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Desert Fathers - Sayings - Paradise of the Desert Fathers

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  • arbible
    The Desert Fathers The phrase desert fathers encompasses an influential fourth century group of hermits and cenobites who settled in the Egyptian desert. The
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 19, 2005
      The Desert Fathers

      The phrase "desert fathers" encompasses an influential fourth
      century group of hermits and cenobites who settled in the Egyptian
      desert. The origins of Western monasticism lie in these primitive
      hermitages and religious communities. Paul of Thebes is the first
      hermit recorded to set the tradition of monastic asceticism and
      contemplation, and Pachomius of Thebaid is considered the founder of
      cenobitism, or early monasticism. At the end of the third century,
      however, the revered Anthony of Egypt oversaw colonies of hermits in
      the middle region. He soon became the archetypal recluse and
      relgious hero for the Western church--a fame due in no small part to
      the vast encomiums displayed in Athanasius' biography of him (Vita
      St. Antoni (http://www.zeitun-eg.net/ecf1.htm)). These early
      monastics drew a sizeable following to their austere retreats
      through the influence of their simple, individualistic, rugged, and
      concentrated search for salvation and unity with God. The desert
      fathers were often appealed to for spiritual guidance and counsel by
      their disciples. Their responses were recorded and collected in a
      work called Paradise or Apophthegms of the Fathers [Definition by
      Emily K. C. Strand

      From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Part I)

      From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Part I)

      Abba Ammonas was asked, 'What is the "narrow and hard way?" (Mt.
      7.14) He replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this, to control
      your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake
      of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, "Lo, we have left
      everything and followed you." (Mt. 19.27)

      It was said of him that he had a hollow in his chest channelled out
      by the tears which fell from his eyes all his life while he sat at
      his manual work. When Abba Poemen learned that he was dead, he said
      weeping, 'Truly you are blessed, Abba Arsenius, for you wept for
      yourself in this world! He who does not weep for himself here below
      will weep eternally hereafter; so it is impossible not to weep,
      either voluntarily or when compelled through suffering.' [i.e. the
      latter suffering in hell]

      It was also said of him (Abba Arsenius) that on Saturday evenings,
      preparing for the glory of Sunday, he would turn his back on the sun
      and stretch out his hands in prayer towards the heavens, till once
      again the sun shone on his face. Then he would sit down.

      + + +

      It was said of Abba Ammoes that when he went to church, he did not
      allow his disciple to walk beside him but only at a certain
      distance; and if the latter came to ask him about his thoughts, he
      would move away from him as soon as he had replied, saying to
      him, 'It is for fear that, after edifying words, irrelevant
      conversation should slip in, that I do not keep you with me.'

      It was said of Abba Ammoes that he had fifty measures of wheat for
      his use and had put them out in the sun, Before they were properly
      dried off, he saw something in that place which seemed to him to be
      harmful so he said to his servants, 'Let us go away from here.' But
      they were grieved at this. Seeing their dismay he said to them, 'Is
      it because of the loaves that you are sad? Truly, I have seen monks
      fleeing, leaving their white-washed cells and also their parchments,
      and they did not close the doors, but went leaving them open.'

      Abba Abraham told of a man of Scetis who was a scribe and did not
      eat bread. A brother came to beg him to copy a book. The old man
      whose spirit was engaged in contemplation, wrote, omitting some
      phrases and with no punctuation. The brother, taking the book and
      wishing to punctuate it, noticed that words were missing. So he said
      to the old man, 'Abba, there are some phrases missing.' The old man
      said to him, 'Go, and practise first that which is written, then
      come back and I will write the rest.' [Scetis==Sheheet]

      + + +

      There was in the Cells an old man called Apollo. If someone came to
      find him about doing a piece of work, he would set out joyfully,
      saying, 'I am going to work with Christ today, for the salvation of
      my soul, for that is the reward he gives.'

      Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion said, 'One day when we
      were walking beside the sea I was thirsty and I said to Abba
      Bessarion, "Father, I am very thirsty." He said a prayer and said to
      me, "Drink some of the sea water." The water proved sweet when I
      drank some. I even poured some into a leather bottle for fear of
      being thirsty later on. Seeing this, the old man asked me why I was
      taking some. I said to him, "Forgive me, it is for fear of being
      thirsty later on." Then the old man said, "God is here, God is
      everywhere." '

      A brother questioned Abba Poemen in this way, 'My thoughts trouble
      me, making me put my sins aside, and concern myself with my
      brother's faults'. The old man told him the following story about
      Abba Dioscorus (the monk), 'In his cell he wept over himself, while
      his disciple was sitting in another cell. When the latter came to
      see the old man he asked him, "Father, why are you weeping?" "I am
      weeping over my sins," the old man answered him. Then his disciple
      said, "You do not have any sins, Father." The old man
      replied, "Truly, my child, if I were allowed to see my sins, three
      or four men would not be enough to weep for them."

      + + +

      This is what Abba Daniel, the Pharanite, said, 'Our Father Abba
      Arsenius told us of an inhabitant of Scetis, of notable life and of
      simple faith; through his naïveté he was deceived and said, "The
      bread which we receive is not really the body of Christ, but a
      symbol. Two old men having learnt that he had uttered this saying,
      knowing that he was outstanding in his way of life, knew that he had
      not spoken through malice, but through simplicity. So they came to
      find him and said, "Father, we have heard a proposition contrary to
      the faith on the part of someone who says that the bread which we
      receive is not really the body of Christ, but a symbol." The old man
      said, "it is I who have said that." Then the old men exhorted him
      saying, "Do not hold this position, Father, but hold one in
      conformity with that which the catholic Church has given us. We
      believe, for our part, that the bread itself is the body of Christ
      as in the beginning, God formed man in his image, taking the dust of
      the earth, without anyone being able to say that it is not the image
      of God, even though it is not seen to be so; thus it is with the
      bread of which he said that it is his body; and so we believe that
      it is really the body of Christ." The old man said to them, "As long
      as I have not been persuaded by the thing itself, I shall not be
      fully convinced." So they said, "Let us pray God about this mystery
      throughout the whole of this week and we believe that God will
      reveal it to us." The old man received this saying with joy and he
      prayed in these words, "Lord, you know that it is not through malice
      that I do not believe and so that I may not err through ignorance,
      reveal this mystery to me, Lord Jesus Christ." The old men returned
      to their cells and they also prayed God, saying, "Lord Jesus Christ,
      reveal this mystery to the old man, that he may believe and not lose
      his reward." God heard both the prayers. At the end of the week they
      came to church on Sunday and sat all three on the same mat, the old
      man in the middle. Then their eyes were opened and when the bread
      was placed on the holy table, there appeared as it were a little
      child to these three alone. And when the priest put out his hand to
      break the bread, behold an angel descended from heaven with a sword
      and poured the child's blood into the chalice. When the priest cut
      the bread into small pieces, the angel also cut the child in pieces.
      When they drew near to receive the sacred elements the old man alone
      received a morsel of bloody flesh. Seeing this he was afraid and
      cried out, "Lord, I believe that this bread is your flesh and this
      chalice your blood." Immediately the flesh which he held in his hand
      became bread, according to the mystery and he took it, giving thanks
      to God. Then the old men said to him, "God knows human nature and
      that man cannot eat raw flesh and that is why he has changed his
      body into bread and his blood into wine, for those who receive it in
      faith. "Then they gave thanks to God for the old man, because he had
      allowed him not to lose the reward of his labour. So all three
      returned with joy to their own cells.'

      + + +

      It was said of Abba Helladius that he spent twenty years in the
      Cells, without ever raising his eyes to see the roof of the church.

      (Abba Epiphanius) added, 'A man who receives something from another
      because of his poverty or his need has therein his reward, and
      because he is ashamed, when he repays it he does so in secret. But
      it is the opposite for the Lord God; he receives in secret, but he
      repays in the presence of the angels, the archangels and the

      It was said concerning Abba Agathon that some monks came to find him
      having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he
      would lose his temper they said to him 'Aren't you that Agathon who
      is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?' 'Yes, it is very true,'
      he answered. They resumed, 'Aren't you that Agothon who is always
      talking nonsense?' 'I am." Again they said 'Aren't you Agothon the
      heretic?' But at that he replied 'I am not a heretic.' So they asked
      him, 'Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but
      repudiated this last insult.' He replied 'The first accusations I
      take to myself for that is good for my soul. But heresy is
      separation from God. Now I have no with to be separated from God.'
      At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned,

      (Abba Evagrius) said; 'Take away temptations and no one will be

      + + +

      An Egyptian brother came to see Abba Zeno in Syria, and accused
      himself to the old man about his temptations. Filled with
      admiration, Zeno said, ' The Egyptians hide the virtues they possess
      and ceaselessly accuse themselves of faults they do not have, while
      the Syrians and Greeks pretend to have virtues they do not have, and
      hide the faults of which they are guilty.'

      In a village there was said to be a man who fasted to such a degree
      that he was called 'the Faster'. Abba Zeno had heard of him, and he
      sent for him. The other came gladly. They prayed and sat down. The
      old man began to work in silence. Since he could not succeed in
      talking to him the Faster began to get bored. So he said to the old
      man 'Pray for me, Abba, for I want to go.' The old man said to
      him. 'Why?' The other replied, 'Because my heart is as if it were on
      fire and I do not know what is the matter with it. For truly, this
      when I was in the village and I fasted until the evening, nothing
      like this happened to me.' The old man said, 'In the village you fed
      yourself through your ears. But goo away and from now on eat at the
      ninth hour and whatever you do, do it secretly.' As soon as he had
      begun to act on this advice, the Faster found it difficult to wait
      until the ninth hour. And those who knew him said, 'The Faster is
      possessed by the devil.' So he went to tell this to the old man who
      said to him, 'This way is according to God.'

      One day Abba Moses said to brother Zacharias, 'Tell me what I ought
      to do?' At these words the latter threw himself on the ground at the
      old man's feet and said, 'Are you asking me, Father?' The old man
      said to him 'Believe me, Zacharias, my son, I have seen the Holy
      Spirit descending upon you and since then I am constrained to ask
      you.' Then Zacharias drew his hood off his head put it under his
      feet and trampled on it, saying, 'The man who does not let himself
      be treated thus, cannot become a monk.'

      Abba Zeno said, 'If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then
      before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands
      and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his
      heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything
      that he asks.'

      + + +

      Abba Gerontius of Petra said that many, tempted by the pleasures of
      the body, commit fornication, not in their body but in their spirit,
      and while preserving their bodily virginity, commit prostitution in
      their soul. 'thus it is good, my well-beloved, to do that which is
      written and for each one to guard his own heart with all possible
      care.' (prov. 4.23)

      One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own
      thoughts Someone noticed this and said to him, 'Abba Arsenius, how
      is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this
      peasant about your thoughts?' He replied, 'I have indeed been taught
      Latin and Greed, but I do not know even the alphabet of this

      Abba Elias, the minister, said, 'What can sin do where there is
      penitence? And of what use is love where there is pride?'

      + + +

      (Abba Isaiah) said to those who were making a good beginning by
      putting themselves under the direction of the holy Fathers, 'As with
      purple dye, the first colouring is never lost.' And, 'Just as young
      shoots are easily trained back and bent, so it is with beginners who
      live in submission.'

      (Abba Isaiah) also said that when there was an agape and the
      brethren were eating in the church and talking to one another, the
      priest of Pelusia reprimanded them in these words, 'Brethren, be
      quiet. For I have seen a brother eating with you and drinking as
      many cups as you and his prayer is ascending to the presence of God
      like fire.'

      (Abba Isaiah) also said 'When God wishes to take pity on a soul and
      it rebels, not bearing anything and doing its own will, he then
      allows it to suffer that which it does not want, in order that it
      may seek him again.'

      + + +

      The old men said to Abba Agothon to Abba Elias, in Egypt, 'He is a
      good Abba.' The old man answered them, 'In comparison with his own
      generation, he is good.' They said to him, 'And what is he in
      comparison with the ancients?' He gave them this answer, 'I have
      said to you that in comparison with his generation he is good but as
      to that of the ancients, in Scetis I have seen a man who, like
      Joshua the son of Nun could make the sun stand still in the
      heavens.' At these words they were astounded and gave glory to God.

      (Abba Theodore) said 'If you are friendly with someone who happens
      to fall into the temptation of fornication, offer him your hand, if
      you can, and deliver him from it. But if he falls into heresy and
      you cannot persuade him to turn from it, separate yourself quickly
      from him, in case, if you delay, you too may be dragged down with
      him into the pit.

      A brother came to Abba Theodore and began to converse with him about
      things which he had never yet put into practice. So the old man said
      to him, 'You have not yet found a ship nor put your cargo aboard it
      and before you have sailed, you have already arrived at the city. Do
      the work first; then you will have the speed you are making now.'

      + + +

      Abba Theodore of Pherme said, 'The man who remains standing when he
      repents, has not kept the commandment.'

      A brother said to Abba Theodore, 'I wish to fulfil the
      commandments.' The old man told him that Abba Theonas had said to
      him, 'I want to fill my spirit with God.' Taking some flour to the
      bakery, he had made loaves which he gave to the poor who asked him
      for them; others asked for more, and he gave them the baskets, then
      the cloak he was wearing, and he came back to his cell with his
      loins girded with his cape. Afterwards he took himself to task
      telling himself that he had still not fulfilled the commandment of

      The same Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day.
      The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, 'Say something
      to the Archbishop, so that he may be edified.' The old man said to
      them, 'If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by
      my speech.'

      + + +

      It was said about (Abba Theodore) that, though he was made a deacon
      at Scetis he refused to exercise the office and fled to many places
      from it. Each time the old men brought him back to Scetis,
      saying, 'Do not leave your deaconate.' Abba Theodore said to
      them, 'Let me pray God that he may tell me for certain whether I
      ought to take my part in the liturgy.' Then he prayed God in this
      manner, 'If it is your will then I should stand in this place, make
      me certain of it.' Then appeared to him a column of fire, reaching
      from earth to heaven, and a voice said to him, 'IF you can become
      like this pillar, go be a deacon.' On hearing this he decided never
      to accept the office. When he went to church the brethren bowed
      before him saying, 'If you do not wish to be a deacon, at least hold
      the chalice.' But he refused, saying, 'If you do not leave me alone,
      I shall leave this place.' So they left him in peace.

      Abba Theodore of Scetis said, 'A thought comes to me which troubles
      me and does not leave me free; but not being able to lead me to act,
      it simply stops me progressing in virtue; but a vigilant man would
      cut it off and get up to pray.'

      Abba Theodor said, 'Privation of food mortifies the body of the
      Another old man said, 'Vigils mortify it still more.'

      + + +

      Amma Theodora said, 'Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate, Just
      as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter's storms
      cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and
      it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an
      inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.'

      The same amma said that a teacher ought to be a stranger to the
      desire for domination, vain-glory, and pride; one should not be able
      to fool him by flattery, nor blind him by gifts, nor conquer him by
      the stomach, nor dominate him by anger; but he should be patient,
      gentle and humble as far as possible; he must be tested and without
      partisanship, full of concern, and a lover of souls.

      She also said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of
      suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. There
      was an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked
      them, 'What makes you go away?' 'Is it fasting?' They replied, 'We
      do not eat or drink.' 'Is it vigils?' They replied, 'We do not
      sleep.' 'Is it separation from the world?' 'We live in the
      deserts.' 'What power sends you away then?' They said, 'Nothing can
      overcome us, but only humility.' 'Do you see how humility is
      victorious over the demons?'

      + + +

      It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the
      desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His Abba, taking a piece
      of dry wood, planted it and said to him, 'Water it every day with a
      bottle of water, until it bears fruit.' Now the water was so far
      away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following
      morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore
      fruit. Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the
      church saying to the brethren, 'Take and eat the fruit of obedience.'

      It was said of Abba John the Dwarf, that one day he said to his
      elder brother, 'I should like to be free of all care, like the
      angels, who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God.' So
      he took off his cloak and went away into the desert. After a week he
      came back to his brother. When he knocked on the door, he heard his
      brother say, before he opened it 'Who are you?' He said, 'I am John,
      your brother.' But he replied, 'John has become an angel, and
      henceforth he is no longer among men.' Then the other begged him
      saying. 'It is I.' However, his brother did not let him in, but left
      him there in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said
      to him, 'You are a man and you must once again work in order to
      eat.' Then John made a prostration before him, saying, 'Forgive me.'

      One day when he was sitting in front of the church, the brethren
      were consulting him about their thoughts. One of the old men who saw
      it became a prey to jealousy and said to him, 'John, your vessel is
      full of poison.' Abba John said to him, 'That is very true, Abba;
      and you have said that when you only see the outside, but if you
      were able to see the inside, too, what would you say then?'

      + + +

      Some brethren came one day to test him to see whether he would let
      his thoughts get dissipated and speak of the things of this world.
      They said to him 'We give thanks to God that this year there has
      been much rain and the palm trees have been able to drink, and their
      shoots have grown, and the brethren have found manual work.' Abba
      John said to them, 'So it is when the Holy Spirit descends into the
      hearts of men; they are renewed and they put forth leaves in the
      fear of God.'

      It was said of him (Abba John the Dwarf) that one day he was weaving
      rope for two baskets, but he made it into one without noticing,
      until it had reached the wall, because his spirit was occupied in

      Abba John said, 'I am like a man sitting under a great tree, who
      sees wild beasts and snakes coming against him in great numbers.
      When he cannot withstand them any longer, he runs to climb the tree
      and is saved. It is just the same with me; I sit in my cell and I am
      aware of evil thoughts coming against me, and when I have no more
      strength against them, I take refuge in God by prayer and I am saved
      from the enemy.'

      + + +

      From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Part II)

      From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Part II)

      Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to
      take his passions away from him so that he might become free from
      care. He went and told an old man this; 'I find myself in peace,
      without an enemy,' he said. The old man said to him, 'Go beseech God
      to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and
      humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul
      makes progress.' So he besought God and when warfare came, he no
      longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, 'Lord, give me
      strength for the fight.'

      Abba John said, 'We have put the light burden on one side, that is
      to say, self-accusation, and we have loaded ourselves with a heavy
      one, that is to say, self-justification.'

      He also said, 'Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues.'

      + + +

      Abba John gave this advice, 'Watching means to sit in the cell and
      be always mindful of God. This is what is meant by, "I was on the
      watch and God came to me." (Matt. 25:36)

      One of the Fathers said of him, 'Who is this John, who by his
      humility has all
      Scetis hanging from his little finger?'

      Abba John the Dwarf said, 'There was a spiritual old man who lived a
      secluded life. He was held in high estimation in the city and
      enjoyed a great reputation. He was told that a certain old man, at
      the point of death, was calling for him, to embrace him before he
      fell asleep. He thought to himself, if I go by day, men will run
      after me, giving me great honour, and I shall not be at peace in all
      that. So I will go in the evening in the darkness and I shall escape
      everyone's notice. But lo, two angels were sent by God with lamps to
      give him light. Then the whole city came out to see his glory. The
      more he wished to Flee from glory, the more he was glorified. In
      this was accomplished that which is written: "He who humbles himself
      will be exalted." ' (Luke 14:11)

      + + +

      Abba John the Dwarf said, 'a house is not built by beginning at the
      top and working down. You must begin with the foundations in order
      to reach the top. They said to him, 'What does this saying mean?' He
      said, 'The foundation is our neighbour, whom we must win, and that
      is the place to begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on
      this one.'

      Abba Poemen said that Abba John said that the saints are like a
      group of trees, each bearing different fruit, but watered from the
      same source. The practices of one saint differ from those of
      another, but it is the same Spirit that works in all of them.

      Abba John said to his brother, 'Even if we are entirely despised in
      the eyes of men, let us rejoice that we are honoured in the sight of

      + + +

      The old man (Abba John the Dwarf) said, 'You know that the first
      blow the devil gave to Job was through his possessions; and he saw
      that he had not grieved him nor separated him from God. Whith the
      second blow, he touched his flesh, but the brave athlete did not sin
      by any word that came out of his mouth in that either. In fact, he
      had within his heart that which is of God, and he drew on that
      source unceasingly.'

      An old man came to Abba John's cell and found him asleep with an
      angel standing above him, fanning him. Seeing this, he withdre. When
      Abba John got up, he said to his disciple, 'Did anyone come in while
      I was asleep?' he said, 'Yes, an old man.' Then Abba John knew that
      this old man was his equal, and that he had seen the angel.

      + + +

      (Abba Isidore) said, 'When I was younger and remained in my cell I
      set no limit to prayer; the night was for me as much the time of
      prayer as the day.'

      Abba Isidore went one day to see Abba Theophilus, pope of Alexandria
      and when he returned to Scetis the brethren asked him, 'What is
      going on in the city?' But he said to them, 'Truly, brothers, I did
      not see the face of anyone there, except that of the archbishop.'
      Hearing this they were very anxious and said to him, 'Has there been
      a disaster there, then, Abba?' He said 'Not at all, but the thought
      of looking at anyone did not get the better of me' At these words
      they were filled with admiration, and strengthened in their
      intention of guarding the eyes from all distraction.

      (Abba Isidore of Pelusia) said, 'Prize virtues and do not be the
      slave of glory; for the former are immortal, while the latter soon

      He also said, 'The heights of humility are great and so are the
      depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to
      fall into the second.'

      + + +

      Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba as far as I
      can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I
      live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else
      can I do?' then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards
      heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to
      him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'

      (Abba James) said, 'Just as a lamp lights up a dark room, so the
      fear of God when it penetrates the heart of a man illuminates him,
      teaching him all the virtues and commandments of God.'

      He also said, 'We do not need words only, for, at the present time,
      there are many words among men, but we need works, for this is what
      is required, not words which do not bear fruit.'

      + + +

      Abba John of the Cells told us this story: 'There was in Egypt a
      very rich and beautiful courtesan, to whom noble and powerful people
      came. Now one day she happened to be near the church and she wanted
      to go in. The sub-deacon, who was standing at the doors, would not
      allow her to enter saying, "You are not worthy to enter the house of
      God, for you are impure." The Bishop heard the noise of their
      argument and came out. Then the courtesan said to him, "He will not
      let me enter the church." So the Bishop said to her, "You are not
      allowed to enter it, for you are not pure." She was filled with
      compunction and said to him, "Henceforth I will not commit
      fornication any more." The bishop said to her, "If you bring your
      wealth here, I shall know that you will not commit fornication any
      more." She brought her wealth and the bishop burnt it all in the
      fire. Then she went into the church, weeping and saying, "If this
      has happened to me below, what would I not have suffered above?" So
      she was converted and became a vessel of election.'

      (Abba Isidore the priest) said, 'If you fast regularly, do not be
      inflated with pride, but if you think highly of yourself because of
      it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat
      than to be inflated with pride and to glorify himself.'

      It was said of Abba John the Persian that when some evildoers came
      to him, he took a basin and wanted to wash their feet. But they were
      filled with confusion, and began to do penance.

      + + +

      From Palistine, Abba Hilarion went to the mountain to Abba Anthony.
      Abba Anthony said to him, 'You are welcome, torch which awakens the
      day.' Abba Hilarion said, 'Peace to you, pillar of light, giving
      light to the world.'

      The holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation.
      They said 'What have we ourselves done?' One of them, the great Abba
      Ischyrion replied, 'We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of
      God.' The others replied, 'And those who come after us, what will
      they do?' He said, 'They will struggle to achieve half our works.'
      They said, 'And to those who come after them, what will happen?' He

      Abba Copres said, 'blessed is he who bears affliction with

      + + +

      One day, the inhabitants of Scetis assembled together to discuss
      Melchizedek and they forgot to invite Abba Copres. Later on they
      called him and asked him about this matter. Tapping his mouth three
      times, he said 'Alas for you, Copres! For that which God commanded
      you do, you have put aside, and you are wanting to learn something
      which you have not been required to know about.' When they heard
      these words, the brothers fled to their cells.

      Abba Cyrus of Alexandria was asked about the temptation of
      fornication, and he replied, 'If you do not think about it, you have
      no hope, for if you are not thinking about it, you are doing it. I
      mean, he who does not fight against the sin and resist it in his
      spirit will commit the sin physically. It is very true that he who
      is fornicating in fact is not worried about thinking about it.

      + + +

      Some of the monks who are called Euchites went to Enaton to see Abba
      Lucius. the Old man asked them, 'What is your manual work?' They
      said , 'We do not touch manual work but as the Apostle says, we pray
      without ceasing.' The old man asked them if they did not eat and
      they replied they did. So he said to them "'When you are eating, who
      prays for you then?' Again he asked them if they did not sleep and
      they replied they did. and he said to them, 'When you are a asleep,
      who prays for you the?' They could not find any answer to give him.
      He said to them, 'Forgive me, but you do not act as you speak. I
      will show you how, while doing my manual work, I pray without
      interruption. I sit down with God, soaking my reeds and plaiting my
      ropes, and I say "God, have mercy on me, according to your great
      goodness and according to the multitude of your mercies, save me
      from my sins." ' So he asked them if this were not prayer and they
      replied it was. Then he said to them, 'So when I shave spend the
      whole day working and praying, making thirteen pieces of money more
      or less, I put two pieces of money outside the door and I pay for my
      food with the rest of the money. He who takes the two pieces of
      money prays for me when I am eating and when I am sleeping; so , by
      the grace of God, I fulfil the precept to pray without ceasing.'

      + + +

      They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, as it is
      written, a god upon earth, because, just as God protects the world,
      so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he
      did not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not
      hear them.

      + + +

      The angel when giving the rules of monasticism to St. Pachomius said
      to him: "... He laid down that in the course of the day they should
      make twelve prayers, and at the lamp-lighting time twelve, and in
      the nightly vigils twelve, and at the ninth hour three. When the
      multitude goes to eat, he laid down that a psalm should be sung
      before each prayer. As Pachomius objected to the angel that the
      prayer were too few ..."

      + + +

      The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a man who
      owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius' goods. So he
      came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to
      load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, 'We
      have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything
      out of the world.' (1Tim.6.7) 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken
      away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' (Job 1.21)

      Abba Macarius was asked, 'How should one pray?' The old man
      said 'There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough
      to stretch out one's hands and say, "Lord, as you will, and as you
      know, have mercy." And if the conflict grows fiercer say, "Lord,
      help!" He knows very well what we need and he shews us his mercy.'

      A brother went to Abba Matoes and said to him, 'How is it that the
      monks of Scetis did more than the Scriptures required in loving
      their enemies more than themselves?' Abba Matoes said to him, 'As
      for me I have not yet managed to love those who love me as I love

      + + +

      It was said of Abba Silvanus that at Scetis he had a disciple called
      Mark whose obedience was great. He was a scribe. The old man loved
      him because of his obedience. He had eleven other disciples who were
      hurt because he loved him more than them. When they knew this, the
      elders were sorry about it and they came one day to him to reproach
      him about it. Taking them with him, he went to knock at each cell,
      saying, 'Brother so and so, come here; I need you,' but none of them
      came immediately. Coming to Mark's cell, he knocked and
      said, 'Mark.' Hearing the old man's voice, he jumped up immediately
      and the old man sent him off to serve and said to the
      elders, 'Fathers, where are the other brothers?' Then he went into
      Mark's cell and picked up his book and noticed that he had begun to
      write the letter 'omega' ["w"] but when he had heard the old man, he
      had not finished writing it. Then the elders said, 'Truly, Abba, he
      whom you love, we love too and God loves him.'

      + + +

      Abba Poemen said of Abba Nisterus that he was like the serpent of
      brass which Moses made for the healing of the people: he possessed
      all virtue and without speaking, he healed everyone.

      Abba Xanthias said, 'The thief was on the cross and he was justified
      by a single word; and Judas who was counted in the number of the
      apostles lost all his labour in one single night and descended from
      heaven to hell. Therefore, let no-one boast of his good works, for
      all those who trust in themselves fall.'

      (Abba Poemen) said, 'The beginning of evil is heedlessness.'

      + + +

      The Paradise of the Desert Fathers (Excerpts - Part I)

      The Paradise of the Desert Fathers (Excerpts - Part I)


      The following are excerpts from what is widely known in the Coptic
      Church as "bustan al-rohbaan" (The Monks' Garden), also referred to
      in English as the "Paradise of the Desert Fathers". Bustan al-
      rohbann is not a single book, rather it is a collection of sayings
      and accounts written by and about the Desert Fathers of Egypt. The
      excerpts presented here are adopted from an abbreviated book edited
      by Dr. Benedicta Ward.

      In the desert of the heart, let the healing fountain start;
      In the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise.
      -- W. H. Auden

      A prayer from the desert

      Lord Jesus Christ, whose will all things obey: pardon what I have
      done and grant that I, a sinner, may sin no more.
      Lord, I believe that though I do not deserve it, you can cleanse me
      from all my sins.
      Lord, I know that man looks upon the face, but you see the heart.
      Send your spirit into my inmost being, to take possession of my soul
      and body.
      Without you I cannot be saved; with you to protect me, I long for
      your salvation.
      And now I ask you for your salvation.
      And now I ask you for wisdom, deign of your great goodness to help
      and defend me.
      Guide my heart, almighty God, that I may remember your presence day
      and night.

      ++ Amen ++


      In the fourth century, an intensive experiment in Christian living
      began to flourish in Egypt, Syria and Palestine. It was something
      new in Christian experience, uniting the ancient forms of monastic
      life with the Gospel. In Egypt the movement was soon so popular that
      both the civil authorities and the monks themselves became anxious:
      the officials of the Empire because so many were following a way of
      life that excluded both military service and the payment of taxes,
      and the monks because the number of interested tourists threatened
      their solitude.

      The first Christian monks tried every kind of experiment with the
      way they lived and prayed, but there were three main forms of
      monastic life: in Lower Egypt there were hermits who lived alone; in
      Upper Egypt there were monks and nuns living in communities; and in
      Nitria and Scetis there were those who lived solitary lives but in
      groups of three or four, often as disciples of a master. For the
      most part they were simple men, peasants from the villages by the
      Nile, though a few, like Arsenius and Evagrius, were well educated.
      Visitors who were impressed and moved by the life of the monks
      imitated their way of life as far as they could, and also provided a
      literature that explained and analyzed this way of life for those
      outside it. However, the primary written accounts of the monks of
      Egypt are not these, but records of their words and actions by their
      close disciples.

      Often, the first thing that struck those who heard about the Desert
      Fathers was the negative aspect of their lives. They were people who
      did without: not much sleep, no baths, poor food, little company,
      ragged clothes, hard work, no leisure, absolutely no sex, and even,
      in some places, no church either - a dramatic contrast of immediate
      interest to those who lived out the Gospel differently.

      But to read their own writings is to form a rather different
      opinion. The literature produced among the monks themselves is not
      very sophisticated; it comes from the desert, from the place where
      the amenities of civilization were at their lowest point anyway,
      where there was nothing to mark a contrast in lifestyles; and the
      emphasis is less on what was lacking and more on what was present.
      The outsider saw the negations; disciples who encountered the monks
      through their own words and actions found indeed great austerity and
      poverty, but it was neither unbelievable nor complicated. These were
      simple, practical men, not given either to mysticism or to theology,
      living by the Word of God, the love of the brethren and of all
      creation, waiting for the coming of the Kingdom with eager
      expectation, using each moment as a step in their pilgrimage of the
      heart towards Christ.

      It was because of this positive desire for the Kingdom of heaven
      which came to dominate their whole lives that they went without
      things: they kept silence, for instance, not because of a proud and
      austere preference for aloneness but because they were learning to
      listen to something more interesting than the talk of men, that is,
      the Word of God. These men were rebels, the ones who broke the rules
      of the world which say that property and goods are essential for
      life, that the one who accepts the direction of another is not free,
      that no one can be fully human without sex and domesticity. Their
      name itself, anchorite, means rule-breaker, the one who does not
      fulfill his public duties. In the solitude of the desert they found
      themselves able to live in a way that was hard but simple, as
      children of God.

      The literature they have left behind is full of a good, perceptive
      wisdom, from a clear, unassuming angle. They did not write much;
      most of them remained illiterate; but they asked each other for
      a "word", that is, to say something in which they would recognize
      the Word of God, which gives life to the soul. It is not a
      literature of words that analyze and sort out personal worries or
      solve theological problems; nor is it a mystical literature
      concerned to present prayers and praise to God in a direct line of
      vision; rather, it is oblique, unformed, occasional, like sunlight
      glancing off a rare oasis in the sands.

      These life-giving "words" were collected and eventually written down
      by disciples of the first monks, and grouped together in various
      ways, sometimes under the names of the monks with whom they were
      connected sometimes under headings which were themes of special
      interest, such as "solitude and stability", "obedience", or "warfare
      that lust arouses in us". Mixed in with these sayings were short
      stories about the actions of the monks, since what they did was
      often as revealing as what they said. These collections
      of "apophthegmata" were not meant as a dead archaism, full of
      nostalgia for a lost past, but as a direct transmission of practical
      wisdom and experience for the use of the reader. Thus it is as part
      of tradition that this small selection has been made from some of
      the famous collections of desert material, most of which have been
      translated and published in full elsewhere. They are placed in
      pairs, so that a "word" faces a story and illustrates its central,
      though not its only meaning. Each saying-and-story pair has been
      given a heading; these are arranged in two series, the first part
      relating to the commandment to love one's neighbour, the second to
      the commandment to love God.

      This material first appeared among uneducated laymen; it is
      not "churchy" or specifically religious. It has its roots in that
      life in Christ which is common to all the baptized, some of whom
      lived this out as monks, others who did not. There is common a
      universal appeal in these sayings, in spite of much which is at
      first strange. I have not tried to eliminate all the strangeness of
      the material, but to present a very small part of it as it is, in
      the belief that the words and deeds of these men can still make the
      fountain of life spring up in the arid deserts of lives in the
      twentieth century as they did in the fourth. "Fear not this
      goodness", said abba Antony, "as a thing impossible, nor the pursuit
      of it as something alien, set a great way off; it hangs on our own
      choice. For the sake of Greek learning, men go overseas. But the
      City of God has its foundations in every seat of human habitation.
      The kingdom of God is within. The goodness that is in us asks only
      the human mind."

      --Benedicta Ward


      The editor has retained the words "abba" and "amma" which are used
      in these texts for addressing and describing certain men and women
      of the desert; "abba" is a term of respect, and to translate it
      by "abbot" would be misleading.



      The old men used to say, "there is nothing worse than passing

      They said of abba Macarius that he became as it is written a god
      upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so abba Macarius
      would cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them,
      and those which he heard as though he did not hear them.

      Abba Pastor said, "Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if
      you are chaste, or you will break the law like him. For He who
      said "do not commit fornication" said also "Do not judge"."

      A brother asked abba Poemen, "If I see my brother sin, is it right
      to say nothing about it?" The old man replied, "whenever we cover
      our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people
      about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours."


      A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which
      abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest
      sent someone to him, saying, "Come, for everyone is waiting for
      you". So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it
      with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him
      and said, " what is this, father?" The old man said to them, "My
      sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming
      to judge the errors of another." When they heard that, they said no
      more to the brother but forgave him.

      A brother sinned and the priest ordered him to go out of the church;
      abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, "I, too, am a



      One of the brothers asked abba Isidore, a priest of scetis, "Why are
      the demons so terrified of you?" And the old man said, "Ever since I
      became a monk I have tried never to let anger rise as far as my

      Abba Joseph asked abba Nisteros, "What should I do about my tongue,
      for I cannot control it?" The old man said to him, "When you speak,
      do you find peace?" He replied, "No." The old man said to him, "If
      you do not find peace, why do you speak? Be silent, and when a
      conversation takes place, prefer to listen rather to talk."


      Two old men had lived together for many years and they had never
      fought with one another. The first said to the other, "Let us also
      have a fight like other men." The other replied, "I do not know how
      to fight." The first said to him, "Look, I will put a brick between
      us and I will say: it is mine; and you will reply: no, it is mine;
      and so the fight will begin." So they put a brick between them and
      the first said, "No, it is mine", and the other said, "No, it is
      mine." And the first replied, "If it is yours, take it and go." So
      they gave it up without being able to find a cause for an argument.

      A brother asked abba Poemen, "How should I behave in my cell in the
      place where I am living?" He replied, "Behave as if you were a
      stranger, and wherever you are, do not expect your words to have an
      influence and you will be at peace."



      The holy Syncletia said, "I think that for those living in community
      obedience is a greater virtue than chasity, however perfect.
      Chastity carries within it the danger of pride, but obedience has
      within it the promise of humility."

      The old men used to say, "If someone has faith in another and hands
      himself over to him in complete submission, he does not need to pay
      attention to God's commandments but he can entrust his whole will to
      his father. He will suffer no reproach from God, for God looks for
      nothing from beginners so much as renunciation through obedience."

      Abba Mios of Belos said, "Obedience responds to obedience. When
      someone obeys God, then God obeys his request."


      They said that abba Sylvanus had a disciple in Scetis, named Mark,
      who possessed in great measure the virtue of obedience. He was a
      copyist of old manuscripts, and the old man loved him for his
      obedience. He had eleven other disciples who were aggrieved that he
      loved more than them.

      When the old men nearby heard that he loved Mark above the others,
      they took it ill. One day they visited him and abba Sylvanus took
      them with him and, going out of his cell, began to knock on the door
      of each of his disciples, saying, "Brother, come out, I have work
      for you." And not one of them appeared immediately.

      Then he came to Mark's cell and knocked, saying, "Mark". And as soon
      as Mark heard the voice of the old man he came outside and the old
      man sent him on some errand.

      So abba Sylvanus said to the old men, "Where are the other
      brothers?", and he went into Mark's cell and found the book in which
      he had been writing and he was making the letter O; and when he
      heard the old man's voice, he had not finished the line of the O.
      And the old men said, "Truly, abba, we also love the one whom you
      love; for God loves him, too."



      Some old men said, "If you see a young man climbing up to the
      heavens by his own will, catch him by the foot and throw him down to
      the earth; it is not good for him."

      At first abba Ammoe said to abba Isaiah, "What do you think of me?"
      He said to him, "You are an angel, father." Later on he said to
      him, "and now, what do you think of me?" He replied, "You are like
      Satan. Even when you say a good word to me, it is like steel."

      Abba Moses asked abba Sylvanus, "Can a man lay a new foundation
      every day?" The old man said, "If he works hard, he can lay a new
      foundation at every moments."


      It was said of abba John the Dwarf that one day he said to his elder
      brother, "I should like to be free of all care, like the angels who
      do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God." So he took leave
      of his brother and went away into the desert. After a week he came
      back to his brother. When he knocked on the door he heard his
      brother say, "Who are you?" before he opened it. He said, "I am
      John, your brother." But he replied, "John has become an angel and
      henceforth he is no longer among men." Then John besought him,
      saying, "It is I." However, his brother did not let him in but left
      him there in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said
      to him, "You are a man and you must once again work in order to
      eat." Then John made a prostration before him, saying, "Forgive me."

      Abba John said, "A monk is toil. The monk toils in all he does. That
      is what a monk is."



      An old man was asked, "What is humility?" and he said in
      reply, "Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of
      humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner
      and make yourself subject to all." Then a brother said, "What does
      it mean, to be subject to all?" The old man answered, "To be subject
      to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but
      always to give your attention to your own sins and to pray without
      ceasing to God."

      An old man said, "Every time a thought of superiority or vanity
      moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the
      commandments, whether you love your enemies, whether you consider
      yourself to be an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of
      all. Even so, do not pretend to great ideas as though you were
      perfectly right, for that thought destroys everything."


      As abba Macarius was returning to his cell from the marsh carrying
      palm-leaves, the devil met him with a sharp sickle and would have
      struck him but he could not. He cried out, "Great is the violence I
      suffer from you, Macarius, for when I want to hurt you, I cannot.
      But whatever you do, I do and more also. You fast now and then, but
      I am never refreshed by any food; you often keep vigil, but I never
      fall asleep. Only in one thing are you better than I am and I
      acknowledge that." Macarius said to him, "What is that?" and he
      replied, "It is because of your humility alone that I cannot
      overcome you."

      The old men used to say, "When we do not experience warfare, we
      ought so much the more to humiliate ourselves. For God seeing our
      weakness, protects us; when we glorify ourselves, he withdraws his
      protection and we are lost."



      Abba Theodore, surnamed Pherme, had three good books. He went to
      abba Macarius and said to him, "I have three good books, and I am
      helped by reading them; other monks also want to read them and they
      are helped by them. Tell me, what am I to do?" The old man
      said, "Reading books is good but possessing nothing is more than
      all.' When he heard this, he went away and sold the books and gave
      the money to the poor.

      Someone asked amma Syncletica of blessed memory, "Is absolute
      poverty perfect goodness?" She replied, "It is a great good for
      those capable of it; even those who are not capable of it find rest
      for their souls in it though it causes them anxiety. As tough cloth
      is laundered pure white by stretched and trampled underfoot, so a
      tough soul is stretched by freely accepting poverty."


      When abba Macarius was in Egypt, he found a man who had brought a
      beast to his cell and he was steeling his possessions. He went up to
      the thief as though he were a traveller who did not live there and
      helped him to load the beast and led him on his way in peace, saying
      to himself, "We brought nothing into this world; but the Lord gave;
      as he willed, so is it done; blessed be the Lord in all things."

      Someone brought money to an old man and said, "Take this and spend
      it for you are old and ill", for he was a leper. The old man
      replied, "Are you going to take me away from the one who has cared
      for me for sixty years? I have been ill all that time and I have not
      needed anything because God has cared for me." And he would not
      accept it.

      Once abba Arsenius fell ill in Scetis and in this state he needed
      just one coin. He could not find one so he accepted one as a gift
      from someone else, and he said, "I thank you, God, that for your
      name's sake you have made me worthy to come to this pass, that I
      should have to beg."

      The Paradise of the Desert Fathers (Excerpts - Part II)

      The Paradise of the Desert Fathers (Excerpts - Part II)

      The following are excerpts from what is widely known in the Coptic
      Church as "bustan al-rohbaan" (The Monks' Garden), also referred to
      in English as the "Paradise of the Desert Fathers". Bustan al-
      rohbann is not a single book, rather it is a collection of sayings
      and accounts written by and about the Desert Fathers of Egypt. The
      excerpts presented here are adopted from an abbreviated book edited
      by Dr. Benedicta Ward.
      [See also: The Paradise of the Desert Fathers (Excerpts - Part I)]



      Amma Syncletica said, "We ought to govern our souls with discretion
      and to remain in the community, neither following our own will nor
      seeking our own good. We are like exiles: we have been separated
      from the things of this world and have given ourselves in one faith
      to the one Father. We need nothing of what we have left behind.
      There we had reputation and plenty to eat; here we have little to
      eat and little of everything else."

      Abba Antony said, "Our life and our death are with our neighbour. If
      we gain our brother, we have gained our God; but if we scandalize
      our brother, we have sinned against Christ."

      A brother asked, "I have found a place where my peace is not
      disturbed by the brethren; do you advise me to live there?" Abba
      Poemen replied, "The place for you is where you will not harm the


      There was an anchorite who was gazing with the antelopes and who
      prayed to God, saying, "Lord, teach me something more." And a voice
      came to him, saying, "Go into this monastery and do whatever they
      tell you." He went there and remained in the monastery, but he did
      not know the work of the brothers. The young monks began to teach
      him how to work and they would say to him, "Do this, you idiot,"
      and "Do that, you fool." When he had borne it, he prayed to God,
      saying, "Lord, I do not know the work of men; send me back to the
      antelopes." And having been freed by God, he went back into the
      country to graze with the antelopes.

      A beginner who goes from one monastery to another is like a wild
      animal who jumps this way and that for fear of the halter.



      Having withdrawn from the palace to the solitary life, abba Arsenius
      prayed and heard a voice saying to him, "Arsenius, flee, be silent,
      pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness."

      A brother in scetis went to ask for a word from abba Moses and the
      old man said to him, "Go and sit in your cell and your cell will
      teach you everything."

      Abba Nilus said, "The arrows of the enemy cannot touch one who loves
      quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded."


      Theophilus of holy memory, bishop of Alexandria, journeyed to Scetis
      and the brethren coming together said to abba Pambo, "Say a word or
      two to the bishop, that his soul may be edified in this place." The
      old man replied, "If he is not edified by my silence, there is no
      hope that he will be edified by my words."

      This place was called Cellia, because of the number of cells there,
      scattered about the desert. Those who have already begun their
      training there [i.e. in Nitria] and want to live a more remote life,
      stripped of external things, withdraw there. For this is the utter
      desert and the cells are divided from one another by so great a
      distance that no one can see his neighbour nor can any voice be
      heard. They live alone in their cells and there is a huge silence
      and a great quiet there. Only on Saturday and Sunday do they meet in
      church, and then they see each other face to face, as men restored
      to heaven.



      It was revealed to abba Antony in his desert that there was one in
      the city who was his equal. He was a doctor by profession, and
      whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor and every day
      he sang the sanctus with the angles.

      Amma Matrona said, "There are many in the mountains who behave as if
      they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is better
      to have many people around you and to live the solitary life in your
      will than to be alone and always longing to be with a crowd."

      Abba Isidore said, "If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with
      pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had
      better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be
      inflated with pride and glorify himself."


      When blessed Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him,
      saying, "Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner
      who is in Alexandria." When he heard this, the old man arose and
      took his stick and hurried into the city. When he had found the
      tanner...he said to him, "Tell me about your work, for today I have
      left the desert and come here to see you."

      He replied, "I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I
      get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the
      whole of this city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God
      because of their good deeds, while I alone will go into eternal
      punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same
      words and believe them in my heart."

      When blessed Antony heard this he said, "My son, you sit in your own
      house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God;
      but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have
      not come near the measure of such words."



      Once three brothers came to visit an old man in Scetis and one of
      them said to him, "Abba, I have committed to memory the Old and New
      Testaments." And the old man answered, "You have filled the air with
      words." The second one said to him, "I have written out the Old and
      New Testaments with my own hands." He said, "And you have filled the
      window-ledge with manuscripts." Then the third said, "The grass is
      growing up my chimney." And the old man replied, "You have driven
      away hospitality."

      Once two brothers came to a certain old man. It was his custom not
      to eat every day but when he saw them he received them joyfully and
      said, "A fast has its own reward, but he who eats for the sake of
      love fulfils two commandments: he leaves his own will and he
      refreshes his brothers."


      A brother came to see a certain hermit and, as he was leaving, he
      said, "Forgive me abba for preventing you from keeping your rule."
      The hermit replied, "My rule is to welcome you with hospitality and
      to send you away in peace."

      It was said of an old man that he dwelt in Syria on the way to the
      desert. This was his work: whenever a monk came from the desert, he
      gave him refreshment with all his heart. Now one day a hermit came
      and he offered him refreshment. The other did not want to accept it,
      saying he was fasting. Filled with sorrow, the old man said to
      him, "Do not despise your servant, I beg you, do not despise me, but
      let us pray together. Look at the tree which is here; we will follow
      the way of whichever of us causes it to bend when he kneels on the
      ground and prays." So the hermit knelt down to pray and nothing
      happened. Then the hospitable one knelt down and at once the tree
      bent towards him. Taught by this, they gave thanks to God.



      Abba Nilus said, "Prayer is the seed of gentleness and the absence
      of anger."

      We came from Palestine to Egypt and went to see one of the fathers.
      He offered us hospitality and we said, "Why do you not keep the fast
      when visitors come to see you? In Palestine they keep it." He
      replied, "Fasting is always with me but I cannot always have you
      here. It is useful and necessary to fast but we choose whether we
      will fast or not. What God commands is perfect love. I receive
      Christ in you and so I must do everything possible to serve you with
      love. When I have sent you on your way, then I can continue my rule
      of fasting. The sons of the bridegroom cannot fast while the
      bridegroom is with them; when he is taken away from them, then they
      will fast."


      A hunter in the desert saw abba Antony enjoying himself with the
      brothers, and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was
      necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brothers, the old man
      said to him, "Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it." So he did. And
      the old man said, "Shoot another," and he did so. Then the old man
      said, "Shoot yet again," and the hunter replied, "If I bend my bow
      so much, I will break it." Then the old man said to him, "It is the
      same with the work of God. If we stretch the brothers beyond
      measure, they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come
      down to meet their needs."

      Some monks came to see abba Poemen and said to him, "When we see
      brothers dozing in the church, should we rouse them so that they can
      be watchful?" He said, "For my part, when I see a brother dozing, I
      put his head on my knees and let him rest."



      Abba Antony said, "Obedience with abstinence gives men control over
      wild beasts."

      Abba Theon ate vegetables, but only those that did not need to be
      cooked. They say that he used to go out of his cell at night and
      stay in the company of the wild animals, giving them drink from the
      water he had. Certainly one could see the tracks of antelopes and
      wild asses and gazelles and other animals near his hermitage. These
      creatures always gave him pleasure.

      Once when a hippopotamus was ravaging the neighbouring countryside
      the fathers called on abba Bes to help them. He stood at the place
      and waited and when he saw the beast, which was of enormous size, he
      commanded it not to ravage the countryside any more, saying, "In the
      name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to ravage this countryside
      anymore." The hippopotamus vanished completely from that district as
      if driven away by an angel.

      Abba Xanthios said, "A dog is better than I am, for he has love and
      he does not judge."


      We came near to a tree, led by our kindly host, and there we
      stumbled upon a lion. At the sight of him my guide and I quaked, but
      the saintly old man went unfaltering on and we followed him. The
      wild beast - you would say it was at the command of God - modestly
      withdrew a little way and sat down, while the old man plucked the
      fruit from the lower branches. He held out his hand, full of dates;
      and up the creature ran and took them as frankly as any tame animal
      about the house; and when it had finished eating, it went away. We
      stood watching and trembling; reflecting as well we might what
      valour of faith was in him and what poverty of spirit in us.

      While abba Macarius was praying in his cave in the desert, a hyena
      suddenly appeared and began to lick his feet and taking him gently
      by the hem of his tunic, she drew him towards her own cave. He
      followed her, saying, "I wonder what this animal wants me to do?"
      When she had led him to her cave, she went in and brought her cubs
      which had been born blind. He prayed over them and returned them to
      the hyena with their sight healed. She in turn, by way of
      thankoffering, brought the man the huge skin of a ram and laid it at
      his feet. He smiled at her as if at a kind person and taking the
      skin spread it under him.



      Amma Syncletica said, "In the beginning there are a great many
      battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing
      towards God and, afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who
      wish to light a fire. At first they are choked with smoke and cry,
      until they obtain what they seek. As it is written, "Our God is a
      consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:24); so we also must kindle the divine
      fire in ourselves through tears and hard work."

      Abba Hyperichius said, "Praise God continually with spiritual hymns
      and always remain in meditation and in this way you will be able to
      bear the burden of the temptations that come upon you. A traveller
      who is carrying a heavy load pauses from time to time and draws in
      deep breaths; it makes the journey easier and the burden lighter."


      When abba Apollo heard the sound of singing from the monks who
      welcomed us, he greeted us according to the custom which all monks
      follow... He first lay prostrate on the ground, then got up and
      kissed us and having brought us in he prayed for us; then, after
      washing our feet with his own hands, he invited <br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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