January 26, 2017

Life and Sayings of Holy Abba Ammonas the Bishop

Holy Abba Ammonas the Bishop (Feast Day - January 26)


Having completed the full thread of your life Ammonas,
You found life that could never be filled.

Abba Ammonas was Abba Anthony's disciple and successor on the Outer Mountain of Pispir. He had previously lived in Scetis for fourteen years in ceaseless prayer and granted victory over anger. He later became a bishop, probably by Saint Athanasius the Great. Several letters are attributed to him.

1. A brother asked Abba Ammonas, 'Give me a word,' and the old man replied, 'Go, make your thoughts like those of the evildoers who are in prison. For they are always asking when the magistrate will come, awaiting him in anxiety. Even so the monk ought to give himself at all times to accusing his own soul, saying, "Unhappy wretch that I am. How shall I stand before the judgement seat of Christ? What shall I say to him in my defense?" If you give yourself continually to this, you may be saved.'

2. It was said of Abba Ammonas that he had killed a basilisk. Going into the desert one day to draw water from the lake and seeing a basilisk, he threw himself face to the ground saying: 'Lord, either I die or he does,' and immediately, by the power of God, the basilisk burst asunder.

3. Abba Ammonas said, 'I have spent fourteen years in Scetis asking God night and day to grant me the victory over anger.'

4. One of the Fathers telling about the Cells, said there was once a hard-working old man there who wore a mat. He went to find Abba Ammonas, who, when he saw him wearing the mat, said to him, 'This is no use to you.' But the old man questioned him in the following way, 'Three thoughts occupy me, either, should I wander in the deserts, or should I go to a foreign land where no one knows me, or should I shut myself up in a cell without opening the door to anyone, eating only every second day.' Abba Ammonas replied, 'It is not right for you to do any of these three things. Rather, sit in your cell and eat a little every day, keeping the word of the publican always in your heart, and you may be saved.'

5. Some brethren found life difficult where they were living. Wanting to leave, they came to find Abba Ammonas. He was out on the river. Seeing them walking along the bank of the river, he asked the sailors to put him ashore. Then he called the brethren, saying to them, 'I am Ammonas, to whose dwelling you are wanting to go.' Having comforted their hearts, he sent them back whence they had come, for this difficulty did not arise from sickness of soul, but simply from natural annoyance.

6. One day when Abba Ammonas went to cross the river, he found the ferry-boat ready to go and sat down in it. Then another boat came to the place and transported the men who were there. They said to him, 'Come here, Father, and cross the river with us.' But he replied, 'I will not embark except in the public vessel.' As he had a handful of palm branches, he sat down, weaving them, and then undoing them, until the boat came alongside. Thus he made the crossing. Then the brethren made him a reverence, saying 'Why did you do that?' the old man said to them, 'So as to walk without any anxiety of spirit.' That is an example; we must walk in the way of God in peace.

7. Abba Ammonas was going to pay a visit to Abba Anthony, one day, and he lost his way. So sitting down, he fell asleep for a little while. On waking, he prayed thus to God, 'I beseech you, O Lord my God, do not let your creature perish.' Then there appeared to him as it were a man's hand in the heavens, which showed him the way, till he reached Abba Anthony's cave.

8. Abba Anthony predicted that this Abba Ammonas would make progress in the fear of God. He led him outside his cell, and showing him a stone, said to him, 'Hurt this stone, and beat it.' He did so. Then Anthony asked him, 'Has the stone said anything?' He replied, 'No.' Then Anthony said, 'You too will be able to do that,' and that is what happened. Abba Ammonas advanced to the point where his goodness was so great, he took no notice of wickedness. Thus, having become bishop, someone brought a young girl who was pregnant to him, saying, 'See what this unhappy wretch has
done; give her a penance.' But he, having marked the young girl's womb with the sign of the cross, commanded that six pairs of fine linen sheets should be given her, saying, 'It is for fear that, when she comes to give birth, she may die, she or the child, and have nothing for the burial.' But her accusers resumed, 'Why did you do that? Give her a punishment.' But he said to them, 'Look, brothers, she is near to death; what am I to do?' Then he sent her away and no old man dared accuse anyone any more.

9. It was said of him that some people came to him to be judged, and Abba Ammonas feigned madness. A woman standing near him said to her neighbour, 'The old man is mad.' Abba Ammonas heard it, caller her, and said, 'How much labor have I given myself in the desert to acquire this folly and through you I have lost it today!'

10. Abba Ammonas came one day to eat in a place where there was a monk of evil repute. Now it happened that a woman came and entered the cell of the brother of evil reputation. The dwellers in that place, having learnt this, were troubled and gathered together to chase the brother from his cell. Knowing that Bishop Ammonas was in the place, they asked him to join them. When the brother in question learnt this, he hid the woman in a large cask. The crowd of monks came to the place. Now Abba Ammonas saw the position clearly but for the sake of God he kept the secret; he entered, seated himself on the cask and commanded the cell to be searched. Then when the monks had searched everywhere without
finding the woman, Abba Ammonas said, 'What is this? May God forgive you!' After praying, he made everyone go out, then taking the brother by the hand he said, 'Brother, be on your guard.' With these words, he withdrew.

11. Abba Ammonas was asked, 'What is the "narrow and hard way?"' He replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this, to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you."'

It should be noted that some believe the Abba Ammonas commemorated on January 26th is not the Bishop above, but the Priest, of whom Bishop Palladius writes in his Lausiac History, chapter 72. However, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite is more inclined to believe it is the Bishop who is commemorated on this day. Nonetheless, below is the account of Abba Ammonas the Priest.

There is another place of solitude in Egypt, in very difficult country near the sea not far from the city of Diolcos, where many great anchorites lived. We met there a holy and very humble priest called Ammonas who had visionary gifts. Once when offering the Holy Sacrifice he saw an angel standing at the right hand of the altar taking note of the brothers who came seeking God's grace and writing their names in his book. If anyone was missing from the synaxis he saw their names being crossed out, and within three days they were dead. Demons often tortured him so badly that he was unable to stand at the altar to make the offering, but an angel came and took him by the hand and immediately gave him strength so that he was able to stand firmly at the altar. The brothers were amazed at the sight of his torments.