By Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Translated by Natalia Makeeva
and Natalia Semyanko
Venerable Moses the Ethiopian. Proud Valent. Abba Pitirim and blessed Isidora. Abba Apollos and the repented robber. Abba Paphnuty and the righteousness of the flutist. Venerable Ephraim the Syrian. Fallen Stephen and about the causes of sinful falls. Merciful Vissarion.
Presbyter Conon. Examples of meekness. Vision of Abba Leontius. Heavenly protection. Monk Leo. The power of conscience. Compassion frees from punishment. The boys performed the Eucharist. The enlightened elder. Blessed Apollinarius. God takes care of the merciful ones. A story about the jeweler. The elder chose to suffer. Honoring the Mother of God.
А. Appearance and spreading of monasticism. Monastic exploit.
B. The holy fathers about fighting lascivious lust.
In this booklet you will find selected stories from "Lavsaik" and "Spiritual Meadow" — these are very famous ancient stories about men of faith of the 4-6 centuries. From these two books we have mainly selected those stories which in our understanding, can be used in our everyday family life. That is why we have omitted those stories, which tell about harsh ascetic deeds of the desert men or about miracles done by them. Those readers who are interested in these exact stories we advise to read the full edition, which has been reedited several times in Russian.
The book Lavsaik tells about the lives of the desert men of Egypt and Palestine during the second half of the 4th and beginning of the 5th centuries. This book was written by Palladius (368-430), bishop of Elenopolis (Bethiny, Asia Minor, Near East), for the governor Lavs, after whom it got its name "Lavsaik." Dignitary Lavs was a prefect of Cappadocia region (Asia Minor), which was part of the Byzantium Empire. He was famous for his piety, deep knowledge of the tenets of the Orthodox faith, and also for his generous help to churches and monasteries. After a few pilgrimages to the monasteries of Egypt and Palestine, Lavs personally got to know many men of faith, mentioned in the book addressed to him. Having great respect for their deeds and spiritual wisdom, he desired to keep for the future generations the information about their lives and some of their sayings. But being busy with state affairs he asked his friend bishop Palladius to write it.
The book "Spiritual Meadow" was written by a devoted man of faith, blessed John Moschus, who at the end of the 6th century, together with his pupil Sophronius (future bishop of Jerusalem), traveled to the monasteries of the Middle East. After visiting almost all famous Palestinian and Syrian monasteries, they visited Egypt, went to the South to the famous Thebaid and even the distant Oasis. Everywhere they closely observed ascetic life and lovingly learned it . Their impressions and the information they had collected were carefully written down in the book called "Spiritual Meadow."
Note. On the deserted shore of the holy Jordan there was a monastery of St. Elijah. This was where John Mosch came first of all, being driven by the spirit of asceticism, and he lived there about ten years, sometimes living in total solitude in the neighboring cave. This was in 568-579.
In the reign of Emperor Tiberius II (578-582) John had to go to Egypt "for ministering." In Egypt there were terrible riots, raised by the monophysite heresy. At that time the patriarch of Alexandria was Eulogius the predecessor of John the Merciful. The very well-educated John Mosch went to the help with the struggle against heresy.
At the end of the 6-th century we find blessed John again in Palestine, in the monastery of Saint Theodosius. There he got acquainted with his famous pupil Sophronius, the future bishop of Jerusalem. The common desire for spiritual perfection tied the teacher and the pupil with the tightest bonds of friendship. In the monastery they learned about great men of faith and decided to visit other well-known monasteries of the East to talk with the experienced elders. They wrote down all their impressions for the edification of the future generations. Their travel continued for decades. First of all they visited the Palestinian monasteries of: Saint Gerasimus, "the Towers," Calamon, Saint Peter, the monastery of the Eunuchs, Euthymius the Great, monasteries near the Dead Sea, the monastery of Saint Savva and others. After bowing to the holy places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, they stopped for a while in the New Lavra of Saint Savva, where the Jordan starts from the Galilean lake.
From Northern Palestine the travelers went to Antioch and Chilic monasteries. About 603 they visited Antioch, Lebanon, mount Ross, Seleukius, Aegi, the Tarsus and Anazarv. Further, after tiresome travel in the Arabian desert, they reached the Holy Mount Sinai. Having spent some time there in exploits of prayer and thinking of God, they went though the deserts of Sinai, Faran, Raif. Meeting with great elders they collected information about men of faith of the distant deserts. Finally, they went to Egypt along the coast of the Suez isthmus and arrived in Alexandria in about 607.
Having visited temples and monasteries of Alexandria and its surroundings, the travelers decided to visit the mountains of the Nile Valley, which were the cradle of monasticism. After the death of monasticism’s founder, Saint Anthony, ascetics began to settle in these stony monasteries. Monasteries appeared to the east from the Nile and up to the Red Sea and Sinai, and to the west up to the terrible Libyan deserts. There the famous Nitrian monastery was located.
1. Selected stories from "Lavsaik."
Venerable Moses the Ethiopian.
Some dignitary had an Ethiopian slave named Moses with a very bad reputation that he was a profligate and a bandit. When the master banished Moses he became the leader of a predatory band. Moses hated one shepherd who with his dogs prevented him from some night operation. Moses decided to kill the shepherd and came to the place where he usually grazed his sheep, but it turned out that the shepherd had moved to the other side of the Nile. The river at that time overflowed its banks and the robber took his sword into his teeth put his clothes on his head and swam across the river. When the shepherd saw Moses in the river he hid himself and thus saved his life. Then Moses killed his four best sheep and tied them, after which he swam back across the river. Moses flayed the sheep and traded them for wine and cooked the meat. Thus he prepared a dinner for himself with lots of wine.
After that event Moses continued to lead the band, but not for long. Having been struck by some tragic event he went to the monastery and became a very good monk, though not immediately.
Once, when Moses was in his cell, four robbers attacked him, not knowing that he was very strong and skilled in fighting. Moses overcame them, tied them up, put them on his shoulders like a sack of straw, brought them to the meeting of the brothers and said: "I don’t want to hurt anyone, but they came to hurt me. What will you tell me to do with them?" When the robbers heard that he was that famous Moses they were touched that he had turned to the way of salvation and they glorified Jesus for him and became monks in his monastery.
But the biggest trial for Moses was his fierce lust, which had become very strong during his previous sinful life. The lusting spirit attacked Moses so persistently, that he almost left the monastery. Struggling with despair, Moses came to Abba Isidore, who lived in the skete, and told him about his struggle with lusting thoughts. The Saint told him: "Do not despond, brother! In the very beginning of your exploit demons attack you most in order to return you to old ways. Stay in strict abstention, put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Colossians. 3:5), close the door for gluttony, which is the mother to lust, then the demon of lust will not find food for itself and will leave you with disappointment." Moses followed the advice of the elder and shut himself in the cell and began to patiently abstain in prayer and hard labor, eating only a little hard bread.
But nevertheless carnal desires disturbed him during sleep. Then Moses went for advice to one experienced monk. The Saint advised him to spend some time in wakefulness and night prayers, because his mind was not yet free from sinful dreams. Then valorous Moses decided to not sleep at all and not even kneel during prayer so as not fall asleep accidentally while praying. Thus he lived for six years standing all night praying to God. But even with this great exploit the shameful passion did not leave him.
Then Moses decided to do one more thing: at night he began to bring water to those monks who were too weak to provide for themselves. He had to go several miles to get water. But the demon of lust was mad at Moses for his resistance to this passion and one night he trapped him at the well. When Moses bent down to scoop some water the demon struck him hard, so that Moses lost consciousness near the well. The next morning a monk found Moses who was hardly breathing near the well. But Moses could not remember what had happened to him and who had struck him. Abba Isidore with other brothers took Moses to the monastery and took care of him there. Moses was sick for a whole year and very slowly began to improve. Then Isidore advised Moses: "Stop fighting with demons, because in self-sacrifice there is a limit to exploits against demons." Invincible Christ’s warrior answered him: "I will not stop fighting with them till night dreams leave me." Then Elder Isidore told him with power: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ your sinful night dreams will stop from now. And you with hope will take communion of Holy Mysteries, so that from vanity you will not consider the victory over lust as your own exploit. God let the devil disturb you in order to protect you from pride."
After this talk with the elder, Moses spent the rest of his life in peace in moderate exploit. When Abba Isidore asked him if the spirit of lust bothered him Moses answered: "Since the moment you prayed for me the demon of lust left me."
Monk Moses got great power over demons, he despised them and was not afraid of them. Thus, having a black body his soul became whiter than snow. He died in the monastery when he was 75 years old (about 400 A.D.) and left 70 pupils after him. The Church canonized him. His memory is commemorated on the 28th of August according to the old calendar.
Note: the demon of lust is strong — due to our moral perversity and wicked habits. In order to win over the carnal passion many men of faith went to monasteries and deserts, away from temptations with which the city life was abundant. But sometimes even the favorable conditions of the desert could not provide success in the fight with carnal lust. Many men of faith had to lead the hardest and longest fight with this evil passion, and some of them were exhausted in this fight and fell into despair. There were case when some of the men of faith broke their monastic vow and returned to the world and gave themselves up to fornication and got married; others — castrated themselves (which is not allowed by the Church), and some being terrified from continuous carnal desires even committed suicide. Nevertheless, most successfully pacified inside them their carnal fight by most strict fasting, unceasing prayer, severe exploit, wakefulness, wearisome labor, etc.
There were cases of extreme exploit like the one that venerable John the Much-suffering (18/31 July), monk of Kievo-Pechersk. From youth he suffered from carnal passion and even dug himself to the chest into the earth. In this particular case as well as in case with presbyter Conon (see below) God lets the demon of lust to attack the man of faith in order to give him a bigger reward for his extreme exploit and patience. Sometimes, with God’s permission, for the sake of the humility of a man of faith like the venerable Moses the Ethiopian, the fierce demon of lust does not depart from the monk even during his hardest exploits. But when he humbles himself before God the burden of lust calms down through the prayers of others.
Usually, the most effective means to fight with the carnal lust are earnest prayer, fasting (staying away from pleasant foods and drinks), keeping from watching unchaste scenes, occupying thoughts with useful reading and spiritual thinking and staying away from meeting with people who awaken in us carnal lust.
In the appendix you will find the sayings of the Holy Fathers on this issue.
In the Nitrian desert (70 miles to the south-west from Alexandria in Egypt) there lived a monk Valent, who was born in Palestine. He exhausted himself for many years with monastic exploits so that many considered him as a holy man of faith. But being deceived by the spirit of self-conceit and pride he became extremely haughty and imagined that angels talk to him and serve him.
Once, late in the evening when it was already dark, he was weaving a basket and dropped his awl on the floor. He was looking for it for a long time unsuccessfully when suddenly by a demon’s delusion a light appeared in the cell, and then Valent saw his awl at once. This "miracle" made him more haughty and Valent began to despise Christ’s Holy Mysteries thinking that he did not need Communion any more.
Once some monks brought fruits to give to the brothers of the monastery. Blessed presbyter Macarius, the head of the monastery, sent some fruits to every monk including Valent. When Valent received the fruits he cursed and beat the giver, saying: "Go and tell Macarius that I am not worse than him and he does not need to send me his blessing." Macarius understood that Valent was deceived by the demons and went to admonish him. "Brother Valent! You are being deceived. Come to your senses and pray to God," — warned the elder. But Valent did not accept his wise advice, so Macarius had to leave in grief for the perishing monk.
The demon, being sure that Valent had completely given in to him, took the appearance of the Savior and came to Valent at night surrounded by demons in the appearance of angels with lighted lamps. So, Valent sees in front of him a burning circle and in the middle of it stood the Savior. One of the demons who had the appearance of an angel told Valent: "You have pleased Christ with your exploits and sacredness of life so much that He favored you with a personal visit. So fall on your knees quickly before Him and thank Him." Unsuspectingly, Valent with the feeling of delight fell and bowed to Satan who had the appearance of Christ.
The next day Valent came to the Church and began to boast in front of everyone that Christ Himself came to him. After he said this he became furious and started screaming and attacking the monks, so that they had to tie him with chains. The brotherhood earnestly prayed a whole year for Valent and exposed him to various humiliations, trying to heal the ill with its opposite (to supersede pride with humbleness). And finally, after long mutual efforts, they obtained double healing for him — from insanity and satanic pride.
Abba Pitirim and blessed Isidora.
Once one Angel came to Saint Pitirim, who was a famous Egyptian man of faith and told him: "Why do you praise your exploits so much and think you are devout, when with your thoughts you wander all over the world? If you want to see a really devout woman you need to go to the Tavennis nunnery where you will find a humble laborer who wears a bandage on her head. She is better then you are, because she serves everyone in various ways though everyone despises her. And though she is surrounded by many people she never steps away from God in her heart." The Angel was talking about venerable Isidora.
Great Pitirim immediately went to that nunnery and wanted to see the virgins who lived there. Everyone came to him except Isidora. Then Pitirim said: "She who the Angel told me about is not here" — they answered him: "There is one mad woman here who works at the kitchen." — "Bring her, — says Pitirim, — maybe she is the one who I am looking for." When they started calling Isidora she refused to come, probably knowing what the matter was, and she did not want to open her secret exploit of foolishness for Christ. Then they started to bring her by force explaining that Abba Pitirim wanted to see her and Pitirim was very respected by everyone. When she was brought to the Abba and when he saw her with a shabby cloth on her head he fell to her feet and said: "Bless me, mother." But she fell to his feet and answered: "You bless me, my master!" When everyone saw that they were amazed and began to say: "Abba, do not shame yourself, she is mad!" —"You are all mad, — exclaimed the holy elder, — and she is better than you and me. She is our spiritual mother, and I pray to be equal to her on the Day of Judgment."
After those words everyone fell to the feet of Abba Pitirim with tears, confessing how often they had afflicted this holy woman. Many laughed at her and scoffed over her humble appearance, others rudely insulted her, some beat her and once even poured slops over her. Saint Isidora suffered everything humbly, pretending to be mad. Saint Pitirim accepted their confession and together with the Saint Isidora prayed for them. Then he consoled Saint Isidora and returned to his monastery.
A few days later blessed Isidora, who could not bear the honors, services and apologies of the sisters secretly left the nunnery. Thus nobody knew where she went and how she ended her days.
Abba Apollos and the repented robber.
Abba Apollos toiled in one of the monasteries in Thebaid in central Egypt. The Liturgy was served every day in his monastery, and the monks (had food) ate only after the Communion of Holy Mysteries. After fortifying themselves with food they sat down to listen to the teachings of Abba Apollos almost till twilight. Then some went to the desert where they recited the Holy Scriptures from memory all night, others stayed in the monastery and praised the Lord till morning. Most of them came down from the mountain by three o’clock in the afternoon to the Communion and after that they went back to the mountain, being contented only with the spiritual food for many days.
Most wonderful was that everybody was joyful and there was no one sad or bored. Even if somebody appeared sad Abba Apollos immediately asked him what had caused his sorrow and revealed what was hidden in his heart. The Abba taught that on the way of salvation those who are to inherit the Heavenly Kingdom must not grieve. Let sinners and nonbelievers grieve, but the righteous men must rejoice. And if those who think about earthly things can find joy in them, then we who are awarded with such hope must rejoice incessantly. That is why Apostle Paul calls to "be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances" (Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Once in that region two villages had a big quarrel because of land and began a war between themselves. As soon as Abba Apollos learned about it he went there to reconcile them. But one of the sides did not want to reconcile because they expected much from their chief. Their chief was the leader of a predatory band — a former warrior famous for his braveness. Abba Apollos understood that the decision of this matter lay in this robber and told him: "Friend, if you listen to me and decline to fight I will pray to my Lord to forgive your sins." When the robber heard this he understood that it concerned the salvation of his soul. He immediately dropped his weapons and fell to the feet of the Abba. Then after reconciliation of both sides the Abba convinced everyone to go home.
When everybody went home the robber followed Abba Apollos, asking him to fulfill his promise. The Saint brought him to the nearest desert and asked him to live there some time while he prayed to God to forgive him. Night came and they both see the same dream: they are standing in Heaven in front of the Throne of Christ and see the angels and the righteous men bowing to God. Then Abba Apollos and the robber came nearer and bowed to God as well. When they did that they heard a voice: "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14). Why is this murderer, unworthy of this vision standing here with the righteous? However, you, Apollos, may go; this man who repented so late is given to you."
After they had seen many other miracles in Heaven they woke up and told the monks about it. Everybody was surprised that they both had seen the same dream. Since that time the former robber began to live in the desert in exploits together with the monks. Till his death he was repenting and working on self-correction and he became humble and kind like a sheep. Thus the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah came true with him: "The wolf will live with the lamb, and the lion will eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 11:6-7).
Abba Paphnuty and the righteousness of the flutist.
The man of faith Paphnuty, who was in one of the Thebaid monasteries (in South Egypt), begged God to show him who he would be like according to his way of life. An Angel came to him and said: "You are like one flutist who lives in the city." Abba Paphnuty quickly went to this flutist and began to ask him about his way of life and deeds. The flutist told him truthfully that he was a sinful man of drunk and unclean life, that only recently he had stopped robbing and had become a flutist. Paphnuty began to ask him what good he had done in life. The flutist answered that he did not know any good that he had done, but once when he was a robber he saved from the robbers one Christian virgin who they wanted to disgrace and led her to a safe place. "Another time, — he continued, — I met a beautiful woman who was lost in the desert. She ran away from the judges because her husband owed the treasury 300 gold pieces and did not have money to pay. For two years he was beaten and imprisoned, their three sons were sold as slaves. She was also cruelly beaten several times so that she had to run away to the desert where she was wandering without any food. I felt sorry for her, brought her to my cave and fed her and gave her 300 gold pieces. After that I led her to the city. Thus she was able to pay the debt and free her husband and children."
Paphnuty told the flutist: "You have probably heard about me and my ascetic life. But I have not done any good deeds like yours. And so God revealed to me that you are not at all lower than I am in good deeds. That is why do not leave your soul in disregard for the will of fate."
After the flutist heard such positive words of the righteous man he immediately left his flutes and followed Paphnuty to the desert. Thus he dedicated the rest of his life to the recovery of harmony in his soul, which became dearer to him than any secular melodies.
Venerable Ephraim the Syrian.
The deacon of the Edess church (at that time in Syria, now in modern Iraq) Ephraim led a very isolated and holy life for which he received from God the gift of knowledge and wisdom. For many years he taught people who came to him and at the end of life he had to leave his isolation for the following reason.
When great hunger began in the city of Edess, blessed Ephraim was sorry for people who were dying from hunger and he went to the rich people and told them: "Why do not you have compassion for the dying people and suppurate in your wealth to the condemnation of your souls?" They invented a plausible excuse and told the saint: "Everybody here is busy with trade and there is no one to distribute bread to the hungry." Then Ephraim asked them: "What do you think about me and who do you take me for?" — "We consider you a man of God," — they all answered. It was true that all of them had very deep respect for him. — "If you think so about me, entrust me to take care of the hungry people," — the servant of Christ told them. The vain rich men answered him: "Oh, if you would favor us." Then Ephraim, God’s elect, answered them: "Thus, from now on I am appointed by you to take care of the poor."
He took silver from them and organized houses with different sections in which he put up to 300 beds. Thus the righteous Ephraim began to take care of the needy. He took care of the sick and fed the hungry, and buried the dead. So, thanks to what the rich men had given him he provided board and food to every one who came to him in need and hunger.
In a year when the earth became fertile again and the needy could go back home this famous man returned to his cell and died a month later, inheriting the blessed land of the meek. Venerable Ephraim left very many wonderful works after him in which the reader will find marvelous pearls of spiritual wisdom and poetic inspiration.
Fallen Stephen and about the causes of sinful falls.
In the monastery of Abba Paphnuty there was a brother named Stephen, who fell into shameful profligacy. Other similar cases are known when people went to the desert for righteous life but became enticed by sinful desires and fell into gluttony, profligacy and other terrible passions.
On this issue the very experienced Abba Paphnuty said: "Everything that happens to us happens for two reasons: either by God’s grace or by His permission. Good deeds, which lead to God’s glory, are done by His grace; and everything that is connected with harm, danger and disaster — happens by His permission. This permission is for those whom God abandons for their foolishness and disbelief and also for those who do good deeds with unclean goal, for currying favor or pride. God leaves such people for their own salvation, so that by being abandoned they would feel their helplessness and change their wicked intentions or deeds. Of course it is a good deed to help an orphan, nun or any one needy. But it happens that people help ungenerously or reluctantly. The purpose is good, but the very deed is not worthy of this purpose, because help must be given willingly, with joy and without stinting.
Some people are kind by nature, others are predisposed to ascetic life inherently. But it is necessary to watch that all our actions, whether they are done for natural reasons or by our own will, were directed to pleasing God and for His glory. If, for example, a writer or preacher ascribes his success to his own abilities but not to God Who helps him, then God’s providence leaves him and this man falls into shameful deeds and passions and thus disgraces himself. And after he experiences humiliation he begins to understand how weak he is and how unsteady his virtues are, after which he stops trusting himself and thanks God for every help.
The holy fathers said: "When you see someone living dissolutely but with fascinating words remember about the demon who talked with God in the desert and offered Him knowledge, richness and fame. The Scriptures says about demon: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals" (Genesis 3:1). But this craftiness served to his detriment, because it was not connected with virtue. A man must have in his thoughts what God inspires, he must say the truth and do what he says. But if the word of truth is not accompanied by good life and fine temper then this is the same as bread without salt.
Sometimes it happens that God appears to leave a man in order to find the virtue of his soul, for example in the case of long-suffering Job with whom God spoke (face to face; see the Book of Job). Sometimes God leaves a man in order to prevent him from haughtiness and self-conceit. For example, the Apostle Paul experienced various afflictions, deprivations and even assaults. He himself witnessed: "there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (2 Corinthians 12:7) — i.e. in order that successful conditions and honors for miracles did not plunge me in demonic pride. The evangelic invalid was also left for his sins, and Jesus Christ told him: "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee" (John 5:14). Judas the betrayer was also left by God, because he preferred silver to the Word of life and later he hung himself from despair (Acts 1:18). The brother of Jacob, Esau, being left by God, fell into immoderation and traded his birthright for stew (Genesis 25:30-34). Taught by the Holy Spirit about the reasons of being abandoned, Apostle Paul wrote: "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient" (Rom. 1:28). "And earlier about philosophers: "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools… wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hears, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves" (Rom. 1:21-24). We see from here that those under God’s providence cannot fall into immoderation, but people are sometimes exposed to disasters due to their own carelessness or self-righteousness.
In one of the Palestinian monasteries near the river Jordan there lived one merciful elder Vissarion, who did not have any property. Once he came to one village and in the market he saw a dead beggar without any clothes. Vissarion only had a shirt on and a small cape. He always carried the Gospel with him and always tried to follow its precepts precisely. Thus, when he saw the dead body he took his cape off and covered the body with it. When he walked way he saw a beggar who was absolutely naked. Vissarion stopped and began to think: "I have recanted from the world and why do I dress myself in warm clothes while this brother is freezing from cold and may die. If this happens I will be responsible for his death. If I tear my clothes into parts it will not do anyone any good. Will it do me any harm if I do more than the Gospel teaches?" So he called the beggar under the stoop of the nearest house, gave him his clothes and let him go, and he covered himself with his hands and sat on his knees with the Bible under his arm.
At that moment a custodian of the law was passing by. He recognized Abba Vissarion and asked: "Who took your clothes?" Abba pointed at the Gospel and said: "It took my clothes!" Then the custodian immediately took off his outerwear and gave it the saint and said: "This is for you, the perfect warrior of Christ." The saint took it and secretly left in order to avoid praises from the person who knew about his good deed. Having fulfilled the Evangelic rule and having no passions in his soul, he sold his Bible at the same market and gave the money to a beggar. Thus he demonstrated total obedience to the word of God, which says: "go, sell your possessions and give to the poor" (Mathew 19:21).
This great Abba performed many other acts of virtue.
2. From "Spiritual Meadow."
In the monastery of Pentucles ("Crying," near Jordan) there lived an elder-presbyter, named Conon, whose responsibility was to baptize grown-ups (men, as well as women, were baptized naked). Every time he had to baptize and anoint with balm a woman he was greatly discomfited when she undressed herself. For this reason he finally decided to leave the monastery. And when he was walking suddenly there appeared John the Baptist and told him: "Be firm and bear it and I will free you from your inner fight." The elder obeyed the saint and returned to his monastery.
A little later a Persian girl came to their monastery to be baptized. She was so beautiful that the presbyter did not dare to anoint with holy balm and she had to wait two days for this ordinance. When archbishop Peter (patriarch of Jerusalem, 524-546 learned about it he was perplexed and was about to appoint a special deaconess for this. But he did not do this because the law did not allow deaconesses to be in the men’s monastery.
Meanwhile presbyter Conon put on his mantle and left the monastery again saying: "I cannot stay here any more." But as soon as he stepped on the nearest hill he met John the Baptist who told him humbly: "Go back to the monastery and I will set you free from the lusting passion." Conon refused angrily to return to the monastery telling the saint that he had promised this several times before and did not do this. Then Saint John blessed Conon with the sign of the cross thrice and said: "Believe me, father, I wanted you to receive a complete reward for your exploit, but since you do not want to fight I will free you from the sensual fight. But you must know that together with this you are also losing the reward for the exploit."
When the presbyter returned to the monastery he baptized the Persian girl and anointed her with balm and he was not discomfited by her beauty at all. From then on and until he died, the presbyter baptized and anointed without paying any attention to who was standing in front of him — a man or a woman.
Examples of meekness.
Once robbers rushed into the cell of one elder and told him that they would take all his things. The elder answered humbly: "Children, take what you desire." They took everything and left. But they did not notice a small sachet with money, which was hanging on the wall. The elder took it and ran after the robbers crying: "Children, take this sachet, which you did not notice." The robbers were touched by the elder’s mildness and took all his things back to the cell. When they were leaving they said to each other: "Truly he is a man of God!"
A little later a similar thing happened in that monastery. Robbers came to another elder. But before they demanded anything he went out to meet them and joyfully started to show them what he had. — "Do you have gold?" — they asked. — "Yes, here it is," — the elder answered and gave them three golden coins. They took them and left in peace. The elder was not upset with it at all but he prayed that God would turn then to the path of honest labor.
In the cenobic monastery of Abba Constantine (the region of Jordan in Palestine, 6 century) there was hegumen. He told the following case. "Once when I was traveling with my elder we got lost and accidentally started walking on a sown field and trampled some seedlings.
The farmer who was working on the other end of the field saw us and started crying at us with the coarsest swearing. — "What kind of monks are you? You don’t have the fear of God!" — he cried to us.
— "For God’s sake don’t say anything!" — the elder whispered to me. Then he said to the farmer: "You are right, child, we are bad monks and do not have the fear of God! For God’s sake forgive us that we have trampled your planting."
But the farmer did not calm down and continued to swear even more. The elder trying to quiet him down said: "Good labourer, you are absolutely right that you are mad at us! If we were true monks we would not have done that. But for God’s sake forgive us for sinning against you."
Finally, he was touched by the elder’s humbleness and calmed down, he bowed to the elder and exclaimed: "Forgive me, the sinner, that I was swearing at you! Nothing terrible has happened."
Having spoken with us, he became nice and joyful. When saying good-bye he asked us to take him to our monastery with us, because he also wanted to become a monk. We happily took him with us. And so he was tonsured at our monastery."
In the monastery of venerable Gerasim (Palestine, 6 century) one monk told the following case from his life, in connection with the elders’ words that everyone should reproach himself in everything but be lenient towards others. "For a long time I was friends with one lavra deacon, when all of a sudden he began to be mad at me. I saw his gloomy and unfriendly look and I began to ask him to explain me what was the matter. He began to reproach me in something, which I had never done. I did not feel any guilt and began to justify myself and explain that I was absolutely not guilty in what he was accusing me.
But my explanation did not convince him at all.
Then I went to my cell and began to think if I had really done something like that. But I could not remember anything. Once when the deacon came to the holy Chalice for Communion I began to swear that I had not done what he was blaming me for. But even in that holy and solemn moment he did not believe me.
Then I remembered the words of the holy elders and began to convince myself: "The Deacon sincerely loves me and openly told me what was on his heart. He is doing this so that I could start abstaining and be vigilant so as not to fall into such sin and do something similar. Suppose I did not do what he is accusing me in. But do I know all my evil deeds and words? Do I remember all my sins? Thus, probably, I have forgotten many of my sins and have not repented in them." Having prepared myself for repentance by such thinking I realized that I was guilty in many things. And people have forgiven me a lot by their kindness and God is merciful to me. In a repentant mood I went to the deacon and knocked on his door to ask for his forgiveness. But before I could say a word he kneeled down before me with the words: "Forgive me, this was the devil, taunting me, and instilled this suspicion of you! Truly God Himself has taught me that you were not guilty!"
I kissed him and thanked God that He had taught humbleness to both of us and reconciled us."
Vision of Abba Leontius.
Abba Leontius, the abbot of of the cenobitic monastery of St. Father Theodosius (near Bethlehem), told us the following: "After the monks had been expelled from the New monastery (near the Thekuy stream, year 520), I came and settled there. One Sunday I came to the church for Communion. When I entered I saw an angel standing at the right of the altar. I was struck by that vision and hurried to my cell where I heard a voice telling me: "since the time this altar was sanctified I was commanded to stay at it all the time."
Abba Palladius told the following. In the 5th century in Alexandria there lived one devout merchant who was compassionate to the poor and honored the clergy. His wife was modest and fasted often. They had a six-year-old daughter. Once he had to go to Constantinople on business. Before he sailed away his wife asked him: "In whose care do you leave us, my master?" — "I entrust you to our Lady Mother of God!" — he answered.
His wife, daughter and slave stayed at home. Once when the wife was in the room working, their slave was tempted by the devil to kill the mistress and her daughter, take their things and flee. He took a knife from the kitchen and went to the dining-room where his mistress was. But when he reached the door of the room he suddenly became blind and at the same time he felt that he could neither go further nor go return to the kitchen. He tried to move for an hour, but he could not. Finally when he became weak he asked his mistress to come to him. She was very surprised that he was standing at the door immovably and was crying. "You’d better come to me yourself!" — said the mistress having no idea of his evil intention. — "Then send at least your daughter to me!" — the slave began to ask. But the mistress did not want to do this.
Then the slave in complete exhaustion hit himself with the knife and fell down. When the mistress saw the knife and blood she began to call for help. The neighbors ran in and the authorities arrived as well. The slave was still alive and he told about his evil intention for which he was punished with blindness and paralysis. Then everyone glorified the Lord Who saved the mother and her daughter in such a miraculous way.
During the reign of the faithful Emperor and Caesar Tiberius (II, 578-582) in the Libyan oasis (to the west of Thebaid in the middle part of Egypt) there lived a monk named Leo from Cappadocia (in Small Asia, now eastern Turkey). He was great before God and we heard many marvellous things about him. When we met him and got to know him better we received great benefit from him — especially from his humbleness, denial of money, silence and love, which he had for everyone.
He told them: — Believe me, children, I will reign!
— What are you saying, Abba, there have never been kings from Cappadocia. These thoughts of yours are in vain.
No, children! I will reign, - he affirmed. And nobody could convince him otherwise.
When the barbarians attacked and destroyed the whole country there, they went to Oasis. They killed and captured many monks there. They also took Abba John, who earlier used to be a reader in the great church of Constantinople; they also took Abba Eustaphius from Rome and Abba Theodore. All three of them were weak. In captivity Abba John told the barbarians: "Take me to the city. At my request Bishop will pay you 24 nomisms for me." One of the barbarians took him to the city. Abba John went to the Bishop.
In the city were Abba Leo and other fathers who had not been captured. When Abba John came to the Bishop he asked him to pay the ransom for him. But the Bishop had not more than eight nomisms, which he offered to the barbarian. But the barbarian did not agree. "Either give me all 24, or the monk." They had to give him Abba John in spite of his sorrow and tears. He was taken back to the barbarians. In three days Abba Leo took 8 nomisms and went to the barbarians and told them: "Take me and 8 nomisms and free the monks. They are weak and can’t work. You’ll have to kill them anyway. And I am strong and can serve you." The barbarians agreed to his offer and freed the monks. Abba Leo went with them to some place and when he became exhausted he was decapitated. Thus Abba Leo acted according to the word of the Holy Scriptures: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Then we understood the meaning of his words: "I will reign." Truly he reached regal loftiness by having laid his soul for his near ones."
The power of conscience.
Once a robber came to Abba Zosima who was in the monastery of Abba Thermin near Nazareth in Palestine and asked the elder: "For God’s sake, help me! I have committed many murders and I want to repent of them. Make me a monk to redeem my evil deeds and start a righteous life." The elder agreed. After teaching the bandit, he vested him in the angelic rank (tonsured him).
A little later the elder told the former robber: "Believe me, child! You may not stay here. If the chief finds out that you are hiding here he will arrest you. Besides, your enemies who are constantly looking for you may come to our monastery and kill you here. It will be better if I take you to another more distant monastery." Thus the elder took the former robber to the monastery of Abba Dorotheus near Gaza (in Palestine).
For nine years the former robber lived in the monastery. He studied the Psalter and the monastic charter. It seemed that his terrible past was left behind. But unexpectedly for everyone the former robber came back to the elder Zosima and told him: "Honest father, do me a favor: give me back my worldly clothes and take back the monastic ones." — "What happened, my child?" — the sad elder asked.
The former robber answered: "As you well know, I have been living in the monastery for nine years. All that time I fasted, abstained and lived in obedience, in silence and fear of God as much as I could. Though I believe that God’s kindness forgave me many of my previous evil deeds, I still cannot find spiritual peace. Every day I see a boy whom I killed and who asks me: "Why did you kill me?" I see him in my dreams and during the day — in the church and in the refectory. When I hear his voice I always suffer inside. That is why, father, I feel that I have to go back into the world and suffer punishment for the sin of killing an innocent boy. There was no need to kill him."
Thus he put on his worldly clothes and went from the monastery to the city Deospolis, where he had committed his crimes. There the authorities recognized him and arrested him, and the next day they executed him.
Compassion frees from punishment.
Once Zenon (Byzantian emperor, 474-491) insulted one woman in front of her daughter. After this that woman often went to the church of Holy Mother of God and prayed in tears to Her: "Holy Virgin! Punish the emperor for that insult to which he exposed me." She asked for this for a long time, — and then the Holy Mother of God appeared to her and said: "Believe me, woman, I would have punished him long ago, but God’s hand keeps me from that." Then the woman understood that her request was refused because the emperor Zenon was a compassionate man and helped the poor a lot.
The boys performed the Eucharist.
In one Syrian province there a place called Gonag. Children tended cattle in its neighborhood. Once when they were playing one of them offered to perform Liturgy as the priest does it in the local church. The children chose one to be a priest, and to more to be deacons. They found one smooth rock and started the game: they put bread and a clay jar with wine on the rock as on an altar.
"The priest" stood in front of the altar and the "deacons" on the sides. During the service the boy who acted as a priest was saying the prayers of the Liturgy and the "deacons" were waving their belts as with repides**. The boys chose as the priest the boy who knew the words of the prayers well. In their church the children stood before the altar and were the first after the clergy to participate in Communion. The priest had the habit of pronouncing the prayers loudly and the children, often hearing the prayers, knew many of them by heart.
When the children finished the Liturgy they wanted to share the bread as the priest did it in the church, but suddenly fire came down from heaven burned the bread, the jar with wine and even the rock on which they served, so that nothing was left. The children were scared and fell on earth and lay for a long time as dead, fearing to even move.
The parents were surprised that the children did not come home on time and they went to see what happened. After searching for some time they finally found them still lying on the ground. The children did not recognize their parents and did not answer their questions. The parents took their children home. Everybody was greatly surprised to see their children in such a stupor. Only the next day the children began to slowly recover their wits. Then they told everything what had happened. When the parents heard such a strange story they invited the most respected people of the town and went to the place where the miracle had happened.
Then they went to the bishop and told him everything. The Bishop with the clergy went to that place too. After the children told the story about everything again and saw the traces of the heavenly fire, he tonsured the children and organized a monastery on that very place. On the place where the fire had come down they built a church and put a holy altar. This amazing sign is a testimony of the greatness of the mysteries of Eucharist and the power of its prayers.
Note: In the history of the Church there have been several such cases when ordinary men performed the Eucharist. Probably in order to keep the acolytes from learning Eucharist prayers by heart the priests now say these prayers secretly.
The enlightened elder.
There lived one elder priest who led such a holy and pure life that when performed the Liturgy angels came down and stood at the left and right sides of him. He had learned the liturgical rites from heretics and, not being familiar with the doctrines of the Church and out of his simplicity, he was not saying the exclamations he was supposed to during the service.
Once by God’s plan one deacon came to him. He knew Orthodox teaching well. When they were serving the Liturgy together the deacon heard that the elder was saying the wrong exclamations and he told the elder: "Father, what you have just said is not in accordance with the Orthodox faith, but came from the heretics." But the elder saw the angels near him and did not pay attention to the words of the brother. The deacon continued saying: "You are wrong, elder! The Church does not accept this."
The elder finally decided to ask the angels: "Is what the deacon says true?" — "Listen to him: he is telling the truth," — the angels answered to him. — "Why did not you correct me before?" — the elder asked them. — "The Lord has arranged so that people are corrected by people," — the angels explained. Since that time the elder began to say the right exclamations and thanked God and the brother for teaching him. .
The Archbishop of Alexandria, Holy Pope Apollinarius (551-565) was very merciful and compassionate. There lived one young man in the same city, the son of the noble parents who had left him a great inheritance (ships and a lot of gold). The young man did not manage the inheritance well and lost everything in several years. If earlier he surpassed many in richness, having lost everything he surpassed many in poverty.
Blessed Apollinarius heard about the misfortune of the young man and wished to give him at least a little help. But he wanted to do so without wounding his pride. So he thought of a wonderful method. He told the church treasurer to write a fictitious paper in the name of Macarius, the father of the young man, saying that he had loaned the church of Alexandria fifty pounds of gold. In order to make the paper look old they put it into wheat for several days.
Then Apollinarius sent the treasurer to give this paper to the young man and to demand three small coins for the task, so that the young man would not realize that the paper was false. The treasurer went to the young man and told him that while sorting out papers he found the loan letter of his father which he had forgotten about and which had been lying among papers for 10 years, that is why he was giving it back to the owner for 3 coins.
Having received the papers the young man went to the holy pope of Alexandria. Apollinarius read the paper and pretended that he was disconcerted and did not believe that he had not shown the document for so long. The young man explained everything but the pope continued to pretend that he did not believe in the authenticity of the document. A week passed. Finally the pope pretended to give in to his entreaty and agreed to pay, but he asked the young man not to demand the interest from the church. The young man agreed happily and the pope gave him fifty pounds of gold. How merciful and sensitive Bishop Apollinarius was!
God helped the young man to fix his commercial business so that some time later he not only restored the lost inheritance, but even exceeded his parents in richness. But this case also brought the young man spiritual benefit. In the end he somehow learned about the generous help of the Archbishop of Alexandria and induced him to be merciful and sensitive to others.
God takes care of the merciful ones.
One believer who lived in Constantinople (now Istanbul) told the following story about himself. My father helped the poor a lot. Once he showed me his money and asked: "Tell me what you want: do you want money or God as your trustee?" I answered that I prefer Christ, because everything earthly passes away. We are here today, and tomorrow — where are we? Then my father started to give away everything without regret, so that after his death he left me almost nothing. I became poor and lived very modestly and I hoped only in God, to Whom my father entrusted me.
In the same area there lived one famous rich man whose wife was very God fearing and loved Christ. They had only one daughter who they wanted to get married. And they did not care if her husband would be rich or not, as long as he was modest and God fearing. They wanted her future husband to love her and warm her with his love in God. And so the rich man suggested to his devout wife to go to church and fervently pray about sending their daughter a good groom. "The first man who enters the church will be the chosen one — sent to our daughter by God," — he told her.
She did so, and it happened that I was the first to enter the church after her prayer. She saw me and began to ask me who I was and where I was from. I explained to her whose son I was and where I lived. She knew about my father’s generosity to the poor ones. Then she asked me if I was married? I told her I was not and told her my conversation with my father about the inheritance. Then she praised the Lord and exclaimed: " Here your kind Trustee, Who you have chosen for yourself, is sending you both the wife and riches, in order to possess both in the fear of God." So, having got married and living happily, I also try to remember the poor and help the needy.
A story about the jeweler.
There lived a rich jeweler who through hard labor and successful deals collected many precious stones and pearls. He decided to use his wealth to live quietly the rest of his life, so he got on a ship with his children to move to another country.
By God’s plan some boy served the jeweler on the ship. The jeweler liked him so much for his diligence that he invited the boy to eat with him at the same table. Once the boy heard the sailors talking about throwing the jeweler into the sea and taking his treasures. The boy returned to the jeweler greatly troubled, but he was afraid to tell him what he had heard. But the jeweler saw the boy’s suppressed mood and after some persevering questions he learned about the plot of the sailors.
Realizing that not his last days but probably his last minutes had come, the jeweler made the quickest decision. He called his children and poured out his treasures on a cloth in front of them. He pointed at them and said: "This is all I have dedicated my life to! For these jewels I worked hard and exposed myself to various dangers — both on land and sea. Now because of them I will soon lose my life taking nothing to the other world. So quickly throw all this into the sea!" The children immediately did what the father had told them and threw everything over the side of the ship. Since the sailors had nothing to rob, they left the jeweler and his children alone.
The elder chose to suffer.
In the Pirgus Lavra (or monastery of Towers), or Jordan monastery in the Jericho valley) there was an elder named, who was ill with edema from his great exploits. The elders of the monastery visited him all the time in order to take care of him. "Better pray about me, fathers, to cure my inside person — the ill man of faith said. — And I ask the Lord to prolong my illness."
When the archbishop of Jerusalem Eustochius learned about the severe sufferings of Abba Mirogen he decided to send him some remedies, but he refused to take any. "Better pray for me, father, to escape eternal suffering," — he answered the archbishop.
Abba Theodosius the Great (529) also suffered before his death. One brother suggested him to ask God to ease his fierce illness. — "Oh, my father, — answered Theodosius, — this thought had occurred to me many times, but every time I drove it away as a demonic temptation. After the glory and honor I had received I’d better rejoice about the sufferings before I pass away in order not to lose the promised eternal joy. It will be terrible to hear from Abraham the fearsome words: "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things…" (Luke 16:25).
Honoring the Mother of God.
On mount Eleon (to the east of Jerusalem) there lived an elder-hermit. He was a great man of faith whom the demon was heavily overwhelming with lusting thoughts. Once the elder having lost patience exclaimed: "When will you finally leave me alone? Leave me at least in my old age!" then the demon appeared to him and said: "Swear to me that you will never tell anyone what I am going to tell you and then I will stop attacking you."
— I swear by the One living in heaven,— the elder swore,— that I will never tell anyone what you will tell me.
Then, pointing at the image of our Lady All-Holy Mother of God Mary with the Ancient of Days Baby, our Lord Jesus Christ, the demon said to the elder: "Stop praying in front of this image and I will stop bothering you."
— Let me think,— the elder answered.
The next day the elder told everything to Abba Theodore of Iliot.
— The demon has really outwitted you by making you swear to him, — Abba Theodore explained to the elder. — But you did the right thing by telling me about it. Remember, there is no more disastrous and terrible sin than giving up worshiping of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother.
After this Abba Theodore comforted and encouraged the elder with necessary instructions. And so the demon appears to the elder again.
— What does this mean, worthless elder!? — the demon exclaimed. — Didn’t you swear to me that you would not tell anyone about our agreement? Why didn’t you keep your promise? Know now, that on Judgment Day you will be accused of perjury!
— It is not you, the unrighteous one, who is to convict me! — the elder answered. — I know I broke the oath but not before you, but before my God and Creator and I am guilty of it. But I am not going to listen to you: you will be truly exposed to eternal punishment as the original cause of all evil and the first of oath breakers!
А. Appearance and spreading of monasticism.
Many paths lead to the Heavenly Kingdom. The Gospel gives us a choice of various modes of life — each according to his "calling." To those attracted to a more strict and focused mode of life God offers: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell you possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me… And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life… For some are eunuchs…because of the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it… Who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" (Mathew 16:24, 19:12-21 and 19:29; Luke 14:26-33). Through these appeals to exploits the Lord founded the ascetic way of life.
That is why it is not surprising that the aspiration to a solitary ascetic life appeared at the same time as Christianity. According to venerable Cassian (IV century) the first monks were the pupils of the Evangelist Mark, who was a bishop in Alexandria (at that time the capital of Egypt). The searchers of the ascetic way of life went to places far from the city, where they led an elevated life in accordance with the rules set up by the apostle Mark. The Judaic historian Philone, who lived in Alexandria at the same time as the apostles, described the life of some Therapeuts, who lived in the outskirts of Alexandria, just like the venerable Cassian described the life of the first Alexandrian monks, and he called their settlements monasteries.
There is information that in Syria monasticism already appeared in apostolic times. Venerable Eudocia, who lived since 96 A.D. in the Syrian town Helioupolis in the reign of Trajan, was converted to Christianity by venerable Hermann, the abbot of the monastery where 70 monks lived. After she became Christian she went to a nunnery with 30 nuns.
Notwithstanding the scarcity of the documentary information there is no doubt that monasticism already existed in the times of the apostles. It is hard to believe that in those times of great spiritual burning there were no Christians who did not follow the teaching of apostle Paul about celibacy, written in the message to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians, Chapter 7). The living example for such celibates has always been and will always be the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Ever-Virgin Mary, the prophet John the Baptist, the beloved disciple and celibate John the Theologian, Apostle Paul, Apostle Jacob, the brother of God and the first bishop of Jerusalem, and many others. Monasticism followed these high examples and this was where it started, this was its spiritual source.
This is how the venerable Abba Dorotheus explains the origin of monasticism, he wrote: "They (Christians) understood that being in the world they could not comfortably perfect themselves in virtue and they chose a special way of life, a special regime for spending time, a special course of action, — specifically a monastic life, and they began to leave people and live in deserts. They carried out fasts, vigils, they slept on bare earth and tolerated various deliberate sufferings, they completely renounced their motherland and relatives, their manors and possessions. In other words, they crucified themselves for the "world."
In ancient monastic communities the main focus was on spiritual activities: prayers, fasting and contemplative reflection about God and spiritual world. But physical labor was considered necessary as a diversion, because it provided a living and an opportunity to help the poor.
In the beginning of the 4th century in Egypt there appeared a spontaneous movement towards monasticism. The weakening of the strictness of Christian life after such pagans joined the church who continued to care only for the earthly things, forced the more earnest Christians to go from the cities and settlements to deserts in order to live far from the earthly troubles in exploits of self-renunciation, prayer and reflection of God.
One of the most famous early ascetics of Egypt was venerable Paul of Thebes who lived from age 23 to 130 in the Thebaid desert. In the year when he moved to the desert the famous Anthony was born, who is considered to be the founder of hermitic monasticism.
Venerable Anthony the Great was born in the middle of the 3rd century in Egypt. Striving towards total solitude he moved to the ruins of an old fortress on the eastern bank of Nile. He lived there for twenty years in total solitude praying and fasting and exposing himself to different hardships. In time many people learned about him and began to visit him and some even wanted to live near him in order to live the same ascetic life under his guidance. Thus, by the year 305 there formed a circle of ascetic followers around venerable Anthony.
Saint Anthony did not lay down detailed rules for monastic life, but he explained in general the way to reach moral perfection. Thus, using his life as an example, he taught them to refuse earthly goods, to totally devote themselves to God’s will, to pray constantly, to think about God in solitude, to work physically. Venerable Anthony founded hermetic monasticism. According to the order he had set, the men of faith lived separately in huts or caves and carried out solitary exploits under the guidance of one elder (Abba, father).
Saint Athanasius the Great (middle of the 4th century) while describing the life of the disciples of Anthony the Great said, that "deserts were filled with monks who spent their life in singing psalms, reading, praying, fasting and vigilance. They were the people who were searching for eternal benefits, who were living in solitude and love, working with their own hands not as much for themselves but more for livelihood of the poor. The desert became somewhat like a big country totally cut off from the rest of the world in which its happy inhabitants did not have any other aim but spiritual perfection and communication with God. They neither grumbled nor contradicted and tried to do only kind things..."
The wonderful life of venerable Anthony, his gift of wonderworking and heavenly revelations which he was awarded with — made a great impression on his contemporaries. During his life the Thebaid desert (the southern part of Egypt) became inhabited with hermits who lived in isolated cells. Anthony did not assign external rules for monastic life, mainly caring for sincere piety, but with the growth of the number of monks it was necessary to have rules which could support and strengthen the will in the struggle with temptations.
During the life of venerable Anthony there appeared another type of monastic life — communal. The monks gathered into one community under the guidance of Abba and spent life together in one or several buildings following the same rules. Such communities were called cenobitic monasteries. The founder of communal monasticism was venerable Pachomius (348).
Saint Pachomius the Great was also born in Egypt. He was in the military service when during one of the campaigns he got to learn about Christian philanthropy, decided to become Christian and after his military service he got baptized. After he got acquainted with the ascetic life in the Thebaid desert, Pachomius chose a lonely place near the river Nile for his further exploits, known as Tavenna. Here venerable Pachomius decided to found communal monasticism. He founded a monastery on one of the islands of the Nile, in which those who wished could live and toil together.
The news about Pachomius soon attracted to him many followers, so that the monastery he had built could not fit in all those who wished to live there and he had to build several new monasteries which were not far from each other on the shores of Nile. He also founded a nunnery on the opposite shore of the Nile where his sister lived.
In those monasteries Pachomius introduced certain rules of monastic communal life. That was the first monastic charter. The whole community of the monks, which was divided by Pachomius into 24 grades in accordance to the degree of the development of their spiritual life, was under the guidance of one Abba. Every monastery had its chiefs who were called abbots and hegumens. They were subordinate to the chief Abba and reported to him about their monasteries. In the monasteries there also were housekeepers with helpers. Persons in responsible posts had to serve as examples of monastic life for the rest of the community. Under the guidance of their leaders the monks had to spend life in praying, reading of spiritual books, especially of the Holy Scriptures, and working. Public worship services were twice a day — day and night. The monks gathered in the church at a special signal, modestly and silently, they read Holy Scriptures and prayers, sang psalms. On Sundays they participated in the Communion. Besides the monks had to pray independently before and after sleep. After prayer or service the abbot talked with the brothers about Christian life. The monks read books in their cells when they were free from prayers and work. They got books from the library of the monastery from the housekeeper.
The monks cultivated the land, grew gardens, worked in smithies, mills, leather workshops, they were carpenters, made clothes and weaved baskets. They went to work one after another in silence following their abbot. Silence was assigned at all times. The monks had to carry out all those duties in total obedience. Without the permission of the leaders nobody could leave the monastery and even start a new task. All monks wore the same simplest clothes. Underclothes were of linen— a chiton without sleeves, outerwear was made of leather, they wore hair hats and sandals. They never took off these clothes even during sleep. The monks did not have beds, but seats between two walls, they could lay only matting. They got up long before sunrise. They had very simple food once a day, usually at midday. They ate bread, olives, cheese, vegetables and fruits. On Saturday and Sunday they were offered an evening meal. They ate all together in silence.
In the charter of Abba Pachomius poverty is one of the main vows. An entering monk was not allowed to bring any possessions to the monastery, even his worldly clothes were given to the poor. Any work done by any brother belonged not to him but to all the community. All necessary things for living the monks received from the common means of the monastery. The housekeepers were in charge of providing the community with food and clothes from the materials prepared in the monastery or purchased for money from selling goods, which were made by the monks. In order to observe the rules Pachomius established the acceptance of new monks to the monastery only after one year’s trial period.
During life of venerable Pachomius his community of monks increased to 7 thousand and in one hundred years to 50 thousand. Hermitic and communal monasticism soon was spread all over Egypt and penetrated into other countries. Thus, Ammon founded a community of hermits on the Nitrian mountain with the adjoining desert. And Macarius of Egypt — in the Skete desert, where there were many wonderful men of faith. Hilarion, the favourite pupil of Anthony, took monasticism to his own country Palestine and founded a monastery near Gaza. From there monasticism spread all over Palestine and Syria.
The third type of monasticism is Lavra. It was started by Macarius the Elder, who lived in the desert of Egypt near Libya, and Ammon who settled on the Nitrian mountain (in the western part of Egypt). In Lavras we see a combination of hermitic and communal life. Everybody lives in a separate cell. The cells were scattered around the cell of the Abba at a certain distance from each other. They were arranged in lanes, and this is where they got the name Lavra (road, lane). The ascetics gathered together on the first and last day of the week for services, and on the other days they kept silence. If someone did not come to the service they assumed he was sick and they sent some brothers to visit him. Life in laurus was much more difficult than in cenobitic monasteries, and they started the exploit of silence only after preparing in the cenobitic monasteries. New monks first lived in monasteries and carried out monastic duties, and those who had reached certain perfection in selfless life moved to cells.
Thus, thanks to venerable Anthony the Great, Pachomius the Great, Macarius the Elder and their disciples, Egypt became the seed bed of monasticism all over the Middle East. "According to the historian Eusebius, nowhere did the glory of evangelic teaching reveal so much of its power as in Egypt." Probably, it was not without reason that ancient Egypt deeply pondered the issues of immortality and eternity...
Saint Basil the Great, after traveling in Egypt and Palestine, where he became acquainted with monastic life, spread monasticism in Cappadocia (in Asia Minor, now Turkey) both for men and women. The charter that he gave the monks was soon spread all over the East and became universal. In the 5th century monasteries were spread all over the East. Among the men of faith of the 5th century there were such wonderful men as Isidore Polusiot, Simeon the Stylite, Euthimius, Savva the Sanctified and many others.
In the 6th century there live such wonderful men of faith as Simeon the Fool for Christ who achieved full impassivity, and John, Author of the Ladder, who spent many years on the Sinai mountain and wrote "The Ladder," in which he described the stages of spiritual elevation to moral perfection; in the 7th century — Alypius the Stylite, who stayed on the column for more than 50 years. At the end of the 8th and beginning of the 9th centuries a representative of strict monastic life was a famous defender of worshiping of icons Theodore Studite. From his monastery, which was famous for the strictness of monastic life, came out many men of godliness, for example Nicholas in the 9th century, who was tortured for worshiping icons, Joannicus, who was famous for the gift of recovery of sight, and others.
No matter what one’s life was like before, it cannot prevent one from becoming a monk, because monasticism is repentance, and the monastery is a hospital. After entering the monastery one first goes through a trial in order to determine how sincere and serious his intention to dedicate himself to monastic life is. If the abbot is convinced in sincerity of the intentions of a new brother to become a monk he blesses him to wear a cassock with a belt, a skullcap. A a cassock — is a long black dress with narrow sleeves; a skullcap — is a small hat of a conical shape). Such future monk is called postulant, because his main responsibility is to learn to obey his spiritual father.
Through diligent obedience a postulant has to reveal all his patience and humbleness —the basic monastic virtues. "Obedience is higher than fasting and prayer," — a monastic proverb states. This is because obedience, based on patience and humbleness, serves to eradicate the main illness of a human soul — pride, and also egotism, from which all passions stem.
The greatest number of saints are monks, and this is natural, because the aim of monasticism is spiritual perfection. The monastic saints are called "venerable," or in the Russian — "pre-podobniy" (podobniy meaning similar (to Christ), pre being more so) — as a sign that they have likened to Christ more than others. One becomes a monk if he feels that everything in life is trivial, if he wants to be free from captivity and receive God. The monastic way is a straight line, the shortest distance between two points — a man and God.
The richest spiritual literature appeared in the monastic environment. For most of the laymen it is "higher mathematics." Spiritual conditions, described in it are incomprehensible for people who live a secular life. Nevertheless some things in this literature are comprehensible for everyone who searches for God. Russians liked to read such books as Philokalia (in 5 volumes) which contains teachings of the ancient men of faith; "The Ladder" by John, hegumen from Sinai mountain; "Invisible Fight" by venerable Nicodemus of Mt. Athos; "Salutary teachings for the soul" of Abba Dorotheus; instructions of the elders Barsonophius and John.
B. The holy fathers about fighting lascivious lust.
The battle with the demon of lust is the most long lasting, never ending and only for a few it ends with their victory. The fornication passion begins to show itself in a person in early maturity and does not stop till he defeats his other passions. Since this passion arises both in the body and soul the person has to confront it with double armor. Fasting alone is not enough to achieve perfect chastity. It is necessary to add to it repentant grief of the spirit, and constant prayer against this nasty spirit (fornication). Besides this it is necessary to read Holy Scriptures constantly, think about God, alternating it with physical labor and handcrafting, which keeps the thoughts from wandering back and forth. Most of all it is necessary to have deep humbleness, without which there cannot be victory over any passion (venerable John Kassian of Rome).
The greatness of the value of chastity is directly proportional to the enemy’s slanders brought against it. That is why we must be not only abstemious in everything with all our diligence, but also constantly cry in our heart with prayer, so that Holy Spirit with graceful dew coming into the heart will cool down and extinguish the fire of our flesh, which the king of Babylon (the devil) constantly tries to inflame. (Venerable John Cassian).
When lasciviousness flares up, think about inextinguishable fire and the never-dying worm and the fire in your body will die away immediately. Otherwise, after you get weak you will be defeated and you will get used to sin though you will repent of it. That is why from the very beginning you must be strict with any such desire so that it does not overcome you and you do not get used to yielding to the enemy. Because a habit becomes second nature. The one who becomes used to yielding to a sinful desire will always be bothered by his conscience; and though he will have joyful face in front of others, inside he will be sad because of the accusation of conscience. Because the aim of lust is to cause tormenting sorrow to those, who perform it. That is why always listen to your soul and always possess God within you. (Venerable Ephraim the Syrian).
When the demon begins to draw tempting objects in your mind and will show you in your mind beauty of a woman, whom you have seen before, let the fear of God enter inside of you and think of those who died in sins, — think of the day when your soul will leave your body, — imagine the terrifying voice of God which those, who do not care for righteous life and do not follow Christ’s commandments, will hear:"Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew. 25:41). Also imagine the never-dying worm and never-ending tortures. Think about it, and the thirst for satisfaction will disappear like wax melts from fire, because demons cannot bear the fear of God even a moment (Venerable Ephraim the Syrian)
Overcoming this passion is caused by cleansing of the heart, from which according to the Word of God, comes out the poison of this illness."For out of the heart come evil thoughts… adultery, sexual immorality…" (Matthew 15:19; Venerable John Kassian).
Do not let your eyes wander back and forth, and do not peer at strange beauty, so that your enemy could not defeat you with the help of your eyes. (Venerable Ephraim the Syrian).
If the demon of lust tortures you forbid him by saying:"May God exterminate you, fetid evil spirit of uncleanliness." Because we know: "The sinful mind is hostile to God" (Romans 8:7; Venerable Ephraim the Syrian).
If the carnal fight will start inside you do not be afraid and do not lose heart. Otherwise you will make the enemy (demon) braver and he will start instilling you tempting thoughts: "The desire inside of you will not stop till you satisfy it." But wait patiently for the Lord; He will turn to you and hear your cry. He will lift you out of the slimy pit (dirty thoughts), out of the mud and mire (shameful dreams); He will set your feet on a rock. (Psalm 39:1-3). Then you will see the help from Him. Just be patient, do not let your thoughts get weak, do not fall into exhaustion by scooping water out of the boat, because the quay of life is near. Then you will call and He will say: "Here am I!" (Exodus 58:9). But he is waiting to see your exploit: are you really ready to confront the sin even till death. Thus, do not become fainthearted: God will not leave you. God sees your exploit, and also angels and demons look at it. Angels are ready to give a crown to the winner, and the angels to cover the loser with shame. So, be attentive not to upset the angels and not to please the demons. (Venerable Ephraim the Syrian).
Abba Pimen says about the lascivious thoughts:"If a trunk filled with clothes stands for a long time and the clothes are not checked, then they will decay after some time. The same happens with the unclean thoughts given to us by the demon: if we do not perform them in reality, they will decay and disappear with time" (Abba Pimen).
A postulant asked Abba Agathon how to fight with lascivious passion. The elder answered: "Go and submit yourself to God, — and you will find rest."
And this is true, that if every success in virtue is the act of God’s grace and overcoming of different passions is His victory, then acquiring of purity and overcoming of lascivious passion is the act of special grace of God, which is testified by the holy fathers who had experience in getting rid of this passion. Because, being carnal and not feeling the sting of the flesh is like leaving one’s own flesh. And that is why it is impossible for a man to fly to the heavenly height of perfection on his own wings, if God’s grace does not lift him out of the earthly mire. Because people by no virtue can become like angels except by the acquisition of grace of purity. (Venerable John Cassian).
The indicator of purity and the achieved perfection is that during resting or sleeping a man does not see any seductive visions or if this vision appears it does not provoke any carnal desires in him. But involuntary desire, though it is not a sin, means that the soul has not yet reached perfection and the roots of passion have not been pulled out yet. (Venerable John Cassian).
In Lower Egypt there lived one hermit who was very famous, because he kept silence alone in his cell in a desert place. Under the influence of Satan one dissolute woman who had heard of the hermit said to the young men she knew: "What will you give me if I depose your hermit?" They promised to generously reward her. In the evening she pretended to have lost her way and came to the cell of the hermit and knocked on the door. He came out and when he saw her he got disconcerted and asked: "How did you get here?" She pretended to cry and answered: "I lost my way." He felt sorry for her and took her to the cell foyer and he himself went to the cell and locked the door behind him. But she began to cry: "Abba! Animals will eat me here!" He was disturbed again, but at the same time he was afraid of the Judgment of God for being cruel and told to himself: "Where has this attack come from?" He opened the door and led her inside the cell. Then the devil began to fire up his heart with the arrows of lust. He understood that devil was participating in that and so the hermit told to himself: "The way of the enemy is darkness, and the Son of God is the light." With these words he lit the lamp. He felt that the lust was becoming stronger and stronger and he said: "Since those who satisfy their lust will suffer afterwards, test yourself if you can withstand eternal fire?" With these words he put one finger of his hand over the fire of the votive. The finger began to burn, but he did not feel the pain because of an unusual inflaming of the carnal lust, and he was burning his fingers till sunrise. The woman saw what the hermit was doing and she was petrified with horror. Early in the morning those young people came to the hermit and asked him: "Did a woman come here last night?" He answered: "Yes, she did. There she is sleeping over there." The young men came up to her and saw that she was dead and said: "Abba! She is dead." Then he opened his small robe and showed his hands: "This is what this daughter of the devil did to me. But the Holy Scripture says, that it not possible to pay evil for evil." He prayed and brought her back to life. She repented and spent the rest of her life virtuously (82, 483-484).
A disciple of one holy elder was attacked by the spirit of lust, but with the help of God’s Grace he courageously confronted the nasty and dirty desires of his heart, he was diligently fasting, praying and craft working. The venerable elder saw his strong exploit and said: "If you want, my son, I will pray to God to ask Him to take this struggle away from you." The disciple answered: "Father! Though I work hard but I see and feel inside me a good fruit: because of this fight I fast more and exercise more in vigils and prayers. But I ask you: pray to the merciful Lord to give me strength to withstand the fight and to toil legitimately." Then the holy elder told him: "Now I know that you understood correctly, that through the patient invisible battle with the spirits the eternal salvation of your soul is happening" (82, 424-425).
One brother was tortured by lust. He went to an elder and told him about his thoughts. The elder gave him some instructions, comforted him and let him go in peace. The brother felt the relief and returned to his cell. But the fight started again. He went to the elder again and he did so several times. The elder did not offend him, but instructed him to not only stay from giving in, but on the contrary to come to him every time when the enemy begins attacking, thus convicting the enemy. The elder said that thus the enemy being convicted will go away: nothing is so bad for the spirit of lust as when its actions are being revealed and nothing gives it such joy as when the desires it causes are being hidden. (Otechnik, 82, 454).
Once devil started in the formidable body of Saint Ignatius such a carnal fight, that being burnt by this infernal flame he fell on earth and lay for a long time half-dead. Then he went to his trustee elder Akakius and explained his misfortune and asked for comfort. The kind elder comforted him and strengthened him with God’s words and examples of holy men. After this the venerable man of faith came to the church, took the icon of the Mother of the Lord and kissed it, asking Her in tears to help him in his misfortune and save him from that intolerable fight and diabolical attacks. The Mother of God did not leave Her servant to be tempted more than he could bear: by Her grace some indescribable and inexplicable savor surrounded him and since that time this deadly fight left him. (Mont Athos Paterikon, 85, 247-248).
*** *** ***
Lascivious lust: Venerable Moses the Ethiopian, Venerable Conon.
Mother of God, [her] Her help: Heavenly protection, Honoring of Mother of God.
Pride and charm: Proud Valent, Fallen Stephen.
Earthly values: A story about a jeweler.
Meekness and humility: An example of meekness.
Liturgy, church, Communion: Vision of Abba Leontius, The boys performed Liturgy, The enlightened elder.
Love: Monk Leo.
Mercy, compassion: Abba Paphnuty, Venerable Ephraim the Syrian, Merciful Vissarion, Compassion frees from punishment, Prelate Apollinarius, God takes care of the merciful ones
Exploit: Venerable Moses the Ethiopian.
Repentance: Abba Pitirim, The power of the voice of conscience.
Righteousness: Abba Paphnuty.
God’s Providence: Fallen Stephen, Abba Pitirim.
Humbleness: Abba Pitirim and blessed Isidora.
Conscience: The power of the voice of conscience.
Suffering: The elder chose to suffer.
Missionary Leaflet # EA16
Copyright © 2002 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)