6. Abbâ Arsenius on one occasion went to the brethren in a certain place where there were some reeds growing, and the wind blew upon them, and they were shaken. And the old man said, “What is this rustling sound?” and they said unto him, “It is that caused by the reeds which are being shaken by the wind.” And he said unto them, “Verily I say unto you, if the man who dwelleth in silence heareth but the twittering of a sparrow, he shall not be able to acquire that repose in his heart which he seeketh; how much less then can ye do so with all this rustling of the reeds about you?”

7. A certain brother came to Abbâ Arsenius, and said unto him, “My thoughts vex me, and say, ‘Thou canst not fast and thou art not able to labour, therefore visit the sick, which is a great commandment.’ ” Then Abbâ Arsenius, after the manner of one who was well acquainted with the war of devils, said unto him, “Eat, drink, and sleep, and toil not, but on no account go out of thy cell”; for the old man knew that dwelling constantly in the cell induceth all the habits of the solitary life. And when the brother had done these things for three days he became weary of idleness, and finding a few palm leaves on the ground, he took them and began to split them up, and on the following day he dipped them in water and began to work (i.e., to weave baskets); and when he felt hungry he said, “I will finish one more small piece of work, and then I will eat.” And when he was reading in the Book, he said, “I will sing a few Psalms and say a few prayers, and then I shall eat without any compunction.” Thus little by little, by the agency of God, he advanced in the ascetic life until he reached the first rank, and received the power to resist the thoughts and to vanquish them.

8. When Abbâ Sisoes was dwelling in the mountain of Abbâ Anthony, the man who used to minister unto him departed and remained away for a period of ten months and did not come [back] to him, and he saw no man. And afterwards, as he was walking in the mountains, he saw a man hunting wild animals, and the old man said to him, “Whence comest thou? And how long hast thou been here?” And the man said unto him, “Father, I have been in this mountain eleven months, and I have seen no man except thyself.” Then the old man having heard these things went into his cell, and smote upon his face, and said, “Behold, O Sisoes, well mayest thou think that thou hast done nothing, for thou hast not made thyself even like unto this man who is in the world, and is not a monk.”

9. I once asked Abbâ Sarmâtâ a question, and said unto him, “What shall I do, O my father, for I do nothing which the monks do? On the contrary, I am negligent, and I eat, and drink, and sleep, and I think many filthy thoughts, and my mind is ever disturbed, and I depart from one work to another, and from one group of thoughts to another. What shall I do, then? For I am troubled, and my soul is little.” And Abbâ Sarmâtâ said unto him: “Sit thou in thy cell, and whatsoever thou canst do, that do, and trouble not thyself. For I wish thee to do now a little, even as did Abbâ Anthony in the mountain, and I believe that by sitting in [thy] cell for the sake of the Name of God, thou also wilt be found in the same place as Abbâ Anthony.”

10. On one occasion the brethren went up from Scete to go to Abbâ Anthony, and having embarked in a boat to journey to him, they found [there] a certain old man, who was also going to visit him, and they were not acquainted with him. And as they were sitting in the boat, they spake now and again a word of the Fathers, or a word from the Book, or they talked about the work of their hands; and the old man listened unto all they said, but held his peace. Then, having crossed the ferry, the old man was found to be going also to Abbâ Anthony. And when they had all arrived at the place where he was, he said unto them, “Ye found excellent company in this old man”; and to the old man himself he said, “Thou didst find excellent brethren to travel with thee, O father.” And the old man said, “They are excellent brethren, but they have no door to their house, and whosoever wisheth can go into the stable, and untie the ass, and go whithersoever he pleaseth on him.” Now this he said because they uttered every word which came into their mouths.

11. A certain brother asked Abbâ Sisoes, saying, “Father, how was it that thou didst leave Scete where thou wast with Abbâ Macarius, and didst come here?” And the old man said unto him, “When Scete began to be filled [with monks] I heard that Abbâ Antonius had fallen asleep, and I came to the mountain here, and found that this place was quiet, and I lived here for a little time.” The brother said unto him, “How long hast thou been here?” and the old man said, “Behold, I have been here seventy years this day.”

12. They used to say concerning Abbâ Theodore and Abbâ Luk that they passed fifty years with disturbed minds, and were troubled the whole time about changing their place [of abode]; and they said, “Behold, we will change in the winter”; and when the winter arrived, they said, “We will change in the summer”; and thus they did unto the end of their lives.

13. A certain father came to Abbâ Arsenius, and he knocked at the door, and the old man opened unto him thinking that it was his servant [who had knocked]; and when he saw who it was, he cast himself upon his face, and the father entreated him, saying, “Stand up, O father, that I may give thee the salutation of peace.” But Arsenius disputed with him, saying, I will not stand up until thou hast departed”; and though he entreated him to do so often he would not stand up, and the father left him and departed.

14. Abbâ Battimion said, “When I went down to Scete they gave me some apples to take to the brethren, and when I had knocked at the door of Abbâ Abhîlâ, he said to me when he saw me, ‘If these apples had been of gold I would not have wished thee to knock at my door; and moreover, do not knock at the door of any other brother’; so I returned and placed the apples in the church and departed.”

15. They said concerning Abbâ Sisoes that when the church began [to fill] he fled quickly to his cell, and, [though] the brethren said, “He hath a devil,” he was performing the work of God.

16. Abbâ Joseph said to Abbâ Nestîr, “What shall I do with my tongue, for I cannot conquer it?” Abbâ Nestîr said unto him, “If thou talkest wilt thou have relief from this [trouble]?” And he said unto him, “Nay.” The old man said unto him, “If then thou hast no relief when thou talkest, why dost thou talk?” Abbâ Joseph said unto him, “What shall I do? For I cannot stand against it.” The old man said unto him, “Wilt thou have relief then?” and he said unto him, “Nay.” The old man said unto him, “If thou canst not gain relief by talking, then hold thy peace.”

17. A certain brother went to Abbâ Poemen on the second Sunday in the Fast of Forty Days and repeated unto him his thoughts, and sighing over what the old man had told him, he said unto him, “I had almost kept myself from coming here to-day”; and the old man said, “Why?” Then the brother said, “I said in my mind, Peradventure during the fast the door will be closed against thee”; and Abbâ Poemen said unto him, “We do not learn to shut a door made of wood, but to close the door of the tongue.”

18. When a certain brother in Scete was going to the harvest, he went to Abbâ Moses, the Black, and said unto him, “Father, tell me what I shall do; shall I go to the harvest?” and Abbâ Moses said unto him, “If I tell thee, wilt thou be persuaded to do as I say?” And the brother said unto him, “Yea, I will hearken unto thee.” The old man said unto him, “If thou wilt be persuaded by me, rise up, go, and release thyself from going to the harvest, and come unto me, and I will tell thee what thou shalt do.” The brother therefore departed and obtained his release from his companions, as the old man had told him, and then he came to him. And the old man said unto him, “Go into thy cell and keep Pentecost, and thou shalt eat dry bread and salt once a day [only], and after thou hast done this I will tell thee something else to do later on”; and he went and did as the old man had told him, and then came to him again. Now when the old man saw that he was one who worked with his hands, he shewed him the proper way to live in his cell; and the brother went to his cell, and fell on his face upon the ground, and for three whole days and nights he wept before God. And after these things, when his thoughts were saying unto him, “Thou art now an exalted person, and thou hast become a great man,” he used to contradict them, and set before his eyes his former shortcomings, [and say], “Thus were all thine offences.” And again, when they used to say to him, “Thou hast performed many things negligently,” he would say, “Nevertheless I do small services for God, and He sheweth His mercy upon me.” And when by such means as these the spirits had been overcome, they appeared unto him in the form of corporeal creatures, and said unto him, “We have been vanquished by thee”; and he said unto them, “Why?” and they said unto him, “If we humble thee, we are raised up by thee to an exalted position, and if we exalt thee we are accounted by thee for humility.”

19. There was a certain brother in the monastery who worked hard, and the brethren who were in Scete heard about him, and came to see him, and they entered into the place where he used to work; and having received them, and saluted them, he turned round and began to work again. And when the brethren saw what he did, they said unto him, “John gave thee the garb of the monk, and made thee a dweller in a monastery, but he did not teach thee to receive a blessing (literally, prayer) from the brethren, or to give one, or to say to them, ‘Pray ye,’ or, ‘Sit ye down.’ ” And John said unto them, “Nay, a sinner is not sufficient for these things.”

20. Abbâ Anthony said, “As a fish when it is lifted up out of the water dieth, even so doth the monk who tarrieth outside his cell.”

21. They tell the story of a certain brother who came to Scete to see Abbâ Arsenius, and who went into the church and entreated the clergy to take him to see him; and the clergy said unto him, “Refresh thyself a little, and thou shalt see him.” And the brother said unto them, “I will eat nothing before I meet him and see him”; and when the clergy heard this they sent a brother with him to shew him Abbâ Arsenius, because his cell was some distance away. And when they had arrived there, they knocked at the door and went inside, and having saluted him, and prayed, they sat down and held their peace; and the brother who was from the church answered and said, “I will depart, pray ye for me.” But when the other brother saw that he possessed not freedom of speech with the old man, he said unto the brother from the church, “I also will go with thee,” and they departed together.

Then he entreated him, saying, “Take me also to Abbâ Moses who was a thief,” and when they went to him, the old man received them with joy, and having refreshed them greatly he dismissed them in peace. And the brother who had brought the visitor to Abbâ Moses said unto him, “Behold, I brought thee to a man from a foreign land, and to an Egyptian, which of the two pleaseth thee?” And he answered and said unto him, “The Egyptian who hath just received me, and refreshed me.” And when one of the old men heard what had happened, he prayed to God, and said, “O Lord, shew me this matter; one fleeth from the world for Thy Name’s sake, and another receiveth and is gracious for Thy Name’s sake.” And behold, suddenly there appeared unto him on the river two great boats, and lo, Abbâ Arsenius and the Spirit of God were travelling in silence in the one, and Abbâ Moses and the angels of God were in the other, and they were feeding the monk with honey from the comb.

22. A certain brother asked Abbâ Poemen a question, saying, “If I see something done, dost thou wish me to tell it abroad?” The old man said unto him, “It is written, ‘Whosoever shall declare a matter incorrectly, it is a disgrace to him and [a subject for] mockery.’ And if thou art asked, speak; and if thou art not asked, hold thy peace.”

23. On one occasion there was an assembly in a great church, and all the old men were asked in a body, “What striving is the mightiest against the monks?” And they all agreed that there was none stronger than that which would make a man leave his cell and depart, for when this striving is overcome, all the rest can quite easily be brought low.

24. They say concerning Abbâ Âpôs, who afterwards became Bishop of Oxyrhyncus, that when he was a monk he laboured with great toil in the ascetic life, and that he was moved every hour by Divine Grace, but that after he became Bishop, though he wished to perform the same labours, he was not able to do so. And he cast himself before God, and made supplication unto Him, saying, “Peradventure, O my Lord, it is because of the Bishopric that Thou hast removed Thy grace from me,” and it was said unto him, “It is not so, but formerly thou wast in the desert, and there were no men there, and God took care of thee; here, however, thou art in a portion of the world which is inhabited, and men care for thee.”

25. A certain brother from the Cells soaked some palm leaves in water, and then sat down to weave ropes, and his mind said unto him, “Go and visit such and such a brother”; and he pondered on the matter, and said, “I will go after a few days.” And again his mind said unto him, “Supposing thou shouldst die, what wilt thou do? for thou wouldst not see thy brother”; and once again he satisfied his mind by saying, “I will go after such and such a time.” Now when the summer had come, he said within himself, “To-day is not the right time for going,” and again he said to his mind, “As soon as thou hast cut off the end of the palm leaves it will be time for thee to go”; and he said to himself, “I will finish these leaves, and then I will go.” And once again his mind urged him and said, “The weather is beautiful to-day,” and he rose up straightway and left the palm leaves soaking in the water, and he picked up a cloak and ran off on his way. Now he had as a neighbour a certain old man who used to see visions, and as soon as this man saw the brother running, he cried out, and said unto him, “Prisoner, prisoner, come hither”; and when he had gone in the old man said unto him, “Go back to thy cell,” and the brother went back, and he related unto him the whole story of his war. And having entered his own cell, he offered up repentance unto God, and the devils cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Thou hast vanquished us, thou hast vanquished us, O monk.” Now he had a palm-leaf mat under him, and it was charred as if it had been burned in the fire, and the devils vanished like smoke; then straightway the brother perceived their wiles, and he gave thanks unto God.

26. Abbâ Poemen said: A certain brother asked Abbâ Sîmôn, and said, “If I go out from my cell, and I find a brother absorbed and immersed in matters unnecessary for salvation, shall I associate myself also with him? And supposing also that I should find him laughing, and that I also should laugh, when I have gone into my cell again shall I not be forgiven my relaxation?” And the old man said unto him, “What dost thou wish? Dost thou mean that having gone out of thy cell and having found a man who was laughing, and laughed with him, and having found a man who was talking, and talked with him, thou canst go back to thy cell and find thyself as thou wast before thou didst go out?” And the brother said unto him, “If not, how then?” Then the old man answered and said unto him, “It is right for thee to keep a careful watch both within and without.”

27. An old man said, “One man is thought to be silent, and yet his heart judgeth and condemneth others, and the man who acteth thus speaketh continually; another man speaketh from morning till evening, and yet keepeth silence, that is to say, he speaketh nothing which is not helpful.”

28. There were two excellent brethren in the Cells, and they were held to be worthy to see things of mystery, and each one of them saw the might which was sent down by God upon his brethren. Now it happened that one of them came on Friday to the coenobium, and as he was outside, he saw that some of the brethren were eating from the morning [upwards], and he said unto them, “Is it possible that ye eat at this time on Friday? And do ye usually hold a congregation at the turn of the day?” And as his brother looked upon him, he saw that the might of God was going away from him, and he was grieved, for he was accustomed to see it upon him. And when they had come to their own cell he said unto him, “What hast thou done, O my brother? Or what thoughts hast thou had? For I do not see upon thee as usual the might of God.” And the brother made answer and said, “I know not; I do not feel that I have any filthy thoughts in me, and I do not perceive in my soul that any evil act hath been committed by me.” His brother said unto him, “Peradventure some vain and empty word hath gone forth from thy mouth.” Then that brother recalled the matter to his mind, and said, “Yea, yesterday I saw certain men outside the coenobium eating, and I said unto them, ‘Do ye eat at this time on Friday?’ This then is my sin. But I entreat thee to labour with me for two weeks, and thou and I will beg God to forgive me.” And they did even as he had said, and after two weeks his brother saw that might which is of the goodness of God come upon him as usual.

29. The old men used to say about the blessed Abbâ Arsenius, and Abbâ Theodore of Parmê, that they possessed in a far greater degree than many monks a hatred of the admiration of men; Abbâ Arsenius was never pleased at meeting and conversing with a man, and Abbâ Theodore, even though he was willing to meet a man, was as sharp as a sword in his conversation.

30. Abbâ Macarius said unto the brethren when the service in the church was ended, “Flee ye, O brethren”; and one of the old men said, “Father, whither can we flee farther than this desert?” Then Macarius laid his hand upon his mouth, saying, “Flee in this manner,” and straightway he went to his cell and, shutting the door, sat down.

31. Abbâ Poemen said:—Abbâ Moses asked Abbâ Zechariah a question when he was about to die, and said unto him, “Father, is it good that we should hold our peace?” And Zechariah said unto him, “Yea, my son, hold thy peace.” And at the time of his death, whilst Abbâ Isidore was sitting with him, Abbâ Moses looked up to heaven, and said, “Rejoice and be glad, O my son Zechariah, for the gates of heaven have been opened.”

32. A brother asked an old man, saying, “What is humility?” And the old man answered and said unto him, “That thou payest not back evil for evil.” That brother said unto him, “And supposing that a man cannot attain to this measure, what must we do?” The old man said unto him, “Let us flee and follow after silence.”

33. And an old man said, “Lay hold upon silence. Look carefully into and scrutinize the manner in which thou trainest thyself, both when thou art lying down, and when thou art standing up. Meditate upon the fear of God, and be not afraid of the attack of sinners. Consent not to everything. Be swift to hear and slow to believe.”

34. An old man said: “The man, who hath learned by experience the sweetness of the quietness which is in his cell, doth not flee from meeting his neighbour because he is as one who despiseth him, but because of the fruits which he plucketh from silence.”

35. Abbâ Moses used to say, “The man who fleeth from the world is like unto ripe grapes, but he who dwelleth among the attractions of the children of men is like unto sour grapes.”

36. An old man said: “Human care and worry and anxiety about the things of the body destroy the faculties of knowledge and expression in a man, and leave him like unto a piece of dry wood.”

37. They used to say about Abbâ Nastîr that the old man was like unto the serpent which Moses made for the healing of the people (Numbers 21:9 ff.), and that he was perfect in all spiritual excellences, and that, although he kept silence, he healed every man.

38. A certain brother asked an old man a question, and said unto him, “Father, what shall I do? For, although my body is in my cell, my thoughts wander about into every place, and because of this they vex me greatly, saying, ‘Thou hast no benefit whatsoever, for though thy body is shut up in the cell, thy thoughts wander and are scattered abroad.’ And they bring me to despair, and counsel me to go back to the world as one who has not the ability to acquire the rule of life which is proper for the ascetic monk.” The old man said unto him, “Thou must know, O my son, that this is an attack of Satan, but go, and continue to abide in thy cell, and go not out of it at any time, and pray to God that He may give thee the power to endure patiently, and then thy mind shall collect itself in thee. For the matter is like unto that of a she-ass which hath a sucking foal. If she be tied up, however much the foal may gambol about or wander hither and thither, he will come back to her eventually, either because he is hungry, or for other reasons which drive him to her; but if it happen that his mother be also roaming about loose, both animals will go to destruction. And thus is it in the matter of the monk. If the body remain continually in its cell, the mind thereof will certainly come back to it after all its wanderings, for many reasons which will come upon it, but if the body as well as the soul wander outside the cell, both will become a prey and a thing of joy to the enemy.”

39. A certain brother belonging to a habitation of brethren said to Abbâ Bessarion, “What shall I do?” The old man said unto him, “Keep silence, and consider thyself to be nothing.”

40. Abbâ Moses besought Abbâ Zechariah, saying, “Speak a word of consolation to the brethren”; and Zechariah took his cloak, and placed it under his feet, saying, “Except a man die thus he cannot be a monk.”

41. Abbâ Poemen said, “The rule of the monk is this—to bear at all times his own blame.”

42. Abbâ Poemen said, “If thou holdest thyself in thine own sight to be of no account, thou mayest dwell where thou pleasest, and find rest.”

43. The same old man used to say, “A man will be always tripped up by that thing which he will not cut off from himself.”

44. Abbâ Alônîs said, “If a man will only remember that which is written, ‘Thou shalt be justified by thy words, and shalt be condemned by thy words’ (St. Matthew 12:37), he would know that it is right to hold his peace.”

45. Abbâ Poemen said, “If thou wishest to acquire the power to keep silence, think not and say not within thyself that thou art doing the works of spiritual excellence, but say, ‘I am not even worthy to speak.’ ”

46. Abbâ Anthony said, “He who liveth in the desert is free from three kinds of spiritual attacks, that is to say, those which arise through the ears, speech, and sight; he hath only one kind to fight, namely, that of the heart.”

47. Abbâ Alônîs said, “Unless a man saith in his heart, ‘Only God and myself exist in this world,’ he will not find rest.”

48. Abbâ Sisoes used to say, “It is well for a man to dwell in his cell, and if he suffer with patient endurance he will find blessings of every kind.”

49. A certain brother asked Abbâ Panbô (Pambo), “Is it a good thing for a man to praise his neighbour?” Saith the old man, “It is a much better thing for a man tohold his peace.”

50. Abbâ Poemen said, “In all the labour which cometh upon a man, his victory is only assured when he holdeth his peace.”

51. A certain brother said unto an old man, “If a brother bringeth unto me news from the outer world, dost thou wish me to tell him not to bring it to me?” The old man said unto him, “Nay,” and the brother said unto him, “Why?” The old man said unto him, “Because not even we are able to flee from this. For having told our neighbour that he must not do this, we ourselves afterwards may be found doing the very same thing.” And that brother said unto him, “What then is the right [course of action]?” Then the old man said unto him, “If we take upon ourselves to hold our peace, the example alone will be sufficient to make our neighbour do the same.”

52. The blessed Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria, once went with a certain judge to Abbâ Arsenius, and begged the old man to let him hear some saying from him; and the old man held his peace for a little, and then answered him, and said, “If I speak a word to you will ye observe it?” And they promised to keep it. The old man said unto them, “In whatsoever place ye hear that Arsenius is, come not nigh thereunto.”

53. Abbâ Macarius said unto Abbâ Arsenius, “Why fleest thou from us?” And the old man said unto him, “God knoweth that I love you, but I cannot be both with God and with men. The thousands and ten thousands of beings who are above have only one will, but men have many wills: I cannot, therefore, leave God and be with men.” And the old man was always uttering these words, “Arsenius, for this thou didst go forth.” And he used to say thus: “I have many times repented that I spoke, but that I held my peace I have never repented.”

54. Abbâ Anthony said, “The cell of a monk is the furnace of Babylon wherein the Three Children found the Son of God, and it is also the pillar of cloud wherefrom God spake with Moses.”

55. On one occasion the Fathers in Scete were gathered together, and because certain folk were wishing to see Abbâ Moses, they treated him with contumely, saying, “Why doth this Ethiopian come and go in our midst?” But Moses hearing this held his peace. And when the congregation was dismissed, they said unto him, “Abbâ Moses, wast thou not afraid?” And he said unto them, “Although I was afraid I uttered not a word.”

56. On one occasion certain brethren came unto John the Less to tempt him, for they had heard that he never permitted his mind to think about any of the affairs of this world, and that he never spoke about them. And they said unto him, “Father, we thank God because He hath brought down this year rain in abundance, and the palms are thriving and are flourishing beautifully, and work for the hands of the brethren is abundant.” The old man John saith unto them, “Even thus is it with the Holy Spirit of God, for when It descendeth upon the hearts of holy men they blossom and bring forth the fruit of the fear of God.”

57. A certain brother came to take some baskets from John the Less, and when he had knocked at the door, the old man came out to him, and said unto him, “What seekest thou?” And the brother said unto him, “Father, I want baskets.” And John the Less went in to bring them out to him, but he forgot to do so, and sat down, and went on plaiting. And the brother knocked at the door again, and when Abbâ John went forth to answer him, he said unto him, “Wilt thou bring out the baskets to me, Father?” And again John went in, and sat down, and went on plaiting, and when the brother knocked again, John went forth and said unto him, “Brother, what seekest thou?” And he said unto John, “Baskets, Father”; and John took his hand and led him inside, saying, “If thou wishest for baskets take them and get thee gone, for I am not able [to bring them to you].”

58. Some time ago Abbâ Evagrius went to Scete to a certain father and said unto him, “Speak some word whereby I may be able to save myself.” The old man saith unto him, “If thou wishest to be saved, when thou goest unto any man speak not before he asketh thee a question.” Now Evagrius was sorry about this sentence, and shewed regret because he had asked the question, saying, “Verily I have read many books, and I cannot accept instruction of this kind”; and having profited greatly he went forth from him.

59. On one occasion there was a congregation in the Cells concerning a certain matter, and Abbâ Evagrius spoke. And a certain elder said unto him, “We know, Abbâ, that hadst thou been in thine own country where thou art a bishop and the governor of many, [thou wouldst have been right in speaking]; but in this place thou sittest [as] a stranger.” Now Evagrius was sorry, but he was not offended, and he shook his head, and bent his gaze downwards, and he wrote with his finger and said unto them, “Verily, it is even as thou sayest, O my fathers; I have spoken once, but I will not do it a second time.”

60. Abbâ John, who was in prison, said that there was a man sitting in his cell who always made mention of God, and in this was fulfilled that which is written, “I was in prison, and ye came unto Me” (St. Matthew 25:36).

61. They used to say about Abbâ Agathon that for a period of three years he placed a stone in his mouth [and kept it there], until he had learned thoroughly how to hold his peace.

62. A certain brother went to Abbâ Moses in Scete, and asked him to speak a word; and the old man said unto him, “Get thee gone, and sit in thy cell, and thy cell shall teach thee everything.”

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