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Apophthegmata Patrum: Sayings of the Desert Fathers, part III

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 previous articles; these Sayings are different ones.)(These sayings are each around 1600 years old. Also, the Aramaic "Abba" is used, which means "Father.")

1. An old man said, "Whenever one reads the Divine Books (Bible), the devils are afraid."

2. It is related of a certain old man that if he heard a brother speak evil to him he would labor very hard to make something which would please the brother who had spoken to him, and the old man would send whatever he had made to the place where he was.

3. Abba Poemen used to say that John Colob, who had made entreaty to God, and his passions were removed from him, and he was set free from anxious care, went and said unto a famous old man, "I perceive that my soul is at rest, and that it has neither war nor strife to trouble it." Then the old man said unto him, "Go and entreat God to let war and strife come unto you again, for it is through war and strife that the soul advances in spiritual excellences." And afterwards, whenever war stood up before him, he did not pray, "O Lord, remove striving from me," but he made supplication unto God, saying, "O Lord, give me patience to endure the strife."

4. A certain brother asked an old man, saying, "What shall I do because of my negligence?" The old man said unto him, "If you will root out this small plant, which is negligence, a great forest will come into being."

5. Abba Agathon used to say to himself, whenever he saw any act or anything which his thought wished to judge or condemn, "Do not commit the thing yourself," and in this manner he quieted his mind, and held his peace.

6. Abba Poemen said, "The chief of all wickednesses is the wandering of the thoughts."

7. On one occasion Abba Macarius went to visit a certain monk, and he found him to be ill, and he asked him if he wanted anything to eat, for he had nothing whatsoever in his room, and the monk said unto him, "I want some honeycakes"; and when the wonderful old man heard this he set out for Alexandria, and he did not regard this journey as a trouble, although it was sixty miles away from them, and he brought the honeycakes to give to the sick monk. And this he did himself, and did not tell any one else to bring them, and the old man thus showed the love he felt for others.

8. One of the monks said, "While we were sitting and talking about love, Abba Joseph said, ‘Do you know what love is?’ And he said that Abba Agathon had a little knife, and that a certain brother came to him and said, ‘Father, the little knife which you have is pretty’; and Abba Agathon did not let him depart until he had taken it."

 ©2005 Mark Nickens

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

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