September 16, 2016

Holy Abba Dorotheos of Thebes

St. Dorotheos of Thebes (Feast Day - September 16)

By Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis

Now when I had come unto him [Abba Isidore] to be his disciple, and I was persuading him to hold me worthy of the rank of those who lived in a monastery, being in the vigor of my early manhood and needing not the word only but also the labor of the body, and severe physical exercises, even like the young unbroken animal, I besought him to teach me his beautiful way of life and to let me dwell by myself, for I was heedful of nothing, being in the vigor of my early manhood, and I had no great need of doctrine, but only [to learn] to subdue the passions of the flesh. Then, like a good teacher, he took me outside the city unto a place which was six miles distant, and wherein there was restful solitude, and he handed me over unto an anchorite whose name was Dorotheos, and whose life was one of spiritual excellence, and who had lived in a cave for sixty years. And he commanded me to live with him, and to lead a life of self-denial with him for a period of three years, so that the passions of the flesh might leave me. For the blessed Isidore knew that blessed old man, and he knew that his life was stern and severe, and he admonished me, saying, “When you have completed this period of three years, return unto me for the remainder of the doctrine of spiritual knowledge.” But I was unable to fulfill these three years with him, on account of a severe illness into which I fell, and so I departed from Dorotheos before the end of the period, and I returned to him that had brought me out, and entered his abode that I might learn the doctrine of the spirit.

Now the life of Dorotheos was one of exceedingly hard toil, and the manner thereof was severe, and his food was meager and wretched, for he lived on dry bread. And he used to go round about in the desert by the side of the sea the whole day long in the heat of the noonday sun and collect stones with which he built cells, which he used to give unto the brethren who were unable to build cells for themselves; and he used to finish one cell each year. One day I said unto the holy man, “Father, do you work thus in your old age? For you will kill your body in all this heat.” And he said unto me, “I kill it lest it should kill me.” He used to eat one small bread cake, which weighed about six ounces, each day, and a little bundle of green herbs; and he drank water by measure. What then? I know not. As God is my witness I never saw this man stretch out his legs and lie down as men are wont to do; and he never slept upon a bed of palm leaves, or upon anything else, but he used to work the whole night long weaving baskets made of palm leaves to provide himself with the daily bread which he required for food. Now I imagined at first that he used to work in this manner because I was present, and then I thought, “Perhaps it is only for my sake, and to show me how to perform such severe labors, that he does this.” So I made inquiries of many of those who had been his disciples and who were then living by themselves and were emulating his spiritual excellencies, and I also asked others of his disciples who were living by his side if in very truth he always labored in this wise, and they said unto me, “He has held to this practice from his youth up, and he has never been in the habit of sleeping according to what is right. In the daytime he never sleeps willingly, but sometimes when he is working with his hands, or when he is eating, he closes his eyes and is snatched away by slumber. As he sits working he eats, and unless slumber overcame him suddenly he would never sleep at all. Many and many a time he is overcome by slumber while he is eating, and the morsel of bread falls out of his mouth because he is overcome by drowsiness.” And when from time to time I used to urge him to sit down, or to throw himself upon a mat of palm leaves and to rest a little, he would answer and say unto me in a grieved manner, “If you are able to persuade the angels to sleep, then you will be able to persuade me.”

One day, towards the ninth hour, Dorotheos sent me to the fountain from which he drank water to fetch him some water, so that he might eat his meal, for he used to eat about this time, and when I had gone there I chanced to see a viper going down the well; and because of my fear I was unable to fill the pitcher with water, and I went back to him, and said unto him, “O father, we shall die, for I have seen a viper going down into the water.” Now when he heard these words he laughed reverently, and constrained himself, and he lifted up his face and looked at me not a little time, and he shook his head, and said unto me, “If it were to happen that Satan had the power to show you in every fountain an asp, or again to cast into them vipers, or serpents, or tortoises, or any other kinds of venomous reptiles, would you be able to do without drinking water entirely?” And when he had said these words unto me, he went forth and departed to the fountain and drew water, and brought it back, and having made the sign of the Cross over it he straightway drank therefrom before he ate anything. And he constrained me to drink and said unto me, “Where the seal of the Cross is, the wickedness of Satan hath no power to do harm.”

From The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Ch. 2.