Friday, July 31, 2009

Obedience Unto Death

Hyperichius said, "The monk's service is obedience. He who has this shall have his prayers answered, and shall stand by the Crucified in confident faith. For that was how the Lord went to his cross, being made obedient even unto death (cf. Phillipians 2:8)"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Matthew 6:16-18

A monk of the Thebaid received from God the grace of ministry, to serve the poor as they had need. In a village once, he happened to be holding a love-feast. A woman dressed in rags came up to him to receive her share. When he saw the rags, he meant to take a great handful, so as to give her a big helping: but his hand was kept nearly shut, and he only took a little.

Another, well-dressed woman, came up and, seeing her clothes, he meant to take a little handful for her but his hand was opened, and he took a big helping.

So, he asked about the women, and found that the well-dressed woman had been a lady who had sunk to poverty and still dressed well because she felt that she had a standard to maintain for her family. But, the other had put on rags so that she would receive more.

~~Photograph by Weegee

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rapt in Prayer

They said of Sisois that unless he soon lowered his hands when he stood up to pray, his mind was caught up to heaven. So, if he happened to be praying with another brother, he quickly lowered his hands and ended his prayer, so that his mind should not be rapt or cause him to go on praying too long for his brother.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Still the Wandering Mind

Theodore of the ninth region of Alexandria said, "If God calls us to account for carelessness in our times of prayer, and the way our minds are caught by other things during psalmody, we cannot be saved."

~~Alchemy by Antonio Roybal

Monday, July 27, 2009

Refrain from Anger

Agatho said, "If an angry man were to raise the dead, God would still be displeased with his anger."

~~Raising The Dead by Dwight Juda Ward

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Run From the Dragon

When Nisteros the Great was walking in the desert with a brother, they saw a dragon and ran away. The brother said, "Were you afraid, abba?"

Nisteros answered, "I wasn't afraid my son. But it was right to run away from the dragon, otherwise I should have had to run away from conceit."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Work Continually

Mathois said, "I like to find some light but continual work, rather than a heavy work that is quickly finished."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Do You Really Need Those Books?

A brother said to Serapion, "Give me a word."

But, he replied, "What can I say to you? You have taken what belongs to widows and orphans and put it on your window ledge."

Serapion had seen that the window ledge was full of books.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Eating Soup in Scetis

Once Achillas came to the cell of Isaiah in Scetis, and found him eating. He had put salt and water in a dish. Seeing that he was hiding the dish behind the plaits of palm leaves, Achillas said, "Tell me what you were eating."

He answered, "I am sorry abba, but I was cutting palms and began to burn with thirst. So I dipped a piece of bread in salt, and put it in my mouth. But my mouth was parched, and I could not swallow the bread, so I was forced to pour a little water on the salt so that I could swallow it. Forgive me."

Achillas used to tease him, saying, "Come see Isaiah eating soup in Scetis. If you want to eat soup, go to Egypt."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Demon of Lust

They said of Sarah that the demon of lust was attacking her threateningly, tempting her with vain thoughts of the world. She continued in the fear of God and maintained the rigor of her fasting.

Once, when she climbed up on the roof to pray, the spirit of lust appeared to her in bodily form and said to her, "You have overcome me, Sarah."

But, she replied, "It is not I who have overcome you, but my Lord Christ."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mortify Self-will

Poemen went with Anub to the country of Dioclos. Walking past the tombs they saw a woman beating her breast and weeping bitterly. They paused to see her. When they had gone a little further, they met a man and Poemen asked him, "What is the matter with the woman over there, that she weeps so bitterly?"

He said, "Her husband is dead, and her son, and her brother."

Poemen said to Anub, "I tell you, that unless a man mortifies all his self-will and has this kind of grief, he cannot be a monk. The whole life and attention of that woman is wrapped up in grief."

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Nilus said, "The arrows of the enemy cannot touch someone who loves quiet. But those who wander among crowds will often be wounded by them."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Macrina the Younger

Macrina the Younger began one of the earliest monastic communities at her family's estate in Annisa near the Black Sea. It eventually became known as the "School of Virtue" with the men gathered on one side of the river Iris and the women on the other.

The communities worshipped together in a shared church, prayed the psalms throughout the day, cultivated gardens for quiet and meditation and prayed the Evening Office of Thanksgiving as the lamps were lit.

The communities supported themselves through manual labor and Macrina, herself, baked the community bread as well as the bread for Eucharist. Her personal wealth was administered by another and was used to feed the poor.

As she approached death, Macrina's bed was turned toward the East in anticipation of the resurrection. She stopped speaking to others and spoke only to God, in prayer. Her brother, Gregory of Nyssa, sat with her and heard her final prayer to God:

Macrina's Prayer

It is you, O Lord, who have freed us from the fear of death. You have made our life here the beginning of our true life. You grant our bodies rest in sleep for a season and you rouse our bodies again at the last trumpet.

You have given in trust to the earth our earthly bodies, which you have formed with your own hands, and you have restored what you have given, by transforming our mortality and ugliness by our immortality and your grace.

You have delivered us from the curse of the law and from sin, by being made both on our behalf. You have broken the dragon's head ~ that dragon who seized man by the throat and dragged him through the yawning gulf of disobedience. You have opened for us the way of resurrection, after breaking the gates of hell, and have destroyed him that had the power of death.

You have given as a token to those who fear you the image of the holy cross, to destroy the adversary and to bring stability to our lives.

Eternal God, for whom I was snatched from my mother's womb, whom my soul loved with all its strength, to whom I consecrated my flesh from my youth until now, entrust to me an angel of light, who will lead me by the hand to the place of refreshment, where the "water of repose" is, in the bosom of the holy patriarchs.

May you, who cut through the fire of the flaming sword and assigned to paradise him who was crucified with you and entrusted to your pity, remember me too in your kingdom, because I too have been crucified with you; from fear of you I have nailed down my flesh and have been in fear of your judgements.

May the terrible gulf not separate me from those whom you have chosen, nor may the malignant Enemy set himself across my path, nor may my sin be discovered in your sight, if having error through the weakness of our human nature, I have committed any sin in word or deed.

May you who have power on earth to forgive sins, forgive me, that I may draw breath and that I be found in your presence, "having shed my body and without spot or wrinkle" in the form of my soul, and that my soul may be innocent and spotless and may be received into your hands like incense in your presence.

As evening drew near and the lamps were lit, members of Macrina's community began the Evening Office of Thanksgiving in her presence. As the prayers concluded, Macrina sighed deeply and died.

Saint Macrina the Younger (324 - 379) was born at Caesarea, Cappadocia. Her parents were Basil the Elder and Emmelia, and her grandmother was Saint Macrina the Elder. Among her nine siblings were two of the three Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, as well as Peter of Sebaste. Her father arranged for her to marry but her fiance died before the wedding. She devoted herself to her religion, becoming a nun.

She became well known as a holy woman and instructed many young women religiously. For this she is honored as one of the most prominent nuns of the Eastern Church. She had a profound influence upon her brothers with her adherence to an ascetic ideal. Gregory of Nyssa wrote a work entitled Life of Macrina in which he describes her sanctity throughout her life. Her brother Gregory composed a "Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection" (peri psyches kai anastaseos), entitled ta Makrinia to commemorate Macrina. Her feast day is the 19th of July.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

St. Arsenius the Great

~~Icon of Saints John Climacus, John of Damascus and Arsenius the Great

They used to say of Arsenius that no one could understand the depths of his monastic life. Once when he was living in Lower Egypt, and suffering from importunate visitors, he decided to leave his cell. He took nothing with him and said to his disciples, Alexander and Zoilus, "Alexander, you go on board a ship, and you, Zoilus, come with me to the Nile, and find me a little boat that is sailing to Alexandria, and then go and join your brother."

Zoilus was sad at this, but said nothing, and so they parted, Arsenius went down to the district near Alexandria, and there fell gravely ill. His disciples said to each other, "Do you think one of us has upset him? Is that why he has left us?"

They examined themselves but could not see any way in which they had been ungrateful to him, or had ever disobeyed him. When Arsenius had recovered from his illness, he said to himself, "I will go back to my brothers."

So he went to the place called Petra, where Alexander and Zoilus, his servants were. While he was by the river bank, he met an Ethiopian girl, who came up and touched his cloak. He rebuked her but she said, "If you are a monk, go to the mountain."

At these words he was stricken to the heart, and said to himself, "Arsenius, if you are a monk, go to the mountain." On the way his disciples Alexander and Zoilus met him, and fell at his feet. Arsenius also threw himself on the ground and they all wept. Then Arsenius said, "Didn't you hear that I was ill?"

They said to him, "Yes, we heard about it."

He said, "Then why didn't you come to see me?"

Alexander said, "We were upset by your going away from us, for many people were shocked about it and said, 'they must have disobeyed the hermit or surely he would not have left them.'"

Arsenius said to them, "Yes, I knew that would be said, but now it shall be said, 'The dove found rest for her foot, and so returned to Noah in the ark.'" The feelings of his disciples were healed by this, and they stayed with him until the end of his life.

When he lay dying, they were very distressed. He said to them, "The hour is not yet come, but when it does come I will tell you. You will be judged with me before the judgement seat of Christ, if you let anyone else touch my dead body."

They said, "Whatever shall we do? We don't know how to clothe or bury a dead body."

Then Arsenius said, "I suppose you know enough to tie a rope to my leg and pull me up the mountain?"

When he was about to commit his soul to God, they saw him weeping, and said, "Abba, are even you afraid of death?"

He said, "Yes, indeed. The fear which possesses me now has been with me since I became a monk: and I am very much afraid." So he slept in peace.

Arsenius always used to say this, "Why words, did I let you get out? I have often been very sorry that I have spoken, never that I have been silent."

When Poemen heard that Arsenius had departed this life, he wept and said, "You are blessed, Arsenius, for you wept for yourself in this world. Whoever does not weep for himself in this world, shall lament for ever in the next. We cannot escape lamentation; if we do not lament here of our own will, we shall later be forced to lament against our will."

Feastday: July 19, 450
Confessor and hermit on the Nile, Arsenius, who was born in Rome in 354, was the tutor of the children of Emperors Theodosius I the Great, Arcadius, and Honorius. At that time, Arsenius was a Roman deacon recommended for the office by Pope St. Damasus; he served at Theodosius' court in Constantinople for about ten years and then became a monk in Alexandria, Egypt. Inheriting a fortune from a relative, Arsenius studied with St. John the Dwarf and became a hermit in the desert of Egypt. In 434, he left Scetis and went to the rock of Troe, near Memphis, Egypt, and to the island of Canopus near Alexandria. He died at Troe. Arsenius is sometimes called "the Roman" or "the Deacon."

Friday, July 17, 2009

What does God see as honorable?

Joseph of Thebes said, "Three things are seen to be honorable by God. The first is when temptations come on someone who is weak, and are accepted thankfully. The second is when every action is pure before God, mixed with no human motive. The third is when a disciple remains obedient to a spiritual father, and gives up all his self-will."

~~Jesus is tempted by Satan

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Devastation of Scetis

Macarius told the brothers about the devastation of Scetis. He said, "When you see cells built beside the swamp know that the desolation of Scetis is near; when you see trees planted there, know that it is at the door; when you see boys there take your sheepskins and go away."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Life is No Picnic

Before Poemen went to Egypt, there was a hermit there who was very famous. But when Poemen came up from Scetis with his monks, the people left this hermit in favor of Poemen. The hermit was jealous and criticized Poemen and his group. When Poemen heard this, he was sorry, and said to his monks, "What can we do about this hermit? These people have made us suffer by leaving him and visiting us who are nobody. How can we soothe his mind?"

Poemen continued, "Make something to eat, and take a little jug of wine; we will go and eat with him, perhaps we'll be able to heal his mind." So they took the bread that they had made ready, and went to the hermit's cell.
When they knocked, his disciple answered the door and said, "Who are you?"

They said, "Tell the abba, 'Poemen is here, and he wants to be blessed by you.'"

The disciple told the hermit, who returned the message, "Go away, I am busy."

But they persevered and said, "We won't go away till we have had the hermit's blessing."

Seeing their perseverance and humility, the hermit was stricken with remorse and opened the door to them. They went in and ate with him. While they were having supper, the hermit said, "Indded, I have heard less than the truth about you. I see that you do a hundredfold more than I was told." So he became their friend in that moment.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vengeance is Mine

A brother who was hurt by another brother went to the Theban Sisois and said, "I want to get back at a brother who has hurt me."

Sisois begged him, "Don't do that, my son, leave vengeance in the hands of God."

But he said, "I can't rest until I get my own back."

Sisois said, "My brother, let us pray." Then standing, he prayed, "O God, we have no further need of you, for we can take vengeance by ourselves."

The brother heard it and fell at the hermit's feet, saying, "I won't quarrel with my brother any longer; I beg you to forgive me."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Deny Self

Evagrius said, "To go against self is the beginning of salvation."

~~Overgrown Skull by Qrstvr

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Test of Obedience

Once a man who wanted to become a monk came to see Sisois of the Thebaid. The hermit asked him, "Have you any ties in the world."

He said, "I have a son."

Sisois said to him, "Go and throw him in the river, and then you can be a monk."

He went to throw his boy in the river, but Sisois sent a monk to stop him. He was already holding his son ready to throw him in, when the brother said, "Stop! What are you doing?"

He said, "The abba told me to throw him in."

The brother said, "Now the abba says, do not throw him in."

So he left his son, and came back to the hermit; and tested by such obedience he became a strong monk.

~~The Binding of Isaac silkscreen print by Tamar Messer

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Breaking Fast

Two brothers once came to see a hermit whose custom it was not to eat every day. When he saw them, he welcomed them cheerfully and said, "A fast has its own reward, but whoever eats because of love, obeys two commandments: he loses his self-will, and he refreshes his brothers."

Friday, July 10, 2009


Some brothers asked Macarius, "How should we pray?"

He said, "There is no need to talk much in prayer. Reach out your hands often, and say, 'Lord have mercy on me, as you will and as you know.' But, if conflict troubles you, say, 'Lord, help me.' He knows what is best for us and had mercy."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Eternal Judgment

Evagrius said, "If you always keep in mind your death and the eternal judgment, there will be no stain on your soul."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wise as an Owl

They said of Agatho that some people went to him because they heard he was a man of great discretion. Wanting to test whether he was irritable, they said to him, "Are you Agatho? We have heard that you are an adulterer and a proud man."

He answered, "It is true."

They said to him, "Are you that Agatho who gossips and slanders?"

He answered, "I am."

They asked him, "Are you Agatho the heretic?'

He answered, "I am no heretic."

So they asked him, "Why did you patiently bear it when we slandered you, but did not endure it when we said you were a heretic?"

He answered, "I agreed to the first charges against myself for the good of my soul. But I didn't accept it when you said I was a heretic because that is to be separated from God, and I don't want to be separated from God."

They admired his discretion, and went away edified.

~~Wise Old Owl by Amy Huntington

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Weight of Our Sins

Once there was a meeting of monks in Scetis, and they discussed the case of a guilty brother but Pior said nothing. Afterwards, he got up and went out, took a sack, filled it with sand, and carried it on his shoulders. He put a little sand in a basket and carried it in front of him. The monks asked him, "What are you doing?"

He answered, "The sack with a lot of sand is my sins, they are many, so I put them on my back and then I shall not weep for them. The basket with a little sand is the sins of our brother and they are in front of me, and I see them and judge them. This is not right. I ought to have my own sins in front of me, and think about them, and ask God to forgive me."

When the monks heard this, they said, "This is the true way of salvation."

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Fool and Heretic

Once a provincial judge heard of Moses and went to Scetis to see him. They told Moses that he was on his way, and he got up and fled towards a marsh. The judge and his entourage met him, and asked him, "Tell me, old man, where is the cell of Moses?"

"What do you want to see him for?" Moses asked. "He is a fool and a heretic."

The judge came to the church and said to the clergy, "I have heard about Moses and I came to see him. But I met an old man on the way to Egypt, and I asked him where the cell of Moses was and he said, 'Why are you looking for him? He is a fool and a heretic.'"

The clergy were distressed and said, "What sort of person was your old man who told you this about the holy man?"

They said, "He was an old man, tall and black, wearing the oldest possible clothes."

The clergy said, "That was Moses. He said that about himself because he didn't want you to see him."

The judge went away very impressed.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Blessed Assurance

Macarius once went down from Scetis to a place named Terenuthis, and he climbed into an old pagan burial place to sleep. He put one of the bodies under his head as a pillow. The demons hated him when they saw his assurance and tried to frighten him by calling out, "Lady, come with us to bathe."

Another demon answered from underneath Macarius, as though he were the dead woman, "I have a pilgrim on top of me, and can't move."

Macarius was not frightened, but confidently thumped the body, saying, "Get up and go if you can."

When the demons heard it, they cried out and said, "You have defeated us," and they fled in confusion.

~~Demons by Jeff Coles, 2007

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Soul Peace

A brother said to Pistamon, "What am I to do? I am anxious when I sell what I make."

Pistamon replied, "Sisois and others used to see what they made. There is no harm in this. When you sell anything, say straight away the price of the goods. If you want to lower the price a little, you may and so you will find peace."

The brother said, "I have enough for my needs from other sources, do you think I need worry about making things to sell?"

Pistamon answered, "However much you have, do not stop making things, do as much as you can, provided your soul is at peace."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lord, Give Me Strength

They said of Sarah that for thirteen years she was fiercely attacked by the demon of lust. She never prayed that the battle should leave her, but she used to say only "Lord, give me strength."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

True Austerity

Benjamin, who was a priest in Cellia, said that some brothers went to a hermit in Scetis and wanted to give him some oil. But the hermit said, "Look, there is a little jar of oil which you brought me three years ago. It is still where you put it."

Benjamin said, "When we heard that, we were amazed by the hermit's austerity."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Good Mourning

In Egypt once when Poemen was going somewhere he saw a woman sitting by a grave and weeping bitterly. He said, "If all the delights of the world should come to her, they would not bring her out of her sorrow. Just so should the monk always be weeping in his heart."