For Lent of 2007, I began translating the Apophthegmata Patrum, the Sayings of the Fathers, the alphabetical series, best known these days through Sr Benedicta Ward’s excellent translation in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
The text I’m using is the same base text that she used, that of Migne PG 65:71-440, as found in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG catalog no. 2742-001), both of which come from manuscript Paris Gr.1599. Sr Benedicta’s translator notes in the beginning of her volume mention that she also utilized P. Guy’s Recherches sur la Tradition Greque des Apophthegmata Patrum, which corrects and supplements the manuscript in several places. I don’t intend to include the extra sayings in Guy unless it turns out that such are numerous, and/or the text hideously corrupt.
I will make no excuses for mistakes, and would rather appreciate to have them called to my attention when they occur. I am going to try to be a bit more paraphrastic in this translation than I was in my rather literal translations of Jerome’s Prologues to the Vulgate. Extremely common ασκησις and related words are rendered in a variety of ways, depending on the context: ἄσκησις (excercise, training) becomes in this context the more religiously-tinged “ascetic struggle,” “ascetic feat,” “struggle,” and so on. I trust it will make good reading. I’ll use the numbers of the various sayings included in the text, rather than the Migne and TLG column and line numbers. This will make it easier for readers to compare my translation to Sr Benedicta’s.
The translation by Sr Benedicta Ward of the Apophthegmata Patrum alphabetical series has been one of my favorite books. This is as much a tribute to her work, an imitation in gratitude, as it is an educational experience and a form of ἄσκησις on my own part. As I translate, I learn. As I fast, I feast. This book is a window into a lost world, one that would be impossible to maintain today. Still an issue is the form of religious tourism that has been a consistent problem since even those early days, when the ascetic with a reputation for holiness is hounded by visitors seeking a pithy saying.
For an excellent account of the period and practices in question, see the classic by Derwas Chitty, The Desert a City.
I’ll add to this page as I continue with 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 monks, 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 those whose names begin with Alpha [are listed under Alpha. Basil, Bisa]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 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. When the holy Abba Anthony was living in the desert, he was in a state of melancholy (ακηδια) and his mind was darkened by a multitude of imagined things (λογισμων), 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 insurance against stumbling of Anthony. And he heard the angel saying, Do this, and you will be saved. And when he heard this, he had great joy and courage, and did this, and 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 we keep in order to be pleasing to God? And the elder answered, saying, Keep 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. Keep these three things, and you will be saved.
4. Abba Anthony said to Abba Poimen that this is the great work of man: always to reproach himself for his own faults before God, 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 of this they do not have judgment, being far 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 on dry land, thus also the monks loitering outside their cells or spending time with those of the world lose the intensity of quiet (ησυχιας). And so, like the fish to the sea, so 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 quiet (ησυχαζων) is delivered from three battles: of hearing, and speaking, and seeing. He only has one: fornication.
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 have seen dreams, and many times they are 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 on the desert, and saw Abba Anthony joking with the brothers [and was scandalized]. And the elder, wanting to fully convince him that it was sometimes necessary to relax (or “condescend” συγκαταβαινειν) with the brothers, he said to him, Put an arrow to your bow, and shoot. And he did thus. He said to him, Shoot again. And he shot. And he said again, Shoot. The hunter said to him, If I shoot without 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 the brothers. The hunter heard these things, was pierced by remorse, and being greatly helped by the elder, went away. And the brothers, strengthened, went away to their place.
14. Abba Anthony heard about a certain young monk who had performed a sign (or “miracle” σημειον) on the road. As this one saw 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 monk is a ship full of goods, but I do not know if he will come into the harbor. 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 monk). He said, But go to him, and see what has happened. So the disciples went, and found the monk sitting on a mat, and weeping for the sin he had committed. Seeing 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 (απολογησασθαι). But after five days, he died.
15. A certain monk was praised from among 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 came to Abba Anthony, and Abba Joseph was among them. And the elder, wanting to test them, put forward a saying from the Scriptures, and began to ask 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, How do you explain this word? He answered, I do not know. So Abba Anthony said, Most certainly, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he said, I do not know.
18. 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 did not know 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. And 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, You have heard the Scriptures. You have the means well 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 also to turn the other cheek, then 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 be a monk, 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. And when he came back 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 happened to a brother in the monastery of Abba Elias. And, 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 had been expelled from. 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 upon the shore. And you want to cast back upon the sea what has 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. And it only signifies 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 commands His disciples, saying, Watch, lest your hearts are weighed down in indulgence and drunkenness. And there is another motion of those who struggle (or “compete” αγωνιζομενοις), coming from the plotting and envy of demons. You must understand that there are three bodily motions: one is natural, and another from negligence of intake, and the third from demons.
23. Further, he said 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 was someone like him, a physician by profession, who gave his surplus to those having need of it, and who all day sang the Trisagion with the angels.
25. Abba Anthony said that the time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will rise up against him, saying that you are mad, because you are not like them.
26. Brothers came to Abba Anthony and said to him a saying 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, standing for prayer, 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 word from it.
27. Three of the Fathers had a custom to visit the blessed Anthony annually. And two of them would ask about distracting thoughts (λογισμων) and the salvation of souls. But the one was always silent, never asking. Now after a long time, Abba Anthony said to him, Behold, so long a time have you been coming thus, and you don’t ask me anything. And he answered, saying to him, It is enough for me only to see you, Father.
28. They say 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 in the place where God is, there he 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 charge that he did so. But he defended himself that he did no such thing. Now Abba Paphnutius happened to be there, and he said this parable: I have seen 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 this to them about Abba Paphnutius, Behold 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 elders, they took the brother to the monastery.
30. Some say about Abba Anthony that he was a Spiritbearer (Πνευματοφορος), but he would not speak about it with men. For he revealed things happening in the world, and things yet to come to happen.
31. Once Abba Anthony received a letter from Emperor Constantine, in order to 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 may say [your name is] Anthony, but if you do not go, [it remains] Abba Anthony.
32. Abba Anthony said, I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.
33. He 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 may live for God. Remember what you have 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 that you may save your souls.
34. Abba Anthony once travelled 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. And those leaving here, doing the same, may remain unworried when visiting one another. And the distance is twelve [mile] signs.
35. Abba Anthony said, Whoever strikes a lump of iron, first considers the thought of what he intends to make, a scythe, a sword, an axe. So also we ought to consider what kind of excellence we should pursue, so that we do not toil in vain.
36. Further, he said that submission with self-control subdues beasts.
37. Further, he said, I know monks that have fallen after many toils, and came to an ecstasy of pride, because they put their hope in their works, and were deceived about the commandment which says, Ask your father, and he will tell you.
38. Further, he said, If he is able, a monk ought to be confident in telling the elders how many steps he takes, or how many drops of drink in his cell, so that he will not stumble in them.
About Abba Arsenios.
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.
About Abba Agathon.
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.
(to be continued)