The Sayings of the Fathers

I first became acquainted with the Apophthegmata Patrum through Sr Benedicta Ward’s fine translation in the Cistercian Studies monograph series, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Eventually, during Lent of 2007, I began translating it, but was distracted by other projects, and it just fell onto further and further back burners until it was effectively forgotten. No more.

This will be a complete translation of the alphabetical series (the same included in Sr Benedicta’s translation mentioned above), with the anonymous series, which is really only the second part of the work, to follow. There is no critical text published, so a little research led to the pleasant discovery that the manuscript Sinai Greek 448 (which the colophon indicates was finished being written by a certain Leon on Monday, 19 June, 1004) is the only complete copy of the alphabetic-anonymous work, whether in manuscript or in print, astonishingly. I am basing the translation on that text, as it has turned out to be very carefully copied, and is the oldest complete text of the work. I’m switiching off between putting together a diplomatic edition based on this manuscript with an apparatus of variants reflecting several others, and doing a translation of the Sinai text. Various additional sayings are scattered here and there in various of the manuscripts, and I’ll add those to their proper sections when appropriate.

This particular work, the Sayings of the Elders (the work’s apparent title), was first written down in the early 5th century, after less than a century of oral transmission of its various sayings, though the unknown editor mentions that he drew on previous written collections. That they are largely authentic, even if some sayings are occasionally misattributed, has never been doubted. The sayings originate in various locations in lower (northern) Egypt, over roughly a century from the late third to the late fourth century. While we tend to think of these men and women as the first “monastics,” the initial movement was not that of setting up a new institution, “monasticism.” Instead, these were individuals who wanted to live their faith in a manner that they thought was better than they had been doing, so they left their homes and people, went out into uninhabited areas, seeking the quiet, and began to live new lives of prayer and handicraft. There is a fine word that describes this abandonment of society and flight into the desert: anachoresis, “returning to the countryside.” From it comes the word “anchorite.” Another word for the person doing so is “monachos,” from which we derive the word “monk,” meaning “solitary.” The first of these solitaries would live in caves or small huts, nowhere near any other people. They tended to come once a week to a eucharistic liturgy in a church, but otherwise tended to live alone. That form didn’t last long. As these people were recognized and/or acclaimed holy, they attracted others who set their own habitations nearby, thus changing the dynamic considerably. In addition, swarms of spiritual tourists would habitually descend upon the solitaries of repute. Their life of quiet was seldom such. Developing out of these grouped habitations came a new form of communal solitary life (somewhat oxymoronic, but that’s what it is), in which a compound of structures quite close by one another was centered around a church building. This form was called, appropriately, “koinobia,” literally “common life,” and the place a “koinobion.” From these words are derived coenobite, coenobium, and coenobitic. This is the form of (not so) solitary life that survives today, and that we tend to think of in hearing the words “monastery” and “monastic.” In the work to follow, however, I have preferred to use “solitary” rather than “monk,” as the latter draws up modern conceptions that don’t accurately reflect this early work’s context. For an excellent account of the period and practices in question, see the classic by Derwas Chitty, The Desert a City.

The alphabetical series is arranged, unsuprisingly, alphabetically, though roughly so. That is, while the first letters of the personages are indeed grouped by letter, the order of each of their named sections often strays from a truly alphabetized order. The form of the work is simple. Within each elder’s section, a number of sayings or events are recorded. The language is simple, direct, and the overal impression is one of people doing their best to be better and to help others be better people, as well. There are no doctrinal expositions, and nearly no reference to the larger world of the history of emperors and religious controversy. The elders whose sayings are included are male and female, and come from various backgrounds, with most being native Egyptians of either Greek or Egyptian descent or a mix thereof.

A major theme running through the various sayings is that of “hesychia,” “stillness,” as an integral part of the ideal life of the solitary. This was both a literal, external, and a mental, internal stillness. Silence, the lack of commotion, the lack of busy-ness for its own sake, and the lack of travelling about all belonged to the ideal conception of this mode of life. In it, the solitaries lived lives of prayer (largely the repetition of the Psalms) and of transformation, which the word underlying the English term “repentance,” “metanoia,” expresses, the transformation of one’s mind, one’s very being.

On a personal note, I can say that I find this work more striking and more affecting that the Bible itself. Accordingly, I’ll put effort into making the translation one that reflects the value I place upon it.

I’ll add to this page as I progress in the textual work and the translation.

So, we begin with the prologue.

In this book is written an account of the virtuous ascetic struggle, amazing life, and sayings of the holy and blessed Fathers, for the emulation and instruction and imitation of those wishing to establish a heavenly citizenship, and those wanting to progress in travelling the Way to the Kingdom of Heaven. You must know that the holy Fathers, who were zealous followers and instructors of the blessed life of the solitaries, entirely aflame with divine and heavenly love, counting as nothing all that among men is beautiful and valued, endeavoured to do nothing at all for display, but escaping notice, and keeping most of their virtuous deeds hidden through their great humility, thus travelled along the Way toward God. Thus no one has been able to outline exactly for us this virtuous life, for those who have done the most work concerning these have handed down in writing only a few of some of their virtuous words and deeds, not so as to gain favour for them, but they were eager to stir up those in the future to eager imitation. Thus many at various times have set forth these sayings and virtuous deeds of the holy elders in the form of tales, in a simple and unadorned style, for in this they saw only to help many.

But since a narrative by many authors is confused and disorderly, producing a certain confusion in the thought of the reader, the mind is not able to comprehend the multiple scatterings in the book. For this reason we have re-arranged it under a listing of letters, the order of which is better for clear and easy comprehension for those wishing to produce advantage. So, whatever is about Abba Anthony, Arsenios, or of Agathon, and the rest whose names begin with Alpha, you will find under the letter Alpha. Basil, Basa]rion and Benjamin are under Beta, and so on up through Omega. And since there are also other sayings and acts of the holy elders for which the names of those who spoke or did them do not appear, we have separated these into chapters after the the completion of those according to the letters. We have sought and found as many books as we were able to find, listing them at the end of the chapters, so that collecting from all of them by the help of the Spirit, and delighting in the sayings of the Fathers, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb [Ps 18.11 LXX], and conducting ourselves properly in the calling with which God has called us, we may come to His Kingdom. Amen.

Beginning of the letter A.
About Abba Anthony.
1. The holy Abba Anthony, while living in the desert, came to be in a state of melancholy and in a great darkness of thoughts, and he said to God, Lord, I want to be saved, but these thoughts will not leave me alone. What shall I do in my trouble? How will I be saved? A little later, when he went outside, Anthony saw someone like himself, sitting and working, then rising from work and praying, and again sitting and plaiting a rope, then again rising for prayer. It was an angel of the Lord sent for the correction and assurance of Anthony. And he heard the angel saying, Do this, and be saved. And when he heard this, he had great joy and courage, and doing this, he was saved.

2. When Abba Anthony meditated upon the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, saying, Lord, how is it that some perish when short-lived, and some live to extreme old age? And why are some poor, and yet others rich? And why are the unrighteous rich, and yet the righteous are poor? And he heard a voice saying to him, Anthony, keep your attention on yourself, for these things are the judgments of God, and they will not benefit you to learn them.

3. Someone asked Abba Anthony, saying, What must one observe in order to be pleasing to God? And the elder answered, saying, Observe what I tell you. Whoever you may be, always keep God before your eyes. And whatever you do, do it from the witness of the Holy Scriptures. And in whatever place you live, do not leave quickly. Observe these three things, and you will be saved.

4. Abba Anthony said to Abba Poimen that this is the great work of a person, when they fail, to throw themselves down before God above, and expect temptation until the last breath.

5. The same said, No one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven untempted. He said, Remove the temptations, and no one would be saved.

6. Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, What should I do? The elder said to him, Do not put your trust in your righteousness, nor regret past actions, but control your tongue and stomach.

7. Abba Anthony said, I saw all the traps of the enemy spread over the earth, and groaning, said, What can get through these? And I heard a voice saying to me, Humility.

8. He also said that there are some who have worn out their bodies in asceticism, and because they have not had discernment, they have become distant from God.

9. He also said that from a neighbor is life and death. For if we gain a brother, we gain God. And if we scandalize a brother, we have sinned against Christ.

10. He also said, Just as fish die after a while on dry land, thus also the solitaries loitering outside their cells or spending time with those of the world lose the intensity of stillness. And so, like the fish to the sea, so, too, we must hurry to the cell, lest we loiter outside and we forget our inner guard.

11. He also said that one living in the desert and in stillness is delivered from three battles: of hearing, of speaking, and of looking. He only has one: that of the heart.

12. Some of the brothers came to Abba Anthony to tell him the dreams they had seen, and to learn from him if they are true, or from demons. Now they had a donkey, and it died on the way. When they finally came to the elder, he said to them first, How did the little donkey die on the way? They said to him, How did you know that, Abba? And he said to them, The demons showed me. And they said to him, That is why we came to ask you, lest we be led astray, because we see dreams, and many times they come true. And the elder fully convinced them by the example of the donkey, that they are from demons.

13. Once someone had been hunting wild animals in the desert, and saw Abba Anthony joking with the brothers. And the elder, wanting to fully convince him that it was sometimes necessary to relax with the brothers, said to him, Put an arrow to your bow, and shoot. And he did so. He said to him again, Shoot. And he shot. And he said again, Shoot. The hunter said to him, If I shoot beyond the limit, the bow may break. The elder said to him, So it is with the work of God. If we shoot more than the limit of the brothers, they will promptly shatter. Therefore it is necessary for one to relax with them sometimes. Hearing these things, the hunter was remorseful, and having been greatly helped by the elder, left. And the brothers, strengthened, went to their desert places.

14. Abba Anthony heard about a certain young solitary who had performed a sign on the road. When this one had seen some elders walking along and struggling on the road, he ordered wild donkeys to come and carry the elders, until they came to Anthony. So the elders told these things to Abba Anthony. And he said to them, It seems to me that this solitary is a ship full of good things, but I do not know if he will come into the harbour. And after a time, Abba Anthony suddenly began to weep, to pull out his hair, and to mourn. His disciples said to him, Why do you weep, Abba? And the elder said, A great pillar of the Church has now fallen (for he spoke about the young solitary). He said, But go to him, and see what has happened. So the disciples went, and found the solitary sitting on a mat, and weeping for the sin he had committed. When he saw the disciples of the elder, he said, Tell the elder to entreat God to give me only ten days, and I hope to have defended myself. But after five days, he died.

15. A certain solitary was praised by the brothers before Abba Anthony. So when he came, he tested him, whether he could bear insult. And finding that he could not bear it, he said to him, You seem like a village which is beautifully adorned outside, but plundered by robbers inside.

16. A brother said to Abba Anthony, Pray for me. The elder said to him, I will have no mercy on you, nor will God, if you yourself do not make every effort and beseech God.

17. Some elders once came to Abba Anthony, and Abba Joseph was with them. And the elder, wanting to test them, put forward a saying from the Scriptures, and began to ask, strating from the youngest, What is this saying? And each spoke according to his own ability. And to each the elder said, You have not found it. Last of all, he said to Abba Joseph, You, how do you explain this word? He answered, I do not know. So Abba Anthony said, Abba Joseph has found the way entirely, for he said, I do not know.

18. Once, brothers were coming to Abba Anthony from Sketis, and got into a boat to come to him, finding there an elder also wanting to come to him. And the brothers ignored him. And they sat in the boat, speaking the words of the Fathers, and from the Scriptures, and also about the work of their hands. But the elder was silent. When they came to the dock, they found the elder also going on toward Abba Anthony. When they came to him, he said to them, You found a good fellow-traveller, this elder. And he said to the elder, You found good brothers with you, Abba. The elder said, Good they may be, but their courtyard has no door, and whoever wants to enter the stable may let loose the donkey. And he said this, because they were saying the first things that came to their mouths.

19. Brothers came to Abba Anthony, and said to him, Speak a word for us. How may we be saved? The elder said to them, Have you heard the Scripture? Is it good enough? But they said, But we want to hear from you, Father. And the elder said to them, The Gospel says, If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, also turn to him the other. They said to him, We are not able to do this. The elder said to them, If you are not able to turn the other cheek, permit just one to be struck. They said to him, We cannot do this. The elder said, If you are not able to do this, do not give as you have received. And they said, We cannot do this. So the elder said to his disciple, Make them a little soup, for they are weak. If you cannot do this, and will not do that, what can I do for you? You need prayers.

20. A brother renounced the world and gave his possessions to the poor, keeping a little back for his own reason, and went to see Abba Anthony. And learning this, the elder said to him, If you want to become a solitary, go into the village, and buy meat, and place it around your bare body, and come back here thus. And the brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore his body. Presenting himself to the elder, he wanted to learn if he had done as he had advised. When that one showed his torn up body, the holy Anthony said, Those who renounce the world, and want to hold onto possessions are thus torn by demons battling them.

21. Temptation once fell upon a brother at the monastery of Abba Elit. Having been cast out, he came to the mountain, to Abba Anthony. And the brother remained near him for a time, then he sent him to the monastery he left. When they saw him, they expelled him again, and he returned to Abba Anthony, saying, They did not want to receive me, Father. So the elder sent to them, saying, A ship was wrecked in the sea, and lost its cargo, and with difficulty came safely to the shore. And you want to cast back upon the sea whatever made it safely to the shore? When they heard that Abba Anthony sent him, they quickly received him.

22. Abba Anthony said, I think that the body has a natural motion entangled with it. But it cannot act without the soul being willing. For it only permits in the body a passionless motion. And there is also another motion, from nurturing and caring for the body with eating and drinking. By these the heat of the blood arouses the body toward action. So the Apostle also said, Do not be drunk on wine, in which is debauchery. And further, the Lord in the Gospel, commanding His disciples, says, Watch, lest your hearts are weighed down in indulgence and drunkenness. And there is another motion of those who struggle, originating from the plotting and envy of demons. Therefore, one must see that there are three bodily motions: one is natural, and another from negligence concerning food, and a third from demons.

23. He said another time that God does not send the same wars upon this generation as upon the ancients. For he knows that they are weak and cannot bear them.

24. It was revealed to Abba Anthony in the desert that in the city there is someone like him, a physician by profession, who gives his surplus to those having need of it, and who all day sings the Trisagion with the angels.

25. Abba Anthony said that the time is coming when people will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will rise up against them, saying that you are mad, because you are not like them.

26. Brothers came to Abba Anthony and said to him some sayings from Leviticus. So the elder went out into the desert, and Abba Ammonas followed him secretly, knowing his usual practice. The elder went very far, and cried out in a loud voice, O God, send Moses, and he will teach me this saying. And a voice came to him, speaking with him. So Abba Ammonas said that though he heard the voice speaking with him, he could not learn the meaning of it.

27. Three of the Fathers had a custom to visit the blessed Anthony annually. And two of them would ask about thoughts and the salvation of the soul. But one was always silent, never asking. So after a long time, Abba Anthony said to him, Look, for so long a time have you been coming here, and you don’t ask me anything. And he answered, saying to him, It is enough for me only to see you, Father.

28. It is said that one of the elders asked God to see the Fathers, and he saw them except Abba Anthony. So he said to the one showing these things to him, Where is Abba Anthony? And he said to him that he is in the place where God is.

29. A brother in a monastery was falsely accused of fornication, and he got up and went to Abba Anthony. And the brothers came from the monastery to heal him and take him back, and they started to insist that he did so. But he defended himself that he did no such thing. Now Abba Paphnutius the Head happened to be there, and he said this parable: I saw a man on the bank of the river stuck in the mud up to his knees, and some men came to give him a hand, plunging him in up to his neck. And Abba Anthony said to them about Abba Paphnutius, Look, a genuine man, able to heal and save souls. So they were pierced by remorse at the word of the elders, and they offered repentance to the brother. And, encouraged by the Fathers, they took the brother into the monastery.

30. Some say about Abba Anthony that he was a Spiritbearer, but he would not speak about it with people. For he revealed things happening in the world, and future things yet to come.

31. Once Abba Anthony received a letter from Emperor Constantine, that he come to Constantinople, and he considered whether to do it. So he said to Abba Paul, his disciple, Ought I to go? And he said to him, If you go, you will be called Anthony, but if you do not go, Abba Anthony.

32. Abba Anthony said, I am no longer afraid of God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.

33. The same said, Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember Him who gives death and who gives life. Hate the world and all the things that are in it. Hate all fleshly recreation. Renounce this life, so you live for God. Remember what has been promised to God, for it will be required of you in the Day of Judgment. Suffer hunger, suffer thirst, suffer nakedness, keep vigil, mourn, weep, lament in your heart. Test yourselves, to see if you are worthy of God. Disdain the flesh, so you save your souls.

34. Abba Anthony once went to Abba Amoun, to Mount Nitria, and after meeting one another, Abba Amoun said to him, Because of your prayers, now the brothers are more numerous, and some of them want to build cells further away in order to have quiet. How much do you suggest is a far enough distance for the cells to be built from here? And he said, Let us eat at the ninth hour, and we will go out and we will investigate the desert, and look at the place. And so they travelled the desert until the sun came to set, and Abba Anthony said to him, We will make prayers and erect the cross here, so that those wanting to build will build here. So also those there, whenever they will visit these, having eaten their little bit of bread at the ninth hour, they may visit thus. So those leaving and coming here, doing the same, may remain unworried when visiting one another. And the distance is twelve miles.

35. Abba Anthony said, Whoever strikes a lump of iron, first considers the thought of what will be made. A sickle? A sword? An axe? So also we ought to consider what kind of excellence we pursue, so we do not toil in vain.

36. He said another time that submission with self-control subdues beasts.

37. He said another time, I have known solitaries that have fallen after many toils, and came to a change of mind, because of putting their hope in their work, and being contrary about the commandment which says, Ask your father, and he will tell you.

38. He said another time, If possible, whatever steps a solitary takes, or however many drops he drinks in his cell, he ought to have confidence in the elders, so that he will not err in these things.

1. Abba Arsenios, while still living in the palace, prayed to God, saying, Lord, show me the way, how I can be saved. And a voice came to him, saying, Arsenios, flee men, and you will be saved.

2. He, having withdrawn to the solitary life, prayed again, saying the same thing. And he heard a voice saying to him, Arsenios, flee, be silent, be still. For these are the root of sinlessness.

3. It happened once to Abba Arsenios that the demons were afflicting him in his cell. When his servants returned to him, they were standing outside the cell, and heard him crying aloud to God and saying, O God, do not leave me. I have done nothing good before You, but permit me, according to Your goodness, to make a beginning of it.

4. They said about him, that just as none in the palace wore finer clothing than him, so no one in the Church wore more worthless than him.

5. Someone said to the blessed Aresenios, How do we, with so much education and wisdom, not understand, and these farmers and Egyptians acquire so much goodness? Abba Arsenios said to him, We understand nothing from our education in the world, but these farmers and Egyptians acquire goodness through their own hard work.

6. Once Abba Arsenios asked a certain Egyptian elder about his own thoughts (λογισμων). Another saw him, saying, Abba Arsenios, How do you, having such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this farmer about your thoughts? And he said to him, I have a Latin and Greek education, but I do not even know the alphabet of this farmer.

7. Once, the blessed Archbishop Theophilos came to Abba Arsenios, with a certain magistrate. And he asked the elder to hear a word from him. And the elder was silent a little while, and answered him, And if I speak to you, will you keep it? And they agreed to keep it. And the elder said to them, If you hear Arsenios is somewhere, you will not approach.

8. Again, another time the Archbishop, wanting to come to him, first sent to know if the elder would receive him. And he made clear to him, If you come, I will receive you. And if I receive you, I will receive all. And then I will no longer remain here. The Archbishop heard these things and said, If I chase him away by going, I will no longer go to him.

9. A brother asked Abba Arsenios to hear a word from him. And the elder said to him, As much as your ability is, struggle, so your inner work will be according to God, and you will conquer your external passion.

10. Further, he said, If we seek God, He will appear to us, and if we hold onto Him, He will stay beside us.

11. Someone said to Abba Aresenios, My thoughts afflict me, saying, You can neither fast nor work. At least look after those who are sick, for even this is love. But the elder, knowing the seed of the demons, said to him, Withdraw, eat, drink, sleep, and do not work. Only do not leave the cell. For he knew that the endurance of the cell returns the monk to his routine (or “order” ταξιν).

12. Abba Arsenios said that a wandering monk in foreign lands should not meddle, and rest (or “settle down” αναπαυεται).

13. Abba Markos said to Abba Arsenios, Why do you flee us? The elder said to him, God knows that I love you, but I cannot be with God and with men. The thousands and myriads above have one will, but men have many wills. So I cannot leave God, and go with men.

14. Abba Daniel said about Abba Arsenios that he would spend the whole night awake, and when it came to be about dawn, he would by nature fall asleep. He would say to sleep, Come, you wicked servant. And he would sit sleeping a little while, and immediately wake up.

15. Abba Arsenios said that it was sufficient for a monk to sleep one hour, if he is a fighter (αγωνιστης).

16. The elders said that once a few small dried figs were given to Sketis, which were like nothing, and they did not send to Abba Arsenios, so he would not feel an insult. And hearing this, the elder did not go to the gathering (συναξιν), saying, You have banished me by not giving to me of the blessing which God has sent to the brothers, which I was not worthy to receive. And they all heard and were helped by the humility of the elder. And the priest went, took him the little dried figs, and brought him to the gathering with joy.

17. Abba Daniel said that however many a year he remained with us, we would make for him every year only one measure of bread, and when we would come to him, we would eat of it.

18. Further, he said about the same Abba Arsenios that he would never change the water for palm branches more than once a year, but only add to it. For he wove rope and sewed until the sixth hour. And the elders entreated him, saying, Why do you not change the water for palm branches that smells? And he said to them, Because instead of the incense and the spices that I enjoyed in the world, I must bear this smell.

19. Further, he said when he heard that all the kinds of summer fruits were ripe, he would say about them, Bring me some. And would taste only once a little from each of them, giving thanks to God.

20. Abba Arsenios was sick once in Sketis. He lacked everything, even a piece of linen. And he had nothing to buy any with. He received charity (or “a love-gift” αγαπην) from someone, and said, I thank you, Lord, that you considered me worthy to receive charity through your name.

21. They said about him that he had his cell at a distance of thirty-two miles, and he did not leave it very easily, for others did errands for him. And when Sketis was laid waste, he left weeping, and said, The world has lost Rome, and the monks, Sketis.

22. Abba Markos asked Abba Arsenios, saying, Is it good for someone not to have a comfort (παρακλησιν) in his cell? For I know such a brother who had a small herb garden, and he uprooted it. And Abba Arsenios said, Indeed it is good, but according to the maturity of the man. For if he does not have the strength in this matter, he will again plant others.

23. Abba Daniel, a disciple of Abba Arsenios, related this, saying that one day he found himself near Abba Alexander, and he was seized with sorrow, and laid himself down staring upward because of the sorry. And it happened that the blessed Arsenios came to speak with him, and saw him lying down. So, when he spoke, he said to him, And who was that worldly man (or “non-monastic” κοσμικος) that I saw here? Abba Alexander said to him, Where did you see him? And he said, As I was coming down from the mountain, approaching here to the cave, and I saw someone lying down and staring upward. And he made repentance, saying, Pardon me; it was me, for sorrow had seized me. And the elder said to him, So that was you? Good. I thought that it was a worldly man, and for this reason, I asked.

24. Another time, Abba Arsenios said to Abba Alexander that when you have cut your palm leaves, come dine with me, but if guests come, eat with them. Now, Abba Alexander would work well and carefully. And when the time came, he still had palm leaves, and wanting to obey the word of the elder, he waited to finish the palm leaves. So Abba Arsenios, when he saw that he was late, ate, thinking perhaps he had guests. Then Abba Alexander, as soon as he finished, came by. And the elder said to him, Did you have guests? He said, No. He said to him, Why then did you not come? And he said, Because you said to me, when you have cut your palm leaves, come, and obeying your word, I did not come until just now since I have finished. And the elder marvelled at his precision, and said to him, Break your fast right now, so you will maintain your order (or “routine” συναξιν), and also take some water, or else your body will become weak.

25. Once Abba Arsenios came near a place, and there were reeds there, and they were moved by the wind. And the elder said to the brothers, What is this commotion? And they said, They are reeds. So the elder said to them, If someone’s condition is the living of a life of stillness, and he hears the song of a sparrow, that heart does not have stillness. How much worse if you have the commotion of these reeds.

26. Abba Daniel said that some brothers, wanting to visit the Thebaid for the linen factories (λιναρια), said, Because of the excuse that we may also see Abba Arsenios. And Abba Alexander came in and told the elder, Brothers have come from Alexandria wanting to see you. The elder said, Learn from them what is the reason they have come. And learning that they were visiting the Thebaid for the linen factories, he reported it to the elder. And he said, They will certainly not see the face of Arsenios, because they did not come for me, but because of their work. Let them rest, and send them away in peace, saying to them that the elder cannot meet them.

27. A certain brother came to the cell of Abba Arsenios in Sketis, and waited at the door, and saw the elder all like fire, for the brother was worthy to see this. And when he knocked, the elder came out, and saw that the brother was amazed. And he said to him, Have you been knocking a long time? Did you see anything here? And he said, No. And having talked with him, he sent him away.

28. Once when Abba Arsenios was dwelling in Canopus, a very wealthy God-fearing virgin of a senatorial family came from Rome to see him. And the Archbishop Theophilos met her, and she implored him to ask the elder to receive her. And going to him, he asked him, saying, Someone of senatorial rank has come from Rome, and wants to see you. But the elder would not accept to meet her. So when he reported these things to her, she ordered an animal saddled, saying, I have faith in God that he will see me, for I go not to see a man, for there are also in our city many men, but I go to see a prophet. And when she came near to the cell of the elder, by the plan of God, the elder happened to be outside the cell. And seeing him, she fell at his feet. But he raised her up with anger, and looked at her, saying, If you want to see my face, behold, look. But she, from shame, could not look at his face. And the elder said to her, Have you not heard of my works? It is necessary to understand these things. And how have you undertaken to make this journey? Do you not know that you are a woman? That you ought not to be going anywhere? Or is it so you may return to Rome, and say to the other women, I have seen Arsenios, and they will make the sea a road of women coming to me? And she said, If the Lord wills, I will not permit anyone to come here. But pray for me, and remember me always. And answering, he said to her, I pray to God that he remove the memory of you from my heart. And hearing these things, she left, greatly upset. And when she returned to the city, from the grief she caught a fever. And it was told to the blessed Theophilos the Archbishop that she was ill. And coming to her, he sought to learn what it was that bothered her. And she said to him, If only I had not moved from here. For I said to the elder, Remember me, and he said to me, I pray to God that he will remove the memory of you from my heart. And behold, I die from grief. And the Archbishop said to her, Did you not know that you are a woman, and through women the enemy wars with the saints? Because of this, the elder spoke thus. But for your soul, he will pray continually. And thus her thought (λογισμος) was healed and she returned to her own with joy.

29. Abba Daniel related about Abba Arsenios that once a magistrate came, bringing to him the will of some senatorial relative of his, who had left him a very large inheritance. And taking it, he wanted to rip it up. And the magistrate fell at his feet, saying, I beg of you, do not not rip it up, since my head may be taken off. And Abba Arsenios said to him, I died before that person, for he has only just died. And he sent back an answer, without accepting.

30. They also say about him, that late in the day on Sabbaths, with Sundays coming on, he would turn his back on the sun, and stretch out his hands to the heavens praying, until once again the sun would shine on his face, and then he would sit.

31. They say about Abba Arsenios and Abba Theodore of Pherme, that, more than all the others, they hated the praise of men. For as Abba Arsenios would not readily meet anyone, so Abba Theodore would indeed meet them, but was like a sword.

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.

38. They say about one of the brothers who came to Skete to see Abba Arsenios, that, going to the church, he asked of the clerics to visit Abba Arsenios. So they said to him, Rest a little, brother, and you will see him. But he said, I will not eat anything, if I have not gone to him. So they sent a brother to bring him, for his cell was far. And having knocked at the door, they entereed, and greeting the elder, they sat down in silence. So the brother from the church said, I will leave. Pray for me. And the foreign brother, not finding confidence before the elder, said to the brother, I also will go with you. And they left together. Then he asked him, saying, Take me also to Abba Moses of the robbers. And when they went to him, he greeted them with joy, and sent them away with kindness. And the brother who brought him said to him, Behold, I have brought you to the foreigner and to the Egyptian. Which of the two was pleasing to you? And answering, he said, Up to now, the Egyptian was pleasing to me. And one of the Fathers, hearing this, prayed to God, saying, Lord, explain to me this matter, that one flees because of Your Name, and the other easily embraces because of your name. And behold, there was shown to him two great boats on the river, and he sees Abba Arsenios and the Spirit of God sailing in stillness (ησυχια) in one, and Abba Moses and the Angels of God sailing in the other, and they were feeding him pieces of honeycomb.

39. Abba Daniel said that when Abba Arsenios was nearly finished [=near death], he sent to them, saying, Do not think to make love offerings (αγαπας) for me. For I have indeed made for myself a love offering. I will find it.

40. When Abba Arsenios was near finishing, his disciples were troubled. And he said to them, The hour has not yet come; but when the hour comes, I will tell you. I will have to be judged with you at the judgment seat of terror if you give my remains to anyone. And they said, So what will we do, who don’t know how to entomb? And the elder said to them, Don’t you know how to tie a rope to my feet and drag me to the mountain? And this was a saying of the elder: Aresenios, why have you gone out? Much regretting speaking, but never silence. And when his end was near, the brothers saw him weeping, and said to him, In truth, do you too fear, Father? And he said to them, In truth, the fear that is now with me in this hour, is the same with me since I became a monk. And thus he fell asleep.

41. And they say that the whole time of his life, sitting for the work of his hands, he had a furrow in his chest, a gift of the tears falling from his eyes. And Abba Poimen, hearing that he had fallen asleep, said, weeping, Blessed are you, Abba Arsenios, for you wept for yourself here in the world. For he who does not weep here, will weep there forever. So, either willing here, or there from tortures, it is impossible not to weep.

42. And Abba Daniel related about him, that: He never wanted to speak of any question from the Scriptures, though able to speak if he wanted. But neither did he easily write a letter. And when on occasion he came to the church, he sat behind the pillar, so no one would see his face, nor would he face another. And his appearance was angelic, like Jacob, all grey-haired and graceful of body, and possessing austerity, and had a great beard hanging down to his loins. And the lashes of his eyes had fallen out from weeping. He was tall, but bent over from age. He reached ninety-five years. For forty years he worked in the palace of Theodosius the Great of Divine memory, father of the divine Arcadius and Honorius, and he worked forty years in Skete, and ten in Troē above Babylon, opposite Memphis, and three years at Canopus of Alexandria. And the other two years, he went again to Troē, and there fell asleep, finishing his race in peace and in fear of God. For he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And he left me his leather tunic, and white hair shirt, and palm-frond sandals. And I, unworthy, wear them, so I may be blessed.

43. Abba Daniel related further about Abba Arsenios, that: Once he called my Fathers, Abba Alexander and Zoilos, and humbling himself said to them, Since the demons battle me, and I do not know whether they will rob me in sleep, rather struggle with me this night, and guard me so I do not fall asleep during the vigil. And one sat on his right, and one on the left, keeping silence late at night. And my Fathers said that: We fell asleep and we awoke, and we could not discern him to have been sleeping. And early in the morning (God knows whether he did it by himself, to make us think he had slept, or in truth the state of sleep had come), he huffed three breaths, and promptly rose, saying, I slept, indeed. And we answered, We don’t know.

44. Some elders once came to Abba Arsenios, and asked often in order to meet him. And he opened [the door] to them. And they asked him to say a word to them about those who live in stillness and without meeting others. The elder said to them, As long as the virgin is in the house of her father, many wish to be betrothed to her. But once she has taken a husband, she is no longer pleasing to all, some hating, others approving, but she no longer has the same honor as earlier when she was hidden. So also with the soul. As soon as it is shown to people, it is no longer able to fulfill.


1. Abba Petros of Abba Lot said that Once when we were in the cell of Abba Agathon, a brother came to him, saying, I want to dwell with the brothers. Tell me how I shall dwell with them. The elder said to him, As in your first day of entering in among them, so guard your solitude, so that you will not become familiar with them. Abba Makarios said to him, For what does familiarity do? The elder said to him, Familiarity is like a great burning wind, which when it happens, all flee from before it, and it destroys the fruits of the trees. Abba Makarios said to him, Is familiarity so grievous? And Abba Agathon said, There is no passion worse than familiarity, for it is the mother of all the passions. It is proper for the worker not to be familiar, even if he is alone in the cell. For I know a brother who spent time dwelling in the cell, possessing a small bed, who said that, I would have moved on from the cell, not knowing about the little bed, if others had not told me (about it). A worker such as this is also a warrior.

2. Abba Agathon said, A monk should not allow his conscience to accuse him for any kind of act.

3. Again, he said that, Without guarding the Divine commandments, a man will not progress, even in a single virtue.

4. Again, he said that, I have never gone to sleep having something against someone, nor let anyone go to sleep having anything against me, according to my ability.

5. They say about Abba Agathon that some came to him, hearing that he had great discernment, and wanting to test whether he would become angry, they say to him, Are you Agathon? We hear about you that you are a fornicator, and a proud man. But he said, Indeed, a gossip and slanderer? And he said, I am he. They say further, Are you Agathon the heretic? And he answered, I am not a heretic. And they asked him, saying, Tell us why whatever we said to you, you also accepted, but this word you would not bear? He says to them, The first ones I ascribe to myself, for it is of benefit to my soul. But the heretic, that is a separation from God, and I do not wish to be separated from God. And they heard, amazed by his discernment, and went away strengthened.