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

IN the country of Thebes, and in the district thereof which is called Tabenna, there was a certain blessed man whose name was Pachomius, and this man led a beautiful life of ascetic excellence, and he was crowned with the love of God and of man. Now therefore as this man was sitting in his cell, there appeared unto him an angel who said unto him, “Since thou hast completed thy discipleship it is unnecessary for thee to dwell here; but come, and go and gather together unto thyself those who are wandering, and be thou dwelling with them, and lay thou down for them such laws as I shall tell unto thee”; and the angel gave him a book (or tablet) wherein was written the following:

“I. ‘Let every man eat and drink whensoever he wisheth, and according to the strength of those who eat and drink impose work; and thou shalt restrain them neither from eating nor fasting. Furthermore, on those who are strong thou shalt impose severe labours; and upon those who are of inferior strength and upon those who fast thou shalt impose light labours.

II. And thou shalt make for them a cell, and they shall dwell together three by three.

III. And they shall partake of food all together in one chamber (or house).

IV. And they shall not take their sleep lying down, but thou shalt make for them seats so that when they are sitting down they shall be able to support their heads.

V. At night time they shall put on garments without sleeves, and their loins shall be girded up, and they shall be provided with skull-caps; and they shall partake of the Offering on the Sabbath and on the First Day of the Week, wearing skull-caps without any nap upon them, and each skull-cap shall have in the front thereof a cross [worked in] purple.

VI. And thou shalt establish the monks in four and twenty grades, and to each grade give a letter of the Greek alphabet from Âlâf to Tâw (i.e., from A to Z); every grade a letter.’ ”

And the blessed Pachomius performed and fulfilled [these things] according as he had been commanded by the angel; and when the head of the monastery asked him that was next to him concerning the affairs of the brethren, the man said unto him, “The voice of Alphâ [and] the voice of Bîtâ salute the head [of the monastery].” Thus the whole of that assembly of brethren had letters of the alphabet assigned to them, according to the designation of the four and twenty letters. To those who were upright and simple he assigned the letter yôdh (i.e., ι), and to those who were difficult and perverse he assigned the letter ksî (i.e., ξ), and thus according to the dispositions and according to the habits and rules of life of the orders [of monks] did he assign letters unto them.

And he (i.e., the Angel) commanded that “a monk who was a stranger and who had a different garb from theirs should not enter in with them to the table; the man who sought to be accepted as a monk in that monastery was obliged to labour there for three years, after which he was to receive the tonsure. When the monks were eating together they were to cover up their faces with [their] head-coverings, that they might not see each other eating, and might not hold converse together over the table, and might not gaze about from one side to the other.” And he commanded that during [each] day they should repeat twelve sections of the Psalter, [and during [each] evening twelve sections of the Psalter], and during [each] night twelve sections of the Psalter, and that when they came to eat they should repeat the Great Psalm.

And the blessed Pachomius said unto the angel, “The sections of the Psalter which thou hast appointed unto us [for repetition] are far too few”; and the angel said unto him, “The sections of the Psalter which I have appointed [are indeed few], so that even the monks who are small (i.e., weak) may be able to fulfil the canons, and may not be distressed thereby. For unto the perfect no law whatsoever is laid down, because their mind is at all seasons occupied with God, but this law which I have laid down for those who have not a perfect mind is laid down for them, so that although they fulfil only such things as are prescribed by the canons they can acquire openness of face.” Now very many nuns hold fast unto this law and canon.

And there were living in that mountain about seven thousand brethren, and in the monastery in which the blessed Pachomius himself lived there were living one thousand three hundred brethren; and besides these there were there also other monasteries, each containing about three hundred, or two hundred, or one hundred monks, who lived together; and they all toiled with their hands and lived thereby, and with whatsoever they possessed which was superfluous for them they provided (or fed) the nunneries which were there. Each day those whose week of service it was rose up and attended to their work; and others attended to the cooking, and others set out the tables and laid upon them bread, and cheese, and vessels of vinegar and water. And there were some monks who went in to partake of food at the third hour of the day, and others at the sixth hour, and others at the ninth hour, and others in the evening, and others who ate once a day only; and there were some who ate only once a week; and according as each one of them knew the letter which had been laid upon him, so was his work. Some worked in the paradise (i.e., the orchard), and some in the gardens, and some in the blacksmith’s shop, and some in the baker’s shop, and some in the carpenter’s shop, and some in the fuller’s shop, and some wove baskets and mats of palm leaves, and one was a maker of nets, and one was a maker of sandals, and one was a scribe; now all these men as they were performing their work were repeating the Psalms and the Scriptures in order.

And there were there large numbers of women who were nuns, and who closely followed this rule of life, and they came from the other side of the river and beyond it, and there were also married women who came from the other side of the river close by; and whensoever anyone of them died, the [other] women would bring her and lay her down on the bank of the river and go away. Then certain brethren would cross over in a boat and bring her over with the [singing of] psalms and with lighted candles, and with great ceremony and honour, and when they had brought her over they would lay her in their cemetery; without elder or deacon no man could go to that nunnery, and then only from one Sunday to the other (i.e., they could go only on Sundays). Now it happened that a certain tailor, who was a stranger, came to that nunnery looking for work, and one of the sisters went forth to talk with him, and she said unto him, “We have our own tailor”; and one of the sisters saw her speaking with him, and she held her peace and informed no one concerning the matter. And after a short time the two women had a dispute about a certain matter, and the sister who had seen the other talking to the tailor went and brought an accusation against the other before all the sisters, saying about her in an evil manner, “This is the Satan who hath sown the strife among us”; and then many of the women having heard [these things] believed [them]. And the sister, not being able to endure the accusation wherewith she had been accused without cause, by reason of her distress went and cast herself into the river and was drowned; and when the sister who had made the accusation against the other perceived this, seeing that she had calumniated her evilly, and that she had caused the sisters pain in a most serious manner, she also secretly drowned herself. And the elder who had been made [guardian] of them, knowing this matter, commanded one of them that none of the sisters who had believed that sister who had made the accusation against her companion should receive the Offering, and he was not reconciled unto them, and prevented them from [participating in] the Offering for seven years.

Now in that same nunnery there was a certain sister who was a virgin, and she made herself an object of contempt, and she had had a devil in her; and the [other] sisters used to treat her so contemptuously that they would not even allow her to eat with them. And the woman herself was well content at this [treatment], and she would go into the refectory and serve the food and wait upon the whole company [there], and she became the broom of the whole nunnery; and indeed she made manifest that which is written [in the Book of] the blessed Apostle (1 Corinthians 3:18), who said, “Whosoever wisheth to become a wise man in this world, let him become a fool in order that he may become wise.” And this woman used to throw over her head a roughly cut piece of cloth, whilst the other women wore veils, well cut and well made, according to the rule which they had, and in this garb she used to minister in the refectory, and they would not allow her to sit down with them at the table. And whilst she was eating they never looked at her, and she never touched a whole loaf of bread, but used to eat the broken bits and crusts [that fell] from the tables, and [she drank] the rinsings of the basins and of the hands, and they sufficed her; and she neither reviled anyone of them, nor murmured, nor spoke superfluous words, though they constantly reviled her, and struck her, and thrust her away with harsh words and blows.

Now at that time the blessed Pitêroum (Piterius), that man of wonder, appeared, and he dwelt in the region which was called “Porphyry Mountain,” and an angel appeared unto him and said, “Why holdest thou in thy mind the proud opinion that thou art more excellent in ascetic practices than many? If thou wishest to see a woman who is more excellent than thou, go to the nunnery which is in Tabenna, and behold thou shalt find there a woman [with a roughly cut piece of cloth thrown over her head] who is far superior to thee in ascetic practices; and this woman is far more excellent than thou art, for although she ministereth as a servant to a great congregation her whole heart is set upon God, whilst as for thee, though thou dwellest here, thy mind wandereth about in many countries.” And when the man who had never gone forth from his monastery had heard those things, he went quickly to the nunnery, and he besought their visitor (or inspector) that [he might be allowed] to see the nuns; and when he had gone inside the house they all came that they might be blessed by the blessed man (Piterius), but the woman who had made herself a creature of contempt did not show herself at all. Then the blessed man Piterius said unto them, “Have all the sisters come, for there is one lacking?” and they said unto him, “Master, we have one more, but she is a woman of no account, and she is in the refectory.” And Piterius said unto them, “Bring her that I may see her also”; and they went to bring her, but she did not wish to come, for she felt that the matter of herself would be certainly revealed unto him. Now since she did not wish to go to the blessed man they dragged her along and brought her unto him by force, saying unto her, “Mâr Piterius wisheth to see thee”; and when she had come, the blessed man looked and saw the roughly cut piece of cloth which was thrown over her head, according to the sign which the angel had given concerning her. Then he bowed down before her, and said unto her, “Bless me, Mother,” and she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, “Bless thou me, master.” When the sisters saw [this] they were all struck with wonder, and said unto him, “Let there be no disgrace to thee, master, for she is a creature of no account.” Then the blessed man Piterius answered [and] said unto them, “Ye yourselves are creatures of contempt, but this woman is your Mother and mine, and I entreat God that He will give unto me a portion with her in the day of judgement.” Now when all the sisters heard this from the blessed man Piterius, they fell down at her feet, and offered unto her regret for everything which they had been accustomed to do unto her; for some of them used to throw the rinsings of the vessels over her, and others used to buffet her, and she endured many insults from them all. So the blessed Piterius prayed over them and went forth from that place. And a few days afterwards, because the blessed woman could not endure the honour and the praises of all the sisters, and the penitence which they showed unto her, she went forth from that house altogether, but where she went and where she died no man knoweth.

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