The Life of abba MARK.
When Mark was young he learnt by heart the old and new testaments. He was a very gentle person with a calm temperament. Once when I had some time to spare in my cell I went to visit him when he was very old and I sat outside the door of his cell. As is natural in an inexperienced youth I reverenced him as someone superhuman, but so indeed he was. I could hear what he was saying and doing. As he sat there inside, for all that he was a hundred years old and had lost his teeth, he was still fighting with himself and the devil.
"What are you after now, you kakogere ('wicked old man')?" he was saying to himself. "Look, you are a winebibber and you massage yourself with oil. What are you after now, you tholiophage ('wallower in filth') and koiliodole ('slave to your stomach'), bringing blame and guilt upon yourself?"
And to the devil, "Get away from me, you devil. You have embroiled me in strife, you have brought me to infirmity of body, you have made me drink wine and use oil, turning me to dissipation. Do I owe you anything at this present time? You won't find anything in me that you can destroy. Get away from me this instant, you enemy of the human race."
The Life of abba MOYSES who was a robber
Moyses was a black man, an Ethiopian by race, the slave of a certain prominent civic official. This official got rid of him because of his lax morals and thievery. Some say that he had even committed murder, and I must be quite frank about the depth of his depravity in order to emphasise the heroic virtue of his repentance. They say that he became the head of quite a large band of robbers. Among his other evil deeds it is said that he became very hostile and vindictive towards a certain shepherd, who together with his dogs had become an obstacle in his way when he was trying to carry out a raid. He vowed to kill him, and went off to find out where the shepherd was feeding his flocks. When he was told that the shepherd was on the other side of the Nile he swam across holding his two-edged sword between his teeth and carrying on his head the tunic he had been wearing, even though the Nile was in flood at the time and over a mile wide. The shepherd had time to hide away in a cave while he was crossing, and when Moyses could not find him he killed four prime rams, tied them together with a rope and swam back over the Nile. When he got to a certain small village he skinned the rams, ate the best parts of the meat, exchanged the skins for wine, drank about eighteen Italian measures of it and then set out to walk the fifty miles back to where he had left his band.
This robber chief later was overcome by remorse through something which happened to him, joined a monastery and did penance according to the measure of his crimes.
Among other things told about him it is said that four robbers burst in upon him in his cell, not knowing who he was. Blessed Moyses succeeded in tying them up like a bundle of straw, carried them on his shoulders to the door of the church.
"I took these men in the act of attacking me, but since I may not do harm to any human person, what do you think should be done to them?"
Having been captured thus by Moyses, they confessed their sins to God. When they realised that this man was Moyses, who had been the famous leader of a robber band, they glorified the name of Christ, renounced the world also, inspired by his change of heart, and ended up as most exemplary monks.
"If this enormously strong man could so fear God that he turned his back on his robbery," they thought, "why should we delay in seeking our own salvation?"
The demons then began to rise up against Moses the Blessed (for so we must call him), by driving him continually to violent thoughts of fornication. Up till then, so he told us, he had not been tempted by anything very much to make him renounce his calling. He went to the great Isidore in Scete and told him about his battle with fornication.
"Don't worry too much, brother," the holy man replied. "They are only just beginning, but they attack the more vigorously if there is a prior welcome for them. A dog who goes into a butcher's shop to gnaw a bone will not stop doing so if he is always made welcome. But if the shop is shut and no one gives him anything he is left hungry but comes no more. So if you keep on being continent, mortifying your members which are on earth, allowing no entry to anything which might give rise to disordered gluttony, the demon will find things difficult. If there is no one to give him food he will go away."
Moses the servant of Christ went back and from then onwards shut himself up in his cell, testing himself to the limit, abstaining from food to the extent that he ate nothing but twelve ounces of dry bread, working constantly and saying fifty prayers a day.
After a while, however, although his body became somewhat emaciated, he still remained over-stimulated, especially in his dreams. He got up and went to see a certain well-respected holy monk and said to him, "What shall I do, abba? The dreams pour out from my spirit into the darkness of my mind as if I am still taking pleasure in the things I was once used to."
"You have not turned your mind away from the visions which come into it," the holy man said, "and that is why they still continue. Follow my advice and undertake a few vigils, pray judiciously, and you will soon be free from these things."
Moyses listened to these words coming from the mouth of an acknowledged expert, went back to his cell and decided to do what his own conscience prompted, namely to go all night with sleep, and not to prostrate himself under the pretext of praying, in order to banish the tyranny of sleep.
He spent six years standing up in the middle of his cell, without shutting his eyes, praying earnestly to God, but he still was not able to overcome his intemperate desires.
After this he thought up another method of living a hard life. This adversary of Satan would go by night to the cells of those monks who had grown old in the practice of their way of life and who were no longer able to carry water for themselves without help. He would take their water jars without anyone knowing and fill them with water. They had some distance to go to get water in these places, for some it was two miles, for others five, for some only a half. The demon noticed what he was doing and decided that he could put up with the tenacity of this athlete no longer. So one night he hit him in the back with a club as he was bending over the well to fill the jar of one of the monks, and left him there for dead, ignorant of who or what it was that had hit him. Next day another monk came to draw water and found him lying there lifeless. He went to tell Isidore, that great priest of Scete, who came with some others, picked him up and took him into the church. For a whole year he lay there grievously ill, with body and soul scarce hanging together. Then Isidore that fine priest of Christ said to him, "Brother Moyses it is time you stopped fighting with the demons and carrying on the battle in this particular way. You need some moderation in your way of life."
"I will not stop fighting with them," he replied, "until the phantasies of my dreams stop."
"In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" said Isidore the priest, the servant of Christ, "your foul dreams will stop from this moment of time, so that with a good and faithful conscience you can receive the Sacraments. But don't boast about this as if it were through your own efforts that your desires have been tamed. It is God who has shown his power in you, to your great benefit, lest you should fall into an overrated opinion of yourself."
At this Moyses returned to his cell and lived more quietly, having taken up a more moderate way of life. After two or three months the blessed Isidore asked Moyses whether the demon had been giving him any more trouble, to which he replied, "From the moment when the servant of Christ prayed for me nothing of that sort happened any more." But this holy man was found worthy of being given grace in his fight against the demons. He became as free from the attentions of demons as of flies in wintertime.
Such was the holy religious life lived by the indomitable athlete, Moyses the Ethiopian who was numbered among the great. He became a priest and died in Scete aged seventy-five, leaving behind him seventy-five disciples.
The Life of abba PAUL
There is a mountain called Pherme in Egypt on the edge of the vast desert of Scete where about five hundred men live the ascetic life. Among them was a fine monk called Paul who had never lived any other kind of life than this. He had never had paid employment, nor engaged in any sort of business, and never accepted more food from anybody than he could eat in the course of one day. He devoted his life to the work of perpetual prayer. He used three hundred distinct set prayers, and kept the same number of pebbles in one of his pockets. For each prayer he would transfer one pebble to another pocket.
[Pockets. The Latin has sinu, the 'fold' in a garment, especially in a Roman toga. The Latin also has that at each prayer he 'threw' a pebble. I thought it best to translate this passage in terms which are more easily understandable to modern ears. Incidentally, is this the first ever recorded instance of the use of prayer beads?]
He once visited the holy man Macarius Pollicitus in search of grace and spiritual profit and said to him, "I am extremely distressed, abba Macarius." And the servant of Christ began to explain the reason why he was troubled by telling him of:
The Life of a VIRGIN who said 700 prayers.
"In a certain village lived a virgin who had been an ascetic for 30 years. I have been told by many people that she ate nothing except on Saturdays and Sundays, dragging out the whole week without eating for five days, and saying seven hundred prayers daily. When I heard about this I felt very ashamed, for here am I, created with the strength of a man, and yet I can't manage more than three hundred prayers."
"Sixty years I have been at this life," replied the holy Macarius, "and I have said only a hundred prayers, as well as labouring with my hands to supply myself with necessary food, and carrying out my obligations to the rest of the brothers, and I have no reason to think that I have been negligent. So if your conscience is making you feel guilty about the three hundred prayers you say, you are obviously not praying properly. Either that or perhaps you could be able to say more prayers than you are doing."
The priest CRONIUS
Cronius the priest of Nitria told me the following:
"I was very young when I began, and was very depressed and unstable, so much so that I fled from my monastery and archimandrite and wandered off to holy Antony's mountain. Blessed Antony lived between Heraclea and Babylon in that vast desert which leads to the Red Sea, about thirty miles from the River Nile. Antony's disciples Macarius and Amatas, who buried Antony after his death, had their cells near the river in the place called Pisper. After I arrived there I waited five days before I could see the holy Antony. I was told he came down to these cells sometimes at ten day intervals, sometimes twenty, sometimes five, to give help to visitors. Several of us brothers met him for various reasons, among whom was Eulogius, a monk of Alexandria, and with him someone disabled in all his limbs. The reason they had come was as follows:
EULOGIUS and the disabled man.
(This story is told in substantially the same words in Book VII.xix.3.)
The Vision which abba ANTONY saw
(This story is told also in Book VII.xix.4)
The Life of PAUL THE SIMPLE
The Servant of Christ, Hierax, as well as Cronius and several other brothers, told me the story I am going to tell you about Paul the Simple. He was a peasant farmer of transparently innocent and simple life, and he had taken a most beautiful woman for a wife who nevertheless was of very lax morals. Led by providence to an outcome which he was in fact half hoping for, he came back from the fields unexpectedly one day, went inside, and found her and a man together. When he saw her and the man she was having sex with he gave a forthright and heartfelt laugh.
"Fine, fine," he said. "This means that she is no longer any responsibility of mine. In Jesus' name I acknowledge her no longer. Go, take her with you, and her children, for I am leaving to become a monk."
Without saying anything to anybody else he took an eight day journey to holy Antony and knocked on his door.
"What do you want?" asked Antony when he came to the door.
"To become a monk," replied Paul.
"You must be at least sixty. You can't become a monk," said Antony. "Live in the town, work for your living, trusting in the grace of God. You would not be able to cope with all the trials of solitude."
"Whatever you told me to do I would do it," the old man replied.
"I have told you," said Antony. "You are old. You can't be a monk. Go away. Or if you do really want to be a monk go to a cenobium where there are many brothers to support you in your frailty. I am here all by myself, fasting for five days before eating." And with these words he tried to drive Paul away.
Refusing to admit him Antony shut the door and for three days did not go outside, not even to answer the call of nature. But the old man stayed where he was.
On the fourth day he really had to go outside, but when he opened the door and went out he saw Paul still there and said, "Go away, old man. Why do you keep on bothering me? You can't stay here."
"I don't intend to stay anywhere else except here," said Paul.
Antony looked at him and saw that he had nothing with him to sustain life, no bread, no water or anything else, and he had now been fasting for four days.
"He is so unused to fasting he might die," thought Antony, "and I will be to blame." And so he took him in.
"If you can be obedient and do what I tell you," said Antony, "you'll be all right."
"I will do whatever you say," Paul replied.
Antony in those days followed just as rigorous a way of life as he did when young. In order to test the Paul's mettle he said to him, "Stay here and pray, while I go in and fetch something for you to work with." He then went into his inner room and watched Paul through the window. For the rest of the week he stayed there without moving, even though scorched by the heat. At the end of the week he brought some palm branches which he had soaked in water.
"Take these and weave a rope as you see me doing." he said. The old man wove until the ninth hour, completing fifteen arms-lengths with great difficulty. Antony inspected what he had done and was not satisfied with it.
"You've done that very badly," he said. "Undo it and do it again." It was now the seventh day that this elderly man had been fasting, but Antony was treating him severely like this to see whether he would give up and abandon the life of a monk. But he just took the branches and rewove them, and with great labour put right the unevenness with which he done them at first. Antony saw that he had neither grumbled, nor been downcast, nor turned aside, nor become resentful to the slightest degree, and he began to feel sorry for him. And as the sun set he said, "Well, little father, shall we break some bread together?"
"If you think that's right, abba," replied Paul, thus leaving the decision to Antony without jumping up eagerly at the mention of food. Antony began to change his mind.
"Get the table ready then," he said. And he did so. Antony put the bread on the table, four six-ounce rolls. He put one to soak for himself (for they were dry) and three for Paul. Antony sang a psalm which he knew, and when he had repeated it twelve times he also said a prayer twelve times. This he did in order to test Paul further. But the old man prayed too, as promptly and eagerly as the great Antony himself. (I really think that he would rather feed on scorpions than live falsely.)
"Sit down," the great Antony said to Paul after the twelve prayers, "but we won't eat until vespers. Wait till the bread is eatable." The time for vespers came and Paul still had not eaten, when Antony said, "Get up. We'll pray and then sleep." They left the table and did so. Half way through the night Antony woke Paul for prayers and went on with them right through to the ninth hour. But at last when vespers came and the table had been prepared and they had sung and prayed they sat down to eat.
Antony ate one roll and did not pick up another one. The old man was eating more slowly and still had the roll which he had started. Antony waited till he had finished and said, "Come, little father, eat another roll."
"If you have another one, I will," said Paul, "but not if you won't."
"I've had quite sufficient for one who is a monk," said Antony.
"Since I want to be a monk," said Paul, "that's enough for me too, then." And he got up and said twelve prayers and sang twelve psalms. After the prayers they slept a little for the first part of the night, then rose and sang psalms again till dawn.
He then sent him out to wander in the desert.
"Come back after three days," he said.
This he did.
When some brothers came on a visit he paid close attention to Antony and did whatever Antony wanted.
"See to the visitors' needs and keep silence," he said, "and don't eat anything till they have started on their journey back."
At the end of the third week in which Paul had not eaten anything the brothers asked him why he kept silent, to which he replied nothing at all.
"Why keep silent?," said Antony. "Speak to the brothers." So he spoke.
Once when Antony was given a jar of honey he told Paul to break the jar. He did so and the honey spilled.
"Now scrape up the honey with this shell," he ordered, "but don't get any dirt mixed up in it."
Once he ordered him to draw water all day.
When his garment got a bit tattered, he told him to just get used to it.
In the end this man had grasped such firm hold on obedience by the divine grace given him, that he was able to command the demons. When the great Antony saw that this man had promptly carried out everything he had asked him to do in the way he ordered his life, he said, "See if you can keep on doing this day by day, brother, and stay with me."
"I don't know what else you can show me," said Paul. "I do whatever I see you doing, quite easily and without any strain, the Lord being my helper."
On another day Antony admitted 'in the name of Jesus' that he had indeed become a monk. The great and blessed Antony had become convinced that the soul of this servant of Christ had become almost perfected in all things, even though he was somewhat simple. After a few months Antony was moved by the grace of God to build a cell for him three or four miles away from his own cell, and said to him, "See now, by the help of the grace of Christ you have become a monk. Now live by yourself, and even take on the demons."
So a year after Paul the Most Simple came to live with him he was highly experienced in a disciplined way of life and was found worthy to battle against the demons and against all kinds of diseases.
One day there was brought to Antony a young man vexed beyond measure by one of the most powerful and savage demons who railed against heaven itself with curses and blasphemies.
Antony had a look at the young man and said to those who had brought him, "This is not a task for me. I have not yet been given the grace to deal with this very powerful type of demon. Paul the Simple has the gift of dealing with this one." The great Antony went to Paul, that most excellent man, taking them all with him.
"Abba Paul," he said, "Cast out this demon from this person so that he may return home cured and glorify God."
"Why not you?" asked Paul.
"It is not for me," said Antony. "I have other concerns." And the great Antony left the boy there and returned to his cell.
The unassuming old man stood up and poured out a strong prayer to challenge the demon and said, "Abba Antony says, 'Depart from this man'"
"I will not, you disgusting, pompous old man," said the demon, with many curses and blasphemies. Paul put on his sheepskin and belaboured him in the back, crying, "'Go out,' Abba Antony says."
The demon abused both Paul and Antony with curses, saying, "You are disgusting old men, lazy and greedy, never content to mind your own business. What have you got in common with us? Why are you browbeating us?"
"Either go now," said Paul, "or I will call upon the power of Christ to bring destruction upon you."
But this unclean demon railed against Jesus also with curses and blasphemies
"I am not going," he shouted.
This made Paul get angry with the demon. He went outside. It was midday - when the Egyptian heat bears comparison with the furnace of Babylon. The holy old man stood up straight, like a statue, on top of a rock, and prayed, "O Jesus Christ, you were crucified under Pontius Pilate, take note that I will not come down from this rock, nor will I eat or drink even if I die, until you hear me and cast out this demon from this man and liberate him from the unclean spirit." And even as the simple and humble Paul was praying, before he had even finished, the demon cried out, "I'm going, I'm going, driven out by force, overcome by tyranny. I'm getting out of this man and won't come back any more. It is the simplicity and humility of Paul which has driven me out and I don't know where to go."
The moment he went he changed into an enormous dragon about seventy cubits long which crept off towards the Red Sea. Thus were fulfilled the words of Holy Scripture, 'The righteous man shows his faith by what he does' (Proverbs 12.17), and 'On whom shall I look, says the Lord, if not on him who is gentle and humble and trembles at my words?' (Isaiah 66.2). Although lesser (humiliores) demons can be cast out by the faith of men in authority (principales), it takes humble (humiles) men to be able to put to flight the demons of greatest power (principales).
Such were the miracles of the humble Paul the Simple, and there were many others he did, even greater than these. He was known as Simple by all the brothers.