Chapter LII (continued)
"Be it unto you even as you have chosen," said Apollo. "No one will be killed before you. But after your death you will not be buried in the earth. You will fill the bellies of the wild beasts and vultures." And it so happened that these words came true almost immediately, since on both sides of the battle no one was killed except this battle-leader. They buried him in the sand, and the next morning they found his limbs torn to bits by hyenas and vultures. When they saw the miracle of how things had turned out exactly as he had said they acknowledged that he was a prophet, and all believed in the Saviour.
Much earlier than this the holy Apollo had just five brothers with him in his mountain cave. These were his first disciples after coming out of his solitude. When Easter had come and they had worshipped God they prepared to eat what food they had. But all there was were a few dried loaves, and certain dried herbs.
"If we are faithful members of Christ's family, my sons, " Apollo said to them, "let each one of you ask God for what he would most like to eat." But with one accord they all entrusted that task to him, considering themselves to be unworthy of receiving such a great grace. With shining face he prayed, and they all said Amen. And that very evening there arrived at the cave some complete strangers, who said they had come from a long way away. They brought all sorts of things with them, things which nobody had ever heard of, things which did not grow in Egypt, garden fruits of all kinds, grapes and pomegranates, even some honeycomb and a jar of fresh milk, large nicolai, fresh warm foreign made loaves. The bearers (of this food) handed it all over as from some great rich person and promptly went away again. When the monks had taken stock of all this food they found that there was enough to see them through to Pentecost, so that they all marvelled and said, "These things truly are sent by God."
One of the monks asked Apollo to pray for him as a father that he would be granted some kind of grace. Apollo prayed, and the monk was given the grace of humility and gentleness, so that they were all amazed at how gentle he had become. The brothers who were with him told us of these powers, and there were many other brothers to corroborate it.
Not long before this there had been a famine in the Thebaid. The people in the neighbouring regions heard that, contrary to all hope and reason, those who lived near the monks were eating daily. With one accord they came with their wives and children, seeking both food and blessing. Without any fear that the food supply might run out, Apollo gave to everyone who came sufficient food for one day. When the famine grew worse and there were only three large baskets of bread left, he ordered the baskets to be put in the middle of the place where the monks were to eat, and in the hearing of the monks and the crowds of people shouted aloud, "Can the hand of the Lord not keep these full? Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'The bread in these baskets will not fail until we have been fed to the full with new grain.'"
And those who were there have testified that the bread lasted four months. And the same thing happened with the grain and vegetables.
Then Satan appeared. "Who do you think you are? Elias? Or some other prophet or apostle, doing this?"
"What's the matter with you?" Apollo replied. "Weren't the apostles and prophets holy people who handed this tradition on to us? If God was with them then why should he now have departed far off? God can always do these things and there is nothing that God cannot do. If God is good why are you evil? Why should we also not speak of what we have seen, brothers going in to take bread to the tables, satisfying the appetites of five hundred people, and finding the baskets still full?"
It is right that we should also describe another miracle we saw which astonished us. When we went to visit him, we had been on the way for three days when the brothers met us, having seen us in the distance after having been told by Apollo we were coming. They hastened towards us on the road, singing psalms, as it is customary for monks to do. They first prostrated themselves, then embraced us, each one in turn.
"See now," they said, "these brothers our father told us about three days ago have arrived. He told us that in three days time there would be three brothers arriving from Jerusalem."
And some went on in front of us, some followed on behind, all singing psalms, until we got near to Apollo, who when he heard the psalmody came out to meet us, as he always did for every brother. When he saw he prostrated himself, embraced us, introduced himself and said some prayers. He washed our feet with his own hands and urged us to take some refreshment. He always did this for any brother who came to visit him. But those who were with him did not eat anything till after receiving the Eucharist of Christ, which they celebrated at the ninth hour.
Having eaten they sat listening to Apollo teaching them over a wide range of subjects (docentem omnia praecepta, lit. 'teaching all the precepts') until time for the first spell of sleep.
[The practice was to sleep for a while after Vespers before waking up again for the psalmody of the Night Office, Mattins, after which there was an opportunity for a 'second sleep' (Cassian, Institutes, book iii). Some monks evidently carried on psalmodising even during their sleep time.]
After that some of them went back into solitude, reciting the Scriptures from memory for the rest of the night, others stayed on praising God with fervent psalms until the next day. I saw with my own eyes how some had begun with the psalms of Vespers and kept up their singing until Mattins. There were many who only came down from the mountain at the ninth hour and went back again after the Eucharist, satisfied with that spiritual food until the next evening. Many of them kept this up for many days at a time. They could be seen to be really happy in their solitude, and unable think of enjoying any other form of pleasure or relaxation on earth. And there was no one among them sad or gloomy, although if anyone did seem to have a bit of gloominess about him Apollo as a father would ask him why, and he would reveal the secrets of his heart.
"It does not do to be gloomy about your prospects of salvation," he would say, "for we are heirs of the kingdom of heaven. The heathen may be sad, the Jews may weep, sinners may be fearful, but the righteous can only rejoice. Those who are worried about earthly matters have only got earthly things in which it is possible for them to rejoice. But we who have been found worthy of being given such great hope, how can we fail to rejoice perpetually? Indeed it is the Apostle who urges us to rejoice always and give thanks in all things." (1Thess 5.16,18). We cannot adequately describe the gracefulness of his speech, or the rest of his virtues, which we observed for ourselves and which others told us about. They are so miraculous they strike us dumb.
He talked to us a great deal about their discipline and way of life. In the matter of welcoming visitors he often said how we ought to worship brothers on their arrival. "For it is not them you are worshipping," he said, "but God. You have seen your brother? You have seen the Lord your God. We learn this from Abraham. From Lot who welcomed angels we learn that you should always offer brothers refreshment, and we learn that monks should receive the Sacrament daily, if at all possible. If you separate yourself from the Sacrament God will separate himself from you. But if you partake devoutly you devoutly receive the Saviour. 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood,' the Saviour said, 'remains in me and I in him.' (John 6.56) A monk should daily prepare himself for celebrating the saving passion with a pure heart, so that he is ready at all times to receive the heavenly Sacrament, especially since the remission of sins follows on from this.
"The general Catholic fast days should not be neglected except in cases of great need. For the Saviour was betrayed on Thursday and crucified on Friday. To neglect these days is to be identified with those who betrayed and crucified. But if a brother comes to you who really needs refreshment on a fast day give him a table by himself, but don't compel him to if he objects. We do have a tradition of living in common."
He was particularly scathing about those who went to great trouble to keep their hair trimmed. "Those people are simply drawing attention to themselves and trying to please others rather than disciplining their bodies with fasting and keeping their good deeds secret. That is what they don't do; instead they parade themselves in full view of everyone."
What need I say more? All his teaching was mirrored in the way he lived his life, which no one could adequately talk or write about. Many other things he said to each of us individually, often over the course of the whole week, until dismissing us with the words, "Be at peace among yourselves and stay together on the way."
He asked the brothers with him which of them would like to take us to visit some of the other fathers, then chose three men to go with us who were accomplished in word and deed and skilled in Greek Latin and Egyptian. He told them not to leave us until our desire to see the fathers was satisfied, although of course a whole life time would not suffice to see them all. He bade us farewell with a blessing, "May the Lord bless you out of Sion, that you may see the good of Jerusalem all your life long." (Psalm 128.5).
As we were walking through the desert in the middle of the day we saw the tracks of a large beast, [Lat. draco, a dragon] as big as if a tree had been dragged through the sand. We were absolutely terrified at the sight. But the brothers who were guiding us urged us not to be afraid but to be of good courage and follow the beast's tracks.
"You will see how our faith will enable us to overcome the beast," they said. "We have killed many a beast and horned serpent in fulfilment of the Scripture, 'I have given you the power of treading down serpents and scorpions and over every power of the enemy,'" (Luke. 10.19).
We were not convinced, overcome as we were by great fear, and we begged them not to follow the tracks of the beast but to keep to the beaten path. But one of the brothers said farewell to us at that point and set off with great eagerness in pursuit of the beast He found it not far away near a cave
"The beast is in a cave," he shouted. "Come and see what is going to happen."
The other brothers urged us not to be afraid, and so we all began fearfully to go off to see the beast. But another brother suddenly ran up to us and took us by the hand into his own cell."You have never seen such a beast," he said, "and you would not be able to endure it, whereas I have often seen such beasts of up to fifteen cubits long. You stay here."
He then went off to the brother in front of the cave and suggested that he come away, which he was unwilling to do until he had done his best to kill the beast. But he was at last persuaded, and came back with him, mocking us for being of little faith.
The Life of Abba AMUN (also in II..viii)
This brother also told us that he had been a disciple of another holy man of many virtues called Amun, who used to live in that region. Thieves often came and robbed him of bread and other food. Unable to put up with this any longer he went out into the desert one day and brought back two wild beasts which he ordered to stay and keep guard over his door. When those murderers arrived as usual and saw this miracle they gasped with astonishment and fell flat on their faces. Amun came out and found them dumb and half dead. He roused them up and told them what he thought of their misdeeds.
"Look! You are worse than these animals," he said. "They at least out of respect for God are obedient to my will. But you neither fear God nor have any respect for the religion of the Christians."
He took them into his cell, gave them a meal and urged them to change their way of life. They departed, and immediately became known as leading better lives than many others. Not long afterwards they also had the reputation of being able to do similar miracles.
On another occasion there was a wild beast creating havoc in the region, killing so many cattle that the people living near the desert all came to Amun begging him to rid the place of this beast. But he sent them away, saying that there was nothing he could do to remedy their distress. But next morning he got up and went to the place where the beast usually passed by. When he had prostrated himself in prayer three times the beast appeared, breathing out heavy vapours with discordant noise, swollen up, hissing, totally repulsive in appearance.
"May you be subject to Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, who has power over all beasts." he said, turning towards the beast without a sign of fear. As soon as he had spoken the beast burst asunder, spewing out poison and blood from his mouth. When the villagers came back next day and saw this great miracle their hearts sank within them. They were afraid to come too close to it even though it was dead, so merely piled up a lot of sand round it as the old man stood by.
There had been a boy tending his flocks who had seen a living wild beast and fainted with shock, lying there lifeless all alone all day. At evening time his friends found him barely breathing but beside himself in a sort of trance. They could not understand what had happened to him but they took him to Amun who prayed for him and anointed him with oil. The boy immediately came to his senses and told them why he had been struck down. It was this event which moved the old man to be converted to the idea of eliminating wild beasts entirely.
The Life of Abba COPRES, a priest.
There was a certain priest called Copres who had a cell in the desert, a holy man, nearly ninety, leader of about five hundred brothers. He was a man of many strengths, a physician to the sick who cured many, who drove out demons and performed many great deeds, some of which were done before our very eyes. After he had met us, greeted us, prayed with us and washed our feet, he asked us how we were getting on in the world. But we told him we would much rather he tell us about the virtues of the way of life he was leading and the gifts which God had given him and the way in which he was sharing in God's grace. Without showing any signs of being flattered by what we had asked he quite simply told us about his life, and the life of those who had gone before him on whom his own life was modelled.
And while he was in the midst of telling us about the good and virtuous deeds done by the fathers, one of our brothers began to get drowsy, as if he was not setting much store by what was being said. He suddenly saw in Copres' hands a beautiful book with golden letters and a man in white standing by who said, "Are you listening attentively, or are you going to sleep?" He gave a start, and as we eagerly listened, told us immediately in Latin what he had heard and seen.
While Copres was speaking a peasant came towards us carrying a wicker basket full of sand, and stood waiting until Copres had finished speaking.
"What does this peasant with the sand want?" we asked.
"My sons," he replied, "it is not for me to glorify myself, not even in telling you of things done by our fathers, lest we become mentally conceited and lose our reward. However, to help you in the quest which has brought you from such a great distance, we won't deprive you of any possible benefit, but will tell you brothers here now of what the Saviour has done through us.
"Farming land near us owned by the peasants used to be so sterile that they were barely able to reap the same amount of grain as they had sown. Pests flourished in the new ears destroying the hope of harvest. We introduced them to the catechumenate and made Christians out of them, and they asked us to pray for the harvest.
"'If you have faith in God,' I said to them, 'even the sand of the desert will bring forth fruit for you.'
"They lost no time in filling their laps with the sand we walk upon and brought it to us asking us to bless it. I prayed that it might be done to them according to their faith, after which they sowed some of the sand in their fields along with the seed. The land then brought forth bumper harvests, better than anything else in Egypt. So they have been in the habit of doing this for all the years since they had this trouble.
"God also did a marvellous miracle through me in the presence of many people. Once when I went down into the city I found a Manichaean had been leading the people astray. I failed in public to get him to change his teachings, so I turned to the people and said, 'Build up a funeral pile out in the open and let us both go up into the flames. Let the one who stays unharmed in the flames be the one who has the true faith.'
"No sooner said than the crowd built up a funeral pile and dragged us both towards the fire.
"I signed myself in the name of Christ and walked into the flames. They divided on either side of me, and I suffered no harm even after having been in there for half an hour. The crowd shouted loudly when they saw this miracle and began to compel the Manichaean to go into the pyre, but he was terrified and refused. The people picked him up and threw him into the middle of it. Totally engulfed in flames he was eliminated from the city as the people cried, 'Burn this impostor alive!'
"As for me I was taken in procession into the church, preceded by the crowd singing praises."
"'Since you are people with the gift of reason,' I said to them, 'why are you sacrificing to things totally lacking in reason? Are you even more devoid of reason than they?'
"I once used to have a garden plot on a neighbouring farm, looked after by a certain poor man, in order to provide vegetables for brothers who came to stay with me. A certain heathen person broke in to steal the vegetables, and when he had loaded himself up with them he went away and tried to cook them, but for the space of three hours had no success. They stayed in the bottom of the pot in exactly the same state as when he had put them in, for the water just would not come to the boil. Gathering his wits together he picked up the vegetables and brought them back to us, asking us to forgive his crime and make him a Christian, which we did. In that same hour we received some brothers as guests, so it was most opportune that the vegetables had been brought back to us. After we had eaten we were doubly thankful to God, as much for the hospitality shown to the brothers as for the salvation of a soul."
The Life of Abba SURUS
He [i.e. Copres, see chapter LIV] also told us about the abbas Surus, Isaiah and Paul, well known for their devout and disciplined lives, who unexpectedly met together on the banks of a river when they were on their way to visit the great Abba Anuph. They were still a three days journey away [from their destination].
"Let us reveal to each other the way we lead our lives and how God has blessed us in our lives," they said.
"I ask as a gift from God," said Abba Surus, "that by the power of the spirit we get to our destination without being tired out." He was the only one of them to make this prayer, but immediately they found that a ship was ready and the wind was favourable, so that in a moment of time they had crossed the river and found themselves at their destination.
The Life of Abba ISAIAH
The Life of Abba PAUL
Paul in his turn said, "What if God revealed to us that he would take this man to himself after three days?" They had hardly gone on any distance before this man came to meet them and greeted them.
The Life of Abba ANUPH
"Blessed be God," Anuph said to them, "who has warned me of your coming and revealed to me your way of life." He then went though all the good things each one of them had done before telling them of his own deeds.
"Since the time when I openly confessed the name of the Saviour in this world there has no falsehood come out of my mouth. I have taken no human food but have been fed daily by an angel with food from heaven. There has been no other desire in my heart than desire for God. There is nothing on earth which God has hidden from me, he has shown me how to interpret all things. I do not sleep much, I get no rest at night but continue to seek God. There is always an angel with me warning me of the powers of this world. My lamp of meditation has never been extinguished. God has always answered my petitions. I have often seen numberless myriads of angels in the presence of God, with the choirs of the righteous, the company of martyrs, the ranks of the monks, all of them praising God. I saw Satan cast into the fire and punished with his angels and the righteous rejoicing in eternity."
Many other things he told them, and on the third day he yielded up his spirit. And they saw the angels and the choir of martyrs and heard their songs of praise as they took up his soul and bore it into heaven.