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January 18, 2018

Life and Sayings of Holy Abba Silvanus of Palestine

Venerable Silvanus (Feast Day - January 18)


Silvanus, a Palestinian by birth, was the head of a community of twelve disciples in Scetis, among whom was Mark the Calligrapher. The group moved to Sinai in 380, and later went to Syria where they settled in the region of Gaza in Gerar. They lived in a lavra, with scattered cells and a central church for worship on Saturday and Sunday. On account of his high virtue, an angel was once seen to minister to him. Silvanus died before 414 and was succeeded by his disciple Zacharias.


1. Abba Silvanus and his disciple Zacharias went to a certain monastery one day. They were given something to eat a little before taking the road and when they got outside his disciple found some water beside the path and wanted to drink. The old man said to him, 'Zacharias, it is a fast day.' The latter said to him, 'But, Father, have we not eaten?' The old man said to him, 'What we have eaten came through charity but, my child, let us keep our own fast.'

2. As Abba Silvanus was sitting with the brethren one day he was rapt in ecstasy and fell with his face to the ground. After a long time he got up and wept. The brethren besought him saying, ‘What is it, Father?’ But he remained silent and wept. When they insisted on his speaking he said, ‘I was taken up to see the judgement and I saw there many of our sort coming to punishment and many seculars going into the kingdom.’ The old man was full of compunction and never wanted to leave his cell. If he was obliged to go out, he hid his face in his cowl saying, ‘Why should I seek to see this earthly light, which is of no use?’

3. Another time, his disciple stumbled upon him in the midst of a trance, with his hand stretched toward heaven. The disciple left him alone and returned twice more to check on him, but he was still in the same posture. Later, when the disciple inquired about what Silvanus had done during the day, Silvanus replied, “I was ill today, my child.’ But the disciple seized his feet and said to him, ‘I will not let you go until you have told me what you have seen.’ The old man said, ‘I was taken up to heaven and I saw the glory of God and I stayed there till now and now I have been sent away.'

4. One day while Abba Silvanus was living on the mountain of Sinai his disciple Zacharias went away on an errand and said to the old man, 'Open the well and water the garden.' The old man went out with his face hidden in his cowl, looking down at his feet. Now at that moment a brother came along and seeing him from a distance he observed what he
was doing. So he went up to him and said, 'Tell me, Abba, why were you hiding your face in your cowl while you watered the garden?' The old man said to him, 'So that my eyes should not see the trees, my son, in case my attention should be distracted by them.'

5. A brother went to see Abba Silvanus on the mountain of Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard said to the old man, 'Do not labor for the food which perishes. Mary has chosen the good portion'. The old man said to his disciple, Zacharias, give the brother a book and put him in a cell without anything else.' So when the ninth hour came the visitor watched the door expecting someone would be sent to call him to the meal. When no-one called him he got up, went to find the old man and said to him, 'Have the brothers not eaten today?' The old man replied that they had. Then he said, 'Why did you not call me?' The old man said to him, 'Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the good portion and read the whole day long and you do not want to eat carnal food.' When he heard these words the brother made a prostration saying, 'Forgive me, Abba (Father). The old man said to him, 'Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised.'

6. One day someone asked Abba Silvanus, 'How have you lived, father, in order to become so wise?' He replied, 'I have never let a thought that would bring the anger of God upon me enter my heart.'

7. It was said of Abba Silvanus that he stayed in his cell in secret. He had some small dried peas with which he made a hundred necklaces to earn his food. Someone came from Egypt with an ass laden with loaves. He knocked and put them down in the cell. Then the old man, taking the necklaces, loaded them on the ass and sent him away.

8. They said of Abba Silvanus that his disciple Zacharias went out without him and, taking some brothers with him, moved the garden fence back to make it larger. When he knew this, the old man took his sheepskin, went out and said to the brothers, 'Pray for me.' When they saw what he was doing they threw themselves at his feet saying, 'Tell us what is the matter, Father.' He said to them, 'I shall not go back inside, nor take off my sheepskin till you have put the fence back where it was at first.' So they moved the fence once again and put it back as it was. So the old man returned to his cell.

9. Abba Silvanus said, 'I am a slave, and my master says to me: "Do your work, and I will feed you; but do not try to find out whence I shall feed you. Do not try to find out whether I have it, or whether I steal it, or whether I borrow it; simply work, and I will feed you." Therefore, when I work, I eat the fruit of my wages, but if I do not work, I eat charity.'

10. He also said, "Unhappy is the man whose reputation is greater than his work."

11. Abba Moses asked Abba Silvanus, 'Can a man lay a new foundation every day? 'The old man said, 'If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment.'

12. The Fathers used to say that someone met Abba Silvanus one day and saw his face and body shining like an angel and he fell with his face to the ground. He said that others also had obtained this grace.

Sayings of Abba Mark, Disciple of Abba Silvanus

1. It was said of Abba Silvanus that at Scetis he had a disciple called Mark whose obedience was great. He was a scribe. The old man loved him because of his obedience. He had eleven other disciples who were hurt because he loved him more than them. When they knew this, the elders were sorry about it and they came one day to him to reproach him about it. Taking them with him, he went to knock at each cell, saying, 'Brother so and so, come here; I need you,' but none of them came immediately. Coming to Mark's cell, he knocked and said, 'Mark.' Hearing the old man's voice, he jumped up immediately and the old man sent him off to serve and said to the elders, 'Fathers, where are the other brothers?' Then he went into Mark's cell and picked up his book and noticed that he had begun to write the letter 'omega' ["ω"] but when he had heard the old man, he had not finished writing it. Then the elders said, 'Truly, Abba, he whom you love, we love too and God loves him.

2. They said this of Abba Silvanus that, as he was walking to Scetis one day with the old men, and wishing to demonstrate his disciple Mark’s obedience, and show the reason for his affection of him, he said to him, seeing a small wild boar, ‘Boy, do you see that little buffalo? He said to him, ‘Yes, Abba.’ And do you see his horns, how attractive they are?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Abba.’ The old men were astonished at his reply and edified by his obedience.

3. Abba Mark's mother came down to see him one day with great pomp. The old man went out to meet her. She said to him, 'Abba, tell my son to come out so I may see him.' So the old man went back and said to him, 'Go out, and let your mother see you.' He was wearing ragged garments and coming from the kitchen, so he was very dirty. He went out under obedience and closed his eyes and said to them: 'Greetings, greetings greetings!' but he did not see them at all. His mother did not recognize him. So she sent a message to the old man again, 'Abba, send me my son, so that I may see him.' He said to Mark, 'Did I not tell you to go out, so your mother would see you?' Mark said to him, 'As you said, abba, I went out; but please, do not tell me a second time to go out, because I don't want to disobey you.' The old man went out and said to the mother, 'Your son was he who came out to meet you, saying, "Greetings!"' Then he comforted her and sent her away.

4. On another occasion Mark decided to leave Scetis and go to Mount Sinai and live there. His mother sent his abba a message, begging him with tears to send her son out to see her. So the old man made him go. But as he was putting on his sheepskin to go and preparing to take leave of the old man, he suddenly burst into tears and did not go out after all.

5. It was said of Abba Silvanus, that when he wished to go away to Syria, his disciple Mark said to him: “Father, I do not want to leave this place [of Sinai], nor to let you go away, abba. Stay here for three days.' And on the third day Mark died.

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 lightning and he was like a king sitting on his throne. It was the same with Abba Silvanus and Abba Sisoes.

A Monk in the Monastery of Abba Silvanus

One of the fathers said that next to the river, near the village where the blessed Silvanus lived in Palestine, dwelt a monk who made a pretense of madness. Whenever other monks met him, he broke into laughter, after which they left him and went away. Once, three fathers came as a group to visit Abba Silvanus. And after saying a prayer, they bid him to send someone with them so that they might behold the monks in their cells. And they said to the abbot, 'Have the goodness to tell each monk so that he may meet with us.' And the abbot said to the monk who was near them, 'Take them to all the fathers.' But privately he charged them, saying, 'See that you do not take them to that fool, lest they be scandalized.'

As they were going about the cells of the monks, the fathers said to their guide, 'Have the goodness to take us to everyone.' And he said to them, 'Alright.' But he did not take them to the cell of the fool, in accord with the abbot's orders. When they returned to the abbot, Silvanus said to them, 'Have you seen the monks?' They said, 'Yes, and we thank you. But we regret that we did not go to all of them.' And the abbot said to the one who had taken them around, 'Did I not tell you to take them to everyone?' And the monks said, 'You did, father.' Thus when the fathers were leaving, they said to the abbot, 'Truly we are grateful that we saw the monks, but we regret one thing, namely that we did not see all of them.' Later the monk told the abbot privately, 'To the mad monk I did not take them.'

Then after the fathers departed, the abbot thought to himself about what had happened. And he went to visit the monk who feigned madness, and without knocking he gently opened the hideskin door and burst in on the monk. He found him sitting in his cell, with two small baskets, one on his right and one on his left. And when he saw the abbot, true to his manner, he began to laugh. And the abbot said to him, 'Stop this right now, and tell me why you sit as you do.' But he laughed again. And Abba Silvanus said to him, 'You know that except on Saturdays and Sundays I do not come out of my cell. But now I have come in the middle of the week, for God has sent me to you.' Then fearing the old man, the monk obeyed and said, 'Forgive me, father, but during the morning I sit with these pebbles in front of me. And if a good thought comes to me, I throw the pebble into the basket on my right, but if a wicked thought comes to me, I throw the pebble into the basket on the left. Then in the evening I count the pebbles. And if I find more on the right, I eat. But if I find more on the left, I do not eat. And again, the next morning, if a wicked thought comes to me, I say to myself, "See what you are doing! Again you will not eat."' When Abba Silvanus heard this, he marveled and said, 'Truly, the fathers who visited me were holy messengers who wished to reveal the monk's virtue, for i have received abundant grace and spiritual gladness because of their coming.'