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

105. THEY used to say about Abbâ Arsenius that no man was able to attain to the manner of life in his abode. And they also said about him that on the night of the Sabbath which would end in the dawn of Sunday, he would leave the sun behind him, and would stretch out his hands towards heaven, and would pray [in this position] until the sun rose in his face, when he would satisfy his eyes with a little slumber.

106. A certain old man was complete in all perfection, and he could see what was happening from a very long way off; and he said, “I once saw in a monastery a certain brother who was meditating on the study of God in his cell, and behold, a devil came and stood outside, and he wanted to go in, but he could not do so, so long as the brother was meditating. Finally, however, when the monk ceased his contemplation the devil was able to enter his cell, for his power is not able to vanquish those whose converse is with God.”

107. An old man said, “Whensoever a man readeth the Divine Books, the devils are afraid.”

108. They used to say about Abbâ Pachomius that he spent much time in striving with devils like a true athlete, and after the manner of Saint Anthony. And because many devils came against him in the night season, he asked God to keep away sleep from him both by day and by night, so that he might not sleep at all, and might be able to bring low the might of the Enemy, even according to that which is written, “I will not turn back until I have made an end of them”; for they are powerless against the faith which is in the Lord. Now this gift was given unto him, even as he had asked, for a certain time, and because he was pure, his heart used to see God, Who is invisible, as in a mirror.

109. They used to say about Abbâ Pachomius and Abbâ John that they lived together in the same religious house (now John was larger in stature than Pachomius), but both had adopted a life of poverty voluntarily, and they possessed nothing whatsoever except the fear of God. Whatsoever they gained by the work of their hands they gave to those who were in need, and they kept for themselves only what was sufficient for their bare necessities; in respect of clothes they were well-nigh destitute, and they had so few of them that they were obliged to wash those which they wore [and put them on again]. Now Abbâ Pachomius always wore a garment made of hair, because of the toil of his body. And whensoever they wished to refresh their bodies by a little sleep after their vigil and prayer, each of them would sit down in the middle of the cell, and, without leaning against a wall, would go to sleep. And they continued to do this for fifteen years, and many of the fathers heard of them, and saw them living thus, and they also strove in like manner to humble their bodies for the redemption of their souls.

110. They used to say about Abbâ Joseph that when he was about to die, and the old men were sitting about him, he looked at the window and saw Satan sitting there; and he cried out to his disciple and said, “Bring me a stick here, for this devil thinketh that I have become old, and that I am no longer able to stand up against him,” and as soon as he grasped the stick in his hand, Satan, in the form of a dog, threw himself from the window, and the old man saw him taking to flight.

111. They used to relate concerning Abbâ Sisoes that if he did not bring down his hands swiftly when he was standing up in prayer, his mind would be carried off on high; but whensoever it chanced that one of the brethren was with him he would bring his hands down hurriedly lest peradventure his mind should be carried off, and he should be left alone.

112. Abbâ Isaiah, the elder of the church, rebuked the brethren when they were eating that which had been prepared for them because they began to talk with each other, and he said to them, “Hold ye your peace, O my brethren. I know a brother who eateth with us and drinketh with us full (?) cups even as we do, and yet his prayer ascendeth up before God like fire.”

113. One day Abbâ Arsenius called Abbâ Alexander and Abbâ Zôîlâ, and said unto them, “Because the devils are striving with me, and because I do not know but that they may carry me off during [my] sleep, toil ye here with me this night, and keep vigil, and watch me and see if I sleep during [my] vigil.” So they sat down, one on his right hand, and the other on his left, from the evening even until the morning. And they said, “We slept and we woke up, and we did not observe that he slept at all; but when it began to be light there came unto us three times the sound of breathing in his nostrils, but whether he did this purposely so that we might think he slept or whether slumber had really fallen upon him we know not.” And he stood up and said unto us, “Have I been asleep?” And we answered and said unto him, “We do not know, O father, for we ourselves went to sleep.”

114. A brother asked Abbâ Poemen, saying, “How, and in what manner is it right for a man to walk in the path of righteousness?” Abbâ Poemen said unto him, “We have seen Daniel, and also that his enemies were unable to bring any accusation whatsoever against him except in respect of his service of God.”

115. On one occasion Abbâ Sisoes was sitting in his cell, and when his disciple knocked at the door [meaning to] go in, the old man cried out, saying, “Flee, Abraham, and do not come in now, for this place is not empty.”

116. They say concerning Abbâ Sisoes of Babylon that, wishing to vanquish sleep, he stood upright upon a mountain crag, and that the angel of the Lord came and rescued him from that place, and commanded him never to do such a thing again, and not even to hand on this tradition to another.

117. An old man said, “I knew a brother who used to sit with the brethren at the meal which is made for the coming of the brethren, and although the brethren ate and drank, he never made himself to be remote from converse with God in his prayer, and he did not drink even a cup of wine. Now this man’s manner of life was marvellous, and a certain man used to say about him, ‘I once wished to count the prayers which he made, and I saw that he did not cease to pray either by day or by night.’ ”

118. On one occasion a Bishop was sent secretly to Abbâ Epiphanius by the head of a certain monastery in Palestine, saying, “We have not treated lightly thy services of prayer since thy departure from us, but we perform most carefully the services for the third, and sixth, and ninth hours, and also vespers.” Then Abbâ Epiphanius blamed those who sent him, and wrote a message, which he sent to them, saying, “Ye must know that ye are indeed neglectful of the services and prayers which belong to the other eight hours which are in the day, for it is right for the monk who hath made himself to be remote from the world to be occupied with prayers to God unceasingly, and he should pray either in his heart, or in a carefully defined service, or in that service which he performeth with his will and with understanding. For the Calumniator addeth greatly to any small failing which he may find in a monk, and by being with him continually he enlargeth greatly the breach which he hath made, and by his habit of persistency he acquireth his natural power, and more particularly is this so in the case of those who are careless and lazy.”

119. Abbâ Epiphanius also said, “Whatsoever food thou wishest to eat with gratification, that give not to thy body, especially when thou art in good health, and that which thou lustest after, eat not; and when thou feedest upon the things which are sent unto thee by God, give thanks unto Him at all seasons, and receive His gracious gift, the delights and the pleasures which we have received through the name of monk, [although] we do not do the works of monks. And [if] it be that thou art a monk, wilt thou then not make thyself strong, lest peradventure thou art arrayed in apparel which is strange to thee? Tell me, O brother, dost thou possess the seal of the service, that is to say, humility? For the holy man who seeth another man sin weepeth bitterly, saying, ‘It is this man who sinneth now, but some time subsequently it may be myself.’ However much then a man may sin before thee, condemn him not, but esteem thyself a sinner far greater than he is, even though he may be a child of this world, and besides there is the fact that he may have sinned greatly against God.”

120. And he said also, “Know thyself, and thou shalt never fall. Give thy soul work, that is to say, constant prayer, and love of God, before another can give it evil [and filthy] thoughts; and pray ye that the spirit of error may be remote from you.”

121. And he also said, “Whatsoever ye do successfully, and what ye boast of, destroy, for it is not right for a monk to boast of his fair deeds, and if he boasteth he will fall.”

122. [And he also said], “When thou prayest speak unto God in a quiet voice and say, ‘How can I possess Thee, O Lord? Thou knowest full well that I am a beast, and that I know nothing. Thou hast brought me to the prime of this life, deliver me then for Thy mercy’s sake; I am Thy servant, and the son of Thine handmaiden, O Lord, by Thy will, vivify Thou me.’ The old man is falsehood, and the new man is truth; the truth is the root of good works, and falsehood is death. If the liar, and the thief, and the calumniator knew that they would finally be made known unto all and [their works] revealed, they would never offend. And thus also was it with the adulterous sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, for they were not priests of the Lord, and they feared not God, and they perished, together with all their house. And the man who taketh hold of, and bindeth to himself, and shutteth within himself the memory of evil things is like unto the man who hideth fire in straw. If thou speakest to a man concerning life, and if thou sayest a word unto him let it be with feeling, and penitence, and with tears; and say thy word to the man who will hearken and will do it, but if not, speak not, lest thou die, and thou depart from this world without any profit from the words whereby thou didst wish to give life unto others. For unto the sinner God saith, ‘What hast thou to do with the Books of My Commandments? for thou hast taken My covenant in thy mouth [only]’ ” (Psalm 50:16).

123. Abbâ Epiphanius said, “Whensoever a thought cometh and filleth thy bosom, that is to say, thy heart, with vainglory or with pride, say thou unto thyself, ‘Old man, behold thy fornication.’ ”

124. And he also said, “If we do evil things God will be unmindful of His longsuffering; but if we do good things, it will not help us greatly because we increase the advantage of freedom, and the merchandise is not plundered thereby, for the will rejoiceth in the striving.”

125. Certain brethren entreated Abbâ Epiphanius on one occasion, saying, “Father, speak unto us some word of life, even though when thou speakest we may not grasp the seed of thy word, because the soil is salt.” Then the old man answered and said unto them, “Whosoever receiveth not all the brethren, but maketh distinctions between them, cannot become a perfect man. If a man revile thee, bless him, whether it be good for both of you, or whether it be not; it will be he who will receive a reward of blessing. This is the right way for a monk to live, and in this way lived Abbâ Arsenius, who took care each day to stand up before God without sin, and he drew nigh unto Him with tears like the sinful woman. In this manner pray to the Lord God—as if He were standing before thee, for He is nigh unto thee and He looketh upon thee. It is right that the man who wisheth to dwell in the desert should be [as] a teacher in his knowledge, and he must not be in need of instruction lest he be swept away by the devils; and he must look into his mind most minutely, both in respect of the things which are above, and those which are below, lest he become a laughing-stock unto them by some means or other. It is right that the manner of life of the man who loveth God should be blameless.”

126. A certain man made answer to the brethren against evil thoughts, saying, “I entreat you, O my brethren, let us cease from ascetic works, and let us give up also anxious thoughts. For what are we? A voice which cometh out of the dust, or a cry which riseth from the mud? When Joseph of Ramah had asked to be allowed to take the body of Jesus, he took it, and wrapped it round in a sheet of clean linen, and then he laid it in a new sepulchre of the new man” (St. Matthew 27:59).

127. On one occasion a certain monk saw a devil who was calling to his fellow to come with him, so that the two together might wake up a monk for service, and might lead him into error thereby, [and cause him to think] that angels had appeared unto him. And the monk heard the voice of the other devil, who made answer to his fellow, saying, “I cannot do this. For once I woke him up, and he stood up and broke me with a terrible breaking, and [all the time he was doing it] he sang psalms and prayed.”

128. A brother asked an old man and said, “Why is it that when I go forth to labour I feel wearied and disgusted in my soul, and my mind is wholly empty of spiritual thoughts?” And the old man said unto him, “Because thou dost not desire to fulfil that which is written, ‘I will bless the Lord always, and His praises shall be ever in my mouth’ (Psalm 34:1). Therefore, whether thou art inside or outside, and whithersoever thou goest thou must not cease from blessing God; not only in actions, but with word and mind thou shalt bless thy Maker. For God doth not dwell in any place which hath bounds and limits, but He is everywhere, and by His Divine Power He sustaineth all things, and is capable of all things.”

129. A brother asked Abbâ Poemen concerning the thoughts which invaded his mind, and he said unto him, “This matter is like unto that of a man who hath a fire on his left hand, and a tank of water on his right hand; if he wisheth to extinguish the fire, he taketh the water from the tank and doeth it, and it is right for a man to act thus every hour. Now the fire is the evil thought, which cometh from enemies, and the water is the pouring out of the soul before the Lord which a man should do.”

130. There was a certain monk who did not do any work whatsoever with his hands, but he prayed without ceasing; and at eventide he would go into his cell and find his bread laid there [for him], and he would eat it. Now another monk came to him, who had upon him [materials] for the labour of his hands, and wheresoever he entered in he worked, and he made the old man, into whose cell he had entered, to work with him. And when the evening had come, he wished according to his custom, to eat, but he found nothing, and he therefore lay down in sorrow; and it was revealed unto him, saying, “Whilst thou wast occupied in converse with Me, I fed thee, but now thou hast begun to work, thou must demand thy food from the labour of thy hands.”

131. They tell the story that on one occasion, whilst the blessed Anthony was dwelling in the desert, thoughts of dejection and despair rose up in his mind, and he was in deep gloom of thought, and said unto God, “Lord, I wish to live, but my thoughts will not permit me to do so. What shall I do in my tribulations to be saved?” And he came a little nearer [to the town] from the place where he was, and he saw a man who was like unto himself, and was in his own form, and he was sitting down and twisting palm leaves into ropes; and this man rose up from his work, and prayed, and afterwards he sat down again and continued his work, and then he stood up once more, and prayed. Now the man was an angel who had been sent from God to correct and to admonish the blessed Anthony, who afterwards heard him say unto him, “O Anthony, do thou also do this and live”; and when Anthony heard this, the blessed man had great joy, and afterwards he did as the angel had done, and lived.

132. They said concerning Abbâ John the Less that, on one occasion, he steeped the palm leaves for two baskets in water, and sewed one basket to the other without perceiving it until he came to the side of it, for his mind was led captive by the sight of God.

133. And Abbâ Daniel used to say concerning Abbâ Arsenius that he would pass the whole night in vigil, and when, for the sake of nature, he wished for the approach of the morning so that he might have some relief, he would struggle against sleep, and say, “Get thee gone, O wicked handmaiden”; then he would snatch a very little slumber and stand up straightway.

134. Abbâ Arsenius used to say, “One hour’s sleep is sufficient for a monk, provided that he be strenuous.”

135. They used to say about a certain monk who lived in a monastery of the brotherhood, that although he kept frequent vigil and prayed he was neglectful about praying with the congregation. And one night there appeared unto him a glorious pillar of brilliant light from the place where the brethren were congregated, and it reached up into the heavens; and he saw a small spark which [flew] about the pillar, and sometimes it shone brightly, and sometimes it was extinguished. And whilst he was wondering at the vision, it was explained to him by God, Who said, “The pillar which thou seest is the prayers of the many [brethren] which are gathered together and go up to God and gratify Him; and the spark is the prayers of those who dwell among the congregation, and who despise the appointed services of the brotherhood. And now, if thou wouldst live, perform that which it is customary to perform with the brethren, and then, if thou wishest to do so, and art able to pray separately, do so.” And the monk related all these things before the brotherhood, and they glorified God.

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