In Lower Egypt there was an anchorite who was well-known because he dwelt in a solitary cell in the desert. Now by the power of Satan, a shameless woman who had heard of him said to some young men, “What would you give me if I could cause your anchorite to fall?” They agreed to give her something of value. In the evening she went out and came to his cell as though she had lost her way, and when she knocked the anchorite came out. When he saw her he was troubled and said, “How have you come here?” Weeping, she said, “I came here because I have lost my way.” Filled with compassion, he made her come into the entry, and he returned to his cell and shut it, but the unfortunate creature began to cry out, “Abba, the wild animals are eating me.” He was uneasy again, but fearing the judgment of God, he said, “What is the source of this hardness of mine?” and he opened the door and made her come inside. Then the devil attempted to attack him with his arrows. Pondering the warfare of the enemy, he said, “The ways of the enemy are darkness, whereas the Son of God is light”, and he rose and lit the lamp. Burning with desire, he said, “Those who commit such acts go to the punishment; try then, and see if you can bear the everlasting fire”, and put his finger into the lamp and burnt it without feeling it, so extreme was the sensual flame. he went on doing this until morning, burning all his fingers. The unfortunate woman, seeing what he was doing, was petrified with fear. In the morning the young men came to see the anchorite and said to him, “Did a woman come here last night?” He said, “Yes, she is inside, asleep.” They entered and found her dead, and they said to him, “Abba, she is dead.” Then uncovering his hands, he showed them to them, saying, “Look what the daughter of the devil has done to me; she has destroyed my fingers”, and he told them what had happened and said, “It is written, “Do not render evil for evil”, and he prayed and awoke her , and she went away an lived wisely the rest of her life.”
A brother fell when he was tempted, and in his distress he gave up his monastic rule. Though he wanted to take it up again, he was prevented by his distress, and he said within himself, When shall I be able to be as I was before? In his discouragement he had not the strength to undertake monastic work, so he went to visit an old man and told him about himself. And when the old man learnt of his distress, he suggested the following example to him, A man had a plot of land, and through negligence it became waste land and was full of weeds and brambles. Later he wanted to cultivate it and said to his son, Go, and weed the ground. The son going to weed it saw the amount of brambles and despaired, saying to himself, When shall I have uprooted and reclaimed all that? So he lay down and went to sleep for several days. Later his father came to see what he had done and found he had done nothing at all. He said to him, Why have you done nothing so far? He replied, father, when I began to look and saw the amount of weeds and brambles I altered my resolution and in my distress, I lay down on the ground. His father said to him, My child, do just the surface of the bed every day, and so you work will make progress and you will not be discouraged. When he heard this he did so, and in a short while the plot was weeded. So it is for you, brother, work a little without giving way and by his grace God will re-establish you in you former way of life. At these words the brother settled down with perseverance and did as the old man had taught him and by the grace of Christ he found peace.
One of the old men of the Thebaid used to tell the following story: “I was the son of a pagan priest. When I was small I would sit and watch my father who often went to sacrifice to the idol. Once, going behind him in secret, I saw Satan and all his army standing beside him; and behold, one of the chief devils came to bow before him. Satan said, “Where have you come from?” He answered, “I was in a certain place and made much blood flow, and I have come to tell you about it.” Satan asked, “How long did it take you to do this?” He replied, “Thirty days.” Then Satan commanded him to be flogged, saying, “In so long a time you have done only that?” And behold, another demon came to bow before him. He asked him, “and you where have you come from?” The demon replied, “I was on the sea, and I made the waves rise, and small craft foundered, and I have killed many people, and I have come to inform you of it.” He said to him, “How long did it take you to do this?” and the demon said, “Twenty days.” Satan commanded that he also should be flogged, saying, “That is because in such a long time you have only done this.” Now a third demon came to bow before him. He asked, “and where have you come from?” The demon replied, “There was a marriage in a certain village, and I stirred up a riot, and I have made much blood flow, killing, the bride and groom, and I have come to inform you.” He asked him, “How long have you taken to do this?” and he replied, “Ten days.” And Satan commanded that he also should be flogged because he has taken too long. After this another demon came to bow before him He asked, “And where have you come from?” He said, “I was in the desert forty years fighting against a monk, and this night I made him fall in to fornication.” When he heard this, Satan arose, embraced him, and put the crown he was wearing on his head and made him sit on his throne, saying, “You have been able to do a very great deed. The old man aid, “Seeing this, I said to myself, “Truly, it is a great contest, this contest of the monks.” and with God assisting me for my salvation, I went away and became a monk.
It was said of an old man that he went down to Scetis, and that he still had a son who was quite small and did not know what a woman was. Now when he became a man, the demons showed him the forms of women, and he told his father, who was astonished at it. Once when he went up to Egypt with his father and saw women, he said to his father, "Abba, these are the people who came to me at night in Scetis." And his father said to him, "These people are village monks, my child, and they wear different clothing form hermits.' The old man was astonished at the way the demons in the desert had shown him forms of women; and immediately they returned to their cells.
A provincial priest went to visit an anchorite to offer the Eucharist for him. Now someone went to the anchorite and spoke against the priest, so when the latter came according to custom to give him communion, the anchorite, who had been shocked, did not let him in, and the priest went away. Then, behold, a voice came to the anchorite, saying, “Men have taken jugdment away from me.” The anchorite was as though in ecstasy, and he saw a well of gold and a rope of gold and a jug of gold and much water of surpassing quality. Then he saw a leper draw the water and pour it out, and he would gladly have drunk but could not because he who drew the water was leprous. Again a voice came to him saying, “Why do you not drink the water? What does it matter if he who draws it is leperous? he only draws it and pours it out.” Returning to himself and perceiving the meaning of the vision, the anchorite sent for the priest and let him give him communion as usual.
There was an anchorite who had settled in the desert in the district of Antinoe and was progressing in virtue. Many were edified by his words and deeds. The enemy was jealous of his goodness, as he is wont to be of all virtuous men, and under the guise of piety suggested the following thought to him, "you should not let yourself be served by another, but you ought to serve others; since you do not do that, at lease serve yourself. So go and sell your baskets and buy whatsoever you need, then return at once to your anchoritic life without being a burden to anyone." This is what that deceiver jealous of his silent prayer, his attention to God, and the help many received from him, suggested. Truly, the enemy strove in all ways to take him captive. Convinced by a thought wh ich he believed to bee good, he went down to his monastery, this anchorite whom at that time everyone admired. He was really without experience of the great astuteness of the demon who was setting snares for him, although he was an anchorite, know and of repute. After a long time, he met a woman and since he was weakened by his carelessness, he went to a desert place, accompanied by the enemy, and he sinned beside the river. When he realized how the enemy was rejoicing at his fall, he began to despair of himself for having so greatly grieved the Spirit of God, the angels, and the holy Fathers, many of whom, even in the cities, had overcome the enemy. Unable to think of anyone like himself, he was filled with sadness, not remembering that God grants strength those who firmly hope in him. Because he could not see how his sin could be healed, he wanted to9 throw himself into the river and die there. The great torment of his soul made his body ill, and if the God of mercy had not helped him, he would have died without repentance, to the great delight of the enemy. Returning at last to his senses, he thought of trying to endure greater affliction in suffering. So he returned to the monastery and closed his cell door, and he wept, as it behoves us to weep over a dead body, beseeching God. By fasting and watching in affliction, his body grew weak, yet he did not feel he had done enough penance. Brothers often came to see him for their spiritual benefit, and when they knocked on the door, he said he couldn not open to them. "I have given my word", he said "to do penance seriously for a year." And he added, "Pray for me", not knowing how else to reply so as not to shock his listeners, for he was of great repute amongst themand considered as a great monk. So he spent the whole year in severe penance.
When the day of the Pasch came, on the night of the holy Resurrection, he took a new lamp and prepared it, putting in a new wick and covering it. In the evening he began to pray, saying, "O merciful and compassionate God, you will that even the barbarians should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, I flee to you, Savior of souls. Have pity on me, who to the delight of the enemy, have so grieved you, and who at present am dead through having obeyed the enemy. Master, you have mercy on the godless, and those who are without mercy, and you have taught us to be merciful to others–have compassion on my weakness. For to you nothing is impossible. My soul deserves hell. Have pity on me, for yo u are gracious to your creatures, for on the day of the resurrection, you willed to awaken even the bodies which no longer have life. Hear me, Lord, for my spirit and my unhappy soul fail me. Even my body, which I have defiled, falls into decay, and I am no longer able to live because of my dread of you. Instead of believing that my sin would be pardoned through penitence, I committed a double sin by my unfaithfulness. Revive me, for I am rushed, and command that this lamp maybe be kindled by your fire, that I may receive the assurance of your mercy, and know that in your mercy you have forgiven me. I will keep your commandments all the days of my life which you grant me, and I will no more depart from your fear, but I will serve you faithfully, even better than before."
Having uttered these words with many tears on the night of Resurrection, he got up to see if the was lamp was alight. When he uncovered it and saw that it was not alight, he made a prostration again before the Lord and besought him, saying, "lord, I know there are difficulities in the way of my being crowned, for I have not watched my steps, thinking rather of the pleasures of the flesh than of the punishment of blasphermers. Spare me, Lord, for once more I confess your goodness and my baseness before you, in the presence of all your angels and the saints; if it were not a matter for scandal, I would confess it also before men. Accordingly, have mercy on me, that I may be able to teach mercy to others. Even so Lord revive me." Having prayerd thus three times, he was heard. Getting up, he found the lamp was burning brightly. Filled with hope, he was strengthened by the joy of is heart and he rejoiced, wondering at the grace God had granted him in giving him his sign." He remained thus, prolonging his confession, and the day dawned and he rejoiced in the Lord without remembering bodily food. He preserved the light of his lamp all the days of his life, pouring oil into it and feeding it for fear lest it should go out. Thus the divine Spirit dwelt in him again, and he became a sign for all, humble in his witness to the Lord and his acknowledgement of him. When he came to the point of delivering up his sould, this was revealed to him several days beforehand.
One of the Fathers said, “If a hard-working monk lives in a place where there are no other hard-working monks, he cannot make progress: he can only struggle so as not to get worse; but if a lazy monk dwells with hard-working monks, he makes progress if he is vigilant, and if not he does not get any worse.”
A brother was attacked by the demon of lust. Now it happened that he went through an Egyptian village where he saw the daughter of a priest of the pagans. He fell in love with her and said to her father, "Give her to me as my wife." The other replied, "I cannot give her to you without the authority of my god," and he went to the demon and said to him "here is a monk who has come, wanting my daughter. Shall I give her to him?" The demon replied, "Ask him if he will deny his God, his baptism, and his promises as a monk." The monk agreed to this, and immediately he saw, as it were, a dove coming out of his mouth which flew away to the heavens. Then the priest went to the demon and said to him, "Yes, he has agreed to these three things." Then the devil replied, "Do not give him your daughter to wife, for his God has not gone from him and continues to help him." The priest went and said to him, "I cannot give her to you, for your God aids you and has not turned from you." When he heard these word, the brother said to himself, "God has shown me so great goodness, wretch that I am, even though I have denied Him, together with my baptism and promises as a monk. God who is good, continues even now to come to my aid!" So he came to his senses, and became watchful, and went to the desert to visit a great old man to tell him about the affair. The old man replied, "Stay here with me in the cave, and fast for three consecutive weeks, and I will intercede for you to God." The old man labored for the brother and besought God, saying, "Lord, I beseech you, grant me this soul and receive his repentance", and God heard him. When one week was over, the old man went to visit the brother and asked him, "Have you seen anything?" The brother replied, "Yes, I have seen a dove, high up in the heavens, facing towards my head." And the old man replied, "Give heed to yourself and implore God strenuously." After the second week the old man went to see the brother and asked him, "Have you seen anything?" He replied, "I Have seen the dove close to my head", and the old man encouraged him, "Be watchful and pray." As soon as the third week was completed, the old man sent to see him once again and asked him, "Have you seen anything else?" He said, "I have seen the dove coming and standing on my head, and I put out my hand to take her, and the dove took wing and entered into my mouth." Then the old man gave thanks to God and said to the brother, "See, God has accepted your repentance; henceforth, watch yourself." And the brother replied, "From now on, abba, I shall stay with you till my death."
A brother questioned one of the Fathers; saying; “If i happned to be overcome by sleep and miss the proper time for the Synaxix, I am afraid of what people will think and I no longer want to say the prayers late.” The old man said to him, “If it happens that you are drowsy till morning, get up, shut your door and your window, and say the Synaxix; For truly it is written, “The day is yours and the night is yours also.” (Ps 74:61). In truth, God is glorified at all times.
One of the fathers related this: “Once when I was at Oxyrhyncus, some poor people came on Saturday evening to receive charity. We were lying down, and there was one of them who only had a single mat, half underneath and half on top of him. Now it was cold, and when I went out for my natural needs, I heard his teeth chattering because of the severe cold, and he was encouraging himself, saying, “I thank you, Lord: how many rich people are in prison wearing irons at present; how many more have their feet fastened to wood, not being able so much as to satisfy their bodily needs–whereas I am like a king with my legs stretched out.” When I heard this, I recounted it to the brethern and they were edified.”
An old man was asked, “What is the straight and narrow way?” He replied, “The straight way is this, to do violence to one’s thoughts and to cut off one’s own will. That is what this means: “Behold we have left all and followed thee.” (Mark 10:28)
If someone observes that his brothers are satisfied with him, let him not start boasting to himself. There are thieves all around. Remember the warning: “When you have done all that was laid on you to do, say, “We are unprofitable servants. We did only what we had to’” (Luke 17:10). We will find out at the time of death what judgment has been passed on us.
A silly person feels hurt when accused or shouted at. He tries to answer back or else at once apologizes to his accuser, not for reasons of humility but to put a stop to his reproaches. In fact you should be silent when ridiculed. Accept patiently these spiritual cauterizations, or rather, purifying flames. And when the doctor has done his work, ask him to forgive you, for he many not accept your apology when he is angry.
An old man said, "Many, tempted by bodily pleasures, do not defile their bodies but, committing fornication in thought, they are fornicators in their souls while preserving their bodies unstained. So it is good, my friends, to do that which is written, that each one should guard his heart with great care."
"Man can derive his life either from God or from the earth and one way in which the lives of the desert saints can convey to us how much they depended on God, is to show us how little they depended upn earth. Ultimately, for the desert fathers it is not a question of more and more asceticism for its own sake, but they become more and more free because of…"
The same brother asked another old man about the same thought. And the old man said to him, "I myself have never had to fight against such a thing." And the brother was schocked at it and went to see another old man, saying to him, "this is what a certain old mans said to me, and I am shocked at it, for he has spoken beyond nature." The second old man said to him, "The man of God has not said that to you simply on the surface; but arise, go and kneel before him, so that he may tell you the meaning of his saying." So the brother arose and went to see the first old man, and he knelt before him and said, "Forgive me, abba, for I have acted like a fool in going away hurriedly, and I beg you to tell me how it is you have never had to fight against lust." The old man said, "Since I became a monk, I have never eaten bread to satiety, nor drunk water, nor slept to satiety, and attention to these things has so weighted me down that it has not let me feel the warfare of which you are speaking." And the brother went away edified.