The Life of abba DOROTHEUS
Elias was succeeded by Dorotheus, a most worthy man, who grew old in the knowledge of how to live a good life. He found that he could not look after the monastery in the same way as the blessed Elias. Instead of living in Elias' cell he shut himself up in an upper room of the monastery and made a window overlooking the women which could be opened and shut. He was forever sitting at the window, ensuring that they lived together in peace.
There were no stairs, so he grew old in this upper room without anyone able to go up to him, nor was he able to go down. Such was the religious life, adorned with many virtues, of the blessed Dorotheus.
There was a virgin called Piamun who lived with her mother all the days of her life, spinning flax, and eating alone with each other every evening. She had the gift of being able to foretell people's future.
It so happened that one year when the Nile flooded villages began to invade each other, quarrelling about sharing the water, causing injuries and deaths. A stronger village threatened to invade hers, and a crowd of men carrying spears and pointed sticks set out, intent on destroying the village. But an angel of the Lord appeared to this blessed woman telling her of this invasion. She called the village priests and said to them, "Go out of the village and run to those who are coming out against you and ask them to desist from these evils they are preparing against you, lest you perish along with the whole village."
The terrified priests fell at her feet. "We don't dare to go out and meet them," they implored her, "for we know only too well their drunken fury. But if you have any pity for us and the village and your own house go out to meet them yourself, calm them down and turn them back."
She would not agree to do that but went back to her own little house and stood all night in prayer, hardly prostrating herself at all.
"O Lord, judge of the world," she prayed, "who hate injustice, let this prayer come to you and let your power stop them in their tracks like a column of stone wherever it finds them."
And as this holy virgin prayed so it happened. Early in the morning, about three miles away, the enemy stood transfixed, like columns of stone, unable to move. And it was revealed to them that they had been brought to a halt through the prayers of Piamun, the servant of Christ, and they made peace with her village, saying, "Thanks be to God and the prayers of Piamun that we were prevented from doing you any harm."
The Life of abba PACHOMIUS and those who were with him
Pachomius lived in a place called Tabennesi, which is in the Thebaid. He was among those who lived in the greatest and most perfect way of life, and was found worthy of the gift of angelic visions and foretelling the future. He was a great lover of the poor and was full of charity to all.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him as he sat in his cave.
"Pachomius," he said, "You have done properly and thoroughly all the things given you to do. You no longer need to live in this place, so get up, go out, gather together all the young monks and live with them. Give them rules according to the formula which I will give you."
And he gave Pachomius a bronze tablet on which was inscribed the following,
'Allow each person food and drink according to his strength.
'Give difficult tasks to the strong. Give lighter, less arduous tasks to those who find things difficult because of their weakness.
'Put several cells in each wing and put three in a cell, but let all the food be prepared in one building.
'Let them not lie down to sleep, but provide semi-reclining chairs, give them blankets and let them sleep there sitting up. Let them wear at night linen shifts and girdles and let each person have a sheepskin of white wool. They should not eat or sleep without them.
'When they go to the Communion of Christ on Saturday and Sunday let them put off their belts and sheepskins and let them go in wearing only their cowls which should have no shaggy wool on them, but have a purple cross superimposed on them.
'Let there be twenty-four groups of monks according to the twenty-four letters of the [Greek] alphabet. Each group should be known by its Greek letter, from a, b, etc. down to w. If the archimandrite wants to enquire about any particular person out of such a great number, he should ask, "How is group a?" or "How is group b?" or "Give my greetings to group r," according to the letter belonging to each group. The more sincere and simple ones should be given the letter i, the more difficult ones the letter x . Thus you can conveniently match every group to each letter of the alphabet according to the discipline and style of life of each one, without anyone except the spiritual teachers understanding the meaning.'
Also written on the tablet:
'If you have a guest from a different monastery which has a different rule let him eat and drink separately and do not admit him into the monastery unless he is simply on a journey.
'Furthermore, when once a person has entered, do not finally admit him till he has proved his ability to endure the battle for three years. But when he has coped with this difficult life for three years then let him carry on with the contest.
'Let the brothers wear their hoods up in the refectory so that one brother cannot see another chewing. They should not speak while eating, nor should they take their eyes off the table and their plates.
'They should say twelve sets of prayers during the day, twelve at the lighting of the lamps in the evening, twelve during the night vigil, and three at the ninth hour. When they are eating together en masse let each group sing one psalm before each set of prayers.'
When the great Pachomius objected to the angel that the prayers were rather few, the angel replied, "I have decided it this way so that even the least can fulfil the rule without being overburdened. The more proficient ones don't need to keep these laws; they can give their whole lives to contemplation when they are in their cells. These rules I have given for the sake of those whose understanding is less developed, so that like stubborn servants going in fear of their master they may fulfil the discipline of their lives securely and freely."
When the angel had finished his task in setting up these rules he departed from Pachomius. There are about seven thousand men in monasteries following these rules. The principal great monastery where Pachomius lived, from which the others sprang, contains about fourteen hundred men.
The Life of abba APHTHONIUS
Among them is a servant of God called Aphthonius, a close and sincere friend of mine, who is now second in command of that monastery. Because he is strong in Christ, stable and reliable, and unlikely to be distracted, they send him to do their business in Alexandria, by selling their goods and doing their shopping.
There are other monasteries of two or three hundred people, and I entered one of them in the city of Panos where there were three hundred men. They practice all kinds of trades, and besides what I list below they even build monasteries for women, and also prisons. After rising in the morning, they go according to their individual gifts, some to the kitchen, some to laying the tables with bread, country herbs, olives, cheese, animals' feet and diced vegetables. The weaker go in to dine first, at the seventh hour, others at the ninth, others at the tenth, others at evening, but some only after two days, some three days, four days or five days, so that each group had its own hour.
The work they did was as follows, some worked in the fields, some in the garden, some in the corn mill, some in the forge, some in building work, some in the laundry, some in the tannery, some in shoemaking, some in calligraphy, some weaving big baskets, some smaller baskets and some bread baskets. And all learned the Scriptures by heart.
There was also a monastery of about four hundred women who had the same rule and way of life, except that they did not have the sheepskin. These women were on the other side of the Nile, opposite the men. When one of them died the others saw to her burial by taking her out and placing her on the banks of the Nile. The brothers then crossed over, carrying palms and olive branches and singing psalms, brought her back and buried her in their own graveyard. Apart from the priest and deacon, and then only on Sundays, nobody else went over the river to the women's monastery.
The VIRGIN who was falsely accused.
The following incident occurred in the women's monastery, a secular shoemaker crossed the river in ignorance, looking for work. He made his request to a junior sister who happened to meet him as she was going out (for the place was a desert).
"We have our own shoemaker," she replied.
They were seen by another sister who had a mind burning with malice. Inspired by the devil she made this conversation a cause of scandal and blackened the name of the brothers.
Others believed her, though not moved by malice.
The junior sister was grief stricken at being accused of a wrong which had not even entered her mind. Unable to bear it she secretly threw herself into the river and died. When the sister who had started the calumny realised that her scandal-mongering was unfounded and that she had committed a grievous crime she too was unable to bear it and hanged herself.
When the priest came and the sisters told him about it, he said that no mass should be said for either of them, and he excommunicated for seven years those who had been party to the calumny by not recognising it for what it was and believing the false tale.
The VIRGIN who pretended to be a halfwit
These two chapters covered in V.xviii.19
Abba JOHN of the city of Lycus
There was a certain John in the city of Lycus who from his boyhood had learned the building trade. He had a brother who was a dyer. When he was about twenty-five years old he renounced the world, and after five years in a monastery went alone from Lycus into the mountain. On the top of the mountain he built a three-roomed cell with three domes and walled himself into it. One of the rooms was a latrine, one was where he worked and one was where he prayed. After living like this for thirty years, with the help of someone who brought the necessities of life to him through the window, he was found worthy of receiving the gift of foretelling the future. It proved obvious from what he did that this gift of prophecy had been given him. He was able to tell the pious Emperor Theodosius what God was bringing into the world before anyone else did, and could foretell future events, in particular the revolts of the two tyrants, their subsequent speedy downfall, and the destruction of the people who rebelled against him.
[Theodosius the Great c.346-395. Emperor in Constantinople from 378. There was a revolt in Britain by Maximus in 383, and by Eugenius in the Western empire in 392.]
When the Ethiopians burst out over their borders and laid waste the neighbouring regions as far as Syene in the Thebaid, a certain general asked him whether he would be able to defeat them.
"If you go up against them," said John, "you will surround them, conquer and subdue them and you will be most famous among generals." And so it happened. The event confirmed the prediction.
He also used to say that the most Christian Emperor Theodosius would die at the same time as his own death.
This admirable man excelled in the gift of prophecy. This was endorsed by the fathers who had anything to do with him, men whose reputation stood high among the community. They weren't exaggerating anything about him, but were inclined to say even less than he deserved. For there was a certain tribune who came to see him and begged permission for his wife to pay a visit. She had suffered a great deal and longed to come to him at Syene so that he could pray for her and send her away with his blessing. He was now ninety years old and had not even seen a woman for forty years. He never went outside his cell, he would never allow a woman to be seen, and certainly did not want to see the tribune's wife. No man had even been inside his cell. He simply used to give blessings from his window, and deal kindly with visitors, dealing with each one according to their needs. So when the tribune arrived asking if he could send for his wife (for John lived five miles into the desert) he would not agree, said it could not be done, and sent him sadly away.
But the wife would not stop nagging her husband day and night about it and swore that she would never give up until she had seen the prophet. The husband returned and told John of her determination.
"In that case," said John, recognising her faith, "She shall see me tonight in a dream. But she won't get any nearer than that to seeing my face in the flesh."The husband told his wife what the father had said, and in her dreams she saw the prophet coming towards her.
"Why should a woman bother about me?" he said. "Why should you want to see my face? Am I a prophet who has obtained a place among the elect? I am just a sinful man, vulnerable as you are, but I have prayed for you and your husband's house that it may be to you according to your faith. Now go in peace." Having said this he departed.
When the woman awoke she told her husband what the prophet had said and described to him what he looked like and what he wore. She sent her husband back to him to give him thanks. When blessed John saw him he welcomed him and said, "See now, I have done what you asked. So having seen her, I have warned that she should not see me any more. Go in peace."
The wife of another prefect went into labour while her husband was absent. The baby was born at the exact time that her husband was consulting Father John, while she herself became dangerously ill with mental depression. And the holy man was able to tell the husband about this.
"Just think what God has given you. A son is born to you this day, so you may glorify God. But his mother is in some danger. When you get back, however, you will find that your son is seven days old. Name him John, bring him up strictly, and when he is seventeen send him to the monks in the desert." This sort of miracle he often showed to people who came from afar.
His own local community frequently resorted to him also to their own advantage. He foresaw and predicted the future for them and counselled them on all the secrets with which they entrusted him, as well as [predicting the Inundation of] the Nile, and the fertility of the approaching year. In like manner he forewarned his clients of the judgments of God, and justified his reasons for doing so.
The blessed John did not openly perform cures on anyone, but he did give them oil which relieved many of their complaints. There was a senator's wife who had lost her eyesight because of a white film which covered her eyes. She asked her husband to take her to John. When he told her that John never received women, she begged that if only he would ask John on her behalf he would do something for her. He did so; he sent her some oil. After she had treated her eyes with the oil for only three days, she recovered her sight and gave thanks to God.
I hardly need add that there were many other things he did which we saw with our own eyes. There were seven of us brothers wandering in Nitria, including the blessed Evagrius, and Albinus and Ammon. We sought diligently to determine accurately the power of this man's life.
"I would gladly learn what this man is like," said the great Evagrius, "from someone skilled in mental and spiritual assessment. For if I can't see him myself, I could learn accurately about his way of life from what somebody else tells me. I will find out if I can visit him, and if I can't I won't go to his mountain."
Hearing this I said nothing to anyone for a whole day, then gave up my cell to someone else, and commending myself and my cell to God, I set out for the Thebaid. I arrived there after eighteen days, travelling sometimes on foot, sometimes on the river. It was the time of the Inundation, when many become ill, which indeed happened to me.
When I got there I found the door of his vestibule locked (for the brothers had later built this great vestibule holding about a hundred people which they kept locked and opened up only on Saturdays and Sundays). When I learned why it was locked I kept silence until the Sunday. I got there at about the second hour and found that he was sitting in his window, listening to people and counselling them.
"Where are you from and why have you come?" he said to me through an interpreter, after greeting me. "I do know that you belong to the congregation of Evagrius."
"I am a stranger from Galatia," I said, "and I do belong to Evagrius' company."
While we were speaking, the governor of the region, Alypius by name, came running in and he stopped talking to me. I yielded my place and withdrew out of earshot. They seemed to be talking together for such a long time that I was very upset and resented the way in which this venerable person had treated me with contempt while honouring this other man. I was so irritated that I was on the point of going off in disgust, when he called the interpreter, Theodore by name, to tell me not to be upset for he would soon be finished with the governor after which he would be talking with me. It struck me that although I had been criticising him he really was a spiritual man and was dealing with me very gently.
"Why were you angry with me?" he asked me, when he summoned me after the governor had gone. "What was there that you could swear on oath had offended you? You were imputing to me things which were totally absent from my mind, and which did you no credit at all. Don't you know the Scripture, 'It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick'? I can come to you whenever I want, just as you can come to me. And if I can't help you, you have many other brothers and fathers who can. But this man who is bedevilled by pressing worldly affairs has managed to snatch a small space of time to seek for some help, like a slave escaping from a severe master. It would have been ridiculous for me to have ignored him in order to attend to you when you have all the time in the world to work out your own salvation."
I asked him to pray for me. I had established that he was indeed a spiritual man. He then playfully struck me on the right cheek and said:
"There are many difficulties ahead of you. You have already gone through many struggles about whether or not you should leave the desert. You have become fearful and you have changed. The demon has put many pious excuses into your mind, with many apparent good reasons, such as longing to go to back home so that you can initiate your brother and sister into monastic life. Well, I have got good news for you. They are both seeking salvation and will renounce the world. And your father will live for another seven years. So don't go back home for their sakes but be strong and persevere in the desert. It is written, 'No one who has put his hand to the plough and has turned back is fit for the kingdom of God.'"
These words greatly helped and strengthened me, and I gave thanks to God when I realised that the motives which had been driving me had been shown up as excuses.
"Would you like to be made a bishop?" he asked, playfully teasing me again.
"Not possible." I said. "I already am one."
"Where?" he asked.