Why do ascetics avoid certain things?

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There was a certain old man who lived a life of such strict self-denial that he never drank wine. And when I arrived at his cell we sat down to eat. Dates were brought and he ate, and he took water and drank. And I said unto him laughingly, "So you are angry with absinthe, Father? Since you have eaten dates and have drank water, why do you not drink wine?"

And he answered and said unto me, "If you take a handful of dust and throw it on a man, will it hurt him?" And I said unto him, "No." And he said unto me, "If you take a handful of water and throw it over a man, will he feel pain?" And I said unto him, "No." And he said unto me, "And again, if you take a handful of chopped straw and throw it over a man, will it cause him pain?" And I said unto him, "No."

Then he said unto me, "But if you bring them all together and mix them, and knead them well, and dry them, you may throw the mass on the skull of a man and you will not break it." And I said unto him, "Yes, father, that is true." And he said unto me, "The monks do not abstain from certain things without good reason, and you must not listen to the men who are in the world who say, 'Why do they not eat this and why do they not drink that?' Is there not sin in them? Such people know not. Now we abstain from certain things not because the things themselves are bad, but because the passions are mighty, and when they have waxed strong they kill us."

from S. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers," (Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 1984), pp. 151-152

How to Deal with the Warefare which Lust Arouses in Us (2)

A brother at Scetis was a good fighter.  The enemy suggested the rememberance of a very beautiful woman to him and he was much afflicted by it.  Providentially, another brother who went to Scetis from Egypt said to him, while they were speaking together, "The wife of so and so is dead." Now it was the woman about whom the ascetic had experienced the conflict.  When he heard this, he took his cloak and went to open her tomb by night; he soaked teh cloak in the decomposing body. Then he returned to his cell bringing this bad smell with him, and he strove against his thoughts, saying, "here is the desire you are seeking, you have it, be satisfied." And he chastised himself by means of that bad smell until the warfare in him ceased.

Concerning the end of time and what is to come

Avva Pambo conversing with his disciple..And I’ll tell you this, my child, that the days will come when the Christians will add to and will take away from, and will alter the books of the Holy Evangelists, and of the Holy Apostles, and of the Divine Prophets, and of the Holy Fathers. They will tone down the Holy Scriptures and will compose troparia, hymns, and writings technologically. Their nous will be spilled out among them, and will become alienated from its Heavenly Prototype. For this reason the Holy Fathers had previously encouraged the monks of the desert to write down the lives of the Fathers not onto parchment, but onto paper, because the coming generation will change them to suit their own personal tastes. So you see, the evil that comes will be horrible. Then the disciple said: So then, Geronda, the traditions are going to be changed and the practices of the Christians? Maybe there won’t exist enough priests in the Church when these unfortunate times come? And the Holy Father continued: In these times the love for God in most souls will grow cold and a great sadness will fall onto the world. One nation shall face-off against another. Peoples will move away from their own places. Rulers will be confused. The clergy will be thrown into anarchy, and the monks will be inclined more to negligence. The church leaders will consider useless anything concerned with salvation, as much for their own souls as for the souls of their flocks, and they will despise any such concern. All will show eagerness and energy for every matter regarding their dining table and their appetites. They will be lazy in their prayers and casual in their criticisms. As for the lives and teachings of the Holy Fathers, they will not have any interest to imitate them, nor even to hear them. But rather they will complain and say that “if we had lived in those times, then we’d have behaved like that.”And the Bishops shall give way to the powerful of the world, giving answers on different matters only after taking gifts from everywhere and consulting the rational logic of the academics. The poor man’s rights will not be defended; they will afflict widows and harass orphans. Debauchery will permeate these people. Most won’t believe in God; they will hate each other and devour one another like beasts. The one will steal from the other; they will be drunk and will walk about as blind. The disciple again asked: What can we do in such a state? And Elder Pambo answered: My child, in these times whoever will save his soul and prompt others to be saved will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Lustful Temptations

The old men used to say that the temptation to lust is like a hook.  If it is suggested to us and we do not let ourselves be overcome by it, it is easily cut off; but if, once it is presented, we take pleasure in it and let ourselves be overcome, it transforms itself and becomes like iron and is difficult to cut off.  Thus discernment is needed about these thoughts, because for those who allow themselves to be seduced there is no hope of salvation, whereas crowns are prepared for the others.

The sleeping brother

Some old men went to Abba Poemen and asked,"If we see brothers sleeping during the common prayer, should we wake them?"Abba Poemen answered,"If I see my brother sleeping, I put his head on my knees and let him rest."Then one old man spoke up,"And how do you explain yourself before God?" Abba Poemen replied,"I say to God: You have said, 'First take the beam out of your own eye and then you will be able to remove the splinter from the eye of your brother.' "

God crowns us for resisting even the small temptations

There was an old man in the Thebaid who lived in a cave and who had an experienced disciple. Now it was the old man’s custom to give him some advice for his benefit every evening and then to say a prayer and send him to bed. One day, knowing the old man’s great ascesis, some devout seculars went to see him and he edified them. When they had gone, the old man sat down again in the evening, according to custom, and admonished the brother, but while he was speaking to him, he fell asleep. The brother waited for the old man to wake up and say the prayer. Having sat for a long time, when the old man did not awaken, he was troubled by the thought of going to rest without being sent, but he did violence to himself, resisted the thought, and remained. Later the same thought assailed him, but he did not go away, and thus he resisted this temptation seven times. After this, the night being well advanced, the old man awoke and found him sitting beside him. He said to him, “Haven’t you gone yet?” He said, “No, abba, for you haven’t sent me.” And the old man aid, “Why did you not wake me up?” He siad “I did not dare to wake you, so as not to disturb you.” They arose and recited the dawn prayers, and after the synaxis the old man dismissed the brother and sat down alone. At that time he was rapt in ecstasy, and someone showed him a wonderful place where there was a throne and on the throne seven crowns. He asked him who was showing, “Whose is that?” He said to him, “It is your disciple’s; God has granted this place and the throne to him because os his obedience; as for the seven crowns, he wore them this night.” When he heard this the old man was filled with wonder, and in his astonishment he called the brother and said to him, “Tell me what you have done this night.” The other said, “Forgive, abba, I have done nothing.” Thinking that through humility he did not want to say anything, the old man said to him, “I will not let you go till you have told me what you have done and what you have thought this night.” The brother, who thought he had not done anything, did not know what to say. So he said to his father, “Abba, I have done nothing except this: Seven times I was oppressed by the thought of going away before you had dismissed me, and I did not go.” When he heard this the old man understood that God had crowned him as many times as he had resisted the temptation. He said nothing to the brother, but he related it to the spiritual Fathers for their benefit, so that we may know that God grants us crowns even for small things. Truly it is good to constrain oneself for God’s sake. In truth the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take possession of it. (Matt 11:12)

On Fearing God

A brother came to see an old man and asked him, "abba, why is my heart so hard, and why do I not fear God?" The old man said to him, "in my opinion, if a man bears in mind the reproaches he deserves, he will acquire the fear of God." The brother said to him, "What does this reproach consist of?" The old man said to him, "In all he does, a man should restrain his own soul, saying to it, "Remember that you must come before God", and he should also say to himself, "What have I to do with the others?"  I think that if someone lives in this way, the fear of God will come to him.

Should I care what people say of me?

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A brother came to see Avva Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, "Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved." So the old man said, "Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead." The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it.

The latter said to him, "Didn't they say anything to you?" He replied, "No." The old man said, "Go back tomorrow and praise them." So the brother went away and praised them, calling them, "Apostles, saints, and righteous men." He returned to the old man and said to him, "Did they not answer you?" The brother said, "No."

The old man said to him, "You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too, if you wish to be saved, must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved."