Gleanings from Orthodox Christian Authors and the Holy Fathers


3 Entries

Abba David said, "Abba Arsenius told us the following, as though it referred to someone else, but in fact it referred to himself. An old man was sitting in his cell and a voice came to him which said, 'Come, and I will show you the works of men.' He got up and followed. The voice led him to a certain place and showed him an Ethiopian cutting wood and making a great pile. He struggled to carry it but in vain. Instead of taking some off, he cut more wood which he added to the pile. He did this for a long time

. Going on a little further, the old man was shown a man standing on the shore of a lake drawing up water and pouring it into a broken receptacle, so that the water ran back into the lake. The voice said to the old man, 'Come and I will show you something else.' He saw a temple and two men on horseback, opposite one another, carrying a piece of wood crosswise. They wanted to go in through the door but could not because they held their piece of wood crosswise. Neither of them would draw back before the other, so as to carry the wood straight; so they remained outside the door. The voice said to the old man, 'These men carry the yoke of righteousness with pride, and do not humble themselves so as to correct themselves and walk in the humble way of Christ. So they remain outside the Kingdom of God. The man cutting the wood is he who lives in many sins and instead of repenting he adds more faults to his sins. He who draws the water is he who does good deeds, but mixing bad ones with them, he spoils even his good works. So, everyone must be watchful of his actions, lest he labor in vain." "The Desert Christian," by Benedicta Ward, (New York; Macmillan, 1975), p. 15-16

The brethren said, "What is the meaning of the words which one of the old men spake, saying, 'He who dwelleth with men, because of the commotion of worldly affairs is unable to see his sins; but if he dwell in the silent repose of the desert he will be able to see God in a pure manner?'"

The old man (Abba Arsenius) said, "The excellences which are cultivated in the world, and to which our Lord, speaking in the Gospel, ascribed blessing, are lovingkindness, peace-making and the other commandments which are like unto them, and it is quite possible for such virtues to be cultivated in the world by certain strenuous persons.

"But the purity of heart which seeth God, and to which our Lord ascribed blessing, saying, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,' cannot be acquired without dwelling in the desert and solitary and silent contemplation. The monk must acquire it in the following way. First of all a man must go forth from the world, and dwell in a monastery, and after his training in a monastery and having gone into his cell, he must die through contemplation in silence, and through the other labors of his body, and through striving against the passions, and through conflict with devils.

"Then through the tranquillity of mind (which he will acquire) in silent contemplation, he will remember his sins, and when he hateth his passions, and hath petitioned for the remission of his sins, and hath suppressed his thoughts, and hath become constant in pure prayer, and hath cleansed his heart from odious thoughts, then shall he be worthy to see in his heart, even as in a polished mirror, the light of the revelation of our Lord (shining) upon it, even as the Fathers say.

"Well, then, did that holy man say to those brethren, 'Visit the sick, reconcile the men of wrath,' for he who cultivateth spiritual excellences in the world cannot, by reason of the commotion of the affairs thereof, see his sins; but if he continue in silent contemplation and prayer he shall see God." E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, vol. II," (Seattle, St. Nectarios Press, 1984), pp. 319-320

They used to say that on one occasion when Abba Arsenius the Great fell ill in Scete, a priest went and brought him to the church, and he spread a palm-leaf mat for him, and placed a small pillow under his head; and one of the old men came to visit him and saw that he was lying upon a mat that he had a pillow under his head, and he was offended and said, "And this is Arsenius lying upon such things!"

Then the priest took the old man aside privately, and said unto him, "What labor did you do in your village?" And the old man said unto him, "I was a shepherd." And the priest said unto him, "What manner of life did you lead in the world?" And he said unto him, "A life of toil, and great want."

And when the old man had described all the tribulation which he had endured in the world, the priest said unto him, "And here what manner of life do you lead?" And the old man said unto him, "In my cell I have everything comfortable, and I have more than I want." And the priest said unto him, "Consider the position of Abba Arsenius when he was in the world! He was the father of kings, and a thousand slaves, girt about with gold-embroidered vests, and with chains and ornaments around their necks, and clothed in silk, stood before him; and he had the most costly couches and cushions to lie upon. But you were a shepherd, and the comforts which you never enjoyed in the world, you have here; but his man Arsenius has not here the comforts which he enjoyed in the world, and now you are at ease while he is troubled."

Then the mind of the old man was opened, and he expressed contrition and said, "Father, forgive me; I have sinned. Verily this is the way of truth. He has come to a state of humility, while I have attained to ease."

And the old men having profited went his way. E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, (Seattle, St. Nectarios Press, 1984), pp. 106-107

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