Monday, July 18, 2016

Life and Sayings of Holy Abba Pambo of Nitria (+ 393)

St. Pambo of Nitria (Feast Day - July 18)


Pambo crucified himself in life,
And he stands at your side O crucified Savior.

From the Coptic Life

There appeared in the monastic community of Nitria a certain person named Abba Pambo. He was second after Abba Antony. Abba Pambo was thus called alethenos (“the true one”) concerning whose virtues the whole brotherhood testified. I myself did not meet him in my time there, but the brothers spoke with me about him, saying that that man never said a lie nor ever commited a sin with his tongue from the time that he became a monk; neither oath nor curse ever came from his mouth, nor did he ever speak an unnecessary word. He had a wife and two sons, but they themselves did not agree to become monastics.

When he came to the brothers he went and found an old man and said to him, “Teach me a psalm,” for he was illiterate, and the old man began to teach him this psalm: “I said, ‘I will watch my ways so as to be unable to sin with my tongue.’” And after the old man had given him the beginning of the text, Pambo stopped him, saying, “My father, since I haven’t yet learned the beginning of the text, I will not learn the rest.” And when Abba Pambo went to his cell, he spent eight years putting into practice the saying that he had learned, for he came into contact with no one, saying, “Unless I first master my tongue, I will come into contact with no one lest I fall on account of my tongue.”

After eight years, he went and paid a visit to the old man who had given him the psalm. The old man said to him, “Pambo, why haven’t I seen you until today? Why didn’t you come to learn the psalm?” Abba Pambo said to him, “Since I hadn’t learned the first verse, I didn’t return to you to get the second since God had not given me the grace until now to learn it. In order not to act as if I despised you, I have come to visit you, my father. For if I learn the first verse, I will come to see you again.” And when he returned to his cell, he stayed there another ten years and did not come into contact with anyone.

By Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis
(Lausiac History)

In this mountain [Mount Nitria] there also lived the blessed man Pambo, who was the teacher and master of the Bishops Dioscorus, Ammonius, Eusebius, Euthymius and Origen the nephew of Dracontius, a marvelous man. Now this man Pambo possessed the power to utter words of prophecy, and splendid triumphs, yet with all these he despised gold and silver, even as the Word demands. Now the following things [concerning him] were related unto me by the blessed woman Melania:

'When I first came from Rome to Alexandria I heard concerning the life and deeds of Pambo, inasmuch as the blessed man Isidore, who also brought me unto him in the desert, told me about him. And I brought unto him a basket which was filled with stamped silver (i.e., coined money) three hundred pounds in weight, and I begged him to accept some of my possessions for his needs. He was sitting and plaiting the leaves of palm trees, and as he was doing this he merely blessed me, and said, “God grant you your reward!” Then he said unto his steward, whose name was Origen, “Take and distribute this among all the brethren who are in the ‘Island’ and in Libya;” for these monasteries are exceedingly poor, and he commanded the steward not to give unto any man who dwelt in Egypt, for those who dwell therein have abundant means of subsistence. Now I stood there and I expected to be treated with honor or to be praised for the greatness of the gift, but when I heard nothing from him, I said unto him, “Master, do you know how much money it is, and that there are three hundred pounds in the basket?” Then Pambo, without lifting up his gaze, said unto me, “My daughter, He unto whom you have offered your money has no need to know the weight. For He who weighed the mountains in a balance knows how much is the weight of your silver. If you had given the money unto me you would have done well to have informed me concerning the weight thereof; but since you have given it to God, Who did not despise the two mites of the widow, what need have you to tell Him? Hold your peace.”

Now our Lord so directed that in the day on which I entered the mountain this blessed man died without having been ill, for he died while he was sewing together palm leaves for mats, without fever and without sickness. And he was seventy years old. Now he was sewing together palm leaves for a mat, and coming to the end of it he sent and called me. And when he had finished sewing it, he said unto me, “Take this mat from my hands, so that you may keep me in remembrance, for I have nothing else whatever to leave you;” and having given it unto me he straightway died. And I wrapped his body in linen swathings, and buried him, and then I departed from the desert; and I shall treasure the mat as a sacred relic until the day of my death.'

Now at the time of the death of this holy man Pambo there were standing before him certain famous men, Origen the priest and steward, and Ammonius, together with the remainder of the brethren, and they told me that at the time of his death, he said, “From the day wherein I came into this desert and built this cell in which I have lived until this day I know not that I have ever eaten the bread of idleness or bread which did not come from the labor of mine own hands; and my soul repents not that I have ever spoken an empty word in my life; thus I go to God like one who has, as yet, not made a beginning in the fear of God.”

And Origen and Ammonius, the servants of Christ, in telling us the story of his life, bore witness concerning him that he was never asked a question by any man about a saying from the Book, or about the rules and labors of the ascetic life which he did not either answer immediately, or say, “I have not as yet understood the matter.” Now there were times when he spake these words only after three months’ consideration of a matter; and he used to make answer with such understanding that every man received the things which were said by him with as great reverence as if they had been said by God. Now this excellence was also attributed to Anthony the Great and to the rest of the holy men.

Among other things which are said concerning the holy man Pambo is the following. The blessed man Pior once went to Pambo’s cell and took with him some bread, and Pambo made a complaint, saying unto him, “Why have you done this?” Then Abba Pior made answer, saying, “Let this thing be not grievous to you;” but Pambo was silent and sent him away. And after some time Abba Pambo went to the cell of Abbo Pior, and he took with him bread which had been dipped in water; and being asked, “Why have you done this?” the blessed man Pambo said unto him, “Let it not be grievous to you that I have also dipped the bread in water.”

Select Sayings

1. 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 words."

2. Abba Pambo said, "If you have a heart, you can be saved."

3. They used to say that a certain man asked Abba Sisoes about Abba Pambo, saying, “Tell us about his life and conduct;” and the old man made answer to him, saying, “Abba Pambo is great in his works.”

4. Abba Poemen also said that Abba Anthony said concerning Abba Pambo, “This man feared God so greatly that he made the Spirit of God to dwell in him.”

5. An old man used to say, “We saw in Abba Pambo three virtues which appertained to the body, namely, fasting from one evening to the other, and silence, and abundant work of the hands.”

6. Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, saying, “What shall I do?” The old man said unto him, “Put no confidence in your own righteousness, and regret not nor cogitate upon a matter which is past, and be persistent in restraining your tongue and your belly.”

7. On one occasion Abba Pambo was travelling with some monks in the districts of Egypt; and seeing some worldly folk sitting down he said unto them, “Rise up, and salute the monks so that you may be blessed, for they are always holding converse with God, and their mouths are holy.”

8. They used to say that the face of Abba Pambo was like lightning, even as Moses received the glory of the likeness of Adam, and that his face shone, and that he was like a king who sits upon his throne; and thus was it also with Abba Silvanus and with Abba Sisoes.

9. The old man Theodore asked Abba Pambo, saying, “Tell me a word”; and with much labor he said unto him, “Theodore, be gone, and let your mercy be poured out on every man, for your loving-kindness has found boldness before God.”

10. On one occasion certain brethren came to Abba Pambo, and one of them asked him, saying, “Father, I fast two days at a time, and then I eat two bread-cakes; shall I gain life, O father, or am I making a mistake?” And another asked him and said, “I perform work with my hands each day to the value of two carats, and I keep a few oboli by me for my food, and the remainder I spend upon the relief of the poor; shall I be redeemed, O father, or am I making a mistake?” And the other brethren asked of him many things, but he answered them never a word. Now after four days they were wishing to depart, and the clergy entreated them, saying, “O brethren, trouble not yourselves, for God will give you a reward. The custom of the old man is not to speak immediately, for he does not speak until God gives him permission to do so.” Then the brethren went to the old man and said unto him, “Father, pray for us”; and he said unto them, “Do you wish to depart?” And they said unto him, “Yes.” Then he took their actions into his consideration, and he put himself in the position of one who was writing on the ground, and said, “Pambo, one fasts two days at a time, and then eats two bread-cakes; shall he become a monk by such things as these? No! Pambo, another works for two carats a day, and gives to those who are in need, shall he become a monk by such things as these? No!” And he said, “Your actions are good, and if you preserve your conscience with your good actions you shall live”; and being consoled by these words, the brethren departed rejoicing.

11. On one occasion four brethren came to Abba Pambo from Scete, and they were wearing skins, and each one of them, while his neighbor was absent, recounted to him his works, saying, the first one fasts very often, and the second leads a life of poverty, and the third possesses great love, and concerning the fourth the other three said, “He has been in subjection to the old men for twenty-two years.” Then Abba Pambo said unto them, “I say unto you that the spiritual excellence of this man is great. Each of you has chosen the ascetic virtue which he possesses according to his own wish, but this man has cut off his own desire, and has performed the will of others; and those who are thus will, if they keep these things to the end, become confessors.”

12. Abba Isaac, the priest of the Cells, used to say that Abba Pambo said, “The manner of the apparel which a monk ought to wear should be such that if it were cast outside the cell for three days no one would carry it away.”

13. A certain brother asked Abba Pambo, “Is it a good thing for a man to praise his neighbor?” Said the old man, “It is a much better thing for a man to hold his peace.”

14. There was a monk named Pambo and they said of him that he spent three years saying to God, “Do not glorify me on earth.” But God glorified him so that one could not gaze steadfastly at him because of the glory of his countenance.

15. They also said concerning him that Abba Athanasius sent for him one time and had him brought to Alexandria. When he entered the city he saw a woman of the theater adorned with finery. Immediately his eyes filled with tears. Therefore, when the brothers who were with him saw him, they said to him, “Our father, we beg you, tell us what caused these tears.” He said to them, “Two things move me at this moment: one is the destruction of this soul that I see now; the other is my own ungrateful soul which, in adorning itself with the virtues and in pleasing the Lord and his angels, does not even have the appearance or the finery of this prostitute.”

15. Abba Pambo sent his disciple to Alexandria to buy supplies for his work. There, he spent sixteen days, sleeping at night in the narthex of the church in the sanctuary of Holy Apostle Mark. After hearing the service of the church and learning some hymns, he returned to the elder, who said to him: "I see that you are troubled, my child. Did you fall into some temptation in the city?"

The brother answered: "By the heavens, Abba, how we waste our time in this desert, chanting neither canons nor troparia. In Alexandria, I heard how the priests in the church chant, and it saddened me. Why don’t we chant canons and troparia?"

The elder answered: "Woe to us, my child. Soon will come the day when monks give up the solid food that is the word of the Holy Spirit to put on hymns and tones. What compunction, what tears can come from these troparia when one behaves thus in church or in a cell, raising his voice to mooing like a cow? Remember, we stand before God and should act in His presence with compunction and without pretense. Monks have not come to this solitude to hold their heads up high, vomit up canticles, beat out melodies, wave their hands, and hop from one foot to the other. Instead, with fear and trembling, tears and wailing, with one voice full of reverence and drawn from compunction, should we offer our prayers to God in meekness and humility.

I foresee, my child, that there will come a time when Christians will pervert the lives of the holy Apostles and divine Prophets. They will rub out Holy Scripture to put in its place troparia and Hellenic discourses. Their spirits will be overcome by admiration for the latter, and be disgusted by the former. This is why the Fathers told us that the inhabitants of the desert should record the Lives and Words of the Fathers on papyrus, and not on parchment. A generation is coming that will set about erasing the Lives of the Fathers, replacing them with their own caprices. Great will be the calamity that follows."

The brother answered: "How will this come to pass? Will the customs and traditions of Christians be changed? Won’t there be any more priests in the churches?"

The Elder replied: "During these days, the love of many will grow cold and tribulations will not be small. Nations will be besieged and peoples displaced. Kingdoms will topple. Priests will be lackadaisical and monks, negligent. Abbots will despise their own welfare and that of their flock. All will be excited and engrossed by the dining table. They will be fighters, but slow to pray. They will rush to disparage, always ready to judge from on high, without wanting to imitate, much less understand the Lives and Words of the Fathers. They will argue amongst themselves, saying: 'If we had lived in their time, we would have fought, too.' During these days, bishops will hold the mighty in high regard, measuring all by their venality, ignoring the plight of the poor, oppressing widows and condemning orphans. Then will unbelief, hate, enmity, jealousy, intrigue, theft and drunkenness spread among peoples."

The brother asked: "What will one do under these conditions in these days?"

And the Elder answered: "My child, in these days, he who will save his soul will save it, and he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Hymn of Praise:
Saint Pambo

By St. Nikolai Velimorivich

The monks asked Pambo the Blessed:
‘Is it good to praise your neighbor?’
Then Pambo was silent and to the brethren replied:
‘It is good to praise but it is better to remain silent.’

And still, they asked Pambo: ‘And who is perfect?’
‘For the sake of the will of God, one who denies his own.’

The monks remained silent while one will say:
‘Yet one more reply, do not deny us:
And what kind of garment should a monk have?’
‘The kind you throw away and no one takes.’

Thus the saint spoke and closed his mouth,
For he protected his tongue in order not to speak unnecessarily.

Pambo, all radiant at the hour of his death
Questioned about his life, he uttered:
‘Undeserving bread, I never did taste,
Neither for a word, my soul repented.’

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