January 8, 2017

Life and Sayings of Holy Abba Agathon of Egypt

St. Agathon of Egypt (Feast Day - January 8)


With cheerfulness and peace of heart,
Agathon in solitude remembered his death.

Agathon was a young man when he came to the Thebaid, where he was trained by Poemen. His abba thought highly of him, and Abba Joseph expressed surprise that Poemen should call such a young disciple "abba". Agathon went to Scetis, where he lived for a time with Alexander and Zoilus, who were later disciples of Arsenius. He left Scetis, perhaps after the first devastation, with his disciple Abraham, and lived near the Nile, not far from Troe. He knew Amoun, Macarius, Joseph and Peter from the early days in Scetis.

1. Abba Peter, the disciple of Abba Lot, said, 'One day when I was in Abba Agathon's cell, a brother came in and said to him, "I want to live with the brethren; tell me how to dwell with them." The old man answered him, "All the days of your life keep the frame of mind of the stranger which you have on the first day you join them, so as not to become too familiar with them." Then Abba Macarius asked, "And what does this familiarity produce?" The old man replied, "It is like a strong, burning wind, each time it arises everything flies swept before it, and it destroys the fruit of the trees." So Abba Macarius said, "Is speaking too freely really as bad as all that?" Abba Agathon said, "No passion is worse than an uncontrolled tongue, because it is the mother of all the passions. Accordingly the good workman should not use it, even if he is living as a solitary in the cell. I know a brother who spent a long time in his cell using a small bed who said, I should have left my cell without making use of that small bed if no-one had told me it was there. It is the hard-working monk who is a warrior."'

2. Abba Agathon said, "Under no circumstances should the monk let his conscience accuse him of anything.'

3. He also said, 'Unless he keeps the commandments of God, a man cannot make progress, not even in a single virtue.'

4. He also said, 'I have never gone to sleep with a grievance against anyone, and, as far as I could, I have never let anyone go to sleep with a grievance against me.'

5. It was said concerning Abba Agathon that some monks came to find him having heard of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper they said to him, 'Aren't you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?' 'Yes, it is very true,' he answered. They resumed, 'Aren't you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense?' 'I am.' Again they said, 'Aren't you Agathon the heretic?' But at that he replied, 'I am not a heretic.' So they asked him, 'Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last insult.' He replied 'The first accusations I take to myself, for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.' At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.

6. It was said of Abba Agathon that he spent a long time building a cell with his disciples. At last when it was finished, they came to live there. Seeing something during the first week which seemed to him harmful, he said to his disciples, 'Get up, let us leave this place.' But they were dismayed and replied, 'If you had already decided to move, why have we taken so much trouble building the cell? People will be scandalized at us, and will say, "Look at them, moving again; what unstable people!" He saw they were held back by timidity and so he said to them, 'If some are scandalized, others, on the contrary, will be much edified and will say, "How blessed are they who go away for God's sake, having no other care." 'However, let him who wants to come, come; as for me, I am going.' Then they prostrated themselves to the ground and besought him to allow them to go with him.

7. It was said of him that he often went away taking nothing but his knife for making wicker-baskets.

8. Someone asked Abba Agathon, 'Which is better, bodily asceticism or interior vigilance?' The old man replied, 'Man is like a tree, bodily asceticism is the foliage, interior vigilance the fruit. According to that which is written, "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire" (Matt. 3.10) it is clear that all our care should be directed towards the fruit, that is to say, guard of the spirit; but it needs the protection and the embellishment of the foliage, which is bodily asceticism.'

9. The brethren also asked him, 'Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?' He answered, 'Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.'

10. Abba Agathon was wise in spirit and active in body. He provided everything he needed for himself, in manual work, food, and clothing.

11. The same Abba Agathon was walking with his disciples. One of them, finding a small green pea on the road, said to the old man, 'Father, may I take it?' The old man, looking at him with astonishment, said, 'Was it you who put it there?' 'No,' replied the brother, 'How then,' continued the old man, 'can you take up something which you did not put down?'

12. A brother came to find Abba Agathon and said to him, 'Let me live with you.' On his way he had found a piece of nitre on the road and had brought it with him. 'Where did you find that nitre?' asked the old man. The brother replied, 'I found it on the road as I was coming and I picked it up.' The old man said to him, If you are coming to live with me, how can you take that which you did not put down?' Then he sent him to put it back where he had found it.

13. A brother asked the old man, 'I have received a command, but there is danger of temptation in the place connected with it. Because of the command I wish to do it, but I am afraid of such danger.' The old man said to him, 'If this were Agathon's problem, he would fulfill the commandment and thus he would overcome the temptation.'

14. A meeting had been held at Scetis about some matter, and a decision was taken about it. When Agathon came in later, he said to them, 'You have not decided this matter rightly.' 'Who are you,' they retorted, 'to talk like that?' A son of man,' said he, 'for it is written, "If truly ye say that which is right, judge righteously, sons of men."' (Ps. 7.2)

15. It was said of Abba Agathon that for three years he lived with a stone in his mouth, until he had learnt to keep silence.

16. It was said of him and of Abba Amoun that, when they had anything to sell, they would name the price just once and silently accept what was given them in peace. Just as, when they wished to buy something, they gave the price they were asked in silence and took the object adding no further word.

17. The same Abba Agathon said, 'I have never offered agapes; but the fact of giving and receiving has been for me an agape, for I consider the good of my brother to be a sacrificial offering.'

18. Whenever his thoughts urged him to pass judgement on something which he saw, he would say to himself, Agathon, it is not your business to do that.' Thus his spirit was always recollected.

19. The same abba said, A man who is angry, even if he were to raise the dead, is not acceptable to God.'

20. At one time Abba Agathon had two disciples each leading the anchoretic life according to his own measure. One day he asked the first, 'How do you live in the cell?' He replied, 'I fast until the evening, then I eat two hard biscuits.' He said to him, 'Your way of life is good, not overburdened with too much asceticism.' Then he asked the other one, 'And you, how do you live?' He replied, 'I fast for two days, then I eat two hard biscuits.' The old man said, 'You work very hard by enduring two conflicts; it is a labor for someone to eat every day without greed; there are others who, wishing to fast for two days, are greedy afterwards; but you, after fasting for two days, are not greedy.'

21. A brother asked Abba Agathon about fornication. He answered, 'Go, cast your weakness before God and you shall find rest.'

22. Abba Agathon and another old man were ill. While they were lying in their cell, the brother who was reading Genesis to them came to the chapter where Jacob said, 'Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and thou dost take Benjamin away from me; thou wilt bring my grey hairs in sorrow to the grave' (Gen. 42.36, 38). The other old man began to say, 'Are not the ten enough for you, Abba Jacob?' But Abba Agathon replied, 'Let be, old man, if God is the God of the righteous, who shall condemn Jacob?'

23. Abba Agathon said, 'If someone were very specially dear to me, but I realized that he was leading me to do something less good, I should put him from me.'

24. He also said, 'A man ought at all times to be aware of the judgements of God.'

25. One day when the brethren were conversing about charity, Abba Joseph said, 'Do we really know what charity is?' Then he told how when a brother came to see Abba Agathon, he greeted him and did not let him go until he had taken with him a small knife which he had.

26. Abba Agathon said, 'If I could meet a leper, give him my body and take his, I should be very happy.' That indeed is perfect charity.

27. It was also said of him that, coming to the town one day to sell his goods, he encountered a sick traveller lying in the public place without anyone to look after him. The old man rented a cell and lived with him there, working with his hands to pay the rent and spending the rest of his money on the sick man's needs. He stayed there four months till the sick man was restored to health. Then he returned in peace to his cell.

28. Abba Daniel said, 'Before Abba Arsenius came to live with my Fathers, they dwelt with Abba Agathon. Now Abba Agathon loved Abba Alexander because he was both ascetic and discreet. Now it happened that all the disciples were washing their rushes in the river, but Abba Alexander was washing his with discretion. The other brothers said to the old man, "Brother Alexander is getting nowhere." Wishing to cure them he said to him, "Brother Alexander, wash them thoroughly because they are flax." The brother was hurt by these words. Afterwards the old man comforted him, saying, "Did I not know that you were working well? But I said that in front of them in order to cure them by your obedience, brother."'

29. It was said of Abba Agathon that he forced himself to fulfill all the commandments. When he sailed in a vessel he was the first to handle the oars and when the brethren came to see him he laid the table with his own hands, as soon as they had prayed, because he was full of the love of God. When he was at the point of death he remained three days with his eyes fixed, wide-open. The brethren roused him, saying, 'Abba Agathon, where are you?' He replied, 'I am standing before the judgement seat of God.' They said, 'Are you not afraid, Father?' He replied, 'Until this moment, I have done my utmost to keep the commandments of God; but I am a man; how should I know if my deeds are acceptable to God?' The brethren said to him, 'Do you not have confidence in all that you have done according to the law of God?' The old man replied, 'I shall have no confidence until I meet God. Truly the judgement of God is not that of man.' When they wanted to question him further, he said to them, 'Of your charity, do not talk to me any more, for I no longer have time.' So he died with joy. They saw him depart like one greeting his dearest friends. He preserved the strictest vigilance in all things, saying, 'Without great vigilance a man does not advance in even a single virtue.'

30. Going to town one day to sell some small articles, Abba Agathon met a cripple on the roadside, paralyzed in his legs, who asked him where he was going. Abba Agathon replied, 'To town, to sell some things.' The other said, 'Do me the favor of carrying me there.' So he carried him to the town. The cripple said to him, 'Put me down where you sell your goods.' He did so. When he had sold an article, the cripple asked, 'What did you sell it for?' and he told him the price. The other said, 'Buy me a cake,' and he bought it. When Abba Agathon had sold a second article, the sick man asked, 'How much did you sell it for?' And he told him the price of it. Then the other said, 'Buy me this,' and he bought it. When Agathon, having sold all his goods, wanted to go, he said to him, 'Are you going back?' and he replied, 'Yes.' Then said he, 'Do me the favor of carrying me back to the place where you found me.' Once more picking him up, he carried him back to that place. Then the cripple said, 'Agathon, you are filled with divine blessings, in heaven and on earth.' Raising his eyes, Agathon saw no man; it was an angel of the Lord, come to try him.