|Holy Abba Ammoun of Nitria |
(Feast Days - October 4 & December 7)
(Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 4, Ch. 23)
Since I have referred to the monasteries of Egypt, it may be proper here to give a brief account of them. They were founded probably at a very early period, but were greatly enlarged and augmented by a devout man whose name was Ammoun. In his youth this person had an aversion to matrimony; but when some of his relatives urged him not to condemn marriage, but to take a wife to himself, he was prevailed upon and was married. On leading the bride with the customary ceremonies from the banquet-room to the nuptial couch, after their mutual friends had withdrawn, he took a book containing the epistles of the apostles and read to his wife Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians, explaining to her the apostle's admonitions to married persons. Adducing many external considerations besides, he descanted on the inconveniences and discomforts attending matrimonial intercourse, the pangs of child-bearing, and the trouble and anxiety connected with rearing a family. He contrasted with all this the advantages of chastity; described the liberty, and immaculate purity of a life of continence; and affirmed that virginity places persons in the nearest relation to the Deity. By these and other arguments of a similar kind, he persuaded his virgin bride to renounce with him a secular life, prior to their having any conjugal knowledge of each other. Having taken this resolution, they retired together to the mountain of Nitria, and in a hut there inhabited for a short time one common ascetic apartment, without regarding their difference of sex, being according to the apostles, "one in Christ." But not long after, the recent and unpolluted bride thus addressed Ammoun: "It is unsuitable," said she, "for you who practice chastity, to look upon a woman in so confined a dwelling; let us therefore, if it is agreeable to you, perform our exercise apart." This agreement again was satisfactory to both, and so they separated, and spent the rest of their lives in abstinence from wine and oil, eating dry bread alone, sometimes passing over one day, at others fasting two, and sometimes more.
Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, asserts in his Life of Anthony, that the subject of his memoir who was contemporary with this Ammoun, saw his soul taken up by angels after his decease. Accordingly, a great number of persons emulated Ammoun's manner of life, so that by degrees the mountains of Nitria and Scetis were filled with monks, an account of whose lives would require an express work. As, however, there were among them persons of eminent piety, distinguished for their strict discipline and apostolic lives, who said and did many things worthy of being recorded, I deem it useful to interweave with my history a few particulars selected out of the great number for the information of my readers. It is said that Ammoun never saw himself naked, being accustomed to say that "it became not a monk to see even his own person exposed." And when once he wanted to pass a river, but was unwilling to undress, he besought God to enable him to cross without his being obliged to break his resolution; and immediately an angel transported him to the other side of the river.
(Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 1, Ch. 14)
It was about this period [in the days of Sts. Anthony and Paul the Simple] that Ammoun, the Egyptian, embraced philosophy. It is said that he was compelled to marry by his family, but that his wife never knew him carnally; for on the day of their marriage, when they were alone, and when he as the bridegroom was leading her as the bride to his bed, he said to her, "Oh, woman! Our marriage has indeed taken place, but it is not consummated;" and then he showed her from the Holy Scriptures that it was her chief good to remain a virgin, and entreated that they might live apart. She was convinced by his arguments concerning virginity, but was much distressed by the thought of being separated from him; and therefore, though occupying a separate bed, he lived with her for eighteen years, during which time he did not neglect the monastic exercises. At the end of this period, the woman whose emulation had been strongly excited by the virtue of her husband, became convinced that it was not just that such a man should, on her account, live in the domestic sphere; and she considered that it was necessary that each should, for the sake of philosophy, live apart from the other; and she entreated this of her husband. He therefore took his departure, after having thanked God for the counsel of his wife, and said to her, "Retain this house, and I will make another for myself." He retired to a desert place, south of the Mareotic lake between Scieis and the mountain called Nitria; and here, during two and twenty years, he devoted himself to philosophy and visited his wife twice every year. This divine man was the founder of the monasteries there, and gathered round him many disciples of note, as the registers of succession show. Many extraordinary events happened to him, which have been accurately fixed by the Egyptian monks, who did very much to commemorate carefully the virtues of the more ancient ascetics, preserved in a succession of unwritten tradition. I will relate such of them as have come to our knowledge.
Ammoun and his disciple Theodore, had once occasion to take a journey somewhere, and on the road found it requisite to cross a canal called Lycus. Ammoun ordered Theodore to pass over backwards, lest they should witness each other's nudity, and as he was likewise ashamed to see himself naked, he was suddenly, and by a Divine impulse, seized and carried over, and landed on the opposite bank. When Theodore had crossed the water, he perceived that the clothes and feet of the elder were not wet, and inquired the reason; not receiving a reply, he expostulated strongly on the subject, and at length Ammoun, after stipulating that it should not be mentioned during his lifetime, confessed the fact.
Here follows another miracle of the same nature. Some wicked fathers, having brought to him a son, who had been bitten by a mad dog, and was near unto death, besought him in their lamentations to heal him. He said to them, "Your son does not require my healing, but if you are willing to restore to your masters the ox you have stolen, he will be healed immediately." And the result was even as had been predicted; for the ox was restored and the malady of the child removed.
It is said that, when Ammoun died, Anthony saw his spirit ascending into heaven, since the heavenly powers conducted him with the singing of psalms, and on being questioned by his companions as to the cause of his evident astonishment, he did not conceal the matter from them; for he was seen to survey the sky intently, because of his amazement at the sight of the marvelous spectacle. A short time after, certain persons came from Scetis, and, announcing the hour of Ammoun's death, the truth of Anthony's prediction was manifested. Thus, as is testified by all good men, each of these holy persons was blessed in a special manner; the one, by being released from this life; the other, by being accounted worthy of witnessing so miraculous a spectacle as that which God showed him; for Anthony and Ammoun lived at a distance of many days' journey from each other, and the above incident is corroborated by those who were personally acquainted with them both.