The life of abba CHRONIUS (see also chapter xxv for another Chronius)
There was a certain man called Chronius who lived in the village of Phoenix on the edge of the desert. Counting out fifteen thousand steps on his right foot, he went out from his village, said a prayer and dug a well. He found good water at a depth of seven arms-lengths and there built himself a small hermitage (hospitiolum). From the day in which he thus began a monastic life he prayed to God that he would never need to go back to the place where he used to live.
Not many years later he led a brotherhood of about two hundred men who had gathered around him, and it was then than he had the dignity of the priesthood conferred upon him. In praise of his way of life it is said that for the whole of the sixty years that he served the altar in his priesthood he never left the desert and never ate bread that he had not earned with his own hands.
The life of abba JACOB
The life of abba PAPHNUTIUS CEPHALA
Paphnutius Cephala also came to him, a marvellous man who had the gift of knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, both old and new testaments, interpreting them all even though he could not read. He was a modest man, who did not make any show of his prophetic gift. It is said of him that for over eighty years he never possessed two tunics at the same time. The blessed deacons Evagrius and Albinus came with me to visit him, and we asked him about the details of some who fell away and lapsed into scandalous living.
STEPHEN, who lapsed
We remember also Stephen who lapsed into disgraceful over-indulgence, and Eucarpius, Hero of Alexandria (see chapter xxxii), Valens of Palestine (see chapter xxxi), and Ptolemy of Egypt (see chapter xxxiii), all of whom were in Scete.
At the same time we asked why it was that some who lived in solitude became mentally unbalanced while others lapsed into over-indulgence. They gave us the following answer, Paphnutius among them, a man well known for his great knowledge.
"Whatever happens falls into two categories. Either it is pleasing to God or else it happens with his permission. Whatever is done virtuously to the glory of God is pleasing to God. Whatever is damnable, dangerous and leads to a fall is done with God's permission. It is given to those who fall either because of their limited intelligence or because of their unfaithfulness. Those who live devoutly and think correctly cannot fall into disgrace or be deceived by demons. Those who make a show of attempting to be virtuous in the sight of other human beings, while living a defective life full of arrogant thoughts are the ones who fall. God allows this to happen for their own benefit, in that when they feel how much their life has changed because of their fall they will correct their rule of life and act accordingly.
Sometimes what is intended goes wrong because it is misdirected, as when excessive gifts are given to young people with an evil and corrupting end in view, and even when the action seems morally justified, as in giving assistance to orphans or to monastic good works. For although it is a perfectly good thing to give alms to the sick, or the destitute, or the aged, it can be done grudgingly and sparingly. A good intention is thus translated into an unworthy act. Taking pity on the poor should always be done with joy and generosity.
"Many souls are given special gifts," he continued. "To some is given naturally pleasant personality, to others a capacity for asceticism, but they must be exercised disinterestedly and within the divine plan. If they do not ascribe their actions, their pleasant personality and their special gifts to God the giver of all good, but to their own free will and character and self-sufficiency, then they are abandoned by Providence, and fall into evil ways, falling victim to wickedness, depravity and disgrace.
"In this state of dereliction, through shame and humility they can somehow or other drive out little by little the arrogance which came upon them through doing what they thought was virtuous. They trust no longer in themselves, but by their own confession attribute all their benefits to God who is the giver of all things. There are those who are conceited, I say, carried away by their own pleasant personality. They don't ascribe to God their pleasant personality, nor the knowledge which comes with it, but think that it is either a natural gift or something which they have acquired by their own efforts. From them God withdraws the Angel who mediates the gift of providence.
"When this happens those who are obsessed with their own pleasant personality are overcome by the power of the adversary, and through their conceit fall into immoderate ways. Lack of moderation takes all credibility from anything they might say. Honest people reject any teaching that might come from such a source as they would a spring infested with leeches. And thus the Scripture is fulfilled which says, 'God says to the wicked "Why do you presume to talk about my justice or take my covenant in your mouth?"' (Psalm 50.16).
"Those who are imprisoned in vice are like various different kinds of springs. The gluttonous and winebibbers are like springs which are muddy; the greedy people always wanting more are like springs infested with frogs; the envious, who could be quite knowledgeable, are like springs where serpents drink. The light of reason is not always apparent in such people, so nobody wants to listen to them because their way of life is sour, their deeds have the smell of iniquity about them.
"David, taught by God, begs for three things, integrity, discipline and knowledge (the reference is to Psalm 119, probably verses 33-35). Without integrity, knowledge is useless. But if anyone like this reforms his ways and renounces the cause of his fall, namely his arrogance, by cultivating humility and by taking full knowledge of what he has been doing, then he can be turned back to God. He will no longer set himself up as a critic of every one else, but will give thanks to God, and this knowledge of himself will be his witness. Spiritual speeches which lack honesty and moderation in equal measure are like chaff blowing in the wind, which look like grains of wheat but which have lost all power to nourish. The measure of every fall from grace, whether in speech or feelings or acts, is the measure of the arrogance that goes with it, and is caused by being abandoned by God, who yet has mercy on those who are abandoned. But even if the Lord acknowledges the pleasant personality of such people, when cleverness of speech is added to their lack of moderation, their pride makes demons of them all and they soil themselves by becoming self-opinionated.
"When you come across someone who is obviously perverse," these holy men and best of fathers went on to say, "but who have great powers of persuasion, remember the demon in Scripture who spoke to Christ, and also the text which says, 'The serpent is the most ingenious of all the beasts of the earth' (Genesis 3.1). But his ingenuity did him no good since there was no other virtue to go with it. It behoves a good and faithful servant then to think the thoughts given him by God, to speak according as he thinks, and to perform the things that he says. If his life does not agree with his words he is like bread without salt, as Job says, which cannot be eaten (Job 6.6). If it is eaten it makes the eater sick. Eating bread without salt is like the taste of unprofitable and empty words which are not proved in good works. There are many aspects to disaster. Very often it is the occasion of hidden virtue being brought to light, like the virtue of Job to whom God said, 'Do not reject my judgments. Do not think that my answers have had any other purpose but to prove your righteousness (Job 40.8). You are known to me who know all things that are hidden and who search the depths of human thought (Job 34.21-22). Those who do not really know you suspect that you worshipped me simply because you were rich. It is for this reason that I have brought you to your present state. I have taken your riches away to show them the depth of your wisdom and how you walk in grace.'
"Paul also speaks of avoiding pride. For he was given over to misfortunes and buffetings, and cast down by all sorts of afflictions, as he says, 'I was given a thorn in the flesh to buffet me lest I get conceited' (2Cor.12.7). Because of his miracles he could have taken things easy. With all the success in his dealings and the honour which he was accorded he could have succumbed to a diabolical and arrogant pride.
"There was a paralytic also, cast out because of his sins, to whom the Lord said, 'You have been made whole. Sin no more.' (John.5.14). Judas also fell because he loved money more than the word of life and hanged himself. (Acts.1.18). Esau also fell and lapsed into intemperance, in that he preferred a mess of pottage to his father's blessing. (Genesis.25.32). The blessed apostle Paul understood all these things. There were those of whom he said, 'They did not value the knowledge of God, so God gave them up to a reprobate mind to do things which are wrong.' (Romans 1.28). There were others of whom he said, 'They seemed to have a knowledge of God but their minds were corrupt and swollen with foolishness. They did not glorify God as God or give him thanks, so God gave them over to disgraceful passions.
From all this we can be certain that no one can fall into intemperance except he is abandoned by the providence of God. It is because of their negligence and carelessness that this has happened to those who have lapsed and fallen away.
The life of abba SOLOMON
I lived for forty years as a citizen of Antinoe in the Thebaid region and during that time I got to know all the monasteries there. About two thousand men lived in that country, working with their hands and striving spiritually. There were anchorites among them who lived in caves in the rock faces, among whom was Solomon, a most gentle and well ordered man, who lived for fifty years in his cave, supporting himself by the work of his hands. He learned the whole of the Sacred Scriptures by heart.
The life of abba DOROTHEUS
Dorotheus was a priest who lived in a cave, a man of blameless life and of great goodness. He was worthy of being ordained to the priesthood, and ministered to the brethren in the caves. On one occasion Melania the younger, granddaughter of Melania the great, whom I shall mention later, sent him five hundred shillings for him to share out among the brothers. He would only keep three of them, however, giving the rest to the anchorite Diocles, a man of the greatest perception, mentioned below.
"You are much wiser than I am, brother Diocles," he said, "and you can distribute these in a much more fair and faultless way than I could. You know better than I who deservedly needs help. These three shillings are enough for me."
The life of abba DIOCLES
This Diocles was educated at the Grammatica (i.e School of Rhetoric and Philosophy), and gave himself to the study of Philosophy, until at the age of twenty-eight, led by grace, he abandoned the liberal arts and turned to Christ and the philosophy of heaven. At thirty-five he went to a cave. He used to say to us that the mind of one whose thoughts depart from the contemplation of God becomes either demonic or bestial.
"How do you mean?" we asked him.
"The mind which departs from God," he replied, "of necessity is either captured by the demon of desire who drives you into lasciviousness, or by the malignant spirit of anger from which come all kinds of irrational impulses. Lasciviousness is bestial; anger is the movement of the devil."
"But how can a human mind be with God without intermission?" I asked.
The life of abba CAPITO
Near to him lived Capito who had been a robber. For fifty years he lived in his cave about four miles from the town of Antinoe, and never once departed from it even as far as the river Nile.
The life of an ANCHORITE who was deceived
Near them we also were aware of another anchorite who like them lived in a cave. He suffered from a sort of dreamlike frenzy of vainglory, feeding on air and chasing shadows. Anyone at all vulnerable to deception was easily deceived by him. And yet he kept a good bodily discipline, though perhaps that was just due to his age and circumstances, or even inspired by pride. It was however the vainglorious dissipation of his soul which corrupted him and eventually led to his abandoning of religious life.
The life of abba EPHRAEM, a deacon
You have doubtless heard of Ephraem (in Vitae Patrum, Book I) who was a deacon in the church of Edessa (a Syrian city on the banks of the Euphrates). He was one of those who are worthy to be mentioned among the holy servants of Christ (died 373). After following diligently the way of the spirit without deviating from the right way, he was found worthy as a result of his theology of being given the gift of insight into natural things, a gift which leads to blessedness. He lived a life of quietness for many years building up those who came to him, until something occurred which made him leave his cell. For a great famine had struck the city of Edessa. Being full of compassion for those who were perishing from hunger he approached the rich people of the city.
"Why do you not bring aid to all these human beings who are perishing," he asked, "instead of letting your wealth moulder away to the detriment of your own souls?"
"We don't know anyone we can trust, " they said in excusing themselves, "to distribute bread to the needy. They would all be interested only in profiteering."
"What is your opinion of me?" he asked. Now there was no doubt that he was genuinely regarded very highly by all.
"We know that you are a man of God," they said.
"If you have formed that opinion of me," he said, "trust me in this matter. See, I am offering myself to take care of looking after people."
They gave him money, and he built an enclosed place surrounded by a wall, provided three hundred beds, arranged for medical treatment to those who were ill, brought relief to the hungry, buried the dead, cured those for whom there was still hope - in short from the money with which he was supplied he brought friendship and help in place of famine.
By the end of the year the crops were growing well again and everything returned to normal. So when there was nothing more for him to do he went back to his cell. He died at the end of a month. God had given him in his last days this opportunity of crowning his life with glory. Besides, he left writings well worth studying which bear witness to his greatness.
The life of abba JULIAN
Someone in these parts told me that Julian was a man who practiced very vigorously, who punished his flesh so much that he was just skin and bone. Towards the end of his life he was found worthy to receive the gift of being able to heal the sick.
The life of abba INNOCENT
You have heard from many great people about Innocent the priest of Olivet. You will nonetheless hear more about him from me also, for I lived with him for three years and observed closely what might have escaped the notice of others. But indeed, whether it were I or they or ten other people it would be impossible to tell all the virtues of this man.
He was a transparently simple man. He used to have a high position in the court of the Emperor Constantius at the beginning of his reign. A married man, he renounced the world, even though he had a son called Paul, who served in the palace guards (militabat inter domesticos). This son committed fornication, and even though it was his own son Innocentius called down a curse upon him.
"Give him over into the power of a demon, O Lord," begged Innocentius, judging that it were better for him to have a demon to contend with rather than try to overcome his lust. And so it turned out. For right up to the present time he is in the Mount of Olives, waging war on and being harassed by a demon. And marvelous to relate, this father who heals others has had no pity on his own son who has been tormented all this time by a demon.
This Innocent was such a merciful person (I'm telling the truth, however much you may think I am making it up), that it was often whispered about among the brethren that he was giving alms to the needy. He was indeed a simple and innocent person. He had been granted great powers against the demons. There was a paralytic young man possessed of a demon who was brought to us, and when I saw him I would have quite frankly discouraged his mother and the other people with him, as I thought he was beyond curing.
But Innocent came along and saw her standing there, crying and shouting because of her son's appalling disability. This extraordinary man was deeply moved and shed tears. He took the young man with him into the chapel (martyrium) which he had built himself in which were the relics of John the Baptist. He prayed with him from the third hour through to the ninth, and took the young man back to his mother, cured both of his paralysis and his demonic possession all in the same day. The illness had caused his body to be so twisted about that when he slobbered the spit ran down his back.
Here is another sign that he did. There was an old woman pasturing the sheep in fields near to Lazarius who came to him weeping because she had lost one of them.
"Show me the place where you lost it," he said to her, giving her his full attention. She led him to the place near Lazarius, where he stood and prayed. The young men who had actually killed the sheep earlier were whispering among themselves nearby, but none of them owned up to it while the holy man was praying. A crow suddenly flew down on to the stolen carcass which was hidden among some vines, snatched up a morsel from it and flew off. The blessed man noticed it and so found the slaughtered body, whereupon the youths flung themselves at his feet and confessed to having killed the sheep. They were compelled to pay up a fair price for the carcass, and were so fiercely punished that they never dared do such a thing again.