Sayings of the Fathers: Arsenios (3)

32. Abba Arsenios was once dwelling in the lower parts [of Egypt], and being crowded there, he decided to leave the cell. So without taking anything from it, he walked from there to his disciples in Pharan, Alexander and Zoïlos. And he said to Alexander, Get up and sail upriver. And he did so. And he said to Zoïlos, Come with me until the river, and find me a boat I will sail downriver to Alexandria, and then you also sail upriver to your brother. And Zoïlos, troubled by the statement, was silent. And so they were separated from one another. So the elder went down to the region of Alexandria, and he was ill with a severe sickness. But these servants said to one another, Perhaps one of us annoyed the elder, and because of this he separated from us? But they could discover nothing between them, nor had they been disobedient at any time. And when he was healthy, the elder said, I will return to my Fathers. And so sailing upriver, he went to Petra, where his servants were. And while he was near the river, a little Ethiopian girl came, and grabbed onto his sheepskin cloak. And the elder rebuked her. Then the little girl said to him, If you are a monk, go to the mountain. And the elder, stabbed with remorse at the saying, said to himself, Arsenios, if you are a monk, go to the mountain. And in this place, Alexander and Zoïlos met him. And, with them falling at his feet, the elder also threw himself down, and each of them was weeping. And the elder said, Did you not hear I was sick? And they said to him, Yes. So the elder said, Then why did you not come to see me? And Abba Alexander said that, Your separation from us was not persuasive (?), and many have not been helped, saying that, If they had not been disobedient of the elder, he would not have separated from them. He said to them, So now the people will be saying that, The dove, not finding anywhere to rest its feet, also returned to Noah, to the ark. Thus, they were healed. And he remained with them until his end.

33. Abba Daniel said, Abba Arsenios told us, as though it was about someone else, but it was probably him, that when some elder was sitting in his cell, a voice came down to him, saying, Come, and I will show you the works of men. And rising, he went out. And he led him to a certain place, and showed him an Ethiopian cutting wood, and making a large load. And he tried to lift it, but could not. And instead of taking away from it, again he cut wood, and added to the load. And he did this for a long time. And a little further on, he again showed him a man standing at a lake, and drawing water from it, and pouring into a container with holes, and the same water flowed back out to the lake. And he said to him again, Come, I will show you something else. And he saw a temple, and two men sitting on horses, one next to the other, and they were holding a piece of wood sideways. And they wanted to go into the gate, but could not, because of the piece of wood being sideways. Neither would humble himself before the other to carry the wood straight. And so these remained outside the gate. These are, he said, like those carrying the yoke of righteousness with pride, and do not humble themselves to be corrected and to walk in the humble Way of Christ. So they also remain outside the Kingdom of God. And the man cutting wood is in many sins, and instead of repenting, he adds further lawless deeds upon his sins. And the man drawing water is one who is indeed doing good works, but since he has a mixture of evil among them, in this he has lost even his good works. So every man must be watchful (νηφειν) toward his works, lest he labor for nothing.

34. The same told that once some of the Fathers from Alexandria came to see Abba Arsenios, and one of them was the godly and elderly Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria, who is called the Poor, and he had one of the younger brothers with him. But the elder had a weakness then, and did not want to meet them, lest others would come and crowd him in. And he was then in Petra of Troe. So they turned back, feeling annoyed. And it happened there was an attack of barbarians, and he went to dwell in the lower parts [of Egypt]. And hearing this, they again went to see him. And he received them with joy. And the brother who was among them said to him, Do you not know, Abba, that we came to meet you in Troe, and you did not receive us? And the elder said to him, You have tasted bread, and drunk water, but indeed, child, neither bread nor water did I taste, nor indeed did I sit down, punishing myself, until I thought that you arrived at your place, because it was also by me that you were annoyed. But forgive me, brothers. And they went away comforted.

35. The same said that, Once Abba Arsenios called me, and said to me, Comfort your father, so that when he goes to the Lord, he will pray for you, and so it may be good for you.

36. They say about Abba Arsenios, that once when he was ill at Sketis, the priest came, and took him to the church, and put him on a pallet, with a small pillow for his head. And behold, one of the elders came to meet him, and seeing him on the pallet, and the pillow under him, he was scandalized, saying, Is this Abba Arsenios? And lying down on these things? The same priest, taking him aside, said to him, What was your work, in your village? And he said, I was a shepherd. And how, he said, did you live your life? And he said, I lived in great suffering. And he said to him, So now how do you live in the cell? And he said, I am more comfortable. And he said to him, Do you see this Abba Arsenios? He was the father of the Emperor when he was in the world, and thousands of servants with gold sashes, all wearing necklaces and clothing all of silk, were standing around him, and beneath him were very costly spreads. So when you were a shepherd, you did not have in the world the comfort that you now have. But this one no longer has the luxury which he had in the world. So behold, you are comforted, that one is afflicted. And when he heard these things, he was stabbed with remorse, and made apology (or “repentance” μετανοιαν), saying, Forgive me, Abba. I have sinned. For truly this is the true Way, that this one came to humility, but I to comfort. So the elder went away, strengthened.

37. One of the Fathers went to Abba Arsenios, and when he knocked at the door, the elder opened it, thinking that it was his servant. And when he saw it was someone else, he fell upon his face. And he said to him, Get up, Abba, so I may greet you. And the elder said to him, I will not get up until you have gone away. And even after much pleading, he would not rise until after he had left.

(to be continued)

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