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

598. TWO brethren were in restraint to the lust of fornication, and they went and took to themselves wives. At length, however, they repented, and said to each other, “What have we gained by leaving the labour of angels, and coming to this [state of] impurity, since after the present life we shall be delivered over to fire and everlasting torture? Let us return to the desert and repent.” And they went forth straightway, and came to the desert to the fathers, and they entreated them to offer up supplications on their behalf; now the outward appearance of both was the same, and they shut themselves up for one year, and they made supplications to God, and entreated Him to pardon them, and to each of the two brethren a like quantity of bread and water was given. Now after their period of repentance was fulfilled, they went forth from their seclusion; and the old men saw that the countenance of one was changed, and that it was exceedingly sad, whilst that of the other brother was cheerful and glad, and the fathers marvelled why, seeing that the two men had been partaking of the same amount of food, and had endured the same restraint, the face of one was so different from that of the other. And they asked him of the sad face, saying, “What didst thou think about in thy cell?” And he said, “On the evil things which I have committed, and I think about the torture which is to come, and by reason of my fear my flesh cleaveth to my bones.” And they asked him whose appearance was cheerful, saying, “Do thou also tell us what thou didst think about in thy cell.” And he said, “I gave thanks unto God, Who hath delivered me from the impurity of this world, and from everlasting punishment, and Who hath brought me to this labour of angels, and with such things I remembered God and rejoiced.” Then the old men said, The repentance of each is equal before God.”

599. An old man was asked by one who toiled, “Is the repentance of sinners accepted by God?” And the old man, after he had taught him with many words, said unto him, “Tell me, O my beloved one: if thy cloak were to be torn in rags, wouldst thou throw it away?” And he said unto him, “No, but I would sew up the rents, and then I could use it again.” And the old man said unto him, “If thou wouldst shew pity upon thy garment which hath no feeling, shall not God shew pity on that which He hath fashioned, and which is His work?”

600. A certain brother fell into temptation, and through tribulation relinquished the garb of monkhood; and he wished to begin to renew his ascetic life, but he saw the great difficulty of the matter, and he drew back, and said, “When shall I ever find myself in the same condition as I was formerly?” And through fear he did not begin his work, and he went and made the matter known to an old man, and the old man said, “The matter is thus: There was a certain man who possessed an estate, and he held it to be of no account and did not cultivate it, and it became full of tangled undergrowth and thorns. Now one day he remembered it, and he sent his son, and said unto him, ‘Go, clean the estate.’ And when he had gone and seen the abundance of the undergrowth he was afraid, and said to himself, ‘When shall I be able to clean away all this undergrowth?’ And he threw himself upon a bed, and lay down, and went to sleep, and thus he did every day. Then his father went forth and found that he was asleep, and that he had done nothing; and he said unto him, ‘How is it, my son, that no work whatsoever hath been done by thee?’ And he said to his father, ‘When I came to work and saw the abundance of the undergrowth, I was afraid and said, When shall I be able to clean all this away?’ And his father said unto him, My son, work according to the measure of thy sleep each day, and it shall be sufficient for thee’; and when he heard [this] the young man plucked up courage, and did thus, and in a short time he cleansed the estate. Thus also thou shalt not be afraid, but begin the work of thy rules, and God, by His Grace, will establish thee [among those in] the first rank.” Now when the brother had done thus he was helped.

601. A brother asked one of the old men, and said, “If a monk stumble and fall into sin, are many labours necessary for him, and if he doeth them will he be able to stand in the grade wherein he was formerly? He who goeth forth from the world, and beginneth the cultivation of spiritual excellence, will find it easy to advance, for he who is occupied in labours, if it be that he is reduced from the grade wherein he stood by his stumbling, will be afflicted and grieved in his mind.” Then the old man answered and said unto him, “A monk is like unto a house which hath fallen down, and if he be awake in his mind (or thought), and if he be zealous and anxious to build that which was fallen down, he will find ample material which will be of use in his building among the remains of that which fell down before [he began to build]; for he will find the foundation stones, and the old stones from the walls, and other things, which were employed in the old building, and out of these, if he be so disposed, he will be able to make his building to rear itself up better than the man who hath not yet dug the places for the foundations and laid the foundation stones, and who doth not possess the materials which are to be employed in the building, and who only beginneth to build with the hope that he will be able to finish. And thus is it with him that falleth from the practice of rules and works of the monkish life into temptation, for if he turn back, and repent, he will possess ample material from [his] former works of the ascetic life which he possesseth [to begin his building afresh], I mean to say, the training and the service of the work of the hands, which is the foundation [thereof]. Whosoever then hath gone forth from the world, and beginneth the cultivation of ascetic excellence, when he hath done these things he will still be found standing in the front rank of the solitary (or monkish) life.”

602. One of the old men told the following story, saying:—There was a certain monk who dwelt in the desert, and he lived a life of strict and severe rule, and he was famous among men, and he could even cast out devils and heal the sick. And it came to pass that, through the agency of Satan, the passion of fornication was stirred up against him, and because he was not sufficiently humble to reveal his war unto the old men who were before him, in a few days’ time he fell into fornication with a woman who used to come to him continually for assistance. Now having fallen, he despaired about himself, and he rose up to go to the world, and he was sad and grieved concerning his fall; and he meditated, saying, “I will go into the desert which is further away, and I shall not see any man, and I shall not be seen of any, and there I will die like the wild animals.” And when he had gone, and he was wandering about in the desert and in the mountains, he used to cry out by night and by day, saying, “Woe is me! woe is me!” And he ceased not to weep and to groan. Now there was in that desert a certain solitary old man who dwelt in a cleft in the rock, and when he heard the sound of the weeping and lamentation, his mercy for him revealed itself, and he went forth and met him, and they saluted each other. And the old man answered and said unto him, “Why weepest thou in this fashion?” And the young man said, “Because I have angered God, and because I have fallen into fornication.” Then was the old man astonished, and he said, “O how greatly did I fear and tremble at thy lugubrious voice. For I thought that thou hadst been entrusted with the governorship of the brethren, and that thou hadst governed unjustly, or that thou hadst squandered in an unseemly manner the work of the community. For the harlot repented, and for the unbeliever there is a foundation, and the thief is a son of the kingdom, but Ananias and Sapphira were slain because they stole the money of the community of the brethren, and thus is slain the soul of every one who with fraud or carelessness squanders the possessions of the religious houses. But be thou of good courage, O brother, and go back again to thy cell, and make thine entreaty to God as thou repentest, and He will stablish thee in thy former grade.” Then the monk went back to his place, and he shut himself in, and never again undertook to talk with any man, except him that handed in to him his food through the little window of his cell, and there he remained until the end of his life, and he attained to a most exalted state of perfection.

603. Abbâ Ammon of Rîtheaôn asked Abbâ Poemen about the impure thoughts which are produced in a man, and the vain lusts; and Abbâ Poemen said unto him, “It belongeth to Satan to sow them, but it is our affair not to welcome them.”

604. A brother asked Abbâ Ammon, saying, “Behold, there were two men, the one was a monk, and the other a son of the world; now the monk used to determine in the evening to cast away from him in the morning the garb of the monk, and the son of the world used to make up his mind that on the morrow he would take the garb of monkhood. Now it happened that both men died on the same night; how will they be regarded, and which determination will be reckoned to them?” The old man said unto him, “He who was a monk died a monk, and he who was a child of the world died as such, for as they were found [to be] so were they taken.”

605. A brother asked Abbâ Sisoes, saying, “What shall I do, father? For I have fallen.” The old man said unto him, “Rise up”; and the brother said unto him, “I did rise up, but I fell again.” The old man said unto him, “Rise up again”; and the brother said unto him, “I did rise up again, many times, and I fell [again].” The old man said unto him, “Rise up again”; and the brother said unto him, “Until when?” The old man said unto him, “Until thou advancest, either in good deeds or in falling; for in the road wherein a man advanceth he goeth, whether it be to death or to life.”

606. It happened on one occasion that a brother in the monastery of Abbâ Hatîl (or Helît) was tempted, [and he fell,] and having been expelled from that place he went to the mountain, to Abbâ Anthony, and having remained with him for a long time, Abbâ Anthony sent him back to the monastery from which he had gone forth. Now when the sons of the monastery saw him, they cast him out, and he returned to Abbâ Anthony, and said unto him, “Father, they have refused to receive me”; and Abbâ Anthony sent them a message, saying, “A storm rose up against a ship on the sea, and destroyed the freight which she carried, but with the greatest difficulty she was saved [and brought] to land. Now what do ye wish to do? Do ye wish to drown him that hath been saved?” And when those monks [heard the words of] Abbâ Anthony, they sent to the brother, and welcomed him with gladness.

607. Abbâ Anthony used to say, “There are many who fall and who rise up to an attitude of rectitude, but there are some who fall from good deeds to polluted things; better is he who falleth and riseth up than he who standeth and then falleth.”

608. Abbâ Poemen said, “If a man sinneth, and he saith, ‘I have not sinned,’ and thou chidest him, thou cuttest off his will; but if thou sayest unto him, ‘Be not sorry about this, but guard thyself from sinning again,’ by these means thou wakest his soul to repentance.”

609. He also said, “I prefer a man who hath sinned, and done wickedly, and repented, to the man who hath not sinned and hath not manifested repentance; for the former possesseth a humble mind, and the latter esteemeth himself in his thoughts a just man.”

610. Abbâ Sarmâtâ used to say, “I prefer a man who hath sinned, and who knoweth how to acknowledge his sins, to him that doeth righteousness, and who saith, ‘I do what is fair.’ ”

611. Abbâ Theodore of Parmê used to say, “The man who is in [a state of] repentance is not bound by the Law.”

612. They used to say that the thoughts of a certain old man used to say unto him, “Let to-day go by, and repent to-morrow”; but he would say, “Nay, not so, for I will repent to-day, and to-morrow shall be as God willeth.”

613. There was at one time among the brethren a certain man who at the beginning of his [ascetic] career took good heed unto his soul, but when a short time had elapsed, he began to treat the salvation of his life with contempt; and his Abbâ ordered him to strip off the garb of the monks, and to put on the apparel of men who are in the world, and to depart from among the brethren. Then the man fell down at his feet, and entreated him, saying, “If thou wilt forgive me this once only, thou wilt gain me henceforward, for I repent of these things which I have done through negligence.” And having multiplied and prolonged his entreaties, and made many promises that he would in the future mend his ways, he was held worthy of forgiveness; and he struggled with all the power of his soul to such purpose as to become a pattern to great and small.

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