On The Subject of Discernment

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.”

Sin of Lust, Blasphemy and Repentance

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."

On the subject of Discernment

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.

Being Thankful

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.”

How should we pray?

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They asked abba Macarius, "How should we pray?" And the old manreplied, "There is no need to speak much in prayer; often stretchout your hands and say, "Lord, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me." But if there is war in your soul, add, "Help me!" andbecause he knows what we need, he shows mercy on us."

And another… 

Abba Lot went to see abba Joseph and he said to him, "Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray andmeditate, I live in peace and as far as I can I purify my thoughts.What else can I do?" Then the old man stood up and stretched hishands toward heaven; his fingers became like ten lamps of fire andhe said to him, "If you will, you can become all flame."

And another….

The brothers said, "In what way ought we to pray before God?" The old man said, "For the repentance of sinners, the finding of the lost, the drawing near of those who are far off, friendliness toward those who do us harm, love towards those who persecute us, and sorrowful care for those who provoke God to wrath. And if a man doeth these things truly and with a penitent mind, the sinners will often gain life, and the living soul will be redeemed.

Now the prayer which our lord delivered to us as to the needs of the body, is one which applieth to the whole community, and it was not uttered for the sake of those who are strangers to the world, and with whom the pleasures of the body are held in contempt. He in whose life the kingdom of God and His righteousness are found lacks nothing, even when he asks not."

Father Anthony Bloom: The Desert Fathers

"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…"

On the Lust of the Flesh

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.

True Repentance

A brother questioned Abba Poemen, 'My thoughts trouble me, making me put my sins aside, and concern myself with my brother's faults'. Abba Peomen told him the following story about Abba Dioscorus. 'In his cell he wept and wept over himself, while his disciple was sitting in another cell. When the latter came to see him, he asked him, "Father, why are you weeping?" "I am weeping over my sins," he answered him. Then his disciple said, "You do not have any sins, Father." Abba replied, "Truly, my child, if I were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be enough to weep for them."

Teachings and Life of Avva Pambo

There was a monk named Pambo and they said of him that he spent three years saying to God, Do not glorify me on earth. But God glorified him so that one could not gaze steadfastly at him because of the glory of his countenance.

Two brethren came to see Abba Pambo one day and the first asked him, Abba, I fast for two days, then I eat two loaves; am I saving my soul, or am I going the wrong way?? The second said, Abba, every day I get two pence from my manual work, and I keep a little for my food and give the rest in alms; shall I be saved or shall I be lost?? They remained a long time questioning him and still the old man gave them no reply. After four days they had to leave and the priests comforted them saying, Do not be troubled, brothers. God gives the reward. It is the old man’s custom not to speak readily till God inspires him.? So they went to see the old man and said to him, Abba, pray for us. He said to them, Do you want to go away?? They said, Yes. Then, giving his mind to their works and writing on the ground he said, If Pambo fasted for two days together and ate two loaves, would he become a monk that way No. And if Pambo works to get two pence and gives them in alms, would he become a monk that way? No, not that way either. He said to them, The works are good, but if you guard your conscience towards your neighbor, then you will be saved. They were satisfied and went away joyfully.

Four monks of Scetis, clothed in skins, came one day to see the great Pambo. Each one revealed the virtue of his neighbor. The first fasted a great deal; the second was poor; the third had acquired great charity; and they said of the fourth that he had lived for twenty-two years in obedience to an old man. Abba Pambo said to them, I tell you, the virtue of this last one is the greatest. Each of the others has obtained the virtue he wished to acquire; but the last one, restraining his own will, does the will of another. Now it is of such men that the martyrs are made, if they persevere to the end.

Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, of holy memory, begged Abba Pambo to come down from the desert to Alexandria. He went down, and seeing an actress he began to weep. Those who were present asked him the reason for his tears, and he said, Two things make me weep: one, the loss of this woman; and the other, that I am not so concerned to please God as she is to please wicked men.

Abba Pambo said, By the grace of God, since I left the world, I have not said one word of which I repented afterwards.

He also said, The monk should wear a garment of such a kind that he could throw it out of his cell and no-one would steal it from him for three days.

They said of Abba Pambo that as he was dying, at the very hour of his death, he said to the holy men who were standing near him, Since I came to this place of the desert and built my cell and dwelt here, I do not remember having eaten bread which was not the fruit of my hands and I have not repented of a word I have said up to the present time; and yet I am going to God as one who has not yet begun to serve him.

He was greater than many others in that if he was asked to interpret part of the Scriptures or a spiritual saying, he would not reply immediately, but he would say he did not know that saying. If he was asked again, he would say no more.

Abba Pambo said, If you have a heart, you can be saved.

The priest of Nitria asked him how the brethren ought to live. He replied, ?With much labor, guarding their consciences towards their neighbor.

They said of Abba Pambo that he was like Moses, who received the image of the glory of Adam when his face shone. His face shone like lightning and he was like a king sitting on his throne. It was the same with Abba Silvanus and Abba Sisoes.

The said of Abba Pambo that his face never smiled. So one day, wishing to make him laugh, the demons stuck wing feathers on to a lump of wood and brought it in making an uproar and saying, Go, go!? When he saw them, Abba Pambo began to laugh and the demons started to say in chorus, Ha! Ha! Pambo has laughed!? But in reply he said to them, I have not laughed, but I made fun of your powerlessness, because it takes so many of you to carry a wing.

Abba Theodore of Pherme asked Abba Pambo, Give me a word. With much difficulty he said to him, Theodore, go and have pity on all, for through pity, one finds freedom of speech before God.

Narratives Leading Us to Endurance and stability

An old man lived in the desert in a cell twelve miles from the water. Every time he went to draw water he toiled and said, “What good is this labor? I will go and live close to the water.” Saying this, He turned back and saw someone who was going with him and counting his steps and he asked, “Who are you?” He said, “I am the angel of the Lord, and I have been sent to count your steps and to give you your reward.” When he heard this, the old man was reassured and became more courageous, and he went and settled five miles further off.

When to turn to a spiritual father?

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A brother inquired of Abba Pastor saying: "My soul suffers harm from living with the Spiritual Father that I have. What, then, do you command me to do? Shall I go on staying with him?" Now Abba Pastor knew that the brother's soul would be harmed by this other Abba, and he was surprised that he even asked whether he ought to go on staying with him. And he said to him, "If you like, stay with him." The brother went off and remained with that Father. But he came back again, saying to Abba Pastor, "It is a great burden on my soul!" And still Abba Pastor did not tell him to leave the man. Finally the brother came back a third time and said, "Believe me, I am through with him!" Then the elder said, "See! Now you are saved, go, and have no more to do with him." And Abba Pastor told the same brother, "When a man sees that his soul is suffering harm, he has no need to ask advice about it. When it is a matter of secret thoughts, one asks advice, that the elders may test them. But when there are manifest sins there is no need to inquire – you just break off at once."

from Thomas Merton (trans), "The Wisdom of the Desert," (New York: New Directions Publishing Corp., 1970), p. 44

Satan rejoices over the fall of a monk

“I was the son of a priest of idols. When I was young I lived in the temple and I have on many occasions seen my father go into the temple to perform sacrifices to the idols. Once I went in secretly after him, and I saw Satan sitting there with his whole army before him and, behold, one of his devils came and did homage to him. And Satan answered and said unto him, ‘From where do you come?’ And the devil answered, saying, “I was in such and such a country and I stirred up many wars and revolts and I caused the shedding of blood and I have come to tell you these things.” Satan said unto him, ‘How long did it take you to do this?’ And the devil said, “Thirty days.” Then Satan commanded him to be beaten, saying unto him, ‘Is this all that you have done in so long a time?’
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