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

THERE was a certain young man in Alexandria, who, immediately the law of nature began to work in him, and to make him to possess the knowledge which distinguisheth good from evil, endeavoured by every means in his power to make himself wholly a stranger unto things which are evil, and to cleave unto those which are good. And having been trained for a long time, and having made himself proficient in the things which befit monks, even though he still lived and went about in the city, he at a certain time thought within himself, and said, “Since there is no good reason whatsoever which compelleth me forcibly to remain in the city any longer it is not right that I should do so,” and he was at all times reminding himself of the word which was spoken by our Lord to the rich man, “If thou wishest to be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast and give [it] to the poor, and take thy cross and come after Me” (St. Matthew 19:21). And the young man said, “The word of our Lord is true, but it is impossible for a man to acquire that perfection of which He spake whilst he is living among men.”

When then he had made himself ready to perform in very deed this great thought, he began to journey along the road which leadeth to one of the deserts of Alexandria, where large numbers of monks used to dwell, and he offered up prayer unto God that He would prepare a way for him, and would direct him unto a man who would be able to help him [to attain] his object, and would lead him to the end which he desired. And he decided within himself, and said, “This shall be unto me a sign that the Lord hath prepared His way before me:—The door whereat I shall knock, and wherefrom shall go forth one who liveth there, and shall receive me in peace, and shall urge me to go in to him, and shall receive me in the love which monks have for strangers, that shall be the place, and that shall be the man whom the Lord hath prepared for the fulfilment of mythoughts concerning spiritual excellence.” And he said, “Unto the man who hath been prepared by the Lord it is meet for me to be in subjection as unto Christ, and I must hearken unto his command willingly and unhesitatingly as unto that of Christ.” Now as he was praying with these words, and with others which were like unto them, and was thinking deeply, he arrived in the desert into which he had set his face to go. And having gone in among the monasteries, he found himself by the dispensation of God before the door of a habitation wherein a certain old man dwelt; and when, according to his expectation, he had drawn nigh, and had knocked at the door which was in front of him, there came forth therefrom straightway the old man who dwelt inside, and opened the door to him; and when he saw the young man who was standing there he saluted him gladly, when as yet he had asked him nothing whatsoever, and entreated him urgently to come inside. And this actually took place.

Now after he had gone in and had, according to custom, prayed, and sat down, the young man compared the things which had taken place with those which he had written down in his mind, and he waited for a right issue to all [the rest]. Then, being full of gladness, the old man urged him repeatedly to partake of food, but the young man answered and said unto him, “My lord, I beseech thy holiness to permit me first of all to speak openly, and to make known to thy fatherly nature the reason of my coming, and if through the working of God thou wilt make thyself the perfecter of my desire, and of my thoughts, whatsoever thy holiness and thy meekness shall command me [to do] I will perform strenuously.” Now when the old man had heard these things, he answered and said unto him, “Thou hast full power to say everything which thou wishest, joyfully and fearlessly, as unto thy father who, according to his power, in great love, is ready to fulfil thy desire by the help of God.” Then, after these words, which the old man spake in simplicity (now none of the thoughts of the young man had entered into his mind), the young man made clearly manifest before the old man the matters which he had marked out and decided upon in his mind from the beginning of his actions in the city even until that very hour.

And when the old man had heard all these things he was greatly moved and disturbed, because he remembered his own former acts and life, and because he was held in contempt by his conscience by reason of the conditions and circumstances under which he was then living, and because that by reason of these he was unable to promise to fulfil the works of which he had [then] no knowledge whatsoever, [and he was afraid] and excused himself from the task. And when he considered his own feebleness, and the greatness of the matter concerned, and the strenuousness and readiness of the young man, and the many other reasons which he called to mind, he was ashamed to reveal to the young man the true reason for his refusal, yet nevertheless, because of it, he said that he was unable to act [for him]; but the young man dismissed his objections and made an end of them, and he shewed [him] that they all were insufficient to drive him away from the old man, and to do away the fervent desire and aim which were in his mind. Then the old man felt compelled to make plainly manifest before him the true reason for his refusal and to shew him that it was not a mere matter of a report of words, but one which could be seen by the actual sight of the eyes. And wishing to fulfil his intention [of shewing] that the true reason was not a mere excuse, or one which was fabricated like those which he had previously given, and that it was indeed a true one, and one which would proclaim concerning itself openly, he took the young man by the hand, and led him into a certain chamber wherein dwelt the wife of that old man with her two children, and he said unto him, “God hath sent thee hither for my shame, and for the condemnation of mine old age. Behold, this is my wife whom Satan and not God hath given unto me, and behold, these are the children of shame whom I have had by her, and they are the fruits of a contemptible and damnable union.”

Now when the young man saw and heard these things, because the foundation of his building was laid upon the rock of truth, he was neither moved nor disturbed, and he was not offended with the old man, and he did not hold him in any contempt whatsoever. And after these things the young man answered and said unto the old man, “My lord, I entreat thy holiness to confirm that which I am about to say unto thee. Let me have with thee, even as with a real father, a wholly perfect understanding, such as it is right for children to have with their fathers and with their brethren, which shall be free, by the help of God, from all stumbling-blocks; and let me have the same understanding with this woman, as with a real mother, and with thy children as with beloved brethren.” Thus the old man was overcome by means of all these words by a gracious defeat, and though he wished by the urging of his own mind to give the young man permission to live with him as a disciple, and to fulfil his desire according to the bent of his mind, he was driven thereto far more by the power of the excellence of the young man himself. And when these things had taken place they gave thanks to God, and then they occupied themselves, each one with the service and work which were requisite for their habitation, day by day with the help of God, and the young man excelled in works towards the old man, according to his promise, in humility, and in great obedience, and the spiritual excellence of his mind was greatly revealed.

One day the old man said unto the youngman, “Myson, knowest thou that thou and I are building this house with weariness and abundant toil, and that we have not sufficient reeds [to make] the roof, and that the winter hath drawn nigh? Now, in order that our labour may not be in vain, behold, I see that there are reeds in the habitation of the monk who is our neighbour, and since he is not there that we may borrow from him, and supply our need, do thou go down and take up from there a bundle, and bring [it hither], so that we may finish the roof, and may rejoice through his forethought.” And when the brother heard this, he made ready quickly to fulfil the command of the old man, and having gone down and brought that which was necessary for them, they completed their work. Then the old man said unto that brother, “Tell me truly, O brother, what didst thou think in thy mind about that which I said unto thee, that is to say, that thou shouldst go down, and shouldst bring reeds as it were by theft, and without the knowledge and during the absence of their owner?” And that brother said [unto him], As I have already told thee, everything that thou shalt say unto me I shall receive as if it came from the mouth of Christ, and shall perform it in faith unhesitatingly. I said within myself, ‘Christ said unto me, Thou shalt not steal, but now it is He Who hath just said unto me, Steal; I have nothing to do with the matter, and it is Christ unto Whom I must render obedience.’ ” And when the old man had heard these words he marvelled at the wisdom and at the integrity of his obedience; and wishing to make him to rejoice in his hope, he said unto him, “My son, thou must know that I had made up my mind that we must tell the owner of the reeds [what I had done], and must give him whatever price he might require, [when] I sent thee down to bring up that which belonged to him, and I did not do so with the abominable intention of stealing [from him].”

And after a certain time, during which the two men had lived together a correct life which was full of peace and profit, the old man thought within himself, saying, “It is a great iniquity on my part, and it meriteth a severe penalty, that I who have grown old in sins, and who am still in the mire of fornication, should dwell with this brother who is perfect in spiritual excellence; for it is not seemly that darkness should live with light. But I will leave this abode in his hands, and I will take away this stumbling-block which Satan hath set in my way, and these fruits of shame which have come to me from her, and I will go to the world and unto those whom I resemble, whose works are like unto mine own.”

And when he had meditated with these and suchlike thoughts, and had made them known unto the woman who dwelt with him, he sent to the village which was nigh unto them, and brought from thence an animal to take away that which he needed from the monastery, so that he might lead away his wife and his children, and he might go and live in one of the villages round about them. And when the animal had come, and the old man had loaded him with whatsoever they needed, and he, and his wife, and his children began to go forth, he said unto that brother, “My son, we are not able to dwell in a monastery because our sins are many, and because we are not worthy so to do; for it is great wickedness for us to dwell under the cloak of falsehood among monks, whilst our deeds are more evil than those of the folk who are in the world. But do thou remain in this dwelling, O my son, and the God Whom thou hast loved, and Whom thou hast made plans to please in everything, shall be unto thee a father, and a fellow monk; and do thou pray on my behalf that the Lord may visit me.” And when that brother had heard these words, he answered and said unto the old man with love and great humility, “O my father, I have made a covenant with the Lord that I will not be separated from thee except by death, and inasmuch as my dwelling with thee hath been unto me source of great benefit, there is nothing which can remove me and take me away from thee; but wheresoever thou goest I will go; and wheresoever thou dwellest I will dwell with thee.”

Then after all these things the old man came to himself, and he sighed greatly, saying, “Verily, this is a matter which can only have come from God, the Merciful, Who desireth not the death of a sinner, but that he may turn to Him and live, and He it is Who hath remembered my former works, and hath not left me to perish utterly, but hath sent this young man unto me that He might again turn me unto Him.” Then the old man found himself able by means of words, which were full of strong entreaty, to persuade the woman to take her daughter with her, and to go and dwell in one of the abodes of women which existed in the villages round about them. And this actually came to pass. And after the old man had remained there with his son, and with that excellent disciple, he began to remember his former life, and to renew the habits thereof, and he excelled greatly in the cultivation of all kinds of spiritual excellences, and he gave thanks unto God unceasingly, that by means of the young man He had held him worthy of the end of peace. And he was always saying, “Truly obedience for the sake of God not only greatly helpeth those who possess it, but it greatly gratifieth God also, and it is found by others to be the cause of life, and it tormenteth Satan sorely; on the other hand, disobedience worketh that which is contrary to all these things.” So after a long time that old man died in peace, being worthy of the great measure [of reward] of his fathers, and he departed from the world, and left behind him as upright heirs of his spiritual excellences and of his monastery his spiritual son, and the son who was his according to the body and the spirit; may our Lord through their prayers make us worthy of their spiritual excellence and their inheritance! Amen and Amen.

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