|St. Poemen the Great (Feast Day - August 27)|
As from the open mouth of a wolf Poemen snatches,
The lives of the sheep of the exceedingly great Shepherd.
On the twenty-seventh Poemen is mourned as a great shepherd.
Our Venerable Father Poemen (340-450) was an Egyptian by birth and a great ascetic of Egypt. As a boy, he visited the most renowned spiritual men and, from them, gathered tangible knowledge as a bee gathers honey from flowers. Poemen once begged the elder Paul to take him to Elder Paisius. Seeing Poemen, Paisius said to Paul: "This child will save many; the hand of God is with him." In time, Poemen was tonsured a monk and attracted two of his brothers to the monastic life as well. Once his mother came to see her sons, but Poemen did not permit her to enter, but through the door asked her: "Do you desire more to see us here or there in eternity?" The mother withdrew with joy saying: "Since I will surely see you there, then I do not desire to see you here." In the monastery of these three brothers at Scete, governed by Abba Anoub, Poemen's eldest brother, this was their Rule: at night, they spent four hours of working with their hands, four hours of sleep and four hours of reading the Psalter. During the day, from morning until noon, they spent in alternating work and prayer; from noon until Vespers they spent reading and, in the afternoon, they prepared supper for themselves: the only meal in twenty-four hours and that usually consisted of some vegetables. Concerning their life, Poemen himself speaks: "We ate that which was given to us. No one ever said: 'Give me something else or I do not want that.' In this manner, we spent our entire life in silence and peace."
In 407 A.D. the monastery was overrun by raiders, scattering the monks. Abba Poemen and Abba Anoub, along with a handful of monks, fled to Terenuthis, on the river Nile. After leaving Scete, Abba Poemen and his group first lived in an abandoned pagan temple. The various raids on Scete were a turning point in desert monasticism. The ensuing diaspora resulted in Abba Poemen and his group keeping alive the collective wisdom of the monks of Scete by creating the bulk of the Apophthegmata Patrum (Sayings of the Desert Fathers).
Abba Poemen's personality was described as that of a wise shepherd more than a desert ascetic. He was known for his tolerance of the weaknesses of others. Poemen lived a life of mortification as an ascetic and died peacefully at the old age of 110.
The Sayings attributed to Poemen form one seventh of the whole of the Alphabetical Collection. It seems probable that this was the nucleus out of which the whole book grew. He figures also in many other Sayings in this book and in other collections. It is not certain that all these Sayings belong to one Poemen, since Poemen, 'the Shepherd', was a common title in Egypt. Nor is it certain which Poemen is meant: there is the Poemen who met Rufinus at Pispir in the 370s, and the Sayings connected with Anthony, Ammonas, Pior, Pambo and Joseph would fit in well with him, as an elder in Scetis in the last decade of the fourth century. He may be the same, or he may not, as the Poemen who left Scetis with his seven brothers in 408, and outlived Arsenius (+ 449). His contacts were with those closer to the devastation of Scetis, John the Dwarf, Agathon, and Moses. It seems most probable that it is from this group that settled at Terenuthis that this collection comes.
The involvement of Poemen with his family is worth noticing: besides his brothers, his mother, his nephew and a child related to him are mentioned. The close ties of Egyptian monks with their families and their villages were constantly having to be broken in favor of the freedom of the desert.
Sayings of Abba Poemen
1. While he was still young, Abba Poemen went one day to an old man to ask him about three thoughts. Having reached the old man, he forgot one of the three and went back to his cell. But as he was stretching out his hand to turn the key, he remembered the thought which he had forgotten and leaving the key, he returned to the old man. The old man said to him, 'You come quickly, brother.' He told him, 'At the moment when I was putting out my hand to grasp the key, I remembered the thought which I was trying to find; so I did not open the door, but have retraced my steps.' Now the length of the way was very great and the old man said to him, 'Poemen, Shepherd of the flock, your name will be known throughout Egypt.'
2. Once Paesius, the brother of Abba Poemen, made friends with someone outside his cell. Now Abba Poemen did not want that. So he got up and fled to Abba Ammonas and said to him, 'Paesius, my brother, holds converse with someone, so I have no peace.' Abba Ammonas said to him, 'Poemen, are you still alive? Go, sit down in your cell; engrave it on your heart that you have been in the tomb for a year already.'
3. One day the priests of the district came to the monasteries where Abba Poemen was. Abba Anoub came and said to him, 'Let us invite the priests in today.' But he stood for a long time without giving him any reply, and, quite offended, Abba Anoub went away. Those who were sitting beside Poemen said to him, Abba, why didn't you answer him?' Abba Poemen said to them, 'It is not my business, for I am dead and a dead man does not speak.'
4. Before Abba Poemen's group came there, there was an old man in Egypt who enjoyed considerable fame and repute. But when Abba Poemen's group went up to Scetis, men left the old man to go to see Abba Poemen. Abba Poemen was grieved at this and said to his disciples, 'What is to be done about this great old man, for men grieve him by leaving him and coming to us who are nothing? What shall we do, then to comfort this old man?' He said to them, 'Make ready a little food, and take a skin of wine and let us go to see him and eat with him. And so we shall be able to comfort him.' So they put together some food, and went. When they knocked at the door the old man's disciple answered, saying, 'Who are you?' They responded, 'Tell the abba it is Poemen who desires to be blessed by him.' The disciple reported this and the old man sent him to say, 'Go away, I have no time.' But in spite of the heat they persevered, saying, 'We shall not go away till we have been allowed to meet the old man.' Seeing their humility and patience, the old man was filled with compunction and opened the door to them. Then they went in and ate with him. During the meal he said, 'Truly, not only what I have heard about you is true, but I see that your works are a hundred-fold greater,' and from that day, he became their friend.
5. One day the magistrate of that district wanted to see Abba Poemen but the old man did not want to see him. So, he seized his sister's son and threw him into prison, under the pretext that he was a criminal saying, 'If the old man comes to intercede for him I will let him go.' Then his sister came to weep at Poemen's door, but he gave her no answer. Then she reproached him in these words, saying, 'Heart of stone, have pity on me, for he is my only son.' But he only said to her, 'Poemen has not brought forth any sons.' At that, she went away. When he heard this, the magistrate sent Poemen this message, 'If you only ask me by a word, I will let him go.' The old man replied, 'Judge him according to the law; if he is worthy of death, put him to death, if not, do what you choose.'
6. One day a brother sinned in a monastery. Now there was an anchorite in the district who had not gone out for a long time. The abba of the monastery went to see him and to give him the news that the brother had sinned. The anchorite said, 'Drive him away.' So the brother left the monastery and he went into a cave and wept there. Now it happened that some brothers were going to see Abba Poemen and they heard him weeping. They entered, found him in great misery and invited him to go to see the old man, but he refused, saying, 'I am going to die here.' So when they reached Abba Poemen's cell they told him about the brother. And he exhorted them, and he sent them away saying, 'Say to him, Abba Poemen sends for you.' Then the brother came. Seeing he was in such distress, Abba Poemen stood up, embraced him and was kind to him and invited him to eat. Then he sent one of the brethren to the anchorite, saying, 'For many years I have desired to see you, having heard of you. But because of our lethargy, we have not yet met. Now, however, if God wills it and you have the time, give yourself the trouble of coming here, and we will see one another.' The old man had never left his cell but when he heard this he said, 'If God had not inspired the old man, he would not have sent someone to summon me.' So he got up and went to see Poemen. They embraced one another with joy and sat down. Abba Poemen said to him, 'Two men dwelt in one place and someone belonging to each of them died; the first one, leaving his own dead, went to weep over the other's.' Hearing these words, the anchorite was filled with compunction and he remembered what he had done and said, 'Poemen, you have gone up to heaven and I have gone down to the earth.'
7. Many old men came to see Abba Poemen and one day it happened that a member of Abba Poemen's family came, who had a child whose face, through the power of the devil, was turned backwards. The father seeing the number of Fathers present, took the child and sat down outside the monastery, weeping. Now it happened that one of the old men came out and seeing him, asked him, 'Man, why are you weeping?' He replied, 'I am related to Abba Poemen, and see the misfortune which has overtaken my child. Though I want to bring him to the old man, we are afraid he does not want to see us. Each time he hears I am here, he has me driven away. But since you are with him, I have dared to come. If you will, Father, have pity on me, take the child inside and pray for him.' So the old man took the child, went inside and behaved with good sense. He did not immediately present him to Abba Poemen, but began with the lesser brethren, and said, 'Make the sign of the cross over this little child.' Having had him signed by all in turn, he presented him at last to Abba Poemen. Abba Poemen did not want to make the sign of the cross over him, but the others urged him, saying, 'Do as everyone else has done.' So groaning he stood up and prayed, saying, 'God, heal your creature, that he be not ruled by the enemy.' When he had signed him, the child was healed immediately and given back whole to his father.
8. A brother from Abba Poemen's neighbourhood left to go to another country one day. There he met an anchorite. The latter was very charitable and many came to see him. The brother told him about Abba Poemen. When he heard of his virtue, the anchorite wanted to see him. Some time afterwards when the brother had returned to Egypt the anchorite went there to see the brother who had formerly paid him a visit. He had told him where he lived. When he saw him, the brother was astonished and very pleased. The anchorite said to him, 'Please will you be so kind as to take me to Abba Poemen.' So he brought him to the old man and presented him, saying, 'This is a great man, full of charity, who is held in high estimation in his district. I have spoken to him about you, and he has come because he wants to see you.' So Abba Poemen received him with joy. They greeted one another and sat down. The visitor began to speak of the Scriptures, of spiritual and of heavenly things. But Abba Poemen turned his face away and answered nothing. Seeing that he did not speak to him, the other went away deeply grieved and said to the brother who had brought him, 'I have made this long journey in vain. For I have come to see the old man, and he does not wish to speak to me.' Then the brother went inside to Abba Poemen and said to him, Abba, this great man who has so great a reputation in his own country has come here because of you. Why did you not speak to him?' The old man said, 'He is great and speaks of heavenly things and I am lowly and speak of earthly things. If he had spoken of the passions of the soul, I should have replied, but he speaks to me of spiritual things and I know nothing about that.' Then the brother came out and said to the visitor, 'The old man does not readily speak of the Scriptures, but if anyone consults him about the passions of the soul, he replies.' Filled with compunction, the visitor returned to the old man and said to him, 'What should I do, Abba, for the passions of the soul master me?' The old man turned towards him and replied joyfully, 'This time, you come as you should. Now open your mouth concerning this and I will fill it with good things.' Greatly edified, the other said to him, 'Truly, this is the right way!' He returned to his own country giving thanks to God that he had been counted worthy to meet so great a saint.
9. One day the chief magistrate of the district seized one of the men of Abba Poemen's village, and everyone came to beg the old man to go and have him released. He replied, 'Leave me for three days and I will go.' Abba Poemen prayed to the Lord in these words, 'Lord, do not give me this grace, otherwise they will never let me stay in this place.' Then the old man went to intercede with the magistrate, who replied, 'Will you intercede for a brigand, abba?' The old man rejoiced that he had not been granted this grace.
10. They said that one day Abba Poemen and his brethren were making ropes and the work was delayed because they had nothing with which to buy flax. One of their friends told a friendly merchant about this. Now Abba Poemen did not want to receive any- thing from anyone because of the trouble it causes. But the merchant wanted to do something for the old man, so he pretended to need ropes and brought a camel and took them away. When the brothers came to see Abba Poemen and learned what the merchant had done, they said, intending to praise him, 'Truly, Abba, he has taken them though he did not need them so as to do us a service.' Hearing that he had taken them without needing them, Abba Poe- men said to the brother, 'Get up, hire a camel and bring them back, and if you do not bring them back, Poemen will no longer live here with you. I do not want to do wrong to someone who does not need those ropes, lest he should suffer loss by it and take my reward from me.' The brother went away with much labour and brought them back; otherwise the old man would have gone away from them. When he saw the ropes, he rejoiced as though he had found a great treasure.
11. A priest of Pelusia heard it said of some brethren that they often went to the city, took baths and were careless in their behaviour. He went to the synaxis, and took the habit away from them. Afterwards, his heart was moved, he repented and went to see Abba Poemen, obsessed by his thoughts. He brought the monastic habits of the brothers and told him all about it. The old man said to him, 'Don't you sometimes have something of the old Adam in you?' The priest said, 'I have my share of the old Adam.' The abba said to him, Look, you are just like the brethren yourself; if you have even a little share of the old Adam, then you are subject to sin in the same way.' So the priest went and called the brothers and asked their pardon; and he clothed them in the monastic habit again and let them go.
12. A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, 'I have committed a great sin and I want to do penance for three years.' The old man said to him, 'That is a lot.' The brother said, 'For one year?' The old man said again, 'That is a lot.' Those who were present said, 'For forty days?' He said again, 'That is a lot.' He added, 'I myself say that if a man repents with his whole heart and does not intend to commit the sin any more, God will accept him after only three days.'
13. He also said, 'The distinctive mark of the monk is made clear through temptations.'
14. He also said, 'Just as the king's body-guard stands always on guard at his side, so the soul should always be on guard against the demon of fornication.'
15. Abba Anoub asked Abba Poemen about the impure thoughts which the heart of man brings forth and about vain desires. Abba Poemen said to him, 'Is the axe any use without someone to cut with it? (Is. 10:15) If you do not make use of these thoughts, they will be ineffectual too.'
16. Abba Poemen also said, 'If Nabuzardan, the head-cook, had not come, the temple of the Lord would not have been burned' (2 Kings 24"), that is to say: if slackness and greed did not come into the soul, the spirit would not be overcome in combat with the enemy.'
17. It was said of Abba Poemen that if he was invited to eat against his will, he wept but he went, so as not to refuse to obey his brother and cause him pain.
18. Abba Poemen also said, 'Do not live in a place where you see that some are jealous of you, for you will not make progress.'
19. Some brothers told Abba Poemen of a brother who did not drink wine. He said, 'Wine is not for monks.'
20. Abba Isaiah questioned Abba Poemen on the subject of im- pure thoughts. Abba Poemen said to him, 'It is like having a chest full of clothes, if one leaves them in disorder they are spoiled in the course of time. It is the same with thoughts. If we do not do anything about them, in time they are spoiled, that is to say, they disintegrate.'
21. Abba Joseph put the same question and Abba Poemen said to him, 'If someone shuts a snake and a scorpion up in a bottle, in time they will be completely destroyed. So it is with evil thoughts: they are suggested by the demons; they disappear through patience.'
22. A brother came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, 'I sow my field and give away in charity what I reap from it.' The old man said to him, 'That is good,' and he departed with fervour and intensified his charity. Hearing this, Abba Anoub said to Abba Poemen, 'Do you not fear God, that you have spoken like that to the brother?' The old man remained silent. Two days later Abba Poe- men saw the brother coming and in the presence of Abba Anoub said to him, 'What did you ask me the other day? I was not attending.' The brother said, 'I said that I sow my field and give away what I gain in charity.' Abba Poemen said to him, 'I thought you were speaking of your brother who is in the world. If it is you who are doing this, it is not right for a monk.' At these words the brother was saddened and said, 'I do not know any other work and I cannot
help sowing the fields.' When he had gone away, Abba Anoub made a prostration and said, 'Forgive me.' Abba Poemen said, 'From the beginning I too knew it was not the work of a monk but I spoke as I did, adapting myself to his ideas and so I gave him courage to increase his charity. Now he has gone away full of grief and yet he will go on as before.'
23. Abba Poemen said, 'If a man has sinned and denies it, saying: "I have not sinned," do not reprimand him; for that will discourage him. But say to him, "Do not lose heart, brother, but be on guard in future," and you will stir his soul to repentance.'
24. He also said, 'Experience is a good thing; it is that which tests a man.'
25. He also said, A man who teaches without doing what he teaches is like a spring which cleanses and gives drink to everyone, but it not able to purify itself.'
26. Going into Egypt one day, Abba Poemen saw a woman who was sitting in a tomb and weeping bitterly. He said, 'If all the delights of the world were to come, they could not drive sorrow away from the soul of this woman. Even so the monk would always have compunction in himself
27. He also said, 'A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent; that is, he says nothing that is not profitable.'
28. A brother came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, Abba, I have many thoughts and they put me in danger.' The old man led him outside and said to him, 'Expand your chest and do not breathe in.' He said, 'I cannot do that.' Then the old man said to him, 'If you cannot do that, no more can you prevent thoughts from arising, but you can resist them.'
29. Abba Poemen said, 'If three men meet, of whom the first fully preserves interior peace, and the second gives thanks to God in illness, and the third serves with a pure mind, these three are doing the same work.'
30. He also said, 'It is written: "As the hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for Thee, O God." (Ps. 42.1) For truly harts in the desert devour many reptiles and when their venom burns them, they try to come to the springs, to drink so as to assuage the venom's burning. It is the same for the monks: sitting in the desert they are burned by the venom of evil demons, and they long for Saturday and Sunday to come to be able to go to the springs of water, that is to say, the body and blood of the Lord, so as to be purified from the bitterness of the evil one.'
31. Abba Joseph asked Abba Poemen, 'How should one fast?' Abba Poemen said to him, 'For my part, I think it better that one should eat every day, but only a little, so as not to be satisfied.' Abba Joseph said to him, 'When you were younger, did you not fast two days at a time, abba?' The old man said: 'Yes, even for three days and four and the whole week. The Fathers tried all this out as they were able and they found it preferable to eat every day, but just a small amount. They have left us this royal way, which is light.'
32. It was said of Abba Poemen that every time he prepared to go to the synaxis, he sat alone and examined his thoughts for about an hour and then he set off.
33. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'An inheritance has been left me, what ought I to do?' The old man said to him, 'Go, come back in three days and I will tell you.' So he returned as it had been decided. Then the old man said, 'What shall I say to you, brother? If I tell you to give it to the church, they will make banquets with it; if I tell you to give it to your relations, you will not receive any profit from it; if I tell you to give it to the poor, you will not do it. Do as you like, it is none of my business.'
34. Another brother questioned him in these words: 'What does, "See that none of you repays evil for evil" mean?' (1 Thess. 5:15) The old man said to him, 'Passions work in four stages - first, in the heart; secondly, in the face; thirdly, in words; and fourthly, it is essential not to render evil for evil in deeds. If you can purify your heart, passion will not come into your expression; but if it comes into your face, take care not to speak; but if you do speak, cut the conversation short in case you render evil for evil.'
35. Abba Poemen said, 'Vigilance, self-knowledge and discernment; these are the guides of the soul.'
36. He also said, 'To throw yourself before God, not to measure your progress, to leave behind all self-will; these are the instruments for the work of the soul.'
37. He also said, 'The victory over all the afflictions that befall you, is, to keep silence.'
38. He also said, All bodily comfort is an abomination to the Lord.'
39. He also said, 'Compunction has two sides: it is a good work and a good protection.'
40. He also said, If a thought about bodily needs overtakes you, put the matter right at once; and if it comes a second time, put it right again, but the third time, if it presents itself, do not pay any attention to it, for it is not being any use to you.'
41. He also said that a brother questioned Abba Adonias saying, 'What does it mean to become nothing?' The old man said, 'It means to place oneself beneath irrational beings and to know what they are without blame.'
42. He also said, 'If man remembered that it is written: "By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be con- demned," (Matt. 12.37) he would choose to remain silent.'
43. He also said, 'The beginning of evil is heedlessness.'
44. He also said that Abba Isidore, the priest of Scetis, spoke to the people one day saying, 'Brothers, is it not in order to endure affliction that we have come to this place? But now there is no affliction for us here. So I am getting my sheepskin ready to go where there is some affliction and there I shall find peace.'
45. A brother said to Abba Poemen, 'If I see something, do you want me to tell you about it?' The old man said to him, 'It is written: "If one gives answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." (Prov. 18:13) If you are questioned, speak; if not, remain silent.'
46. A brother asked Abba Poemen saying, 'Can a man put his trust in one single work?' The old man said to him that Abba John the Dwarf said, 'I would rather have a bit of all the virtues.'
47. The old man said that a brother asked Abba Pambo if it is good to praise one's neighbour and that the old man said to him, 'It is better to be silent.'
48. Abba Poemen said, 'Even if a man were to make a new heaven and earth, he could not live free of care.'
49. He also said, As the breath which comes out of his nostrils, so does a man need humility and the fear of God.'
50. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'What should I do?' The old man said to him, 'When Abraham entered the promised land he bought a sepulchre for himself and by means of this tomb, he inherited the land.' The brother said to him, 'What is the tomb?' The old man said, 'The place of tears and compunction.'
51. A brother said to Abba Poemen, 'If I give my brother a little bread or something else, the demons tarnish these gifts saying it was only done to please men.' The oldman said to him, 'Even if it is to please men, we must give the brother what he needs.' He told him the following parable, 'Two farmers lived in the same town; one of them sowed and reaped a small and poor crop, while the other, who did not even trouble to sow reaped absolutely nothing. If a famine comes upon them, which of the two will find something to live on?' The brother replied, 'The one who reaped the small poor crop.' The old man said to him, 'So it is for us; we sow a little poor grain, so that we will not die of hunger.'
52. Abba Poemen said that Abba Ammonas said, A man can spend his whole time carrying an axe without succeeding in cutting down the tree; while another, with experience of tree-felling brings the tree down with a few blows. He said that the axe is discernment.'
53. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'How should a man behave?' The old man said to him, 'Look at Daniel: no-one found anything in him to complain about except for his prayers to the Lord his God.'
54. Abba Poemen said, 'The will of man is a brass wall between him and God and a stone of stumbling. When a man renounces it, he is also saying to himself, "By my God, I can leap over the wall." (Ps. 18.29) If a man's will is in line with what is right, then he can really labour.'
55. He also said, As the old men were sitting at a meal one day, Abba Alonius got up to serve and when they saw that, they praised him. But he answered absolutely nothing. So one of them said to him privately, "Why don't you answer the old men who are compli- menting you?" Abba Alonius said to him, "If I were to reply to them I should be accepting their praises." '
56. He also said, 'Men speak to perfection but they do precious little about it.'
57. Abba Poemen said, 'Just a smoke drives the bees away and also takes the sweetness out of their work, so bodily ease drives the fear of God from the soul and dissipates all its activity.'
58. A brother came to see Abba Poemen in the second week of Lent and told him about his thoughts; he obtained peace, and said to him, 'I nearly did not come here today.' The old man asked him why. The brother said, 'I said to myself, "Perhaps he will not let me in because it is Lent." ' Abba Poemen said to him, 'We have not been taught to close the wooden door but the door of our tongues.'
59. Abba Poemen said, 'You must flee from sensual things. In- deed, every time a man comes near to a struggle with sensuality, he is like a man standing on the edge of a very deep lake and the enemy easily throws him in whenever he likes. But if he lives far away from sensual things, he is like a man standing at a distance from the lake, so that even if the enemy draws him in order to throw him to the bottom, God sends him help at the very moment he is drawing him away and doing him violence.'
60. He also said, 'Poverty, hardship, austerity and fasting, such are the instruments of the solitary life. It is written, "When these three men are together, Noah, Job, and Daniel, there am I, says the Lord." (cf. Ezek. 14:14) Noah represents poverty, Job suffering and Daniel discernment. So, if these three works are found in a man, the Lord dwells in him.'
61. Abba Joseph said, 'While we were sitting with Abba Poemen he mentioned Agathon as "abba", and we said to him, "He is very young, why do you call him 'abba?' " Abba Poemen said, "Because his speech makes him worthy to be called abba." '
62. A brother came to Abba Poemen one day and said to him, 'What should I do, Father, for I am tempted to fornication? I went to Abba Ibiston and he said to me, "You must not let it stay with you.'" Abba Poemen said to him, Abba Ibiston's deeds are in heaven with the angels and he does not realise that you and I remain in fornication. If a monk controls his belly and his tongue and if he lives like an exile, be confident, he will not die.'
63. Abba Poemen said, 'Teach your mouth to say that which you have in your heart.'
64. A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, 'If I see my brother committing a sin, is it right to conceal it?' The old man said to him, At the very moment when we hide our brother's fault, God hides our own and at the moment when we reveal our brother's fault, God reveals ours too.
65. He said that someone asked Abba Paesius, 'What should I do about my soul, because it is insensitive and does not fear God?' He said to him, 'Go, and join a man who fears God, and live near him; he will teach you, too, to fear God.'
66. He also said, 'If a monk can overcome two things, he can become free from the world.' The brother asked him what these two things were and he said, 'Bodily ease and vain-glory.'
67. Abraham, the disciple of Abba Agathon, questioned Abba Poemen saying, 'How do the demons fight against me?' Abba Poemen said to him, 'The demons fight against you? They do not fight against us at all as long as we are doing our own will. For our own wills become the demons, and it is these which attack us in order that we may fulfil them. But if you want to see who the demons really fight against, it is against Moses and those who are like him.'
68. Abba Poemen said, 'God has given this way of life to Israel: to abstain from everything which is contrary to nature, that is to say, anger, fits of passion, jealousy, hatred and slandering the brethren; in short, everything that is characteristic of the old man.'
69. A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, 'Give me a word.' And he said to him, 'The Fathers put compunction as the beginning of every action.' The brother said again, 'Give me another word.' The old man replied, As far as you can, do some manual work so as to be able to give alms, for it is written that alms and faith purify from sin.' The brother said, 'What is faith?' The old man said, 'Faith is to live humbly and to give alms.'
70. A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, If I see a brother whom I have heard is a sinner, I do not want to take him into my cell, but when I see a good brother I am happy to be with him.' The old man said, If you do a little good to the good brother, do twice as much for the other. For he is sick. Now, there was an anchorite called Timothy in a coenobium. The abbot, having heard of a brother who was being tempted, asked Timothy about him, and the anchorite advised him to drive the brother away. Then when he had been driven away, the brother's temptation fell upon Timothy to the point where he was in danger. Then Timothy stood up before God and said, "I have sinned. Forgive me." Then a voice came which said to him, "Timothy, the only reason I have done this to you is because you despised your brother in the time of his temptation." '
71. Abba Poemen said, 'The reason why we are so greatly tempted is because we do not guard our name and status, as Scripture says. Do we not see that the Saviour gave peace to the Canaanite woman, accepting her as she was? (cf. Matt. 15) And the same for Abigail, because she said to David, "Upon me alone be the guilt," (1 Sam. 25:24) the Lord heard her and loved her. Abigail stands for the soul and David for God. So when the soul accuses herself before the Lord, the Lord loves her.'
72. One day Abba Poemen went with Abba Anoub to the district of Diolcos. Arriving at the cemetery, they saw a woman in great sorrow, weeping bitterly. Standing there they watched her. Going a little further they met someone and Abba Poemen asked him, 'What is this woman weeping so bitterly for?' He said, 'Because her husband is dead and her son and her brother.' Abba Poemen said to the brother, 'I tell you, if a man does not mortify all his carnal desires and acquire compunction like this, he cannot become a monk. Truly the whole of this woman's life and soul are turned to compunction.'
73. Abba Poemen said, 'Do not judge yourself, but live with someone who knows how to behave himself properly.'
74. He said that when a brother went to see Abba John the Dwarf, he offered him that charity of which the apostle speaks, 'Charity suffers long and is kind.' (1. Cor. 13:4)
75. He said of Abba Pambo that Abba Anthony used to say of him, 'Through fearing God, he caused the spirit of God to dwell in him.'
76. One of the Fathers related this about Abba Poemen and his brethren: 'When they were living in Egypt, their mother wanted to see them and was not able to do so. So she took note of the time when they went to church and went to meet them. But when they saw her, they made a detour and closed the door in her face. But she beat on the door and cried with tears and groans, saying, "I must see you, my beloved children!" Hearing her, Abba Anoub went to Abba Poemen and said to him, "What shall we do with this old woman who is weeping against the door?" From inside where he was standing, he heard her weeping with many groans and he said to her, "Woman, why are you crying out like this?" When she heard his voice, she cried out even more, weeping and saying, "I want to see you, my children. What will happen if I do see you? Am I not your mother? Was it not I who suckled you? So I was troubled when I heard your voice." The old man said to her, "Would you rather see us here or in the age which is to come?" She said to him, "If I do not see you here, shall I see you in the age to come?" He said to her, "If you refrain from seeing us now, you will see us yonder." So she departed full of joy and said, "If I shall see you perfectly yonder, I do not want to see you here.'"
77. A brother asked Abba Poemen saying, 'High things, what are they?' The old man said to him, 'Righteousness.'
78. Some heretics came to Abba Poemen one day and began to speak evil of the archbishop of Alexandria suggesting that he had received the laying on of hands from priests. The old man, who had remained silent till then, called his brother and said, 'Set the table, give them something to eat and send them away in peace.'
79. Abba Poemen said that a brother who lived with some other brothers asked Abba Bessarion, 'What ought I to do?' The old man said to him, 'Keep silence and do not always be comparing yourself with others.'
80. He also said, 'Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.'
81. He also said, If you take little account of yourself, you will have peace, wherever you live.'
82. He also said that Abba Sisoes said, 'There is a kind of shame that contains a culpable lack of fear.'
83. He also said, 'When self-will and ease become habitual, they overthrow a man.'
84. He also said, 'If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live.'
85. He also said concerning Abba Pior that every day he made a new beginning.
86. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'If a brother is involved in a sin and is converted, will God forgive him?' The old man said to him, 'Will not God, who has commanded men to act thus, do as much himself and even more? For God commanded Peter to forgive till seventy times seven.' (Matt. 18:22)
87. A brother asked Abba Poemen, saying, 'Is it good to pray?' The old man said that Abba Anthony said, This word comes from the mouth of the Lord, who said, "Comfort, comfort my people."' (Is. 40:1)
88. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'Can a man keep all his thoughts in control, and not surrender one to the enemy?' And the old man said to him, 'There are some who receive ten and give one.'
89. The same brother put the same question to Abba Sisoes who said to him, 'It is true that there are some who give nothing to the enemy.'
90. There was a great hesychast in the mountain of Athlibeos. Some thieves fell upon him and the old man began to cry out. When they heard this the neighbours seized the robbers and took them to the magistrate who threw them into prison. The brothers were very sorry about this and they said, 'It is through us that they have been put in prison.' They got up and went to Abba Poemen to tell him about it. He wrote to the old man saying, 'Consider the first betrayal and where it comes from and then examine the second. In truth, if you had not first failed within, you would not have committed the second betrayal.' On hearing Abba Poemen's letter read (for he was renowned in all the district for not coming out of his cell), he arose, went to the city, got the robbers out of prison and liberated them in public.
91. Abba Poemen said, A monk does not complain of his lot, a monk does not return evil for evil, a monk is not angry.'
92. Some old men came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, 'When we see brothers who are dozing at the synaxis, shall we rouse them so that they will be watchful?' He said to them, 'For my part when I see a brother who is dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.'
93. It was said of a brother that he had to fight against blasphemy and he was ashamed to admit it. He went where he heard some great old men lived to see them, in order to open his heart to them but when he got there, he was ashamed to admit his temptation. So he kept going to see Abba Poemen. The old man saw he was worried, and he was sorry he did not tell him what was wrong. So one day he forestalled him and said, 'For a long time you have been coming here to tell me what is troubling you, and when you are here you will not tell me about it, but each time you go away unhappy, keeping your thoughts to yourself. Now tell me, my child, what it is all about.' He said to him, 'The demon wars against me to make me blaspheme God and I am ashamed to say so.' So he told him all about it and immediately he was relieved. The old man said to him, 'Do not be unhappy, my child, but every time this thought comes to you say, "It is no affair of mine, may your blasphemy remain upon you, Satan, for my soul does not want it." Now everything that the soul does not desire, does not long remain,' and the brother went away healed.
94. A brother said to Abba Poemen, 'I see that wherever I go I find support.' The old man said to him, 'Even those who hold a sword in their hands have God who takes pity on them in the present time. If we are courageous, he will have mercy on us.'
95. Abba Poemen said, 'If a man accuses himself, he is protected on all sides.'
96. He said that Abba Ammonas said, A man may remain for a hundred years in his cell without learning how to live in the cell.'
97. Abba Poemen said, 'If a man has attained to that which the Apostle speaks of "to the pure, everything is pure," (Titus 1:15) he sees himself less than all creatures.' The brother said, 'How can I deem myself less then a murderer?' The old man said, 'When a man has really comprehended this saying, if he sees a man committing a murder he says, "He has only committed this one sin but I commit sins every day.'"
98. A brother put the same question to Abba Anoub, telling him what Abba Poemen had said. Abba Anoub said to him, 'If a man really affirms this saying, when he sees his brother's faults he sees that his integrity exceeds his faults.' The brother said, 'What is integrity?' The old man replied, Always to accuse himself.'
99. A brother said to Abba Poemen, 'If I fall into a shameful sin, my conscience devours and accuses me saying: "Why have you fallen?" ' The old man said to him, At the moment when a man goes astray, if he says, I have sinned, immediately the sin ceases.'
100. A brother asked Abba Poemen saying, 'Why do the demons persuade my soul to look up to him who is superior to me and make me despise him who is my inferior?' The old man replied, About that, the Apostle has this to say: "In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earthenware; and if anyone purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.'" (2 Tim. 2.20-21)
101. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'Why should I not be free to do without manifesting my thoughts to the old men?' The old man replied, Abba John the Dwarf said, "The enemy rejoices over nothing so much as over those who do not manifest their thoughts.'"
102. A brother said to Abba Poemen, 'My heart becomes luke- warm when a little suffering comes my way.' The old man said to him, 'Do we not admire Joseph, a young man of seventeen, for enduring his temptation to the end? And God glorified him. Do we not also see Job, how he suffered to the end, and lived in endurance? Temptations cannot destroy hope in God.'
103. Abba Poemen said, 'Life in the monastery demands three things: the first is humility, the next is obedience, and the third which sets them in motion and is like a goad is the work of the monastery.'
104. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'In the time of my affliction I looked for something from one of the old men which would be useful to me and he gave it me as a free gift. Now if God comes to my aid, ought I in my turn to give it to others as a free gift, or rather give it back to him who gave it to me?' The old man said to him, 'What is right in the sight of God, is for you to give it back to him, for it is his.' The brother said, 'If I return it to him and he does not want it, but says to me, "Go, give it away however you like as a free gift," what shall I do?' The old man said to him, 'This thing belongs to him, but if it is offered to you spontaneously without your asking for it, it belongs to you. Whether he is a monk or a secular person, if he no longer wants what you ask for and gives it you, then it is right for you, with his knowledge, to give it away in his name as a free gift.'
105. It was said of Abba Poemen that he never wished to speak after another old man, but that he preferred to praise him in everything he had said.
106. Abba Poemen said, 'Many of our Fathers have become very courageous in asceticism, but in fineness of perception there are very few.'
107. One day Abba Isaac was sitting beside Abba Poemen when they heard a cock crow. Abba Isaac said to him, 'Is it possible to hear that here, abba?' He replied, 'Isaac,why do you make me talk? You and those like you hear those noises, but thevigilant man does not trouble about them.'
108. It was said that if one of the brethren came to see Abba Poemen the latter used to send him first to Abba Anoub, because he was older than he. But Abba Anoub would say to them, 'Go to my brother Poemen because it is he who has the gift of speaking.' Whenever Abba Anoub came to sit beside Abba Poemen the latter refused to speak in his presence.
109. A secular man of devout life came to see Abba Poemen. Now it happened that there were other brethren with the old man, asking to hear a word from him. The old man said to the faithful secular, 'Say a word to the brothers.' When he insisted, the secular said, 'Please excuse me, abba; I myself have come to learn.' But he was urged on by the old man and so he said, 'I am a secular, I sell vegetables and do business; I take bundles to pieces, and make smaller ones; I buy cheap and sell dear. What is more I do not know how to speak of the Scriptures; so I will tell you a parable. A man said tohis friends, "I want to go to see the emperor; come with me." One friend said to him, "I will go with you half the way." Then he said to another friend, "Come and go with me to the emperor," and he said to him, "I will take you as far as the emperor's palace." He said to a third friend, "Come with me to the emperor." He said, "I will come and take you to the palace and I will stay and speak and help you to have access to the emperor." ' They asked what was the point of the parable. He answered them, 'The first friend is asceticism, which leads the way; the second is chastity which takes us to heaven; and the third is almsgiving which with confidence presents us to God our King.' The brethren withdrew edified.
110. A brother settled outside his village and did not return there for many years. He said to the brethren, 'See how many years it is since I went back to the village, while you often go up there.' This was told to Abba Poemen and the old man said, 'I used to go back up there at night and walk all round my village, so that the thought of not having gone up there would not cause me vain-glory.'
111. A brother said to Abba Poemen, 'Give me a word,' and he said to him, As long as the pot is on the fire, no fly nor any other animal can get near it, but as soon as it is cold, these creatures get inside. So it is for the monk; as long as he lives in spiritual activities, the enemy cannot find a means of overthrowing him.'
112. Abba Joseph said of Abba Poemen that he said, 'This saying which is written in the Gospel: "Let him who has no sword, sell his mantle and buy one," (Luke 22:36) means this: let him who is at ease give it up and take the narrow way.'
113. Some Fathers questioned Abba Poemen saying, 'If we see a brother in the act of committing a sin, do you think that we ought to reprove him?' The old man said to them, 'For my part, if I have to go out and I see someone committing a sin, I pass on my way without reproving him.'
114. Abba Poemen said, 'It is written: "Give witness of that which your eyes have seen" (cf. Proverbs 25:8); but I say to you even if you have touched with your hands, do not give witness. In truth, a brother was deceived in this respect; he thought he saw his brother in the act of sinning with a woman; greatly incensed, he drew near and kicked them (for he thought it was they), saying, "Now stop; how much longer will you go on?" Now it turned out that it was some sheaves of corn. That is the reason why I said to you: even if you touch with your hands, do not reprove.'
115. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'What shall I do, for fornication and anger war against me?' The old man said, 'In this connection David said: "I will pierce the lion and I will slay the bear" (cf 1 Sam. 17:35); that is to say: I will cut off anger and I will crush fornication with hard labour.'
116. He also said, ' "Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15.13) In truth if someone hears an evil saying, that is, one which harms him, and in his turn, he wants to repeat it, he must fight in order not to say it. Or if someone is taken advantage of and he bears it, without retaliating at all, then he is giving his life for his neighbour.'
117. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'What is a hypocrite?' The old man said to him, A hypocrite is he who teaches his neighbour something he makes no effort to do himself. It is written, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye, etc.'" (Matt. 7:3-4)
118. A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, 'What does it mean to be angry with your brother without a cause?' He said, If your brother hurts you by his arrogance and you are angry with him because of it, that is getting angry without cause. If he plucks out your right eye and cuts off your right hand, and you get angry with him, you are angry without cause. But if he separates you from God, then be angry with him.'
119. A brother asked Abba Poemen what he should do about his sins. The old man said to him, 'He who wishes to purify his faults purifies them with tears and he who wishes to acquire virtues, acquires them with tears; for weeping is the way the Scriptures and our Fathers give us, when they say "Weep!" Truly, there is no other way than this.'
120. A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, 'What does it mean to repent of a fault?' The old man said, 'Not to commit it again in future. This is the reason the righteous were called blameless, for they gave up their faults and became righteous.'
121. He also said, 'The wickedness of men is hidden behind their backs.'
122. A brother questioned Abba Poemen, 'What ought I to do about all the turmoils that trouble me?' The old man said to him, 'In all our afflictions let us weep in the presence of the goodness of God, until he shows mercy on us.'
123. The brother asked him, 'What ought I to do about the sterile affections that I have?' He said to him, 'There are men who tire themselves to death involving themselves in the friendships of this world. But keep yourself away from all that and do not get involved in such relationships and they will be transformed of their own accord.'
124. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'Can a man be dead?' He replied, 'He who is inclined to sin starts to die, but he who applies himself to good will live and will put it into practice.'
125. Abba Poemen said that blessed Abba Anthony used to say, 'The greatest thing a man can do is to throw his faults before the Lord and to expect temptation to his last breath.'
126. Abba Poemen was asked for whom this saying is suitable, 'Do not be anxious about tomorrow.' (Matt. 6:34) The old man said, 'It is said for the man who is tempted and has not much strength, so that he should not be worried, saying to himself, "How long must I suffer this temptation?" He should rather say every day to himself, "Today."'
127. He also said, 'Instructing one's neighbour is for the man who is whole and without passions; for what is the use of building the house of another, while destroying one's own?'
128. He also said, 'What is the good of giving oneself to a trade without seeking to learn it?'
129. He also said, 'Everything that goes to excess comes from the demons.'
130. He also said, 'When a man prepares to build a house, he gathers together all he needs to be able to construct it, and he collects different sorts of materials. So it is with us; let us acquire a little of the virtues.'
131. Some Fathers asked Abba Poemen, 'How could Abba Nisterus bear so well with his discipline?' Abba Poemen said to them, If I had been in his place, I would even have put a pillow under his head.' Abba Anoub said, And what would you have said to God?' Abba Poemen said, 'I would have said to him: "You have said, 'First take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers' eye." ' (Matt. 7:5)
132. Abba Poemen said, 'Because of our need to eat and to sleep, we do not see the simple things.'
133. He also said, 'Many become powerful, but few eminent.'
134. He also said, groaning, All the virtues come to this house except one and without that virtue it is hard for a man to stand.' Then they asked him what virtue was, and he said, 'For a man to blame himself
135. Abba Poemen often said, 'We do not need anything except a vigilant spirit.'
136. One of the Fathers asked Abba Poemen, 'Who is he who says, "I am a companion of all who fear Thee," ' (Ps. 119:63) and the old man said, 'It is the Holy Spirit who says that.'
137. Abba Poemen said that a brother asked Abba Simon, 'If I come out of my cell and find my brother amusing himself, I amuse myself with him and if I find him in the act of laughing, I laugh with him. Then when I return to my cell, I am no longer at peace.' The old man said to him, 'So, when you come out of your cell and find people laughing or talking you want to laugh and talk with them, and when you return to your cell, you expect to find yourself as you were before?' The brother said, 'What should I do?' The old man replied, 'Be watchful inwardly; be watchful outwardly.'
138. Abba Daniel said, 'We went one day to Abba Poemen and ate together. After we had eaten he said to us, "Go, rest a little, brothers." The brothers went to take a little rest but I wanted to speak to him privately to I went to his cell. When he saw me coming he settled himself as though he were asleep. For that was always the old man's way, to do everything in secret so that no one noticed it.'
139. Abba Poemen said, 'If you have visions or hear voices do not tell your neighbour about it, for it is a delusion in the battle.'
140. He also said, 'The first time flee; the second time, flee; and the third, become like a sword.'
141. Abba Poemen said to Abba Isaac, 'Let go of a small part of your righteousness and in a few days you will be at peace.'
142. A brother came to see Abba Poemen and while several of them were sitting round, he praised a brother for hating evil. Abba Poemen said to the one who had spoken, 'What does it mean to hate evil?' The brother was surprised and found nothing to say in reply. Getting up, he made a prostration before the old man, and said, 'Tell me what hatred of evil is?' The old man said to him, 'Hatred of evil is to hate one's thoughts and to praise one's neighbour.'
143. A brother went to see Abba Poemen and said to him, 'What ought I to do?' The old man said to him, 'Go and join one who says "What do I want?" and you will have peace.'
144. Abba Joseph related that Abba Isaac said, 'I was sitting with Abba Poemen one day and I saw him in ecstasy and I was on terms of great freedom of speech with him, I prostrated myself before him and begged him, saying, "Tell me where you were." He was forced to answer and he said, "My thought was with Saint Mary, the Mother of God, as she wept by the cross of the Saviour. I wish I could always weep like that." '
145. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'What can I do about this weight which is crushing me?' The old man said to him, 'In ships, small or large, there are tow-ropes which are lashed round the centre when the wind is unfavourable, to draw the small craft slowly along until God sends the wind. When the sailors notice that darkness is falling, then they throw out anchors so that the vessels may not drift away.'
146. A brother asked Abba Poeman about the harm which he was suffering through his thoughts. The old man said to him, 'In this matter it is like a man who has fire on his left and a cup of water on his right. If the fire kindles, he must take water from the cup and extinguish it. The fire is the enemy's seed, and the water is the act of throwing oneself before God.'
147. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'Is it better to speak or to be silent?' The old man said to him, 'The man who speaks for God's sake does well; but he who is silent for God's sake also does well.'
148. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'How can a man avoid speaking ill of his neighbour?' The old man said to him, 'We and our brothers are two images; when a man is watchful about himself, and has to reproach himself, in his heart he thinks his brother better than he; but when he appears to himself to be good, then he thinks his brother evil compared to himself
149. A brother asked Abba Poemen about accidie. The old man said to him, 'Accidie is there every time one begins something, and there is no worse passion, but if a man recognizes it for what it is, he will gain peace.'
150. Abba Poemen said, 'In Abba Pambo we see three bodily activities; abstinence from food until the evening every day, silence, and much manual work.'
151. He said that Abba Theonas said, 'Even if a man acquires a virtue, God does not grant him grace for himself alone.' He knew that he was not faithful in his own labour, but that if he went to his companion, God would be with him.
152. A brother said to Abba Poemen, 'I want to go to the monastery, and dwell there.' The old man said to him, If you want to go the the monastery, you must be careful about every encounter and everything you do, or you will not be able to do the work of the monastery; for you will not have the right even to drink a single cup there.'
153. A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, 'What ought I to do?' He said, 'It is written, "I confess my iniquity, I am sorry for my sin."'(Ps. 38:18)
154. Abba Poemen said, 'Fornication and slander, are two thoughts that should never be talked about or pondered in the heart; for if you want to understand them in the heart, it does no good: but if you fight shy of them, you will obtain peace.'
155. Abba Poemen's brethren said to him, 'Let us leave this place, for the monasteries here worry us and we are losing our souls; even the little children who cry do not let us have interior peace.' Abba Poemen said to them, 'Is it because of voices of angels that you wish to go away from here?'
156. Abba Bitimius asked Abba Poemen, 'If someone has a grievance against me, and I ask his pardon but cannot convince him, what is to be done?' The old man said to him, 'Take two other brothers with you and ask his pardon. If he is not satisfied, take five others. If he is still not satisfied by them, take a priest. If even so he is not satisfied, then pray to God without anxiety, that he may himself satisfy him and do not worry about it.'
157. Abba Poemen said, 'To instruct your neighbour is the same thing as reproving him.'
158. He also said, 'Do not do your own will; you need rather to humble yourself before your brother.'
159. A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, 'I have found a place where peace is not disturbed by the brethren; do you advise me to live there?' The old man said to him, 'The place for you is where you will not harm your brother.'
160. Abba Poemen said, 'These three things are the most helpful of all: fear of the Lord; prayer; and doing good to one's neighbour.'
161. A brother said to Abba Poemen, 'My body is getting sick, and yet my passions are not getting weaker.' The old man said to him, 'The passions are like thorns.'
162. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'What ought I to do?' The old man said to him, 'When God is watching over us, what have we got to worry about?' The brother said to him, 'Our sins.' Then the old man said, 'Let us enter into our cell, and sitting there, remember our sins, and the Lord will come and help us in everything.'
163. A brother going to market asked Abba Poemen, 'How do you advise me to behave?' The old man said to him, 'Make friends with anyone who tries to bully you and sell your produce in peace.'
164. Abba Poemen said, 'Teach your mouth to say what is in your heart.'
165. Abba Poemen was asked about impurities and he replied, 'If we are active and very watchful, we shall not find impurities in ourselves.'
166. Abba Poemen said, 'Since Abba Moses and the third generation in Scetis, the brothers do not make progress any more.'
167. He also said, A man who stays in his place in life will not be troubled.'
168. A brother asked Abba Poemen, "How should I live in the cell?' He said to him, 'Living in your cell clearly means manual work, eating only once a day, silence, meditation; but really making progress in the cell, means to experience contempt for yourself wherever you go, not to neglect the hours of prayer and to pray secretly. If you happen to have time without manual work, take up prayer and do it without disquiet. The perfection of these things is to live in good company and be free from bad.'
169. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'If a brother has a little money which belongs to me, do you advise me to ask him for it?' The old man said to him, Ask him for it once.' The brother said to him, And then what should I do? For I cannot control my thoughts.' The old man said to him, 'Be quiet and do not think about it. But do not distress your brother.'
170. It happened that several Fathers went to the home of a friend of Christ; among them was Abba Poemen. During the meal, meat was served and everyone ate some except Abba Poemen. The old men knew his discretion and they were surprised that he did not eat it. When they got up, they said to him, 'You are Poemen, and yet you behaved like this?' The old man answered, 'Forgive me, my Fathers; you have eaten and no-one is shocked; but if I had eaten, since many brothers come to me, they would have suffered harm, for they would have said Poemen has eaten meat; why should not we eat it ourselves?' So they admired his discernment.
171. Abba Poemen said, 'I say this about myself: I am thrown into the place where Satan is thrown.'
172. He also said to Abba Anoub, 'Turn away your eyes lest they behold vanity; (cf. Ps. 119:37) for licence causes souls to perish.'
173. One day when Abba Poemen was sitting down, Paesius fought with his brother till the blood ran from their heads. The old man said absolutely nothing to them. Then Abba Anoub came in and saw them, he said to Abba Poemen, 'Why have you let the brothers fight without saying anything to them?' Abba Poemen replied, They are brothers, and they will make it up again.' Abba Anoub said, 'What do you mean? You saw them behaving like this, and all you say is they will make it up again?' Abba Poemen said to him, Try and think that inwardly I was not here to see it.'
174. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'Some brothers live with me; do you want me to be in charge of them?' The old man said to him, 'No, just work first and foremost, and if they want to live like you, they will see to it themselves.' The brother said to him, 'But it is they themselves, Father who want me to be in charge of them.' The old man said to him, 'No, be their example, not their legislator.'
175. Abba Poemen said 'If a brother comes to visit you and you realise that you have not profited by his visit, search your heart, and discover what you were thinking about before he came, and then you will understand why his visit was useless. If you do this with humility and care, you will be blameless with regard to your neighbour, bearing your own weaknesses. If a man settles somewhere with care, he does not sin for he is in the presence of God. I see that this is how a man acquires the fear of God.'
176. He also said, 'A man who lives with a boy, and is incited by him to no matter what passions of the old man, and yet keeps him with him, that man is like someone who has a field which is eaten up with maggots.'
177. He also said, 'Wickedness does not do away with wickedness; but if someone does you wrong, do good to him, so that by your action you destroy his wickedness.'
178. He also said, 'David, when he was fighting with the lion, seized it by the throat and killed it immediately. If we take ourselves by the throat and by the belly, with the help of God, we shall overcome the invisible lion.'
179. A brother asked Abba Poemen this question, 'What shall I do, because trouble comes to me and I am overwhelmed by it?' The old man said, 'Violence makes both small and great to be overthrown.'
180. It was said of Abba Poemen that he dwelt at Scetis with his two brothers, and the younger one was a nuisance to them. So he said to the other brother, 'This lad is making us powerless, let us get up and go away from here.' So they went away and left him. When he saw that they did not come back for a long time, the young brother realized that they were going far away and he began to run after them, crying out. Abba Poemen said, 'Let us wait for our brother, for he is worn out.' When he reached them he bowed to them and said, 'Where are you going? Are you leaving me on my own?' The old man said to him, 'It is because you are a worry to us that we are going away.' He said to them, 'Yes, yes, let us go together wherever you wish.' The old man, seeing his lack of malice, said to his brother, 'Brother, let us go back, for he is not doing this on purpose but it is the devil who is doing it.' So they turned back and went home again.
181. The begumen of a monastery asked Abba Poemen, 'How can I acquire the fear of God?' Abba Poemen said to him, 'How can we acquire the fear of God when our belly is full of cheese and preserved foods?'
182. A brother asked Abba Poemen, Abba, there were two men, one a monk and the other a secular. One evening the monk decided to put off the habit the next morning and the secular decided to become a monk. Now both of them died in the night. How will they be judged?' The old man said to him, 'The monk died a monk, the secular died a secular; in fact they died in the state in which they found themselves.'
183. Abba John, who had been exiled by the Emperor Marcian, said, 'We went to Syria one day to see Abba Poemen and we wanted to ask him about purity of heart. But the old man did not know Greek and no interpreter could be found. So, seeing our embarrassment, the old man began to speak Greek, saying, 'The nature of water is soft, that of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall 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.'
184. Abba Isaac came to see Abba Poemen and found him washing his feet. As he enjoyed freedom of speech with him he said, 'How is it that others practice austerity and treat their bodies hardly?' Abba Poemen said to him, 'We have not been taught to kill our bodies, but to kill our passions.'
185. He also said, 'There are three things which I am not able to do without: food, clothing and sleep; but I can restrict them to some extent.'
186. A brother said to Abba Poemen, 'I eat a lot of vegetables.' The old man said, 'That does not help you; rather eat bread and a few vegetables, and do not go back to your relations for what you need.'
187. It was said of Abba Poemen that if some old men were sitting with him, speaking of the ancients, and Abba Sisoes was mentioned, he would say, 'Keep silence about Abba Sisoes, for that which concerns him goes beyond what can be said.'
188. He also said, 'Teach your heart to guard that which your tongue teaches.'
189. A brother questioned Abba Poemen, saying, 'I am losing my soul through living near my abba; should I go on living with him?' The old man knew that he was finding this harmful and he was surprised that he even asked if he should stay there. So he said to him, 'Stay if you want to.' The brother left him and stayed on there. He came back again and said, 'I am losing my soul.' But the old man did not tell him to leave. He came a third time and said, 'I really cannot stay there any longer.' Then Abba Poemen said, 'Now you are saving yourself; go away and do not stay with him any longer,' and he added, 'When someone sees that he is in danger of losing his soul, he does not need to ask advice. It is right to ask about secret thoughts and then it is up to the old man to test them; but with visible faults, do not ask; cut them off at once.'
190. Abba Poemen said that Abba Paphnutius was great and he had recourse to short prayers.
191. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'How should I behave in the place where I live?' The old man said, 'Have the mentality of an exile in the place where you live, do not desire to be listened to and you will have peace.'
192. He also said, 'This voice cries out to a man to his last breath, "Be converted today.'"
193. He also said, 'David wrote to Joab, "Continue the battle and you will take the city and sack it." Now the city is the enemy.'
194. He also said, 'Joab said to the people, "Be courageous and let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of our God." (I Chron. 19:13) Now we ourselves are these men.'
195. He also said, If Moses had not led his sheep to Midian he would not have seem him who was in the bush.' (cf. Ex. 3:2-7)
196. A brother came to Abba Poemen and asked, 'How did you come here?' and he told him, If I were to die in Scetis with my brothers, I would be willing, and here we are.'
197. He also said, 'If a man understands something and does not practise it, how can he teach it to his neighbour?'
198. He also said, 'A man who lives with a companion ought to be like a stone pillar; hurt him, and he does not get angry, praise him, and he is not puffed up.'
199. He also said, 'A man knows nothing about the powers that are outside him; but if they enter into him, he must fight them and drive them out.'
200. He also said, 'Not understanding what has happened pre- vents us from going on to something better.'
201. He also said, 'Do not lay open your conscience to anyone whom you do not trust in your heart.'
202. Abba Poemen said, 'If I am in a place where there are enemies, I become a soldier.'
203. Abba Poemen heard of someone who had gone all week without eating and then had lost his temper. The old man said, 'He could do without food for six days, but he could not cast out anger.'
204. Abba Poemen said, 'I will tell you why we have so much difficulty; it is because we do not care about our brother whom Scripture tells us to receive. Moreover we do not remember the woman of Canaan (cf. Matt. 15:22) who followed the Lord crying and begging for her daughter to be cured, and the Lord heard her and gave her peace.'
205. Abba Poemen said, 'If the soul keeps far away from all discourse in words, from all disorder and human disturbance, the Spirit of God will come in to her and she who was barren will be fruitful.'
206. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'How should those who are in the monastery behave?' The old man said to him, 'Whoever fives in the monastery should see all the brethren as one; he should guard his eyes and his lips; and then he will be at peace without anxiety.'
207. Abba Poemen said this about the son of Shemai, 'His mistake was to justify himmself; whoever does that destroys himself.'
208. A brother asked Abba Poemen, 'What can I do about my sins?' and the old man said to him, 'Weep interiorly, for both deliverance from faults and the acquisition of virtues are gained through compunction.'
209. He also said, 'Weeping is the way that Scripture and our Fathers have handed on to us.'*
* 188-209 are additions from J.C. Guy's text (Les Apophtegmes des Peres, pp. 29-31).
1. Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, 'This is the great work of a man: always to takethe blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.'
2. It was said of him [Abba Arsenius] 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.'
3. Abba Poemen said that a brother came to find Abba Ammoes to ask him for a word. He remained with him for seven days without the old man answering him. Then, sending him away, the latter said to him, 'Go, watch yourself; as for me my sins have become a well of darkness between me and God.'
4. It was said of Abba Amoun that a very small quantity of wheat every two months was sufficient for him. Now he went to find Abba Poemen and said to him, 'When I go to my neighbour's cell, or when he comes to mine for some need or other, we are afraid of entering into conversation, for fear of slipping into worldly subjects.' The old man replied, 'You are right, for young men need to be watchful.' Then Abba Amoun continued, 'But the old men, what do they do?' He replied, 'The old men who have advanced in virtue, have nothing in them that is worldly; there is nothing worldly in their mouths of which they could speak.' 'But,' Amoun replied, 'When I am obliged to speak to my neighbour, do you prefer me to speak of the Scriptures or of the sayings of the Fathers?' The old man answered him, 'If you can't be silent, you had better talk about
the sayings of the Fathers than about the Scriptures; it is not so dangerous.'
5. 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, '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."
6. 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.
7. Abba Poemen asked him [Abba Macarius] weeping, 'Give me a word that I may be saved.' But the old man replied, 'What you are looking for has disappeared now from among monks.'
8. Abba Poemen asked Abba Nisterus how he had managed to gain this virtue: whenever a troublesome matter came up in the monastery, he did not say anything and he never intervened. He answered, 'Forgive me, abba, but when I came for the first time to the monastery, I said to myself, "You and the donkey are the same. The donkey is beaten but he does not speak, and when ill-treated he does not reply; now you must do the same, as the psalmist says, I was like a beast towards thee; nevertheless, I am continually with thee."' (Ps. 73:22-23)
9. They said of Abba Sarmatas that on Abba Poemen's advice, he was often alone for forty days. He completed this time as though he had done nothing special. Abba Poemen went to see him and said to him, 'Tell me what you have seen by giving yourself such great hardship.' The other said to him, 'Nothing special.' Abba Poemen said to him, 'I shall not let you go till you tell me.' Then he said, 'I have discovered one simple thing: that if I say to my sleep, "Go," it goes, and if I say to it, "Come," it comes.'
10. Abba Timothy the priest said to Abba Poemen, 'There is a woman who commits fornication in Egypt and she gives her wages away in alms.' Abba Poemen said, 'She will not go on committing fornication, for the fruit of faith is appearing in her.' Now it happened that the mother of the priest Timothy came to see him and he asked her, 'Is that woman still living in fornication?' She replied, 'Yes and she has increased the number of her lovers, but also the numbers of her alms.' And Abba Timothy told Abba Poemen. The latter said, 'She will not go on committing fornication.' Abba Timo- thy's mother came again and said to him, 'You know that sinner? She wanted to come with me so that you might pray over her.' When he heard this, he told Abba Poemen and he said to him, 'Go and meet her.' When the woman saw him and heard the word of God from him, she was filled with compunction and said to him weeping, 'From today forward I shall cling to God and resolve not to commit fornication any more.' She entered a monastery at once and was pleasing to God.
11. When Abba Poemen came into the countries of Egypt to dwell there, it happened that he took up his abode by the side of a brother who had a wife, and though the old man knew of this he did not rebuke him. And when the time had come for the woman to bring forth, and this was known to the old man, he cried out to a younger brother, and said unto him, “Arise, take this jar of wine and carry it to our neighbour, for he will have need thereof this day.” Now the matter was not known to that brother, but he did as the old man commanded him. And the brother [who had a wife] groaned and repented in his mind, and after a few days he dismissed the woman, and gave her whatsoever he happened to have by him; then he came to Abba Poemen, and said unto him, “Behold from this day onwards I repent, O father, but I entreat thee to pray to God on my behalf so that He may receive my repentance.” And Abba Poeman said unto him, “If thou repentest with all thy heart, I believe that God will bestow forgiveness upon thee; and do not despair of thy redemption.” And the brother went and built for himself a place of retreat, and he made therein an entrance through which he used to come to visit the old man; and he would go to Abba Poemen thereby, and the old man would reveal unto him the way of God, and thus he profited spiritually. And the brother laboured in fasting, and in prayer, and he wept and sighed, and grieved sorely for his sin; and at length it was revealed unto the old man on behalf of the brother that God had accepted his repentance.
Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile, and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance. By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe. Our Father Poemen, pray to Christ God to save our souls.
Another Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Thy mind was illumined with the light of divine works, and thou wast an unfading lamp of discernment; for thou didst dispel the darkness of passions and illuminate our minds. O Venerable Poemen, pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The memory of thine illustrious contests, delights the souls of the godly today, O divinely wise Poemen, our holy Father.
HYMN OF PRAISE:
VENERABLE POEMEN THE GREAT
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Venerable Poemen was a well of wisdom,
And a great torch of Christ's light.
From the day he put the world of vanity behind him,
No one did he reprimand, no one did he reproach.
Once, in his presence, the brethren quarreled,
But Poemen remained silent. Some reprimanded him:
"How can you hear the quarrel as if nothing is wrong?"
Poemen replied: "I died long ago."
Another asked him: "How can I be saved,
That my mind, after the enemy's calumnies, not wander?"
Said Poemen: "Flies avoid hot water,
And, from a warm soul, devils flee."
Another asked: "What is more trustworthy,
The speech of my brethren or silence?"
"By one or the other, God is glorified.
For the glory of God, choose for yourself."
"How can I defend myself from evil?"
"Evil does not defeat evil.
For the evildoer, do something good,
And that will inflame even his heart.
One's home is not built by destroying another's:
In this, only the third party--the devil--benefits."
"Two wicked passions poison our souls;
Freedom we do not have while they crush us:
Pleasures of the flesh and worldly vanity--
Only a holy soul is free from them."