After several days of acute hunger, his brother heard a knock at the door. He asked who was there, and when a voice said, 'John', he replied, 'John is now an angel and has no need of food and shelter'; but at last he took in the humbled John and set him to work again. It was a life of continual 'striving', but not of taut effort the whole time. It was said of Anthony that one day he was relaxing with the brothers outside the cell when a hunter came by and rebuked him.
Anthony said, 'Bend your bow and shoot an arrow', and he did so. The hunter said, 'Father, if I keep my bow always stretched it will break. Nilus and the harlot Pelagia: when she rode naked through Antioch, all the clergy around Abba Nilus hid their faces, but he 'gazed along and intently at her; then turning to the rest he said, "Did not the sight of her great beauty delight you? Verily, it greatly delighted me '" Charity The aim of the monks' lives was not asceticism, but God, and the way to God was charity.
The gentle charity of the desert was the pivot of all their work and the test of their way of life. Charity was to be total and complete. Anthony the Great said, 'My life is with my brother,' and he himself returned to the city twice, once to relieve those dying of plague, and once to defend the faith against heresy. The old men of the desert received guests as Christ would receive them. They might live austerely themselves, but when visitors came they hid their austerity and welcomed them.
Circulaire de Sr Geneviève (Céline)
A brother said, 'Forgive me, father, for I have made you break your rule,' but the old man said, 'My rule is to receive you with hospitality and send you on your way in peace. One monk was moved to question the difference between the monk who received visitors and the one who did not: the example he chose was his visit to the austere nobleman, Arsenius, and to the reformed robber, Moses.
The former received him and sat down again to pray in silence, until the brother felt uncomfortable and left. Moses came out to greet him with open arms, and they talked all day with joy. That night the monk had a vision; he saw Arsenius in a boat with Foreword [xxv the Holy Spirit, sailing quietly along the river of life; and he saw Moses in a similar boat with an angel, and they were eating honeycakes - so he knew that both ways were acceptable to God.
One of the marks of this charity was that the fathers did not judge. Macarius, they said, was like God "who shields the world and bears the sin of all; so he shielded the brethren and when anyone sinned he would not hear or see it.
The sayings of the Desert Fathers: the alphabetical collection
When one of the fathers went in disguise to a monastery during Lent, he outdid all the monks in asceticism. His name was Macarius the Egyptian and he was very tough. At the end of a week, the abba led him outside and said, 'You have taught us all a lesson, Father, but now please would you mind going away, lest my sons become discouraged and despair?
We have been edified enough. It was the end that mattered, the ascetic practices were only a means. The cell was of central importance in their asceticism.
The point was that unless a man couldfindGod here, in this one place, his cell, he would not find him by going somewhere else. But they had no illusions about what it meant to stay in the cell: it meant to stay there in mind as well as in body. To stay there in body, but to think about the outside world, was already to have left it. The Desert Fathers had a deep understanding of the connection between man's spiritual and natural life: this gave them a concern for the body which was part of their life of prayer.
Much of their advice was concerned with what to eat, where to sleep, where to live, what to do with gifts, and - very specially - what to do about demons. This aspect of warfare with the demons was a major con- xxvi] Foreword cern in the desert. The desert itself was the place of the final warfare against the devil, and the monks were 'sentries who keep watch on the walls of the city'.
Monks were always meeting the devil face to face, and once the great Macarius asked him why he looked depressed, 'You have defeated me', he said, 'because of your humility'; and Macarius put his hands over his ears and fled. But most of the advice given was not about objective, personalized demons; nor was it about holy thoughts, or the pattern of the spiritual life, or the dark night of the soul.
When it was not about ordinary Christian charity, it was about the vices. The knowledge of how to deal with the passions was learnt slowly, by long, hard living, but it was the great treasure for which men came to the desert from the cities. It was this aspect of warfare with demons that was called 'ascesis', the 'hard work' of being a monk.
Arsenius prayed on Saturday evening with his hands stretched out to the setting sun, and he stayed there until the sun shone on his face on Sunday. The usual pattern was to say the Psalms, one after another, during the week, and to intersperse this with weaving ropes, sometimes saying, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me. To be in true relationship with God, standing before him in every situation - that was the angelic life, the spiritual life, the monastic life, the aim and the way of the monk. It was life orientated towards God. Anthony, 'My life is with my brother. All ascetic effort, all personal relationships, life in all its aspects, was to be brought slowly into the central relationship with God in Christ.
All the means to this end were just that, means and no more; they could be changed or discarded as necessary. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers must be used in the spirit in which they were spoken, otherwise they will have less than their true value. They are not just for interest but for use. Radical simplicity and integrity is their aim and purpose. The literature of the desert might be called the essence of Christian monasticism; but as the monk is preeminently the one who seeks to live by the Word of God, it has a basic relevance for all Christian people.
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers may help towards a valid interpretation of the Gospel in our own day; their words may come alive in contemporary life, whatever the particular setting. Evagrius described the monk as one who is separated from all and united to all; it is in that spirit that we have prepared this translation. It is a literature that grew up in the fourth century among the monks in the deserts of Egypt, Syria and Palestine, first in oral form, then in written memorials of the tradition, in Coptic, Syriac and Greek, and later in Latin.
The words and deeds of the pioneers of monasticism and of other celebrated spiritual teachers were recorded for the edification of later generations of monks.groupect.staging.ctrlweb.ca/10001.php
Since it was spiritual value that was the criteria, sayings were included from any time or place, from the great St. Anthony to the abbots of the sixth century. The literature thus formed is a genre of its own, and one which defies precise dating. The Sayings were more than words of advice or instruction; they were words given by a spiritual father to his sons as life-giving words that would bring them to salvation. They were remembered and passed on, other words were attached to them, they were attributed to xxviii] Translator's Note different fathers and given a new context.
Copyists did not regard themselves as bound to transfer any written material that they had without change; they re-arranged and edited their material. Each monastery or group of monks evolved its own Gerontikon often around a nucleus of Sayings of their founder or some other monk especially remembered there. Anonymous sayings were recorded as well as those associated with specific men, and there was cross-fertilization.
The preface given here to the Alphabetical Series shows this process at work in one case: a monk collected material from various sources and rearranged it in alphabetical order of the names of the fathers to whom the sayings were attributed. He says he had added some anonymous sayings at the end, either of each section or of the whole collection, it is not quite clear which is meant. Another preface to a different collection, printed by P.
Since the Paterikon of our monastery of the holy father Saint Saba was getting very old, my holy fathers talked to me about him, insignificant though I am. For his soul's salvation, our most esteemed lord abbot, Johanikos, also committed to writing an account of his death.
I therefore undertook this work as follows: I gathered together the Paterikons of other monasteries and examined them to the best of my ability; I arranged them in alphabetical order making them into two books, twelve letters in one and twelve letters in the other. You who use this book, pray for our lord and master, the most devout monk the lord Johanikos, for it was through his diligence and initiative that this was accomplished.
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Year 6, from the creation of the world, in the 10th indiction. Pray also for me, John the monk and elder, who wrote it. Glory to God. Translator's Note [xxix In both cases, the copyists were also editors. This freedom to improve and re-arrange material adds to the difficulty of tracing the sources of any of the Sayings.
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