Sayings of the Desert Fathers|
- Abba Ammonas was asked, 'What is the "narrow and hard way?"
(mt. 7.14) He replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this, to
control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will,
for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence,
"Lo, we have left everything and followed you." (Mt. 19.27)
- It was said of him that he had a hollow in his chest
channeled out by the tears which fell from his eyes all his
life while he sat at his manual work. When Abba Poemen learned
that he was dead, he said weeping, 'Truly you are blessed,
Abba Arsenius, for you wept for yourself in this world! He who
does not weep for himself here below will weep eternally
hereafter; so it is impossible not to weep, either voluntarily
or when compelled through suffering.' [i.e. the latter
suffering in hell]
- It was also said of him (Abba Arsenius) that on Saturday
evenings, preparing for the glory of Sunday, he would turn his
back on the sun and stretch out his hands in prayer towards
the heavens, till once again the sun shone on his face. Then
he would sit down.
- It was said of Abba Ammoes that when he went to church, he
did not allow his disciple to walk beside him but only at a
certain distance; and if the latter came to ask him about his
thoughts, he would move away from him as soon as he had
replied, saying to him, 'It is for fear that, after edifying
words, irrelevant conversation should slip in, that I do not
keep you with me.'
- It was said of Abba Ammoes that he had fifty measures of
wheat for his use and had put them out in the sun, Before they
were properly dried off, he saw something in that place which
seemed to him to be harmful so he said to his servants, 'Let
us go away from here.' But they were grieved at this. Seeing
their dismay he said to them, 'Is it because of the loaves
that you are sad? Truly, I have seen monks fleeing, leaving
their white-washed cells and also their parchments, and they
did not close the doors, but went leaving them open.'
- Abba Abraham told of a man of Scetis who was a scribe and
did not eat bread. A brother came to beg him to copy a book.
The old man whose spirit was engaged in contemplation, wrote,
omitting some phrases and with no punctuation. The brother,
taking the book and wishing to punctuate it, noticed that
words were missing. So he said to the old man, 'Abba, there
are some phrases missing.' The old man said to him, 'Go, and
practice first that which is written, then come back and I
will write the rest.'
- There was in the Cells an old man called Apollo. If someone
came to find him about doing a piece of work, he would set out
joyfully, saying, 'I am going to work with Christ today, for
the salvation of my soul, for that is the reward he gives.'
- Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion said, 'One day
when we were walking beside the sea I was thirsty and I said
to Abba Bessarion, "Father, I am very thirsty." He said a
prayer and said to me, "Drink some of the sea water." The
water proved sweet when I drank some. I even poured some into
a leather bottle for fear of being thirsty later on. Seeing
this, the old man asked me why I was taking some. I said to
him, "Forgive me, it is for fear of being thirsty later on."
Then the old man said, "God is here, God is everywhere." '
- A brother questioned Abba Poemen in this way, 'My thoughts
trouble me, making me put my sins aside, and concern myself
with my brother's faults'. The old man told him the following
story about Abba Dioscorus (the monk), 'In his cell he wept
over himself, while his disciple was sitting in another cell.
When the latter came to see the old man he asked him, "Father,
why are you weeping?" "I am weeping over my sins," the old man
answered him. Then his disciple said, "You do not have any
sins, Father." The old man replied, "Truly, my child, if I
were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be
enough to weep for them. "
- This is what Abba Daniel, the Pharanite, said, 'Our Father
abba Arsenius told us of an inhabitant of Scetis, of notable
life and of simple faith; through his naivete he was deceived
and said, "The bread which we receive is not really the body
of Christ, but a symbol. Two old men having learned that he
had uttered this saying, knowing that he was outstanding in
his way of life, knew that he had not spoken through malice,
but through simplicity. So they came to find him and said,
"Father, we have heard a proposition contrary to the faith on
the part of someone who says that the bread which we receive
is not really the body of Christ, but a symbol." The old man
said, "it is I who have said that." Then the old men exhorted
him saying, "Do not hold this position, Father, but hold one
in conformity with that which the catholic Church has given
us. We believe, for our part, that the bread itself is the
body of Christ as in the beginning, God formed man in his
image, taking the dust of the earth, without anyone being able
to say that it is not the image of God, even though it is not
seen to be so; thus it is with the bread of which he said that
it is his body; and so we believe that it is really the body
of Christ." The old man said to them, "As long as I have not
been persuaded by the thing itself, I shall not be fully
convinced." So they said, "Let us pray God about this mystery
throughout the whole of this week and we believe that God will
reveal it to us." The old man received this saying with joy
and he prayed in these words, "Lord, you know that it is not
through malice that I do not believe and so that I may not err
through ignorance, reveal this mystery to me, Lord Jesus
Christ." The old men returned to their cells and they also
prayed God, saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, reveal this mystery to
the old man, that he may believe and not lose his reward." God
heard both the prayers. At the end of the week they came to
church on Sunday and sat all three on the same mat, the old
man in the middle. Then their eyes were opened and when the
bread was placed on the holy table, there appeared as it were
a little child to these three alone. And when the priest put
out his hand to break the bread, behold an angel descended
from heaven with a sword and poured the child's blood into the
chalice. When the priest cut the bread into small pieces, the
angel also cut the child in pieces. When they drew near to
receive the sacred elements the old man alone received a
morsel of bloody flesh. Seeing this he was afraid and cried
out, "Lord, I believe that this bread is your flesh and this
chalice your blood." Immediately the flesh which he held in
his hand became bread, according to the mystery and he took
it, giving thanks to God. Then the old men said to him, "God
knows human nature and that man cannot eat raw flesh and that
is why he has changed his body into bread and his blood into
wine, for those who receive it in faith."Then they gave thanks
to God for the old man, because he had allowed him not to lose
the reward of his labor. So all three returned with joy to
their own cells.'
- It was said of Abba Helladius that he spent twenty years in
the Cells, without ever raising his eyes to see the roof of
- (Abba Epiphanius) added, 'A man who receives something from
another because of his poverty or his need has therein his
reward, and because he is ashamed, when he repays it he does
so in secret. But it is the opposite for the Lord God; he
receives in secret, but he repays in the presence of the
angels, the archangels and the righteous.'
- It was said concerning Abba Agathon that some monks came to
find him having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting
to see if he would lose his temper they said to him 'Aren't
you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud
man?' 'Yes, it is very true,' he answered. They resumed,
'Aren't you that Agothon who is always talking nonsense?' 'I
am." Again they said 'Aren't you Agothon the heretic?' But at
that he replied 'I am not a heretic.' So they asked him, 'Tell
us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated
this last insult.' He replied 'The first accusations I take to
myself for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation
from God. Now I have no will to be separated from God.' At
this saying they were astonished at his discernment and
- (Abba Evagrius) said; 'Take away temptations and no one will
- An Egyptian brother came to see Abba Zeno in Syria, and
accused himself to the old man about his temptations. Filled
with admiration, Zeno said, ' The Egyptians hide the virtues
they possess and ceaselessly accuse themselves of faults they
do not have, while the Syrians and Greeks pretend to have
virtues they do not have, and hide the faults of which they
- In a village there was said to be a man who fasted to such a
degree that he was called 'the Faster'. Abba Zeno had heard of
him, and he sent for him. The other came gladly. They prayed
and sat down. The old man began to work in silence. Since he
could not succeed in talking to him the Faster began to get
bored. So he said to the old man 'Pray for me, Abba, for I
want to go.' The old man said to him. 'Why?' The other
replied, 'Because my heart is as if it were on fire and I do
not know what is the matter with it. For truly, this when I
was in the village and I fasted until the evening, nothing
like this happened to me.' The old man said, 'In the village
you fed yourself through your ears. But go away and from now
on eat at the ninth hour and whatever you do, do it secretly.'
As soon as he had begun to act on this advice, the Faster
found it difficult to wait until the ninth hour. And those who
knew him said, 'The Faster is possessed by the devil.' So he
went to tell this to the old man who said to him, 'This way is
according to God.'
- One day Abba Moses said to brother Zacharias, 'Tell me what
I ought to do?' At these words the latter threw himself on the
ground at the old man's feet and said, 'Are you asking me,
Father?' The old man said to him 'Believe me, Zacharias, my
son, I have seen the Holy Spirit descending upon you and since
then I am constrained to ask you.' Then Zacharias drew his
hood off his head put it under his feet and trampled on it,
saying, 'The man who does not let himself be treated thus,
cannot become a monk.'
- Abba Zeno said, 'If a man wants God to hear his prayer
quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own
soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God,
he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this
action God will hear everything that he asks.'
- Abba Gerontius of Petra said that many, tempted by the
pleasures of the body, commit fornication, not in their body
but in their spirit, and while preserving their bodily
virginity, commit prostitution in their soul. 'thus it is
good, my well-beloved, to do that which is written and for
each one to guard his own heart with all possible care.'
- One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about
his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, 'Abba
Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek
education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?' He replied,
'I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know
even the alphabet of this peasant.'
- Abba Elias, the minister, said, 'What can sin do where there
is penitence? And of what use is love where there is pride?'
- (Abba Isaiah) said to those who were making a good beginning
by putting themselves under the direction of the holy Fathers,
'As with purple dye, the first coloring is never lost.' And,
'Just as young shoots are easily trained back and bent, so it
is with beginners who live in submission.'
- (Abba Isaiah) also said that when there was an agape and the
brethren were eating in the church and talking to one another,
the priest of Pelusia reprimanded them in these words,
'Brethren, be quiet. For I have seen a brother eating with you
and drinking as many cups as you and his prayer is ascending
to the presence of God like fire.'
- (Abba Isaiah) also said 'When God wishes to take pity on a
soul and it rebels, not bearing anything and doing its own
will, he then allows it to suffer that which it does not want,
in order that it may seek him again.'
- The old men said to Abba Agothon to Abba Elias, in Egypt,
'He is a good abba.' The old man answered them, 'In comparison
with his own generation, he is good.' They said to him, 'And
what is he in comparison with the ancients?' He gave them this
answer, 'I have said to you that in comparison with his
generation he is good but as to that of the ancients, in
Scetis I have seen a man who, like Joshua the son of Nun could
make the sun stand still in the heavens.' At these words they
were astounded and gave glory to God.
- (Abba Theodore) said 'If you are friendly with someone who
happens to fall into the temptation of fornication, offer him
your hand, if you can, and deliver him from it. But if he
falls into heresy and you cannot persuade him to turn from it,
separate yourself quickly from him, in case, if you delay, you
too may be dragged down with him into the pit.
- A brother came to Abba Theodore and began to converse with
him about things which he had never yet put into practice. So
the old man said to him, 'You have not yet found a ship nor
put your cargo aboard it and before you have sailed, you have
already arrived at the city. Do the work first; then you will
have the speed you are making now.'
- Abba Theodore of Pherme said, 'The man who remains standing
when he repents, has not kept the commandment.'
- A brother said to Abba Theodore, 'I wish to fulfill the
commandments.' The old man told him that Abba Theonas had said
to him, 'I want to fill my spirit with God.' Taking some flour
to the bakery, he had made loaves which he gave to the poor
who asked him for them; others asked for more, and he gave
them the baskets, then the cloak he was wearing, and he came
back to his cell with his loins girded with his cape.
Afterwards he took himself to task telling himself that he had
still not fulfilled the commandment of God.'
- The same Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one
day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, 'Say
something to the Archbishop, so that he may be edified.' The
old man said to them, 'If he is not edified by my silence, he
will not be edified by my speech.'
- It was said about (abba Theodore) that, though he was made a
deacon at Scetis he refused to exercise the office and fled to
many places from it. Each time the old men brought him back to
Scetis, saying, 'Do not leave your deaconate.' Abba Theodore
said to them, 'Let me pray God that he may tell me for certain
whether I ought to take my part in the liturgy.' Then he
prayed God in this manner, 'If it is your will then I should
stand in this place, make me certain of it.' Then appeared to
him a column of fire, reaching from earth to heaven, and a
voice said to him, 'IF you can become like this pillar, go be
a deacon.' On hearing this he decided never to accept the
office. When he went to church the brethren bowed before him
saying, 'If you do not wish to be a deacon, at least hold the
chalice.' But he refused, saying, 'If you do not leave me
alone, I shall leave this place.' So they left him in peace.
- Abba Theodore of Scetis said, 'A thought comes to me which
troubles me and does not leave me free; but not being able to
lead me to act, it simply stops me progressing in virtue; but
a vigilant man would cut it off and get up to pray.'
- Abba Theodor said, 'Privation of food mortifies the body of
the monk.' Another old man said, 'Vigils mortify it still
- Amma Theodora said, 'Let us strive to enter by the narrow
gate, Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the
winter's storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this
present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and
temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom
- The same amma said that a teacher ought to be a stranger to
the desire for domination, vain-glory, and pride; one should
not be able to fool him by flattery, nor blind him by gifts,
nor conquer him by the stomach, nor dominate him by anger; but
he should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; he
must be tested and without partisanship, full of concern, and
a lover of souls.She also said that neither asceticism, nor
vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true
humility can do that. There was an anchorite who was able to
banish the demons; and he asked them, 'What makes you go
away?' 'Is it fasting?' They replied, 'We do not eat or
drink.' 'Is it vigils?' They replied, 'We do not sleep.' 'Is
it separation from the world?' 'We live in the deserts.' 'What
power sends you away then?' They said, 'Nothing can overcome
us, but only humility.' 'Do you see how humility is victorious
over the demons?'
- It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and
lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His
abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him,
'Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears
fruit.' Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in
the evening and return the following morning. At the end of
three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then the old
man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying
to the brethren, 'Take and eat the fruit of obedience.'
- It was said of Abba John the Dwarf, that one day he said to
his elder brother,'I should like to be free of all care, like
the angels, who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to
God.' So he took off his cloak and went away into the desert.
After a week he came back to his brother. When he knocked on
the door, he heard his brother say, before he opened it 'Who
are you?' He said, 'I am John, your brother.' But he replied,
'John has become an angel, and henceforth he is no longer
among men.' Then the other begged him saying. 'It is I.'
However, his brother did not let him in, but left him there in
distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to
him, 'You are a man and you must once again work in order to
eat.' Then John made a prostration before him, saying,
- One day when he was sitting in front of the church, the
brethren were consulting him about their thoughts. One of the
old men who saw it became a prey to jealousy and said to him,
'John, your vessel is full of poison.' Abba John said to him,
'That is very true, abba; and you have said that when you only
see the outside, but if you were able to see the inside, too,
what would you say then?'
- Some brethren came one day to test him to see whether he
would let his thoughts get dissipated and speak of the things
of this world. They said to him 'We give thanks to God that
this year there has been much rain and the palm trees have
been able to drink, and their shoots have grown, and the
brethren have found manual work.' Abba John said to them, 'So
it is when the Holy Spirit descends into the hearts of men;
they are renewed and they put forth leaves in the fear of
- It was said of him (Abba John the Dwarf) that one day he was
weaving rope for two baskets, but he made it into one without
noticing, until it had reached the wall, because his spirit
was occupied in contemplation.
- Abba John said, 'I am like a man sitting under a great tree,
who sees wild beasts and snakes coming against him in great
numbers. When he cannot withstand them any longer, he runs to
climb the tree and is saved. It is just the same with me; I
sit in my cell and I am aware of evil thoughts coming against
me, and when I have no more strength against them, I take
refuge in God by prayer and I am saved from the enemy.'
- Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed
God to take his passions away from him so that he might become
free from care. He went and told an old man this; 'I find
myself in peace, without an enemy,' he said. The old man said
to him, 'Go beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may
regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for
it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.' So he besought
God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might
be taken away, but said, 'Lord, give me strength for the
- Abba John said, 'We have put the light burden on one side,
that is to say, self-accusation, and we have loaded ourselves
with a heavy one, that is to say, self-justification.' He also
said, 'Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues.'
- Abba John gave this advice, 'Watching means to sit in the
cell and be always mindful of God. This is what is meant by,
"I was on the watch and God came to me." (Matt. 25:36)
- One of the Fathers said of him, 'Who is this John, who by
his humility has all Scetis hanging from his little finger?'
- Abba John the Dwarf said, 'There was a spiritual old man who
lived a secluded life. He was held in high estimation in the
city and enjoyed a great reputation. He was told that a
certain old man, at the point of death, was calling for him,
to embrace him before he fell asleep. He thought to himself,
if I go by day, men will run after me, giving me great honor,
and I shall not be at peace in all that. So I will go in the
evening in the darkness and I shall escape everyone's notice.
But lo, two angels were sent by God with lamps to give him
light. Then the whole city came out to see his glory. The more
he wished to Flee from glory, the more he was glorified. In
this was accomplished that which is written: "He who humbles
himself will be exalted." ' (Luke 14:11)
- Abba John the Dwarf said, 'a house is not built by beginning
at the top and working down. You must begin with the
foundations in order to reach the top. They said to him, 'What
does this saying mean?' He said, 'The foundation is our
neighbor, whom we must win, and that is the place to begin.
For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one.'
- Abba Poemen said that Abba John said that the saints are
like a group of trees, each bearing different fruit, but
watered from the same source. The practices of one saint
differ from those of another, but it is the same Spirit that
works in all of them.
- Abba John said to his brother, 'Even if we are entirely
despised in the eyes of men, let us rejoice that we are
honored in the sight of God.'
- The old man (abba John the Dwarf) said, 'You know that the
first blow the devil gave to Job was through his possessions;
and he saw that he had not grieved him nor separated him from
God. With the second blow, he touched his flesh, but the brave
athlete did not sin by any word that came out of his mouth in
that either. In fact, he had within his heart that which is of
God, and he drew on that source unceasingly.'
- An old man came to abba John's cell and found him asleep
with an angel standing above him, fanning him. Seeing this, he
withdrew. When Abba John got up, he said to his disciple, 'Did
anyone come in while I was asleep?' he said, 'Yes, an old
man.' Then Abba John knew that this old man was his equal, and
that he had seen the angel.
- (Abba Isidore) said, 'When I was younger and remained in my
cell I set no limit to prayer; the night was for me as much
the time of prayer as the day.'
- Abba Isidore went one day to see Abba Theophilus, archbishop
of Alexandria and when he returned to Scetis the brethren
asked him, 'What is going on in the city?' But he said to
them, 'Truly, brothers, I did not see the face of anyone
there, except that of the archbishop.' Hearing this they were
very anxious and said to him, 'Has there been a disaster
there, then, abba?' He said 'Not at all, but the thought of
looking at anyone did not get the better of me' At these words
they were filled with admiration, and strengthened in their
intention of guarding the eyes from all distraction.
- (Abba Isidore of Pelusia) said, 'Prize virtues and do not be
the slave of glory; for the former are immortal, while the
latter soon fades.' He also said, 'The heights of humility are
great and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to
attend to the first and not to fall into the second.'
- Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba as
far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray
and meditate, 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 his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like
ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can
become all flame.'
- (Abba James) said, 'Just as a lamp lights up a dark room, so
the fear of God when it penetrates the heart of a man
illuminates him, teaching him all the virtues and commandments
of God.' He also said, 'We do not need words only, for, at the
present time, there are many words among men, but we need
works, for this is what is required, not words which do not
- Abba John of the Cells told us this story: 'There was in
Egypt a very rich and beautiful courtesan, to whom noble and
powerful people came. Now one day she happened to be near the
church and she wanted to go in. The sub- deacon, who was
standing at the doors, would not allow her to enter saying,
"You are not worthy to enter the house of God,j for you are
impure." The Bishop heard the noise of their argument and came
out. Then the courtesan said to him, "He will not let me enter
the church." So the Bishop said to her, "You are not allowed
to enter it, for you are not pure." She was filled with
compunction and said to him, "Henceforth I will not commit
fornication any more." The bishop said to her, "If you bring
your wealth here, I shall know that you will not commit
fornication any more." She brought her wealth and the bishop
burnt it all in the fire. Then she went into the church,
weeping and saying, "If this has happened to me below, what
would I not have suffered above?" So she was converted and
became a vessel of election.'
- (Abba Isidore the priest) said, 'If you fast regularly, do
not be inflated with pride, but if you think highly of
yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is
better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride
and to glorify himself.'
- It was said of Abba John the Persian that when some
evildoers came to him, he took a basin and wanted to wash
their feet. But they were filled with confusion, and began to
- From Palistine, Abba Hilarion went to the mountain to abba
Anthony. Abba Anthony said to him, 'You are welcome, torch
which awakens the day.' Abba Hilarion said, 'Peace to you,
pillar of light, giving light to the world.'
- The holy Fathers were making predictions about the last
generation. They said 'What have we ourselves done?' One of
them, the great abba Ischyrion replied, 'We ourselves have
fulfilled the commandments of God.' The others replied, 'And
those who come after us, what will they do?' He said, 'They
will struggle to achieve half our works.' They said, 'And to
those who come after them, what will happen?' He said, 'THE
MEN OF THAT GENERATION WILL NOT ACCOMPLISH ANY WORKS AT ALL
AND TEMPTATION WILL COME UPON THEM; AND THOSE WHO WILL BE
APPROVED IN THAT DAY WILL BE GREATER THAN EITHER US OR OUR
- Abba Copres said, 'blessed is he who bears affliction with
- One day, the inhabitants of Scetis assembled together to
discuss Melchizedek and they forgot to invite Abba Copres.
Later on they called him and asked him about this matter.
Tapping his mouth three times, he said 'Alas for you, Copres!
For that which God commanded you do, you have put aside, and
you are wanting to learn something which you have not been
required to know about.' When they heard these words, the
brothers fled to their cells.
- Abba Cyrus of Alexandria was asked about the temptation of
fornication, and he replied, 'If you do not think about it,
you have no hope, for if you are not thinking about it, you
are doing it. I mean, he who does not fight against the sin
and resist it in his spirit will commit the sin physically. It
is very true that he who is fornicating in fact is not worried
about thinking about it.
- Some of the monks who are called Euchites went to Enaton to
see Abba Lucius. the Old man asked them, 'What is your manual
work?' They said, 'We do not touch manual work but as the
Apostle says, we pray without ceasing.' The old man asked them
if they did not eat and they replied they did. So he said to
them "'When you are eating, who prays for you then?' Again he
asked them if they did not sleep and they replied they did.
and he said to them, 'When you are a asleep, who prays for you
the?' They could not find any answer to give him. He said to
them, 'Forgive me, but you do not act as you speak. I will
show you how, while doing my manual work, I pray without
interruption. I sit down with God, soaking my reeds and
plaiting my ropes, and I say "God, have mercy on me, according
to your great goodness and according to the multitude of your
mercies, save me from my sins." ' So he asked them if this
were not prayer and they replied it was. Then he said to them,
'So when I shave spend the whole day working and praying,
making thirteen pieces of money more or less, I put two pieces
of money outside the door and I pay for my food with the rest
of the money. He who takes the two pieces of money prays for
me when I am eating and when I am sleeping; so, by the grace
of God, I fulfill the precept to pray without ceasing.'
- They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, as it
is written, a god upon earth, because, just as God protects
the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he
saw, as though he did not see them; and those which he heard,
as though he did not hear them.
- The angel when giving the rules of monasticism to St.
Pachomius said to him: "... He laid down that in the course of
the day they should make twelve prayers, and at the
lamp-lighting time twelve, and in the nightly vigils twelve,
and at the ninth hour three. When the multitude goes to eat,
he laid down that a psalm should be sung before each prayer.
As Pachomius objected to the angel that the prayer were too
- The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a
man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering
Macarius' goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a
stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off
in great peace of soul saying, 'We have brought nothing into
this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.'
(1Tim.6.7) 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed
be the name of the Lord.' (Job 1.21)
- Abba Macarius was asked, 'How should one pray?' The old man
said 'There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is
enough to stretch out one's hands and say, "Lord, as you will,
and as you know, have mercy." And if the conflict grows
fiercer say, "Lord, help!" He knows very well what we need and
he shews us his mercy.'
- A brother went to Abba Matoes and said to him, 'How is it
that the monks of Scetis did more than the Scriptures required
in loving their enemies more than themselves?' Abba Matoes
said to him, 'As for me I have not yet managed to love those
who love me as I love myself.'
- It was said of Abba Silvanus that at Scetis he had a
disciple called Mark whose obedience was great. He was a
scribe. The old man loved him because of his obedience. He had
eleven other disciples who were hurt because he loved him more
than them. When they knew this, the elders were sorry about it
and they came one day to him to reproach him about it. Taking
them with him, he went to knock at each cell, saying, 'Brother
so and so, come here; I need you,' but none of them came
immediately. Coming to Mark's cell, he knocked and said,
'Mark.' Hearing the old man's voice, he jumped up immediately
and the old man sent him off to serve and said to the elders,
'Fathers, where are the other brothers?' Then he went into
Mark's cell and picked up his book and noticed that he had
begun to write the letter 'omega' ["w"] but when he had heard
the old man, he had not finished writing it. Then the elders
said, 'Truly, abba, he whom you love, we love too and God
- Abba Poemen said of Abba Nisterus that he was like the
serpent of brass which Moses made for the healing of the
people: he possessed all virtue and without speaking, he
- Abba Xanthias said, 'The thief was on the cross and he was
justified by a single word; and Judas who was counted in the
number of the apostles lost all his labor in one single night
and descended from heaven to hell. Therefore, let no-one boast
of his good works, for all those who trust in themselves
- (Abba Poemen) said, 'The beginning of evil is heedlessness.'
- Before anything else we need humility. Dorotheos
- Humility protects the soul from all the passions and also
from every temptation. Dorotheos
- Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if you are
chaste, or you will break the law like him. For He who said Do
not commit fornication said also Do not judge. Pambos
- Obedience responds to obedience. When someone obeys God,
then God obeys his request. Mios
- Abba Bessarion, when he was dying: The monk should be like
the cherubim and seraphim: all eyes.
- Courage stands in the middle between cowardice and
foolhardiness; humility in the middle between arrogance and
servility . Modesty is a mean between timidity and boldness.
- A man who gives way to his passions is like a man who is
shot at by an enemy, catches the arrow in his hands, and then
plunges it into his own heart. A man who is resisting his
passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, and
although the arrow hits him, it does not seriously wound him
because he is wearing a breastplate. But the man who is
uprooting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an
enemy, but who strikes the arrow and shatters it or turns it
back into his enemy's heart. Dorotheos
- The beginning of evil is the lack of vigilance. Poemen
- Humility of soul helps more than everything else; without it
no one can overcome lewdness or any other sin. Cassian
- Whatever helps us to achieve purity of heart, we must follow
with all our might; whatever hinders us from it, we must shun
as a dangerous and hurtful thing. Moses
- 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. Fathers
- Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior that every single day he
made a fresh beginning. Pior
- If a king wishes to subdue a city belonging to enemies, he
first of all keeps them without bread and water, and the enemy
harassed by hunger, surrenders; so it is in respect of the
hostile passions, for if a man endures fasting and hunger, his
enemies become stricken with weakness in the soul. John
- A brother asked Abba Poemen: What does it mean to get angry
at one's brother without cause? And he replied: When your
brother attacks you, whatever the insults are, if you get
angry at him, you are getting angry without cause. Even if he
were to pull out your right eye, and to cut off your right
hand, if you get angry at him, you are getting angry without
cause. Yet if he were to try to take you away from God, then
get angry! Poemen
- Abba Moses asked Abba Sylvanus, Can a man lay a new
foundation every day? The Abba said, If he works hard, he can
lay a new foundation at every moment. Sylvanus
- A brother said to the Abba : There does not seem to be any
conflict in my heart. He received this reply: You are like a
house that is open to the four winds, so that anyone who likes
can go in or out without you noticing. If you only had one
door to it, and choose to shut it in the face of wicked
thoughts, then you would notice them and you would have to
fight against them. Fathers
- It is told that a thought came to a monk: Rest today and you
can do penance tomorrow. He replied: No, I will do penance
today and rest tomorrow. Fathers
- If the inner person is not watchful, the outer person cannot
be watched. Fathers
- Abba Anthony the Great of Egypt said: 'Always have the fear
of God before your eyes. Remember Him who grants death and
life. Hate the world and all that is in it. Hate all peace
that comes from the flesh. Renounce this life, that you may be
alive to God. Remember that which you have promised God, for
it will be required of you on the day of judgment. Suffer
hunger, thirst, nakedness; be watchful and sorrowful; weep,
and moan in your heart; test yourselves, to see if you are
worthy of God; despise the flesh, so that you may preserve
your souls.' He also said, 'Our life and our death is with our
neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if
we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.' He
also said, Just as fish die if they stay out of water too
long, so monks who loiter outside their cells or pass time
with men of the world lose the fervor of inner peace. So, like
a fish going toward the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell,
for fear that if we tarry outside we will lose our interior
- Abba Agathon said, 'If someone were especially dear to me,
but I realized that he was causing me to do something less
good, I should put him far from me.'
- Abba Isaiah said: 'When God wishes to take pity on a soul
and it rebels, not suffering anything and doing its own will,
He permits it to suffer things it does not want, in order that
it may seek Him again.' He also said, 'When someone wishes to
repay evil for evil, he can injure his brother's soul even by
a single nod of the head.'
- Abba Elias said: 'Men turn their minds either to sins, or to
Jesus, or to other men.'
- A brother who followed the hesychastic life in the monastery
of the cave of Abba Sabba came to Abba Elias and said to him,
'Abba, give me the way of life.' The Old man said to the
brother, 'In the days of our predecessors they were greatly
diligent about these three virtues: poverty, obedience, and
fasting. But among monks today, avarice, self-confidence, and
great greed have taken charge. Choose whichever you want
- Abba Isidure of Pelusia said, 'To live without speaking is
better than to speak without living. For the former lives
properly and does good even by his silence, but the latter
does no good even when he speaks. When words and life
correspond to one another, they are together the whole of
- Abba James said: 'We do not only need words, for at the
present time there are many words among men; but we need
works, for this is what is required - not words that do not
- Abba Isidore the Priest said: 'If you desire salvation, do
everything that leads you to it.'
- Abba Matoes said that three old men went to Abba Paphnutius,
who was called Cephalus, to ask a word from him. The old man
said to them, 'What do you want me to say to you? A spiritual
word, or a bodily word?' They said, 'A spiritual word.' The
old man said to them, 'Go, and choose trials rather than
stillness, shame rather than glory, and to give rather than to
- A soldier asked Abba Mius if God accepted repentance. After
the old man had taught him many things he said, 'Tell me, my
dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?' He
replied, 'No, I mend it and use it again.' The old man said to
him, 'If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be
equally careful about His creature?'
- Abba Poemen said, 'To throw yourself before God, to not
measure your progress, to leave behind all self-will -- these
are the instruments for the work of the soul. 'He also said,
'You must flee from sensual things. Verily, every time a man
comes close to a struggle with sensuality, he is like a man
standing at the edge of a deep lake, and the Enemy throws him
in whenever he likes. But if the man lives far from sensual
things, he is like one who stands at a distance from the lake,
so that even if the Enemy entices him in order to throw him to
the bottom, God sends him help at the very moment that the
Enemy is drawing him away and doing him violence.' He also
said, 'Give not your heart to that which does not satisfy your
heart.' He also said, 'If you are silent, you will possess
peace wherever you live.'
- Abba John, who had been exiled by the emperor Marcian, said,
'We went to Syria one day to see Abba Poemen and desired to
question him concerning purity of the heart. But the old man
did not know Greek and no interpreter was to be found. And
then, seeing how embarrassed we were, the old man began to
speak Greek, saying, 'The nature of water is soft, and the
nature of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above the
stone, allowing the water to fall down drop by drop, it wears
away the stone. So it is with the Word of God: it is soft and
our heart is hard, but the man who hears the Word of God often
opens his heart to the fear of God.'
- Abba Pior said: At that time a meeting was held at Sketis
about a brother who had sinned. The Fathers spoke, but Abba
Pior kept silent. Later, he got up and went out. He took a
sack and filled it with sand and carried it on his shoulder;
then he put a little sand into a small bag that he carried in
front of him. When the Fathers asked him what this meant he
said, 'In this sack which contains much sand, are my sins
which are many; I have put them behind me so that I might not
be troubled about them and so that I might not weep. And
behold, here are the little sins of my brother which are in
front of me, and I spend my time judging them. This is not
right. Rather, I ought to carry my sins in front of me and
concern myself with them, begging God to forgive me.' The
Fathers stood up and said, 'Verily, this is the way of
- Abba Paul said, 'Keep close to Jesus.'
- Abba Sisoes: A brother who had been wronged by another
brother came to see Abba Sisoes. He said to him, 'My brother
has hurt me and I want to avenge myself.' The old man begged
him, saying, 'No, my child, leave vengeance to God.' The
brother said, 'I shall not rest until I have avenged myself.'
The old man said, 'Brother, let us pray.' Then he stood up and
said, 'God, we no longer need You to care for us, since we do
justice for ourselves.' When he heard these words, the brother
prostrated himself before the old man's feet and said, 'I will
not longer seek justice from my brother. Forgive me, abba.'
- Another brother asked Abba Sisoes, 'I have fallen, Abba;
what shall I do?' The old main said to him, 'Get up again.'
The brother said, 'I have gotten up again, but again have I
fallen.' The old man said, 'Get up again and again.' So the
brother asked, 'How many times?' The old man replied, 'Until
you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man
presents himself to judgment in that state in which he is
- The old men used to say, "there is nothing worse than
- They said of abba Macarius that he became as it is written a
god upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so
abba Macarius would cover the faults that he saw as though he
did not see them, and those which he heard as though he did
not hear them.
- Abba Pastor said, "Judge not him who is guilty of
fornication, if you are chaste, or you will break the law like
him. For He who said "do not commit fornication" said also "Do
- A brother asked abba Poemen, "If I see my brother sin, is it
right to say nothing about it?" The old man replied, "whenever
we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we
tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same
- A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called
to which abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it.
Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, "Come, for
everyone is waiting for you". So he got up and went. He took a
leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him.
The others came out to meet him and said, " what is this,
father?" The old man said to them, "My sins run out behind me,
and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the
errors of another." When they heard that, they said no more to
the brother but forgave him.
- A brother sinned and the priest ordered him to go out of the
church; abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying,
"I, too, am a sinner."
- One of the brothers asked abba Isidore, a priest of scetis,
"Why are the demons so terrified of you?" And the old man
said, "Ever since I became a monk I have tried never to let
anger rise as far as my mouth."
- Abba Joseph asked abba Nisteros, "What should I do about my
tongue, for I cannot control it?" The old man said to him,
"When you speak, do you find peace?" He replied, "No." The old
man said to him, "If you do not find peace, why do you speak?
Be silent, and when a conversation takes place, prefer to
listen rather to talk."
- Two old men had lived together for many years and they had
never fought with one another. The first said to the other,
"Let us also have a fight like other men." The other replied,
"I do not know how to fight." The first said to him, "Look, I
will put a brick between us and I will say: it is mine; and
you will reply: no, it is mine; and so the fight will begin."
So they put a brick between them and the first said, "It is
mine", and the other said, "No, it is mine." And the first
replied, "If it is yours, take it and go." So they gave it up
without being able to find a cause for an argument.
- A brother asked abba Poemen, "How should I behave in my cell
in the place where I am living?" He replied, "Behave as if you
were a stranger, and wherever you are, do not expect your
words to have an influence and you will be at peace."
- The holy Syncletia said, "I think that for those living in
community obedience is a greater virtue than chastity, however
perfect. Chastity carries within it the danger of pride, but
obedience has within it the promise of humility."
- The old men used to say, "If someone has faith in another
and hands himself over to him in complete submission, he does
not need to pay attention to God's commandments but he can
entrust his whole will to his father. He will suffer no
reproach from God, for God looks for nothing from beginners so
much as renunciation through obedience."
- Abba Mios of Belos said, "Obedience responds to obedience.
When someone obeys God, then God obeys his request."
- They said that abba Sylvanus had a disciple in Scetis, named
Mark, who possessed in great measure the virtue of obedience.
He was a copyist of old manuscripts, and the old man loved him
for his obedience. He had eleven other disciples who were
aggrieved that he loved more than them. When the old men
nearby heard that he loved Mark above the others, they took it
ill. One day they visited him and abba Sylvanus took them with
him and, going out of his cell, began to knock on the door of
each of his disciples, saying, "Brother, come out, I have work
for you." And not one of them appeared immediately. Then he
came to Mark's cell and knocked, saying, "Mark". And as soon
as Mark heard the voice of the old man he came outside and the
old man sent him on some errand. So abba Sylvanus said to the
old men, "Where are the other brothers?", and he went into
Mark's cell and found the book in which he had been writing
and he was making the letter O; and when he heard the old
man's voice, he had not finished the line of the O. And the
old men said, "Truly, abba, we also love the one whom you
love; for God loves him, too."
- Some old men said, "If you see a young man climbing up to
the heavens by his own will, catch him by the foot and throw
him down to the earth; it is not good for him."
- At first abba Ammoe said to abba Isaiah, "What do you think
of me?" He said to him, "You are an angel, father." Later on
he said to him, "and now, what do you think of me?" He
replied, "You are like Satan. Even when you say a good word to
me, it is like steel."
- Abba Moses asked abba Sylvanus, "Can a man lay a new
foundation every day?" The old man said, "If he works hard, he
can lay a new foundation at every moment."
- It was said of abba John the Dwarf that one day he said to
his elder brother, "I should like to be free of all care, like
the angels who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to
God." So he took leave of his brother and went away into the
desert. After a week he came back to his brother. When he
knocked on the door he heard his brother say, "Who are you?"
before he opened it. He said, "I am John, your brother." But
he replied, "John has become an angel and henceforth he is no
longer among men." Then John besought him, saying, "It is I."
However, his brother did not let him in but left him there in
distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to
him, "You are a man and you must once again work in order to
eat." Then John made a prostration before him, saying,
- Abba John said, "A monk is toil. The monk toils in all he
does. That is what a monk is."
- An old man was asked, "What is humility?" and he said in
reply, "Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way
of humility is to undertake bodily labor and believe yourself
a sinner and make yourself subject to all." Then a brother
said, "What does it mean, to be subject to all?" The old man
answered, "To be subject to all is not to give your attention
to the sins of others but always to give your attention to
your own sins and to pray without ceasing to God."
- 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, whether you love your enemies,
whether you consider yourself to be an unprofitable servant
and the greatest sinner of all. Even so, do not pretend to
great ideas as though you were perfectly right, for that
thought destroys everything."
- As abba Macarius was returning to his cell from the marsh
carrying palm-leaves, the devil met him with a sharp sickle
and would have struck him but he could not. He cried out,
"Great is the violence I suffer from you, Macarius, for when I
want to hurt you, I cannot. But whatever you do, I do and more
also. You fast now and then, but I am never refreshed by any
food; you often keep vigil, but I never fall asleep. Only in
one thing are you better than I am and I acknowledge that."
Macarius said to him, "What is that?" and he replied, "It is
because of your humility alone that I cannot overcome you."
- 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."
- Abba Theodore, surnamed Pherme, had three good books. He
went to abba Macarius and said to him, "I have three good
books, and I am helped by reading them; other monks also want
to read them and they are helped by them. Tell me, what am I
to do?" The old man said, "Reading books is good but
possessing nothing is more than all.' When he heard this, he
went away and sold the books and gave the money to the poor.
- Someone asked amma Syncletica of blessed memory, "Is
absolute poverty perfect goodness?" She replied, "It is a
great good for those capable of it; even those who are not
capable of it find rest for their souls in it though it causes
them anxiety. As tough cloth is laundered pure white by
stretched and trampled underfoot, so a tough soul is stretched
by freely accepting poverty."
- When abba Macarius was into Egypt, he found a man who had
brought a beast to his cell and he was steeling his
possessions. He went up to the thief as though he were a
traveler who did not live there and helped him to load the
beast and led him on his way in peace, saying to himself, "We
brought nothing into this world; but the Lord gave; as he
willed, so is it done; blessed be the Lord in all things."
- Someone brought money to an old man and said, "Take this and
spend it for you are old and ill", for he was a leper. The old
man replied, "Are you going to take me away from the one who
has cared for me for sixty years? I have been ill all that
time and I have not needed anything because God has cared for
me." And he would not accept it.
- Once abba Arsenius fell ill in Scetis and in this state he
needed just one coin. He could not find one so he accepted one
as a gift from someone else, and he said, "I thank you, God,
that for your name's sake you have made me worthy to come to
this pass, that I should have to beg."
- Amma Syncletica said, "We ought to govern our souls with
discretion and to remain in the community, neither following
our own will nor seeking our own good. We are like exiles: we
have been separated from the things of this world and have
given ourselves in one faith to the one Father. We need
nothing of what we have left behind. There we had reputation
and plenty to eat; here we have little to eat and little of
- Abba Antony said, "Our life and our death are with our
neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained our God; but
if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ."
- A brother asked, "I have found a place where my peace is not
disturbed by the brethren; do you advise me to live there?"
Abba Poemen replied, "The place for you is where you will not
harm the brothers."
- There was an anchorite who was grazing with the antelopes
and who prayed to God, saying, "Lord, teach me something
more." And a voice came to him, saying, "Go into this
monastery and do whatever they tell you." He went there and
remained in the monastery, but he did not know the work of the
brothers. The young monks began to teach him how to work and
they would say to him, "Do this, you idiot," and "Do that, you
fool." When he had borne it, he prayed to God, saying, "Lord,
I do not know the work of men; send me back to the antelopes."
And having been freed by God, he went back into the country to
graze with the antelopes.
- A beginner who goes from one monastery to another is like a
wild animal who jumps this way and that for fear of the
- Having withdrawn from the palace to the solitary life, Abba
Arsenius prayed and heard a voice saying to him, "Arsenius,
flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of
- A brother in scetis went to ask for a word from Abba Moses
and the old man said to him, "Go and sit in your cell and your
cell will teach you everything."
- Abba Nilus said, "The arrows of the enemy cannot touch one
who loves quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will
often be wounded."
- Theophilus of holy memory, bishop of Alexandria, journeyed
to Scetis and the brethren coming together said to Abba Pambo,
"Say a word or two to the bishop, that his soul may be edified
in this place." The old man replied, "If he is not edified by
my silence, there is no hope that he will be edified by my
- This place was called Cellia, because of the number of cells
there, scattered about the desert. Those who have already
begun their training there [i.e. in Nitria] and want to live a
more remote life, stripped of external things, withdraw there.
For this is the utter desert and the cells are divided from
one another by so great a distance that no one can see his
neighbor nor can any voice be heard. They live alone in their
cells and there is a huge silence and a great quiet there.
Only on Saturday and Sunday do they meet in church, and then
they see each other face to face, as men restored to heaven.
- It was revealed to Abba Antony in his desert that there was
one in the city who was his equal. He was a doctor by
profession, and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to
the poor and every day he sang the sanctus with the angels.
- Amma Matrona said, "There are many in the mountains who
behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their
time. It is better to have many people around you and to live
the solitary life in your will than to be alone and always
longing to be with a crowd."
- Abba Isidore said, "If you fast regularly, do not be
inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because
of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to
eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself."
- When blessed Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke
to him, saying, "Antony, you have not yet come to the measure
of the tanner who is in Alexandria." When he heard this, the
old man arose and took his stick and hurried into the city.
When he had found the tanner...he said to him, "Tell me about
your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to
see you." He replied, "I am not aware that I have done
anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down
to work, I say that the whole of this city, small and great,
will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds,
while I alone will go into eternal punishment because of my
evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe
them in my heart." When blessed Antony heard this he said, "My
son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the
peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in
solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near the
measure of such words."
- Once three brothers came to visit an old man in Scetis and
one of them said to him, "Abba, I have committed to memory the
Old and New Testaments." And the old man answered, "You have
filled the air with words." The second one said to him, "I
have written out the Old and New Testaments with my own
hands." He said, "And you have filled the window-ledge with
manuscripts." Then the third said, "The grass is growing up my
chimney." And the old man replied, "You have driven away
- Once two brothers came to a certain old man. It was his
custom not to eat every day but when he saw them he received
them joyfully and said, "A fast has its own reward, but he who
eats for the sake of love fulfills two commandments: he leaves
his own will and he refreshes his brothers."
- A brother came to see a certain hermit and, as he was
leaving, he said, "Forgive me Abba for preventing you from
keeping your rule." The hermit replied, "My rule is to welcome
you with hospitality and to send you away in peace."
- It was said of an old man that he dwelt in Syria on the way
to the desert. This was his work: whenever a monk came from
the desert, he gave him refreshment with all his heart. Now
one day a hermit came and he offered him refreshment. The
other did not want to accept it, saying he was fasting. Filled
with sorrow, the old man said to him, "Do not despise your
servant, I beg you, do not despise me, but let us pray
together. Look at the tree which is here; we will follow the
way of whichever of us causes it to bend when he kneels on the
ground and prays." So the hermit knelt down to pray and
nothing happened. Then the hospitable one knelt down and at
once the tree bent towards him. Taught by this, they gave
thanks to God.
- Abba Nilus said, "Prayer is the seed of gentleness and the
absence of anger."
- We came from Palestine to Egypt and went to see one of the
fathers. He offered us hospitality and we said, "Why do you
not keep the fast when visitors come to see you? In Palestine
they keep it." He replied, "Fasting is always with me but I
cannot always have you here. It is useful and necessary to
fast but we choose whether we will fast or not. What God
commands is perfect love. I receive Christ in you and so I
must do everything possible to serve you with love. When I
have sent you on your way, then I can continue my rule of
fasting. The sons of the bridegroom cannot fast while the
bridegroom is with them; when he is taken away from them, then
they will fast."
- A hunter in the desert saw Abba Antony enjoying himself with
the brothers, and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it
was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brothers, the
old man said to him, "Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it."
So he did. And the old man said, "Shoot another," and he did
so. Then the old man said, "Shoot yet again," and the hunter
replied, "If I bend my bow so much, I will break it." Then the
old man said to him, "It is the same with the work of God. If
we stretch the brothers beyond measure, they will soon break.
Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs."
- Some monks came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, "When we
see brothers dozing in the church, should we rouse them so
that they can be watchful?" He said, "For my part, when I see
a brother dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him
- Abba Antony said, "Obedience with abstinence gives men
control over wild beasts."
- Abba Theon ate vegetables, but only those that did not need
to be cooked. They say that he used to go out of his cell at
night and stay in the company of the wild animals, giving them
drink from the water he had. Certainly one could see the
tracks of antelopes and wild asses and gazelles and other
animals near his hermitage. These creatures always gave him
- Once when a hippopotamus was ravaging the neighboring
countryside the fathers called on Abba Bes to help them. He
stood at the place and waited and when he saw the beast, which
was of enormous size, he commanded it not to ravage the
countryside any more, saying, "In the name of Jesus Christ, I
order you not to ravage this countryside anymore." The
hippopotamus vanished completely from that district as if
driven away by an angel.
- Abba Xanthios said, "A dog is better than I am, for he has
love and he does not judge."
- We came near to a tree, led by our kindly host, and there we
stumbled upon a lion. At the sight of him my guide and I
quaked, but the saintly old man went unfaltering on and we
followed him. The wild beast - you would say it was at the
command of God - modestly withdrew a little way and sat down,
while the old man plucked the fruit from the lower branches.
He held out his hand, full of dates; and up the creature ran
and took them as frankly as any tame animal about the house;
and when it had finished eating, it went away. We stood
watching and trembling; reflecting as well we might what valor
of faith was in him and what poverty of spirit in us.
- While Abba Macarius was praying in his cave in the desert, a
hyena suddenly appeared and began to lick his feet and taking
him gently by the hem of his tunic, she drew him towards her
own cave. He followed her, saying, "I wonder what this animal
wants me to do?" When she had led him to her cave, she went in
and brought her cubs which had been born blind. He prayed over
them and returned them to the hyena with their sight healed.
She in turn, by way of a thank offering, brought the man the
huge skin of a ram and laid it at his feet. He smiled at her
as if at a kind person and taking the skin spread it under
- Amma Syncletica said, "In the beginning there are a great
many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are
advancing towards God and, afterwards, ineffable joy. It is
like those who wish to light a fire. At first they are choked
with smoke and cry, until they obtain what they seek. As it is
written, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:24); so we
also must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears
and hard work."
- Abba Hyperichius said, "Praise God continually with
spiritual hymns and always remain in meditation and in this
way you will be able to bear the burden of the temptations
that come upon you. A traveler who is carrying a heavy load
pauses from time to time and draws in deep breaths; it makes
the journey easier and the burden lighter."
- When Abba Apollo heard the sound of singing from the monks
who welcomed us, he greeted us according to the custom which
all monks follow... He first lay prostrate on the ground, then
got up and kissed us and having brought us in he prayed for
us; then, after washing our feet with his own hands, he
invited us to partake of some refreshment...
- One could see his monks were filled with joy and a bodily
contentment such as one cannot see on earth. For nobody among
them was gloomy or downcast.
- If anyone did appear a little downcast, Abba Apollo at once
asked him the reason and told each one what was the secret
recesses of his heart. He used to say, "Those who are going to
inherit the Kingdom of heaven must not be depondent about
their salvation... we who have been considered worthy of so
great a hope, how shall we not rejoice without ceasing, since
the Apostle urges us always, "Pray without ceasing, in
everything give thanks"?"
- Abba Poemen said, "There is no greater love than that a man
lays down his life for his neighbor. When you hear someone
complaining and you struggle with yourself and do not answer
him back with complaints; when you are hurt and bear it
patiently, not looking for revenge; then you are laying down
your life for your neighbor."
- One of the beloved of Christ who had the gift of mercy used
to say, "The one who is filled with mercy ought to offer it in
the same manner in which he has received it, for such is the
mercy of God."
- Abba Antony said, "I no longer fear God, I love him; for
love casts out fear."
- Abba Agathon said, "If I could meet a leper, give him my
body and take his, I should be very happy." That is perfect
charity. It was also said of him that when he came into the
town one day to sell his goods, he met a sick traveler lying
in the public place with no one to care for him. The old man
rented a room and lived with him there, working with his hands
to pay the rent and spending the rest on the sick man's needs.
He stayed there four months until the sick man was well again.
Then he went back to his cell in peace.
- A soldier asked Abba Mios if God accepted repentance. After
the old man had taught him many things, he said, "Tell me, my
dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?" He
replied, "No, I mend it and use it again." The old man said to
him, "If you are so careful about your cloak, will not god be
equally careful about his creature?"
- God is the life of all free beings. He is the salvation of
all, of believers or unbelievers, of the just or the unjust,
of the pious or the impious, of those freed from passions or
those caught up in them, of monks or those living in the
world, of the educated and the illiterate, of the healthy and
the sick, of the young or the old. He is like the outpouring
of light, the glimpse of the sun, or the changes of the
weather which are the same for everyone without exception.
- Abba Pambo said, "If you have a heart, you can be saved."
- There was an old man living in the desert who served God for
so many years and he said, "Lord, let me know if I have
pleased you." He saw an angel who said to him, "You have not
yet become like the gardener in such and such place." The old
man marveled and said, "I will go off to the city to see both
him and what it is that he does that surpasses all my work and
toil of all these years."... So he went to the city and asked
the gardener about his way of life.... When they were getting
ready to eat in the evening, the old man heard people singing
in the streets, for the cell of the gardener was in a public
place. Therefore the old man said to him, "Brother, wanting as
you do to live according to God, how do you remain in this
place and not be troubled when you hear them singing these
songs?" The man said, "I tell you, Abba, I have never been
troubled or scandalized." When he heard this the old man said,
"What, then, do you think in your heart when you hear these
things?" And he replied, "That they are all going into the
Kingdom." When he heard this, the old man marveled and said,
"This is the practice which surpasses my labor of all these
- They asked Abba Macarius, "How should we pray?" And the old
man replied, "There is no need to speak much in prayer; often
stretch out 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!" and because he knows what we need, he shows
mercy on us."
- 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 and meditate, 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 his hands toward heaven; his fingers
became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, "If you
will, you can become all flame."
- Abba Paul said, "Keep close to Jesus."
- Some monks came to see Abba Lucius and they said to him, "We
do not work with our hands; we obey Paul's command and pray
without ceasing." The old man said, "Do you not eat or sleep?"
They said, "Yes, we do." He said, "Who prays for you while you
are asleep?... Excuse me, brothers, but you do not practice
what you claim. I will show you how I pray without ceasing,
though I work with my hands." "With God's help, I collect a
few palm-leaves and sit down and weave them, saying, "Have
mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness; according to
the multitude of thy mercies do away with mine offenses." He
said to them, "Is this prayer or not?" They said, "Yes, it
is." And he continued, "When I have worked and prayed in my
heart all day, I make about sixteen pence. Two of these I put
outside my door and with the rest I buy food. And he who finds
the two coins outside the door prays for me while I eat and
sleep. And so by the help of God I pray without ceasing."
- It is clear to all who dwell in Egypt that it is through the
monks that the world is kept in being and that through them
also human life is preserved and honored by God... There is no
town or village in Egypt that is not surrounded by hermitages
as if by walls, and all the people depend on the prayers of
the monks as if on God himself.
- Palladius said, "One day when I was suffering from boredom I
went to Abba Macarius and said, "What shall I do? My thoughts
afflict me, saying, you are not making any progress, go away
from here." He said to me, "Tell them, for Christ's sake, I am
guarding the walls."