March 7, 2015

The Life and Miracles of Saint Paul the Simple

St. Paul the Simple (Feast Day - March 7)


From the earth Paul was removed towards God the Word,
By simplicity he received many crowns.

"Paul the Simple was a clear example for us, for he was the rule and type of blessed simplicity." 
- St. John Climacus

By Palladius of Helenopolis
(Lausiac History, Ch. 28)

The Servant of Christ, Hierax, as well as Cronius and several other brothers, told me the story I am going to tell you about Paul the Simple. He was a peasant farmer of transparently innocent and simple life, and he had taken a most beautiful woman for a wife who nevertheless was of very lax morals. Led by providence to an outcome which he was in fact half hoping for, he came back from the fields unexpectedly one day, went inside, and found her and a man together. When he saw her and the man she was having sex with he gave a forthright and heartfelt laugh.

"Fine, fine," he said. "This means that she is no longer any responsibility of mine. In Jesus' name I acknowledge her no longer. Go, take her with you, and her children, for I am leaving to become a monk."

Without saying anything to anybody else he took an eight day journey to holy Anthony and knocked on his door.

"What do you want?" asked Anthony when he came to the door.

"To become a monk," replied Paul.

"You must be at least sixty. You can't become a monk," said Anthony. "Live in the town, work for your living, trusting in the grace of God. You would not be able to cope with all the trials of solitude."

"Whatever you told me to do I would do it," the old man replied.

"I have told you," said Anthony. "You are old. You can't be a monk. Go away. Or if you do really want to be a monk go to a cenobium where there are many brothers to support you in your frailty. I am here all by myself, fasting for five days before eating." And with these words he tried to drive Paul away.

Refusing to admit him Anthony shut the door and for three days did not go outside, not even to answer the call of nature. But the old man stayed where he was.

On the fourth day he really had to go outside, but when he opened the door and went out he saw Paul still there and said, "Go away, old man. Why do you keep on bothering me? You can't stay here."

"I don't intend to stay anywhere else except here," said Paul.

Anthony looked at him and saw that he had nothing with him to sustain life, no bread, no water or anything else, and he had now been fasting for four days.

"He is so unused to fasting he might die," thought Anthony, "and I will be to blame." And so he took him in.

"If you can be obedient and do what I tell you," said Anthony, "you'll be all right."

"I will do whatever you say," Paul replied.

Anthony in those days followed just as rigorous a way of life as he did when young. In order to test the Paul's mettle he said to him, "Stay here and pray, while I go in and fetch something for you to work with." He then went into his inner room and watched Paul through the window. For the rest of the week he stayed there without moving, even though scorched by the heat. At the end of the week he brought some palm branches which he had soaked in water.

"Take these and weave a rope as you see me doing." he said. The old man wove until the ninth hour, completing fifteen arms-lengths with great difficulty. Anthony inspected what he had done and was not satisfied with it.

"You've done that very badly," he said. "Undo it and do it again." It was now the seventh day that this elderly man had been fasting, but Anthony was treating him severely like this to see whether he would give up and abandon the life of a monk. But he just took the branches and rewove them, and with great labour put right the unevenness with which he done them at first. Anthony saw that he had neither grumbled, nor been downcast, nor turned aside, nor become resentful to the slightest degree, and he began to feel sorry for him. And as the sun set he said, "Well, little father, shall we break some bread together?"

"If you think that's right, abba," replied Paul, thus leaving the decision to Anthony without jumping up eagerly at the mention of food. Anthony began to change his mind.

"Get the table ready then," he said. And he did so. Anthony put the bread on the table, four six-ounce rolls. He put one to soak for himself (for they were dry) and three for Paul. Anthony sang a psalm which he knew, and when he had repeated it twelve times he also said a prayer twelve times. This he did in order to test Paul further. But the old man prayed too, as promptly and eagerly as the great Anthony himself. (I really think that he would rather feed on scorpions than live falsely.)

"Sit down," the great Anthony said to Paul after the twelve prayers, "but we won't eat until vespers. Wait till the bread is eatable." The time for vespers came and Paul still had not eaten, when Anthony said, "Get up. We'll pray and then sleep." They left the table and did so. Half way through the night Anthony woke Paul for prayers and went on with them right through to the ninth hour. But at last when vespers came and the table had been prepared and they had sung and prayed they sat down to eat.

Anthony ate one roll and did not pick up another one. The old man was eating more slowly and still had the roll which he had started. Anthony waited till he had finished and said, "Come, little father, eat another roll."

"If you have another one, I will," said Paul, "but not if you won't."

"I've had quite sufficient for one who is a monk," said Anthony.

"Since I want to be a monk," said Paul, "that's enough for me too, then." And he got up and said twelve prayers and sang twelve psalms. After the prayers they slept a little for the first part of the night, then rose and sang psalms again till dawn.

He then sent him out to wander in the desert.

"Come back after three days," he said.

This he did.

When some brothers came on a visit he paid close attention to Anthony and did whatever Anthony wanted.

"See to the visitors' needs and keep silence," he said, "and don't eat anything till they have started on their journey back."

At the end of the third week in which Paul had not eaten anything the brothers asked him why he kept silent, to which he replied nothing at all.

"Why keep silent?," said Anthony. "Speak to the brothers." So he spoke.

Once when Anthony was given a jar of honey he told Paul to break the jar. He did so and the honey spilled.

"Now scrape up the honey with this shell," he ordered, "but don't get any dirt mixed up in it."

Once he ordered him to draw water all day. When his garment got a bit tattered, he told him to just get used to it.

In the end this man had grasped such firm hold on obedience by the divine grace given him, that he was able to command the demons. When the great Anthony saw that this man had promptly carried out everything he had asked him to do in the way he ordered his life, he said, "See if you can keep on doing this day by day, brother, and stay with me."

"I don't know what else you can show me," said Paul. "I do whatever I see you doing, quite easily and without any strain, the Lord being my helper."

On another day Anthony admitted 'in the name of Jesus' that he had indeed become a monk. The great and blessed Anthony had become convinced that the soul of this servant of Christ had become almost perfected in all things, even though he was somewhat simple. After a few months Anthony was moved by the grace of God to build a cell for him three or four miles away from his own cell, and said to him, "See now, by the help of the grace of Christ you have become a monk. Now live by yourself, and even take on the demons."

So a year after Paul the Most Simple came to live with him he was highly experienced in a disciplined way of life and was found worthy to battle against the demons and against all kinds of diseases.

One day there was brought to Anthony a young man vexed beyond measure by one of the most powerful and savage demons who railed against heaven itself with curses and blasphemies.

Anthony had a look at the young man and said to those who had brought him, "This is not a task for me. I have not yet been given the grace to deal with this very powerful type of demon. Paul the Simple has the gift of dealing with this one." The great Anthony went to Paul, that most excellent man, taking them all with him.

"Abba Paul," he said, "Cast out this demon from this person so that he may return home cured and glorify God."

"Why not you?" asked Paul.

"It is not for me," said Anthony. "I have other concerns." And the great Anthony left the boy there and returned to his cell.

The unassuming old man stood up and poured out a strong prayer to challenge the demon and said, "Abba Anthony says, 'Depart from this man'"

"I will not, you disgusting, pompous old man," said the demon, with many curses and blasphemies. Paul put on his sheepskin and belabored him in the back, crying, "'Go out,' Abba Anthony says."

The demon abused both Paul and Anthony with curses, saying, "You are disgusting old men, lazy and greedy, never content to mind your own business. What have you got in common with us? Why are you browbeating us?"

"Either go now," said Paul, "or I will call upon the power of Christ to bring destruction upon you."

But this unclean demon railed against Jesus also with curses and blasphemies: "I am not going," he shouted.

This made Paul get angry with the demon. He went outside. It was midday - when the Egyptian heat bears comparison with the furnace of Babylon. The holy old man stood up straight, like a statue, on top of a rock, and prayed, "O Jesus Christ, you were crucified under Pontius Pilate, take note that I will not come down from this rock, nor will I eat or drink even if I die, until you hear me and cast out this demon from this man and liberate him from the unclean spirit." And even as the simple and humble Paul was praying, before he had even finished, the demon cried out, "I'm going, I'm going, driven out by force, overcome by tyranny. I'm getting out of this man and won't come back any more. It is the simplicity and humility of Paul which has driven me out and I don't know where to go."

The moment he went he changed into an enormous dragon about seventy cubits long which crept off towards the Red Sea. Thus were fulfilled the words of Holy Scripture, 'The righteous man shows his faith by what he does' (Proverbs 12:17), and 'On whom shall I look, says the Lord, if not on him who is gentle and humble and trembles at my words?' (Isaiah 66:2). Although lesser demons can be cast out by the faith of men in authority, it takes humble men to be able to put to flight the demons of greatest power.

Such were the miracles of the humble Paul the Simple, and there were many others he did, even greater than these. He was known as Simple by all the brothers.


By Sozomen
(Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 1, Ch. 13)

We must relate, in chronological order, the history of the most celebrated disciples of Anthony, and particularly that of Paul, surnamed the Simple. It is said that he dwelt in the country, and was married to a beautiful woman, and that having surprised her in the act of adultery, he laughed placidly and affirmed with an oath, that he would live with her no longer; that he left her with the adulterer, and went immediately to join Anthony in the desert. It is further related that he was exceedingly meek and patient: and that, being aged and unaccustomed to monastic severity, Anthony put his strength to the proof by various trials, for he was newly come, and detected nothing ignoble; and that, having given evidence of perfect philosophy, he was sent to live alone, as no longer requiring a teacher. And God himself confirmed the testimony of Anthony; and demonstrated the man to be most illustrious through his deeds, and as greater than even his teacher in vexing and expelling demons.


By Rufinus of Aquileia
(History of the Egyptian Monks, Bk. 2, Ch. 31)

Among the disciples of the blessed Anthony was one Paul, nicknamed the Simple. His first conversion happened like this:

With his own eyes he saw his wife committing adultery one day, so without saying anything to anyone he left home, overwhelmed with sadness in his heart, and fled to the desert. After wandering about there in distress, he came at last to Anthony's monastery. He took comfort from this fortunate chance, because of what he had heard about the place. He met Anthony and asked him how he could find a path to salvation. Anthony sensed that he was a simple sort of man, and told him that if he would abide by the instructions that he would give him he would be saved. He replied that he would do whatever he was asked. To test this promise Anthony said to him as he stood outside the door of his cell: "Wait here and pray until I come back again". He then went inside and stayed there for a day and a night, from time to time watching Paul secretly through the window. He saw that Paul prayed without ceasing, never moving at all, just standing there in the heat of the day and the dew of the night, so intent on what he had been told that he did not move from the spot in the slightest degree.

When Anthony came out the next day he took him in and began to teach him about each sort of manual work customary in solitude. Work with the hands took care of the needs of the body, while the thoughts of the heart and the intention of the mind made room for what came from God. He told him to take food in the evening, but warned him never to satisfy his hunger completely, and to be particularly sparing in what he drank, for mental phantasies were encouraged just as much by too much water as bodily heat by too much wine. And when he had fully instructed him how to conduct himself properly in all things he built a cell for him not far away, that is, at a distance of three miles, where he ordered him to carry on doing what he learned. He visited him from time to time, and was delighted to see that he was keeping a firm grasp on what he had been taught, persevering wholeheartedly in his solitude.

One day some senior brothers came to visit the holy Anthony, men very advanced in spirituality, and Paul happened to be visiting at the same time. There was a long conversation on deep and mystical subjects, and much discussion about the Prophets and the Saviour.

"Did Christ come before the Prophets?" asked Paul out of the simplicity of his heart. Anthony was rather embarrassed for him for asking such a stupid question.

"Get away with you, say no more," he said, in the indulgent sort of tone of voice reserved for idiots.

But Paul believed that everything Anthony told him to do was as it were a command from God, and obeyed immediately. He went back to his cell and accepted this command and began to keep absolute silence, allowing not a word to pass his lips. When Anthony realised this he wondered why he was behaving like this, for he was quite unaware that he had given Paul any command. He ordered him to speak, and tell him why he was keeping silent.

"You, father," said Paul, "told me to get away and say no more."

Anthony was amazed that Paul was taking literally the words which he had quite carelessly said, "This man puts us all to shame," he said. "For we fail to hear what is spoken to us from heaven, whereas he observes whatever comes out of our mouth."

Anthony was determined to teach him a great deal about obedience, and was accustomed to give orders which seemed quite unreasonable and purposeless, in order to train his mind in the habit of obedience. He told him once to draw water from the well and pour it out on the ground, he told him to unravel baskets and then weave them together again, to tear his garment apart then sew it up again, then take it apart again. In all such practices, Anthony bears witness that he remained totally receptive. He learned not to contradict in any of those unreasonable things which he was commanded to do, and so he was brought on by all these things and soon arrived at a state of perfection.

Anthony used him as an example. "If anyone wishes to come quickly to perfection," he taught, "he should not be his own master nor obey his own will even if he thought he was in the right. According to the command of the Saviour he should take note that above all else he should deny himself and renounce his own will (Matt. 16:24), for the Saviour himself said: 'I came not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.' (John 6:38) The will of Christ, of course, could not be in any way different from the will of the Father, for he who came to teach obedience would not have been obedient himself if he had merely been doing his own will. How much more, then, will we be judged disobedient if we do our own will? Therefore this Paul is an example for us, for by the merits of his simplicity and obedience he has attained to such a height of spiritual grace that the Lord has shown forth a great number of much more powerful virtues in him than in Anthony."

Because of the abundance of his gifts, many people came from all parts to be cured by him. Anthony feared that the attentions of such a large crowd would overwhelm him, so he sent him deeper into the desert where it was not so easy for anyone to get to him, and Anthony would thus be more able to deal with visitors. But if Anthony himself could not cure anyone he would then send them to Paul as being more abundantly supplied with healing gifts. And Paul cured them.

The simplicity of his faithfulness was great in the eyes of the Lord. They say that once someone suffering from rabies was biting like a dog everyone who was trying to come and see Paul. He was brought to Paul, who persisted in prayer that the demon troubling him should be put to flight. And after a while, when there did not seem to be anything happening, he is said to have cried out indignantly, like a small child, to the Lord: "If you don't cure him, I am not going to get anything to eat today!" And immediately God granted him his request, as if he were a favourite child. The rabies was instantly cured.