July 6, 2017

Life and Sayings of Abba Sisoes the Great


Sisoes was trained as an ascetic with Abba Or in Scetis. He left Scetis after the death of St. Anthony, saying it had become too popular and settled on St. Anthony s mountain for seventy-two years. He found it deserted. He received supplies from Pispir by a servant and was in touch with Rhaithou and Clysma. He reposed in 429 and is celebrated by the Church on July 6th.


1. A brother whom another brother had wronged came to see Abba Sisoes and said to him, 'My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself.' The old man pleaded with him saying, 'No, my child, leave vengeance to God.' He said to him, 'I shall not rest until I have avenged myself.' The old man said, 'Brother, let us pray.' Then the old man stood up and said, 'God, we no longer need you to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves.' Hearing these words, the brothers fell at the old man's feet, saying, 'I will no longer seek justice from my brother; forgive me, abba.'

2. A brother asked Abba Sisoes saying, 'What should I do? When I go to the church, often there is an agape there after the service and they make me stay for it?' The old man said to him, 'It is a difficult question.' Then Abraham, his disciple, said, 'If the gathering takes place on Saturday or Sunday and a brother drinks three cups of wine, is that not a lot?' The old man said, 'If Satan is not in it, it is not much.'

3. Abba Sisoes' disciple said to him, 'Father, you are growing old. Let us now go back nearer to inhabited country.' The old man said to him, 'Let us go where there are no women.' His disciple said to him, 'Where is there a place where there are no women except the desert?' So the old man said, 'Take me to the desert.'

4. Abba Sisoes' disciple often said to him, Abba, get up, and let us eat.' And he would say to him, 'Have we not eaten, my child?' He would reply, 'No, Father.' The the old man would say, If we have not eaten, bring the food, and we will eat.'

5. Abba Sisoes expressed himself freely one day, saying, 'Have confidence: for thirty years I have not prayed to God about my faults, but I have made this prayer to him: "Lord Jesus, save me from my tongue," and until now every day, I fall because of it, and commit sin.'

6. A brother said to Abba Sisoes, 'How is it that the passions do not leave me?' The old man said, 'Their tools are inside you; give them their pay and they will go.'

7. Abba Sisoes was living for a time on the mountain of Abba Anthony, and his disciple was a long time coming, so he did not see anyone for ten months. Now while he was walking on the mountain he met a Pharanite who was hunting wild animals. The old man said to him, 'Where have you come from? And how long have you been here?' He replied, 'Indeed, abba, I have been eleven months on this mountain and I have not seen anyone except you.' Hearing this the old man entered his cell and beat his breast saying, 'Look, Sisoes, you thought you had done something special but you have not even equalled this layman.'

8. There was a liturgy on the mountain of Abba Anthony and they had a small bottle of wine there. One of the old men took a jug and a cup and offered some to Abba Sisoes. He drank some. A second time, he also accepted some. But when he was offered some a third time, he did not accept it, saying, 'Stop, brother, don't you know that it is of Satan?'

9. One of the brethren went to see Abba Sisoes on Abba Anthony's mountain. While they were talking, he said to Abba Sisoes, 'Have you already reached Abba Anthony's stature, Father?' The old man said to him, 'If I had one of Abba Anthony's thoughts, I should become all flame; but I do know a man, who with difficulty is able to bear Anthony's thoughts.'

10. One of the inhabitants of the Thebaid came to see Abba Sisoes one day because he wanted to become a monk. The old man asked him if he had any relations in the world. He replied, 'I have a son.' The old man said, 'Go and throw him into the river and then you will become a monk. As he went to throw him in, the old man sent a brother in haste to prevent him. The brother said, 'Stop, what are you doing?' But the other said to him, 'The abba told me to throw him in.' So the brother said, 'But afterwards he said do not throw him in.' So he left his son and went to find the old man and he became a monk, tested by obedience.

11. A brother asked Abba Sisoes, 'Did Satan pursue them like this in the early days?' The old man said to him, 'He does this more at the present time, because his time is nearly finished and he is enraged.'

12. Abraham, Abba Sisoes' disciple, was tempted one day by the devil and the old man saw that he had given way. Standing up, he stretched his hands towards heaven, saying, 'God, whether you will, or whether you will not, I will not let you alone till you have healed him,' and immediately the brother was healed.

13. A brother said to Abba Sisoes, 'I am aware that the remembrance of God stays with me.' The old man said to him, 'It is no great thing to be with God in your thoughts, but it is a great thing to see yourself as inferior to all creatures. It is this, coupled with hard work, that leads to humility.'

14. It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the Fathers were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, 'Look, Abba Anthony is coming.' A little later he said, 'Look, the choir of prophets is coming.' Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, Look, the choir of apostles is coming,' His countenance increased in brightness and lo, he spoke with someone. Then the old men asked him, 'With whom are you speaking, Father?' He said, 'Look, the angels are coming to fetch me, and I am begging them to let me do a little penance.' The old man said to him, 'You have no need to do penance, Father.' But the old man said to them, 'Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet.' Now they all knew that he was perfect. Once more his countenance suddenly became like the sun and they were all filled with fear. He said to them, 'Look, the Lord is coming and he's saying, "Bring me the vessel from the desert." ' Then there was as a flash of lightening and all the house was filled with a sweet odor.

15. Abba Adelphius, bishop of Nilopolis, went to find Abba Sisoes on the mountain of Abba Anthony. When they were ready to leave, before setting out on their road Abba Sisoes made them eat before morning. Now it was a fast day. As he was setting the table, behold, some brothers came and knocked on the door. He said to his disciple, 'Give them a little to eat, for they are tired.' Abba Adelphius said to him, 'No, don't do that, in case they say that Abba Sisoes eats before morning.' So the old man thought about it and then he said to the brother, 'Go on, give them something.' Now when they saw the food they said, 'Have you visitors, and is that why the old man is eating with you?' The brother replied it was so. They they were very distressed and they said, 'May God forgive you, because you have let the old man eat now. Do you not know that because of this, he will mortify himself for a long time?' Hearing this, the bishop did penance before the old man saying, 'Forgive me, abba, for I reasoned on a human level while you do the work of God.' Abba Sisoes said to him, 'If God does not glorify a man, the glory of men is without value.'

16. Some brothers went to see Abba Sisoes to hear a word from him. But he did not speak to them saying, 'Excuse me.' Seeing his little baskets, the visitors asked his disciple Abraham, 'What do you do with these little baskets?' He said, 'We sell them here and there.' Hearing this the old man said, 'Even Sisoes eats now and then.' By these words the visitors were greatly helped and they returned with joy, edified by his humility.

17. Abba Ammoun of Rhaithou asked Abba Sisoes, 'When I read the Scriptures, my mind is wholly concentrated on the words so that I may have something to say if I am asked.' The old man said to him, 'That is not necessary; it is better to enrich yourself through purity of spirit and to be without anxiety and then to speak.'

18. A secular who had a son came to see Abba Sisoes on Abba Anthony's mountain. On the way, it happened that his son died. He was not troubled by this but brought him with confidence to the old man and bowed down with his son, as though making prostration, so that he would be blessed by the old man. Then the father stood up, left the child at the old man's feet and went outside. The old man, thinking that the boy was bowing said to him, 'Get up, go outside.' For he did not know that he was dead. Immediately the boy stood up and went out. When he saw it, his father was filled with amazement and went back inside. He bowed before the old man and told him the whole story. When he heard it the old man was filled with regret, for he had not intended that to happen. So the disciple asked the father of the child not to speak of it to anyone before the old man's death.

19. Three old men came to see Abba Sisoes, having heard about him. The first said to him, 'Father, how shall I save myself from the river of fire?' He did not answer him. The second said to him, 'Father, how can I be saved from the gnashing of teeth and the worm which dieth not?' The third said, 'Father, what shall I do, for the remembrance of the outer darkness is killing me?' By way of reply the old man said to them, 'For my part, I do not keep in mind the remembrance of any of these things, for God is compassionate and I hope that he will show me his mercy.' Hearing this, the old men went back offended. But the old man, not wishing to let them go away hurt, said to them, 'Blessed are you, my brothers; truly I envy you. The first speaks of the river of fire, the second of hell and the third of darkness. Now if your spirit is filled with such remembrances, it is impossible for you to sin. What shall I do, then? I who am hard of heart and to whom it has not been granted so much as to know whether there is a punishment for men; no doubt it is because of this that I am sinning all the time.' They prostrated themselves before him and said, 'Now we have seen exactly that of which we have heard tell.'

20. They asked Abba Sisoes, If a brother sins, surely he must do penance for a year?' He replied, 'That is a hard saying.' The visitors said, 'For six months?' He replied, 'That is a great deal.' They said, 'For forty days?' He said, 'That is a great deal, too.' They said to him, 'What then? If a brother falls, and the agape is about to be offered, should he simply come to the agape, too?' The old man said to them, 'No, he needs to do penance for a few days. But I trust in God that if such a man does penance with his whole heart, God will receive him, even in three days.'

21. When Abba Sisoes went to Clysma one day, some seculars came to see him. Though they talked a great deal, he did not answer them by so much as a word. Later, one of them said, 'Why do you bother the old man? He does not eat; that is why he cannot speak.' The old man replied, 'For my part, I eat when the need arises.'

22. Abba Joseph asked Abba Sisoes, 'For how long must a man cut away the passions?' The old man said to him, 'Do you want to know how long?' Abba Joseph answered, 'Yes.' The the old man said to him, 'So long as a passion attacks you, cut it away at once.'

23. A brother asked Abba Sisoes of Petra how to live and the old man said to him, 'Daniel said: do not eat the bread of desires.' (cf. Dan. 10.3)

24. It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was sitting in the cell he would always close the door.

25. One day some Arians came to see Abba Sisoes on Abba Anthony's mountain and they began to speak against the orthodox faith. The old man gave them no answer but he called his disciple and said to him, Abraham, bring me the book of Saint Athanasius and read it.' Then they were silent as their heresy was unmasked and he sent them away in peace.

26. Abba Ammoun of Rhaithou came to Clysma one day to meet Abba Sisoes. Seeing that Abba Sisoes was grieved because he had left the desert, Abba Ammoun said to him, Abba, why grieve about it? What would you do in the desert, now you are so old?' The old man pondered this sorrowfully and said to him, 'What are you saying to me, Ammoun? Was not the mere liberty of my soul enough for me in the desert?'

27. Abba Sisoes was sitting in his cell one day. His disciple knocked on the door and the old man shouted out to him saying, 'Go away, Abraham, do not come in. From now on I have no time for the things of this world.'

28. A brother asked Abba Sisoes, 'Why did you leave Scetis, where you lived with Abba Or and come to live here?' The old man said, At the time when Scetis became crowded, I heard that Anthony was dead and I got up and came here to the mountain. Finding the place peaceful I have settled here for a little while.' The brother said to him, 'How long have you been here?' The old man said to him, 'Seventy-two years.'

29. He also said, 'When there is someone who takes care of you, you are not to give him orders.'

30. A brother asked Abba Sisoes, If we are walking along the road and the guide leads us astray, ought we to tell him so?' The old man answered, 'No.' Then the brother said, 'Should we let him lead us astray then?' The old man said to him, 'What else? Will you take a stick to beat him? I know some brethren who were walking and the guide misled them the whole night. There were twelve of them and they all knew that they were lost and each one struggled not to say so. When day came and the guide realized that they had lost their way and said to them, "Forgive me, but I am lost," they all said to him, "We knew that but we kept silence." Hearing this he was filled with wonder and said, "Even to the point of death, the brothers control themselves so as not to speak," and he gave glory to God. The length of the road on which they had gone astray was twelve miles.'

31. One day the Saracens came and robbed the old man and his brother. As he was setting off into the desert to find something to eat, the old man found some camel dung and having broken it up, he found some grains of barley in it. He ate a grain and put the other into his hand. His brother came and saw him in the act of eating and said to him, 'Is this charity, to find food and to eat it along without having called me?' Abba Sisoes said to him, 'I have not wronged you, brother, here is your share which I have kept in my hand.'

32. They said Abba Sisoes the Theban dwelt at Calamon of Arsinoe. Another old man was ill there in the other lavra and when he heard of it, Abba Sisoes was very sorry. Now Abba Sisoes used to fast for two days at a time, so there was one day when he did not eat. When he heard about the old man's illness, he said to himself, 'What shall I do? If I go and see him, I am afraid the brethren will compel me to eat, but if I wait until tomorrow, I am afraid he may die. This is what I will do; I will go and I will not eat.' So he went fasting, both fulfilling the commandment of God and yet not relaxing his way of life for the sake of God.

33. One of the Fathers related of Abba Sisoes of Calamon that, wishing to overcome sleep one day, he hung himself over the preci- pice of Petra. An angel came to take him down and ordered him not to do that again and not to transmit such teaching to others.

34. One of the Fathers asked Abba Sisoes, 'If I am sitting in the desert and a barbarian comes to kill me and if I am stronger than he, shall I kill him?' The old man said to him, 'No, leave him to God. In fact whatever the trial is which comes to a man, let him say, "This has happened to me because of my sins," and if something good comes say, "It is through the providence of God." '

35. A brother asked Abba Sisoes the Theban, 'Give me a word,' and he said, 'What shall I say to you? I read the New Testament, and I turn to the old.'

36. The same brother asked Abba Sisoes of Petra about the saying which Abba Sisoes the Theban had said to him and the old man said, 'I go to sleep in sin and I awaken in sin.'

37. They said of Abba Sisoes the Theban that when the assembly was dismissed he used to flee to his cell and they used to say of him, 'He is possessed by a devil.' But he was really doing the work of God.

38. A brother asked Abba Sisoes, 'What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen?' The old man said to him, 'Get up again.' The brother said, 'I have got up again, but I have fallen again.' The old man said, 'Get up again and again.' So then the brother said, 'How many times?' The old man said, 'Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man presents himself to judgement in the state in which he is found.'

39. A brother asked an old man, 'What shall I do, for I am troubled about manual work? I love making ropes and I cannot make them.' The old man said that Abba Sisoes used to say, 'You should not do work which gives you satisfaction.'

40. Abba Sisoes said, 'Seek God, and do not seek where he dwells.'

41. He also said, 'Shame and lack of fear often lead to sin.'

42. A brother asked Abba Sisoes, 'What am I to do?' He said to him: 'What you need is a great deal of silence and humility. For it is written: "Blessed are those who wait for him" (Is. 30.18) for thus they are able to stand.'

43. Abba Sisoes said, 'Let yourself be despised, cast your own will behind your back, and you will be free from care and at peace.'

44. A brother asked Abba Sisoes, 'What shall I do about the passions?' The old man said, 'Each man is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.' (James 1.14)

45. A brother asked Abba Sisoes to give him a word. He said, 'Why do you make me speak without need? Whatever you see, do that.'

46. One day Abba Abraham, Abba Sisoes' disciple, went away on an errand. During his absence the old man did not wish to be served by anyone else. 'Shall I let any other man, except my brother, get used to me?' He refused till his disciple should return, and put up with the hardship.

47. They said of Abba Sisoes that once when he was sitting down, he cried with a loud voice, 'O misery!' His disciple said to him, 'What is the matter, father?' The old man said to him, 'I seek a man to speak to and I do not find one.'

48. One day Abba Sisoes left Abba Anthony's mountain to go to the outer mountain of the Thebaic! and there he stayed. Now there were some Meletians there who lived at Calamon of Arsinoe. Hearing that the old man had come to the outer mountain, some people wished to see him but they said, 'What shall we do because the Meletians are on the mountain. We know that the old man does not suffer harm from them but we are afraid lest, in wanting to meet the old man, we fall into the temptation of the heretics.' So as not to meet the heretics, they did not go to see the old man.

49. This is what they relate about Abba Sisoes when he became ill. The old men were sitting beside him and he spoke to some of them. They said to him, 'What do you see, abba?' He said to them, 'I see beings coming towards me, and I am begging them to leave me a little while so that I may repent.' One of the old men said to him, And even if they allow you a respite, can you now profit by it and do penance?' The old man said to him, 'If I am not able to do that, at least I can groan a little over my soul and that is enough for me.'

50. They said of Abba Sisoes that when he came to Clysma he fell ill. While he was sitting with his disciple in his cell, someone knocked on the door. Then the old man understood and said to his disciple, Abraham, say to him who is knocking, "I am Sisoes on the mountain and I am Sisoes on my bed." ' Hearing this, the one who knocked disappeared.

51. Abba Sisoes, the Theban, said to his disciple, 'Tell me what you see in me and then I will tell you what I see in you.' His disciple said to him, 'You are a good man, but a little hard.' The old man said to him, 'You are good, too, but you are not tough enough.'

52. They said of Abba Sisoes the Theban that he did not eat bread. At the Paschal Feast the brothers bowed to him and invited him to eat with them. He answered them, 'There is only one thing I can do: either I eat bread with you, or else I eat all the dishes you have prepared.' They said to him, 'Eat only bread,' and he did so.

53. If anyone asked Abba Sisoes about Abba Pambo, he would say, 'Pambo was very great in his works.'

54. Abba Sisoes said to a brother, 'How are you getting on?' and he replied, 'I am wasting my time, father.' The old man said, 'If I happen to waste a day, I am grateful for it.'

From the Sayings of Abba Macarius the Great

7. Abba Sisoes said, 'When I was at Scetis with Macarius, we went up, seven of us, to bring in the harvest. Now a widow cried out behind us and would not stop weeping. So the old man called the owner of the field and said to him, "What is the matter with the woman that she goes on weeping?" "It is because her husband received a deposit in trust from someone and he died suddenly without saying where he had hidden it, and the owner of the deposit wants to take her and her children and make slaves of them." The old man said to him, "Tell her to come to us, when we take our mid-day rest." The woman came, and the old man said to her, "Why are you weeping all the time like this?" She replied, "My husband who had received a deposit on trust from someone, has died and he did not say when he died, where he had put it." The old man said to her, "Come, show me where you have buried him." Taking the brethren with him, he went with her. When they had come to the place, the old man said to her, "Go away to your house." While the brethren prayed, the old man asked the dead man, "So and so, where have you put the deposit?" The corpse replied, "It is hidden in the house, at the foot of the bed." The old man said, "Rest again, until the day of resurrection." When they saw this, the brethren were filled with fear and threw themselves at his feet. But the old man said to them, "It is not for my sake that this has happened, for I am nothing, but it is because of the widow and the orphans that God has performed this miracle. This is what is remarkable, that God wants the soul to be without sin and grants it all it asks." He went to tell the widow where the deposit was. Taking it, she returned it to its owner and thus freed her children. All who heard this story gave glory to God.'

From the Sayings of Abba Poemen

82. He also said that Abba Sisoes said, 'There is a kind of shame that contains a culpable lack of fear.'

89. The same brother put the same question to Abba Sisoes who said to him, 'It is true that there are some who give nothing to the enemy.'

187. It was said of Abba Poemen that if some old men were sitting with him, speaking of the ancients, and Abba Sisoes was mentioned, he would say, 'Keep silence about Abba Sisoes, for that which concerns him goes beyond what can be said.'

From the Sayings of Abba Pambo

12. They said of Abba Pambo that he was like Moses, who received the image of the glory of Adam when his face shone. His face shone like lightening and he was like a king sitting on his throne. It was the same with Abba Silvanus and Abba Sisoes.

From the Sayings of Abba Pistus

1. Abba Pistus related that which follows: 'We were seven anchorities who went to see Abba Sisoes who lived at Clysma, begging him to give us word. He said to us, "Forgive me, for I am a very simple man. But I have been to Abba Or and to Abba Athre. Abba Or was ill for eighteen years. I made a prostration before him and asked him to give me a word. Abba Or said to me, 'What shall I say to you? Go, and do what you see is right; God comes to him who reproaches himself and does violence to himself in everything.' Abba Or and Abba Athre did not come from the same part of the country, yet until they left their bodies, there was great peace between them. Abba Athre's obedience was great, and great was Abba Or's humility. I spent several days with them, without leaving them for a moment, and I saw a great wonder that Abba Athre did. Someone brought them a little fish and Abba Athre wanted to cook it for the old man. He was holding the knife in the act of cutting up the fish and Abba Or called him. He left the knife in the middle of the fish and did not cut up the rest of it. I admired his great obedience, for he did not say, 'Wait till I have cut up the fish.' I said to Abba Athre, 'Where did you find such obedience?' He said to me, 'It is not mine, but the old man's.' He took me with him, saying, 'Come and see his obedience.' He took the fish, intentionally cooked some of it badly, and offered it to the old man who ate it without saying anything. Then he said to him, 'Is it good, old man?' He replied, 'It is very good.' Afterwards he brought him a little that was well cooked and said, 'Old man, I have spoiled it,' and he replied, 'Yes, you have spoiled it a little.' Then Abba Athre said to me, 'Do you see how obedience is intrinsic to the old man?' I came away from there and what I have told you, I have tried to practise as far as I could.'"

From the Sayings of Abba Or

7. Abba Sisoes asked Abba Or, 'Give me a word,' and he said to him, 'Do you trust me?' He replied that he did. Then he said to him, 'Go, and what you have seen me do, do also.' Abba Sisoes said to him, 'Father, what have I seen you do?' The old man said, 'In my own opinion, I put myself below all men.'