March 26, 2016

A Profitable Tale of the Monk Malchus Who Was Disobedient

Venerable Malchus (Feast Day - March 26)


See O monk the punishment received,
For being disobedient, and receive correction.

By St. Jerome
(Written in Bethlehem in 391)

About three miles from Antioch in Syria there is a certain village which is called Maronia, and in this village was an old monk whose name was Malchus, and he was a wonderful and a holy man. Now at that time I had traveled far away from the house of my fathers, and I went to Evagrius the priest, where I heard concerning the holy man Malchus, and I desired greatly to see him and to be blessed by him; so I went to him, and he received me gladly, and began to tell me about the habits of life and the works of the monks, and how it is right to fear the Lord, and having rejoiced greatly in the pious words of his doctrine, I besought him to confirm me especially in such things. Then he said unto me, “My son, I will relate unto you concerning the temptations which, in proportion to my presumption and thoughtlessness, have come upon me, in order that they may help you, and also concerning the compassionate grace of the Lord God Who took me out of and redeemed me from them, and Who permitted them to come upon me for the correction of many who should learn of me, and should not become disobedient to the exhortation of their spiritual fathers, because disobedience is the cause of death.”

Then having said these things he began to narrate to me his history, and he said:

'I was born in the village which is called Nisibis, and I was the only child of my parents, who, because I was the only child they ever expected to have, were proud of me; and when I had arrived at manhood they were anxious to marry me to a wife, but when I spake against their wish, saying, “It is right for me to become a monk and to serve the Lord,” and they heard of it, they were exceedingly wroth with me. Now my father urged me to marry and threatened me with penalties if I did not, and my mother was always inciting and counselling me to do so. And seeing that their minds were most firmly set upon this, which would become unto me an impediment to my confession of the faith before God, I forsook them, and treated with contempt all the riches of this world, and took with me only a very small sum of money, which was just sufficient for the expenses of my journey; now I wished to go to the monasteries of the East. And because at that time the Greeks had determined to make war upon the Persians, I changed my intention, and made up my mind to go to the west; and whilst I was pondering this matter I learned that between Keneshrin and Aleppo there was a monastery which was situated in a peaceful spot, so I gave up my former intention, and went thither, and I asked them to receive me, and I remained with them, and I wrestled with all their ascetic habits and rules of chastity according to their godly ways of life, and I made good progress therein in the Lord.

And having remained in that monastery for a certain number of years, and having lived blamelessly the life of spiritual excellence, all the brethren rejoiced at the growth of my asceticism; but because the Calumniator, that jealous and envious being, could not endure this, he cast into my mind thoughts which were apparently correct ones, saying, “Since your father is dead, return to your house, and comfort your mother so long as she is alive, and after her death sell your possessions, and give some of the price thereof to the poor; and the remainder keep, and with it build a monastery, and you yourself shall become a father and governor of monks." And to tell the truth to you, my son, the Calumniator cast within me the passion of avarice, saying, "Keep some of the money for your old age.” And when the war which was caused by these thoughts had been waged against me daily for some time, I felt obliged to reveal this sickness of my soul to the spiritual father, who, when the holy father had heard thereof, said unto me, “My son, hearken not to your feelings, for this is a snare of Satan who, by means of this cunning device, has put many monks backward in their course, even as a dog goes back to his vomit, and has cast them down and has made them lose their inheritance, and who, though continually setting before them the hope of that which is good, hath nevertheless brought them down into Sheol. For having raised Adam to a height of error which resembled this, he brought him down to the bottom of Sheol; and our Lord commandes him that has laid his hand upon the plough not to turn back.”

Now when by means of such testimonies which he brought from the Holy Scriptures he was not able to persuade me to stay, he thereupon fell down before me and wished to swear by the Lord that I would not forsake him. And whilst that merciful and pious father was saying these things for my deliverance, the Enemy was placing in my heart the words, “The father acts not thus because he would show compassion on you, but he wishes that the whole community of the brethren may be glorified by your staying here;" and by saying words of this kind to me, that evil adviser made me to gain a victory of wickedness, and he made me to come forth out of the monastery. And still clinging unto me, as unto one who was lost, the father said unto me, “My son, I see that you are consumed by love of money; the sheep which goes forth from his flock without his shepherd straightway becomes a prey unto wolves;" and when he had spoken these words unto me I left him.

Then I went from Aleppo to Edessa by the king’s highway, and being afraid of the soldiers (i.e., bands of marauding robbers), who had already taken up their abode in the countries round about, I remained in Edessa, hoping to find company for the journey, for so great as this was my watchful fear. And when we had gathered together a company of men and women, whose names were seventy in number, and had therefore set out on the road, suddenly a band of Arab soldiers swooped down upon us, and carried us all away; then I called to mind the exhortation of the holy father, and I said to myself, “O my soul, such are the great riches which I went forth to inherit! O wretched man that I am, such are the promises of the Enemy, the deceiver and destroyer of souls! Inherit your wealth then, O wretched one, and make yourself happy therewith.” And as I was saying these things to myself, one of the Arabs took me and a certain woman, and set the two of us on one camel, and having traveled a short distance in the desert, because we were afraid lest we should fall from the camel, we were compelled to hold tightly to each other; and not only did this shame come upon mine unconvinceable mind, but I was also obliged to eat with her. And the Arab gave us milk and camel’s flesh, and he carried us to his tent, and he commanded me to do homage to his wife and to bow down before her, and he said, “This is your mistress.” Now through these things I, the chaste man and monk, was becoming acquainted with the form of the nakedness of these people, according to the reward which my passion of avarice merited; and the Arab ordered me to gird myself about with woolen garments and to shepherd the sheep, and this occupation became unto me a source of consolation for the tribulations which surrounded me, because after a few days I was released from the evil faces of my masters and companions. But this alone did not bring me consolation, for I remembered that Abel, and the Patriarch Jacob and his sons, and the holy man Moses, and king David were shepherds of sheep, and I rejoiced in the desert, and I pastured the sheep, and prayed, and sang the Psalms which I learned in the monastery. And I used to eat cheese made of goats’ milk, and I drank milk, and I gave praise to God, that I had obtained such a light penalty for my disobedience; and remembering that the Apostle said, “Servants, be submissive to your masters, not only to the good, but also to the wicked” (Col. 3:22; Eph. 6:5), I took care of my master’s sheep with the utmost diligence. Now in all these things I kept in mind always the envy of the Calumniator, who hates that which is good.

And when my master saw that I was acting rightly towards him, he wished to reward me well therefore, and he wanted to marry me to that woman who had been taken captive with me; and when I spake against his proposal, saying, “I am a monk, and I cannot do this, besides this woman has a husband who was taken captive with us, and who has passed into other ownership,” his wrath went up, and he drew his sword, and he set his gaze upon me, and would have killed me, had it not been that I ran and took hold of his wife’s hand. And having married me to the woman, he brought me into a cave with her. When, therefore, I knew that this was indeed the captor of my soul, I cried aloud, and wept, and said, “Woe unto me the sinner! What has happened unto me? For having grown old in the life of virginity, a terrible evil now comes upon me, and I must now become the husband of a wife! Where now is my mother? And where are the possessions and riches of my fathers? For because I was not persuaded to perform the obedience of the servants of God, and because I separated myself therefrom, and because I forsook the Lord I must endure things of this kind! Now what will you do, O my wretched soul? For if you conquer by patient endurance, by the Grace of God you will be held worthy of help, but if you are lax severe punishment is laid up for you. Fight then mightily against sin, and turn the sword against yourself, that there may be kept for you the testimony of chastity; hold in contempt the fire of time, that you may flee from the fire of eternity, and conquer sin in the desert, that you may be a persecuted and chosen witness.”

Then I took the sword in my hands, and saluted that woman, saying, “May you remain in peace, O wretched woman, and acquire for yourself rather a martyr than a husband, for because I would not marry a wife I fled from and forsook my parents.” Now when the woman saw the sword which was shining in the darkness, she fell down before my feet and said unto me, “I will make you swear by Jesus Christ, the Lord of praise, that you will not kill yourself for my sake; and if you wish to do this turn the sword against me. Why should you wish to kill yourself so that you may not take me to wife? Know that I am far more anxious than you are to preserve my chastity unto Christ, and must guard it not only against you, but also against my lawful husband, for even if he were to come I would keep myself chaste. This is what this captivity wherein I am teaches me, for this affliction should teach us to take refuge in the Lord. Take me then to yourself as a companion of your chastity, and let us love each other in spiritual love, so that when our masters see us they may think that our intercourse is carnal. Now God, Who knows hearts, recognizes spiritual brotherhood, and we can easily persuade these people when they see us together in this wise that we love each other.” Then while marveling at the understanding of the woman, I received her good advice gladly in Christ, and henceforward I loved her as a spiritual helpmate, and as a pure and chaste helper. I never saw her body naked, and I never approached her couch, for I was afraid lest, having been victorious in the time of war, I might receive a severe wound through the arrows of the Enemy in the time of peace. In this wise then our masters left us for a long time, and they were not afraid that we were preparing to run away from them, for it happened on several occasions, sometimes for a whole month together, that I was alone with the woman in the desert. And my master used to come, and when he saw that I was taking good care of his sheep, he would go back to his place rejoicing.

And it came to pass one day when, according to my custom, I was sitting in the desert, that I began to meditate upon the peaceful life of the brethren who were in the monastery, and I saw also the face of our holy father as if it had been an image; and I thought of his perfect and abundant love for me, and how anxious he was in every way that I should not be separated from him, and how I would not be persuaded to stay with him by the Divine revelation, and how he bore witness beforehand concerning the things which would happen to me. Whilst, then, I say, I was pondering upon these things in my mind, and was greatly afflicted thereby, I saw an ants’ nest, and I saw multitudes of these insects working with the greatest diligence and care in their various ways, and I saw how they were all making their way into the nest through a narrow entrance, without impeding each other. Some of them were bringing seeds for their winter food; and others were bringing loads which were larger than their bodies; and others were carrying on their backs those which had been wounded; and others were expelling from the nest those which had settled themselves inside, and they were cutting them up into small pieces, lest being drenched in the winter they should have to return to the grass, and should die of hunger and be destroyed; and others were carrying dust, so that when the winter rains fell with violence they might be able to block up the entrance to their nest firmly. Now this sight was in my opinion worthy to wonder at, because everything which these small creatures did was done in perfect order, and I spent the whole of the day in watching them, and so enjoyed some relaxation from my afflictions, and I said, “Well did Solomon counsel us to be like these creatures, for he wished to stir up our lazy and sluggish understandings in this wise to perform with a ready mind the things which befit our redemption.”

Whilst then, I say, I was pondering upon these things in my mind, and was greatly afflicted thereby, I began to have sorrow concerning myself, because my lazy and sluggish mind lacked the great sense of order and arrangement which the ants possessed, and also the faculty of not being disturbed by thoughts of laziness, which the brethren possessed in common with the ants, and also because the Calumniator had hunted me down like a child, and had set me in captivity, and had hurled me into such [great] temptations. And I thought of those who were offering their souls with all their hearts to Christ, and who were being guided on their way in all the monasteries by submission and spiritual grace, through the righteous redemption of our Redeemer, and who were anxious to preserve their souls blameless, and who were laboring diligently and without any hindrance and with all their strength to do their work, and to minister unto one another; and who were not saying about any possession which was theirs, “It is mine,” and who had everything in common; and who carried out perfectly the manner of life, which is described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4:32), according to which no man said about any possession that it was his, and everything was in common; and who, though possessing nothing, yet possessed everything; and who enjoyed sufficiently that which they had for their daily needs, with all fear or with all praise, and glorified Him Who richly provided them with everything.

And having made my heart sad and low with such thoughts for many days, I went to that woman, who seeing how greatly my countenance was changed, entreated to be allowed to learn the cause thereof; and having confessed to her that it was because I had remembered the regular life of the brethren, and that I wished to escape and return to the monastery out of which the Enemy had made me to come, she advised me and besought me to take her with me and to place her also in a nunnery. And having together decided upon this plan, we wept and entreated our Lord to help us to carry out what we had determined and to deliver us from that wicked people. Now therefore, having firm hope in God’s assistance, we took thought for our return, and I slew two large goats which I had with me, and made their skins into water bottles; and having loaded their flesh upon our shoulders, I took the woman, and we departed. And we traveled the whole night long, and came to an exceedingly great and wide river, and I blew up the water bottles, and I gave one to the woman and kept the other myself, and we laid hold upon them with our hands, and sitting astride of the skins we paddled with our feet, and crossed over the river. Then, seeing that we should have to cross a desert wherein there was no water, we drank abundantly of the water of the river, and rose up from that place and went on our way quickly; and we were turning round continually to look behind us because of our horrible expectation that there would be men pursuing us, and that even if we could escape from them we should fall into the hands of wicked men like unto them.

Now because of our fear lest this should happen, and because of the heat of the sun, we were obliged to travel by night, and urged by this great fear, and also by our great anxiety, we were looking behind us ceaselessly. And after travelling for five days, we turned round suddenly, and saw our master and one of his companions, riding upon camels, and holding drawn swords in their hands, and pursuing after us; and by reason of our fear the sun appeared to us to become dark. And whilst we were in this terrible state of fright, and did not know where to escape, through the Providence of Christ, the Hope of the hopeless, and the Help of the helpless, we peered about in that place and found a frightful cave in the ground, wherein had gathered all the numerous kinds of snakes which are found in the desert, serpents, and asps, and vipers, and scorpions, which had gone therein because of the burning heat of the sun. Into this cave we tottered, and we hid ourselves in a corner, on the left hand side thereof, and we said, “If our Lord help us this cave shall be unto us a house of deliverance; but if He leave us to the sinners it will be our grave.”

Now when our master and his companion following in our footprints had pursued us to the cave, they alighted from their camels, and stood by the mouth thereof, and when we saw our master, such great fear laid hold upon us that we were unable to move our tongue to utter a word; for owing to the greatness of our fear we were already as dead men, before the sword-stroke fell upon us. And when our master stood outside the cave and called to us, we were unable to speak to him because of our fear. And he took hold of the camels, and commanded his companion to go in and bring us out, whilst he stood outside waiting for us with his sword drawn, so that he might by means thereof quell his brutal madness. Now when the young man had gone into the cave for a distance of five paces he stood still, and because he had come in from the outside, his eyes had become dazzled by the light of the sun, and he could not see. Now we being quite near him could see him standing there, but because he was unable to see us he began to terrify us with his voice, saying, “Come out, O wicked slaves who deserve death, why do you delay? Behold, your master is outside expecting you.” And as he was saying these words, we saw a lioness rise up on the right hand side of the cave, and she sprang upon him, and whilst he was yet speaking, she seized him by the throat and strangled him forthwith, and then dragged him in and laid him on her lair, for she had a male cub; and when we saw our enemy lying there before our eyes, we glorified God with great joy. Now his master, not knowing what had happened, and thinking that the young man had been overcome by us, and being unable to contain himself for rage, ran forward, holding his drawn sword in his hand, and, standing at the mouth of the cave, cried out in his wrath to the young man, saying, “Quick, quick, bring forth these slaves to me that they may die an evil death.” And whilst he was speaking, the lioness sprang upon him suddenly, and ripped him up, and threw him headlong on the ground.

And we marveled at all these unspeakable and inexplicable wonders of the Lord, and we gave thanks to Him, and we rejoiced in the glory of Him Who in this tribulation had risen up, and by Whose command the wild beast had destroyed our enemies. Now when the lioness turned back and passed from one side to the other of the cave where we were, we thought that she would destroy us, but, because of the wonderful thing which had been wrought, we continued to praise the Lord, and we said, “Since the Lord has delivered us from those wicked men He can, if He wills, hand us over to the lions; but nevertheless let us praise Him and give thanks unto Him.” Now while we were thus thinking in our minds, the lioness took up the cub in her mouth, and departed from the cave, and left the place to us; but after she had gone, because of the state of fear in which we were, we remained the whole of that day in the cave.

And in the morning we went forth and found the camels that were still laden with provisions which our master had brought for himself and his slave; and we ate and drank therefrom, and for all these things we gave thanks unto the Lord, Who had delivered us from our enemies. And we rode upon the camels, and having crossed that desert in ten days, we arrived at a Greek camp, and we drew nigh to the Tribune who was in command of it, and related unto him everything which had happened unto us; then he sent us on to Sabinus, who was at that time Duke of Mesopotamia, and he likewise learned all our affairs and took the camels and gave us their price, and he dismissed us to depart to our country in peace. Now before our return it happened that my spiritual father fell asleep. And the woman who had been my helper, and who had given me excellent advice, and had counselled good actions, I placed in an abode of virgins, and I returned to my own monastery and to my spiritual brethren, where at the beginning the Lord directed me. And I related unto that blessed brotherhood the story of all the things which had happened to me, and I confessed that it was because I had not hearkened unto the admonition of that holy father that the Lord left me so that all these trials might come upon me; and He did this for the correction of many.

Now therefore, O my son, all these trials, which came upon me because of my disobedience, and which I have narrated before you, are intende] for the edification and the protection of your soul; get possession of them, because, by the help of God, patient endurance and implicit obedience will deliver a man from all temptations. Obedience to the commandments of God is everlasting life, and the patient endurance which is perfect produces everlasting life in us; for “he who endures unto the end shall live” (Matt. 10:22).'

These things did the old man Malchus himself relate unto me while I was a young man, and on account of the law of brotherly love I have written them down because they befit the chaste life of holy old men, and tend to their edification and admonition; do then relate them unto those who are young, so that they may learn that those who have drawn nigh to the venerable estate of pure chastity, and who have preserved the same for Christ’s sake even unto the end, and who are protected by His power, shall overcome all the temptations of the Enemy. And neither captivity, nor the sword, nor any temptation, shall be able to overthrow those who have preserved in all purity and holiness the temple of Christ without spot and blemish, even unto death, and they shall become holy temples, and the Spirit of God shall dwell in them, and notwithstanding all the words of the Calumniator, He shall bestow victory upon them, forever and ever. Amen.