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

559. A CERTAIN monk was engaged, on one occasion, in a war against fornication, and he had in his heart, as it were, a burning fire by day and by night; but he bore this agony, and did not bring low his mind, and after a long time the war passed away from him, but he was unable to vanquish it in any way except by patient endurance, and straightway light rose on his mind.

560. And another brother also was engaged in a war against fornication, and he rose up by night, and came to one of the old men and told him his mind, and the old man persuaded him [to endure], and he was helped, and went [back] to his cell. And again he came unto the old man, and again he helped him, and the brother went [back] to his cell; and the war came upon him the third time, and again he went back by night to the old man, and the old man did not cause him pain but spake with him for his benefit, and said unto him, “Give it no opportunity, but come hither whensoever the devil vexeth thee, and thou wilt expose him, and when he hath been exposed he will take to flight. For nothing vexeth the devil of fornication so much as that a man should hide his thoughts and not reveal them.” Now that brother came to the old man eleven times and made accusations against his thoughts, for he wished to be helped; and when the old man spake unto him that devil took to flight, but when he came [back] to his cell the war came upon him. At length the brother said unto the old man, “Do an act of grace, father, and tell me a word [whereby I may live].” The old man said unto him, “Be of good courage, my son, and if God permitteth my thought it shall come to thee, and thou shalt bear it no longer, but thou shalt depart being innocent.” He said this, and God did away the war of that brother.

561. And another brother was engaged in a war against fornication, and he bore it with very great self-restraint for fourteen years, and he guarded his mind against being subservient to lust, and at length he came to the church, and made known the matter unto all the people; and when they heard [it] they were pained, and they prayed for a whole week to God on his behalf, and afterwards He did away the war that was in him.

562. On one occasion Abbâ Moses of Pâtârâ was engaged in a war against fornication, and he could not endure being in his cell, and he went and informed Abbâ Isidore of it; and the old man entreated him to return to his cell, but he would not agree [to this]. And having said, “Father, I cannot bear it,” the old man took him up to the roof of his cell, and said unto him, “Look to the west,” and when he looked he saw multitudes of devils with troubled and terrified aspects, and they shewed themselves in the forms of phantoms which were in fighting attitudes. Abbâ Isidore saith unto him, “Look to the east,” and when he looked he saw innumerable holy angels standing [there], and they were in a state of great glory. Then Abbâ Isidore said unto him, “Behold, those who are in the west are those who are fighting with the holy ones, and those whom thou hast seen in the east are they who are sent by God to the help of the saints, for those who are with us are many.” And having seen [these] Abbâ Moses took courage and returned to his cell without fear.

563. One of the old men said concerning the lustful thoughts which come into the heart of a man, and which are not carried into effect, that they are like unto a man who seeth a vineyard, and who desireth to eat the grapes thereof, but is afraid to go in lest he be caught and suffer death. If he be caught outside the hedge he will not die, because he hath neither gone into the vineyard nor hath eaten the grapes, but hath only desired; now he shall be beaten with few stripes, because he hath coveted, but he shall not die.

564. There was a certain old man, who lived in a cell, and his thoughts said unto him, “Go, take to thyself a woman”; then he rose up straightway and kneaded together some mud, and made the figure of a woman, and he said to himself, “Behold thy wife! It is necessary for thee to labour with all thy might that thou mayest be able to feed her.” And he laboured with his hands and twisted many ropes. Then after a few days, he rose up and made a figure of a woman, and said unto his thoughts, “Behold, thy wife hath brought forth, it is necessary for thee to work harder to keep thy wife and to clothe thy daughter”; and thus doing he vexed his body sorely. And he said unto his thought, “I cannot bear [all] this work, and since I am unable to bear the work, a wife is unnecessary for me”; and God saw his labour, and did away his thoughts [of fornication], and he had peace.

565. Abbâ Poemen used to say, “As the sword-bearer standeth before the king, being always ready [to smite], so is it meet for the soul which is prepared to stand [ready] to resist the devil of fornication.”

566. They used to say that Mother Sarah contended against the devil of fornication for seven years on the roof [of her house], before she vanquished him.

567. One of the old men said, “It is written concerning Solomon that he loved women, but every male loveth the females, and we must restrain and draw onwards our nature by main force to purity.”

568. A brother asked Abbâ Daniel, and said unto him, “Deliver to me a commandment”; [and he said unto him], “Never place thy hand in a dish and eat with a woman, and thou wilt be able to flee from the devil of fornication.”

569. They used to say that the great old man Abraham arrived at a monastery, and that he also saw there a youth, and that he refused to pass the night there; and the brethren who were with him said unto him, “Art thou also afraid, O father?” The old man said unto them, “Indeed, my sons, I am not afraid, but of what use is a vain war to me?”

570. A brother asked an old man, saying, “What shall I do? For my thoughts are [fixed] always upon fornication, and they will not give me peace even for a moment; and thus is my soul vexed.” And the old man answered and said unto him, “When these thoughts spring up in thee speak not with them, for it belongeth to them to rise up with continual anxiety, and not to be sluggish, but they have no power to force thee, for it belongeth to thee either to accept them or not. Hast thou not seen what the Midianites did, how they adorned their women and set them up, but they forced no man to take them? those who wished to do so fell into them, and those who did not became wroth, and made a slaughter in their wrath. Even so is it with the thoughts.” Then that brother said unto him, “What then shall I do? For I am weak, and passion overcometh me.” The old man said unto him, “Consider thy thoughts well, and when they begin to speak to thee, answer them never a word, but rise up and pray, and meditate upon holy words.” And the brother said unto him, “Behold, father, I do meditate [on holy words], and the passion riseth not in my heart, but I do not know the power of the words”; then the old man answered and said unto him, “Thou canst only [continue] to meditate, but I have heard Abbâ Poemen and many fathers say this word: ‘The enchanter knoweth not the power of the words which he uttereth, but when the animal heareth them, it knoweth their power, and he becometh subservient, and submitteth itself [to him].’ Even so is it with us, for although we do not know the power of the words whereon we meditate, the devils know their power as soon as they hear them.”

571. The old men in Scete were asked concerning fornication, “When doth a man see a face in the passion stirred up in him?” And they said, “This matter is like unto a table which is loaded with meats of all kinds, and a man who seeketh and desireth to eat of them; but if a man putteth not forth his hand and taketh not of the meats he becometh a stranger unto them.”

572. They used to say that Abbâ Isaac went out and found the footprint of a woman on the road, and he thought about it in his mind and destroyed it, saying, “If a brother seeth it he may fall.”

573. A brother asked Abbâ Agathon concerning fornication, and he said unto him, “Go, cast thy feebleness before God, and thou shalt find relief.”

574. A brother asked a father, and said unto him, “There is a war of fornication against me,” and the old man said unto him, “If it be a good thing, why goest thou away from it, but if it be a bad thing why dost not thou command it [to depart]?”

575. A certain brother, being vexed by the spirit of fornication, went to a great old man, and entreated him, saying, “Do an act of grace, and pray for me, for I am disturbed by fornication,” and the old man made supplication unto God and entreated Him. And the brother came to him a second time, and said the same words as before, and the old man also was not neglectful in beseeching God on his behalf. Now when the brother had come to the old man, and troubled him in this way many times because he was disturbed by fornication, the old man afterwards entreated God, and said, “O Lord, reveal unto me the manner in which this brother liveth, and whence cometh the reason why I have entreated Thee so often on his behalf, and he hath not found relief.” Then God revealed unto him the affair of that brother, and he saw him dwelling with the spirit of fornication by him, and that brother lusting for it, and an angel was standing by [ready] to help him; and he was angry with that brother because he did not cast himself upon God, but was involving his mind therein. And straightway the old man knew that the cause lay with the brother himself, and he made him to undertand this, and he roused him up, and afterwards he took heed to himself.

576. A brother asked Abbâ Poemen, saying, “The body is feeble, but my passions are not weak”; the old man said unto him, “The passions make thorns to grow and burst into flower.”

577. A brother asked Abbâ Poemen concerning the passions of the body, and the old man said unto him, “They are like unto those who sang praises to the image of Nebuchadnezzar, for if those who sang had not burned men [people] would never have worshipped the image; and in this wise the Enemy also singeth to the soul by means of the passions, so that he may perchance be able to make it commit sin through the passion of the body.”

578. An old man used to say, “Salt is produced by water, but if it falleth into water it becometh dissolved and is lost; similarly monks are born of women, but if they fall into women they are dissolved and perish from God.”

579. A certain father when he went out to become a monk was a virgin, and he did not even know that a whore existed among the children of men. And when he was dwelling in his cell the devils began to stir up in him the passion of fornication, and lifting up his eyes he saw the devils going round about him in the forms of Ethiopians, and they incited him to yield to the passion; then he rose up straightway and prayed, and said, “O Lord, help me,” and when he had said these things immediately a stone fell from the roof, and he heard, as it were, a sweet voice, and he seemed to enjoy a short respite from the thoughts of fornication. And he rose up and came to one of the old men and related the matter to him, and the old man answered and said, “I know not what this meaneth”; and he sent him on to Abbâ Poemen, and that brother related the matter unto him also. Then the old man said unto him, “The stone which thou didst see fall is the Calumniator, and that voice which thou didst hear is lust. Take heed unto thy soul, and make supplication unto God, and behold, thou shalt be freed from this war”; and Abbâ Poemen taught him how to contend against devils, and having prayed, he dismissed him, and that brother came to his cell. And he made entreaty and supplication unto God, and God granted him to attain to such a gift [of excellence] that, when that brother died, He was pleased that there should be revealed unto him whether it was well with his soul or not.

Now in another manuscript instead of the words, “He rose up and prayed,” it is thus written:—He saw the devils surrounding him in the forms of Ethiopians and they were inciting him to yield to the passion. And he said, “This natural member which stablisheth man is like unto a spout in a tank which letteth out water, and it is also like a conduit which carrieth the water off a roof; similarly this member carrieth off water from a man.” And having said these words straightway the stone fell, &c.

580. On one occasion a certain man went out to Scete to become a monk, and he took with him his son as soon as he had been weaned; and when the boy was grown up and had become a young man, the war of fornication attacked him, and he said unto his father, “I will go into the world, father, for I cannot endure this striving against fornication.” Then his father entreated him to persevere, but at length the boy said to his father, “Father, I cannot bear it any longer, let me go”; and his father said unto him, “My son, hearken to me for this time only. Take thee seven pairs of cakes of bread, and a few palm leaves, sufficient for forty days, [and get thee into the desert], and may God’s will be done.” And his son hearkened unto him, and he took [the bread and palm leaves] and departed, and he remained [in the desert] working, and twisting dry palm leaves into ropes, and plaiting mats, and eating dry bread, and he lived a life of seclusion for twenty days. And he looked, and behold, the work of fornication came and drew nigh unto him, and it stood up before him in the form of an Ethiopian woman whose smell was exceedingly foul; but he was unable to endure her smell, and he drove her away from his presence. Then she said unto him, “In the hearts of men I am a sweet smell, and a pleasant one, but because of thine obedience and labour God hath not permitted me to lead thee astray; but I have, nevertheless, made thee acquainted with my smell.” And the young man rose up, and came to his father, and said unto him, “I no longer wish to go into the world, for I have seen the matter of fornication, and I have smelled its foul odour”; now the father knew of a certainty that the young man had been satisfied in his mind on the subject, and he said to his son, “Hadst thou remained [in the desert] forty days and kept my commandment, thou wouldst most certainly have seen a vision which was far more excellent.”

581. On one occasion a brother came to Abbâ Poemen, and said unto him, “What shall I do, father, for I am vexed by fornication? And behold, I came unto Nebatîôn [Anicetus], and he said unto me, ‘It is not right that those thoughts should stay with thee so long.’ ” Abbâ Poemen saith unto him, “The labour of Abbâ Anicetus is high and exalted, and his thoughts are above with the angels, and he hath forgotten that I and thou are whoremongers; but if thou wishest, hearken unto me, and I also will speak to thee: If a monk can hold fast his belly, and his tongue, and his love for going about as a stranger, thou mayest be sure that he is able to become a monk in very truth, and that he will not die.”

582. A brother asked an old man, and said unto him, “What shall I do? For fornication is killing me.” The old man said unto him, “When a mother is about to wean her son she smeareth aloes over her breasts, and when the child cometh to suck as usual, he shrinketh away and taketh to flight. Do thou also then put bitter aloes in thy heart, and straightway the wicked devils will fly therefrom.” And the brother said unto him, “What kind of bitter aloes is it right for me to place therein.” The old man saith unto him, “The remembrance of the death and punishment which are laid up in the world which is to come.”

583. A brother asked an old man, “Whence come the temptations of fornication which attack me?” The old man said, “They come because thou eatest and drinkest largely, and because thou sleepest until thou art satisfied.”

584. Abbâ John used to say, “Whosoever talketh as much as he can with a woman, hath already committed adultery with her in his mind.”

585. On one occasion a certain brother came to Abbâ Muthues and asked him, saying, Is calumny worse than fornication?” And the old man said, “Fornication is worse.” The brother said unto him, “How can this be?” And the old man said unto him, “Calumny is a wicked thing, but it receiveth healing quickly, and the calumniator repenteth, saying, ‘I have spoken evilly many times’; but fornication in the body is death in [its] nature.”

586. There was in Scete a certain monk who strove hard [against sin], and the Enemy sowed in him the remembrance of a certain woman with a beautiful face, and he troubled him greatly through her. And by the Providence of God a certain brother who came down from Egypt went to visit him, and it came to pass that whilst they were conversing together the brother who had gone to visit him said, “Such and such a woman is dead”; now she was the very woman the remembrance of whom was being stirred up in the monk. And when the other brother heard this, he rose up, and took his headcloth, and went up by night to Egypt, and opened her grave, and he smeared himself with the filthy and putrefying matter of the dead body of the woman, and then went back to his cell. And he set that thing of filth before his mind at all times, and he did battle with his thought, saying, “Behold thy lust, and that which thou didst require! Behold, I have brought it unto thee; take thy fill thereof.” And he used to torture himself with [the remembrance of] that filthy thing until the war which was in him was quieted.

587. One of the brethren asked Abbâ Zeno, now he had great freedom of speech with him, saying, “Behold, thou hast grown old, how is the matter of fornication?” The old man said unto him, “It knocketh, but it passeth on.” Then one of the brethren asked him, “What is the meaning of ‘It knocketh, but it passeth on?’ ” The old man said unto him, “Imagine now that one brought to thy mind the remembrance of a certain woman, and that thou didst say, ‘Oh,’ but that thou didst not allow it to go up in thy mind; [that is what ‘It knocketh, but passeth on’ meaneth]; now young men are excited by it.”

588. A brother asked Abbâ Theodore of Scete, saying, “The thought of fornication cometh, and it troubleth and disturbeth the mind, but it is not able to commit the deed; and it certainly cannot help, but it can hinder the course towards spiritual excellence”; and the old man said unto him, “The man who is wakeful and strenuous struggleth and casteth it from him and standeth up to prayer.”

589. And again a certain old man from Parmîs [spake] against this thought, saying, “If we do not possess thoughts we become the prey of the Enemy, for he, even like an ordinary enemy, demandeth that which is his; therefore let us, in the same manner, do what is ours to do. Let us stand up in prayer, and straightway he will flee; be constant in the service of God, and thou shalt conquer; strive, and thou shalt be crowned.”

590. Against this thought of fornication a brother asked an old man, saying, “What shall I do about the mind of fornication which vexeth me?” And Abbâ Copres the Alexandrian answered and said, “If thou hast no minds (or thoughts) thou wilt have no hope, so then their work is with thee; for he who performeth their work hath no thoughts. Peradventure thou hast the custom of talking with a woman?” And the brother said unto him, “No, I have not, but they are thoughts of former times and of recent times which trouble me.” The old man said unto him, “Thou shalt not be afraid of the dead, but fear the things which are living, and cast thyself down in prayer before God. For if we have no thoughts we are mere animals. As the enemy worketh for that which is his, even so let us do for that which is ours. Let us stand up in prayer, and let us have a care for doctrine, and let us endure, for patient endurance is victory. Unless a man striveth he will never be crowned. For there are in the world athletes who though wounded conquer nevertheless, and however many times one man may be wounded by two [others], if he can endure the blows he will be able to conquer those who smote him. Observe then what a degree of endurance is possessed by such men for the sake of the merchandise of this world! Do thou then endure, and God shall strive with thine enemies on thy behalf whilst thou mayest remain quiet.”

591. Against the thought [of fornication] another old man who dwelt in the desert used to say, “Thou wishest to live whilst thou art asleep! Go, and labour. Go, and work. Go, seek, and ye shall find. Awake and stand up. Knock, and it shall be opened unto thee. For there are in the world athletes who are called ‘pugilists,’ who smite each other, and who are held to be worthy of the victory because they fight persistently and endure; these men do not withdraw defeated when they are wounded, for however many times one [of them] may be smitten by two [others], and however [many may be] the blows which he will suffer from them, he continueth to fight, and he conquereth and is crowned.”

592. Against the thought [of fornication] another old man said, “Such things will happen unto thee through negligence. For if it be certain to us that God dwelleth in us, we can never become a habitation for others, and we can never give our souls over to become vessels for the service of aliens. For our Lord Who dwelleth in us, and is found in us, is able to watch over our lives; and it is not right for us to neglect or to hold lightly Him for Whose sake we have put Him on, and Whom we see. But let us make ourselves pure even as He is pure. Stand up then upon a rock, and if the river be violently disturbed thou shalt not fear, and behold, thy building shall not shake; and sing with might, saying, ‘Those who put their hope in the Lord shall be like Mount Zion (Psalm 125:1), and he who dwelleth in Jerusalem shall never be moved.’ The Enemy said unto our Redeemer, I will send these who belong to me against those who belong to Thee that they may drive them back; and if they do evil to Thy chosen ones I cannot [help it], and I will trip them up, even though I can only do so in dreams of the night.’ Then our Redeemer said unto him, ‘If an abortion can inherit his father[’s possessions] this also shall be accounted as sin to My chosen ones.’ ”

593. Against the thought [of fornication] another old man spake, saying, “Be thou like unto a man who passeth through a street of tavern-keepers, and who smelleth the odour of boiling meats, or the whiff of something which is being roasted; he who wisheth entereth into [one of them] and eateth, and he who doth not wish [to do so] smelleth the meats as he passeth by and then goeth on. Drive away then from thee the fetid smell of evil thoughts, and stand up and pray, saying, ‘O Son of God, help me.’ The same thing is also to be said about other thoughts, for we are not the roots of the thoughts, but are those who strive against them.”

Excellent Counsels concerning Fornication by one of the holy old Men

594. NOW on thy account, O son of man, Christ was born, and the Son of God came that He might make thee to live. He became a Child. He became a man, being also God. He Who was the Lawgiver became a reader [of the Law], and He took the Book in the congregation, and He read, saying, “The Spirit of God is upon me, and for this reason He hath anointed me, and hath sent me to preach the Gospel unto the poor.” Like a servant He made a whip of rope, and He drove forth from the temple all those who sold oxen, and cattle, and doves, and other things. Like a servant He girded a napkin about His loins, and washed the feet of His disciples, and He commanded them to wash the feet of their brethren. Like an elder He sat among the elders, and taught the people. Like a Bishop He took bread, and blessed [it], and brake, and gave to His disciples; and He was beaten for thy sake, that is to say, for thy sake He was crucified, and for thy sake He died. Yet thou for His sake wilt not even endure insult! He rose as God. He was exalted as God. All these things for our sake, all these things by Divine Providence, all these things properly and in due order did He do that He might redeem us. Let us then be watchful, and strenuous, and constant in prayer, and let us do everything which will please Him, and will gratify His friends, so that we may be redeemed and live. Was not Joseph sold into Egypt, and did he not live in an alien land? And the three simple young men in Babylon, had they not men who opposed them? Yet, because they were fearing God, He helped them, and made them glorious.

595. An old man who had delivered himself unto God used to say, “The monk must have no will of his own, but he whose will is of God continueth to minister to Him unwearyingly; for if thou doest thine own will, thou becomest weary, and thou labourest, and God hearkeneth not to thee.” And the old man also said, “He who liveth in God liveth with Him, for He saith, I will dwell in them, and I will walk in them, and they shall be to Me a people, and I will be to them a God” (Exodus 6:7).

596. And the old man also said, “God saith unto thee thus:—If thou lovest Me, O monk, do that which I ask, and do not that which I do not desire. For monks should lead lives wherein they act not in iniquity, and a man should not look upon evil things with his eyes, nor hear with his ears things which are alien to the fear of God, nor utter calumnies with his mouth, nor plunder with his hands; but he should give especially to the poor, and he should not be [unduly] exalted in his mind, and he should not think evil thoughts, neither should he fill his belly. Let him do then all these things with discretion, for by them is a monk known.” The old man also said, “These things [form] the life of a monk: Good works, and obedience, and training. A man should not lay blame on his neighbour, and he should not utter calumnies, and he should not complain, for it is written, The lovers of the Lord hate wickedness.”

597. A brother on several occasions troubled an old man, and said unto him, “What shall I do with the impure and wicked thoughts of divers kinds which force their way into me by various means?” The old man answered and said unto him, “Thou art like unto a cistern which hath been dug out, and which is sometimes full, but which, when a man cometh to draw water thereat, is found [to be dry]. Why dost thou not make thyself more like a fountain of water which is never without [water]? Persistence is victory, and victory is constancy, and constancy is life, and life is kingdom, and kingdom is God.”

Here end the Questions concerning the Thoughts of Fornication, and the Answers thereto, and the Counsels of the Holy Old Men

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