By St. Anastasios of Sinai
1. Ten years ago a certain two of the fathers of Holy Mount Sinai went up to worship on the Holy Summit. One of them is still alive. When they arrived at a distance of about two bow-shot from (the chapel of) Saint Elias they smelled a fragrance unlike any worldly fragrance. Then the disciple thought that the one who dwelt there was offering incense. The elder, his spiritual guide who is still living said, “The fragrance is not of this earth.”
Therefore, approaching the church, behold they saw within it like a fiery flaming kiln with tongues of fire coming from all the doors (and windows). Then, seeing this the disciple feared the sight. But the elder reassured him saying, “Why are you afraid, my child. It is an angelic power and our fellow servant; don’t lose courage. They venerate our nature in heaven; not we theirs.” Thus they fearlessly entered the church as if (going) into a kiln. They prayed and thus they ascended to the summit in the morning.
Beholding them, the guardian (of the peak) saw their faces glorified and shining like the face of Moses and he said to them, “Did you see anything unusual coming up?” Wanting to conceal the matter, they said, “No”. Then he said to them, Believe me, you saw some vision for behold your faces are radiant with the glory of the Holy Spirit.” They bowed to him and related the matter, asking that he tell nobody.
2. Again at another time on this Holy Summit, before the desecration and destruction of the present people, there was a brother, the helper of the guardian, who contemptuously hid in the temple, saying it was no unrighteousness (sin) to sleep there. Then the sacristan having thought that his disciple had left ahead of him, having incensed the holy place and closed the doors departed. When it was night the disciple who had hidden in the temple got up to clean the lamps. When he came to the first lamp, a spark which struck his side according to divine command dried up his whole side and one hand and one foot, and he remained half paralyzed until his end.
3. Once when the festival of Pentecost was celebrated, there was liturgy on the Holy Summit. When the priest intoned ‘the triumphal hymn of great glory’ the mountains answered with an awesome sound, saying three times, “Holy Holy Holy.” And the sound of the echo and the shout remained for about half an hour. This shout not everyone heard but only those having ears as the Lord said, “He who has ears let him hear.”
4. A few years ago there occurred through the permission of the Lord an epidemic in our desert and a certain virtuous blessed father coming to his end was buried in the cemetery of the fathers. The next day one of the careless brothers died and was buried on top of the body of the blessed man. When after one day another of the fathers came to his end, coming to deposit his relics they found that the blessed man had thrown out the body of the careless brother. Thinking that it had happened by accident and not that it was something miraculous, they took him again and buried the brother on top of the body. And arriving the next day, they found again that the father had cast out the brother.
Learning of this, the hegumenos of the monastery arrived and coming to the tomb spoke to the one who had died: “Abba John, in your life you were meek and slow to anger and supported all, and now do you cast out the brother?” And taking the relics of the brother with his own hands he placed them on the elder’s. And he said to him again, “Bear with the brother, Abba John, even if he is a sinner, just as God bears with the sins of the world.” And for that day the elder did not cast out the body of the brother.
5. There is a difficult and inaccessible area about six miles from the Holy Mountain which is called Tourvan. In that place dwelt a certain wonderful elder having one disciple. When our holy father John was abbot, twin brothers of an aristocratic family came from Constantinople renouncing everything on the Holy Mountain. Having spent two years in the Monastery and departing, they went to practice stillness in Tourvan where the great elder dwelt with his disciple. After some years there they died. Taking the bodies, the elder and his disciple entombed them in a cave. After a few days the elder also died. Wishing to honor him, his disciple laid him between the two aristocrats. Coming on the third day to burn incense for the elder, the disciple found that his body had been cast out from between the two others and he was very sad. He replaced him between the two others, but coming again he found the body cast out again. And a third time it happened. Then the disciple sat lamenting and said to himself, “Did the elder have some heresy in his soul, or some sin, that these beginners have thrown him out three times?” Since he wept thinking this, that night the two brothers appeared to him saying, “Believe that your elder was no heretic, nor in any way blameworthy, but he is a perfect servant of God. How did you not discern that we were born together and fought together against the earthly kingdom and together came to be monks and together were entombed and together departed to Christ? Why do you separate us and put another between us?” When he knew and heard this the brother greatly glorified God.
6. Abba Martyrios, when he tonsured our venerable father John the hegumenos at the age of twenty, took him and went to that pillar of our wilderness, Abba John the Sabbaite in the wilderness of Gouda where he had with him his disciple Stephen the Cappadocian. When the Sabbaite elder saw them he rose and took water, put it in a small basin, washed the feet of the disciple (the young John) and kissed his hand; but he did not wash the feet of Abba Martyrios his superior.
Abba Stephen was scandalized by the situation. After the departure of Abba Martyrios and his disciple, Abba John noticed that his own disciple was scandalized and said to him: “Why are you scandalized? Believe me, I don’t know who the boy is, but today I received the hegumenos of Sinai and washed his feet.” After forty years he did indeed become the hegumenos according to the prophecy of the elder.
Not only Abba John the Sabbaite but also Abba Stratigios the enclosed who never came out appeared on the day when Abba John was tonsured.
7. Once there came a group of about six hundred strangers and when they were seated our venerable father John saw a someone with short hair and wearing a Jewish tunic. This person was going about like someone with authority and directing the cooks and the stewards and the storekeepers and other workers. After the people left when the servers all sat down to eat they sought everywhere for the one who had been going about supervising but did not find him anywhere. Then the servant of God, our venerable father, said, “Let him go. The Lord Moses did nothing strange in the same place where he served before.”
8. In the region of Arselaou there dwelt also Abba Michael the Iberian who departed to the Lord five years ago. This Michael had a disciple called Evstathios who came from Babylon. He (Evstathios) told us the following.
Abba Michael being ill, Abba Evstathios was weeping in distress. The graves of the fathers in that place were very difficult and dangerous because the descent was covered with small loose stones. Abba Michael said to Evstathios, “Child, bring (water) that I may wash and sleep.” That being done, he said to him again, “Child, you know that the descent of the grave is dangerous and slippery, and if I die there is danger when you carry me and go down. Perhaps you will fall and die yourself. But come and we will go little by little.” And having gone down, the elder made a prayer and kissing Evstathios said, “Peace be to you, child, and pray for me.” And closing himself in the tomb he departed to the Lord with all joy and gladness.
9. In the previously mentioned Arselaou there also dwelt Abba George who was called Arselaites. He had a great reputation in our wilderness for the many and great wonders that were told about him.
There being a barbarian incursion once on the road to Palestine, oil became very scarce on the holy mountain. The hegumenos went down to Arselaou and asked the divine man George to come up to the holy mountain. Not being able to disobey the hegumenos, he went with him. Entering the storeroom of the oil the hegumenos requested him to make a prayer for the jars of oil which were empty. The blessed Abba George said to the hegumenos, “Father, let us make a prayer only for one jar, because if we bless all the jars there will be a pool of oil here.” Therefore making the prayer on one jar, immediately the oil welled up as from a spring and the elder said to the servers, “Take it and transfer it to the remaining jars.” And all were filled as the jar of the widow was long ago by Elisha. The hegumenos wanted to dedicate the jar in the name of Abba George but the elder said to him, “If you do that the oil will run out.” Thus they dedicated it to our lady the holy Theotokos, and the jar remains and is preserved until now in the highest lamp, to hang unextinguished in the name of the holy Theotokos.
10. Eight hungry Saracens once visited the righteous George and he had nothing whatever to give them, for he lived on wild fruits that even a camel could not eat for their bitterness. Seeing them terribly hungry, he said to one of them, “Take (your) bow and go to that mountain where you will find a flock of wild goats. Shoot one, whichever you wish, but don’t try to shoot a second.” The Saracen going as the elder told him and shooting and killing one, tried to shoot another. Immediately his bow broke. Coming and bringing the meat he told his companions what had happened to him.
11. This thrice blessed man saw his own disciple struck by an asp and about to die. Sealing the sign of the cross (on the disciple) he got up. Grasping the asp in his hands like a grasshopper he crushed it. And he asked his disciple to say nothing to anyone until his death.
12. It is necessary to tell about when it was time for the death of the great father, or rather for his transfer by death to eternal life. Being sick in his cave, resting on a rush mat, he sent a certain Saracen to Aila in order to call and certain friend whom he loved, saying, “Come that I might see you before I depart to the Lord.” The road was a distance of some two hundred miles. After twelve days the elder, as he lay on his mat, said to his disciple, “Hasten and make a light, behold the brothers have arrived.” And as the brother was preparing the censer, behold the Saracen and the beloved friend of the elder who had come from Aila entered the cave. The elder offering a prayer and greeting him and receiving the holy mysteries, laid himself down and departed to the Lord.
13. Abba Kyriakos narrated to us concerning Abba Stefanos his director when he lived in Malocha. This is a precipitous place some forty miles from the holy mountain, difficult to traverse and indeed nearly inaccessible, where I myself once visited. The elder said, “Plant some herbs to support us,” for he ate nothing else. Some rodent came and ate up the herbs and left the garden ruined. One day as the elder was sitting and sorrowing, behold he saw a leopard passing and he called it. The beast coming and sitting at his feet, he spoke to it. “Do me a favor and don’t leave here, but guard this little garden and catch the rodents and eat them.” And the leopard stayed for years and guarded the little plants until the elder died.
14. In the region of Malocha dwelt also the divine John the Sabbaite together with the great Demitrios the king’s physician. One day they saw in the sand of the ravine tracks of a large dragon. Abba Demetrios said to the great Abba John, “Let’s leave, lest we suffer injury from the beast.” Abba John said to him, “Rather let us pray.” And as they were standing in prayer, the beast being about two stadia from them, they saw by divine command the beast rising in the heights like a cloud and becoming unstable it fell to the earth and shattered into ten thousand pieces.
15. Abba John the Roman, the disciple of the wonderful John the Sabbaite, told me the following: When we were dwelling in Arselaou, behold one day a certain wild animal came and carrying in its mouth its little one which was blind. And it laid it at the feet of the elder. Seeing that it was blind the venerable one spat in the dust and made mud and anointed its eyes, and immediately it saw again. Coming forward the mother kissed the footprints of the elder and taking its child bounced away happily. The next day, behold, the mother brought the elder a whole cabbage which it carried in its mouth with great difficulty. Chuckling, the elder said to her, “Where did you get that? Certainly you stole it from the gardens of the fathers. I don’t eat stolen things; but wherever you stole it from, put it back.” And thus reproved, the beast went and returned it to the garden from which it had taken it.
16. Another time, there being a great lack of rain in the wilderness, all the wild goats gathered together in a flock and went about all the region of Arselaou seeking water and finding none, for it was August. As all the goats were about to perish from thirst they went up to the peak of the highest of all the mountains in the desert. And all the beasts looking up to heaven, they cried out as if shouting “Hosanna” to the Creator. And as the Lord of Glory spoke, even before they moved from the place the water came down on that place and only there. This He did according to the voice of the prophet who said concerning God, “Giving to the cattle their food and to the young of the ravens who call on Him” (Ps. 146/147.9).
17. Abba John the Sabbaite said, “When I stayed once in the further desert I received a brother who came from the monastery to visit me. I asked him how the fathers were. He said, ‘Through your prayers they are well.’ I asked him about a certain brother who had a bad reputation and name. ‘Believe me, father, he is not at all departing from that reputation.’ Hearing that I heard an ‘Ouph!’ And as I heard this ‘Ouph!’ I was transported as if out of myself as in sleep and I saw myself placed before the holy Golgotha and I saw the Lord crucified between the two thieves. I wanted to worship and come near him. As soon as He saw it there was a great voice saying to the angels who stood around, ‘Throw him out, because he is antichrist to me. Before I judged he condemned his brother.’ They drove me out and when we came to the door they grabbed my cloak and locked the door behind me.
“And immediately I woke up. I said to the brother who came to me, that this is an evil day for me. He said to me, ‘For what reason, father?’ Then I told him the vision and said, ‘Believe me, my cloak is the protection of God, which was on me, and I was deprived of it.’
“From that day I passed seven years sojourning in the wilderness never tasting sleep, never coming under a roof, never eating with people until I saw again the Lord permit (them) to give me back my cloak.” When we heard this from the venerable John, we said, “If the righteous are barely saved, the impious and the sinner – where will he appear?” So from this is shown the appropriate great evil.
18. A wonderful product of our wilderness was the venerable Orentios concerning whom both the hegumenos and others have told us wonderful things. They said that he had lit the lamp of the Holy Spirit in himself and thus extinguished the material fiery flames. He always took the coals in his own hand when he offered incense. Once when some strangers came to visit him, through the activity of the evil one the elder began to burn incense before them in the same grace-filled way he always did. As soon as he lit the fire in his hand, it burned his middle finger and broke the nerve, and from then he wrote his signature: Orentios of the burnt hand. But the grace of God certainly did not depart from him because of this. After this God worked many signs through him. Once a noblewomen came to the holy mountain having her own daughter with her. When she learned about the elder she wanted to venerate him. This the venerable father would not permit to happen; but taking a bunch of grapes he sent them to her. When the demon who was in the girl saw them it cried out, “Abba Orentios, what do you want here?” And shaking the girl, it left her.
19. Abba Abramios the archpriest narrated to me concerning the end of Abba Orentios. “Abba Sergios the bishop of Aila and I were sitting beside him with certain others of the fathers. Seeing the angelic appearance, the elder said to the bishop, ‘Offer a prayer, father.’ Having made the prayer, he sat down, and immediately the elder said again to the bishop, ‘Offer a prayer.’ And after the prayer, ‘You see, lord, how the crows came in and by the grace of God I neither attend to them nor can they come near me.’ And having said this he departed to the Lord in peace and joy.”
20. We were there at the end of Abba Stephen the Byzantine, I and Abba Theodosios the African who became the bishop of Babylon. As we were chanting the “Blameless is the man…” (Ps. 118/119) as is usual at the gathering of the soul, suddenly his face became very grim and with a commanding voice he spoke to something that appeared to him. “Why do you come here? Go into the outer darkness. You have nothing on me. The Lord is my part.” When we arrived in our chanting at this verse saying, “You are my part, O Lord,” Abba Stephen gave over his spirit to the Lord. Seeking a garment in order to bury him we found nothing at all of wealth and glory.
21. Like to the blessed one (Abba Stephen the Byzantine) in form and manner was my Abba Epiphanios the elect who two years ago departed to the Lord. Concerning his endurance and patience in asceticism and illness it would take many words to describe. He was so out of the material as to have nothing left in him but breath and bones. In the beginning of his enclosure a directing angel of the Lord said to him, “If you will serve Christ with patience you will become worthy of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Through the grace of God this happened for he received riches and brilliance of enlightenment by the Holy Spirit through the divine light. He saw also the demonic spirits of darkness often coming around his cell and sometimes playing, sometimes trying to strike him.
He had the custom, which he had taken from us, to not meet anyone before the fourth hour – not even his cell servant – unless there was special need. Knowing in advance from God of his death the servant of Christ said in the evening to his own disciple, “Tomorrow night come and open the door and come in to me because I want very much to show you something.” And the servant of Christ did not deceive. For opening and entering in the morning he found him composed toward the east and departed to the Lord.
22. A few years ago one of the fathers took his disciple at the holy fast and said to him, “Son, in these holy days let us take hold of our citizenship. Let us go into the desert. Certainly God will make us worthy to see one of his servants among the anchorites and we will receive his blessing.” When they came to the area of Siddi they saw, down deep in a ravine, a cell and trees with all kinds of fruit, although it was the wrong season. When they descended and were near it they called out, “Your blessings, fathers.” They answered them, “Welcome, fathers.” And with the word everything disappeared, the cell and the trees. When they returned to the summit of the mountain, the cell was seen again, and they descended as before. And when they were near and said the word and heard the reply, again everything disappeared. Then the old man said to the brother, “Let us go from this place, son. I believe in Christ, and since the servants of God said to us, ‘Welcome’, Christ will make us worthy to approach them in the future age through their prayers and intercessions, their sweat and toil.”
23. At the gorge of Siddi dwelt a holy man having with him in the house a disciple. Once he sent him to Raithou. After being three days in the desert near the crossroads the elder, gazing in divine contemplation, saw the disciple coming from a distance. Thinking that it was a Saracen and desiring to elude him, he transformed himself into a palm tree. Coming to the place the disciple struck him with the flat of his hand wonderingly and said, “Since when did this palm tree grow here?”
Transformed again by the hand of God, the elder reached the cave before his disciple. Receiving him the elder said to him jokingly the next day, “What did I do to you the you gave me a blow yesterday?” Not understanding the matter, the disciple struck himself in denial. Then the elder told him the source of the palm tree, that it had been he himself, and that not desiring human distraction he had changed his appearance to that of a palm tree.
24. One of the Saracens named Moundir told us the following. Once when I was shepherding my goats in the winter I suddenly found myself near a garden full of fruit and having a well of water. And I saw an old man sitting beside the well and a large number of goats coming to drink. As I was astonished, the elder saw me and he said, “Take as much fruit as you can carry in your bag.” As I was gathering the fruit, I heard the monk talking to a great billy goat which was butting the goats and not allowing them peace to drink. He said, “How many times have I asked you to be quiet and leave the others alone? As the Lord is blessed, you shall not drink from this water another day.” And departing, I went the next day with my dogs to seek the place. I did not find the place, but I found the tracks of the goats. And running (after them), the dogs seized the billy goat to which the elder had spoken. Then I knew it was the one to which the elder had said, “As the Lord is blessed, you shall not drink from this water another day.”
25. Another time, a Saracen said to one of the brothers here, “Come with me and I’ll show you the cell of an anchorite.” He followed him to the area of Metmor: and coming to the summit of a certain mountain, the Saracen showed him a small garden and cell down in the ravine. And he said to him, “Go down alone. Perhaps if he sees me the anchorite will run away or hide himself since I am not a Christian. I have never dared to go down to him.” As the brother was descending toward it the Saracen, by the workings of Satan, shouted and said, “Take your sandals, Abba, because you left them here.” The brother turned back and said, “I don’t need them.” With some effort he looked back down the descent and the garden and the cell had become invisible. The monk remained there afflicted for a long time and said, “That which befell the wife of Lot when she turned back, that has happened to me.”
26. George of Draam was a good Christian, the slave of a Saracen, told us the following: “Once I was watching camels in the wilderness of Belem, I met a very old elder sitting and holding a small basket and I said to him, ‘Father, bless.’ Without saying anything he signed me with his right hand. Taking four or five steps, I said to myself, ‘As I believe, I won’t leave unless I take hold of the elder’s feet and he pray for me that I be released from this need.’ And turning around and looking about and searching thoroughly I didn’t see him anywhere although the place was clear and without obstruction.”
27. A few years ago one of the fathers enclosed himself in a certain cave for the forty days of the holy fast. The devil, who is always jealous of those who struggle, filled the whole cave with bugs, from the floor to the roof, and in the water and in the bread and everywhere, so that not even the space of a finger was bare of them in the whole cave. Being patient with the test, the elder said, “If need be that I die, still I will not come out before the feast.” In the third week of the holy fast, he saw in the morning an indescribable multitude of ants enter the cave and destroy the bugs. And just as in a war, they carried out the bugs and cleaned the cave. It was good that he had been patient in the testing, for all works for the best.
28. Abba Stephanos the Cypriot, a serene man participating in the Holy Spirit and adorned with all virtues, had come with me to the holy mountain. When he was about to die he suffered such trouble in departing as nobody had seen; and after remaining many days as if impaled, he died. Someone who knew his work and life had difficulty in his thoughts as to why such a man needed to fall into such trouble. And behold, Stephanos appeared to him in a dream saying, “Brother, although troubled a little, I found greater confidence before the Lord.”
29. Abba George the Gademite, a venerable man of the old fathers shared what he had seen when he was younger. He said: A certain brother arrived here to live in detachment, not entrusting to anyone either his homeland nor his name. He was formed in such piety and silence that except in need he did not speak quickly with a man, neither a small word nor great. Having done in two years his work, he departed directly to the Lord, being buried in the tomb of the fathers. The next day another of the fathers died. Opening the tomb to bury him they did not find the body of the brother they had just buried, he being transferred by God to the land of the living.
After this we were curious and someone said that he was the son of the Emperor Maurice who was saved by his nurse when the children of Maurice were slaughtered in the hippodrome by Foka the tyrant. In the general tumult she took the child and switching them gave her own child to be killed in the place of the emperor’s. When he became a man the nurse told him the thing. And he said he would go and offer himself to God for the sake of the one who was slaughtered for him.
30. Abba Matthias told me the following: Once when I was dwelling in Arandoula in order to give the holy communion on Sunday to the captives of that wilderness, I had the holy communion in a chest sealed with a lock up in the holy church. Many times I came up on Sunday and found the pyx open and I was sad about this. Therefore I began to count the holy portions and to seal the chest with wax and a ring. Then coming the next Sunday I found the seal and the lock intact. Opening and counting I found three portions missing. This giving me much thought, the next Sunday three monks came to me as I was resting and awakening me said, “Get up, it’s time for the canon.” I asked them, “Who are you fathers and from where do you come?” But they said, “We are the sinners who come frequently and commune. And now don’t worry about that.” Then I knew that the anchorites existed and thanked God that such blessed men are to be found in our generation.
31. Gouda is a region about fifteen miles from the holy bush. In that place Abba Kosmas the Armenian stayed with me. One day we each went out alone into the wilderness to converse with and to see the things of God. And quite far from the cell, at a distance of about two miles, he fell into the mouth of a cave. Seeing three persons lying inside, dressed in palm-fiber tunics, he didn’t know if they were living or dead. He thought to return to the cell and bring incense and thus go in to the holy fathers. And noting with all precision the place and setting a marker he returned to the cell and bringing a censer came again. He searched a lot for the place but could not find the marker. For this is the custom of the holy anchorites whether living or dead that when they wish they appear or are hidden by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
32. Last year our new Moses, the honorable John the Sabbaite the hegumenos was about to go to the Lord. His own brother, Abba George the bishop, came to him weeping and saying, “Why are you going and leaving me? I prayed that you should send me ahead, for I am unable to exercise any pastoral office in the congregation without you. But rather now am I to send you ahead?” Then Abba John said to him, “Don’t be distressed, don’t worry, for if I find confidence with God, I won’t leave you to fulfill anything behind me.” And so it happened; for within ten months the bishop departed to the Lord. His passing took place in the days of winter.
33. Another became hegumenos, Isavros, a spirit-bearing man wrapped in grace as in a garment. There was a certain paralytic living in the infirmary and our lady the holy Theotokos visited him and spoke to him. “Go to the hegumenos and he will pray for you and you will be made well.” The paralytic dragged himself out and went to the hegumenos, and by the arrangement of God when he called no one else opened to him but only the hegumenos. Coming out and opening to him, the paralytic clung to his feet saying, “I will not let go of you because the Theotokos sent me to you that you might heal me.” The elder being hard pressed by him loosed his own belt and gave it to him saying, “Take this and gird yourself.” And having put on the belt, immediately he rose and walked joyfully and praising God in song.
34. Abba Anastasios the Hegumenos, when he saw Abba John coming down with Abba Martyrios from the Holy Summit, invited Abba Martyrios and the boy and spoke to the elder. “Tell me, Abba Martyrios, from where is this boy and who tonsured him?” Abba Martyrios said to him, “He is your servant, father, and my disciple and I tonsured him.” He said to him, “Indeed, Abba Martyrios, who would have thought that you would tonsure the hegumenos of Mt. Sinai!” And the prophecy of the fathers concerning our venerable father John was worthy and proper, for he was adorned with every virtue and radiant like a second Moses as the fathers of the place named him.
35. Abba Martyrios, who tonsured our venerable hegumenos, stayed for some years in the hollow of Abba Antony across the Red Sea. While he was living in that place there was a raid by certain wild barbarians who lived in those mountains. They killed six of the fathers, among whom was Abba Conon of Cilicia, a clear-sighted man robed with prophetic gifts. Taking their bodies, Abba Martyrios buried them in a cave, closing the mouth completely with flat stones, plastering it and writing their holy names. He went away and later visited the tomb again lest hyenas or other beasts had disturbed it. When he came he found the inscription in tact and the tomb all protected. Opening the tomb and entering he found that two of the bodies, that of Abba Conon and another great elder, had been changed in their places by God who controls all things.
36. Someone else related to me the following: Three years I came up from the desert to the Holy Mountain three days before the festival of the Holy Summit. I saw myself as in a trance in a palace and someone asked me and said, “Why have you come here, abba?” When I answered that I had come because I wanted with all my heart to venerate the king, he said to me, “Well, if you wish, go up before he receives the crowd to request whatever you wish, and it will be done.”
37. Another of the brothers became the deacon of the Holy Summit five years ago. He was named Elisha, of the nation of the Armenians. Not once or twice but nearly every night as he was pure and worthy, he saw the fire dwelling in the holy temple of the divine lawgiving.
38. There are often Armenians, as everybody knows, who come to Mount Sinai. Twenty years ago a big group of Armenians visited, about 800 souls. They ascended the Holy Peak and arrived at the sacred stone where Moses received the Law. There a vision of God and an awesome wonder occurred at the Holy Place and among the people as happened before at the giving of the Law, for the people appeared to be in flames. The paradox was that nobody saw himself on fire but only those around him were fiery. The people remained astounded and sang the Kyrie Eleison for about an hour. The fire withdrew and not a hair or a garment was harmed but only the staff with which each ascended continued to burn like candles as a witness to the vision and then they too went out. The tips of the staffs remained scorched as if by fire as a sign of the burning, witnessing in this way in their own land.
39. John the venerable hegumenos of the holy mountain of Sinai narrated to us that it happened a few years ago when the guardian of the Holy Summit was going up in the evening to offer incense it suddenly snowed heavily, so as to cover the Holy Summit with three or four cubits of snow. In those years nobody dared to sleep on the Holy Summit. When the guardian had performed the canon of prayer, he found himself transported by God to Rome, to St. Peter’s. When the clergy saw him suddenly appear in their midst they were amazed and took him up to the pope to narrate what had happened to him. By the dispensation of God he was found to have in his belt the keys to the doors inscribed, “Holy Summit of Sinai.” The blessed pope took him and consecrated him a bishop of one of the cities of Rome saying, “What need is there in the monastery?” Learning that there was need to build there a hospital, he sent money and letters for the building of a hospital which remains to this day. In that hospital I also became infirmarian.
Occupation of Sinai by the Arabs
When according to the just judgement of God the Saracen nation came to the holy mountain of Sinai to take the land for themselves, they caused the Saracens who had previously existed there to apostatize from the faith in Christ (they having previously been Christians). The people dwelling in the tents near the fortress of Faran and near the Holy Bush heard about it and they went up, whole families together, as into a fortified place, to the Holy Summit in order to fight from the heights against the coming Saracens. And so it happened. However, since they were unable to defend for long against the hoard of those who fought against them, they gave themselves over to the invaders and believed with them.
One of these (Christian Saracens) who had a surpassing love for Christ, when he saw the apostasy and the destruction of the souls of his countrymen, rushed toward a dangerous precipice to throw himself off and escape, choosing rather bodily death lest he betray the faith of Christ and endanger his soul. When his wife saw him rushing to escape and to cast himself headlong down the fearful and dangerous place, she jumped up and violently clung to his garments and with fountains of tears said to him in the Arabic language, “Where are you going, my husband? Why do you abandon me who from childhood years have lived by your side? Why do you leave me to destruction with your children and only seek to save yourself? Remember God who is my witness in this hour that I made no deception in your bed, and do not leave me to be defiled in soul and body. Remember that I am a woman and perhaps will lose my faith and my children. If you have decided to run away, save me first and your children, and in saving us save also your own soul. Watch lest perhaps in the day of judgement God will seek of you the sentence of my soul and the souls of your children. Fear God and kill me and your children and then go. Do not leave us as orphan sheep to fall in the hands of wolves, but imitate Abraham and offer us as a sacrifice to God in this holy place. And have no compassion on us, in order that God may have compassion on you. Sacrifice these children of yours so that through our blood God may save you also. It is good that we be given to God by you, and not be led astray into destruction by transgressors or suffer worse punishment at the hands of the barbarians. Do not be deceived, I do not send you away, but either stay with us, or kill me and your children.”
Having said this she convinced the man, and drawing his sword he killed her and his children. And thus he threw himself from the overhang at the south side off the Holy Summit and went away, the only one who was saved from that destruction. All the other Saracens gave their hands and apostatized from the faith in Christ. They certainly erred. But he was like Elias the prophet who escaped from the impious, fled to Horeb and “wandered in the desert and the mountains and caves and holes of the earth,” living with beasts having escaped the evil beasts (men).
He wandered, and he worshipped God in order not to be deceived and become an idolater. For he did not go into a house, or a city, or a village until he took the road to the heavenly city. But all those years he was like Elias and Elisha and John, a desert dweller and God’s citizen.
Since it was paradoxical that he had killed his own spouse and his children with his own sword there was some doubt whether God had accepted this sacrifice of his. But because the good God and lover of humanity did not wish to inform all, what did He do? He revealed to His servant and forewarned him in the desert a few days before He was to remove him from this life. And having come to the Holy Bush he prayed and received the Holy Mysteries. When he fell ill in the guesthouse, some of the fathers visited him. Many of them are still living. They saw this themselves and described to us that when the servant of God came to the hour of his departure toward God, he saw the present (living) holy fathers as the martyrs of God who had been slaughtered by the barbarians, coming toward him. He saw them like friends of many years and he greeted them and received their blessings and, as if he were in church with them, rejoiced and was glad. He called them by name and kissed and greeted them. It was like some celebration or feastday to which they had all been invited and came together.
Thus he went cheerfully, having the holy fathers as fellow-travelers as he spoke with the visitors there present. I at least suppose that some angelic powers appeared in the form of the holy fathers to crown that good fighter who had shown such affection toward God and faith beyond his former righteousness.
Material found only in Sinai Manuscripts
(primarily Sinai Greek Codex 451 and SGC 659)
1. A young brother was sent by his elder to another monk who had a garden in Sinai to bring some fruit. As soon as he arrived he said to the monk whose garden it was, “My elder asked if you have any fruit, father.” He answered, “Yes, my son, if you want any from that which is here, take it with my blessing.” The young monk asked, “So the mercy of God is found here, Abba?” The abba remained thinking, staring and the ground, and then said to the youth, “What did you say, my son?” And the youth repeated, “I asked, elder, if the mercy of God is found here?” And a third time the young monk asked the same question. The old man whose garden it was remained silent for an hour, not finding how to answer the boy, but sighing he said, “By the help of God, son.” After seeing the boy off the old man immediately took his cloak and went out into the desert, abandoning the garden and saying to himself: “Let’s go and seek the mercy of God. If a young boy asked me and I couldn’t find an answer, what will I do in the future when God asks?”
2. A very zealous, studious brother from some foreign country came and lived in a small cell on Mt. Sinai. The first day when he came to stay there he found a small piece of wood inscribed by the brother who lived there before: “Moses, son of Theodore, I am here present and give my witness.” Placing the piece of wood before his eyes every day, the brother would ask the one who wrote it as if he present, “Where are you then, man who writes that you are here and give witness? In what world are you at this hour? Where then is the hand that wrote this?” In this way he spent each day sorrowfully recalling death.
His handwork was calligraphy and he took paper from the brethren and orders to write for them. But he died without writing anything for anybody. Only one small scrap of paper did he leave and on it was written, “Forgive me, my lords and brothers, because I had a little other work with somebody else and therefore did not write for you.”
Near him lived a brother from Eilat. Once when he was going to the fortress he said to the calligrapher, “Do me a favor, brother, and take care of the garden until I came back.” The brother said to him, “Believe me, brother, as far as I have power I won’t neglect it.” When the brother had left the calligrapher said to himself, “Wretch, whenever you have an opportunity, take care of the garden.” And he stood saying the canon of prayer from evening until dawn and did not rest from psalms with tears but was in prayer the whole day, for it was the Lord’s day.
Coming in sight, his neighbor found that the wild animals had destroyed the garden and said to him, “May God forgive you, brother, that you didn’t take care of the garden.” He replied, “God knows, abba, my ability. I worked and guarded, but God knows how to give us fruit from the little garden.” The brother said, “It’s been utterly destroyed!” The calligrapher said, “I know, but I believe that with God’s help it will sprout again.” The master of the garden said, “Come, let’s water it.” The brother said to him, “Go, you water now and I’ll water in the night.” There being a drought the gardener was distressed. He said to his neighbor the calligrapher, “Believe me, brother, if God doesn’t help we won’t have water this year.” The other replied, “Woe to us, brother, if the garden spring dries up; truly we have no other salvation. (He said this about the tears.)
When that good fighter was about to die, he requested of his neighbor from Eilat, “Show love, don’t tell anybody that I’m sick but wait here today and when I sleep in the Lord, take my body and throw it in the desert that it might be eaten by beasts and birds because it sinned much against God and is not worthy to be buried.” The gardener from Eilat said to him, “Believe me, Abba, my soul hesitates to do such a thing.” The sick one answered, “The judgement be upon me and I give you my word, that if you listen and do this then I will help you.”
And when he died that day, the brother did as commanded and threw his body naked into the desert. They were twenty miles from the fort in a place called Metemer. The third day there appeared to him in his sleep the one you had departed to the Lord and said to him, “May God have mercy on you, brother, as you had mercy on me. Believe me, God has done me a great mercy. Since my body remained unburied He said to me, ‘See, through your great humility you are chosen with Antony.’ And behold, I make request also for you. But go, leave the garden and take care of the other garden, for in the hour when my soul came out I saw that my tears had extinguished the fire where I was to go.”
3. When we visited Raithou some of the brothers related the following to us: There was a diligent old man who lived in the caves above the one called Joel. He was so watchful of his mind that he planned every step he took. He stopped and examined every thought, asking it: “What is it, brother? Where are we?” And if he found his mind saying a verse or praying, all was well. But if he found that he was thinking about anything else what-so-ever immediately he reviled himself, “Quickly get out of there and get your head back to work!” Thus the old man said always to himself, “Brother, already the hour of death is near and still I don’t see my mind (soul) even midway in the spiritual life.”
Once Satan appeared and said to him, "Why struggle? Believe me, you’ll not be saved.” And he answered, “Don’t talk to me. Even if I am not saved, I’ll be standing on your head, for you will be under everybody in hell.”
4. One of the brothers met an elder who lived on Mount Sinai and asked him, “Father, tell me how I should pray, for I have done much to anger God.” The elder said to him, “Son, when I pray I say this, ‘Lord, make me worthy to serve You as I have served Satan; make me worthy to love You as I have loved sin.'” And again he said, “It is good to raise the hands in the air and beg God that at its exit the soul might pass unhindered by all the impediments which try to delay it in the air.”