Excerpts from the Apophthegmata Patrum
1. An old man said, "The monk must purchase his stillness by being despised whenever the opportunity presents itself: and by bodily labor."
2. An old man said, "If it were possible, at the time of the coming of Christ after the resurrection, that men's souls should die of fear, the whole world would die of terror and confusion. What a sight, to see the heavens open and God revealed in anger and wrath, and innumerable armies of angels and, at the same time, the whole of humanity. Therefore, we ought to live as having to give account to God of our way of life every day."
3. A brother asked an old man, "How can I be saved?" The latter took off his habit, girded his loins and raised his hands to heaven saying, "So should the monk be: denuded of all things of this world, and crucified. In the contest, the athlete fight with his fists, in his thoughts, the monk stands, his arms stretched out in the form of a cross to heaven, calling on God. The athlete stands naked when fighting in a contest, the monk stands naked and stripped of all things, anointed with oil and taught by his master how to fight. So God leads to victory."
4. Syncletica of holy memory said, "Sore is the toil and struggle of the unrighteous when they turn to God, and afterwards is joy ineffable. For even as with those who would kindle a fire, they first are beset with smoke, and from the pain of the smoke they weep, and so they come at what they desired. Even so is it written, `Our God is a consuming fire': and needs must we kindle the divine fire in us with travail and with tears."
5. An old man saw one laughing, and said to him, "In the presence
of Heaven and earth we are to give account of our whole life to God; and thou
1. A disciple said of his abba that for twenty whole years he never lay down on his side but slept sitting on the seat on which he worked. He ate there every second or every fourth or fifth day for twenty years, and while he ate, he stretched out one hand in prayer and ate with the other. When I said to him, "What is this about? Why do you do this, abba?" he replies, "I set the judgment of God before my eyes, and I cannot bear it."
2. An old man practiced the ascesis of not drinking for forty days, and if by chance it happened to be hot, he rinsed his jug, filled it with water and hung it in front of him. Questioned by a brother as to the reason for his doing this, he replied, "It is so that my thirst may cause me greater pain, so that I may receive greater reward from God."
1. An old man said, "Every time a thought of superiority or vanity moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the commandments, if you love your enemies and are grieved at their sins, if you consider yourself as an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of all. Even then, do not pretend to great ideas as though you were perfectly right, for this thought destroys everything."
2. A famous anchorite came to take counsel on high things with the abbot Pastor, but the old man turned away his head, and the anchorite went away aggrieved. His disciple asked Pastor why he had refused to talk with a man so great and of such reputation in his own country, and the old man said that his visitor could speak of heavenly things, but that himself was of earth. "If he had spoken to me of the passions of the soul I could have answered him; but of the things of the spirit I am ignorant." And the anchorite, hearing it, had heart-searchings, and came back to the old man and said, "What shall I do, my father, for the passions of the soul have dominion over me?" And they talked a long while, and the anchorite said, "Verily, this is love's road."
3. An old man said, "In all trials do not blame others but only yourself, saying, "It is because of my sins that this has happened."
4. A brother asked an old man, "What is the work of one who lives an exile?" The old man said, "I used to know a brother who was living in exile and then happened to go to church. By chance there was an ®MDUL¯agape®MDNM¯ and the brother sat down to eat with the other brethern, and some amongst them said, "Now who has invited this man?" So they said to him, "Get up and go away," and he got up and went away. Some of the others were grieved at this and they went to call him back. Afterwards they asked him, "What was in your heart when you were driven away and then brought back again?" He said, "I was quite sure in my heart that I was like a dog. When it is driven away it goes and when it is called, it comes."
5. An old man said, "If you say to someone, `Forgive me' in humiliating yourself you are burning the demons."
6. A brother questioned an old man, "Tell me something which I can do, so that I may live by it," and the old man said, "If you can bear to be despised, that is a great thing, more than all the other virtues."
7. The old men used to say, "When we do not experience warfare, we ought so much the more to humiliate ourselves. For God, seeing our weakness, protects us; when we glorify ourselves, he withdraws his protection and we are lost."
8. A brother asked an old man, "If I am living with some brethren and see something contrary to what is right, do you want me to say so?" The old man said, "If there are some who are older than you, or the same age as yourself, be silent and you will have peace, for in doing so you make yourself inferior to the others and you will stay free from care." The brother said to him, "What shall I do, father, for the spirits trouble me?" The old man said to him, "If you suffer, tell the brothers of it only with humility, and if they do not listen, leave your pain before God and He Himself will give you peace. For to throw oneself before God signifies this: to give up one's own will. Be careful that your concern is according to God. As I see it, it is better to keep silence, since this is humility."
9. The abbot Mathois said, "The nearer a man approaches to God, the greater sinner he sees himself to be. For the prophet Isaiah saw God, and said that he was unclean and undone."
1. An old man was asked, "How can I find God?" He said, "In fasting, in watching (i.e. vigils) in labors, in devotion, and above all in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having achieved nothing. Our mouths smell bad through fasting, we know the Scriptures by heart, we recite all the Psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks: charity and humility."
2. An old man said, "The life of the monk is obedience, meditation, not judging, not slandering, not complaining. In truth, it is written, "You who love the Lord, hate evil." (Ps. 97:10) The life of the monk is: not to take of him who is unjust; not to look at what is evil; not to interfere in everything, not to listen to irrelevant words; not to steal, but rather to give; not to be puffed up in his heart; not to have thought of fornication; not to be greedy; to do everything with discernment. The life of the monk consists in this."
3. 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 thought and to cut off one's own will. That is what this means." `Behold we have left all and followed Thee.'" (Mk 10:28).
4. They told of the abbot Macarius that if he were making holiday with the brethren, and wine was brought, and he drank for the brethren's sake, he set this bond upon himself that for one cup of wine, he would drink no water for a whole day. And the brethren, eager to give him pleasure, would bring him wine. And the old man would take it joyously, to torment himself thereafter. But his disciple, knowing the reason, said to the brethren, "For God's sake do not give it him, for he brings under his body with torments thereafter in his cell." And the brethren when they knew it gave him wine no more.
5. One of the brethren asked the abbot Isidore, an old man in Scete, saying, "Wherefore do the devils fear thee so mightily?" And the old man said to him, "From the time that I was made a monk, I have striven not to suffer anger to mount as far as my throat."
6. Against the [thought of lust], another old man said, "Be like him who passes through the market place in front of an inn and breathes the smell of cooking and roasting. If he enjoys, he goes inside to eat some of it; if not, he only inhales the smell in passing and goes on his way. It is the same for you: avoid the bad smell. Wake up and pray, saying, ~`Son of God, help me.' Do this for other temptations also. For we do not have to uproot the passions, but resist them." As another abba said, "Passion liveth, but it is bound."
7. The abbot Daniel used to say, "Even as the body flourishes, so does the soul become withered: and when the body is withered, then does the soul put forth leaves."
1. A brother who lived in the world had three children. He withdrew to a monastery leaving them in the city. After spending three years in the monastery, his thoughts began to remind him of his children, and he was very uneasy about them. Now he had not told the abba that he had children. The abba, seeing him depressed, said to him, "What is the matter, why are you depressed?" He told the abba that he had three children in the city and he wanted to bring them to the monastery. The abba ordered him to do so. Going to the city, he found the first two were dead, and he took back the remaining one. He came to the monastery and looking for the abba, he found him in the bakery. Seeing him, the abba greeted him, and taking the child in his arms, he covered him with kisses, saying to the child's father, "Do you love him?" The other said that he did. "Do you love him very much?" He answered, "Yes." Hearing this, the abba said, "Take him and throw him into the furnace so that it burns him." so the father took his own child and threw him into the furnace which immediately became like dew, full of freshness. Through this act he received glory like the patriarch Abraham.
2. 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.'" (Mk 10:28)
1. Someone asked an old man, "Why do I suffer from ®MDUL¯accidie®MDNM¯ when I am sitting in my cell?" And he replied, "Because you do not clearly see either the quiet to be hoped for, or the punishment to come. For if you did see them clearly, one would be able to fill your cell with vermin till they came up to your neck and you would endure it without ®MDUL¯accidie®MDNM¯."
2. A brother asked an old man, "What shall I do, father, for I am not acting at all like a monk, but I eat, drink, and sleep carelessly, and I have evil thoughts and I am in great trouble, passing from one work to another and from one thought to another?" The old man said, "Sit in your cell and do the little you can untroubled. For I think the little you can do not is of equal value to the great deeds which Abba Anthony accomplished on the mountain, and I believe that by remaining sitting in your cell for the name of God, and guarding your conscience, you also will find the place where Abba Anthony is."
3. The abbot Macarius the elder used to say to the brethren in Scete, "When mass is ended in the church, flee, my brothers." And one of the brethren said to him, "Father, whither in this solitude can we further flee?" And he laid his finger upon his mouth saying, "This is what I would have you flee." And so he would go into his cell and shut the door and there sit alone.
4. A brother who was weighed down with the temptation to leave the monastery informed his abba, who said to him, "Go, and sit in your cell and give your body in pledge to the walls of the cell, and do not come out of it. Let your imagination think what it likes, only do not let your body leave the cell."
5. An old man said, "The monk's cell is like the furnace of Babylon, where the three children found the Son of God, and it is like the pillar of cloud where God spoke with Moses."
6. A certain brother came to the abbot Moses in Scete seeking a word
from him. And the old man said to him, "Go sit in thy cell, and thy
cell shall teach thee all things."
7. The abbot Allois said, "Unless a man shall say in his heart, ~I
alone and God are in this world," he shall not find quiet."
1. An old man said, "When someone asks something of you, even if you do violence to yourself in giving it to him, your thought must take pleasure in the gift according to that which is written, "If someone asks you to go a mile, go two miles with him!" That is to say, if someone asks something of you, give it to him with the whole soul and spirit."
2. An ascetic, having found someone possessed by the devil and unable to fast, and being (as it is written) moved by the love of God, and seeking not his own good but the good of the other, prayed that the devil might pass into himself and that the other might be liberated. God heard his prayer. The ascetic, overwhelmed by the devil, gave himself with redoubled insistence to fasting, prayer, and ®MDUL¯ascesis®MDNM¯. At last, because of his charity, God drove the devil away from him after a few days.
3. Anthony said, That with our neighbor there is life and death: for if we do good to our brother, we shall do good to God: but if we scandalize our brother, we sin against Christ.
4. And old man was asked by a certain soldier if God received a penitent man. And after heartening him with many words, he said to him at the last, "Tell me, beloved, if thy cloak were torn, wouldst thou throw it away?" He said, "Nay, but I would patch it and wear it." The old man said to him, "If thou would spare thy garment, shall not God have mercy on His own image?"
5. They said of the abbot Macarius the elder, that even as God doth
protect all the world and beareth the sins of men, so was he to the brethern as
it might be an earthly God, for he coverd up their faults, and what things he
saw or heard, it was as though he saw not and heard not.
6. A brother asked an old man, saying, "What thing is there so good that I may do it and live?" And the old man said, "God alone knoweth what is good: yet I have heard that one of the Fathers questioned the great abbot Nistero, who was friend to abbot Antony, and said, `What good work shall I do?' And Antony answered, `All works are not equal. The Scripture saith that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him. And Elias loved quiet, and God was with him. And David was humble, and God was with him. What therefore thou findest that they soul desireth in following God, that do, and keep thy heart.'"