August 7, 2017

Life and Sayings of Holy Abba Or of Nitria

Holy Abba Or (Feast Day - August 7)


"From the earth Or departed to me," said grace,
"On behalf of Or begotten by you O law."


Or, one of the early monks in Nitria, associated with Theodore and Sisoes, died about A.D. 390.

By Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis

(Lausiac History, Ch. 9)

Now in Mount Nitria there was a certain man whose name was Or, concerning whom men, especially all the brotherhood, testify to many of his triumphs, and also that marvelous and excellent woman Melania, the handmaid of Christ, who went into this mountain before I did. As for me, I never became acquainted with this man. And in his history they say this one thing: “He never told a lie in his life, and he never used oaths; he never uttered a curse, and beyond what was absolutely necessary he never spoke at all.”

By St. Jerome

(History of the Monks of Egypt, Ch. 3)

And we saw also another wonderful man whose name was Abba Or. Now he was the Abba of one thousand monks, and he had an angelic form and was about ninety years of age; his beard flowed down over his breast, and it was white and beautiful, and his countenance was so glorious that those that saw him were reproved by the sight thereof only. And this blessed man had for a very long time lived a life of the utmost austerity at a remote place in the desert, but subsequently he took certain monasteries in the desert which was near Shaina, and gathered together a brotherhood, and he planted so many wild trees at that spot that they formed a dense wood in the wilderness. For the fathers who lived with him there said that before this man came there from the desert there was not even a shrub in the place; now he planted these trees in order to fill a want, and to prevent the brethren who were gathered together to him from being troubled by searching for wood. And in his prayer to God he took the same pains and strove that all the needs of the brethren might be supplied, so that they would only have to be anxious about their redemption, and that nothing which they used might be wanting for them, [so that they might have no excuse for negligence]. When formerly the blessed man lived in the desert of Dalga he used to eat roots and herbs, and to drink water when he was able, and he passed the whole time of his life in prayer and praise; but when he arrived at complete old age, an angel appeared unto him in a dream, in the desert, and said, “You shall become a great race, and shall be set in authority over a numerous people, and those who shall be saved through you shall be ten myriads [in number], and you shall be a governor in the new world, and above every one else in the world you shalt have life. And," said the angel unto him, “fear not, for you shall never be in want of food, whensoever you cry unto your God, until the day of your departure from this world.”

And having heard these things the blessed Abba Or journeyed on his way diligently and came to the desert which is nigh unto Shaina, and first of all he lived there by himself in a little tabernacle, which he made, and he fed upon garden herbs soaked in vinegar, and on several occasions he ate only once a week. And because originally he had no knowledge of letters, when he rose up to go forth from the desert into Shaina, the knowledge of the Holy Books was given unto him by Divine Grace so fully that he was able to repeat all the Scriptures by heart; and when he had come [to Shaina] and a book was given unto him by the brethren to read, he read it forthwith as if he were a man who had been always acquainted with books. And there was added unto him also the gracious gift of being able to cast out devils, and many of them came to him by the constraint [of this gift], against their wills, and would shriek out through his acts. And he wrought so many other cures so often that from all sides there were gathered together unto him brethren who lived in monasteries, one thousand in number.

And when the man of God saw us, he rejoiced in us, and saluted us, and straightway he offered up a prayer; and he washed our feet with his own hands, and began to teach us, for he was exceedingly well acquainted with the Scriptures, even as a man who had received the gift from God, and he expounded to us many chapters of the Scriptures, and delivered to us the orthodox faith; moreover, he urged us to prayer, and to partake of the Mysteries. For it was the habit of all the great monks not to give food to their bodies until they had offered spiritual sustenance to their souls, that is to say, the participation in the Body and Blood of Christ. And having partaken of the Mysteries we gave thanks unto God, and he urged us to come to the table of food, and he called to our recollection the ascetic lives of noble men, and said, “I know a certain man in this desert who for three years past has not eaten anything which is of this earth, but an angel comes to him once in three days, and brings him heavenly food and places it in his mouth, and this suffices him instead of meat and drink. And I know that there came to this man in a lying vision devils who were in the forms of horses and chariots of fire and numerous horsemen, as if they had come from a king, and they said unto him, ‘You have become perfect in everything, O man, but now, bow down and worship me, and I will take you up like Elijah.’ Then the monk said in his mind, ‘I worship the King and Redeemer every day, and if this creature were a king he would not ask me to worship him now.’ And when he had said unto him that which was in his mind, ‘I have a King, and I worship Him always, and you are not a king,’ immediately the devil removed himself and was no more found.” Now Abba Or told us these things because he wished to conceal his own rules and manner of life, and to tell us stories about those of other monks, but the fathers who were always with him told us that it was Abba Or himself who had seen these things.

Now this man was more glorious in his life than very many of the fathers. And because of the multitude of the monks who came to him he used to call the brethren who were with him, to come to make houses for the newcomers each day; some of the brethren spread the mud, and others brought the bricks, and others cut down the wood, and when their building was finished, he would supply the needs of those who came. On one occasion a lying brother who had hidden his clothes came to him, but the blessed man rebuked him before every man, and brought his clothes into the light, so that as a result of this exposure no man might in future dare to tell a lie in his presence. Now the beauty of his life and deeds made him so glorious that he was able to gather together very many monks to him, and one saw the congregation of the monks with him in the church like a band of righteous men who were splendid in their garb, and they glorified God with praises continually.

Here end the Triumphs of Abba Or.


1. It was said of Abba Or and Abba Theodore that as they were building a cell out of clay, they said to one another, 'If God should visit us now, what should we do?' Then, weeping, they left the clay there and each of them went back into his cell.

2. They said of Abba Or that he never lied, nor swore, nor hurt anyone, nor spoke without necessity.

3. Abba Or said to his disciple Paul, 'Be careful never to let an irrelevant word come into this cell.'

4. Paul, Abba Or's disciple, went to buy some reeds one day. He ascertained that others had been before him and had paid deposits. But Abba Or never paid deposits for anything at all, but paid the full price at the proper time. So his disciple went in search of palm-branches somewhere else. Then a farmer said to him, 'Someone has given me a deposit, but he has not come. So why don't you take these palm-branches.' He took them and he went back to the old man and told him all this. The old man clapped his hands and said, 'Or is not going to work this year.' He did not allow the palm-branches to come inside his cell, but waited for them to be taken to where they belonged.

5. Abba Or said, 'If you see that I am thinking adversely about someone, know that he is thinking in the same way about me.'

6. In Abba Or's neighborhood there was a villager named Longinus, who gave a great deal away in alms. He asked one of the Fathers who came to see him to take him to Abba Or. The monk went to the old man and praised the villager, saying that he was good and gave many alms. The old man thought about this and then said, 'Yes, he is good.' Then the monk began to beg him, saying, 'Abba, let him come and see you.' But the old man answered, 'Truly, there is no need for him to cross this valley in order to see me.'

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.'

8. It was said of Abba Or and Abba Theodore, that they laid good foundations, and at all times gave thanks to God.

9. Abba Or said, 'The crown of the monk is humility.'

10. He also said, 'He who is honored and praised beyond his merits, will suffer much condemnation, but he who is held as of no account among men will receive glory in heaven.'

11. He gave this counsel, 'Whenever you want to subdue your high and proud thoughts, examine your conscience carefully: Have you kept all the commandments? Have you loved your enemies and been kind to them in their misfortunes? Have you counted yourself to be an unprofitable servant and the worst of all sinners? If you find you have done all this, do not therefore think well of yourself as if you had done everything well but realize that even the thought of such things is totally destructive.'

12. This was what he taught: 'In all temptation, do not complain about anyone else, but say about yourself, "These things happen to me because of my sins."'

13. He used to say this, 'Do not speak in your heart against your brother like this: "I am a man of more sober and austere life than he is," but put yourself in subjection to the grace of Christ, in the spirit of poverty and genuine charity, or you will be overcome by the spirit of vainglory and lose all you have gained. For it is written in the Scriptures: "Let him who stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). Let your salvation be founded in the Lord.'

14. He propounded this saying, 'If you are fleeing, flee from men; or the world and the men in it will make you do many foolish things.'

15. He also said, 'If you have spoken evil of your brother, and you are stricken with remorse, go and kneel down before him and say: "I have spoken badly of you; let this be my surety that I will not spread this slander any further." For detraction is death to the soul.'

From the Sayings of Abba Pistos

1. Abba Pistos 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 practice as far as I could.'

From the Sayings of Abba Sisoes

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.'