Saturday, October 31, 2009

God Within Us

A hermit said, "We suffer temptation because we are careless. If we always remember that God dwells in us, we shall never bring into ourselves anything that is not his. The Lord Christ is in us and with us, and watches our life. Because we have Him within us and contemplate Him, we ought not to be idle; we should make ourselves holy as He is holy. If we stand upon a rock, the power of the wicked one will be broken. Do not be afraid of him, and he can do nothing against you. Pray with courage this psalm, 'They that trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion; they that dwell in Jerusalem shall stand fast for ever' (Psalm 125:1).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Always Look Upwards

When Macarius was living in the outer desert he was the only one who lived as a solitary, but lower down there was another desert where several brothers lived. One day, he glanced down the road and saw Satan coming along looking like a man, who passed by Macarius' dwelling. He seemed to be wearing a cotton garment full of holes and a small flask hung at each hole. Macarius said to him, "Hey, mister, where are you off to?"

He said, "I'm going to stir up the memories of the monks."

Macarius said, "What are these small flasks for?"

He replied, "I'm taking food for the brethren to taste."

The hermit said, "So many kinds?"

He replied, "Yes, if a brother doesn't like one sort of food, I offer him another, and if he doesn't like the second any better, I offer him a third; and of all these varieties he'll like one at least."

With these words he went on; Macarius remained watching the road until he saw him coming back again. When he saw the devil, he said to him, "Good health to you."

The other replied, "How can I be in good health?"

The hermit asked him what he mean, and he replied, "Because they all opposed me, and no one received me."

Macarius said, "Ah, so you didn't find any friends down there?"

He replied, "Yes, I have one monk who is a friend down there. He at least obeys me and when he sees me he changes like the wind." The hermit asked him the name of this monk: "Theopemptus," he replied, and with these words he went away.

Then Macarius got up and went to the desert below his own. When they heard of it the brothers took branches of palm to go meet him. Each one got ready, thinking that it was to him the hermit was coming. But he asked which was the one called Theopemptus, and when he had found out, it was to his cell he went. Theopemptus received him with joy.

When he was alone with him Macarius asked him, "How are you getting on?"

Theopemptus replied, "Thanks to your prayers, all goes well."

The hermit asked him, "Don't your thoughts war against you?"

He replied, "Up to now, it's all right," for he was afraid to admit anything.

Macarius said to him, "Well, after so many years living as an ascetic, and being praised by all, though I am old, the spirit of fornication troubles me."

Theopemptus said, "As a matter of fact, abba, it is the same for me."

Macarius went on admitting that other thoughts still warred against him, until he had brought him to admit them about himself. Then Macarius said, "How long do you fast?"

He replied, "Till the ninth hour."

"Practice fasting till a little later," Macarius said. "Meditate on the Gospel and the other Scriptures; if a bad thought comes to you, don't look at it but always look upwards, and the Lord will come at once to your help." When he had given the brother this rule, Macarius returned to his solitude

He was watching the road once more when he saw the devil, and said to him, "Where are you going this time?"

The devil replied, "To stir up the memories of the brothers," and went on his way.

When he came back the saint asked him, "How are the brothers?"

He told him that it had gone badly and Macarius asked him why. He replied, "They are all obdurate, and the worst is the one friend I had who used to obey me. I don't know what has changed him, but he doesn't obey me anymore; he's become the most stubborn of them all. So I have decided not to go down there again or at least not for a very long time."

When he had said this he went away and Macarius returned to his cell adoring and thanking God the Savior.

~~Saint Macarius

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Blood of the Brother

They said that a hermit in Scetis who was ill wanted to eat a little fresh bread. One of the experienced monks heard of it: and he took his cloak, put stale bread into it, went to Egypt, changed the stale bread for fresh, and brought the fresh bread back to the sick hermit.

When the brothers saw the fresh bread, they were astonished. The hermit did not want to eat it and said, "It is the blood of the brother."

The others begged him to eat it, saying, "For God's sake eat it, so that his sacrifice is not in vain."

So he ate it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Conduct

A hermit, who had an experienced disciple, once turned him out in a fit of irritation. The disciple sat down outside to wait and the hermit found him there when he opened the door. So he did penance to him, saying, "You are my abba now, because your humility and patience have overcome my weakness. Come inside, now you are the old abba, and I am the young disciple; my age must give way to your conduct."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stamp on Self

Moses said to brother Zacharias, "Tell me what to do."

At those words Zacharias threw himself at his feet, saying, "Why ask me, abba?"

The hermit said, "I tell you, my son Zacharias, I saw the Holy Spirit coming upon you, and so I cannot avoid asking you."

Then Zacharias took his cowl from his head, and put it beneath his feet and stamped on it, and said, "Unless a man stamps upon self like that, he cannot be a monk."

~~Descent of the Holy Spirit by Christopher Smith

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sing to the Lord!

Isidore, the priest in Scetis said, "When I was young and stayed in my cell, I set no limit to the number of psalms which I said in the service of God. Night and day alike were spent in psalmody."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Lean or Prosperous Soul?

Daniel said, "If the body is strong, the soul weakens. If the body weakens, the soul is strong."

He also said, "If the body is prosperous, the soul grows lean; if the body is lean, the soul grows prosperous."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Costly Than Gold

A great man came from a distance to Scetis carrying gold, and he asked the presbyter of the desert to distribute it among the brothers.

But the presbyter said to him, "The brothers do not need it."

But he was very pressing, and would not give way, and put a basket of money on the church porch. So the presbyter said, "Whoever is in need may take money from here."

No one touched it, some did not even look at it. The presbyter said, "God has accepted your offering to him. Go away and give it to the poor."

He went away much edified.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Seek Patience

Once the disciple of a great hermit was struggling with temptation. When the hermit saw him struggling, he said, "Shall I ask the Lord to release you from your trouble?"

But he said, "Abba, I see that although it is a painful struggle I am profiting from having to carry this burden. But ask God in your prayers, that he will give me enough patience to endure it."

Then his abba said to him, "Now I know that you are far advanced, my son, and beyond me."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Can You Bear The Torment?

Once Zeno was walking in Palestine; and when he had finished his work, he sat down to eat near a cucumber plant. His thoughts tried to persuade him, saying, "Pick one of those cucumbers for yourself, and eat it. What does it matter?"

He replied to his temptation, "Thieves go down to torment. Test yourself then to see whether you can bear the torment."

So he stood in the sun for five days, without drinking, and he was dried up by the heat. His thoughts, as it were, spoke to him saying, "We can't bear such torment."

So he said to himself, "If you can't bear torment, do not steal in order to eat."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Three Parts

Poemen said, "Poverty, suffering and wise discernment are the three parts of a hermit's life. It is written that there were these three, Noah, Job and Daniel. Noah is the type of those who own nothing, Job of those who are suffering, Daniel of those who judge wisely. Where there are these three qualities, there God dwells."

~~Job I by Oldrich Kulhanek

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself

It was said that a monk who made baskets was putting handles on them, when he heard another monk saying nearby, "What shall I do? The trader is coming soon and I haven't got any handles to put on my baskets."

So he took off the handles he had put on his own baskets, and took them to the nearby monk, and said, "I don't need these; take them and put them on your baskets." He helped the brother to finish his baskets, but left his own unfinished.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Trust in God's Grace

There was a story that some philosophers once came to test the monks. One of the monks came by dressed in a fine robe. The philosophers said to him, "Come here, you." But he was indignant, and insulted them.

Then another monk came by, a good person, a Libyan by race. They said to him, "Come here, you wicked old monk." He came to them at once, and they began to hit him, and he turned the other cheek to them.

Then the philosophers got up and did homage to him, saying, "Here is a monk, indeed." They made him sit down among them and asked him, "What do you do in this desert other than we do? You fast: and we fast also. You chastise your bodies and so do we. Whatever you do, we do the same."

The monk replied, "We trust in God's grace, and keep a watch on our thoughts."

They said, "That is what we cannot do." They were edified, and let him go.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Turn The Other Cheek

Daniel said that in Babylon there was a nobleman's daughter, who was possessed by a devil. Her father asked a monk for help. The monk said to him, "No one can cure your daughter except some hermits I know: and if you go to them, they will refuse to do it from motives of humility. Let us do it this way: when they come to the city bringing their produce for sale, tell them that you want to buy what they have. When they come into the house to receive the money, we will ask them to pray, and I believe that your daughter will be cured."

So they went into the street, and they found a disciple of a hermit who was sitting there trying to sell his baskets. They took him back with them to the house, as if to give him money for his wares. When the monk came into the house, the girl who was troubled with the demon went up to him and slapped him. He followed the Lord's commandment and turned the other cheek.

The demon was forced out, and began to cry: "Violence! The commandment of Jesus Christ is driving me out;" the girl was healed at that moment.

When they came back to the hermit, they told him what had happened, and he glorified God saying, "The pride of devils must fall before humble obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Blessed Are The Meek

A brother from Scetis was going to harvest: and he went to one of the great hermits and said, "Tell me, abba, what am I to do, while I am harvesting?"

The hermit said, "If I tell you, you will do as I say?"

The brother answered, "Yes, I will obey you."

He said, "If you do what I say, you will give up your harvesting: and come here, and I will tell you what to do." So the brother abandoned his harvesting, and came to the hermit who said, "Go into your cell and stay there fifty days without a break. Eat bread and salt once a day. At the end of that time I will tell you what to do next."

He did so, and came back to the hermit. The hermit realized he was in earnest and told him how he ought to live in his cell. The brother went into his cell, and for three days and nights, he lay prone upon the ground in penitence before God.

Then the thought came into his mind, "You are very good, you are a great man," but he took control of his thoughts, and in humility called his sins to mind, saying, "What about all the sins I have committed?"

If the thought rose in his mind that he had neglected the commandments of God, he said to himself, "I will offer God a little service, and I believe he will have mercy upon me."

So he conquered the demons that sent him wicked thoughts: and they appeared before him in a visible form, and said, "You are making us angry."

He said to them, "Why?"

They said, "If we praise you, you are quick to be humble; if we humble you, you rise up on high."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone

A hermit lived a common life with another brother, who was a man with a merciful heart. Once, in a time of famine, people came to his door to take part in a love-feast, and he gave bread to everyone who came.

When his brother saw this, he said, "Give me my share of the bread, and do what you like with your share." So, he divided the bread into two, and went on giving away his own share as usual.

Crowds flocked to the hermit, hearing that he gave to all comers. God, seeing what he did, blessed that bread. But the brother who had taken his share, gave none away, and when he had eaten all his bread he said to the other hermit, "I've only got a bit of bread left, abba; let me come back and live with you."

The hermit said to him, "Certainly, whatever you like." So they began to live together again and to have everything in common. Again, they had plenty of food, and again the needy kept coming to receive a love-feast.

One day the brother happened to go in and he noticed that there was no bread left. A poor man came, asking for alms. So the hermit said to the brother, "Give him some bread."

He said, "There isn't any left, abba."

The hermit said, "Go and have a look for some."

The brother went in and saw the bin full of loaves. He was afraid at the sight, and took some and gave them to the poor man. He recognized the faith and goodness of the hermit, and glorified God.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lord Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner!

It was said that a hermit was working earnestly in his cell, wrapped up in his mat. He went to visit Ammon, who saw him using his mat like this, and said to him, "That is not a good idea."

The hermit said, "Three thoughts trouble me. The first is that I ought to go and live somewhere else in the desert; the second is that I should go out and find a foreign country where no one knows me; the third is that I should shut myself in my cell, see no one, and eat every other day."

Ammon said to him, "None of these three would be any use to you. Stay in your cell, eat a little every day, always keep in your heart the words of the publican in the Gospel, and you can be saved (Luke 18:13)."

~~The Pharisee and the Publican by Christian Dare

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Speak Simply

Ammon (of the place called Raithu) brought this question to Sisois: "When I read Scripture, I am tempted to make elaborate commentaries and prepare myself to answer questions on it."

He replied, "You don't need to do that. It is better to speak simply, with a good conscience and a pure mind."

~~Photo by Dean Koenig

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let Self-Discipline Test Your Soul

Syncletica said, "When the devil does not use the goad of poverty to tempt us, he uses wealth for the same purpose. When he cannot win by scorn and mockery, he tries praise and flattery. If he cannot win by giving health, he tries illness. If he cannot win by comfort, he tries to ruin the soul by vexations that lead us to act against our monastic vows.

"He inflicts severe sicknesses on people he wants to tempt and so makes them weak, and thereby shakes the love they feel towards God. But although the body is shattered and running a high temperature and thirsting unbearably, yet you, who endure all this, are a sinner; you should therefore remember the punishments of the next world, the everlasting fire, the torments of judgment.

"Then you will not fail in the sufferings of this present time, indeed you should rejoice because God has visited you. Keep saying the famous text: 'The Lord hath chastened and corrected me: but he hath not given me over unto death' (Psalm 118:18).

"Iron is cleaned of rust by fire. If you are righteous and suffer, you grow to a higher sanctity. Gold is tested by fire. When a messenger from Satan is given to you to be a thorn in your flesh, lift up your heart, from fever and cold, remember the text of Scripture, 'We went through fire and water,' and 'thou broughtest us out into a place of rest' (Psalm 66:12).

"If you have overcome suffering, you may expect rest, provided you are following what is good. Cry aloud the prophet's words, 'I am poor and destitute and in misery' (Psalm 66:29).

"Threefold suffering like this shall make you perfect. He said also, 'Thou hast set me at liberty when I was in trouble' (Psalm 4:1).

"So let this kind of self-discipline test our souls, for our enemy is always in sight."

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Twofold Problem

Someone asked a hermit to accept money for his future needs but he refused, because the produce of his labor was enough for him. When the giver persisted, and begged him to take it for the needs of the poor, he replied, "If I did that my disgrace would be twofold. I do not need it, yet I would have accepted it: and when I gave it to others, I would suffer from vanity."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sniffing Temptation

On the spirit of temptation, a hermit said, "You should be like a man walking along the street past an inn, and sniffing the smell of meat frying or roasting. Anyone who likes goes in and eats. People who do not want it, pass by and only sniff the smell.

"So you ought to put the smell away from you; get up and pray, 'Lord, Son of God, help me.' Do this against all temptations. We cannot make temptations vanish, but we can struggle against them."

At once a light appeared in his heart.

~~An Old Inn Kitchen, 1922, by Frederick William Elwell (1870-1958)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hopelessly Devoted

They said of Helladius that he lived twenty years in his cell, and did not once raise his eyes to look at the roof.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Faith of Daniel

A brother asked Poemen, "How ought we to live?"

Poemen replied, "We have seen the example of Daniel. They accused him of nothing except that he served his God."

~~Daniel and the Lions' Den by Peter Paul Rubens

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Martyr's Crown

One day when the brothers were sitting near him, Macarius said to them, "Look, the barbarians are coming to Scetis today; get up and flee."

They said to him, "Abba, won't you flee too?"

He said to them, "I've been waiting for many years for this day when the word of Christ will be fulfilled, 'They who take the sword shall perish by the sword' (Matthew 26:52)."

They said to him, "We will not flee either, we will die with you."

He replied, "That's nothing to do with me; let each one decide for himself if he will stay or flee."

There were seven brothers there and he said to them, "Look, the barbarians are nearly at the door," and they came in and slew them. But one of them fled and hid under a pile of rope and he saw crowns coming and crowning each of them.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


It is said that a hermit had a little boy living with him. Seeing him doing something that was not fitting, he said, "Don't do that," but the child did not obey him. Seeing that he was disobedient, the hermit washed his hands of his upbringing, and let him do as he liked.

For three days the boy kept the door of the room which had food in it shut and let the hermit go without anything to eat. The hermit did not say, "Where are you?" or "What are you doing out there?"

A neighbor of the hermit noticed that the boy was late in bringing food so he made a little stew, and passed it to the hermit through a hole in the wall of the cell. and asked him to eat. He said to the hermit, "Why is that disciple of yours so long away?"

The hermit said, "When he has leisure, he will come back."

~~Photo by Victoria Logue

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Serapion said, "I have afflicted my body far more than my son Zacharias, but I cannot equal his humility or his silence."

Monday, October 5, 2009

103 Prayers

The brothers told this story: We once visited some hermits, and after the usual prayer we exchanged greetings and sat down. After we had talked with them, we got ready to go, and asked once again for prayers to be said.

But one of the hermits said to us, "What, haven't you prayed already?"

We said, "Yes, abba, when we came in,we prayed, and since then we have been talking."

He said, "I may be wrong, brothers; but one of you, while he was sitting and talking with you, offered a hundred and three prayers."

With these words he prayed, and sent us away.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Patience on Both Sides

There was a hermit in Scetis who lived in a satisfactory way, but he was not good at remembering what he heard. So he went to John the Short to ask him about his forgetfulness. He listened to John, went back to his cell and forgot what he had been told. He came a second time and asked him the same question, listened, went back, and forgot what he had heard the moment he reached his cell. Many times he went backwards and forwards, but could never remember.

He happened to meet John and said, "Do you know, abba, I've forgotten all you told me? I didn't want to disturb you, so I didn't come again."

John said to him, "Go and light a lamp," and he lit it. John said, "Bring more lamps and light them from the first," and he did so. John said to him, "Was the first lamp harmed, because you used it to light the others?"

He said, "No."

"In the same way," John replied, "I would not be harmed. If all the monks of Scetis should come to me, it would not keep me from God's love. So come to me whenever you want, and don't hesitate."

So, by patience on both sides, God cured the forgetfulness of the hermit. This was the work of the hermits of Scetis, to strengthen those who were attacked; their experience in conflict with themselves meant that they were able to help others along the way.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bad Reputation

Three monks came to Achillas, and one of them had a bad reputation. The first monk said, "Abba. make me a fishing net."

He said, "I won't."

The second said to him, "Will you give us a memento of yourself to keep in our community?"

He answered, "I don't have time."

Then the third, the one who had the bad reputation, said to him, "Make me a fishing-net, and so I shall have a blessing from your hands, abba."

At once he answered, "I will do that."

But the first two, whose requests he had refused, said privately to him, "Why did you refuse our requests and consent to his?"

Achillas answered, "I could tell you that I would not do it because I had no time, and you would not be vexed. But if I did not do it for this monk, he would say, 'The hermit has heard my reputation and for that reason has refused to make me a net.' So immediately I set to work with the string, to soothe his soul and prevent him from being sad."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where There is Work There is Rest

Poemen said this: Isidore, the presbyter in Scetis, once spoke to a group of monks and said, "My brothers, isn't work the reason we are here? But now I see that no work is done here. So, I will take my cloak and go where there is work and so I shall find rest."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stand and be Strong

A hermit said about temptation: "Do you want to be saved? Go, and discipline yourself, 'Seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you' (Matthew 7:7).

In the world there are boxers who are hit hard and yet stand firm and receive crowns. Sometimes one is set upon by two at once, and their blows give him strength so that he overcomes them. Have you not seen what strength exercise brings? So, stand and be strong and the Lord will defeat your enemy for you."