November 27, 2016

Holy Abba Nathaniel of Nitria

St. Nathaniel of Nitria (Feast Day - November 27)


"Leaving the world, run to God O soul,"
Nathaniel cried out and he expired.

By Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis

(Lausiac History, Ch. 16)

And there was also another man among the aged ones whose name was Nathaniel, and him I never met in his life, for he died fifteen years before I entered into this mountain [Nitria]; but I have met those who dwelt with him for a long time. And having made inquiries of these I learned concerning the triumphs of the man, and they also showed me his cell wherein at that time no man was living, because it was nigh unto the world; but Abba Nathaniel built it long ago when the monks were few in number.

Now they used to relate concerning this man that his patient endurance in his cell was such that he never moved from his place to go outside the door of his habitation for the disposition of his will. At the beginning he was laughed at by the Evil One, who mocks at and leads astray every man, and he made Nathaniel to feel weariness in his first cell, and he went and built himself another cell in the neighborhood of the city. Now after he had built the other cell and had dwelt therein, some three or four months later the devil, who had waged war against him from the beginning, came by night holding in his hand a sling like a hunter, and he was dressed in the garb of the Romans, and he was slinging stones with the sling which he was holding. Then the blessed man Nathaniel answered and said unto him, “Who are you who does these things in the place wherein I dwell?” The devil said unto him, “I am he who made you flee from your first cell, and I have come that I may make you to flee from this place.” Now when he knew that the devil was laughing at him because he had departed from his first cell, straightway he turned and went back thereto, and he lived in his first cell for the space of thirty and seven years in such strict abnegation that he never passed outside the door, and meanwhile he was warring with the devil. And the wicked devil made him to experience so many afflictions and troubles in order to drive him out of his cell that it would be impossible for any man to recount them. But the Evil One watched and obtained his opportunity in the arrival of the Bishops who came to Nathaniel (now they were all holy men), and whether the ordering of the matter was due to the will of God, or to the temptation of the Evil One, we know not, but he made Nathaniel to fall away somewhat from his intention. For when the Bishops had prayed and had gone forth, Nathaniel did not escort them the distance of one step, and the servants who were with them said to him, “Do you possess the faculty of pride that you will not accompany the Bishops?” Then Nathaniel said unto them, “I died once and for all to my lords the Bishops, and to the whole world, and I have a secret matter concerning which it is God only Who knows my heart, and why I did not go forth and escort them.”

Then that devil, who was still making a mock of this self-abnegation, nine months before Nathaniel’s death took upon himself the form of a young man who was about twenty years old, and he was following after an ass which was carrying bread in the bed of the river. Now when it was far into the evening the young man passed close to the cell, and pretended that the ass had fallen down under its burden, and he began to cry out, and said, “Abba Nathaniel, help me, and come and render me assistance.” And Nathaniel heard the voice of the young man who he thought was crying out, and he opened the door, and as he was standing inside, he spake with him, and said unto him, “Who are you? And what do you want me to do for you?” And the young man said unto him, “I am such and such a young man, and I am carrying bread to such and such a brother because he wishes to make a love feast, and the day which dawns tomorrow will be the Sabbath, and bread for the Offering will be necessary. I beg of you, therefore, not to tarry in assisting me, lest the hyenas come and devour both me and the ass.” Now there were many hyenas in that place.

Then the blessed Nathaniel stood still in great astonishment, and he was much troubled in his mind by the mercy which had revealed itself to him, and he meditated within himself, saying, “It is either through the command of God that I must fall, or through my will having reached its limit.” Finally he meditated within himself and said, “It is better for him who has guarded for all these years the limit of his will, and has not passed over his door, to remain in the same condition which will put the Evil One to shame than to go out;” and he prayed to God. Then he made answer unto him whom he believed to be a young man crying out, and said unto him, “Young man, hear me! I believe that the God Whom I serve will send you help if it be needed by you, and that neither the hyenas nor anything else will harm you; but if you are a temptation may God discover your craftiness!” And he shut the door and held his peace. And that devil was put to shame, and by reason of his wickedness he took the form of a whirlwind and the forms of wild asses which dance about and skip and break wind. This is the story of the triumph of the blessed Nathaniel, and this is the story of his labor and of his ending.