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

AND again there was a certain blessed man whose name was Serapion, who was called Serapion of the “girdle,” because during his whole life he neither put on nor was clothed with anything except the girdle wherewith he was girt about; and he led a life of the strictest self-denial and poverty. And though he was a wholly unlearned man he could repeat all the Scriptures by heart. And by reason of the greatness of his self-denial and the repetition of the Scriptures he was unable to live in a cell, because he could not make use of anything which belonged to [this] world; but he went round about at all seasons and taught the multitudes, and he sold himself voluntarily, and he preached, and taught, and turned many people unto God. And this form of self-denial was of his own choosing, and [it was by such means as this that he made] his preparation [for heaven]; now there are very many ways of leading a stern life of self-denial. And many of the venerable fathers relate concerning him that on one occasion he took a fellow monk, who sold him to some comic actors for twenty dînârs in a city of the heathen, and having received these dînârs he tied them up [in a bag] and sealed them, and kept them carefully; and then he became subject to and ministered in all humility to those actors who had bought him until he had taught them and made them Christians, and had freed them from following the business of the theatre. And he never ate anything except dry bread and water, and his mouth never once ceased from uttering [the words of] the Scriptures.

Now the man [who was the master of the actors] was the first to become converted and enlightened by the word of God, and the next was his wife, and finally their whole house was converted. During the first years after the actors had bought him, and when they did not know who he was, he used to wash their feet with his hands, and having taught them and baptized them he made them to be remote from their occupation in the theatre, and they led a God-fearing life in all righteousness; and they held him in reverence, and honoured him, and marvelled at his radiant life. Finally they said unto him, “Come, O our brother, we will set thee free from this servitude, even as thou hast set us free from the slavery of heathenism.” Then he answered and said unto them, “Since God hath helped [me], and your souls have been set free and they have life, I will tell you my story (or thing) and my contending. I undertook this kind of work in order that your souls might have life. By race I am an Egyptian, and a free man [but] I am a monk [vowed] to self-denial and poverty, and for the sake of our Lord I sold myself to you in order that your souls might be set free from the impurity of this world; since now our Lord hath worked through my meekness, and your souls live, take your gold, and I will go to another place, so that I may be able to benefit others also.” And they begged and entreated him, saying, “Remain with us, and thou shalt be unto us a father and a master, and a director”; but he would not hearken unto their entreaty. And again they answered and said unto him, “Give the gold to the poor, and let it be a pledge of life for us; and we entreat thee to see us if it be only once a year.”

Then, this man having gone round about came to Hellas, and stayed in Athens three days, and no man gave him a morsel of bread; now he carried nothing with him, neither purse, nor wallet, nor head-cloak, nor anything whatsoever. And when the fourth day had come, he waxed exceedingly hungry, and he went and stood up upon a certain high place where all the free men of the city were gathered together, and he began to clap his hands, and to cry out with a loud voice, saying, “O men of Athens, send [help].” And at [the sound of] his voice they all marvelled, and the free men and the soldiers ran to him, and said unto him, “What aileth thee? Whence comest thou? What hath happened unto these?” Then he answered and said unto them, “By race I am an Egyptian, and being a long way from my true country I have fallen into the hands of three creditors; now two of these have departed from me, having taken that which was theirs, and now they have no debt against me about which to chide me, but the third will not leave me.”

And the philosophers made enquiries of him who these creditors were, and they said unto him, “Shew us who thy creditors are, and who it is that is afflicting thee, and we will entreat them [to desist]; shew us who they are, so that we may help thee.” And he answered and said unto them, “From my youth up the love of money, and fornication, and the appetite of the belly have oppressed me; from the first two of these, that is, the love of money and fornication, I have been freed, and they no longer oppress me, but I am wholly unable to set myself free from the appetite of the belly. Behold, it is now the fourth day since I have eaten anything and the belly constraineth me, for it demandeth that which is its usual debt, and unless this debt [be paid] I shall not be able to live.” Then certain of the philosophers thought that he had schemed this crafty device in order that he might gain some benefit, and one of them took a dînâr and gave it unto him, and having taken it he spent [part of] it in buying bread in their presence; and he took one [loaf of] bread, and straightway departed from the city, and did not come back to it again. Thus the philosophers knew that he was indeed a wonderful man, and they paid the price of the loaf of bread which he had taken, and received back the dînâr.

And having departed to another city he heard there concerning a certain other man, who was the chief ofthe whole city, and who was a Manichaean, with all his house, and who had several associates [in the city]. Then the monk, according to his former plan, sold himself to this Manichaean, and in two years he was able to turn this man and his wife [from their error], and to bring them into the Catholic Church; and after they had learned who he was, they never again regarded him as a slave, but they honoured him as a father, and as a master, and they ascribed praise unto God.

And on another occasion he determined to go to Rome, and he embarked in a ship which was going thither that he might go with them (i.e., with the sailors). Now when the sailors of the ship saw that he boldly embarked in the ship carrying nothing with him, neither bread, nor anything [else], nor provisions for the journey, they thought that one of their number must have taken his baggage and placed it in the ship, and because of this thought they received him unquestioningly. And having embarked, when the sailors had sailed from Alexandria [a distance of] about five hundred stadia, each one of those who were sitting in the ship began at the time of sunset to eat, and the sailors also ate in their presence; and they observed that the monk did not eat on the first day, and thought that [he did not do so] because of sea-sickness, and thus also was it on the second day, and on the third day, and on the fourth day. Now on the fifth day, whilst all those who were on the ship were eating their meal he sat in his place and was silent, and as they were looking at him they said, “Why dost thou not eat?” and he replied, “I have nothing [to eat].” Then they began to make enquiries and to cry out among themselves, “Who among you has taken his things, or his provisions for the way?” And when they saw that no man had taken anything from him [they began to] dispute with him, and to say unto him, “O man, how is it that thou hast embarked on the ship without provisions and money? Where wilt thou obtain the money to give us for thy passage?” And he said unto them, “I have thought nothing whatsoever about it, [for] an Egyptian has no anxious care about anything; but carry me back whence ye took me and cast me out [if you wish].” Noweven if he had given them one hundred dînârs they would not have been able to take him back [to Alexandria], and he therefore remained in the ship, and they fed him until he arrived in Rome. And having come to Rome he made enquiries and learned what monk or nun was there, and he found Rumnîn (or Dômnîn), the disciple of Evagrius, whose bed, after his death, cured every kind of sickness. And having seen him, and spoken with him he was greatly edified by him, for he was a man who was greatly skilled in the labours of the ascetic life, and in speech, and in knowledge, and he learned from him what monk, and nuns were in Rome, in order that he might see them.

[Here some editor of Palladius remarks, “In another manuscript the following is written”:]

And the venerable fathers relate concerning him that he once heard that there was in the city of Rome a certain nun who led a life of the strictest seclusion, who had never seen a man, and who used to think concerning herself that she was perfect. Then this blessed man threw himself into a ship and came to Rome, and having learned where she lived he went and spake with the old woman who ministered unto her, and said unto her, “Get thee in and say unto the virgin, I desire to see thee most eagerly, because God hath sent me unto thee”; and he waited two days and then saw her. And when he saw her he said unto her, “Sit thee down,” and she said unto him, “I will not sit down, but will depart.” And he said unto her, “Whither goest thou?” and she said unto him, “To God.” And he said unto her, “Art thou living or dead?” And she said unto him, “I believe, by God, that I am dead, for who that liveth in the body is not able to depart [therefrom]?” And he said unto her, “If thou art dead, as thou sayest, do thou that which I do”; and she said unto him, “Tell me what can happen, and I will do it.” And again he said unto her, “To one who is dead unto the world it is easy to do everything except commit sin,” and he further said unto her, “Come down, and get thee out of thine house”; then she said unto him, “I have not gone out of it for five and twenty years, why should I go out of it now?” And he said unto her, “If thou art indeed dead unto the world, and the world is dead unto thee, it is the same thing unto thee whether thou goest forth or dost not go forth; come, get thee out.” And she went out.

And after she had gone forth, she followed him to a certain church, and he said unto her in the church, “If thou wishest me to believe that thou art dead to the world and art not alive, in order that thou mayest be pleasing unto the children of men, do what I do, and then I will believe thee, and I shall know that thou art a dead woman, even as thou sayest.” And she said unto him, “Tell me what it is meet for me to do, and I will do it.” Then he said unto her, “Cast off thy garments and put [them] on thy head, and walk through the midst of the city, and I will do likewise, and will go in front of thee in this guise.” And the nun said unto him, “I should offend many folk by such a remarkable act as this, and then they would say, ‘This woman hath gone mad, and hath a devil.’ ” And he said unto her, “What need hast thou to consider [their words] even if they should say, ‘She hath gone mad, and hath a devil?’ For, according to what thou thyself sayest, thou art a dead woman unto them.” And the nun said unto him, “If there be any other thing [except this] tell me, for I cannot come to such a measure of disgrace as this.” Then he said unto her, “Do not imagine in thy mind that thou art more perfect than anyone else, or that thou art dead to the world; for I am far more dead to the world than thou art, and I can show thee that I am indeed so, and that I can boldly do this thing without [feeling] shame or disgrace.” Then having broken her spirit and humbled her pride, he departed from her. And there were many things of the same kind which this same Serapion did in the world, for he despised both worldly shame and the glory which passeth away; he died at the age of sixty years, and was buried at a good old age, being adorned with all virtues.








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