In the Spiritual Meadow, we come to writings with a very different atmosphere from those of the earlier Fathers of the 3rd and 4th Centuries. John Moschus’ dates are c.550-619, and by the time he was writing the church had been through various theological turmoils which are reflected very clearly in this book. You may search the earlier books almost in vain for any reference to the Blessed Virgin, and then only when referring to the Gospel stories, but in Book Ten there are constant references not just to ‘Maria’ but to ‘Maria sancta Domina nostra Dei genetrix semper virgo’, every word of which is directed at some particular heresy. She is always thought of as a powerful intercessor in Heaven and she is always ‘genetrix’, not ‘mater’ as is usual in later Western thought – ‘genetrix Dei’ is after all a more accurate translation of the Greek ‘theotokos, god-bearer’ – and anyone who does not believe her to be truly ‘genetrix Dei’ (birthgiver of God) is a heretic doomed to hell fire, as we read in chapter xvi where a father has a vision of a ‘dark and stinking place throwing up flames of fire, and in the flames he saw Nestorius, Eutyches, Apollinaris, Dioscuros, Severus, Arius, Origen and others like them.’ There is safety only in the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which also references abound. There is a charming story about how one particular priest of a rather simple mind was using a non-Catholic rite until a deacon with angelic help persuaded him of his error (chapter cxcix).
Another big difference from the earlier books is the picture one gets of the monastic scene in this later century. The hermits and anchorites are still there, but set very much against the main picture of large settled monasteries. The ascetic life of the desert is not so much in the forefront as the lives of monks and devout seculars living in cities such as Constantinople, Jerusalem and Alexandria. The word ‘abba’, meaning ‘father’, very often becomes amended into ‘abbas’, in contexts where it is clearly intended to mean what we understand by the English word ‘abbot’. There is a difficulty for the translator here, of course, in that there is no distinction possible between the two words in their declined forms. So I have translated ‘abbatem, abbatis’ etc sometimes as ‘abba’ and sometimes as ‘abbot’, depending on the context.
There are fascinating glimpses into the lives of ordinary people also in this book. There is the farmer who rages furiously at monks who carelessly trampled down some of his crops (chapter ccxviii), there are the children playing at being priests in chapter cxcvii. It is interesting also that the word ‘presbyter’, which means ‘elder’, is the word most usually used for him who makes the offering at the Eucharist. The first time ‘sacerdos’, which really does mean ‘priest’, is used is in connection with the ‘priesthood’ of an Archbishop (chapter xlii), and only later as the meaning for those who assist the archbishop in his priesthood (chapter cxcvii).
Similarly, the word ‘Papa’ is used in a manner which completely antedates any exclusive use of the title by the bishop of Rome. There is a delightful story of how Pope Eulogius of Alexandria has a dream in which Pope Leo of Rome visits him to thank him for his support in a theological controversy (chapter cxlviii).
It is a fascinating book, but in a quite different way from the wisdom of the earlier books. John Moschus loves telling a good story
Prolegomenon of John Moschus [ὁ τοῦ Μόσχου]
Byzantine monk and ascetical writer. — To his beloved in Christ Sophronius Sophista (Sophronius Sophista, was the Patriarch of Jerusalem from 634 until 638.)
It is obvious to all, my beloved son, that the meadows present their most beautiful appearance in Springtime, with its pleasing variety of flowers of every sort, demanding the attention of all who gaze, impossible to ignore, beneficial in all sorts of ways, for they delight the eyes and give pleasure to the sense of smell. Part of this meadow indeed flourishes with the colour of roses, part grows white with lilies, easily attracting the attention of the onlooker away from the colour of the roses. Other parts shimmer with the colour of violets, copying in their own colour the imperial purple. The profusion of various differing sights and fragrances of countless flowers everywhere gratify the senses. Think of this present work like this, Sophronius, my holy and most faithful son, since you will find in it the virtues of the holy men who have enlightened our time “… like a tree planted near streams of water…,” as the Psalmist says (Psalms 1:3). And though all of them are acceptable to God and of great grace, yet each one of them is distinguished by some particular grace more than the others, so that out of this great variety of virtues arises a charming picture of pleasing beauty. Out of these flowers I have picked the most beautiful, and woven a corona for you out of this imperishable and everlasting meadow, my most faithful son, which I offer to you, and through you to everyone.
For this reason it seems good to call this present work a Meadow, for the delight, comfort and usefulness which those who read may take from it. It is not only right belief and meditation on divine truth which lead to a life and morals of integrity, but also the examples of other people, and written accounts of their virtuous lives. Therefore I have undertaken this task trusting in the Lord, beloved son, and hoping that it will commend itself to your charity. Just as a bee seeks out only what is useful and true so I have I described the lives of the holy fathers that souls may be enlightened.
Chapter I – The life of the holy elder John and the Cave of Sapsa
There was an Elder called John in the monastery of Eustorgius whom the holy Elias, Archbishop of Jerusalem, wanted to put in charge of all the monasteries in Jerusalem. John demurred, saying that he was wanting to travel to Mt Sinai in order to pray there. The Archbishop urged him to be made an abbot first before going off to wherever he wanted. The elder still would not agree, but at last the bishop let him go on the strength of a promise that John would accept this responsibility on his return. He thanked the Archbishop and began his journey to Mount Sinai, taking his disciple with him. They crossed the Jordan and had hardly taken one more step when the elder began to feel stiff and shortly afterwards became feverish. The fever increased to such an extent that he was unable to walk, so they went into a little cave that they found, in order to rest. The fever got so bad that after staying the cave for three days he was still unable to move. The elder then had a dream in which he saw someone standing next to him saying: “Tell me, elder, where are you going?”
“To Mount Sinai,” he replied.
“No, I beg you, do not go,” came the answer.
The elder would not agree, and the vision faded, but his fever got even worse. The next night the same person appeared and said “Why do you persist in being punished like this elder? Listen to me and stop trying to go anywhere.”
“Who are you,” said the elder.
“I am John the Baptist,” came the reply, “and I warn you, don’t go anywhere, for this narrow cave is greater than Mount Sinai. For the Lord Jesus quite often used to come into this cave when he was visiting me. Promise me that you will stay here and I will restore your health.”
Hearing this the elder freely promised that he would stay in that same cave. His health was immediately restored and there he spent the rest of his life. He made that cave into a church and gathered other brothers about him. The name of that place is Sapsa, and it is watered by the nearby brook Cherith to which Elias was sent in the time of drought from the other side of Jordan.
Chapter II – The life of an Elder who fed lions in his own cave
In this same area of Sapsa there lived another elder of such virtue that he welcomed lions into his cave and fed them by hand, so full of divine grace was that man of God.
Chapter III – The life of Conon, presbyter of the monastery of Penthucula.
When we visited abba Athanasius in the monastery of our holy father Saba he told us of an Alexandrian presbyter called Conon who was in charge of Baptisms. The fathers had decreed that the high quality of his character made him worthy of baptising those who came seeking for it. So he anointed with the holy Chrism and baptised those who came. But whenever he had to anoint a woman he became so agitated that he wanted to leave the monastery. While battling with this thought the holy John Baptist appeared to him, saying: “Endure, and persevere and I will lift this burden from you.”
One day an attractive young Persian woman came to be baptised who was so beautiful that the presbyter could not bring himself to anoint her bare flesh with oil. When Archbishop Peter heard that the girl had already been there two days he was exceedingly angry with the elder, and even wanted to delegate this ministry to a deaconess, but refrained from doing so as he did not want to be seen to be doing anything contrary to the canons. But Conon the presbyter took his cloak and went, saying that he would not remain any longer in that place. He had got as far as the hills, when behold, the holy John Baptist met him in the way and spoke to him gently, saying: “Go back to your monastery and I will lift this battle from you.”
“I certainly will not go back,” replied abba Conon indignantly. “You have so often made these promises and not fulfilled them.”
Then the holy John made him sit down and take off his clothes. He made the sign of the cross three times on his navel and said: “Believe me, presbyter Conon, I had been hoping that you would have been able to receive a reward because of this battle. As it is, however, look, I have taken this battle away from you, but you have forfeited any reward.”
The presbyter returned to the cenobium, to take up once more his baptismal ministry. The next day he anointed and baptised the young woman, hardly even noticing that she was, in fact, a woman. He continued the ministry of baptism for another twelve years in such tranquillity of mind and body that he never experienced any excitement of the flesh, nor consciously thought of anyone specifically as a woman. And so in peace he lived out his days.
Chapter IV – The life of abba Leontius.
Abba Leontius was the superior of the coenobium of our holy father Theodosius. He told us the following story:
Chapter V – The story of three monks as recounted by abba Polychronius
After fleeing from the infidels, the monks suffered persecution in a new monastery called a Lavra. I went thither and stayed in the same Lavra. One Sunday I went to church to receive the sacred mysteries and as I entered I saw an Angel standing at the right hand of the altar. Terrified, I returned to my cell. And a voice came to me from heaven saying: “That altar has been made holy. Therefore I am commanded to remain with it for ever.”
Abba Polychronius a presbyter of this same Lavra, told me the following story:
When I was in the monastery of Turrius near the Jordan I noticed that one of the brothers was very lax in fulfilling his Sunday duties. But a little while afterwards I noticed that he was fulfilling them with great zeal and devotion.
“You are doing well, now, brother,” I said, “curing your own sickness.”
“Father, I have but a short time to live,” he said. And within three days he lay dead.
A brother in the same monastery of Turrius died, and the steward (dispensator) asked me to do him a kindness and help him carry his effects (vasa) to his office. As we did so I noticed him weeping.
“Why are you weeping so, abba?” I asked.
“Today we are carrying my brother’s things,” he said. “But in two days’ time others will be carrying mine.”
On the third day this brother rested in peace, as he had predicted. The Lord had established in him a sure hope.
Chapter VI – Another story of Polychronius
Abba Polychronius the presbyter also told this story of the time when he was in the monastery of abba Constantinus, the superior of the monastery of St Mary the Theotokos (Birthgiver) of God, known as the New Monastery.
A certain brother who died in the guesthouse at Jericho was being taken back by the brothers to be buried at the Turrius monastery. As soon as they began their journey with the body a star appeared over the head of the deceased as a companion for the journey, and did not disappear until they put him in the grave.
Chapter VII – The life of a certain Elder, who refused to be made abbot in the monastery of Turrius
There was another elder in this same monastery of Turrius of such great and obvious virtue that the fathers of that monastery wished to make him their abbot.
“I am not worthy of such an honour.” the elder said. “Take no notice of me. Just leave me to weep for my sins. I have no ability in the cure of souls. That is the business of such great and outstanding fathers as Antony, Pachomius and the holy Theodore.”
The brothers would not accept this and urged him every single day.
“Let me pray about it for three days,” he said at last, overwhelmed by their incessant arguments, “and whatever the Lord tells me to do I will do it.”
This was on Good Friday. By the morning of Easter Day he rested in peace.
Chapter VIII – The life of abba Myrogenes, who had dropsy
In the same monastery of Turrius there was an elder called Myrogenes, who because of the great austerity of his life had developed dropsy. To the old men who came to visit him he always said: “Pray for me, fathers, lest one becomes dropsical inside. As for me, in this disease I pray to God daily that I may endure.”
When Archbishop Eustochius of Jerusalem heard about him, he decided to send him a few things which might be needed, but he refused to accept any of them. The only message he sent to the archbishop was: “Pray for me, father, that I may be spared crucifixion for eternity.”
Chapter IX – The wonderful charity of a certain holy Father
In this same monastery of Turrius there was an elder who was a great lover of almsgiving, even to the extent of holy nakedness. For one day a beggar came to his cell seeking alms. The elder had nothing to give him but one loaf which he offered to the beggar.
“It’s not bread I want but clothing,” said the beggar.
The elder wanted to help him so he took him by the hand and led him inside his cell. The beggar could not see anything inside but what the elder stood up in, but driven by his virtuous nature the elder opened the only moneybag he had by taking off everything he wore, saying: “Take these, good sir, and I will seek elsewhere for what I need.”
Chapter X – The life of Barnabas, the anchorite
There was an anchorite in the holy caves of Jordan called Barnabas. As he went down one day to drink at the Jordan he got a thorn in his foot. He left it there, bearing always pain in his foot. He would not let any doctor see it, so that eventually it festered, and he had to go down to the monastery at Turrius where he accepted a cell. Daily the festering in his foot got worse, but those who came to see him said that the more he suffered outwardly the stronger he became in spirit.
After abba Barnabas left his cave to go to Turrius another anchorite went into this cave and as he entered he saw an angel standing by the altar which Barnabas had built and consecrated.
“What is your purpose here?” he asked the angel.
“God has entrusted it to me because it has become holy,” replied the angel.
Chapter XI – The life of abba Agiodulus
Abba Peter, a presbyter of the monastery of our holy father Saba, told us this story about Abba Agiodulus:
When he was superior of the monastery of the blessed Gerasimus it so happened that one of the brothers who lived there died. The elder was unaware of this until the prior sounded the signal, the brothers lifted the body and at last he saw the body in the middle of the church. He was then greatly upset, because he had not been able to pay his respects to him before departing from this world. He went up to the bier whereon the deceased was lying and said: “Rise, brother, and give me the kiss of peace.” He straightway rose up and kissed the elder.
“Sleep now,” the elder then said, “until your resurrection by Christ the Son of God.”
This same abba Agiodulus was once passing by the banks of the Jordan and began thinking and wondering what had happened to the twelve stones which Joshua had set in the middle of the Jordan riverbed for those whom he was leading through it (Joshua 4:9). And as he was thinking, suddenly the waters divided this way and that, and he saw the twelve stones. He prostrated himself on the ground, gave thanks to the Lord and went his way.
Chapter XII – A saying of abba Olympius
“Abba, Give me a word,” a brother asked abba Olympius, a presbyter of the monastery of St Gerasimus.
“Have no dealings with heretics,” he said, “guard your tongue and your stomach, and wherever you go say constantly: ‘I am a stranger and a pilgrim’”
Chapter XIII – The life of abba Mark, the anchorite
Abba Mark the anchorite, who lived near the monastery of Penthucula for sixty-three years, had the ability to fast for a whole week, so that many thought he was not made of flesh and blood at all. He worked day and night, but gave everything [he earned] to the poor. He accepted nothing from anyone. Some faithful men heard of him and came offering him blessed bread (agape).
“I can’t accept that,” he said. “These hands of mine provide food for me and all who come to me.”
Chapter XIV – The Brother who was attacked by the spirit of fornication and became leprous
Abba Polychronius also told us about a brother living in the coenobium of Penthucula who was very careful of himself, and continent. But once when he was attacked by the spirit of fornication he found that he was not able to fight against it, so he left the monastery and went to Jericho where he satisfied his desires. Soon afterwards, as he was going in to a harlot’s house, he found that he was covered in leprosy. He returned immediately to the monastery, giving thanks to God and saying: “God has stricken me with this chastisement that my soul might be saved.” And he gave great glory to God.
Chapter XV – A miraculous deed of abba Conon
It was said of abba Conon that one day as he was going to Betamarim, he met some Jews who wished to kill him and ran towards him with drawn swords. As they approached, waving their swords at him, their hands suddenly became motionless, suspended on high. The elder said a prayer, freed their hands and sent them on their way, giving thanks to God.
Chapter XVI – A story which abba Nicholaus told about himself and his companions
There was an elder called Nicholaus living in the monastery of abba Peter near the holy Jordan who told us the following story:
Once when I was in Raythum three of us were sent on a journey to the Thebaid. In going through the desert we took a wrong path and found ourselves in the middle of a vast sandy expanse. Our water supply ran out after a few days and we were parched with thirst. Fainting from thirst and the heat we were not able to go any further, but having come across some tamarisk trees in the desert we each threw ourselves down in the shade of the trees, expecting to die of our thirst. Stretched out in the shade I fell into an ecstasy and saw a fishpond full of flowing water, and two men standing beside a wooden vessel on the edge of the pond.
“Be kind to me, sir,” I asked one of them, “and let me have a little bit of water, for I am fainting away.”
“Give him some,” the other said.
“No, let us not give him any,” was the reply, “for he is lazy and doesn’t look after himself.”
“Even if he is lazy and negligent,” said the other, “let us give him some for hospitality’s sake.”
And then they did give to me and my companions.
As soon as we had drunk we felt our strength reviving and travelled for three more days without drinking anything until we arrived at a populated area.
Chapter XVII – The life of the elder Macnus
They say that the elder Macnus of the monastery of abba Peter lived fifty years in his cave, drinking no wine and eating only bread made from bran. But every week he communicated three times.
Chapter XVIII – The life of another Elder in the monastery of Lavra, who slept among lions
Abba Polychronius the presbyter told us about another elder in the Lavra of abba Peter who quite often went off and wandered about on the banks of the Jordan, and if he came across a lion’s den he would sleep there. One day he picked up two lions’ cubs in his cloak and brought them into the church.
“If we were keeping the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said to the brothers, “these animals should really be frightened of us. But because of the sin which affects us all we seem bound to be frightened of them.”
The brothers went back to their cells greatly impressed by this magnificent deed.
Chapter XIX – A story that abba Elias told about himself
Abba Elias told us that at one time he was living in a cave near the monastery of the Eunuchs in the holy Jordan region in order to avoid being in communion with Archbishop Macarius of Jerusalem.
“One day at about the sixth hour,” he said, “with a boiling heat beating down from above (it was during the month of August), there was a knock on the door of his cave. I went out to find a woman there and I asked her what she wanted. She said that she was following the same kind of life as me and that her cave was about a mile away, and she pointed towards the South.
“‘I have been wandering about in this desert,’ she said, ‘and I am fainting with thirst because of this terrible heat. It would be kind of you, father, if you could let me have a little water.’
“I fetched my water jar, gave her a drink and sent her on her way. But after she had gone the devil began to attack me, putting lustful thoughts about her into my head. I was overcome, my burning desire was more than I could bear, and I picked up my walking stick and went out after her, in that heat which was so fierce that the stones were red hot, determined to fulfil my evil desires. But when I was still about two hundred yards (600ft.) from her cave, still burning with the heat of lust, I suddenly went into a trance and I was dragged down into a hole which opened up in the earth. I could see a putrid corpse lying there, decaying with an incredibly powerful stink, and I saw a man in sober garments pointing to it and saying: ‘Look, this is how man woman and child end up, enjoy them how you will, and however great your lust for them. Think how your sin would deprive you of the kingdom of heaven. How pitiable the human state! (Vae humanae miseriae) To forfeit the reward of all your labour for the sake of one hour of pleasure.’
“I fell to the ground, overcome by the exceedingly great stink. But this awe-inspiring man who had appeared to me came and lifted me up. And I returned to my cell, thanking God.”
Chapter XX – The conversion of a certain Soldier through a miracle which God performed in him, and his profitable life
One of the fathers told us what a certain soldier had told him during the war waged in Africa by the Romans against the Mauritanians. Beaten by the barbarians, many were killed. He himself was chased by a barbarian who shook his spear with the intention of killing him. Realising this he prayed to God: “Lord God, who appeared to your handmaiden Thecla and delivered her from the hands of the ungodly, save me also in my need. If I am rescued from this bitter death, I will go into the desert and live the solitary life.”
He turned around and there was not a barbarian in sight. He went immediately to the Lavra of Cupatha and remained there in a cave for thirty-five years, thanking God for his protection.
Chapter XXI – The death of an Anchorite and his murderer
Abba Gerontius, the prior of the monastery of our holy father Euthymius, told Sophronius Sophista and me the following story:
“Once when three of us were walking up into the mountains on the other side of the Dead Sea, another anchorite came walking along by the seashore. It so happened that some Saracens met him as they travelled through those regions, and after they had passed him one of them turned back and cut off the anchorite’s head. We could see all this from a distance as we were climbing the mountain. As we were weeping and mourning for the death of the anchorite we suddenly saw a bird swooping down from above, which picked the Saracen up, carried him up high and dropped him to the ground, causing his death.”
Chapter XXII – The life of another elder called Conon
There was another elder called Conon, a Cilician, in the coenobium of our holy father Theodosius. For thirty years he kept to a way of life which was to eat bread and water only once a week and to pray without ceasing. He never went outside the church.
Chapter XXIII – The life of the monk Theodulus
We saw another elder in the same monastery called Theodulus who had once been a soldier. He fasted every day and never slept lying down.
Chapter XXIV – The life of an Elder living in the cells of Cuziba
There was an elder living in the cells of Cuziba, about whom the seniors of the place told us the following.
When he was living in his own village, if he knew of anyone who failed through laziness to cultivate his field, it was his custom to take seed and go by night without the owner’s knowledge to sow the field for the poor. When he went to the desert and lived in the cells of Cuziba he carried out similar works of mercy. He would go along the road from Jordan to the holy City carrying bread and water, and if ever he saw anyone flagging from weariness he would carry their load even up as far as the Mount of Olives. He would then do the same for others on the road back to Jericho. You could have seen the elder sometimes carrying a large load sweating under the burden, sometimes carrying a small child on his shoulders, or even two quite often. He never rested. He would repair the shoes of either men or women, carrying with him everything needed for that. He gave others some of his water to drink, to others he gave bread. To anyone lacking clothing he gave the cloak off his back. It was lovely to see this elder working every day of his life. And if he found anyone dead on the road he would say the usual psalms and prayers over them and bury them.
Chapter XXV – A Brother of the monastery of Cuziba, and the words of the sacred offering, also of the abbot John
There was a brother in the coenobium of Cuziba who had learned the words and ceremonial of the sacred offering. We were told about him by that Abbot Gregory who had once been a member of the palace guard watching over the Prince. One day this brother was sent to fetch the bread and wine (benedictiones), and as he was returning to the monastery he uttered the words of the sacred offering as if he were singing some ritual formula (quasi versus aliquos caneret). The deacon placed this bread and wine on the altar, but when abba John the presbyter offered it (he who afterwards was bishop of Caesarea Palestine) he did not perceive the usual descent of the Holy Spirit. He was very upset and wondered whether the Holy Spirit had turned away from him because of some mental sin. He returned to the sacristy weeping, and fell flat on his face. But an angel of the Lord appeared to him saying: “The brother who fetched the offerings (oblationes) said the words of the sacred offering over them as he was on his way, which was the reason for them being already sanctified and perfected.” From then on the superior decreed that no one should learn the words of the sacred offering unless he were ordained for this purpose, nor should anyone say them anywhere or at any time apart from a consecrated place.
Chapter XXVI – The life of brother Theophanes and his marvellous vision, and of communicating with heretics
There was an elder of great merit in God’s eyes called Cyriacus, who belonged to the lavra of Calamon near the River Jordan. A pilgrim brother called Theophanes from the region of Dora came to him for counsel about his thoughts of fornication. The elder encouraged and instructed him with advice about modesty and chastity, which greatly edified the brother.
“Truly, father,” he said, “if it weren’t that in my part of the country I am in communion with the Nestorian’s I would love to stay with you.”
When the elder heard the name of Nestor he was so overcome with fear that this brother would be damned that he fell down and prayed, and begged him to abandon this most evil and pernicious heresy and return to the holy and Apostolic Church.
“There is no hope of being saved unless we truly feel and believe that Holy Mary is the birthgiver (genetrix) of God,” he said, “and this is true.”
“That’s all very well, father,” said the brother, “but all the heretics say the same, that unless we are in communion with them we cannot be saved. Unfortunately I don’t know what to do. So pray to God for me that I may be quite certain which is the true faith.”
The elder was delighted to hear what the brother was saying.
“Come and sit in my cave,” he said, “and put your whole trust in God that he will reveal to you of his mercy what is the true faith.”
He left the brother in his own cave and went out by the Dead Sea, praying to God for the brother. About the ninth hour of the next day the brother saw someone of truly awesome appearance standing next to him.
“Come, and see the truth,” he said, and led him to a dark and stinking place throwing up flames of fire, and in the flames he saw Nestorius, Eutyches, Apollinaris, Dioscuros, Severus, Arius, Origen and others like them.
“This is the place prepared for the heretics, blasphemers, and those who follow their teachings,” he said to the brother. “So then, if you like the look of this place persist in your teachings, but if you would prefer to avoid this punishment return to the holy and Apostolic Church, as the elder told you. For I tell you, even if a person practises all the virtues there are, unless he believes rightly he will be crucified in this place.”
At these words the brother came to himself. He went back to the elder and told him all that he had seen, and returned to the communion of the holy Church. He stayed with the elder, and after four years with him he rested in peace.
Chapter XXVII – The life of a Presbyter of the village of Mardandos
About ten miles from the town of Aegina in Cilicia there is a village called Mardandos, in which there is a church dedicated to St John Baptist. An old presbyter presided here, a man of great virtues and worthiness before God. One day the villagers came to the bishop with a complaint about the elder.
“Take this elder away from us, for he troubles us greatly,” they said.
“What is he doing to you?” asked the bishop.
“He comes on Sundays to celebrate Mass sometimes at the third hour, sometimes at the ninth, whichever seems to suit him. And he does not stick strictly to the solemn order prescribed for the sacred oblation.”
The bishop acted on this information to call the presbyter to an interview.
“Why are you, a man in authority, acting like this? You surely can’t be ignorant of the statutes of holy Church?”
“Well of course you are quite right in what you say in order to get at the truth. But truly, I never know what I am going to do. On Sundays, after the night office, I sit down near the holy altar, and for as long as I cannot discern the Holy Spirit overshadowing the altar I do not begin the sacred celebration of the Mass. But when I am aware that the Holy Spirit has come, then I carry out my sacred duties.”
The bishop was overcome with admiration for the elder’s integrity. He summoned the villagers, explained everything to their satisfaction, and set their minds at rest.
Abba Julius the Stylite, by way of a greeting to this same elder, sent him a piece of cloth rolled up with three coals of fire inside it. The elder got the message and sent the abba in return the same piece of rolled up cloth full of water.
Chapter XXVIII – A miraculous deed of abba Julianus the Stylite
Abba Cyriacus, the disciple of the aforesaid Julianus the Stylite told us the following story:
My father and brother and I heard of the fame of abba Julianus and left our own region in order to visit him. Now I was suffering from an unhealthy condition which nobody had been able to cure, but when I came to him the elder prayed and cured me on the spot. We all renounced the world and stayed with him, and the elder put my father in charge of the grain supply. One day my father went to abba Julius and said that there wasn’t any grain left.
“Go and gather whatever you can find, brother, and grind it for today,” said the elder from the top of his column, “and God will take care of our tomorrow.”
This command really upset him (for he knew that he had not given out any food at all), so he just went back to his cell. But an urgent message was sent to him from the elder, telling him to come to him at once and he did so but with a very bad grace.
“Brother Conon,” said the elder, “go and prepare food for the brothers, using whatever you shall find.”
In spite of his anger he took the keys of the grain store and went off thinking he would be able to serve up nothing but the dust of the earth. But when he unbarred the door and tried to open it, he was unable to do so because the storehouse was completely full of grain. Terrified by what he saw, he prostrated himself before the elder, seeking pardon.
Chapter XXIX – A miracle of the Most Holy Eucharist
About thirty miles from the city of Aegina in Cilicia there were two stylites about six miles away from each other. One of them belonged to the holy and Apostolic Church. The other, even though he had been on his column for much longer, followed the wicked teachings of Severian, and in various heretical ways was in the habit of denouncing his colleague. However, inspired by God, the asked that a particle of the other’s Communion might be sent to him. Overcome with joy, he thought that he had converted the , and sent it immediately, without hesitation. The took this particle sent to him by the heretical follower of Severian and put it into a pot of boiling water, where it very soon disintegrated. Then he took the holy Communion of the church and threw it in. The boiling pot became cool immediately, and the holy Communion remained whole and unblemished. He carefully kept it, and showed it to us when we visited him.
Chapter XXX – The Life of Isidore a monk of Melitinensis, and another miracle of the Most Holy Eucharist
Dade is the trading centre of Cyprus. There is a monastery there called Philoxene. When we visited it we met a monk from Melitinensis called Isodore. We noticed that he was weeping and groaning unceasingly. People kept on asking him to quieten down a little and moderate his weeping, but he would not.
“I am a greater sinner,” he said, “than anyone else since the beginning of time”.
“Surely no one is without sin,” we said to him, “but God alone.”
“Truly, brothers,” he replied, “I have never found any sinner like me in the whole human race, no greater sin than mine. And if you really want to know that I am telling the truth, listen to what my sin was, and please pray for me.
“I was a married man when I lived in the world, and we both held to the teachings of Severian. I came home one day to find that my wife was not there, and I was told that she had gone to a woman neighbour who was of the faith and religion in order to receive Communion. I ran quickly to try and stop her, but when I got to the house I found that she had already communicated. I was mad with rage, and seized her by the throat and made her vomit up the sacred Communion. I picked up the holy particle and threw it away into a dungheap. Shortly afterwards I noticed that that holy Communion had taken on a brilliantly shining appearance. After two days, without a word of a lie, I saw a sort of a half-clothed Ethiopian man (virum quasi Aethiopem semicinctiis vestitum) who said to me: ‘You and I are both condemned to an identical punishment.’
“‘Who are you, then,’ I asked.
“‘I am the one who struck the face of him who made us all, the Lord Jesus Christ, during his passion.’
“And this is why I am incapable of moderating my weeping.”
Chapter XXXI – The conversion and life of Mary the courtesan
Two old men were travelling from Aega to Tharsus when they stopped for refreshment at a small cottage (stabulum, which also carries the meaning of ‘brothel’). In the providence of God they found there three young men who had with them a courtesan. The old men settled themselves down apart and one of them got out his holy Gospel and began to read [aloud]. And, would you believe it, the courtesan left the young men when she saw the elder reading, and came and sat down next to him.
“You’ve got a cheek, you wretch,” said the elder, waving her away, “to dare to come and sit by us.”
“Don’t, I beg you, father,” she said, “don’t look down on me, or drive me away. I know I am full of every kind of sin, but the Lord and Saviour of all, Christ our God, did not reject the courtesan who came to him.”
“Yes, but that courtesan did not remain a courtesan,” the elder said.
I put my trust in the Son of the living God,” she said, “that from this day onwards I won’t keep on with this sinful way of life either.”
She left the three young men and everything that she had, and followed those two old men. They took her to a monastery near the city of Aega. I saw her when she was an old woman of great wisdom, and learned all these things from her own mouth. Her name was Mary.
Chapter XXXII – The conversion and life of Babylas the mime, and also his concubines Cometa & Nicosa
There was a certain mime in Cilician Tarsus called Babylas and with him were two concubines, one called Cometa, the other Nicosa. They lived in a very self-indulgent style, doing whatever the demons might put into their minds. One day, however, by divine providence they went into a church and heard the gospel being read, where it says: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand (Matthew 3:2). Conscience-stricken, he wept with horror, crying out against his miserable self for the sins he had done. He ran out of the church and called to his two companions.
“You know how self-indulgently I have lived with you,” he said. “I have not been fonder of either of you more than the other, so everything I have belongs to both of you. Take all I have and divide it equally between you, for as of now I renounce the world to be a monk.”
With one accord they both burst into tears.
“We have shared with you this life of pleasure to the endangering of our souls,” they said. “Now that you are going to do this thing pleasing to God, are you going to send us away and do it all by yourself? No, certainly not. We shall share with you in the good things as well.”
And so the mime enclosed himself in one of the towers of the city [derelict, perhaps?] and the two women sold everything, gave to the poor, took the habit of religion, and secured for themselves a little cell hear the tower, where they too were enclosed. I met this man myself, and was greatly edified by him. He is exceptionally gentle, humble and merciful. Let those who read profit from what I have written.
Chapter XXXIII – The life of the holy bishop Theodotus
One of the Fathers told us about a bishop called Theodotus in the holy city, a man of great kind-heartedness. One feast day he sent dinner invitations to some of his clerics. There was one of them who did not want to go and ignored the invitation. The bishop said nothing. But next time he went to him in person and begged him to come and share the common table.
There is another story about this same bishop Theodotus to show how gentle and humble he was. Once when going on a journey with one of his clerics, he was being carried in a litter, whereas the cleric was riding a horse.
“Let’s change over,” said the patriarch to the cleric. “You get into the litter and I will ride the horse.”
The cleric would not hear of it, declaring it would be shameful to put himself above the bishop and ride in a litter while the bishop had to ride the horse. But the holy and humble Theodotus would not give up until he had persuaded the cleric that there could be no possible harm in it, and eventually persuaded him to agree.
Chapter XXXIV – The life of the godly Alexander, patriarch of Jerusalem
There was another patriarch called Alexander in that same city who was very devout and kind of heart. One of his notaries stole some gold and fled in fear to the Thebaid in Egypt, where he fell into the hands of brigands while wandering about, and was led captive to a very distant part of Egypt. When Alexander found out about this he paid eighty-five numismas to ransom him from captivity, and continued to treat him kindly and lovingly once he had returned. One of the citizens of that city promptly remarked that there was nothing more profitable than to sin against Alexander.
Chapter XXXV – The life of ELIAS, archbishop of Jerusalem, and of Flavioan, patriarch of Antioch
Abba Polychronius said that the holy Elias, archbishop of Jerusalem, drank no wine, just as if he were a monk. And even when he had been made Patriarch he kept to the same rule.
The story is told of this same archbishop Elias and also of Flavian the archbishop of Antioch that the Emperor Anastasius [430-518] drove them both into exile because (they adhered to the doctrines) of the Council of Chalcedon [451. Anastasius was a Monophysite.] Elias was sent to Haila [in Egypt] and Flavian to Petra [near the Red Sea]. On one particular day both of them had the same presentiment.
“Today Anastasius is dead,” they each said to themselves. “Let us both go too, and be judged along with him.” And after two days they both departed to the Lord.
Chapter XXXVI – The life of Ephraem patriarch of Antioch and how he converted a Stylite monk from the wicked Severian heresy
One of the fathers told us about Ephraem the holy patriarch of Antioch, who was extremely zealous and fervent for the faith. When he heard about that Stylite near Hierapolis who was a Severian heretic he went to see him to try and turn him away from that wickedness. The godly Ephraem began to argue with him and beg him to accept the apostolic see and return to communion with the holy apostolic Church.
“I will not have anything at all to do with the Synod,” the Stylite replied.
“What would it take to convince you, in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that holy Church is free from all stain of heretical wickedness?” the holy Ephraem asked.
“Let’s light a fire”, said the Stylite, in order to frighten the patriarch, “and walk into it together, and let the one unharmed by the flames be the orthodox one, and the one who should be followed.”
“It would be more fitting, my son,” said the holy Ephraem, “for you to comply with your father, without making any further demands. Indeed, what you have asked is beyond the powers of my unfortunate person. Nevertheless I will do it, trusting in the Son of God, the author of your salvation. Bring me some wood,” he added to those standing by, and when the wood had been brought he lit it in front of the column.
“Come down now,” said the patriarch,” and let us go into it together, as you demanded.” But he refused, stunned by the patriarch’s determination.
“Wasn’t it you who made this stipulation?” asked the patriarch. “Why are you now not willing to do it?” And he took off the patriarchal stole he was wearing, and drew near to the flames.
“O Lord Jesus Christ our God,” he prayed. “who alone was worthy of being made flesh, and was born of our holy Lady Mary, ever virgin, Birthgiver of God, let your truth be made known to us.” And he threw the stole into the middle of flames. The fire kept on burning for three hours, the wood had all been consumed, and the stole was retrieved from the fire unharmed, showing no signs of ever having been in the fire.
In the face of what had happened the Stylite no longer had any doubts about the truth. He anathematised Severian and his heresy, returned to the holy Church, received communion from the hands of the holy Ephraem, and gave God the glory.
Chapter XXXVII – The life of a Bishop, who left his cathedral and came to the holy city, where he served God in disguise in the building trade
One of the fathers told us about a certain bishop who left his bishopric and went to the holy city, where he dressed as a workman and served God in the building trade. Now there was at that time a compassionate man given to good works called Ephremius, an Eastern overseer, who was engaged in repairing the public buildings which had been damaged by an earthquake. One day Ephremius had a vision in which he saw a bishop lying asleep, with a column of fire stretching from his head right up to the heavens. This happened not once, not twice, but many times over, and Ephremius was stupefied, for the vision was amazing, even terrifying. He wondered what it all might mean, not recognising him as that hired labourer with untidy hair and dirty clothes, looking like the lowest of the low, slaving away with no relaxation, worn out with toil and of a totally repulsive appearance. However, Ephremius summoned this workman and asked him who he was, trying to worm his name out of him and the country he came from.
“I am just one of the poor of this city,” he replied. “I have no independent income, so I do what work I can and God feeds me as a result of my labours.”
“Believe me,” said Ephremius, divinely inspired, “I will not let you go until you have told me the whole truth about yourself.”
“Promise me something then,” he said, realising that he was cornered, with nowhere to hide. “Say nothing to anyone about me for as long as I remain alive, and I will tell you everything, except my name.” And the overseer swore not to reveal anything for as long as the man was alive.
“I am a bishop,” he then said, “and I have left my bishopric to come here. Nobody knows where I am. But I chastise my body with hard work and earn a bit of bread for myself. But as for you, give as much alms as you can. One of these days God will promote you to the apostolic see of this city, so that you may feed this people whom Christ our God has saved with his own blood. Give yourself to almsgiving, as I have said. Stand firm and contend for the true faith, for sacrifices such as these are pleasing to God,” (and as he had prophesied so it came to pass.)
The godly Ephremius glorified God as he listened.
“How many hidden servants of God there are, known only to himself”, he said.
Chapter XXXVIII – The death of Anastasius, the godless emperor
One of the faithful told us about the Emperor Anastasius, who exiled to Gaitan in Pontus the patriarchs of Constantinople Euphemius and Macedonius, because they accepted the [teachings of] the holy synod of Chalcedon. This emperor saw in a dream a magnificent person dressed in a white garment standing in front of him, reading from what was written in a book that he was carrying. He pulled out five pages with the emperor’s name written on them.
“Behold, because of your perfidy I destroy fourteen”, he said. [Literal translation – I don’t know what it means!] And he tore them up.
And after two days, during a great storm of thunder and lightning, petrified with fear, he gave up his spirit in great agony. This was because of what he had wickedly done to the holy Church of Christ our God by exiling its pastors.
Chapter XXXIX – The life of a monk belonging to the monastery of abbot Severianus, and how a country girl wisely repulsed him, and prevented him from sinning with her
After I had arrived at Antioch I heard one of the presbyters of that church telling this story:
Patriarch Anastasius told us about a monk of Abbot Severianus’ monastery, who was sent on an errand to the region of Elutheropoleos, where he broke his journey and stayed for a while at the home of one of the faithful whose wife was dead but who had an only daughter. The devil, who is forever attacking human beings, put evil thoughts into that brother’s mind, and his attack took the form of making the brother seek for an opportunity to assault the daughter. The devil not only tempted him but provided him with the opportunity, for the girl’s father left on a journey to Ascalon on some necessary business, whereupon the brother, knowing that that there was no one in the house but himself and the girl, tried to take her by force.
“Calm down,” she said, when she realised that he was all excited and rushing headlong into an evil deed. “There is all day and tomorrow before my father will be back. But just listen first to what I have to say. God knows I will do whatever you want.”
And then she began to talk to him along these lines:
“How long have you been in the monastery, brother?”
“Seventeen years”, he said.
“Have you ever had a woman?” she asked.
“No,” he said.
“And do you really want to undo the labour of all those years for the sake of one single hour? How many tears have you shed in the struggle to keep your flesh pure and unstained for Christ our Lord? And do you want all that labour to go for nothing for the sake of a brief pleasure? In any case, if I should listen to you and you should sin with me, have you got the wherewithal to take me in and provide for me? “
“Truly, I’m telling no lies, if you overcome me you will be the cause of many evils.”
“In the first place, you will lose your soul, and in the second place my life will be required at your hands. For in the name of him who said ‘Don’t make me a liar’ (1 John.1.10), I swear to you that if you overcome me I shall immediately hang myself, and you will be found guilty of murder, and you will be judged as a murderer. So, before you become the cause of so much evil go back to your monastery in peace, and pray for me.”
The brother came to his senses, had second thoughts, and went back to his monastery straight away. He prostrated himself in front of the abbot, and asked for pardon. And he begged that never again might he go outside the monastery. He spent three months in deep heartfelt contrition, after which he passed away to the Lord.
Chapter XL – The life of Cosmas, the eunuch
A story told us by abba Basileus, a presbyter of Bicantium:
When I was at Theopolis with patriarch Gregory, abba Cosmas visited us, a eunuch from the Lavra of Pharan. He was an outstandingly religious man, extremely zealous in upholding the true faith and teachings, well versed in the knowledge of the divine Scriptures. He had hardly been there for more than a few days when he died, and the patriarch ordered his precious relics to be buried in his own monastery next to a certain bishop. I went there one day to pay my respects to the tomb of the elder, and found a poor man lying on the tomb asking alms of those going in to the church. When he caught sight of me he prostrated himself three times as he prayed to the elder.
“Abba”, he said to me, “this elder whom you buried these two months past was assuredly a very great person.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Well, sir,” he replied, “I was paralysed for twelve years but God cured me through him. And whenever I am in trouble he comes to me and brings me consolation and peace. And here’s another miracle of his: from the day in which you buried him until now I hear him crying out each night to the bishop [buried next to him] ‘Don’t touch me, you heretic. Don’t come near me, you enemy of the holy Church of God.’ Hearing this cry from the one who healed me, I went to the patriarch and told him everything exactly as it had happened, and begged him to lift the body of the elder from the place where it was and bury it elsewhere.
‘Believe me, my son,’ said abba Gregory the patriarch, ‘abba Cosmas cannot come to any harm from any heretic. All this has come to pass so that we should take note of the elder’s virtue and zeal for the faith. As he was in this life so he is now that he is laid to rest. And he lets us know his opinion about the bishop, lest we should think that he had been orthodox and .’”
Abba Basileus also told us about a time when he was visiting this same elder in the Lavra of Pharan.
“I was wondering, the other day,” the elder said to Basileus, “what the Lord meant when he said to his disciples ‘Let him sell his coat and buy a sword’ (Luke 22.36) and when the disciples said ‘Here are two swords’ he said ‘It is enough’ (Luke 22.38). I was quite perplexed by these sayings and could not understand what they meant. I was so fixated on them that I left my cell even in the midday heat to go to the Lavra of Turrius in order to question abba Theophilus on the subject. As I was going through the desert near Calamon I saw an enormous reptile coming down the hill towards Calamon. He was so big that as he moved his back curved up like an arched vault, and he left footprints behind him in the earth even deeper. But I passed over these footprints unharmed, and I realised that the devil was trying to put a stop to my enquiry. The prayers of the elder had come to my aid. So I managed to get to Abba Theophilus and told him of my worries.
“‘The two swords signify the two kinds of life, active and contemplative,’ said Theophilus. ‘He who has both of these will achieve perfection.’”
I myself visited this same abba Cosmas when he was in the Lavra of Pharan, and I stayed there for twelve years. He was talking to me once for my soul’s health and mentioned something from the sayings of holy Athanasius, archbishop of Alexandria.
“If you come across something from the works of Athanasius,” he said, “and you haven’t got any paper with you to write it down on, write it on your clothing.” This was typical of how great was the zeal which this elder had for our holy fathers and teachers.
This abba Cosmas was also said to have remained standing from first Vespers through the night till Sunday morning, singing psalms and reading, both in his cell and in church, never sitting down once, until at last when the services were complete, he would sit and read the Gospels until the [last] Collect was said.
Chapter XLI – The life of abba Paul, from Nazarbus
We saw another elder in this Lavra, an abba called Paul, a holy and most gentle man devoted to God, and of great abstinence. I don’t remember ever having met anyone who was so blessed with the gift of tears and the power of giving comfort. Tears were always dripping from his eyes. This holy elder completed fifty years living in solitude without speaking, content with the [daily] portion of bread given him by the church. He came from Nazarbus.
Chapter XLII – The life of abba Anaxanontes, the servant of God
We met abba Anaxanontes in the same place, a tenderhearted and most abstemious man, who lived in his own cell a solitary life of such strictness that he would make twenty small pieces of bread (oblationen minutorum viginti) last for four days. Indeed, sometimes that would be all he would eat for a whole week. Towards the end of his life this venerable man contracted an illness of the stomach and bowel, so we took him to the house for the sick in the holy city which was under the direction of the patriarch. We were with him one day when abba Conon, the prior of the Lavra of our holy father Saba, sent to him six coins and a linen cloth containing the Blessed Sacrament (sudarium unam habens benedictionem) and a message to say that he also was ill and asked pardon for not coming personally. The elder accepted the Sacrament but sent the coins back.
“If God wishes me to continue in this life, father,” he said, “I already have ten coins. When I have spent them I will let you know, and then you can send me these other ones. However, as you will soon know, father, in two days I shall be dead”.
And so it came to pass.
We took him back to the Lavra of Pharan and buried him there. He was a blessed man. He shared a cell with the blessed Eutochius, and when they were both dead their hermitage came to an end.
Chapter XLIII – The horrid death of the ungodly Thalelaeus, archbishop of Thessalonica
There was an archbishop of Thessalonica called Thalelaeus, who feared neither God nor the judgment in store for him. Having no respect for Christian dogma and caring nothing for his priestly honour and dignity, he was a wolf instead of a shepherd. Denying the holy and consubstantial Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he disgracefully worshipped idols. The rulers of the church at that time condemned him unanimously, and drove him from his see. But it was not long before this worthless, wicked and totally godless man wanted to get his priestly dignity back. So in accordance with the saying of Solomon that money solves every need (Ecclesiastes10:19), he went back to his own city of Constantinople where there were Princes who were willing to ‘accept bribes to acquit the guilty and deny justice to the innocent’ (Isaiah 5:23). But God does not desert his holy Church. As Thalelaeus defied the Apostolic canons by refusing to accept the sentence passed upon him, so God condemned him. For on the day when Thalelaeus in magnificent dress was going to the Emperors so that they might issue an order that he should be reinstated, it so happened that he had a stomach upset and answered a call of nature by going to his private latrine in order to empty his bowels. When he had not emerged after two or three hours some of his assistants went in to tell him that it was time for him to leave, and found the unfortunate man upside down in the pit, with his feet sticking up in the air. When those associates of the ungodly Arius pulled him out they found that the enemy of God had been snuffed out in a horrible and eternal death.
He had been trusting in the help of Princes in the hope of tyrannically infiltrating the Church of God. But an angel of great and marvellous counsel, the angel of the holy Church of God, scattered away into oblivion those interior passions of his which had given birth to such nefarious wickedness. He relied on the help of Princes in the hope of bringing to pass things even worse than they were before. The man had no intention of walking in the way of righteousness, he had dealings with a demon of impurity, and occasioned harm to the Church of God. But the ruling angel of the Church of Thessalonica, together with the powerful Martyr Demetrius, prevented this unprofitable servant, and left him in the place where he was found, hanging by his feet pierced by nails, giving proof of the judgment whereby he was punished, and how ‘it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ (Hebrews 10:31)
Chapter XLIV – The life of an old Monk who lived near the city of Antinoe, and how he prayed for the dead
When we visited the Thebaid, an elder told us about a monk of great virtue who had lived in a cell outside Antinoe for seventy years. He had ten disciples one of whom was very lazy. The elder frequently corrected him and warned him.
“Brother have a care for your soul”, he would say. “You will have to die, and unless you amend your ways you will fall into the place of punishment.”
But the brother continued to be disobedient and took no notice of what the elder said. After a while the brother did die, and the elder grieved greatly, knowing that the brother had died in a state of great carelessness and laziness.
“O Lord Jesus Christ, our true God” he prayed, “Reveal to me the state of that brother’s soul.” And in a deep trance he saw a river of fire, and a great crowd of people in that fire, and the brother immersed up to the neck in the midst of them.
” Haven’t I begged you to avoid this punishment, my son”, the elder said, “by taking thought for the health of your soul?”
“I give thanks to God, father,” he replied, “that at least my head is at peace. It is thanks to your prayers that I am standing on the head of a bishop!”
Chapter XLV – The life of an anchorite Monk on the Mount of Olives, and his veneration of an icon of Mary, the most holy birthgiver of God
Abba Theodorus Aeliotes told us about an anchorite on the Mount of Olives, a great (spiritual) athlete, battling strenuously with the spirit of fornication.
“Why can’t you leave me alone?” he cried with a loud moan one day when the demon was attacking him particularly strongly. “You’ve been with me all my life. Get away from me!”
The demon suddenly appeared visibly before him.
“Swear to me,” he said, “that you won’t tell anyone what I am about to say to you, and I won’t bother you any further.”
“By him who lives in the high heavens,” he replied, “I swear not to tell anyone what you say to me.”
“Stop venerating this icon,” the demon said, “and then I will stop attacking you.”
Now this icon consisted of a lifelike painting of our holy lady Mary the birthgiver of God carrying our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Give me time to think about this,” said the anchorite.
The next day he let this same abba Theodorus know about it. He told him everything that had happened. Theodorus was at that time living in the Lavra of Pharan.
“It was very wrong of you, dear abba,” the elder said to the anchorite, “to swear an oath to the demon. Nevertheless you have done the right thing in telling me about it. What you need to do now is to make sure you have no truck with any dealings in that realm, lest you renounce the worship of God, our Lord Jesus Christ and his mother.” He went on to say a great deal more to strengthen and comfort him before leaving him in his cell.
The demon appeared to the anchorite once more.
“What’s this, you wicked elder?” he said. “Didn’t you swear to me that you would not tell anybody? So why have you told all to that person who visited you? I’m telling you, you will be condemned as a perjurer in the day of judgment.”
“I know that I have sworn an oath and broken it,” the anchorite replied, “but that oath sworn in the name of my God and Creator I have broken in order that I should not be obedient to you. But as for you, the prime source of false counsel and perjury, you will not be able to escape the punishment prepared for you.”
Chapter XLVI – The wonderful vision of abba Cyriacus of the Lavra of Calamon, and the two books of the ungodly Nestorius
We visited abba Cyriacus, a presbyter of the Lavra of Calamon near the River Jordan, who told us the following tale:
One day I saw in a dream a woman dressed in purple whose looks immediately inspired trust, and with her two venerable men of dazzling appearance. And I knew that the woman was our Lady, the holy birthgiver of God, and the two men with her John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. I went outside and begged them to come in and offer prayer in my cell, but they would not. I stayed like that for a long time, begging and praying, ‘Let not the humble be turned away with confusion’ (Psalms74.21), and many other such prayers. When she saw me persisting in prayer and repeating the same request she replied to me quite severely:
“You have an enemy of mine in your cell, and you still want me to come in?” she said. Upon which she disappeared.
I earnestly began to accuse myself and examine my conscience as to whether I had allowed some sin against her to enter my mind, for there was no one else in my cell. Me only! I argued away mentally for a long time but could not find any way in which I could have sinned against her. I could see that this was making me very depressed so I went and picked up a book, hoping that reading might drive away my mournful thoughts. The book I picked up was one I had borrowed from the blessed Isychius, a presbyter of the church of Jerusalem, but as I turned the book over I noticed that two treatises of the ungodly Nestorius were written at the end of it. I immediately recognised that this was the enemy spoken of by our Lady, the birthgiver of God, Mary ever virgin. I immediately got up and took the book back to the person who had lent it to me.
“Take you book back, brother,” I said to him, “for it has not done me as much good as it has harm.”
He wanted to know what harm it had done, so I told him the whole of what happened, whereupon he became so inflamed with zeal for God that he immediately tore the two Nestorian treatises out of the volume and consigned them to the fire.
“There shall no enemy of our Lady the holy Theotokos (birthgiver of God), Mary ever virgin, remain in my house” he said.
Chapter XLVII – The miracle of the Theotokos (birthgiver of God) against Gaianus the mime, who blasphemed against her in the theatre
Heliopolis is a city in Phoenician Lebanon, where a certain mime called Gaianus put on a blasphemous show for the people, blaspheming especially against the holy birthgiver of God.
“What harm have I done to you?” asked the holy birthgiver of God, who appeared to him one day. “Why are you insulting me and blaspheming against me in front of so many people?”
However he made no attempt to amend his ways, but blasphemed all the more. The holy birthgiver of God appeared to him again and reproved him.
“Stop, I beg you,” she said, “stop doing your own soul so much harm.”
But his blasphemy became even worse. She appeared to him a third time, with much the same reproof. Again he refused to repent, again he uttered more blasphemies. She appeared to him again during his midday nap, saying nothing, but pointing to his feet and his hands. When he woke up he found that his feet and his hands were crippled. And this unfortunate man, lying there crippled, admitted to everyone the reason for his condition and how it had happened to him, and that the crucifying punishment for his blasphemies had been nothing but merciful.
Chapter XLVIII – Another miracle of the Theotokos (birthgiver of God) in which Cosmiana, the wife of the patrician Germanus, was persuaded to return from the Severian heresy to the true faith of Christ
Anastasius the presbyter told us this story. He was the guardian of the holy tomb from which our Lord and God Jesus Christ rose from the dead. One Sunday evening he was approached by Cosmiana, the wife of the patrician Germanus, asking to be allowed to venerate alone the holy and life-giving memorial to our Lord Jesus Christ. But when she approached the sacred shrine our Lady the holy birthgiver of God appeared visibly to her accompanied by several other women.
“You are not one of us,” she said. “How dare you enter here? You may not go in. You are not one of us.” She was an adherent of that brainless Severian heresy, but she implored insistently that she might be found worthy of entering in.
“Believe me, woman,” said the holy birthgiver of God, “you shall not enter here unless you are in communion with us.”
When she realised that it was because she was a heretic she was not allowed to enter, and that entry would continue to be forbidden unless she returned to the holy and apostolic Church of Christ our God and Lord, she immediately summoned a deacon who brought the holy chalices from which she received the holy body and precious blood of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. And then without any let or hindrance she was counted worthy of adoring the holy and venerable tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Chapter XLIX – The wonderful vision of a Palestinian General and how he also was compelled to renounce the aforesaid heresy and communicate in the Church of Christ
This same presbyter Anastasius told us how Gevemer, a Palestinian general, once came to venerate the holy resurrection of Christ our Lord. As he began to go into the holy shrine he saw a goat charging towards him, threatening him with his horns. He took fright and hastily turned back. The guardian of the holy cross, Azarias, was startled, as were the lictors with him.
“What’s the matter, sir?” they said. “What’s wrong? Why are you not going in?”
“Why have you allowed that goat in there?” he replied.
Astonished, they inspected the holy shrine but found nothing.
“Go on in,” they said. “There’s nothing like that in there.”
Again he began to go in, and again he saw the goat rushing towards him preventing his entry. He did this several times, he being the only one to see the goat while the others saw nothing.
“Believe me, sir,” said the guardian of the holy cross, “there must be something in your soul which prevents you worshipping at this holy, venerable and life-giving shrine of our Saviour. I urge you, confess your sin to the Lord. He has been showing you this miraculous sight because he is clement and merciful and desires your forgiveness.”
“Indeed, I am guilty of many great sins,” he said in tears. And he prostrated himself face downwards, remaining there for a long time weeping and confessing to the Lord. But when at last he got up and tried to go in, again the goat prevented him.
“There must be something else preventing you,” said the guardian.
“Could it be, perhaps,” asked the general, “that I am prevented from going in because I am not a member of the holy Church, but belong to the communion of Severianus?” Then he asked the guardian to bring him the holy and life-giving mysteries of Christ our God. The holy chalice was brought, he made his communion, he went in and adored unhindered, seeing nothing of what had previously prevented him.
Chapter L – The vision of abba George the anchorite, and what he said
Scythopolis is the second city of Palestine, and there we met abba Anastasius who told us about abba George the anchorite as follows:
I am the one who has been put in charge of the clappers used to call the brothers together, and one night when I arose to sound the signal I heard the elder weeping, and went out to him to ask him what the matter was and why he was weeping like that. He answered me not at all. Once more I asked him to tell me why he was weeping.
“Why shouldn’t I weep,” he said, groaning and sighing from the bottom of his heart, “when our Lord Jesus Christ refuses to change his mind towards us. For I seemed to be standing before someone sitting on a lofty throne, with thousands of people praying in front of him and begging him for something. But he remained unmoved by their prayers. Then a woman clothed in purple came near and fell down before him, begging him as her son to relent for her sake. But he remained inexorable nevertheless. This is why I am weeping and moaning, for I am afraid of what is to come.”
Abba George was telling me this at dawn on a Thursday (Quinta illuscencente feria coenae Domini). Next day, that is on the Friday (parasceve), at the ninth hour, a big earthquake caused severe damage to a city on the coast of Phoenicia.
This same abba Anastasius told us how abba George a little while later was standing at the window when he began to weep copiously.
“Woe betide us, brother,” he said, “for we have no sorrow for sin but live in negligence, and I am afraid for the time when the Lord takes us and we stand before the gates to be judged.”
And the next day fire appeared in the heavens.
Chapter LI – The life of Julian, an elder of the monastery of the Egyptians
Anazarbus is the second city of the province of the Cilicians. About twelve miles distant from it is a monastery known as “of the Egyptians”. The fathers of that place told us that five years previously an elder called Julian had died, who had lived for seventy years in a very narrow cavern, with no possessions in this world except a cloak, a blanket, a wooden bowl and a book.
They also told us this about him, that for the whole of his life he lit no lamp, for the light of heaven so shone upon him during the night that he was able to read quite clearly.
Chapter LII – The saying of abba Elias, a solitary
A certain brother went to abba Elias, a solitary in the coenobium of our ancient father Saba, and asked him for a word.
“In the days of our fathers,” the elder said to the brother, “there were three virtues which the monks loved and strove after, detachment from material things, gentleness and continence. Nowadays there is greed, bitterness and impudence. Apply to yourself whichever of these pleases you.”
Chapter LIII – The life of the elder Cyriacus, of the monastery of St Saba
Abba Stephen told us about an elder called Cyriacus who lived in the monastery of our holy father Saba. He came down one day from Mount Tuthela and having stayed for a while beside the Dead Sea began to go back to his cell. It was so hot that the elder was nearly fainting, but he stretched out his hands to the heavens and said, “O Lord you know that I am so thirsty that I can hardly walk”, and at once a cloud surrounded him and stayed with him until he had reached his cell, about twelve miles away.
This same abba Stephen also told us that some of the elder’s family came to see him one day and when they got near to the place asked where his cell was. After some people directed them they went to the cell and knocked on the door. When he recognised them the elder prayed to God that they need not see him, and opening the door he ran out so quickly that they hardly even caught a glimpse of him. He ran out into the desert and refused to return until he was satisfied that they had gone away.
Chapter LIV – The life of the monks of Scythia, and of the elder Ammonius
After this we travelled to Terenuthis and met abba Theodore of Alexandria.
“My sons,” he said to us, “just as the old men foretold, the monks of Scythia have lost a great deal of the great charity, abstinence and discretion which, believe me, they used to have. I saw how the old men there would not take any food unless visitors came to see them. One of these old men called Ammonius lived near me. I knew what his customs were, so I used to visit him every Saturday so that he would take some food during my visit. It was their general rule, that whenever anyone visited any of them, they would ask the visitors to pray, and during the prayers they would prepare the food and afterwards all dine together.”
Chapter LV – The life of a certain Elder dwelling in Scythia and abba Irenaeus
Abba Irenaeus told us about an elder living in Scythia who one night saw the devil providing hoes and mattocks and baskets for the brothers.
“Why these?” the elder asked the devil.
“I’m preparing a distraction for the brothers, ” the devil replied, “so that they will busy themselves with these and neglect to pray and glorify God.”
Abba Irenaeus also told us that when the barbarians invaded Scythia he left there and went to the Gaza region, where he accepted a cell in the monastery.
“The abbot there gave me a book to read,” he said, “containing the deeds of the old men. As soon as I opened the book my eyes fell upon a passage in which a brother came to an elder and asked him to pray for him.
“‘As long as you were one of us’ the elder said, “We prayed for you. But now that you have gone off on your own we pray for you no longer.’
“When I had read this passage, I closed the book and said to myself. ‘Woe betide you, Irenaeus, for you have gone off on your own and the fathers are no longer praying for you.’ I took the book back to the abbot straight away and came back here. So, my sons, that’s how I came to be here.”
Chapter LVI – The life of JOHN, the disciple of a great elder who lived in the town of Caparasima
There is a region of Phoenicia called Ptolemais, in which there is a village called Caparasima. In this village there was a great elder who had a disciple called John, who had a great reputation as well, especially for his obedience. One day the elder sent him off on an errand, giving him a bit of bread to sustain him on the way. John went off and carried out the errand, then came back to the monastery and gave back the bread to the elder.
“My son,” said the elder as he gazed at the bread, “why have you not eaten the bread I gave you?”
“Forgive me, father,” he said, as he prostrated himself before the elder, “but you gave me no blessing when you sent me off, and you did not tell me the bread was to be eaten, so I didn’t touch it.”
The elder was amazed at the brother’s discretion, and gave him a blessing.
After the elder’s death this brother fasted forty days and a voice from heaven came to him saying, “If you lay hands on anyone sick they will be cured.” The next morning, by divine providence, there came a man and to him bringing his wife with him who was suffering from cancer of the breast, the man asked him to cure his wife.
“I am a sinner,” said the brother,” and unworthy to do such things.”
But the man persisted in begging him to agree to have pity on his wife. At last he did lay hands on her, and made the sign of the cross on her breast, whereupon she was immediately cured. From that time on God did many other signs through him, not only during his own lifetime, but even after his death.
Chapter LVII – The death of Simeon the Stylite, and abba Julianus, also a Stylite
Simeon the Stylite was about forty miles from the city of Aegis in Cilicia; he was struck by lightning and died. Now abba Julianus also was a Stylite, and quite contrary to his usual practice and at an unusual time he told his disciples to put some incense in the thurible.
“What for?” they asked him. They begged him to explain.
“Because my brother Simeon has just now been knocked over by lightning and is dead,” he said, “and look, his soul is going, leaping up with exultation.”
Chapter LVIII – Another story about Julianus
Abba Stephen Trichinas, superior of the monastery of our holy father Saba, told us this also about abba Julianus the Stylite:
Not far from the place where he lived a lion had appeared which had become accustomed to killing numbers of the local population as well as foreigners. So one day he called his disciple Pancras to him.
Go about two miles south from here and you will find the lion lying down. Say to him, ‘Julianus humbly asks you in the name of Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, to go away from this province.’”
The brother went, found the lion lying down, spoke the words of the elder to him, and the lion immediately went away.
Chapter LIX – The life of Thalaleus of Cilicia
Abba Peter, a presbyter of the same monastery, told us about abba Thalaleus of Cilicia who spent sixty years in the monastic life weeping continuously. He was always saying that our time here is given to us for penitence, and we will be held to account if we neglect it.
Chapter LX – The extraordinary deed of the Holy Virgin by means of which her adolescent admirer was conscience-stricken and became a monk
When we were in Alexandria one of the faithful told us the following story:
There was a holy virgin living a solitary life in her own home who worked very hard at her own salvation. She regularly gave herself to fasts and vigils, and gave alms freely. But the devil who hates everything good found the virtues of this woman so insufferable that he prepared a campaign against her by stirring up in a certain young man a devilish lust for her. He haunted the space outside her house. When the woman tried to leave the house in order to go to church and pray, this young man harassed her with lustful and impure looks. He would not let her pass with subjecting her to seductive propositions and shameless suggestions, so that in the end the aggressive behaviour of this young man prevented her from leaving her house at all.
One day the woman sent her servant out to the young man.
“My mistress wants you,” she said. “Come inside.”
He went in, delighted, eager for the shameful deed, to where she was sitting on the bed.
“Sit down,” she said. “Tell me please brother, why do you harass me so grievously that I can’t go out of my own house?”
“Truly, I love you very much,” he said, “and whenever I look at you I am totally inflamed with desire.”
“What can you see so beautiful in me that you should love me so?”
“It’s your eyes. That’s what has led me on.”
When the woman realised that it was her eyes which had led him on she took a distaff and gouged her eyes out.
When it sank in to the young man that she had actually gouged her own eyes out he was conscience stricken and went off to Scythia to become a monk.
Chapter LXI – The life of abba Leontius of Cilicia
Some of the fathers used to say of abba Leontius of Cilicia that he had a great devotion to our Lady, the holy birthgiver of God, and for forty years he was to be seen in a church dedicated to her. He had a wonderfully grave presence which he preserved at all times.
They described how he dealt with any beggars who came to him. If they were blind he would put some money into their hands, but if they were not he would put the money at the base of a column, or on a bench, or on the steps of the sanctuary, for the beggars to pick up. If any one asked him why he did not simply put the money into their hands, he would reply, “Forgive me father, but it is not me giving the alms, but my lady the holy birthgiver of God, who provides food for both them and me.”
Chapter LXII – The life of abba Stephen, a presbyter of the monastery of the Aeliotes
One of the old men said of abba Stephen a presbyter of the monastery of the Aeliotes that the devil would trouble his thoughts as he sat in his cell saying “Leave this place. You are not doing any good here.” He would reply, “I am not listening to you. I know who you are. It is not possible for anyone to be deceived by you for Christ the son of the living God himself is your adversary.”
Chapter LXIII – The same
It was also said of him that when he was sitting in his cell reading the devil appeared to him visibly and said, “Leave this place. You are not doing any good here.”
“If you want me to go,” he said to the demon, “make this chair I am sitting in move about.”
Now the chair he was sitting in was of wicker-work, and the devil made it move about all over the cell.
“In spite of your speed and cleverness,” he replied as he observed the devil’s tricks, “I have no intention of going away.” He prayed, and the devil disappeared.
Chapter LXIV – The same
Three old men visited abba Stephen the presbyter, and while they kept on talking about what might be of benefit to the soul Stephen said nothing.
“You are not saying anything, father,” they said to him. “We are visiting you because we hoped to hear something helpful.”
“Forgive me,” he said, “but up to now I had not taken much notice of what you were talking about. However I will share with you this thought that I have: day and night I gaze upon nothing other than Jesus Christ hanging on the cross.”
They were greatly edified on hearing this and so went on their way.
Chapter LXV – The same
Abba Johannes Molybas told us another story about that blessed and venerable elder, the presbyter Stephen.
He became ill with a disease of the liver which resulted in that holy soul of his departing from the body. During his illness the doctors had ordered him to eat meat. He had a brother living in the world who was very religious and lived a godly life, but when he visited Stephen and saw him eating meat he was scandalised, and very sorrowful to think that from a life of great abstinence and continence he had lowered himself in his last hours to eating meat.
Later he fell into an ecstasy and someone appeared to him who said, “Why are you so scandalised by this presbyter simply because you saw him eating meat? Don’t you realise that he was compelled to this by necessity, and did it purely through obedience? You had no business being scandalised, and if you want to know your brother’s merits and glory, turn round and look behind you.”
He turned round and saw Stephen crucified with the Lord.
“See the glory your brother has been given,” said the voice in the apparition. “Therefore glorify him who glorifies them who truly love him.”
Chapter LXVI – The life of abba Theodosius, solitary
Abba Antonius, the superior of the monastery of the Aeliotes which he had built himself, told us that abba Theodosius had told him this story about himself:
Before I entered the solitary life I once fell into an ecstasy and saw a man whose brilliance outshone the brightness of the sun.
“Come,” he said, taking my hand. “Your lot is to strive and fight.”
And he led me into an infinitely large theatre which I saw was full of men in white robes on one side and in black on the other. He thrust me into the theatre, and I saw an enormous Ethiopian whose terrifying head reached up to the clouds.
“This is he whom you must fight with,” said the man who had appeared to me.
Terrified by the appearance of this enormous person, I began to tremble with fear, and pleaded with the splendid youth who had brought me in.
“What mortal man in all his weakness would be able to strive with him?” I said. “The whole human race rolled into one would not be able to prevail against him!”
“Nevertheless you must fight against him,” said the dazzling youth. “Go for him with all speed and confidence, and once you have started I shall be with you in support, and will give you the crown of victory.”
I began the contest, we fought together, and the dazzling judge gave me the crown. And the large, shadowy crowd of Ethiopians fled howling, while those clothed in white who remained gave praise to him who had been my helper and given me a famous victory.
Chapter LXVII – The same
Abba Cyriacus, Theodosius’ disciple, told us that this solitary had lived for thirty years in solitude, eating every two days, keeping perpetual silence, speaking to no one. He used signs rather than words if he needed to communicate. I witnessed this myself, for I stayed in the monastery of the Aeliotes for ten years.
Chapter LXVIII – The same
When Abramius, the superior of New St Mary heard that Theodosius had no cloak to wear in winter he bought one for him. While he was asleep, some time after receiving it (for the elder slept in his cell), some robbers came and pulled it off him and carried it away with them. But even after this deed he still said nothing.
Chapter LXIX – The life of abba Palladius, and the old Thessalonican anchorite called David
Before Sophronius Sophista renounced the world, he and I once visited abba Palladius in Alexandria, a holy man and true servant of God whose monastery was in Thelazomenos. Both of us asked him to give us some teaching (verbum aedificationis), and he began immediately:
“My little children,” he said, “the time is short, so let us strive for a little while and labour to enjoy the deathless benefits of eternity. Look to the martyrs, those heavenly fighters, and see how they overcame in all things with strength and bravery. It was a previous age which recognised them but they live forever in our memories, and we can hardly admire their endurance enough. Everyone who hears of them is astonished at how great was the patience of the blessed martyrs, more than human nature would have thought possible. Some of them had their eyes torn out, some their legs broken, some their hands cut off, others their feet. Some were suddenly thrown into the fire and suffered crucifying agony as they slowly burned. It is certain that the ocean depths were the resting place of some, the rivers others. Others were thrown alive into the teeth of wild beasts like malefactors and criminals, suffering various terrible agonies before death as they became the animals’ food. There were many other kinds of torments, defying description, thought up for the warriors of God at the suggestion of the demon enemy of the human race, livid with spite towards those very martyrs. O how bravely they endured! How great the faith with which they fought, overcoming the weakness of the body by their spiritual strength! They counted their present labours as nothing compared to the more excellent and splendid rewards which were their hope. All these things truly showed how wonderfully firm their faith was, through and through. Labouring a little while here they now enjoy the greatest bliss in eternity. This indeed was why they bravely bore the horrible punishments inflicted on their bodies at the instigation of our enemy the devil.
“So then, if we endure tribulation, and overcome by the grace of God, we shall be found lovers of God. For God is with us, fighting and conquering in us, soothing our toil and sweat for the sake of his own honour. Therefore, my little children, knowing what works and expectations the times demand of us let us become worthy through quietness and silence. In this time granted to us we must make use of the eminently good work of penitence, that we may be found worthy of the temple of God, and we shall be rewarded with no mean or short-lived honour in the world to come.”
He also said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20). And again, Since Paul the Apostle says we also glory in our sufferings, because we realise that suffering develops perseverance” (Romans 5:3), let us ensure that our minds are open to the kingdom of heaven.” And again, “‘Do not love the world or what is in the world. If anyone does love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’” (1 John 2:15) And again, he said, “Let us keep watch over our thoughts, for that is the medicine of salvation.”
We asked abba Palladius if he would increase our awareness by telling us in what sort of way would thoughts be expected to develop in the monastic state, and he told us about an elder from Thessalonica:
“In my home area there was an anchorite from Mesopotamia called David about three miles outside the city walls. He was a man adorned with many virtues, merciful and abstemious, and had been enclosed in his cell for eighty years. For fear of the barbarians there were soldiers keeping watch on the city walls every night, and those who were looking out in the direction of the anchorite’s cell noticed one night that it seemed as if fire could be seen through the windows of his cell. The soldiers thought that barbarians must have set fire to the elder’s cell, but in the morning the soldiers went down and were astonished to find the elder quite unharmed and no signs of fire in the cell. They were amazed to see the same appearance of fire on the night following, and not only the next night but frequently afterwards so that it became known to the whole city. Many people watched nightly on the city walls in the hope of seeing this fire, which continued right up to the day of the elder’s death. Having seen this miracle myself not once, not twice, but many times, I said to myself, ‘If God shows such glory to his servants in this life, how much more do you think he will show in the life to come, when “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”’ (Matthew 13:43) This was the spur which made me take the monastic habit, my little children, and choosing this way of life.”
Chapter LXX – The life of the anchorite monk Addas of Mesopotamia
The elder also told us that after this abba David, there was another monk called Addas, also a Mesopotamian, who built himself an anchorage in a great plane tree (seipsum inclusit in quadam magna platano) in another part of the region. He made a window in it through which he was able to talk to visitors. When the barbarians came and laid waste the whole province they happened to come by his place. As soon as one of them spied the elder he drew his sword in order to kill him, but having lifted up his hand to strike he was unable to bring it down, remaining motionless with his hand hanging in the air. When the other barbarians saw this they were amazed and begged the elder to cure their companion. The elder did pray, the man was released, and so he dismissed them in peace.
Chapter LXXI – The beautiful words of a Murderer to a monk who was following him on the way to his execution
This same abbot Palladius told us of someone arrested and found guilty of murder in Arsinoe, a city of the Thebaid. After being tortured for some time he was at last sentenced to be beheaded. He was taken out of the city for six miles to the place where he had committed the murder and a monk followed on behind him in order to witness the execution.
“Haven’t you got a cell and manual work to attend to?” said the condemned man when he saw the monk.
“Forgive me, brother,” said the monk, “but yes, I do have a cell and work to do.”
“Well, why aren’t you sitting in your cell and weeping for your own sins, then?”
“You are right, brother. I am very neglectful of my duties, and find myself unable to summon up any compunction in my heart. That is why I have come to watch you die, in the hope that thereby I might find compunction.”
“Go with the Lord, brother”, said the guilty man, “and sit in your cell and give thanks to our Saviour Jesus Christ. Since he was made human and died for us sinners, human beings no longer suffer eternal death.”
Chapter LXXII – A story of abbot Palladius about an elderly murderer who falsely accused a young man of the crime
Abbot Palladius also told us this story about an elderly layman who had committed murder and was held in custody by the magistrate in Alexandria. After being tortured he accused someone else of being his accomplice in the crime, a young man about twenty years old. They were both subjected to many tortures, the older man accusing the younger of being with him when the crime was done, and the younger denying it vigorously, swearing that his conscience was clear of the murder, and that he had not been with the older man at all. After the torture they were sentenced to be suspended [with hands outstretched] from a wooden yoke. They were taken five miles outside the city to the place where it was customary for those guilty of this kind of crime to be punished.
Now there was a ruined temple of Saturn about three hundred metres (uno stadio) from the place. When the soldiers and spectators arrived there they intended to string up the young man first, but he threw himself on the ground and pleaded with the soldiers:
“In the name of the Lord, please grant me the favour of being hung up facing the East, so that I may look towards Him when I am hanging there.”
“What do you mean?” the soldiers asked?
“Truly, sirs,” replied the young man, “miserable though I am, it is only seven months since I received holy Baptism and became a Christian.”
Hearing this the soldiers were moved to tears for the young man. But the older man, snorting with rage, said to the soldiers:
“In the name of Serapis let me be able to turn my face towards Saturn.”
Hearing this blasphemy the soldiers left the young man and began to string up the elder first. When he had been well and truly suspended from the wooden yoke, behold, an Augustal official came rushing in.
“Don’t kill the young man,” he said to the soldiers. “Take him back [to the courtroom].”
The soldiers and everyone there were delighted. They took him back to the courtroom, where the Augustalis acquitted him. The young man contrary to all expectation was saved, and he went away and became a monk.
We have written this down not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of the readers, that we may be convinced that the Lord knows how to deliver the faithful in their tribulations.
Chapter LXXIII – The life of John, an Alexandrian soldier
This same abbot Palladius also told us this story. There was a soldier in Alexandria called John who followed this rule of life: He would stay in the monastery every day from the morning up till the ninth hour, sitting alone in front of St Peter’s steps, wearing a tunic (cilicium), weaving baskets, totally silent, speaking to no one. He was praying as he sat and worked with his hands, but the only words which he softly sang were Save me, O Lord, I pray, from my secret sins. Let me not be confounded. Having spoken he was then silent for about an hour, when he repeated this same verse again, so that he repeated it seven times altogether during the day, and did not say anything else. At the ninth hour, he took off his tunic and put on his military uniform (militarem habitum) and his weapons (indumenta), and so hastened back to his own barracks (signa, lit. ‘standards’ carried at the head of the legion). I stayed there myself for eight years and was greatly edified by his silence and way of life.
Chapter LXXIV – A reliable statement from Palladius, on the subject of heresy
The elder caught us one day and said to us: “Believe me, my little children, the only reason for schisms and heresies coming in to the Church is that we do not love God and each other with our whole heart.”
Chapter LXXV – A miracle done by Our Lady to the wife and daughter of a man of the faith who was accustomed to giving hospitality to monks
When we visited Palladius on another day he told us the following story:
There was a man of the faith in Alexandria, very devout and generous, accustomed to giving monks hospitality. He had a wife, very humble, who fasted daily, and also a young daughter about six years old. He was a businessman, and one day he had to go on a journey to Constantinople, leaving his wife, daughter and one servant at home. As he was about to take ship his wife asked him who would be their protector in his absence.
“Our Lady the holy birthgiver of God,” her husband replied.
One day when the wife was sitting working, her daughter being with her, the servant hatched a plot to kill both the lady and her daughter, seize whatever he could and flee. Taking a knife from the kitchen he went towards the triclinium where they both were. When he got to the door he was suddenly stricken with blindness, nor could he either go in to the triclinium or return to the kitchen. He stayed like that for about an hour, trying in vain to go in, and at last began to call out to the lady:
“Please, can you come here!” he cried.
“No, you come here, rather,” she said, seeing him standing in the doorway shouting out rather than coming in, unaware that he was blind.
The servant again began to beg her to come to him, but she positively refused.
“Well, send your daughter to me,” he begged.
“Certainly not,” she said. “If there is something you want, you come here.”
The servant realised that there was nothing that could be done, turned the knife upon himself and fell to the floor. The lady screamed when she realised what he had done, and neighbours immediately rushed in. Some praetorian officials also arrived and finding the servant still alive, learned everything, and glorified the Lord who had saved both mother and daughter.
Chapter LXXVI – The drowning of Mary, a woman who was a sinner
Palladius also told us this story: A certain sea captain once told me about a voyage of his when he had several male and female passengers aboard. Out on the high seas other ships seemed to be sailing well under a favourable wind, some to Constantinople, some to Alexandria, some to other places, but he could make no progress at all.
“We stayed put for about fifteen days,” he said, “unable to move from where we were. We became very depressed and desperate, not knowing whatever could be causing this. As captain responsible for the care of the ship and everyone in her I began to pray about it to God. And indeed on a certain day a voice came to me saying: ‘Get rid of Mary and you will sail well.’ ‘What did that mean’, I thought, ‘and who is Mary?’ And as I turned this over in my mind the voice came again, saying: ‘I tell you, get rid of Mary and you will be all right.’
“‘O Mary!’ I shouted over and over again, wondering what this was all about and not knowing who Mary was. But Mary herself heard me from where she was sitting and said: ‘Did you want me, sir?’
“‘Could you come here, please,’ I said. She got up to come straight away, and when she had got to me I took her aside.
“‘Mary, my sister,’ I said, ‘Are you able to see if it is my sins which are responsible for the plight you are all in? ‘
“‘In fact, Captain,’ she said, with a deep groan, ‘it is I who am the sinner.’
“‘Why, what have you done, woman?’ I asked.
“‘Woe is me’, she said. ‘There is no sin in the book which I have not been guilty of. And it is because of my sins that you have all been brought into this present danger.’
“And then the woman told me all about herself.
“‘I’m a miserable wretch, Captain,’ she said. ‘I had a husband with whom I had two sons, but when one of them was nine and the other five my husband died and I was a widow. But there was a soldier living near me whom I would have quite liked to have as a husband, and I gave him some signals to that effect (misique ad ipsum quosdam). But he wouldn’t because he said he did not want a wife who had two children by another man. But I was carried away with desire for him, and seeing that he would not have me because of my children, I killed them both and then went to him and said “See now, I no longer have any children”. When he learned what I had done with the children he said: “As the Lord lives in heaven, I certainly will not have you!” So I fled, in fear that he would tell and I should be executed.’
“Even though I had heard this out of her own mouth I was unwilling to throw her overboard, and tried to put off coming to a decision.
“‘Look,’ I said, ‘I will go down into a lifeboat, and if the ship then begins to move we will know that it was my sins which were impeding her.’ I called for the coxswain and said, ‘Lower the boat’. But once I was in the boat, neither the ship nor the boat still made any movement. Coming back aboard again I said to the woman, ‘Now you get down into the boat’. The moment she got into it the boat turned round five times and went straight to the bottom, carrying her with it. And after this the ship made such good progress that in three and a half days’ sailing we made up for the fifteen days we had lost.”
Chapter LXXVII – The story of three poor Blind Men, and how they came by their blindness
My respected master Sophronius and I went once to the house of Stephanus the philosopher to benefit from his teaching. It was about the middle of the day and he lived near the church of the holy birthgiver of God known as the Dorothea, which our blessed father Eulogius had built near the great Tetrapylum [a portico of four columns standing in line]. When we knocked at the philosopher’s door a maid opened up to us who said that he was asleep and we would have to wait a while.
“Let’s go to the Tetrapylum and wait there,” I said to Sophronius. It was a place held in great reverence in Alexandria, for it is said that Alexander, the founder of the city, brought the bones of the prophet Jeremiah out of Egypt and reburied them there. When we got there, about noon, we found no one inside except three blind men. Without making a noise we sat down near these three men to read our books. They were having a long conversation with each other.
“How did you come to be blind?” one of them asked the other.
“In my youth I was a sailor,” he replied, “and while sailing from Africa on the high seas I suddenly became blind, and could not see where I was going for the whiteness in my eyes. And how did you become blind?” he asked the other.
“I worked in glass production of various kinds,” he said, “the fire damaged both my eyes, and I became blind.”
Having questioned each other they both then turned to the third.
“Tell us how you also became blind,” they asked.
“When I was young,” he replied, “I hated work, I rejected it, I was just a layabout (luxuriosus). But I had nothing to live on so I took to stealing. I had committed many crimes, when one day I was standing in a certain place where I noticed a very richly dressed corpse being carried by. I followed the funeral procession to see where it would be laid. They went behind St John [‘s church], and laid the body in a tomb. They said the funeral prayers and departed. As soon as I was sure they had all gone I went in to the tomb and pulled off all the rich clothing, leaving nothing but a linen cloth. As I was on my way out of the tomb, loaded up with many bundles, a wicked thought said to me, ‘Take the linen cloth as well, it is such a good one.’ Alas, I went back and took the linen cloth also, leaving the body quite naked. The dead man suddenly sat up before my very eyes, thrust out his hands towards me and gouged out my eyes. Terrified, I dropped everything, and found my way out of the tomb with great danger and difficulty. So now, I have told you how I too became blind.”
My respected master Sophronius nodded to me when we had heard this tale, and we stole away.
“Abba John,” he said, “we really have no need for any further study today. We have already been educated quite enough.”
I have told this tale that you also might be educated: there is no ill doer who may hide from God. And we heard this tale from the very person it happened to.
Chapter LXXVIII – The astonishing miracle of a dead Girl, who seized a grave-robber and would not let him go until he had promised to become a monk.
Abba Johannes, the father of the monastery of Gigantum, told us a similar story from the time when he had been at Theopolis:
It is not so long ago that I had a visit from a certain young man.
“Help me, for the love of God,” he said, with many tears and convulsive sighs. “I need to do penance.”
I could see that he was very penitent and deeply sad.
“Tell me the reason why you are so filled with compunction,” I said. “Don’t hold anything back, for God is surely able to help you.”
“Abba,” he said, “I am truly a great sinner.”
“Believe me,” I said, “Just as there are a great many different kinds of wounds, so there are many different kinds of medicine. If you wish to be cured, tell me truly what you have done, so that I can give you a penance which is suitable. For there is one sort of cure for fornication, another for murder, another for avarice, another for lying, another for anger. No need to go through the rest of the vices for you, but there are various remedies for all the vices of the soul just as there are various remedies for all the bodily ailments.”
But he could do nothing but groan even more and strike his breast with tears and convulsive sighs. Such was his distress and sorrow that his heart failed him and he was quite unable to say a single word. I tried to concentrate his mind on his desperate grief and his unbearable sins, unable as he was to describe his disaster, or what had happened to him or what he had done.
“Listen to me, my son.” I said, “Put a little order into your thoughts and describe to me what you have done. Then perhaps our Lord may be able to offer you some help. For of his ineffable mercy and boundless compassion he has suffered all things for our salvation. He was a friend of publicans and welcomed the harlot who came to him. He accepted the robber, and was called the friend of sinners. He will gather you into his hands also, my son, as you turn to him in penitence. ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather in their decision to turn from their evil ways and live.’ (Ezekiel 33:11).
Then he made an effort to control his tears and sighs a little.
“I am a sink of iniquity, father,” he said “fit neither for earth or heaven. Two days ago I heard that a young girl belonging to one of the richest families of this city had died, and was being buried with many costly garments in a tomb outside the city. From force of a most wicked habit I went by night to the tomb, went in and set about robbing her. I took everything she wore off her, not even sparing her loincloth, which I also removed, leaving her naked as the day she was born. I had begun to leave the tomb when she suddenly sat up in front of me, stretched out her left hand and seized my right and said ‘You most wicked man, aren’t you ashamed to have stripped me bare? Have you no fear of God and the reward of everlasting damnation? Ought you not at the very least to have had respect for the dead? And if you are a Christian, do you think it would have been right for me to stand naked before Christ? Have you no respect for the female sex? Was it not this sex which gave you birth? Have you not violated your own mother in what you have done to me? You wretched man, what shall you plead before the tremendous judgment seat of Christ when faced with this crime you have perpetrated on me. While I was alive no stranger ever so much as saw my face, but now I am dead and buried you have stripped me and seen my naked body. O, to what depths of human misery have you descended! How will you be able to hold out your hands to receive the holy and precious body of our Lord Jesus Christ? What will be in your heart?’
“I was totally overcome by panic and horror as I witnessed and heard all this.
“‘Let me go,’ I finally managed to say with fear and trembling, ‘and I won’t ever do this again.’
“‘Certainly not,’ she said. ‘You came in here of your own free will, but you shall not go out again just as you please. This place will be a tomb for both of us, and don’t think that you will die quickly. You will suffer here for many days before you painfully deliver up your wicked soul.’
“I wept and begged her to let me go for the sake of Almighty God, promising and swearing an oath that I would never do such a wicked and shameful thing ever again. And at last after my floods of tears and sighs she gave me her reply.
“‘If you wish to live and be freed from my grasp you must promise me that if I let you go you must not only refrain from such wicked and profane deeds in future, but resolve immediately to renounce the world and become a monk, and serve Christ in penitence for the evil you have done.’
“‘In the name of God who will receive my soul,’ I said, ‘I will not merely do what you say, but after leaving here I will never go back home but go with all speed to a monastery.’ “‘Put my clothes back on,’ the girl then said, ‘and leave me in the same state as you found me.’
“I did so, she stretched herself out, and lay there, dead.”
With this tale from the young man fresh in my ears I comforted and encouraged him, urging him to penitence and continence. I tonsured him, gave him the monastic habit and enclosed him in a mountain cave, where I left him giving heartfelt thanks to God and struggling manfully for the salvation of his soul.
Chapter LXXIX – The great and astonishing miracle of the most holy Eucharist, in the time of Dionysius the bishop of Seleucia.
When we came to Seleucia we called on abbot Theodore, the bishop of that city. He told us the following story:
This is something that happened under my predecessor, Dionysius of holy memory, bishop of this city. There was a businessman in the city, very rich, and very religious, though a heretic, for he was a follower of Severus. [465-538, Monophysite Patriarch of Antioch]. He had a servant who was a faithful communicant of the holy and apostolic Church, and according to the custom of that province on Maundy Thursday (die Sancto Coenae Dominicae) he received Communion, wrapped it in a fair linen cloth and put it in a safe. It so happened, however, that after Easter this man of faith was sent to Constantinople on business and gave the key of the safe to his master, forgetting that he had left the holy Communion in it.
The master opened the safe one day and found the linen cloth with the holy particles of Communion wrapped up in it. He was worried about this and did not quite know what to do with them. He was reluctant to consume them, seeing that they were members of the holy Church, whereas he was a follower of Severus. So he put them back in the safe, thinking that his servant would consume them when he came back.
But when Maundy Thursday came and the servant had still not come back he thought that perhaps he should burn them, rather than keep them there for a second year. But when he opened the safe he found that the holy particles had germinated, producing stalks and ears of corn. He was overcome with fear and trembling, picked up the holy particles, and together with his whole household shouting Kyrie Eleison ran to the holy church, and to the most holy and venerable bishop Dionysius. This great and terrible miracle, exceeding anything that might be thought or reasoned about, or invented, was witnessed not by one or two or three or even several more, but by the whole church, citizens and peasants, natives and visitors, travellers by land and sea, men and women, old men and children, young men and seniors, masters and servants, rich and poor, princes and subjects, wise and foolish, virgins and monks, widows and married women, rulers and ruled. They too shouted Kyrie Eleison, though some praised God in other ways, but all truly gave thanks to God for his ineffable miracles. And many who believed because of the miracle were added to the holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
Chapter LXXX – The spring which was granted by God to the brothers of the monastery at Scopulus through the prayers of their abbot Theodosius.
We arrived at the monastery of abbot Theodosius at Scopulus, which is a mountain between Seleucia and Rosus Cilicia. The fathers showed us round the monastery, which is about an arrow’s flight in length, and pointed out to us a copious and beautiful spring.
“This spring, brothers,” they said, “is not natural, but was granted to us by divine favour. For our holy father Theodosius fasted greatly and poured out many tears, and with many prayers and prostrations obtained from God the gift of this water for our use and consolation. Before this spring our fathers often went thirsty, but God who listens to the needs of those who fear him of his infinite bounty gave us the blessing of this water through the prayers of our holy father.
“And yet two years ago some of the brothers asked the father of the monastery to build a bath house in the monastery. The abbot did not really like the idea, but pandered to their weakness and agreed. The bath house was duly built in the monastery, and after it had been used only once, that great and lovely spring, gift of God, dried up. And to tell you the truth as Christians, we fasted and said many prayers and made many prostrations that we might have the spring back again, but without success. A whole year went by without any water in the spring, leaving us in great difficulty. But as soon as our kind and gentle father pulled down the bathhouse God gave us back the water.”
Chapter LXXXI – The well which was filled with water when a picture of abba Theodosius was lowered into it.
These same fathers told us the following story:
There is a woman of the faith in the Apamaean region who dug a well not so long ago. It cost her quite a lot of money, requiring a lot of labour, but when it had been dug to a great depth and no water was found she was very upset and distressed because of all the labour and expense. However a woman appeared to this worried woman in her dreams, saying, “Send to Scopulus and get a picture of abba Theodosius. Through him God will provide your water.” The next day the woman sent two men to get a picture of the holy man. When it was lowered into the well the water immediately began to flow so that the well was soon half full. They gave us some of this same water to drink, and we drank and glorified God.
Chapter LXXXII – The life of John, an elder of the monastery of Scopulus.
We were able to meet with John, an elder in this same monastery. The fathers of the place told us that he was a very great Christian, a terrible foe of demons. He was able to cure immediately anyone who came to him possessed of an evil spirit.
Chapter LXXXIII – More about John
The fathers of the place also told us the following:
About twenty-four miles away from the monastery there is an industrial complex (emporium) on a promontory called Narrow. A certain sea captain worked here and built a ship of about two hundred and seventy thousand litres cubic capacity [thirty thousand modii, corn measures or pecks, about 2 gallons each]. With a large team of workmen (he employed about three hundred of them) he tried for two weeks to launch the ship but could not get it to move anywhere near the sea, for it had been bewitched by some very evil people. The captain was in great anguish and despair and did not know what to do. But by the providence of God John was travelling in these parts. The captain saw him, and recognised him as a holy man.
“Pray for this ship, abba,” he begged, “we can’t launch it because of magic arts.”
“Go home and prepare a meal for me,” the elder said, “and God will come to your aid.” But he was only saying this in order to get the captain home.
As soon as he had gone the elder went alone to the ship, prostrated himself three times, prayed to God and made the sign of the cross over the ship three times in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. then he went to the captain’s home.
“Go back to your ship and launch it into the sea,” he said.
The captain believed the elder’s word. He went back with just a few people to help drag it, and the ship was soon launched into the sea.
Chapter LXXXIV – The life and death of an Anchorite, a servant of God in the same monastery.
The fathers of this same monastery also told us this story:
There was an anchorite in these mountains, greatly beloved of God, who led a solitary life for many years. Without anyone being aware of it he died in a narrow little cave; we all thought he had gone to another part of the desert. But he appeared one night in a dream to our present good father, abba Julian, best of pastors.
“Take some people with you,” he said, “and come and bring me back from the place where I am lying in Mount Cervus.”
So our father took some of us with him up the mountain he had named. We searched for several hours but could not find the anchorite’s remains, for the entrance of the cave was hidden at that time by snow and brushwood.
“Let us go down again, my sons”, said our superior, when we were unable to find the anchorite. We were just about to go when, behold, a goat appeared and stopped a little way away from us, and then began to dig in the earth with its hoofs.
“Believe me, my sons,” he said, when he saw the goat, “this is where the servant of God is buried.” So we dug and found his body incorrupt, which we took down to the monastery and buried with honour.
Chapter LXXXV – How wheat in this same monastery was spoiled by germination when almsgiving was stopped.
Another tale they told us:
It was the custom on Maundy Thursday for all the orphans and poor people of the district to come here and receive half a pint (medium sextertium) of wheat, thirteen pieces of blessed bread, a pint of wine, and half a pint of honey. Three years ago there was a great shortage of wheat. In this district you could only buy twelve pints of it for one unit of currency (numisma).
During Lent some of the fathers approached the abbot.
“Let’s not give the customary wheat to the poor, father,” they said, “lest the monastery suffers, for wheat is in such short supply.”
“Let us not break with the blessing of our father Theodosius,” the abbot replied, “Look, this is the elder’s mandate. It ill behoves us to transgress it. Surely he himself will look after us.”
But the brothers persisted in their opinion.
“He will not be able to make up for what we might be able to give, ” they said.
The abbot was very sad but allowed them to do what they wanted. So the usual blessings did not take place that Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Later, the person in charge of the storehouse opened the doors and found that all the wheat in it had germinated, so that we had to throw it into the sea.
“He who brings to naught the wishes of our father,” said the abbot, “must suffer the consequences, and reap the reward of disobedience. We would have given away fifty pecks, pleased our father Theodosius by our obedience, and given some help to our brothers among the poor. As it is, we have lost about a thousand pecks of wheat. What have we gained, my sons? How much harm have we done to ourselves? We have done two things wrong. First, we ignored the mandates of our father; second, we have trusted not in God but in our storehouse. Let us learn from this, brothers, that it is God who rules the whole human race, and also that our holy father Theodosius cares unseen for us his sons.”
Chapter LXXXVI – Another Anchorite from the same monastery, who died immediately after receiving holy Communion
Abba Egiarius told us this story:
I left Aega after the solemnity when the winter had become a bit more severe, and came to the monastery of Scopulus. This is what happened when I was there. There was an anchorite living a solitary life in those parts who used to come on Sundays to receive the sacred mysteries. Only once did he cause scandal when for five weeks he stayed away, not coming to the monastery as was his usual custom, which distressed the brothers of the monastery very much, but on the Sunday when I was there he did turn up. The brothers of the monastery were glad to see him, prostrated themselves and asked pardon, as he likewise prostrated himself and asked pardon of them, so restoring charity all round. Then when the anchorite had received the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ he went to the middle of the church and fell down dead, even though he had previously shown no sign of any illness. The fathers of the monastery realised that the anchorite had foreseen the day of his death, which is why he had come so that he might pass to the Lord having nothing against anyone.
This translation of The Spiritual Meadow is by Fr. Ugo-Maria Ginex ESB (csr). The Hermit of Saint Bruno (Celtic Hermit) of St. Mary’s Hermitage Nr. Canterbury. A Monastery of the Holy Celtic Church International