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

NOW there was a certain man whose name was Moses, who was by race an Indian (i.e., an Ethiopian), and his flesh (i.e., skin) was black, and he was the slave of a man in high authority, and because of his evil deeds and thefts his master drove him out of his house; now it is said that he even went so far as [to commit] murder. Now I am compelled to mention his wickedness in order that I may shew forth the beauty of his repentance, and people say concerning him that he was even the captain of a band of seventy thieves. And the following thing used to be related about him, and he is said to have committed it during the period wherein he passed his time in stealing.

He had as an enemy a certain shepherd, against whom he remembered certain evil things, and he went to steal [sheep] from his flock. And the shepherd was told by a certain man [who said], “Moses hath crossed the Nile by swimming, and he holdeth a sword in his hand, and his clothes are placed on his head; and he hath crossed the river by swimming”; and the shepherd covered himself over with sand, and hid from him. And when Moses had come and did not find the shepherd, he chose out two fine rams from among the sheep and slew them, and he tied them [together] with a rope, and swam across the river again [with them]; and having come to a small village he skinned the rams and ate the best portions of them, and he sold the remainder for wine, and drank, and after these things he went back to his companions. One day, whilst he was associated with them in doing hateful things, his senses came back to him in the morning season, and he repented of his evil acts, and he rose up and fled to a monastery, and from that time he drew nigh unto works of repentance so closely that the devil who had made him sin from his youth up, and [who would have continued] to make him sin, would stand before him in visible form and would look upon him. Thus he came to the knowledge of our Lord Christ.

And about him they tell the story that thieves once came unto him and went into his cell, because they did not know who he was, and he tied them all together with cords and lifted them up on his shoulders like a bag of chopped straw, and brought them to the church to the brethren, and said unto them, “Since I have not the power to do evil unto any man, what do ye command me to do to those who rose up against me to slay me?” Now at that time Moses had been fasting for seven days, and he had eaten nothing. And after he had done this he informed the thieves, saying, “I indeed am Moses who was formerly the captain of [a band of] thieves”; and having heard [this] they praised and glorified God, and when they saw [the sincerity of] his repentance they also removed themselves from their evil deeds, and said within themselves, “Let us also draw nigh unto repentance, so that we may become worthy of the forgiveness of sins, even as he also is worthy.”

And whilst fasting often, and during the time of prayer and silent contemplation, that devil of error, who bringeth back to the remembrance of the mind the wickedness of former habits, would come to him, and tempt him to such a degree that, even as he himself hath told us, it wanted exceedingly little to make him fall from his covenant. And having come to the old man Isidore the great, who had arrived from Scete, Moses told him concerning the war of his body; and the old man said unto him, “Be not distressed, for these are the beginning of the birth pangs, and they come upon thee seeking what they are accustomed [to receive], even as a dog which [cometh] continually to the cook, and if a man give him nothing he will not go there again. And thus also it is with thee, for if thou wilt continue in fasting, and in prayer, and in silent contemplation, the devil will straightway fall into despair and will flee from thee.”

And from that time he was exceedingly constant in his work of spiritual excellence. He ate nothing whatsoever except ten ounces of dry bread [daily] when he was doing work, and he would recite from beginning to end fifty prayers during the day; but the more he dried up his body, the more he was vexed and consumed by dreams. And again he went to one of the old men, and said unto him, “What shall I do? For thoughts of lust which arise from [my] former habits attack me;” and the old man said unto him, “These lead thee into error because thou hast not turned away thy heart from the similitudes of them, but give thy heart to watching and careful prayer, and thou wilt be free from them.” Now when he had heard this direction he went to his cell, and made a covenant with God that he would neither sleep during the whole night nor bend his knees, and he dwelt in his cell for seven years, and remained standing the whole of each night with his eyes open, and he never closed his eyelids. And after this he set himself other ascetic labours, for he would go out during the nights and visit the cells of the old men, and take their water-skins and fill them with water, because they lived a long way from the water, that is to say, some two miles, some four miles, and others five miles. One night he went to fill the [water skins with] water, according to his wont, and as soon as he had bent down over the spring, a devil smote him a blow across his loins as with a stick, and then departed leaving him half dead, and Moses understood who had done this thing to him. And on the following day one of the brethren came to fill [the water skins with] water, and he saw the blessed man lying there, and he drew nigh to him and asked him, “What hath happened unto thee?” And when Moses had told him the story, the brother went and informed Rabbâ Isidore, the priest of the church of Scete, who sent brethren immediately and they took him up and brought him to the church; and he was ill for a long time, and he never thoroughly recovered from his illness, and he never again enjoyed the health of body which he had possessed formerly.

And Abbâ Isidore said unto him, “Rest thyself, O Moses, and fret not thyself against the devils, and seek not to make attacks upon them; there is moderation in everything, even in the works of ascetic life.” Then Moses said unto him, “I believe in God, in Whom I have placed my hope, that being armed against the devils I must not cease [to wage war with them] until they depart from me.” And Abbâ Isidore said unto him, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, from this time forward the devils shall cease from thee. Draw nigh then, and participate in the Holy Mysteries, and thou shalt be free from all impurity both of the flesh and of the spirit, for thou must not boast within thyself, and say, ‘I have overcome the devils,’ for it was for thy benefit that they have waxed strong against thee.” So Moses went back again to his cell. And after two months Abbâ Isidore came to him, and asked him [concerning himself], and Moses said unto him, “I never see now anything which is hateful to me.” Now he was also held to be worthy of the gift of Divine Grace, and he could chase away the devils from many folk who were vexed there with, and as flies take to flight before us so did the devils depart from before him. Such were the ascetic labours of the blessed man Moses, who was himself vexed with great matters. And he also became a priest, and he left behind him seventy disciples who were men of worth. When he was a thief he had [as followers] seventy men who were thieves, and these now became his disciples, and they were perfect in the fear of God.








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