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June 17, 2017

Life and Sayings of Holy Abba Joseph the Anchorite of Panephysis

Holy Abba Joseph the Anchorite (Feast Day - June 17)


You are a divine swan in your last moments Joseph,
Dying while singing odes, as it is said a swan dies.


Abba Joseph lived as a solitary in Panephysis with his disciples; Abba Lot and Abba Poetnen consulted him. The group appears to have been of some importance; John Cassian stayed there for some time and Conferences 11-17 and 19-24 are situated there. In the Synaxarion it is said that he reposed while chanting.


1. Some Fathers went to Panephysis to see Abba Joseph and ask him what kind of reception they should give to the brethren to whom they gave lodging, whether they ought to mix with them and speak freely with them. Before they asked him, the old man said to his disciple, 'Consider what I am going to do today, and remain still.' Then the old man put two mats, one on his right and one on his left and said, 'Sit down.' Then he went inside his cell and put on beggar's garments. Then he came out again and walked in between them. After this, he went back to put on his own clothes again; coming out once more, he sat down between them. They were surprised at the things he did. So he said to them: 'Have you considered what I have done?' They replied that they had. 'Was I changed by those contemptible garments?' They said 'No.' Then he said to them: 'I remained the same, then, in both sets of clothes, the former did not change me and the latter have not done me harm. This is how we ought to behave when we receive visiting brethren, according to the holy Gospel which says, "Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's and to God the things which are God's" (Matt. 22:21). So when brothers come, let us receive them and speak freely with them. On the other hand, when we are alone we ought to weep, in order that we may persevere.' At these words the visitors were filled with astonishment because he had answered what they had in their hearts even before they had asked him and they gave glory to God.

2. Abba Poemen said to Abba Joseph, 'Tell me how to become a monk.' He said, 'If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say, "Who am I?" and do not judge anyone.'

3. The same abba asked Abba Joseph another question saying, 'What should I do when the passions attack me? Should I resist them, or let them enter?' The old man said to him, 'Let them enter and fight against them.' So he returned to Scetis where he remained. Now someone from Thebes came to Scetis and said to the brethren, 'I asked Abba Joseph if I ought to resist the passions when they approach, or let them enter and he replied I ought not to allow them the smallest entry but cut them off immediately.' When Abba Poemen learned that Abba Joseph had spoken to the brother from
Thebes in this way, he got up and went to see him at Panephysis and said, 'Abba, I consulted you about my thoughts and you have said one thing to me, and another to the Theban.' The old man said to him, 'Do you not know that I love you?' He said, 'Yes.' 'And did you not say to me: speak to me as you speak to yourself?' 'That is right.' Then the old man said, 'Truly, if the passions enter you and you fight them you become stronger. I spoke to you as to myself. But there are others who cannot profit in this way if the passions approach them, and so they must cut them off immediately.'

4. A brother asked Abba Joseph, saying, 'What should I do, for I do not have the strength to bear evil, nor to work for charity's sake?' The old man said to him, 'If you cannot do any of these things, at least guard your conscience from all evil with regard to your neighbor and you will be saved.'

5. One of the brethren related this, 'One day I went to lower Heracliopolis to see Abba Joseph. Now in the monastery there was a very good mulberry tree. At early dawn he said to me, "Go and eat." But as it was Friday I did not go, because of the fast; so I asked him, "For God's sake, explain this to me. Here you are saying to me, go and eat but I did not go, because of the fast. I blushed for shame thinking of your command. I asked myself what was the old man's intention in saying that and I wondered if I ought to have done it, since he told me to." The old man said, "At the beginning the Fathers do not speak to the brothers as they ought to do, but rather in an ambiguous manner, and if they see that they do what is right, then they no longer speak like that, but tell them the truth when they know they are obedient in all things."'

6. Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot, 'You cannot be a monk unless you become like a consuming fire.'

7. Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'

8. A brother asked Abba Joseph this, 'I want to leave the monastery, and live as a solitary.' The old man said to him, 'Go wherever you find your soul is most at peace, and stay there, without blame.' The brother said to him, 'But I am at peace both in the monastery and in the solitary life; will you tell me what to do?' The old man said to him, 'If you are at peace both in the monastery and in the solitary life, put these two thoughts as it were in the balance and wherever you see your thoughts will profit most and make progress, that is what you should do.'

9. One of the old men joined one of his companions and went with him to visit Abba Joseph. He said to him, 'Tell your disciple to saddle the ass.' The other replied, 'Call him, and he will do whatever you want.' 'What is his name?' 'I do not know.' 'How long has he been with you, and you do not know his name?' He replied, 'For two years.' The other said, If in two years you have not learnt your disciple's name, do I need to know it for a single day?'

10. Some brothers happened one day to meet at Abba Joseph's cell. While they were sitting there, questioning him, he became cheerful and, filled with happiness he said to them, 'I am a king today, for I reign over the passions.'

11. It was said of Abba Joseph of Panephysis that when he was at the point of death, while some old men were seated round him, he looked towards the window and saw the devil sitting close to it. Then calling his disciple he said to him, 'Bring my stick, for there is one there who thinks I am getting old and have no more strength against him.' As he gripped his stick the old men saw that the devil fled through the window like a dog, and disappeared from sight.

We also read in the Sayings of Abba Eulogios the Priest:

1. A certain Eulogios, a disciple of blessed John [Chrysostom] the bishop [of Constantinople], a priest and great ascetic, used to fast two days together and often extended his fast to the whole week, eating only bread and salt. Men thought highly of him. He went to Abba Joseph at Panephysis, in the hope of finding greater austerity with him. The old man received him joyfully and supplied him with everything he had to refresh him. Eulogios' disciples said, 'The priest only eats bread and salt.' Abba Joseph ate in silence. The visitors spent three days there without hearing them chanting or praying, for the brothers labored in secret. They went away without having been edified.

By the will of God, it became so dark that they lost their way and returned to the old man. Before knocking on the door, they heard chanting. So they waited for a suitable moment and then knocked. Those who were inside, having ended their psalmody, received them joyfully. Then, because of the heat, the disciples of Eulogios rushed to the water jar and offered it to him. Now it contained a mixture of sea-water and river-water, so that he could not drink it. Coming to himself, Eulogios threw himself at the old man's feet and, wanting to know about his manner of life, he asked him, 'Abba, what is this? You did not chant before, but only after we left. And now when I take the jug, I find salt water in it.' The old man said to him, 'The brother is distraught and has mixed sea-water with it by mistake.' But Eulogios pressed the old man, wanting to learn the truth. So the old man said, 'This little bottle of wine is for hospitality, but that water is what the brothers always drink.' Then he instructed him in discernment of thoughts and in controlling all the merely human in himself. So he became more balanced and ate whatever was brought him and learnt how to work in secret. Then he said to the old man, 'Truly, your way of life is indeed genuine.'