The Ancient Fathers of the Desert: (Section 1)

Abba Antonios said: “The time is coming when people will be seized by manias and will behave like madmen. And if they see anyone acting reasonably, they will rise up against him saying: ‘You are insane.’ And they will have accurately said this to him, for he will not be like them.”
admin | 15 May 2005

Abba Antonios said: “The time is coming when people will be seized by manias and will behave like madmen. And if they see anyone acting reasonably, they will rise up against him saying: ‘You are insane.’ And they will have accurately said this to him, for he will not be like them.”

* * *

Several brothers went to Abba Antonios to relate to him certain visions which they beheld and to ascertain from him whether the visions were true or of demonic origin. They had along with them a small donkey which died on the way. Just as they reached Abba Antonios, he, expecting them, said: “How did the little donkey die on the road?”
“How did you know this, Abba?” they said to him.
“The demons revealed it to me.”
And they answered him: “It is for this reason that we came to see you, for fear of being deceived, since we see visions and many times they come true.”
Thus, with the foregoing example of the donkey, the elder made it known to them that their visions came forth from the demons.

* * *

The same Abba Antonios, pondering the ways of God, once asked: “Lord, how does it happen that many live very few years and yet others reach a ripe old age? And how is it that some live in poverty while others are rich? And how is it that the unjust continue to grow richer and the just are poor?” Then he heard a voice say to him: “Antonios, watch yourself, for those things which you ask about belong to the inscrutable ways of God’s wisdom and it is not to your benefit to learn of them.”

* * *

Once Abba Antonios received a letter from Emperor Constantine the Great which requested him to go to Constantinople. He wondered about what to do. So he said to his disciple, Abba Paul: “What do you say? Should I go?” And the Abba answered him: “If you go, you will be called ‘Antonios’; however, if you do not go, ‘Abba Antonios.’”

* * *

Once Abba Arsenios revealed his thoughts to an Egyptian elder and asked him about them. But a certain other Abba saw him and said to him: “Abba Arsenios, you have had so much education in Greek and Latin, yet you ask this man, so unlettered in worldly knowledge, about your thoughts?”

Abba Arsenios said to him: “Indeed, I know Roman and Greek letters well; but I have not yet learned even the alphabet of this simple man.”

* * *

A young monk sadly said the following to the holy Poimen: “My body, Abba, has been weakened by ascetic practices, but my passions do not yield.”

“The passions, my child,” answered the wise Father, “are similar to tough thorns; in uprooting them, your hands of necessity bleed.”

* * *

“What am I to do, Abba, since passions and demons beset me?” a young monk asked the holy Sisoes.

“Do not say that you are bothered by demons, child,” answered the elder, “because the greater part of us are beset by our own evil desires.”

* * *

While still a neophyte in monastic life, Moses the Black (the Ethiopian) was warring against carnal desire. So he went, in a state of turbulence, to confess to Abba Isidoros.

The elder listened to him sympathetically and, when he had given him words of appropriate counsel, told him to return to his cell. However, inasmuch as Abba Moses was still hesitant, for fear of the flame of evil desires rekindling during his return, Abba Isidoros took him by the hand and led him to a small roof atop his cell.

“Look here,” he told him, directing him towards the West. Thereupon Moses saw an entire army of wicked spirits with drawn bows, ready for warfare, and was terrified.

“Look towards the East now,” the elder told him once more. Myriads of angels in military formation were standing ready to confront the enemy.

“All of these,” Abba Isidoros told him, “are assigned by God to help the struggler. Do you see how our defenders are many more and incomparably stronger than our enemies?”

Moses thanked God with his heart for this revelation and, taking courage, returned to his cell to continue his struggle.

* * *

Abba John the Short, advising the young brothers to love fasting, told them frequently: “The good soldier, undertaking to capture a strongly fortified, enemy city, blockades food and water. In this way the resistance of the enemy is weakened and he finally surrenders. Something similar happens with carnal impulses, which severely war against a person in his youth. Blessed fasting subdues the passions and the demons and ultimately removes them far from the combatant.”
“And the powerful lion,” he told them another time, “frequently falls into a snare because of his gluttony, and all of his strength and might disappear.”

* * *

“If Nabuzardan, the court cook of the King of the Babylonians, had not gone to Jerusalem, then the Temple would not have burned (cf. 2 Kings 24),” said Abba Poimen. “That is to say, a person’s mind is not attacked by the flames of carnal pleasures, if a person is not conquered by gluttony.”

* * *

Once a demonized youth went to the skete of some Fathers in order to be cured by their prayers. Out of humility, however, they fled. For much time, the unfortunate man suffered thus, until a certain elder took pity on him, crossed him with a wooden cross he had on his belt, and cast out the evil spirit.

“Since you evict me from my abode,” the spirit said, “I will enter you.”

“Come,” the elder courageously answered him.

So it is that the demon entered into him and tortured him for a full twelve years. The holy one endured the struggle with fortitude, but fought against his enemy with superhuman fasting and unceasing prayer. All of those years he never even once put food in his mouth, chewing rather a few date pits every evening and swallowing only the juice from them.

Finally, conquered by the incessant struggle of the elder, the demon freed him.

“Why are you leaving?” the elder asker him. “No one is casting you out.”

“Your fasting destroyed me,” answered the demon, becoming invisible.

* * *

“My brother, if your soul were pure and upright before the Lord, you would be able to profit from all things of this life. If you were to see a wandering peddler, you would say to yourself: ‘my soul, from the desire to earn fleeting, earthly goods, the peddler toils a great deal and endures much, concentrating on things which will not ultimately remain under his domain. Why, then, do you not look after those things which are eternal and incorruptible?’ Once again, if you were to see those who dispute in court over financial matters, you would say: ‘My soul, these people, often having not a single need, show such ardor and quarrel with such shouting between themselves. You, who owe to God a myriad of talents, why do you not implore God, bowing down as one should, to obtain cancellation of that debt?’

“If you were to see a builder making houses, you would again say: ‘my soul, these same, even if they build houses from mud, show such great zeal to finish the work they have laid out. You, why are you indifferent to eternal structures and why do you not struggle to erect the abode of God within the soul, forming and joining the virtues by the will?’

“Now, in order not to be prolix in citing various cir­cumstances one by one, let us say that we must take care to transform our worldly thoughts and observations, which are born of our material perspective on things of the present life, to spiritual ones. Thereby, we shall profit from all things with the help and assistance of Divine Grace” (Saint Ephraim).

* * *

“I burn with the passion to be martyred for the love of Christ,” a neophyte monk one day said to an experienced elder.
“If you gladly take up your brother’s burden at a time of temptation,” the elder answered him, “it is like being thrown into the furnace with the three Holy Children.”

* * *

“When I was a child,” the Holy Makarios once said, “I grazed cattle along with other children. One day they went to steal figs and took me along. When we returned to the herd, one of the figs fell from their basket and I picked it up and ate it. Even now that my hair has grown white, I remember that sin and I lament.”

* * *

“In case we should ever fall into carnal sin,” Abba Moses told his disciples, “let us repent and let us mourn now before the lamentation of our dread condemnation prevents us.”

* * *

Yet another time he said: “The virtues are born with tears and through them forgiveness is given. But when we cry, we must not raise the voice of our groaning in order to be heard by others. Let not our left hand, that is, our vanity, know what our right hand, the sorrow of the heart, does.”

* * *

To a certain brother, who asked what to do when he had temptations or evil thoughts in his mind, the same elder answered: “Run, weeping, to the goodness of God, crying out with all of the power of your soul, asking aid. God is near to one who appeals to Him, the Holy Scriptures tell us.”

* * *

When you feel compunction in your heart,” a certain elder counsels, “leave all other thoughts and say to your mind: ‘Perhaps the hour of my death is approaching and God is send­ing me mourning and tears in order to save me.’ For since the devil wars more strongly against a man at the last, in order to root him in evil, so God sends him such things within, in order to save him.”

* * *

“Man’s conscience is like a spring,” the Fathers say, “which, the deeper you hollow it out, the more greatly you cleanse it. If, however, you cover it with soil, in little time it will be lost.”

* * *

At the moment that a holy elder was in the throes of death, the devil appeared before him and shouted at him: “You destroyed me, you wretch.”

“I am still not sure of that, “ the Saint replied, and reposed.

* * *

A young monk asked Abba Moses to give him a piece of useful advice.

“Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you,” the wise elder answered.

* * *

“It is impossible for a monk to have Christ continuously in his heart without silence, humility, and unceasing prayer,” the same elder used to say.

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