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Apophthegmata Patrum: Sayings of the Desert Fathers, part II

In the 300s and 400s in Egypt, a number of men and women decided to live in the desert in order to escape the busyness of life and to focus on God. This was the beginning of the monastic (or monk) movement. Some lived singly in caves, while others built houses and lived in small communities. A number of teachings and sayings of these spiritual leaders have been passed down in what is known as the Apophthegmata Patrum, or Sayings of the Desert Fathers. This column will share some of these. (Some Sayings have appeared in a previous article; these Sayings are different ones.)(These sayings are each around 1600 years old. Also, the Aramaic "Abba" is used, which means "Father.")

1. They used to say about Abba Agathon that for a period of three years he placed a stone in his mouth until he thoroughly learned to hold his piece.

2. On one occasion there was an offering made in the mountain of Abba Anthony, and a skin of wine was there, and one of the monks took some of it in a small vessel, and with a cup in his hand he went and carried it to Abba Sisoes. And he mixed him a cupful, and he drank it, and he mixed him a second cupful, and he took it and drank it, but when he mixed him a third cupful Abba Sisoes refused to drink it, saying, "Stay your hand, brother, do you not know that the third cup is of Satan?"

3. And when Abba Poemen heard that he was dead, that is to say, that Abba Arsenius had gone to his rest, he said, "Blessed are you, O Abba Arsenius, for you did weep over yourself in this world. For he who weeps not for himself in this world must weep forever in the next. He may weep here voluntarily or there because of the punishments which he will receive, but it is impossible for a one to escape weeping either here or there."

4. An old man said, "The Enemy will never cease to cast into your house, if he possibly can, impurity of every kind, and it is your duty neither to refuse nor to neglect to take that which is cast in and to throw it out; for if you are negligent your house will become filled with impurity, and you will be unable to enter in. Therefore whatever the Enemy casts in little by little you throw out little by little, and your house shall remain pure by the Grace of Christ."

5. A certain brother came to Abba Macarius, the Egyptian, and said unto him, "Father, speak to me a word whereby I may live." Abba Macarius said unto him, "Go to the cemetery and revile the dead"; and he went and reviled them, and stoned them with stones, and he came and informed the old man. And the old man said unto him, "Did they say nothing unto you?" And the brother said unto him, "No." And again the old man said unto him, "Go tomorrow and praise them and call them, ĎApostles, Saints, and Righteous Mení"; and he came to the old man, and said, "I have praised them." And the old man said unto him, "And did they give you no answer?" and he said "No." And the old man said unto him, "You see how you have praised them, and that they said nothing to you, and that although you did revile them they returned you no answer. And thus let it be with yourself. If you wish to live, become dead, so that you may care neither for the reviling of men nor for [their] praise, for the dead care for nothing; in this way you will be able to live."

©2005 Mark Nickens

Question/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

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