Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Holy Abba John the Clairvoyant of Lycopolis in the Egyptian Thebaid (Rufinus of Aquileia)


By Rufinus of Aquileia

(The Lives of the Fathers, Bk. 2, Ch. 1)

As a foundation stone for our task let us take John as an example of everything that is good. For those who are religiously devoted to God, John will be more than sufficient as a guide to the heights of virtue and the summit of perfection. We met him in the desert parts of the Thebaid, living on the side of a steep mountain near the city of Lycus (Lycopolis). It was very difficult to get up to his monastery. The approach was so narrow and full of obstacles that no one had joined him there for all of the fifty years since his fortieth birthday. Whenever he heard people coming he would show himself from a window, from where he would offer a word about God, or give answers to those seeking counsel. No women ever got near enough for him to see them, and even men but rarely, and then only at certain fixed times. He did allow a guest house to be constructed at some distance where those who had come from afar could rest a while. He remained alone inside, occupied solely with God, ceasing not day or night from prayers and supplications to God, in total purity of thought seeking that divine essence which is above all thought. The further he cut himself off from all human cares and conversation the closer he came to God. To such a fine quality of mind had he attained that God gave him insights not only into present matters but also rewarded him with foreknowledge of things to come. God quite plainly gave him the gift of prophecy, so that he not only saw into the future of local citizens and country dwellers alike, when asked, but often predicted how the wars of the Emperor Theodosius would turn out, the manner in which he would gain his victories over petty kings, or how many invasions he would suffer from the tribes of the barbarians.

At one time the Egyptians attacked the Roman fort at Cyrene, which is the city of the Theban region nearest Ethiopia, causing much destruction and making off with a great deal of plunder. The Roman officer in command feared to counter attack because he had very few soldiers whereas the enemy was very numerous. He came to John who named a certain day and said, "It will be quite safe for you to go out on this day that I have named. You will overcome the enemy, you will take lots of spoils and recover what you have lost." Once this had come to pass he used to prophesy even for the benefit of Augustus, who accepted him and valued him greatly. But he ascribed these gifts of prophecy more to the greatness of those who asked him than to his own merits. He used to say that these prophecies were given by God on account of those for whom they were intended, not because of himself.

There is another marvel that God manifested through him. A certain military tribune came to him and begged him to give permission for his wife to visit him. He said that she had already undergone great dangers in the effort to get to see him. John said that he had never been in the habit of giving interviews to women, especially since having shut himself up in this monastery on the cliff. The tribune persisted in his pleas, saying that if she couldn't see him she would doubtless perish from grief. Again and again he pleaded, repeating that his wife would surely die, in the belief that she had lost all hope of being healed. Overcome at last by the tribune's faith no less than his importunity, the old man said, "Go, your wife shall see me this night, not here but at home in her own bed." At these words the tribune went away, pondering in his heart the meaning of this reply. He told his wife what had been said, and she also was no less puzzled by it. But when she was asleep the man of God appeared to her in a vision, and standing next to her said, "Woman, great is your faith, and therefore I have come to satisfy your desire. But I admonish you that you should not try to seek the physical presence of the servants of God, but rather should contemplate their acts and doings in the spirit. For it is the Spirit which gives life, the flesh profits nothing. I have prayed to God for you, not because I am a righteous person or a prophet, as you think, but simply because of your faith, and he has granted you healing of all the diseases, which afflict your body. From now, you and your husband will be whole, and your whole household will be blessed. Be mindful, both of you, of the blessings which God has given you, fear him always and be content with your wages. You have seen me in your dreams, that should be enough for you, you don't need anything else." When the woman awoke she told her husband what she had seen and heard, and described the man's face and what he was wearing and all other distinguishing marks. Whereupon the man marveled, and went back to the man of God to give thanks. The man of God blessed him and he went away in peace.

On another occasion a military commander came to him having left his heavily pregnant wife at home. On the very day when he saw John, his wife gave birth and became dangerously ill. Then the holy man of God said, "If only you knew that by God's gift a son is born to you this day you would give thanks. His mother is seriously ill but God will be with you and you will find that she will be all right. Make haste, then, go back home to see your seven-day-old child. You shall call him John, and you shall bring him up in your own home without any outside influence until he is seven years old, and then you shall hand him over to a monastery to be taught under a holy and heavenly discipline."

Many came to see him from far and near, and after questioning them he opened up to them the secrets of their own hearts. Whatever sins they privately confessed to him he admonished and counseled them, urging them to penitence and amendment of life. He could predict whether the flooding of the Nile would be abundant or meager. If because of human sin it chanced that there were any natural disasters or other visitations of God, he always knew about them in advance and was able to point out the reasons why this punishment was being inflicted. To those who sought him out he brought wholeness of mind and bodily cures, but in such a way that he avoided ostentation. For he did not allow petitioners to come to him, but instead blessed oil for them to be anointed with, by which means they were healed of all their disorders.

When a certain senator's wife lost her eyesight she begged her husband to take her to the man of God. When he replied that the man of God was not in the habit of receiving women she begged him that at least he might make him aware of the extent of her disability, and ask him to pray for her. The husband duly presented this appeal to him, whereupon he prayed, blessed oil, and sent him back to her. After applying this oil to her eyes for three days she recovered her sight and gave thanks to God. But it would take a long time to tell of all his accomplishments. So let us pass over all that we have heard tell about him and come to the things which we have seen with our own eyes.

We were a group of seven who came to him, and when we had greeted him he received us with great kindness, had a friendly word with each one of us, and asked us to pray and give a blessing. (For it is the custom in Egypt that when brethren arrive they join together with each other in prayer.) He then asked if any one of us was a cleric, which we all denied. He looked at each one of us and knew that there was one of us who was ordained as a deacon, but kept it secret apart from one other in his confidence. The rest of his traveling companions did not know. Because of his humility he had decided on not revealing the honor of his rank, preferring to be ranked lower than all these men of such qualities that he deemed himself to be inferior to them all. As the holy John looked at him and saw that he was younger than the others he pointed at him and said, "This man is a deacon". He tried to deny it, but John grasped him and kissed him saying, "Do not deny the grace of God, my son, lest you exchange good for evil, and your humility is seen to be false. All untruth should be avoided, whether for an evil intention or even for a good, for all lies are not from God but from the evil one, as our Savior teaches." Hearing this he accepted the gentle rebuke graciously and apologized.

We offered prayer to God and when we had finished one of our number suffering from a severe infection begged the man of God to cure him. "You are trying to rid yourself of something which is necessary for you," he replied. "For just as bodies are cleansed by soda and other such remedies, so souls are purified by bodily weakness and other afflictions of this sort." He went on from there to give us a lengthy discourse upon mystical teaching, and finally blessed some oil and gave it to him. The sick man anointed himself with it and vomited out a great deal of poison, after which, restored to good health, he walked back to the guesthouse.

After this he saw to it that the duties of humane hospitality should be fulfilled, and our bodily needs attended to. He took thought for us, though neglectful of himself. For his own longstanding custom and discipline was to eat nothing till evening, and then sparingly. He was very thin, and desiccated of body because of his abstinence. His beard and hair were so sparse and straggly, that no amount of food would be able to nourish them, or refreshing draft give them strength. Although, as we have said, he was a nonagenarian, he still would take no cooked food.

Having fulfilled the duties of hospitality he bade us come and sit down. He asked us where we had come from and why, since now he had received us very happily as his own sons. We replied that we had come from Jerusalem for the benefit and advancement of our own souls. We wanted to verify with our own eyes what his fame had brought to our ears, for it was much easier to fix in the memory what the eye saw than what the ears heard. And the blessed John replied with an untroubled countenance, half mockingly, but with great warmth, "I am astonished, my beloved sons, at the great labor of such a journey as you have undertaken, when you can't possibly see anything in me to make it worthwhile. I am but a humble and unimportant person. There is nothing in me worth seeking out or marveling at, and even if in your opinion I did have something, surely you could have found as much by studying the prophets and apostles. They are read out loud daily in the churches of God, providing people among themselves in their own homes examples of life for them to imitate without the need to travel to distant foreign places. So much the more I marvel at your decision to undertake such research with so much effort, to travel with difficulty through so many countries, simply for the sake of benefiting your own souls. For ourselves we are so lazy and idle that we don't even venture outside our cell! But if you really do think that there is something in me from which you can draw profit, you must above all take care that you do not make the labor of visiting me an occasion of boasting. It would diminish any profit for your soul if you were to put yourself forward as something marvelous because you had actually been to visit someone whom other people knew only by hearsay.

Boasting is a very serious and dangerous fault. It can destroy even those who have arrived at the peak of perfection. So I urge you above all to guard against this. This evil comes in two ways. It happens to some in the first stages of their conversion. They take on a bit of abstinence, they give some money to the poor, and because they then think that they have managed to cast off some of their chains they begin to act and think as if they were better than those to whom they had given alms. The other kind of boasting comes to those who have arrived at the very peak of virtue, for they ascribe this not wholly to God but to their own studious efforts, and in seeking for human glory they lose the glory of God. So then, my sons, let us flee from the vice of boasting, lest we open up a chink through which the devil may gain entry.

We should take particular care to discipline our hearts and minds. We must take care that no avarice, or evil thought, or empty desire or anything contrary to the will of God take root in our hearts. From roots of this sort there constantly swarm vain and useless thoughts. They are so evil that they do not cease even when we are praying or standing in the presence of God, making a mockery of the prayers which are offered for our salvation. They take our minds captive, and although our body proclaims that we are at prayer our thoughts and feelings are dragged away in all kinds of different ways. So for anybody who reckons to have renounced the world and the devil it is not enough to have made a vow, and shed possessions and estates and other worldly affairs unless you have also repudiated your own vices and cast down your unprofitable and empty desires. This is what the Apostle is talking about when he mentions 'foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction' (1 Tim.vi.9). This is what it means to renounce the devil and all his works.

For the devil snatches an entry into our hearts through every occasion of vice and corruption of will, because vices belong to him just as virtues come from God. If there are vices in our heart they welcome the devil's approach as if into his own domain and let him come in as if to his own property. And thence it comes that hearts like this never know peace and quiet, they are always in turbulence, always in bondage, now manic, now depressed, for they harbor a most evil tenant inside them. They have let him in through their own passions and vices. In contrast to this is the mind which has truly renounced the world, i.e. has repudiated and amputated every vice, blocked every entry to the approach of the devil, subdued anger, restrained his passion, fled falsehood, condemned envy, not only kept himself from slandering his neighbor, but forbidden himself even to think evil or suspicious thoughts about him, rejoices with his neighbour's rejoicing, and is saddened by his neighbor's sorrows. The mind that observes these and suchlike precepts opens a space in himself for the Holy Spirit to enter and enlighten, whence arise joy, gladness, charity, patience, long-suffering, kindness and all other fruits of the Spirit. This is what the Lord says in the gospel, a good tree cannot bear evil fruit, neither can a bad tree bear good fruit. By its fruits shall the tree be known. (Matthew.7.18,20)

Moreover there are some who seem to have renounced the world but have made no effort towards purity of heart, they have not rooted out vices and passions from their souls, nor amended their way of life. For these people their only thought is to seek out some holy father, memorize the things he says, and then glorify themselves by telling others what he has learnt from this or that person. By acquiring a knowledge of some small scraps of wisdom which they have heard and learnt by heart, they forever wish to be considered as teachers, but they teach not what they do themselves but what they have heard and seen, thus despising others. They aspire to priesthood and try to become members of the clerical class, ignorant of the fact that someone in whom virtues flourish, yet is not so bold as to teach anyone else about virtue, is more to be praised than one who teaches others about virtue while still ruled by passions and vices. So, my little children, it is not important either to avoid the clerical class or priesthood or avidly to seek after it. What is needed is to drive out vice and acquire spiritual virtues. It can be left to the judgment and will of God as to whom he wills to call to the priesthood or any other ministry. He whom the Lord calls to himself is to be approved, not he who puffs himself up.

The chief work of the monk is to offer up to God pure prayer with a clear conscience, as the Lord says in the Gospel, "When you stand at prayer, forgive your brothers from your heart if you have anything against them, for if you forgive not your brothers neither will your Father in heaven forgive you." (Mark 11.25,26) If, as we have said, we stand before God with a pure heart, free from all the passions and vices mentioned above, we may see God, in so far as that is possible. Directing the eye of the heart to him as we pray we contemplate with the mind, not with the body, that which is invisible, with the discernment of pure knowledge, not physical eyesight. But let no one imagine himself able to embrace the divine substance as it is in itself, as if he were constructing in his heart a mental image like a picture corresponding to something physical. Let him not imagine God has any shape for he is boundless, but there may be a mental perception which can be experienced as a stirring up of the affections of the heart, even though it is beyond comprehension and cannot be described or explained. We must come to God with all reverence and fear, and let our minds be fixed on him in such a way that we are aware always that he is immeasurably greater than any images of splendor, brightness, brilliance or majesty that a human mind may conceive. We say this may only happen if the mind is pure, and free from any meanness of thought or perversity of will. To pay attention to these things is of the greatest importance to those who have renounced the world in order to seek God, as it is written, "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalms 46.10). If anyone has come to know God, so far as is humanly possible, he will come at last to an understanding of all other things and take hold of the mysteries of God. The more his mind is purified, the more God will make himself known to him and reveal his secrets. For he has now become a friend of God like those to whom the Savior said, 'I no longer call you servants, but friends, and anything you seek from God will be granted you as to a dearly beloved friend' (John 15.15,16). Indeed the angelic powers and all the divine mysteries will love you as a friend of God and look favorably on all your petitions. This is the meaning of the scripture, "Neither death nor life, nor angels not principalities nor powers nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8.38,39).

Therefore, my beloved, inasmuch as you have chosen to try and please God and come to his love, take care to distance yourself from all boasting, all vices of the soul, all bodily delights. And don't think that 'bodily delights' are limited to what pleases worldly people. Anyone who practices abstinence must realize that 'delights' comprise all things which he might have sought after with greediness, even such commonplace things as might be normally used by an abstainer. For even bread and water, if taken to satisfy greed rather than for mere bodily need, can lead to the vice of gluttony. One must be accustomed in all things to keep the soul free from vice. The Lord wishes to teach us how to resist the devices and desires of our own heart, and so he says, 'Enter in by the narrow gate, for the way to death is broad and spacious, but the way to life is strait and narrow'. (Matthew 7.13,14). The way of the soul is broad when every desire is pandered to, the narrow way means denying satisfaction to your own desires. A somewhat isolated dwelling and a solitary way of life can be of great profit in grasping these things, for if there are a lot of fraternal visits and much coming and going, the yoke of abstinence and frugality may be relaxed and little by little one is led into the habit of enjoying 'delights'. Even the perfect can sometimes be taken prisoner in this way. So at last hear what David says, 'See, I have fled far off to dwell in solitude'." (Psalms 55.7).

Afterwards, however, the holy John discussed with us many aspects of the vice of boasting and other matters of special benefit. Finally he gave us this warning, "Let me reveal to you what happened recently to one of our brothers, as a precedent and example to make you more cautious yourselves.

There was a monk living nearby in the desert - his dwelling place was a cave - a man of great abstinence, seeking his food by the daily labor of his hands, persevering in prayer day and night, adorned with all the virtues of the soul. But he began to feel happy and proud about how successful he was. Feeling confident of his own powers he was not putting his trust in God, but imputing all his success to himself. When the Tempter of the soul realized this he came near to prepare a trap for him. One day at vesper time, he caused the appearance of a beautiful woman to come wandering through the desert. She looked weary, as if she had been working hard, and came to the monk's door pretending to be worn out with fatigue. She went inside and threw herself at his knees.

'Have pity on me,' she said. 'Night has unfortunately overtaken me as I seek refuge in this desert. Pray let me rest in a corner of your cell, lest I be attacked by nocturnal beasts.'

Overcome with compassion he welcomed her into the cave and began to ask her why it was that she was wandering through the desert. She pitched him a sufficiently plausible tale, and mixed it all up with sly flattery, and seductive poisons. She portrayed her plight to be truly pitiful, and desperately in need of help. By the smooth beauty of her way of talking she insinuated her way into the monk's affections, and aroused in him illicit desire. She introduced a few jokes and laughter into her talk, and then protesting how much she admired his bearded chin she wantonly stroked it, then gently caressed his neck and shoulders. What more need I say? She led the soldier of Christ on towards his inevitable captivity.

Now he began to be internally disturbed, and burn with surges of lust, completely forgetful of all his former labors and his monastic profession. He did not fight against the concupiscence in his heart, but welcomed deceitful pleasure into his secret thoughts. In his foolishness he disfigured his own life, and became as a horse or a mule with no understanding (Psalms 32.9). But as he tried to take the woman into his obscene embraces, she gave a terrifying howl, a bloodcurdling shriek, and slipped from his enfolding arms like the insubstantial shade she was, and with foul mockery left him clutching the empty air with shameless gestures.

Now a crowd of demons gathered in the air to watch this sight, shouting loudly, exulting with cacophonous derision.

'You who exalted yourself to the high heavens,' they cried, 'Oh how cast down you are now to the lowest depths! Learn the lesson that whoever exalts himself will be humbled' (Luke 14.11).

Almost out of his mind, and unable to bear the shame, he proceeded to deceive himself to an even greater extent than the demons had done, What he ought to have done was to repair the damage and renew the contest, and make satisfaction by the fruits of tears and humility in order to wipe out the blame of his former conceitedness. But he did not do this. Instead he handed himself over in despair to lasciviousness and iniquity, as the Apostle says (Ephesians.4.19), and went back to the world, conquered by the demons, avoiding the company of all the saints, so that nobody was able to give him any useful advice which might have drawn him back from the precipice. If only he had made up his mind to return to his former abstemious way of life he would without doubt have regained his former state of grace.

Now hear about what happened to another man who was similarly tempted, but who had a different outcome to his temptation. This man lived a disgraceful and disreputable life in a neighboring state, committing all kinds of wicked deeds, so that he was universally held in opprobrium. But by the mercy of God he was drawn to repentance, and enclosed himself in a sepulcher, where day and night with his face on the earth he bathed his former polluting deeds with fountains of tears. He would not dare so much as lift up his eyes to heaven (Luke 18.13), nor use his voice to call upon the name of the Lord, but never ceased groaning and weeping. Dead and buried, he offered up from the mouth of hell the lamentations and groans of his heart. After a week of this the demons came by night into his sepulcher, clamoring and shouting.

'What do you think you are doing, you unclean and disgraceful person? After being sated with all that filthiness and impurity do you think that you can now become chaste and religious? After having immersed yourself in wickedness, do you think there is any power that can wipe out those deeds? You, wanting now to be recognized as a Christian, modest and penitent! As if any other place is possible for you, steeped in evil as you are, than that which is owed to you by us! You are one of us. You can't be anything else. Come back, come back to us, and for whatever time there is left to you don't miss out on the pursuit of pleasure. We shall prepare a flood of delights for you, most excellent harlots, and all kinds of other things to restore you to the flowering of your graceful youth. Why make vain and useless crosses for yourself? Why hand yourself over to punishment before the time? Can the sufferings of hell be any worse than what you are going through now? If punishment gives you pleasure, just wait for it a little bit longer until you are really prepared for it. In the meantime enjoy what we can give you, which you have always found sweet and pleasant.'

They castigated him with many more similar taunts, but he lay there without moving, paying them no attention and saying nothing in reply. Over and over again they repeated even fiercer taunts, but he still made no response, till at last, realizing they were being despised, they fell into a fury and attacked him with rods, leaving him half dead with a multiplicity of crucifying wounds. Even in the midst of such torments he moved not a jot from where he had lain down to pray.

The next day some of his friends sought him out, simply from human kindness, and found him grievously wounded. They asked him what had happened, and when they were told, suggested that they take him back home where he could be cared for properly. He refused, and stayed where he was. The following night the demons sought him out again and tortured him with even more severe beatings, but even so he would not move from the place.

'Better to die than listen to the demons,' he said.

The third night, nevertheless, a great crowd of demons gathered and fell upon him without mercy, inflicting many grievous wounds. His body was almost dead because of the wounds, but from the depths of his spirit he still refused to obey the demons. Faced with this the demons at last cried, 'You have conquered, you have conquered!' and departed in great haste as if pursued by power from heaven, and brought no more of their wiles and wickedness to bear upon him.

But he progressed so much in spiritual virtues, and came to live such a lovely life, full of the power of every divine grace, that the whole region came to believe he was one of the holy Angels who had dropped down from heaven, and cried aloud with one voice, 'This is the change of the right hand of the Most High' (Psalms 77.10) What a great example he was to those who had fallen into despair, and then returned to a hope of salvation, and laid their hopes upon emendation of life where before there was despair! How great an admiration for him was felt by those who were snatched up from the inferno of sinners, with their virtuous nature restored. For his conversion was so monumental that anything seemed possible for everybody. And it was not only his emendation of life and the acquiring of virtues which adorned him, for even greater graces of God were given him. The many signs and wonders which he did testified how great were his merits in the eyes of the Lord. So it is that humility and conversion are the source of all goodness; conceitedness and despair are the cause of death.

To avoid the danger of falling, and to acquire the grace of God, and to seize hold upon the knowledge of his manifest divinity, the most fruitful path is that of the hiddenness of dwelling in the desert. And this I think you may better learn not from my words but from actual deeds and examples.

There was a monk who lived in a part of the desert more remote than any other. For many years he persevered in abstinence until time had brought him almost to the age of senility. But he was adorned with every virtue, inspirational for the greatness of his total continence, serving God sedulously with prayers and hymns. So great were the merits of this soldier that the Lord prepared for him a great gift, in that while still in the body he enjoyed the ministrations of an incorporeal Angel, judging him worthy to receive celestial food in the desert, as one who sleeplessly sang the praises of the heavenly King.

God willed that he be given his promised reward even in this world, and took the provision of his daily food into the care of his divine providence for when ever he needed food as a necessity of nature he would go into his cave there he would find bread of marvelous quality and exceptional freshness laid out on his table. He would dine on this and give thanks to the divine presence and return again to this hymns and prayers. He received many divine revelations, and warnings of the future were given to him by God. In the midst of such manifold rewards he began to take pride in his accomplishments, reckoning that the merits of his life deserved such heavenly benefits, and gradually a sort of idleness entered his soul, so gradually that he did not even notice it. This developed into even greater negligence, he came to his hymn singing somewhat reluctantly, he no longer enjoyed getting up to pray, the psalms were not sung with the same attentiveness as that with which he used to sing them; having done a small proportion of what he used to do his soul was tired out as if it had been overworked, and he hastily retired to rest.

His senses dulled, he rapidly went from bad to worse, and his thoughts snatched him away into all sorts of dangerous regions. But he kept to his usual routine, even though there were thoughts of a disgraceful and contemptible nature hidden in his heart. For just as a ship continues to glide through the water after the oars have stopped rowing, because of its own momentum, so did his established routine carry him through the usual offices. So it seemed as if he was still in the same state as before. So after his prayers he looked for his food at vesper time as usual, he went to the usual dining place, found the usual bread on the table, which he ate without taking any attempt to amend the thoughts of his heart. He was not aware of any change or deterioration, thought no less of himself, and did not understand how gradually he was falling.

Inwardly he began to be stirred up by a fierce flame of desire, and with sordid eagerness began wanting to return to the world. But he restrained himself for the moment, went in to take his food which he found placed on the table as usual, although he found it a little stale. He wondered at this and felt a little sad, but although he looked upon it as a sort of divine omen, he nevertheless took the bread and ate it. After three days he was shaken by urges three times worse, they were ever present in his thoughts and almost tangible. He imagined there was a woman lying down with him, whom he seemed to embrace and with whom he performed indecent acts. As he went next day to his usual duties of psalmodizing there seemed to be a cloud before his eyes, and his mind seemed to be held captive. When he went for his food at vesper time he found it as usual on the table, but it was moldy and dried up, and looking as if mice or dogs had been at it. Seeing this, he groaned and shed tears, but they did not come from the heart and were not sufficiently copious to quench the flames of a great fire. But he took the food, though there was not as much of it as he would have liked, and it did not have its usual taste.

Meanwhile his thoughts besieged him like a army of barbarians, hurling javelins at him from all directions, and once more took his mind captive to the thought of going back to the world. He went by night to begin his journey through the desert to the city. But when daylight came the city was still a long way off. He soon began to be overcome by the heat and was wearied, and as he looked about him his eyes began to register the fact that he was near a monastery. He saw the cell of some brothers, and went towards it hoping that there he might find some rest. When the brothers saw him approaching they immediately ran towards him, reverenced him as if he were an Angel of God, washed his feet, invited him to prayer, prepared food for him, and in fact did everything in accordance with the divine commandment of charity.

When they had dined and rested a little they began, as is usual, to ask him for a word of encouragement, as if he were a skilled and well-known father, able to give them words of salvation. they asked him how to escape from the traps of the devil, and how to drive out and cast down the evil thoughts which the devil puts into the mind. Compelled to give the brothers some advice, and teach them something of the way of salvation, he talked to them about the wiles of the devil which assail the servants of God, and talked to them so plainly and forcefully that he was moved to compunction himself and said to himself, 'Here am I giving others good advice when I am in the depths of deception, myself. How do I dare tell others how to behave, when I have not amended my own life? Wretch! First do yourself what you are urging others to do.' Having cursed himself in this way and having realized how miserably he had fallen from grace, he said goodbye to the brothers and took sudden flight into the desert, returning to the cave he had left, prostrating himself in prayer before the Lord, saying, 'If the Lord had not been my helper, my soul would have almost been in hell.' (Psalms 94.17), and again, 'I had almost fallen into all kinds of evil, they had almost consumed me upon earth' (Psalms 119.85,87), and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'A brother giving aid to a brother shall be lifted up like a strong and fortified city. The brother who helps a brother is like a city of good standing where all his judgments are as strong as the city defenses.' (Proverbs 18.19). From then on he spent his life in tears and mourning, lamenting that he no longer enjoyed the heavenly food which was formerly given him, and in the sweat of his own brow he began to eat his own bread. He shut himself up in his cave, lying in the dust wearing a hair shirt, and persevered weeping in prayer until the angel of the Lord came to his aid, saying, 'The Lord has accepted your penitence and restored you, but take care lest you become proud and fall again. See, even now there are brothers on the way to you, bringing you blessings for the teaching which you yourself gave them. Don't turn them away, but take food with them and give thanks to God.'

I have told you these things, my little children, that you may understand how strong is humility and how greatly ruinous is self-conceit. Indeed our Savior himself put humility at the top of the beatitudes, saying, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew.5.3). I have given you examples of this so that you may be on the alert against being seduced by demonic thoughts. Furthermore monks use a custom of saying a prayer and invoking the name of the Lord whenever anyone visits them, whether man or woman, old or young, well known or stranger, so that if it is only a demon in disguise it may be put to flight by continual prayer. If the demons suggest to your thoughts that there is something for which you deserve to praised and held up as an example don't listen to them, but humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord when they try to make you seek after praise.

The demons have often plagued me at night, preventing me both from sleeping and praying by suggesting all kinds of fantasies to my thoughts and senses the whole night long. But in the morning they made an illusory prostration before me, saying, Forgive us, father, for causing you so much trouble all night. I replied, 'Depart from me you workers of iniquity, and so not tempt the servant of God'. (Psalm 6.8) Therefore. my little children love silence and peacefulness, seek after understanding, purify your mind before God by frequent study to banish any impediment to your prayers before God.

There are of course people living in the world who with a good conscience do good works and busy themselves in a holy and religious manner by hospitality, works of charity, visiting those in distress and other works of this kind. There is a lot of good in such people, who also keep themselves pure. Those who please God in good works are praiseworthy, very praiseworthy, and undoubtedly fulfill the commandments of God. Nevertheless their actions are all rooted in the earthly sphere, concerned with corruptible matter. But anyone who gives himself up to mental strife, and cultivates a sense of the spiritual in himself, must surely be considered to be following a much better way. For he prepares an interior dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, and oblivious of earthly matters gives all his care to what is heavenly and eternal. He places himself always in the presence of God, and casts all worry about the present behind him, driven by a fiery desire for God. He sets himself to praise God and never tires of singing hymns and psalms day and night."

With this and much more of the like the blessed John continued speaking to us for three whole days, refreshing and renewing our spirits. And when we began to feel it was time to go he gave us a blessing, "Depart in peace, my little children, and I would like you to know that on this very day the victory of the religious emperor Theodosius over the tyrant Eugenius has been proclaimed. It must also needs be that Theodosius himself will come to the end of his life before very long." After we had left him we found that these events had happened exactly as he had predicted.

A few days later some of the brothers followed after us to tell us that John himself was now resting in peace. This was the manner of his passing. He said that no one was to visit him for three days, and then knelt in prayer and gave up his spirit. Thus he passed to the Lord, to whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.


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