Monday, January 23, 2017

Saint Eusebius of Teleda in Syria

St. Eusebius of Teleda (Feast Day - January 23)

Verses

Come hither towards us to the delights of heaven,
The delightful intelligences said to Eusebius.

By Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus in Syria

1. Which fruits are offered to God by the fruitless desert, ripe and mature and precious, dear to the gardener and beloved and thrice desired by men of good judgment - these we have displayed in the narratives we have already written. But lest anyone should suppose that virtue is circumscribed in place and that only the desert is suitable for the production of such a yield, let us now in our account pass to inhabited land, and show that it does not offer the least hindrance to the attainment of virtue.1

2. Lying east of Antioch and west of Beroea, there is a high mountain that rises above the neighboring mountains and imitates at its topmost summit the shape of a cone. It derives its name from its height, for the local inhabitants are accustomed to calling it Koryphe (Summit). On its very peak there was a precinct of demons much revered by those in the neighborhood. To the south stretches out a plain curved in shape,2 surrounded on either side by not very high lines of hill; these extend to the road for horses and admit paths from either side that cut from south to north. In this plain have been built villages both small and great, adjoining the hills on either side. At the very skirts of the high mountain there is a large and well-populated village, which in the local speech they call Teleda.3 Above the mountainfoot there is a dale not very steep but sloping gently towards that plain and facing the south wind. Here one Ammianus built a philosophical retreat, a man glorious in many other forms of virtue but surpassing others in his total modesty of spirit. There is proof of this; for while well able to teach not only his own disciples but even twice that number, he often hastened to the great Eusebius,4 begging to get a helper, and a trainer and teacher of the wrestling-school founded by him.

3. He was twenty-five stades distant,5 immured in a tiny dwelling that did not even have windows. He was guided into this form of virtue by his uncle Marianus, a faithful servant of God - to say so much is sufficient, since the Master honored the great Moses with this title. This Marianus, having tasted divine love, was not willing to luxuriate in good things on his own, but made many others his fellow-lovers. He captured the great Eusebius and also his brother, who was his brother too in his mode of life, for he did not think it sensible to capture for virtue those who were quite unrelated to him while leaving his nephews uncaught. Immuring them both in a small cell, he taught them the evangelical way of life. The brother, however, caught a disease that cut short his course. Death followed on the disease, for he survived his departure from there only a few days before coming to the end of his life.

4. During the entire life of his uncle the great Eusebius continued neither speaking to anyone nor seeing the light but uninterruptedly immured; and after his death he embraced this life until the wonderful Ammianus won him over, bewitching him with much entreaty. 'Tell me, my friend,' he said to him, 'whom do you think to please by having adopted this laborious and austere life?' He, of course, as was natural, replied: 'God, the teacher and lawgiver of virtue.' 'So since you love him,' continued Ammianus, 'I shall show you a way by which you will both kindle your love the more and serve the Beloved. Restricting all one's care to oneself would not escape, I think, the charge of self-love, for the divine law prescribes loving one's neighbor as oneself. Admitting many to a share of one's wealth is characteristic of the virtue of charity, and it is charity that the inspired Paul called "fulfilment of the law." He exclaims again, "The whole law and the prophets are summed up in the following saying, in You will love your neighbor as yourself." And the Lord in the holy Gospels tells Peter, who had professed to love him more than the others, to tend his sheep; accusing those who had not done this, he exclaims through the prophet, "O shepherds, do the shepherds feed themselves? Do they not pasture the sheep?" It was because of this that he also ordered the great Elijah, who pursued this life, to go about in the midst of the impious; and he sent the second Elijah, the famous John, who embraced the desert, to the banks of the Jordan, bidding him baptize and preach there. So since you too are a fervent lover of the God who has created and saved, make many others as well His lovers; for this is specially welcome to the common Master. This is why he called Ezekiel "watchman" and charged him to warn sinners, and ordered Jonah to hasten to Nineveh and since he was unwilling sent him as a prisoner.'6 With these and like words he charmed the divine man; digging through his voluntary prison, he led him out and away, and entrusted to him care of the brethren.

5. I myself do not know which to admire the more, the modesty of the one or the amenability of the other; for the one fled being superior and preferred to be one of the subjects, fearing the danger of leadership; and the great Eusebius, despite his aversion to life with others, yielded none the less and, caught in the nets of charity, accepted care of the flock and led the choir. He did not need many words to teach them, since his mere appearance was sufficient to make the most slothful eager in the race for virtue. Those who have seen him say that his face was always grave and was enough to instill awe into those who saw him. He took food every three or four days, but ordered his companions to partake every day. He charged them to have intercourse with God continually and leave no opportunity free from this activity, but to perform the appointed offices in common and in the intermediate portions of the day entreat God and beg for salvation each one on his own, whether in the shade of a tree or by some rock or wherever he might enjoy solitude, either standing or lying on the ground. He had so taught virtue to each of the parts of his body that they performed what reason alone enjoined.

6. To make this clear to all, I shall recall one of the stories about him. He and the wonderful Ammianus were sitting on a rock. One of them read aloud the history of the divine Gospels, while the other explained the meaning of the more obscure passages. Some farm-workers were ploughing up the land in the plain below, and the great Eusebius was attracted to this sight. When the inspired Ammianus had read out the Gospel passage and was seeking its interpretation, the great Eusebius told him to repeat the reading. When the other replied, 'In your delight over the ploughmen you were doubtless not listening,' he made a rule that his eyes were never to look at that plain nor feast upon the beauty of the heavens or the choir of the stars; but using a very narrow path, whose breadth is said to have been a span, to get to the house of prayer, he did not thereafter allow himself to step outside it. They say that he lived on for more than forty years after making this rule. In order that, in addition to this resolve, some duress should compel him to this, he bound his waist with an iron belt and attached a very heavy collar to his neck and then used a further chain to connect the belt to the collar, so that bent down in this way he would be forced uninterruptedly to stoop to the ground. Such was the penalty he imposed on himself for looking at those farm-workers.

7. I was told this by many who had known him and were exactly informed about him; this same story was recounted by the old man, the great Acacius, whom we mentioned above in relation to other stories. He said too that once when he saw him bent double he asked what profit he reaped from not allowing himself to look at the sky or see that plain stretched beneath or walk outside that narrow path. The other answered that he contrived this against the devices of the evil demon. 'To prevent him,' he said, 'making war on me in things of importance - attempting to steal my self-control and righteousness, arming anger and kindling desire, making me swollen and puffed up with vanity, and contriving all the other things of this kind against my soul - I try to transfer the war to these unimportant things, where even if he wins he works no great injury, while if he loses he becomes all the more ridiculous, as unable to overcome even in little things. So because I know that this war is less dangerous - for a man smitten here suffers no great penalty, for what harm is there in seeing the plain or raising one's eyes to the sky? I make him adopt this form of opposition. For here he can neither smite nor kill, for these darts are not mortal, since they lack those points of iron.' The great Acacius said it was this he had heard, and that he admired his wisdom and marveled at his courage and experience in war. Because of this he used to communicate this story too, as admirable and memorable, to those who wished to learn such things.

8. This renown of his spread everywhere and drew all the lovers of virtue to him. Among those who came to him were the rams of the excellent flock of the most godly Julian the Old Man, whose story we proceeded through above. When that inspired man reached the end of his lifespan and passed to the better life, James the Persian7 and Agrippa, the leaders of the flock, hastened to the great Eusebius, thinking it better to be well led than to rule. As for James (whom I have already mentioned above, telling of his virtue in summary) now too I shall display distinct proof of his consummate philosophy. When the divine Eusebius, on making his departure from here, bade him preside over the flock, he refused this charge and yet was unable to persuade those who desired this tending; so he departed to another flock, preferring to be ruled than to rule. And it was thus that, having lived on a very long time, he ended this life. So Agrippa succeeded to his post of superior, a man flourishing with many other good qualities but especially with purity of soul, through which he continually enjoyed contemplation of the divine beauty, and consumed by the firebrand of that love wet his cheeks with continual tears.

9. For a long time Agrippa shepherded law-abidingly this elect and godly flock. When he departed from life, the godly David, the sight of whom I myself enjoyed, received the post of superior, a man who had in real fact, in the words of the godly Apostle, mortified his limbs upon earth. He so profited from the teaching of the great Eusebius that, while living forty-five years in this retreat, he lived out all this time without wrath and anger. Nor after he became superior did anyone ever see him overcome by this passion, even though there were doubtless innumerable incitements to it. One hundred and fifty men were shepherded by his hand, some consummate in virtue and imitating the life in heaven, but others just fledged and learning to spring and fly above the earth. Nevertheless, although there were so many being instructed in the things of God and doubtless transgressing somewhat - for it is not easy for one starting his schooling to get everything right - that holy man remained unmoved, like a bodiless being, for no inducement could stir him to anger.

10. This I ascertained not only by report but also by experience. I once conceived the desire to see this godly flock, and arrived with others who embraced the same life as myself as companions for the journey.8 During the entire cycle of a week that we spent with this man of God, we saw his face remain without any change, not now relaxed and now contracted with sternness. Likewise his look was not at times grim and cheerful at others, but his eyes always preserved the same orderliness; they were sufficient proof of the calm of his soul. But perhaps someone may suppose that he looked like this because there was nothing to stir him: because of this I am compelled to narrate something that happened in our presence. This holy man was sitting beside us, stimulating discussion on philosophy and searching out the summit of the evangelical life. In the middle of this discussion one Olympius, by race a Roman, himself admirable in his way of life, honored with the priesthood and exercising the second position of authority there, came up to us exclaiming against the godly David, calling his forbearance a general injury, saying that his gentleness was harmful to everyone and calling his consummate philosophy not forbearance but folly. But the other took these words as if he had a soul of steel: he was not stung by words of a nature to sting, nor did he alter his expression, nor did he break off the discussion in hand, but in a gentle voice and with words that revealed his serenity of soul, he sent that old man away, urging him to attend to what he chose. 'I,' he said, 'am conversing, as you see, with these visitors of ours, since I think this service a necessary one.' How could one give a better proof of gentleness of soul? That, although entrusted with this leadership, he should be treated with such insolence by one in second place, especially when strangers were present and heard the abuse, and yet feel no surge or stirring of anger, what greater manliness and endurance is possible? Certainly the holy Apostle, out of regard for the weakness of human nature, adapted his rule-giving to fit nature: 'Be angry,' he said, 'but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your wrath.' For knowing that movements of anger are of nature not of will, he does not presume to lay down what is certainly burdensome and perhaps even impossible, but he determines that a day is to be the measure for the stirring of nature and the surge of anger, ordering reason to apply the restraint and discipline of the bit, and not allowing progression beyond the set limit. But this man of God strove to surpass the rules laid down and overleap the boundary; so far from allowing his anger to be stirred until evening, he did not permit it to be stirred at all. In this way did he too profit from the company of the great Eusebius.

12. I saw in his cell many other lovers and emulators of this philosophy, some in their bodily prime, others in advanced old age. Men who had lived for more than ninety years were not willing to abandon the laborious life but were conspicuous with the sweat of youth, as all day and all night they entreated God and performed those holy liturgies, and partook of their frugal food every other day. To pass by the others, who deserve not silence but eulogy and every kind of praise, but not to make the account long beyond measure, there was in that godly place a man - they call him Abba - who, although grown from Ishmaelite stock, had not like his ancestor been expelled from the household of Abraham, but shared with Isaac the paternal inheritance, or rather grasped the very kingdom of heaven. He first entered on this ascetic life with one who at that time lived in the desert, an excellent gymnast of this kind - his name was Marosas.9 Afterwards the latter as well, leaving rule over others, entered this flock together with Abba, and lived on for no short time, and after striving gloriously and becoming celebrated departed from life. The other has now spent thirty-eight years there.10 His eagerness for labor is as if he had just now begun to labor. For right up to today he has never covered his feet with shoes; during frost he sits in the shade, in flaming heat he takes the sun and welcomes its flames as if it were a westerly breeze. During all this time he has refused to take water, despite not eating those things that are customarily taken by those practicing not drinking (they are wont to feed on food that is more moist); instead, it is while feeding on the same food as the others - and eating little, just enough to provide slight strength - that he thinks using water superfluous. Though girt round his waist with a heavy chain, he rarely sits down; for the greater part of night and day, either standing or down on his knees, he offers the liturgy of prayer to the Master. He has totally rejected the need to lie down: no one right up to today has ever seen him lying down, but since being made leader of the choir and attaining the post of superior, he bears all this toil readily, setting himself up as a model of philosophy for all his subjects.

13. Such victorious contestants did the divine Eusebius, the gymnastic trainer of all these contests, offer to God. There are very many others who he formed like this and sent to be teachers in other wrestling-schools, who have filled all that holy mountain with these divine and fragrant pastures.11 While he set up his original ascetic cell in the east, offshoots of his philosophy are to be seen in the west and the south, like stars in a choir round the moon, hymning the Creator, some in Greek, others in the local language. But I am attempting the impossible in desiring to proceed through all the achievements of this godly soul, therefore it is necessary to bring this account to an end, and switch to another one and apply the benefit therefrom in turn, after begging to receive the blessing of these great men.

NOTES:

1. The typical habitat of Theodoret's holy men was neither town nor desert but the intermediate region of the fringe of inhabited areas. This followed naturally from the nature of the terrain; see P. Brown, The Rise and Function of the Holy Man.

2. This is the plain of Dana, on the limestone ridge in the east of the territory of Antioch; it is dominated by Mt Barakat, on which had stood the great shrine of the Semitic deities Zeus Malbachos and Salamanes. On the plain and its monasteries.

3. The Monastery of Teleda, which became the greatest monastery of the Antiochene region and the center of a remarkable coenobitic expansion, was already outstanding by 367, so its foundation may be presumed to go back to c. 350. It has left notable ruins; they appear to date to the late fifth or early sixth century, the period of the monastery's apogee. Theodoret himself once spent a week at the monastery, probably between 410 and 415. Doubtless, the material in this chapter largely derives from what he learnt then. He also mentions Acacius of Beroea as an informant.

4. Both Eusebius and two other holy men who feature in this chapter, Ammianus and Marianus, are listed in Theodoret, Eccl. Hist. IV.28 as among the major ascetic figures of the late fourth century.

5. Twenty-five stades is three miles.

6. Cp. the argument used by Acacius to persuade Julian Saba to visit Antioch (ll.16), with its fuller use of Jn. 21.

7. For James see 11.6. Julian Saba died in 367.

8. On Theodoret at this time, see Introduction, xii.

9. Marosas is mentioned by Sozomen, Eccl. Hist. VI.34, where he is described as a native of 'Nechilis', which Tchalenko identifies tentatively with the 'Neghaule' of sixth century monastic lists, lying about twelve miles from the plain of Dana.

10. Our date of 440 for the Rel. Hist. implies 402 for the date of Abba's entering the monastery. There is mention of the foundation of a further monastery at Teleda by two disciples of Eusebius, Eusebonas and Abibion. From 350 to 600 there was an enormous monastic expansion in the hinterland of Antioch. Some extant texts of the 560s list thirty monasteries in the plain of Dana alone.

From A History of the Monks of Syria.

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