SOME GEMS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO LIVE A HOLY LIFE
SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS
There was an anchorite (one retired from society for religious reasons -editor) who was able to banish the demons; and he asked them, 'What makes you go away?' 'Is it fasting?' They replied, 'We do not eat or drink.' 'Is it vigils?' They replied, 'We do not sleep.' 'Is it separation from the world?' 'We live in the deserts.' 'What power sends you away then?' They said, 'Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.' 'Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?' (Webmaster's Note: Jesus humbled himself and became a man.)
Abba Theodore of Pherme said, 'The man who remains standing when he repents, has not kept the commandment.'
A brother said to Abba Theodore, 'I wish to fulfil the commandments.' The old man told him that Abba Theonas had said to him, 'I want to fill my spirit with God.' Taking some flour to the bakery, he had made loaves which he gave to the poor who asked him for them; others asked for more, and he gave them the baskets, then the cloak he was wearing, and he came back to his cell with his loins girded with his cape. Afterwards he took himself to task telling himself that he had still not fulfilled the commandment of God.'
The way of humility is this: self-control, prayer, and thinking yourself inferior to all creatures.
Abba Xanthias said, 'The thief was on the cross and he was justified by a single word; and Judas who was counted in the number of the apostles lost all his labour in one single night and descended from heaven to hell. Therefore, let no-one boast of his good works, for all those who trust in themselves fall.'
Abba Zeno said, 'If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.'
Webmaster's Note: read this modern (20th century) example from Richard Wurmbrand of the power of forgiving enemies:
WISDOM OF THE DESERT
The abbot Allois said "Except a man say in his heart, 'I and God are alone in the world,' he will not find peace."
Of what it means to take up the cross with Christ.
Perhaps some man will say, "how can a man carry his cross? How can a man who is alive be crucified? Hear, briefly, how this thing may be. The fear of the Lord is our cross. As, then, one who is crucified no longer has the power of moving or turning his limbs in any direction as he pleases, so we ought to fix our wishes and desires, not in accordance with what is pleasant and delightful to us now, but in accordance with the law of the Lord in whatsoever direction it constrain us. Also, he who is fastened to a cross no longer considers things present, nor thinks about his likings, nor is perplexed with anxiety or care for the morrow, nor is inflamed by any pride, or strife, or rivalry, grieves not at present insults, nor remembers past ones. While he is still breathing in the body, he is dead to all earthly things, and sends his heart on to that place to which he doubts not he shall shortly come. So we, when we are crucified by the fear of the Lord, ought to be dead to all these things. We die not only to carnal vices, but to all earthly things, even to those indifferent. We fix our minds there whither we hope at every moment we are to go.
How the desire of being crucified with Christ will keep a man in the narrow way though he see others departing from it.
A certain elder was once asked, how a monk can avoid being offended and disheartened, when he sees others giving up the hermit life and returning to the world. He replied -- "Watch the dogs which hunt hares. One of them only, perhaps, sees the hare and chases it. The others see nothing but the dog in full chase, so they run with him for a while and then grow weary and give up. The one that sees the hare goes on chasing it until he catches it. He takes no heed of the steep hills, nor of the thickets, nor of the brambles in his way. Sometimes his feet are flayed and pricked with thorns, yet he does not rest until he catches it. So it is with the monk who seeks Christ and gazes steadfastly on the cross. He takes no notice of the things which vex and offend him. He cares for nothing but attaining the goal of being crucified with Christ."
Of the narrow way which leadeth unto life.
A certain elder was once asked, "What is this which we read -- 'Strait and narrow is the way?'" The old man replied, "The narrow way is that on which a man does violence to his own imaginations, and cuts himself off from the fulfilment of his own will. This is the meaning of that which was written of the apostles, 'Behold we have left all, and followed Thee.'"
How Zacharias, the disciple of the abbot Moses, showed that the followers of the Lord must accept such treatment as the Master received.
Certain brethren once came to the abbot Moses, and asked him to speak to them some word of exhortation. He turned to his disciple Zacharias and urged him, saying, "Do you speak somewhat to these brethren." Then Zacharias took off his cloak, and, laying it on the ground, trampled on it. "Behold" he said, "unless a man is thus trampled on he cannot be a monk."
The Abbot Sisois finds the secret of peace in the imitation of the sufferings of Christ.
The abbot Sisois said, "Suffer yourself to be despised. Cast your own will behind your back. Stand free from the cares of the world. Then you will have peace."
How St. Macarius taught the meaning of the apostle's words "Dead with Christ," "Buried with Christ."
A brother once came to the abbot Macarius and said to him, "Master, speak some word of exhortation to me, that, obeying it, I may be saved." St. Macarius answered him, "Go to the tombs and attack the dead with insults." The brother wondered at the word. Nevertheless he went, as he was bidden, and cast stones at the tombs, railing upon the dead. Then returning, he told what he had done. Macarius asked him, "Did the dead notice what you did?" And he replied, "They did not notice me." "Go, then, again," said Macarius, "and this time praise them." The brother, wondering yet more, went and praised the dead, calling them just men, apostles, saints. Returning, he told what he had done, saying, "I have praised the dead." Macarius asked him, "Did they reply to you?" And he said, "They did not reply to me." Then said Macarius, "You know what insults you have heaped on them and with what praises you have flattered them, and yet they never spoke to you. If you desire salvation, you must be like these dead. You must think nothing of the wrongs men do to you, nor of the praises they offer you. Be like the dead. Thus you may be saved."
Of two things by which a man is hindered from being truly dead to the world.
The abbot Pimenius said, "That monk may truly reckon himself dead to the world who has learnt to hate two things, ease for his body, and the vainglory which cometh of the praise of men."
How the abbot Macarius used to avoid the conversation of those who honoured him, and preferred to talk with men who offered him insults.
When anyone came respectfully to the abbot Macarius, desiring to hear some exhortation from him, he received no answer at all. But if anyone came despising Macarius and did violence to him in such words as these, "Lo you there, father Macarius! You used to be a camel-driver, and steal the natron. How your master used to beat you when he caught you robbing him!" willingly, even joyfully, Macarius used to speak to such a man of whatever he wished to hear.
How an old man blessed one who injured him.
A certain brother came to the cell of an elder, one well known among the brethren for his holiness. Entering in, he stole the food which was there. The old man saw him, but did not accuse him. He only laboured more diligently to supply again what he had lost, saying in his heart, "I am sure that my brother must have been in great need, for else he would not have stolen." In spite of his toil, the old man came to endure great suffering for want of food. At last he was brought even to the point of death. The brethren, knowing only that he was dying, came and stood round his bed. Among them he saw the brother who had stolen his food. "Come hither to me," he said to him. Then taking his hands and kissing them, he said to those who stood around, "I pay my thanks to these hands, brethren, for because of them I am going, as I trust, to enter the kingdom of heaven."
Then that brother was stricken to the heart, and repented. He also in the end became an eager monk, wrought upon by the deeds of the elder which he saw.
A doctrine concerning injuries done to us by which we may escape from the danger of being angry, and even turn such wrongs into a source of profit for our souls.
A certain brother, who had been injured by another, came and told the story of what had happened to one of the elders. This is the reply which the elder made to him: "Set your mind at rest concerning the wrong done to you. The harm was not meant for you, but for your sins. In every temptation to anger or hatred that comes to you through the act of man, accuse not him who does the injury. Say simply, 'It is on account of my own sins that this, and things like this, happen unto me.'"
Of the one which may be reckoned supreme amongst the commandments of the Lord, both inasmuch as it is beyond all difficult to be kept, and also in that the keeping of it makes us fellow-sufferers with Him.
A certain brother came to an elder seeking some word of exhortation. "Tell me," he said, "of some one commandment, such that I may keep it, and thereby attain unto salvation." The old man answered him, "When men do wrong to you and revile you, endure and be silent. To do this is a very great thing. This is above all other commandments."
The abbot Poemen teaches that they who have grace to keep this commandment are very sharers in the death of the Lord upon the cross.
A certain brother once questioned the abbot Poeman, saying, "What is this word which the Lord says in the gospel, 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend?' How may one do such a thing?" The old man answered him, "Perhaps a man may hear from his friend some word which insults and angers him. Perhaps it is in his power to speak back to his friend in like manner. If then he chooses to endure in silence -- if he does violence to himself, being fully determined to speak no angry word, nor any word to hurt or vex the other -- then, verily, this man lays down, in sacrifice, his life for his friend."
A story of St. Macarius, showing how he would not resist one who robbed him.
The abbot Macarius, when he dwelt in Egypt, once had occasion to leave his cell for a little while. At his return he found a robber stealing whatever was in the cell. St. Macarius stood and watched him, as one who was a stranger might watch having no interest in what was stolen. Then he loaded the robber's horse for him and led it forth saying, "We brought nothing into this world. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. According to his will so things happen. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
How the abbot Anastasius would not resist an evil done to him, and thereby won his brother's soul.
Anastasius had a manuscript written on vellum which was worth a great sum of money, for it contained the whole of the Old and New Testaments. It happened that a certain brother who came to visit him, seeing this manuscript in his cell, coveted it. At his departure he stole it. After a little while Anastasius desired to read something in his manuscript. He searched for it but could not find it. Then he understood that this brother had stolen it. He was unwilling, however, to send after the thief or to ask him to restore the property lest, perhaps, he might add a lie to the sin of his theft. The brother who had committed the theft went straightway to a neighbouring town in order that he might sell the manuscript. When one came to buy it, he named a certain price. Then the buyer said, "Let me have the manuscript that I may find out whether it is worth so much." Receiving it, he went straightway to the abbot Anastasius, and said to him, "My father, I pray you look at this book, and tell me if it is worth such a price. It is for such a sum that a certain man seeks to sell it to me." The abbot Anastasius answered him, "It is a good book, and is well worth what you are asked for it." Then he who was about to buy returned to the seller, and said, "Take the price you name. I have showed the book to the abbot Anastasius, and he told me that it was a good book, and well worth your price." Then the seller, he who had stolen it, asked, "Did the abbot Anastasius say anything more to you about it?" The other said, "No. I have told you all he said." Then the thief replied to him, "I have thought again about the matter, and I am not willing to sell the book at all." This he said, being cut to the heart. He hastened to the cell of the abbot Anastasius, threw himself upon the ground, and with tears of penitence besought the abbot that he would take back the book. But Anastasius refused, saying, "Go! and my peace go with you, brother. Take the book for your own. I give it freely to you." But he persisted weeping and praying, and he said, Unless you take back the book, father, my soul will never anywhere find peace." At length he took back his own book. Afterwards that brother remained with the blessed Anastasius, sharing his cell with him until the day of his death.
How, by meeting evil which was done to him, a certain monk was led on to do a deed which grieved him greatly.
There was a certain great hermit who dwelt in the mountain called Athlibeus. It happened that he was attacked by robbers. He at once cried out, and the brethren who dwelt in the neighbouring cells ran to his assistance and captured the robbers. They were sent to the nearest city, and the judge condemned them to be put in prison. Then all those brethren were sad because on their account the robbers had been put in prison. They went to the abbot Poemen and told him all that had happened. He wrote a letter to the hermit, whom the robbers had attacked, in these words: "You have betrayed the robbers to punishment. Remember that was not your first act of betrayal. First you betrayed yourself. Unless you had been betrayed by the evil within into resisting the wrong done to you, you would not have made that second betrayal of which you now repent."
How the injuries done to us by evil men are means whereby we may attain perfection.
There was once a monk who observed this rule of life. The more anyone injured or insulted him, the more eagerly he sought that man's company. This he did because, as he was wont to say, "Those whose company I seek are they who afford me the opportunity of perfection. They who speak well of us and bless us set our paths about with stumbling-blocks. It is they who deceive us."
How the conviction of his own sinfulness manifests itself in more gentleness towards the sins of others.
The abbot Moses said, "Unless a man is convinced in his own heart that he is a sinner, God does not listen to his prayers." Then one of the brethren said to him, "What does it mean, this conviction in a man's heart that he is a sinner?" The old man said to him, "He who is conscious of his own sins has no eyes for the sins of his neighbour."
Of the great safety of being humble.
St. Antony tells how once in a vision he beheld all the snares of the evil one spread over the whole earth. When he looked upon them and considered their innumerable multitude, he sighed, and said within himself, "Who is able to pass safely through such a world as this?" Then he heard a voice, which answered him, "The humble man alone can pass safely through, O Antony. In no way can the proud do so."
A story of how a certain one escaped one of the snares of the devil through humility.
The devil once appeared to a certain brother transformed into the likeness of an angel of light. He said, "I am the angel Gabriel, and I am sent unto thee." The brother, though he doubted not at first but that he saw an angel, yet out of his humility made answer, "Surely you are sent to some other one and not to me, for I am altogether unworthy to have an angel visitor." Then the devil, being astonished and baffled, departed from him.
How a brother once obtained a spiritual benefit as a reward for his humility. It is related of a certain brother that he once persevered in fasting for seventy weeks. This he did desiring to obtain a divine illumination on the meaning of a certain passage in Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, though he so fasted and desired, God hid the matter from him. Then, at last, he said within himself, "See, I have undergone great toil and am nothing profited. I shall go to one of the brethren, and inquire of him what this word of Scripture may mean." So saying, he went out and closed the door of his cell after him. Immediately then an angel met him and said, "The seventy weeks of your fasting have not brought you near to God that you should know His mind. Now, however you have humbled yourself in going to inquire of your brother. Therefore I am sent to reveal to you what you desire to know." Then the angel opened to him the matter about which he was perplexed, and departed from him.
How a divine and eternal reward awaits those those humility has taught them to regard their own labour as nothing.
A certain father said, "He who labours and considers that by his labour he has accomplished or effected anything, has already, even here, received the reward of all that he has done."
Hyperichius said: "The tree of life is on high. Man climbs to it by the ladder of humility."
The abbot John the Short said: "The door of God is humility. Our fathers, through the many insults which they suffered, entered the city of God."
He also said: "Humility and the fear of God are pre-eminent over all virtues."
How the devil was vanquished by the great humility of one of the brethren.
There were two brethren, relatives according to the flesh, and bound to each other yet more closely by the spiritual purpose of their devotion. Against them the devil laid a plot that he might separate them the one from the other. Once, towards evening, the younger of the two, as he was wont, lit their lamp and put it on its stand. Through the malice of the devil the stand was overturned, and the lamp went out. By this means the devil hoped wickedly to entrap them into a quarrel. The elder of the two, growing suddenly angry, struck the younger fiercely. But the younger fell humbly on the ground and besought, saying, "Sir, be gentle with me, and I will light the lamp again." Then, because he gave back no angry word, the evil spirit was filled with confusion, and departed from their cell. That same night he told the chief of the devils the story of his failure, saying, "Because of the humility of that brother who fell upon the ground and begged the other's pardon I was unable to prevail against them. God beheld his humility, and poured His grace upon him. Now, lo! it is I who am tormented, for I have failed to separate these two or make them enemies."
How one was preserved from a snare by discretion. They tell about a certain old man that sometimes in his struggles against temptatations he saw the devils, who surrounded him, with his bodily eyes. Nevertheless, he despised them and their temptations. Seeing that he was being vanquished, the devil came and showed himself to the old man, saying, "I am Christ." But when the old man beheld him, he shut his eyes. Then the devil said again, "I am Christ; why have you shut your eyes?" The old man answered him, "I neither expect nor wish to behold Christ in this present life. I look to see Him only in the life beyond." Hearing these words, the devil straightway vanished from his sight.
The story of another who was saved by discretion from an illusion.
There was another old man whom the demons wished to seduce. They said to him, "Do you wish to behold Christ?" He replied to them, "May you be accursed for the words you speak. I believe my Christ when He says to me, 'If anyone shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ or lo there, believe him not.'" When they heard him answer them thus the devils immediately vanished.
Why no man may dare to think within himself 'I have conquered, and need strive no more.'
A certain old man came to another and said, "I, indeed, am already dead unto the world." But the other, seeing the danger in which he was, thus warned him, "Be not ever sure of yourself while you remain in the body. Although perhaps you may say, 'I am dead unto the world,' yet there is one who is by no means dead to you even your adversary the devil. Surely innumerable are his evil ways, and immeasurable is his craftiness."
We must not think that even repeated victory over any fault frees us from the necessity for strife against it.
There was a certain old man who dwelt for fifty years in the desert. He neither tasted bread. nor even drank enough water to satisfy his thirst. At last he said, "I think I have conquered utterly -- yea, slain -- the sins of avarice and vainglory." When the abbot Abraham heard that he had spoken these words, he came to him and asked if it was true that he had so spoken. He confessed that it was true. Then Abraham said to him, "Suppose, now, that you were walking along the road and you saw a pile of stones and broken bricks, and suppose that you saw in the midst of them a lump of gold, are you able to look upon it just as you look upon the stones and bricks?" The old hermit answered, "No. I should feel that it was precious, but I should fight against the thought." Then said the abbot Abraham, "See, therefore. Avarice still lives in you, but you have fettered it." Again the abbot Abraham spoke to him, "Here is a man who loves you well and praises you. Here is another who hates you, and is for ever slandering you. If both of them come to you, can you look upon both of them with the same affection?" The old hermit answered him, "No. I cannot do this at once, but I should struggle with myself until I felt that I loved him whom at first I did not love." Then Abraham said, "See, now; your passions are yet alive in you, but they are bound with holy bands."
How we must ever be ready to deal with ourselves.
A certain elder was once asked, "What is the meaning of this which is written: 'Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life'?" He answered, "The strait and narrow way is this: that a man do violence to his thoughts and destroy his own will for God's sake. This is what we are told the apostles of whom it is written: 'Lo, we have left all and followed Thee.'"
How in this life it is only possible to escape from strife by yielding entirely to all temptation.
A certain brother said to one of the elders, "In my life there is no strife. My soul is at peace." The elder said to him, "If that be so, you are like a wide-opened door. Whatever likes can enter into you, whatever likes can go out. You know not what is happening in your heart. For if you hold your heart's door fast, and keep it shut so that on refuse entrance to all evil thoughts, then you will see them standing without and feel that they are fighting against you.
How it is better not to fast than to boast about our fasting -- as the Lord saith, "When ye fast, appear not unto men to fast."
There was an assembly of monks in a certain church on a feast day. As the custom was, after the sacrifice had been offered among them, the brethren dined together. One of them said to the disciple who set food before him, "I will not eat this. I eat no cooked food." This he said boasting of his own abstinence. Then said the blessed Theodorus, "It would be better for you, brother, to be eating flesh in your own cell, than that such a word should be heard among the brethren."
How humility is to be preferred before fasting. A certain anchorite dwelt in a cave not far from a monastery, and led a life of great privation. Once some brethren came from the monastery to visit him. As the custom was, he set food before them to refresh them after their journey. The brethren compelled the old man to eat with them, saying that they would not eat without his company. Afterwards, when they thought upon what they had done, they said to him," We fear that you are grieved, father, because to-day for our sakes you have eaten more than you are wont." But he replied, "Brethren, I am not troubled in this matter. I am only grieved when I have acted according to my own will."
The teaching of the abbot Moses on fasting as an aid to perfection.
Fastings, vigils, meditations on the Scriptures, self-denial, and the abnegation of all possessions are not perfection in themselves, but aids to perfection. The end of the science of holiness does not lie in these practices, but by means of them we arrive at the end. He will practice these exercises to no purpose who is contented with these as if they were the highest good. A man must not fix his heart simply on these, but must extend his efforts towards the attainment of his end. It is for the sake of the end that these things should be cultivated. It is a vain thing for a man to possess the implements of an art and to be ignorant of its purpose, for in it is all that is of any value.
The use of fasting, and how it helps the life of the soul.
Fasting is the bridle in the mouth of the monk. It holds him back from sin. He who rejects the practice of fasting is like an unbridled, fiery horse. He is swept away by passion.
How the same Serapion who spoke thus had himself made a perfect renunciation.
One of the monks, a certain Serapion, possessed a copy of the gospels. This he sold, and gave the price of it to the poor and hungry. Then he went home rejoicing, saying to himself, "Lo! now I have sold even that very book which was for ever saying to me, 'Sell all that thou hast and give to the poor.'"
You cannot serve God and Mammon.
A certain brother once came to an elder, and said, "My father, of your kindness tell me, I beseech you, what I ought to strive for in my youth, that I may own something in my old age." The old man replied to him, "You may either gain Christ or gain money. It is for you to choose whether you will have for your God the Lord or mammon."
FOOTNOTE BY WEBMASTER OF THIS WEBSITE
THE BOOK OF JAMES
(NOTE BY WEBMASTER) We recommend all readers read regularly the Book of James in the Bible (New Testament). The tongue is a terrible weapon that causes many to sin. This webmaster is no exception!