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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

APOLLOS flourished about the same period in Thebaïs. He early devoted himself to a life of philosophy; and, after having passed forty years in the desert, he shut himself up, by the command of God, in a cave formed at the foot of a mountain, near a very populous district. By his extraordinary miracles, he soon acquired so wide a reputation, that many monks placed themselves under his guidance and submitted to his instructions. Timothy, bishop of Alexandria, who has written an account of his conduct, and of that of the other monks whom I have mentioned, gives a long description of his mode of life and of his miracles.

About two thousand monks dwelt in the neighbourhood of Alexandria; some in a district called the Hermitage, and others more towards Mareota and Lybia. Dorotheus, a native of Thebes, was among the most celebrated of these monks. He spent the day in collecting stones upon the sea-shore, which he used in erecting cells for those who were unable to build them. During the night, he employed himself in weaving baskets of palm leaves; and these he sold, to obtain the means of subsistence. He ate six ounces of bread with a few vegetables daily, and drank nothing but water. Having accustomed himself to this extreme abstinence from his youth, he continued to observe it in old age. He was never seen to recline on a mat or a bed, nor even to place his limbs in an easy attitude for sleep. Sometimes, from natural lassitude, his eyes would involuntarily close when he was at his daily labour or his meals; and the food would, on those occasions, drop from his mouth. One day, being utterly overcome by lassitude, he fell down on the mat: he was displeased at finding himself in this position, and said, in an under tone of voice, “When angels are persuaded to sleep, then will men of real vigilance and zeal be induced to do likewise.” Perhaps he might have said this to himself, or perhaps to the demon who disturbed him in his exercises of devotion. He was once asked why he destroyed his body? “Because it destroys me,” was his reply.

Piammon and John presided over two celebrated Egyptian monasteries near Diolchis. They were presbyters, and eminent for the zeal wherewith they discharged the functions of their office. It is said that one day, when Piammon was officiating, he beheld an angel standing near the altar, and writing down the names of the monks who were present, while he erased the names of those who were absent. John had received from God such power over disease, that he healed the sick and restored the paralytic.

An old man named Benjamin lived, about this period, in the desert near Scetis. God had bestowed upon him the power of removing diseases by the touch of his hand, or by means of a little oil consecrated by prayer. He was attacked by a dropsy, and his body was swollen to such a size that it became necessary, in order to carry him from his cell, to enlarge the door. As his malady would not admit of his lying in a recumbent posture, he remained, during eight months, seated on some large skins, and continued to heal the sick, without regretting that his own recovery was not effected. He comforted those who came to visit him, and requested them to pray for his soul; adding, that he cared little for his body, for it had been of no service to him when in health, and could not, now that it was diseased, be of any injury to him.

About the same time, the celebrated Mark, Macarius the younger, Apollonius, and Moses, an Egyptian, dwelt at Scetis. It is said that Mark was, from his youth upwards, distinguished by extreme mildness of disposition and prudence; he committed the Sacred Scriptures to memory, and manifested such eminent piety that Macarius, the priest of the cells, declared that he had never given to him what priests present to the initiated at the holy altar, but that he had beheld the hand of an angel administering it to him.

Macarius had received from God the power of dispelling demons. A murder, which he had unintentionally committed, was the original cause of his embracing a life of philosophy. He was a shepherd, and one day led his flock to graze on the banks of Lake Mareotis, when, in sport, he slew one of his companions. Fearful of being delivered up to justice, he fled to the desert. Here he concealed himself during three years, and afterwards erected a small dwelling on the spot, in which he dwelt twenty-five years. He was accustomed to say, that he owed much to the calamity that had befallen him in early life, and even called the unintentional murder he had committed a salutary deed, inasmuch as it had been the cause of his embracing an ascetic and blessed mode of life.

Apollonius, after passing his life in the pursuits of commerce, retired in his old age to Scetis. On reflecting that he was too old to learn a trade, or to acquire the art of writing, he purchased, with his own money, a supply of medical drugs, and of food suited for the sick, some of which he carried at stated hours to the door of every monastery, for the relief of those who were suffering from disease. Such was the mode of life in which he exercised himself; and, when he felt death approaching, he delivered his drugs to one whom he exhorted to go and do as he had done.

Moses was originally a slave, but was driven from his master’s house on account of his perversity. He joined some robbers, and became leader of the band. After having perpetrated several murders and other crimes, he embraced a life of asceticism, and attained the highest point of philosophical perfection. As the healthful and vigorous habit of body which had been induced by his former avocations acted as a stimulus to his imagination, and excited a desire for pleasure, he resorted to every possible means of macerating his body; thus, he subsisted wholly upon bread, subjected himself to severe labour, and prayed fifty times daily. During six years, he spent all his nights in prayer: he prayed standing, without bending his knees or closing his eyes in sleep. He sometimes went, during the night, to the cells of the monks, and secretly filled their pitchers with water, although he had sometimes to go ten, sometimes twenty, and sometimes thirty stadia in quest of the water. Notwithstanding all his efforts to macerate his body, it was long before he could subdue his natural vigour of constitution. Four robbers once broke into the dwelling where he lived alone; he bound them, threw them across his shoulders, and bore them to the church, that the monks who were then assembled might deal with them as they thought fit; for he did not consider himself authorised to punish any one. So sudden a conversion from vice to virtue was never before witnessed, nor such rapid attainments in monastical philosophy. Hence, God rendered him an object of dread to the demons, and he was ordained presbyter over the monks at Scetis. After a life spent in this manner, he died at the age of seventy-five, leaving behind him numerous eminent disciples.

Paul, Pachomius, Stephen, and Moses, of whom the two latter were Lybians, and Pior who was an Egyptian, flourished during this reign. Paul dwelt at Ferma, a mountain of Scetis, and presided over five hundred disciples. He did not labour with his hands, neither did he receive alms of any one, except such food as was necessary for his subsistence. He did nothing but pray, and daily offered up to God three hundred prayers. He placed three hundred pebbles in his bosom, for fear of omitting any of these prayers; and, at the conclusion of each, he took away one of the pebbles. When there were no pebbles remaining, he knew that he had gone through the whole course of his prescribed prayers.

Pachomius also flourished during this period at Scetis. He dwelt in the desert, from youth to extreme old age, without ever being seduced by the appetites of the body, the passions of the soul, or the wiles of the devil, to desire any of those things from which the philosopher ought to abstain.

Stephen dwelt at Mareota, near Marmarica. During sixty years, he rigorously practised all the virtues of asceticism, became noted as a monk, and was admitted into the intimacy of Antony the Great. He was very mild and prudent, and his usual style of conversation was edifying and agreeable, and well calculated to comfort the afflicted, to assuage their sorrows, and to fill them with joy. The same principles supported him under affliction; he was troubled with an incurable ulcer, and surgeons were employed to operate upon the diseased limb: during the operation, Stephen employed himself in weaving palm leaves, and exhorted those who were around him not to concern themselves about his sufferings: he told them that God does nothing but for our good, and that his affliction would tend to his real welfare, inasmuch as it would atone for his sins, it being better to be judged in this life than in the life to come.

Moses was celebrated for his meekness, his goodness, and his power of healing diseases and infirmities by prayer. Pior determined, from his youth, to devote himself to a life of holy asceticism; and, with this view, quitted his father’s house, after having made a vow that he would never again look upon any one of his relations. After fifty years had expired, one of his sisters heard that he was still alive, and she was so transported with joy at this unexpected intelligence, that she could not rest till she had seen him. The bishop of the place where she resided was so affected by her groans and tears, that he wrote to the leaders of the monks of Scetis, desiring them to send Pior to him. The superiors accordingly directed him to repair to the city of his birth, and he could not but obey them, for disobedience was regarded as criminal by the monks of Egypt, as well as by other Christians. He went with another monk to the door of his father’s house, and caused himself to be announced. When he heard the door being opened, he closed his eyes, and calling his sister by name, he said to her, “I am Pior, your brother: look at me as much as you please.” His sister was delighted beyond measure at again beholding him, and returned thanks to God. He prayed at the door where he stood, and then returned to the place whence he came; he dug a well, and found that the water was bitter, but persevered in the use of it till his death. The height to which he had carried his self-denial was not known till after his death; for several attempted to establish themselves in the place where he had dwelt, but found it impossible to remain there, or to endure the inconveniences to which he had been exposed. I am convinced that, had it not been for the principles of asceticism which he had espoused, he could easily have rectified the bitterness of the water; for he caused water to flow in a spot where none had existed previously. It is said that some monks, under the guidance of Moses, undertook to dig a well, but failing in their expectation of finding water, they were about to abandon the task, when, about mid-day, Pior joined them; he first embraced them, and then rebuked their want of faith; he then descended into the pit they had excavated; and, after engaging in prayer, struck the ground thrice with a rod. A spring of water soon after rose to the surface, and filled the whole excavation. After prayer, Pior departed, and though the monks urged him to break his fast with them, he refused, alleging that he had not been sent to them for that purpose, but merely in order to perform the act he had effected.

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