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

63. THEY used to say about Abbâ Paphnutius that he would not readily drink wine, and that on one occasion he came by chance upon a band of thieves, and found them drinking; and the captain of the thieves recognized him, and knew that he never drank wine; and he looked closely at him [and saw that] he was a man of great ascetic works. And the captain filled a cup with wine and, taking a sword in his hand, he said unto the old man, “If thou wilt not drink I will slay thee”; and the old man knew that the grace of God wished to work on the captain of the thieves through him, and sought to do good to him, so he took [the cup] and drank [the wine]. Then the captain made excuse to him and said, “Forgive me, father, for having distressed thee”; and the old man said unto him, “I believe, by God, that through this cup God will forgive thee thy sins.” And the captain of thieves said unto him, “I believe, by God; from this time forth I will never vex any man.” Thus, because for God’s sake Paphnutius gave up his own wish, he was able to do good to all that band of thieves.

64. A certain old man came unto one of the holy men who was a companion of his, and who cooked a few lentiles; and one of the two said unto his fellow, “Shall we sing a part of the service?” And he sang the whole of the Psalms of David, and his companion repeated two books of the Great Prophets, and when it was morning the old man departed to his own place, and they forgot all about the food. And the old man went another evening and found the food which had been cooked, and he was sorry and said, “Oh! how was it that we came to forget that little mess of lentiles, and did not eat it?”

65. On one occasion a brother came to Abbâ Isaiah, who threw a handful of lentiles into a saucepan to boil, but when they had just begun to boil he took them off the fire; and the brother said unto him, “Are they not yet cooked, O father?” And the old man said unto him, “Is it not sufficient for thee to have seen the fire? For this [alone] is great refreshing.”

66. A certain old man became very seriously ill, for he suffered from some disease of the stomach, and much blood came away from him; and one of the brethren had some dried prunes, and because of the severe illness of the old man he cooked a little food, and put some of the prunes in it, and brought it to him, and entreated him, saying, “Father, do [me] an act of grace, and take a little of this stew, for perhaps it will do thee good.” And the old man lifted up his eyes and looked at him, and said, “In which of the Scriptures hast thou found this thing? Verily I have wished that God would leave me in this illness for the last thirty years, for when I am weak then am I strong”; and the old man, although he was grievously sick, would not take even a little of the food, and when the brother saw [this] he took it and went back to his cell.

67. They used to say concerning Abbâ Macarius, the Egyptian, that if it happened that he ate with the brethren, he would make an agreement with himself that if there was wine [on the table] and he drank one cup of it, he would drink no water for a whole day; now the brethren, wishing him to be refreshed (or pleased), used to give him wine, and the old man took it joyfully so that he might torment his body. And when his disciple saw this thing, he said unto the brethren, “I entreat you, for our Lord’s sake, not to give him wine to drink, for if he drinketh it he will go to his cell and afflict himself because thereof”; and when the brethren knew this they did not give him any more wine to drink.

68. There was a certain old man who made a vow not to drink any water during the Fast of Forty Days; and when he became thirsty (literally, hot) he would wash a potter’s vessel, and fill it with water, and hang it up in front of him. Then the brethren asked him why and wherefore he acted thus, and he said, “That I may labour the more, and receive a reward from God”; now he said this that he might incite them to great labours.

69. A brother asked an old man questions about comforts [or pleasures], and the old man said unto him, “Eat grass, wear grass, and sleep on grass, and then thy heart will become like iron.”

70. A certain brother was hungry one morning, and he fought against his inclination and determined not to eat until the third hour; and when the third hour had passed, he dipped his bread in water, and sat down to eat, but he forced himself to wait until the sixth hour arrived, when he said within himself, “Let us wait till the ninth hour.” And when the ninth hour had come, he prayed, and saw the working of Satan rising up before him like smoke, and he suppressed his desire [to eat], and his hunger passed away from him.

71. A certain brother from the Cells brought some new bread, and he invited all the old men who were under vows at Scete to partake of a meal; and when each of them had eaten two bread-cakes, they ceased eating. Then the brother, who knew their labours of abstinence, and that they did not usually eat, and never satisfied themselves, made excuses to them, saying, “Eat ye this day, for our Lord’s sake, until ye are satisfied”; and hearing this each ate ten cakes more. All this [sheweth] how much they afflicted themselves in not satisfying themselves with any kind of food.

72. On one occasion two old men were going up from Scete to Egypt, and because of the fatigue of the way they sat down on the bank of the river to eat some food, and one of them took his bread-cake in his hand and dipped it in the water; and he answered and said unto his companion, “Wilt thou not dip thy cake in water, O father?” And his companion answered and said unto him, “It is written, When a possession increaseth set not thy heart upon it” (Psalm 62:10).

73. They used to say about Abbâ Isaac, the priest of the Cells, that he ate the ashes of the censer which was before the altar with his bread.

74. On one occasion there was an offering [made] in the mountain of Abbâ Anthony, and a skin of wine was there, and one of the monks took some of it in a small vessel, and with a cup in his hand he went and carried it to Abbâ Sisoes. And he mixed him a cupful, and he drank it, and he mixed him a second cupful, and he took it and drank it, but when he mixed him a third cupful Abbâ Sisoes refused to drink it, saying, “Stay thy hand, brother, knowest thou not that [the third cup] is of Satan?”

75. Abbâ John said, “If a king wishes to subdue a city belonging to enemies, he first of all keepeth them without bread and water, and the enemy being in this wise harassed by hunger becometh subject unto him; and thus it is in respect of the hostile passions, for if a man endureth fasting and hunger regularly, his enemies become stricken with weakness in the soul.”

76. They used to say about Abbâ Dioscurus that his bread was made of barley and lentiles, and that at the beginning of each year he would set himself some [new] task of ascetic excellence, saying, “This year I will not hold converse with (or visit) any man,” or, “I will not speak at all,” or, “I will not eat food which hath been boiled,” or, “I will not eat fruit,” or, “I will not eat vegetables.” He began each year with resolutions of this kind and carried them out, and each year he set himself some new task.

77. On one occasion when certain brethren went to the church during the Easter Festival, they gave a brother a cup of wine, and when they urged him to drink it, he said to them, “Forgive me, O my fathers, but ye did the same thing to me last year, and I drank a cup of wine, and I was greatly troubled thereby for a long time.”

78. The monks were celebrating a festival in Scete, and they gave a certain old man a cup of wine, and he handed it back, saying, “Take this death away from me”; and when the others who were eating with him saw him [do this] they also would not take the wine.

79. And again on another occasion certain first-fruits of wine were sent that it might be given to the brethren cup by cup, (i.e., a cup each). And one of the brethren went up to a roof, that he might escape from drinking, and it parted asunder beneath him, and he fell through it; and when the sound came [to the brethren] they went and found him lying [on the ground], and they began to think about him, and said, “O lover of vainglory, this hath befallen thee rightly.” And an old man laid him out, saying unto them, “Forgive ye my son, for he hath done a good work. And, as the Lord liveth, this breach shall not be built up in my days, for all the world shall know that because of a cup of wine a schism hath taken place in Scete.”

80. It was reported to Abbâ Poemen about a certain brother that he would not drink wine, and the old man Poemen said, “The nature of wine is not such as to make it useful to the dwellers in monasteries.”

81. They used to say about Abbâ Sisoes the Theban that he never ate bread. During the Easter Festival the brethren came to him, and having made excuses they entreated him to eat with them; and he answered and said, “I will do one [of two] things; I will either eat bread and bread alone, or I will eat of the meats which ye have boiled.” And they said unto him, “Then eat bread only.”

82. A certain old man said, “Reduce thy knowledge of the things of man, and thy belly also, and thou shalt find all [manner of] delights.”

83. Abbâ Poemen used to say, “The Spirit of God never entereth into the house wherein there are delights and pleasures.”

84. A brother asked Abbâ Sisoes, “What [good do] I do in going to church, for often [the devils] recognize me and seize me?” The old man saith unto him, “There is work in the matter.”

85. Abraham his disciple thereupon said unto him, “Father, if there happen to be a congregation on the Sabbath, or on Sunday, and a brother drink three cups of wine, is that too much?” The old man saith unto him, “If Satan did not exist three cups would not be too much to drink, but since he doth exist three cups are too much.”

86. On one occasion some early grapes were sent to Abbâ Macarius because he longed for them, and to give a proof of his abstinence, he sent them to another brother who was sick, and who craved for grapes; and having received them, he rejoiced over them greatly, and then he despised his desire, and sent them on to another brother, as one who had no wish for food of any kind, and who held his self-denial in contempt. Now when the brother had received the grapes, although he desired greatly to eat them, he did the same as the other brother had done, and no man wished to eat them. And after they had gone about among many of the brethren, the last one who received them sent them to the blessed Macarius as a gift of great honour; and when the blessed Macarius saw the grapes he marvelled at the extent of the self-denial of the brethren, and gave thanks unto God, and he did not eat them.

87. On one occasion certain monks went down from Egypt to visit the Fathers, and when they saw that they were eating—now it was after prolonged hunger and very much fasting, and continual abstinence,—they were greatly offended; and when the elder of the coenobium learned [about this] he came to quiet their minds. And he proclaimed in the church of the congregation, saying, “Ye shall fast in your customary manner,” and honour your ascetic rule of life, so that your voluntary abstinence may not be held in contempt.” Now the Egyptian strangers wished to depart, but the monks shut them in cells. And when they had fasted the whole of the first day they began to feel faint, but notwithstanding this the monks made them to fast two days at a time; now the monks who were in Scete used to fast for a week at a time. And when the day of the Sabbath came, the Egyptians sat down to eat with the old men, and when one of the Egyptians began to eat hurriedly and voraciously, one of the old men caught hold of his hands, saying, “Eat moderately, (or according to rule) like the monks.” Then one of the others clutched at the old man’s hand, saying, “Let me eat so that I may not die, for behold, I have not eaten a piece of boiled food for a whole week.” And the old man said unto him, “If now ye have become so very weak after having fasted but one night only, why were ye offended at the brethren who live a life of self-denial for long periods of time, and who fulfil their seasons with voluntary abstinence?” And straightway those Egyptians made excuses to the old men, and they were edified by their patient endurance, and departed rejoicing.

88. Once Abbâ Agathon had two disciples, and they separated from him, and each of them dwelt in a place by himself. One day he asked one of them, and said, “How dost thou live in thy cell?” And the disciple answered and said, “I fast until evening, and then I eat two bread-cakes”; and Abbâ Agathon said unto him, “It is a beautiful way of living, but it is very laborious.” Then Abbâ Agathon said unto the other disciple, “And how dost thou live?” And the disciple answered and said unto him, “I fast two days at a time, and after each fast I eat two bread-cakes.” Then the old man said unto him, “Thou toilest greatly, and maintainest a twofold strife. For one man eateth every day and filleth not his belly, and another fasteth two days at a time and taketh whatsoever he needeth; but thou, though thou dost fast two days at a time, dost not fill thy belly.”

89. Abbâ Abraham went to Abbâ Areus, and as they were sitting down, another brother came to Abbâ, and asked him, saying, “Tell me what I shall do to live?” And he said unto him, “Go and pass the whole week in plaiting palm leaves and twisting ropes thereof, and eat bread and salt once each day in the evening, and then come again to me, and I will tell thee [what else to do].” And the brother went away and did as he had told him to do, and when Abbâ Abraham heard this he wondered. Now when the week was ended that brother came again to the old man Areus, with whom there happened to be also Abbâ Abraham. And the old man said unto the brother, “Get thee gone, and pass thou the whole week in fasting two days at a time.” And when that brother had gone, Abbâ Abraham said unto Abbâ Areus, “Why dost thou command all the other brethren to bear a light burden, but layest aheavy load upon the brother who was here?” Then the old man said unto him, “The other brethren as they come, ask, and according as they ask they receive and depart; but this brother cometh for God’s sake, that he may hear the word of profit, for he is a worker, and whatsoever I say unto him he performeth with care and diligence.”

90. Abbâ Theodotus used to say, “Abstinence from bread quieteth the body of the monk.”

91. A certain old man used to say, “I knew Abbâ Patermuthis in the cells, and he did not drink wine, but when they took some wine and mixed it with water, and urged him to drink [it], he said, ‘Believe me, O my brethren, I hold it to be a most beautiful thing.’ And he blamed himself and condemned himself because of the mixing, and at the same time he gave thanks unto God and accepted His gracious gift.”

92. They used to say about Abbâ Paphnutius that he did not drink wine readily, even though he was sick.

93. Abbâ Poemen said, “The soul can be humbled by nothing except thou enfeeble it by the eating of [little] bread.”

94. They used to say about Abbâ Sarnâôs that he laboured exceedingly hard, and that he only ate two bread-cakes each day. And when he came to Abbâ Job, who was a man that was perfect in the laborious work of active excellence, and who was also a man that practised strict self-denial and abstinence, he said unto him, “As long as I live in my cell I can observe my rule of life, but if I go outside my cell I make openly submission because of the brethren.” Then Abbâ Sarnâôs said unto him, “To be able to keep hold upon thy rule of life only so long as thou art in thy cell is no great act of spiritual excellence, but it would be if thou couldst do so when thou didst go forth outside thy cell.”

95. Abbâ Poemen used to say, “As smoke driveth away bees, and men take the sweetness of their labour, even so also doth ease of the body drive away the fear of God from the heart, and it carrieth away all the good [effect] of its labour.”

96. On one occasion Abbâ Sylvanus and Zechariah his disciple were going to a monastery, and they prepared a little food to eat before they set out on their journey. And when they had gone forth his disciple found water on the way, and he wished to drink, but the old man said unto him, “Zechariah, to-day is a fast day,” but the disciple said, “Nay, O father, for behold we have eaten.” Then Abbâ Sylvanus said unto him, “The food which we ate was obligatory, but let us keep the fast, O my son.”

97. Abbâ Poemen said, “Every corporeal pleasure is contemptible before the Lord.”

98. The disciple of Abbâ Sisoes had to say unto him several times, “Rise up and let us eat.” And he used to say unto him, “My son, have we not eaten?” And the disciple would say unto him, “Nay, father.” Then the old man would say unto him, “If we have not eaten, bring the food and let us eat.”

99. Abbâ Daniel used to say, “In proportion as the body groweth, the soul becometh enfeebled; and the more the body becometh emaciated, the more the soul groweth.”

100. Abbâ Benjamin, the priest of the Cells, said, “On one occasion we went to a certain old man in Scete, and we wanted to give him a little oil; and he said unto us, ‘Behold, that little vessel of oil which ye brought to me three years ago is still lying in the place where ye put it, and it hath remained in the same state as that wherein ye brought it.’ And when we heard [this] we marvelled at the old man’s manner of life.”

101. Abbâ Benjamin also said, “We went to another old man, and he took some food which we were going to eat, and threw into it a little oil of radishes. And we said unto him, ‘Father, throw into our food a little sweet oil,’ but when he heard these words, he made the sign of the Cross over himself, and said, ‘If there be any other oil besides this I know not of it.’ ”

102. Abbâ Joseph asked Abbâ Poemen what was the proper way in which to fast, and Abbâ Poemen said unto him, “I prefer the man who eateth every day a very small quantity of food, and who doth not satisfy his cravings for food.” And Abbâ Joseph said unto him, “When thou wast a young man didst thou not fast two days at a time, O father?” Then the old man said unto him, “Yea, I did, and three days at a time, and four days at a time, and even a week at a time; and the old men, like men of might, have tried all these by experience, but they have found that it is beneficial for a man to eat an exceedingly small quantity of food each day, and because of this they have delivered unto us an easy way to the kingdom.”

103. One of the fathers said, “I knew a brother in the Cells who used to fast the whole of the Great Sabbath, and when the brethren were assembled in the evening he used to flee to his cell in order that he might eat nothing in the church; and he would eat a few plantains with salt, and without bread, that he might conceal his abstinence.”

104. They used to tell about a certain monk who, having gone forth from the world, and lived in the coenobium for a number of years, was gracious unto every man in his humility, and all the brethren marvelled at his abstinence from meats; then he went to the barren desert, and lived there for many years, eating for food wild herbs. And afterwards he entreated God to inform him what reward He would give him, and it was said unto him by an angel, “Go forth from this desert and get thee along the road, and behold a certain shepherd shall meet thee, and according to [what he saith] so shalt thou receive.” Now when he had made ready to depart, the shepherd of whom he had been told by the angel met him, and saluted him, and having sat down to hold converse with each other, the monk saw in the shepherd’s bag some green herbs, and he asked him, saying, “What is this?” And the shepherd said unto him, “It is my food.” And the monk said unto him, “How long hast thou been feeding thyself on these green herbs?” And the shepherd said unto him, “Behold, for the last thirty years, more or less, and I have never tasted anything else except these herbs which I have eaten once a day, and I drink as much water as my food requireth; and the wages which are given to me by the owner of the sheep I give unto the poor.” Now when the monk heard these things he fell down at the feet of the shepherd, and said, “I imagined that I had laid hold upon abstinence, but thou through thy well-ordered life art worthy of a greater reward than I, because I have eaten every kind of green thing immediately it came in my way.” Then the shepherd said unto him, “It is not right that rational men should make themselves like unto the beasts, but they should eat whatsoever is prepared for them at the seasons which are duly ordered and appointed for them, and afterwards they should fast from everything until an appointed time.” And the monk profited by these words, and he added to his labour and became perfect, and he praised God, and marvelled how many were the saints in the world who were not known to the children of men.

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