Table of Contents

(each subject contains a saying then a story)

  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Not to judge
  • True peace
  • Obedience
  • How to become a disciple
  • Humility
  • True poverty
  • Life together 
  • Silence
  • The kingdom within 
  • Hospitality
  • Gentleness
  • Beasts and Saints 
  • Joy
  • Love 
  • Prayer
  • Intercession



The following are excerpts from what is widely  known in the  Coptic Church as "bustan  al-rohbaan" (The Monks' Garden),  also referred to  in English as the "Paradise of  the  Desert  Fathers". Bustan al-rohbann  is not a single  book, rather it  is a collection of sayings  and accounts written  by and  about the Desert  Fathers of Egypt.   The excerpts presented here are adopted from an abbreviated book edited by Dr. Benedicta Ward.

--Copt-Net Editorial Board


         In the desert of the heart, let the healing fountain start;
     In the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise.
                                                 -- W. H. Auden


               A prayer from the desert
          Lord  Jesus Christ, whose will all things
          obey: pardon  what I have done  and grant
          that I, a sinner,  may sin no more. Lord,
          I believe that  though  I do not  deserve
          it, you can cleanse me from  all my sins.
          Lord,  I know  that  man looks  upon  the
          face, but  you see the heart.   Send your
          spirit into  my  inmost  being,  to  take
          possession of my soul and body.   Without
          you  I  cannot   be  saved; with  you  to
          protect  me, I  long  for your salvation.
          And  now   I ask you  for your salvation.
          And now  I ask you for wisdom,   deign of
          your  great goodness  to  help and defend
          me.  Guide my heart, almighty God, that I
          may remember your presence day and night.

                  ++ Amen ++

In  the  fourth century, an intensive experiment  in Christian living began to
flourish  in Egypt, Syria and Palestine.  It was  something new  in  Christian
experience, uniting the  ancient forms of  monastic  life with the Gospel.  In
Egypt the movement was soon so popular that both the civil authorities and the
monks themselves became anxious: the officials of the Empire  because  so many
were following a   way of life  that  excluded both military  service and  the
payment  of taxes, and the  monks because the  number of  interested  tourists
threatened their solitude.

The first Christian  monks tried every  kind of experiment  with the way  they
lived and prayed, but there were three  main forms of  monastic life: in Lower
Egypt there were hermits who lived alone; in Upper Egypt there  were monks and
nuns living  in communities; and  in Nitria and  Scetis there   were those who
lived solitary lives but in groups of three or four, often  as disciples  of a
master. For the most part they were simple  men, peasants from the villages by
the Nile, though  a few,  like Arsenius  and  Evagrius,  were well   educated.
Visitors who were impressed and moved by the life of the  monks imitated their
way  of  life  as far  as  they  could, and  also  provided  a literature that
explained and  analyzed this way  of life  for those outside it.  However, the
primary written accounts of  the monks of Egypt are  not these, but records of
their words and actions by their close disciples.

Often, the first thing  that struck those  who heard about the  Desert Fathers
was the negative aspect of their lives. They were people  who did without: not
much sleep, no baths, poor food, little company, ragged clothes, hard work, no
leisure, absolutely  no sex,  and even,  in some places,  no church either - a
dramatic contrast of immediate  interest to  those  who lived out  the  Gospel

But to read their  own writings is to  form a rather different   opinion.  The
literature produced among the  monks themselves is  not very sophisticated; it
comes from the desert, from the place where the amenities of civilization were
at their lowest point  anyway, where there was nothing  to mark a  contrast in
lifestyles; and the emphasis is less on what was lacking and more  on what was
present. The outsider saw  the negations; disciples  who encountered the monks
through their own words and actions  found indeed great austerity and poverty,
but it was neither unbelievable nor complicated.  These were simple, practical
men, not given either to mysticism or to theology, living by  the Word of God,
the love of the brethren and of  all  creation, waiting for the coming  of the
Kingdom with  eager   expectation, using  each moment  as   a step  in   their
pilgrimage of the heart towards Christ.

It was because of this positive desire for the Kingdom of heaven which came to
dominate their whole lives that they went  without things: they  kept silence,
for instance, not because of a proud and  austere preference for aloneness but
because they were  learning to listen to  something more  interesting than the
talk of men, that is, the  Word of God.  These men were  rebels,  the ones who
broke the rules of the world which say that  property  and goods are essential
for life, that the one who accepts the direction of another  is not free, that
no one can  be  fully human without sex  and  domesticity.  Their name itself,
anchorite, means rule-breaker, the one who does not fulfill his public duties.
In the solitude of the desert they found themselves able to live in a way that
was hard but simple, as children of God.

The literature  they have left behind  is full of  a good,  perceptive wisdom,
from a clear, unassuming angle. They did not write much; most of them remained
illiterate; but they asked each other for a "word", that  is, to say something
in which they would recognize the  Word of God,  which gives life to the soul.
It is not a literature of words that analyze and  sort out personal worries or
solve theological  problems; nor is  it a  mystical   literature concerned  to
present prayers and praise to God  in a direct  line of  vision; rather, it is
oblique, unformed, occasional, like sunlight glancing off a rare  oasis in the

These  life-giving "words"   were  collected and   eventually written  down by
disciples of the first monks, and grouped together  in various ways, sometimes
under the  names of  the monks with whom they  were connected sometimes  under
headings  which  were  themes of   special interest,  such  as  "solitude  and
stability",  "obedience", or "warfare that lust arouses in us".  Mixed in with
these sayings  were short stories about  the actions of  the monks, since what
they did  was often   as revealing  as what they   said. These  collections of
"apophthegmata" were  not meant as a dead  archaism,  full of nostalgia  for a
lost past, but as a direct transmission of practical wisdom and experience for
the use of the  reader. Thus it   is  as part  of  tradition that   this small
selection  has been  made  from some  of  the famous   collections of   desert
material, most of which have been translated and published in  full elsewhere.
They are placed in pairs, so that a  "word" faces a  story and illustrates its
central,  though not its  only meaning.   Each  saying-and-story pair has been
given a heading; these are arranged in two series, the  first part relating to
the commandment to love one's neighbour, the second to the commandment to love

This material first appeared among  uneducated laymen; it  is not "churchy" or
specifically religious. It  has its roots   in  that life in Christ  which  is
common to all the baptized, some of whom  lived  this out as monks, others who
did not. There is common a universal appeal in these sayings, in spite of much
which is at first strange.  I have not tried to  eliminate all the strangeness
of the  material, but  to present a  very  small part  of it as it is,  in the
belief that the  words and deeds of these  men can still  make the fountain of
life spring up in the  arid deserts of lives  in the twentieth century as they
did in the fourth. "Fear not  this  goodness", said  abba Antony,  "as a thing
impossible, nor the pursuit of it as something alien,  set a great way off; it
hangs on our own choice. For the sake of Greek learning, men go overseas.  But
the  City of God has its  foundations in every  seat of human habitation.  The
kingdom of  God is within.   The goodness that is  in  us asks only  the human

--Benedicta Ward

The editor has retained  the words "abba" and "amma"  which are used in  these
texts for addressing and  describing  certain men  and women   of the  desert;
"abba"   is a term of  respect,  and to  translate  it by   "abbot"  would  be

                 NOT TO JUDGE

The old men used to say, "there is nothing worse than passing judgement."

They said of abba Macarius that he became as it is written  a  god upon earth,
because just as  God  protects the  world, so   abba Macarius would  cover the
faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and  those which he heard as
though he did not hear them.

Abba Pastor said,  "Judge not  him who is guilty  of fornication,  if  you are
chaste, or you will break the  law  like him. For  He who  said "do not commit
fornication" said also "Do not judge"."

A brother asked  abba  Poemen, "If  I see my brother sin,  is it right  to say
nothing about it?" The old man replied, "whenever we cover  our brother's sin,
God will cover  ours; whenever we tell people  about our brother's guilt,  God
will do the same about ours."

A  brother in Scetis  committed  a fault. A council was   called to which abba
Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to
him, saying, "Come, for everyone is waiting for you".  So he got  up and went.
He took  a leaking jug and filled  it with water and carried  it with him. The
others came  out to meet him  and said, " what is  this,  father?" The old man
said to them, "My sins run out behind me, and  I do not see  them, and today I
am coming to judge the errors of another." When they heard that,  they said no
more to the brother but forgave him.

A  brother sinned and  the priest  ordered him to go  out of  the church; abba
Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, "I, too, am a sinner."

                  TRUE PEACE
One of  the brothers asked  abba Isidore,  a  priest  of scetis,  "Why are the
demons so terrified of you?" And the old man said, "Ever since I became a monk
I have tried never to let anger rise as far as my mouth."

Abba Joseph asked  abba Nisteros, "What  should I do about  my  tongue, for  I
cannot control it?"  The old man  said to  him,  "When you speak,  do you find
peace?" He replied, "No." The old man said to him, "If you do  not find peace,
why do you  speak? Be silent, and when  a conversation takes  place, prefer to
listen rather to talk."

Two old men had lived together for many  years and  they had never fought with
one another. The first said to the other, "Let us also have a fight like other
men." The other replied, "I do not know how to fight." The  first said to him,
"Look, I will put a brick between us and I will say: it is  mine; and you will
reply: no, it is  mine; and so   the fight will  begin."  So they put  a brick
between them and the first said, "No, it is mine", and the other said, "No, it
is mine." And the first replied, "If it  is yours, take  it  and  go." So they
gave it up without being able to find a cause for an argument.

A brother asked abba Poemen,  "How should I behave in  my  cell  in the  place
where   I am   living?" He replied,  "Behave as  if you  were  a stranger, and
wherever you are, do not expect your  words to  have an influence and you will
be at peace."

The holy Syncletia said, "I think that for those living in community obedience
is a greater virtue than chasity, however  perfect. Chastity carries within it
the danger of  pride, but obedience  has within it  the promise of  humility."

The old men used to say, "If  someone has faith  in  another and hands himself
over to him in complete submission, he does not need to pay attention to God's
commandments but he can entrust his whole  will to his  father. He will suffer
no reproach  from God, for  God looks  for nothing from   beginners so much as
renunciation through obedience."

Abba Mios of Belos said, "Obedience responds to  obedience. When someone obeys
God, then God obeys his request."

They said  that  abba Sylvanus had  a   disciple in Scetis,   named Mark,  who
possessed  in great measure  the virtue of obedience.  He was a copyist of old
manuscripts, and the old man loved him for his  obedience. He had eleven other
disciples who were aggrieved that he loved more than them.

When the old men nearby heard that he  loved Mark above the others,  they took
it  ill. One day they visited  him and abba Sylvanus took  them  with him and,
going out of his cell, began  to  knock on the  door of each of his disciples,
saying, "Brother, come out, I have work for you." And not one of them appeared

Then he came to Mark's cell and knocked,  saying, "Mark". And  as soon as Mark
heard the voice of the old man  he came outside  and  the old man sent  him on
some errand.

So abba Sylvanus said to the old men, "Where are  the other brothers?", and he
went into Mark's cell and found the book  in which he had  been writing and he
was making the letter O; and  when he  heard  the old  man's voice, he had not
finished the line of the O. And the old men said,  "Truly,  abba, we also love
the one whom you love; for God loves him, too."

Some old men said, "If you see a young man  climbing up to  the heavens by his
own will, catch him by  the foot and throw  him down to the  earth; it  is not
good for him."

At first abba Ammoe said to abba Isaiah, "What do you think of me?" He said to
him, "You are an angel,  father." Later  on he said to him,  "and now, what do
you think of me?" He replied, "You  are like  Satan. Even when  you say a good
word to me, it is like steel."

Abba Moses asked abba Sylvanus,  "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

It was said of abba John the Dwarf that one day he  said to his elder brother,
"I should like to be  free of all care, like  the angels who do  not work, but
ceaselessly  offer worship to God."  So he took leave of  his brother and went
away  into the desert.  After a week  he  came  back to his brother.   When he
knocked on the door he heard his brother say, "Who are you?" before  he opened
it. He said, "I am John,  your brother."  But he replied,  "John has become an
angel and   henceforth he is  no  longer  among men." Then John  besought him,
saying, "It is I."  However, his brother did not let him in but left him there
in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to him,  "You are a
man and you   must  once  again work  in  order to   eat." Then John    made a
prostration before him, saying, "Forgive me."

Abba John said, "A monk is toil. The monk toils in all he does. That is what a
monk is."

An old man was asked, "What is humility?" and he said in reply, "Humility is a
great work, and  a  work of God. The way of  humility is to  undertake  bodily
labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all." Then a
brother said, "What does it mean, to be subject to all?" The old man answered,
"To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins  of others but
always to give your attention to your own sins and to  pray without ceasing to

An old man  said, "Every time  a thought of   superiority or vanity moves you,
examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the  commandments, whether
you  love your enemies,  whether you consider   yourself to be an unprofitable
servant  and the greatest  sinner of  all.  Even so,  do not  pretend to great
ideas  as though  you  were  perfectly   right,  for  that   thought  destroys

As  abba    Macarius was returning  to   his  cell  from the   marsh  carrying
palm-leaves, the devil met him  with a sharp sickle and  would have struck him
but he  could not. He cried  out, "Great is the violence  I  suffer  from you,
Macarius, for when I want to hurt you, I cannot. But whatever you do, I do and
more also. You fast now and then,  but I am  never refreshed by any  food; you
often keep vigil, but I never  fall asleep.  Only in one  thing are you better
than I am and I acknowledge that."  Macarius said to  him, "What is that?" and
he replied, "It is because of your humility alone that I cannot overcome you."

The old men used to say, "When we do not experience warfare, we  ought so much
the more to  humiliate  ourselves.  For God seeing  our weakness, protects us;
when we   glorify ourselves, he  withdraws  his  protection and we  are lost."

                 TRUE POVERTY
Abba Theodore, surnamed Pherme, had three good books. He went to abba Macarius
and said to him,  "I have three good  books, and I am  helped by reading them;
other monks also want to read them and they are helped by  them. Tell me, what
am I to do?" The old man said, "Reading  books is good but  possessing nothing
is more than all.' When  he heard  this, he  went  away and sold the books and
gave the money to the poor.

Someone asked amma Syncletica of blessed  memory, "Is absolute poverty perfect
goodness?" She replied, "It  is  a great  good  for those capable of  it; even
those  who are  not capable of  it find rest for  their souls in  it though it
causes them anxiety. As tough cloth is laundered pure  white by  stretched and
trampled underfoot, so a tough soul is stretched by freely accepting poverty."

When abba Macarius was in Egypt, he found a man who had brought a beast to his
cell and he was steeling his possessions. He went up to the thief as though he
were a traveller who did not live there and helped him  to load the  beast and
led him on his way in peace, saying to himself,  "We brought nothing into this
world; but the Lord gave; as he willed, so is it done; blessed  be the Lord in
all things."

Someone brought money to an old man and said, "Take this and  spend it for you
are old and ill", for he was a  leper. The old  man replied, "Are you going to
take me away from the one who has cared for me for sixty  years?  I  have been
ill  all that time  and  I have not needed anything  because God has cared for
me." And he would not accept it.

Once  abba Arsenius fell  ill in Scetis  and in this state he  needed just one
coin.  He could not  find one  so he accepted one as a gift from someone else,
and he said,  "I thank you, God, that for your name's  sake you have  made  me
worthy to come to this pass, that I should have to beg."

                LIFE TOGETHER

Amma Syncletica  said, "We ought to  govern  our souls  with discretion and to
remain in  the community, neither following our  own will  nor seeking our own
good. We are like exiles: we have been separated from the things of this world
and have given  ourselves in one  faith to the one Father.  We need nothing of
what we have left behind. There we had  reputation and plenty  to eat; here we
have little to eat and little of everything else."

Abba Antony said, "Our life and  our death are  with our neighbour. If we gain
our brother, we have gained our God; but if we scandalize our brother, we have
sinned against Christ."

A brother asked, "I have found a place where my peace is  not disturbed by the
brethren; do you advise me to live there?" Abba Poemen replied, "The place for
you is where you will not harm the brothers."

There was an anchorite  who was gazing  with the antelopes  and who  prayed to
God, saying, "Lord, teach me something more." And a voice came to him, saying,
"Go into  this monastery and   do whatever they tell you."   He went there and
remained in the monastery,  but he did not know  the work of the brothers. The
young monks  began to teach him how  to work  and they would  say to  him, "Do
this, you idiot," and "Do that, you fool." When he  had borne it, he prayed to
God,  saying, "Lord, I  do  not know the work  of  men; send  me  back to  the
antelopes." And  having been freed  by God, he went back  into the  country to
graze with the antelopes.

A beginner who goes from one monastery to another is like a wild animal who
jumps this way and that for fear of the halter.

Having withdrawn  from the palace  to the solitary  life, abba Arsenius prayed
and heard a voice saying to him, "Arsenius,  flee, be silent, pray always, for
these are the source of sinlessness."

A  brother in scetis went to  ask for a word from  abba  Moses and the old man
said  to   him,  "Go and sit   in   your cell  and your  cell   will teach you

Abba  Nilus  said, "The   arrows of  the   enemy cannot  touch  one  who loves
quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded."

Theophilus of holy memory, bishop  of Alexandria, journeyed  to Scetis and the
brethren coming together said to abba Pambo, "Say a word or two to the bishop,
that his soul may  be edified in this place."  The old man  replied, "If he is
not edified by my  silence, there is  no hope that  he  will be edified  by my

This place was called Cellia, because of the number  of cells there, scattered
about the desert. Those  who have already begun their  training there [i.e. in
Nitria] and  want  to live a  more  remote life,  stripped of external things,
withdraw there. For this is  the utter desert  and the cells are divided  from
one another by so great a distance  that no one can see  his neighbour nor can
any voice be   heard.  They live   alone in their  cells and  there is a  huge
silence and a great quiet there. Only on  Saturday and Sunday  do they meet in
church, and then they see each other face to face, as men restored to heaven.

                  THE KINGDOM WITHIN
It was revealed to  abba Antony in  his desert that there was  one in the city
who was his equal.  He was a doctor by  profession, and whatever he had beyond
his needs he gave  to the poor  and  every day  he  sang the sanctus  with the

Amma Matrona said, "There are many in the mountains who behave as if they were
in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is better to have many people
around  you and to  live the solitary  life in your will than  to be alone and
always longing to be with a crowd."

Abba Isidore said, "If you fast regularly,  do not be  inflated with pride; if
you think highly of yourself because  of it, then you had  better eat meat. It
is better for a  man to eat  meat than to be inflated  with pride  and glorify

When blessed Antony was praying  in his cell,  a voice  spoke to him,  saying,
"Antony, you  have not yet come to  the measure  of the the  tanner who  is in
Alexandria." When  he heard this, the old   man arose and   took his stick and
hurried into the city. When he had found the tanner...he said to him, "Tell me
about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you."

He replied, "I am not aware that I  have done anything  good. When I get up in
the morning,  before I sit down to  work, I say that the   whole of this city,
small and great, will go into the Kingdom of  God because of their good deeds,
while I alone will go into eternal punishment  because of my evil deeds. Every
evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart."

When blessed Antony heard this he said, "My son, you sit in your own house and
work well, and you have  the peace of  the Kingdom of God; but  i spend all my
time in solitude with no distractions, and i have not come near the measure of
such words."

Once three brothers came to visit an old man in Scetis and one of them said to
him, "Abba,  I have committed  to memory the  Old and New Testaments." And the
old man answered, "You have filled the air with words." The second one said to
him,  "I have written out the  Old and New Testaments with  my  own hands." He
said, "And you have filled the window-ledge with  manuscripts." Then the third
said, "The grass is growing up my chimney." And the old man replied, "You have
driven away hospitality."

Once two  brothers came to  a certain old man. It  was  his custom not  to eat
every day but when he saw them he received them joyfully and said, "A fast has
its own reward, but he who eats for the sake of love fulfils two commandments:
he leaves his own will and he refreshes his brothers."

A brother came  to  see a  certain  hermit and,  as he was  leaving,  he said,
"Forgive  me  abba  for preventing you   from  keeping your  rule." The hermit
replied, "My rule is to welcome you with  hospitality and to  send you away in

It was said of  an old man that he  dwelt in Syria on the  way to  the desert.
This was his    work: whenever a monk came     from the desert,   he gave  him
refreshment with all his heart. Now  one day a  hermit came and he offered him
refreshment.  The  other  did not    want   to  accept   it,  saying  he   was
fasting. Filled  with sorrow, the old man  said to him,  "Do not  despise your
servant, I beg you, do not despise me, but  let us pray  together. Look at the
tree  which is here; we will  follow the way  of whichever of  us causes it to
bend when he kneels on the ground and prays." So the hermit knelt down to pray
and nothing happened. Then the hospitable one knelt  down and at once the tree
bent towards him.  Taught by this, they gave thanks to God.

Abba Nilus said, "Prayer is the seed of gentleness and the absence of anger."

We came from Palestine to Egypt and went to see one of the fathers. He offered
us hospitality and we said, "Why  do you not keep the  fast when visitors come
to see you? In Palestine they keep it." He replied, "Fasting is always with me
but I cannot always have  you here. It  is useful and  necessary to fastbut we
choose whether we will  fast or not.   What God  commands  is perfect  love. I
receive Christ in you and so  I must do everything possible  to serve you with
love. When I have   sent you on  your way,   then I can  continue my   rule of
fasting. The  sons of the bridegroom cannot  fast while the bridegroom is with
them; when he is taken away from them, then they will fast."

A hunter in the desert saw abba antony enjoying himself with the brothers, and
he was  shocked. Wanting to  show him that it was  necessary sometimes to meet
the needs of the brothers, the old man said to him,  "Put an arrow in your bow
and shoot it." So he  did. And the old man  said, "Shoot another," and he  did
so. Then the old man ssaid, "Shoot yet  again," and the  hunter replied, "If I
bend my bow so  much, I will break it."  Then the old  man said to him, "It is
the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brothers beyond measure, they
will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs."

Some  monks came to see abba  Poemen  and said to  him,  "When we see brothers
dozing in the church, should we rouse them  so that they  can be watchful?" He
said, "For my  part, when I  see a brother dozing, I  put his head on my knees
and let him rest."

                  BEASTS AND SAINTS
Abba  Antony said,  "Obedience  with abstinence gives  men  control over  wild

Abba Theon ate vegetables, but only those that did not need to be cooked. They
say that he used to go out of his cell at night and stay in the company of the
wild animals, giving them drink from the water he had. Certainly one could see
the tracks of antelopes and wild asses and gazelles and other animals near his
hermitage. These creatures always gave him pleasure.

Once when a hippopotamus was ravaging the neighbouring countryside the fathers
called on abba Bes to help them. He stood at the  place and waited and when he
saw the beast, which was of  enormous size, he commanded it  not to ravage the
countryside any more, saying, "In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to
ravage this countryside  anymore." The  hippopotamus vanished completely  from
that district as if driven away by an angel.

Abba  Xanthios said, "A dog is  better than I am, for  he has love and he does
not judge."

We came near to a tree,  led by our kindly host,  and there we stumbled upon a
lion. At the sight of him my guide and I quaked,  but the saintly old man went
unfaltering on and we followed him. The  wild beast -  you would say it was at
the  command of God - modestly  withdrew a little  way and sat down, while the
old man plucked the fruit from the lower branches.  He held out his hand, full
of dates; and up the creature ran and took them as frankly  as any tame animal
about the  house; and  when  it had  finished  eating, it  went away. We stood
watching and trembling; reflecting as well  we might what  valour of faith was
in him and what poverty of spirit in us.

While abba Macarius was praying  in his cave  in the desert, a hyena  suddenly
appeared and began to lick  his feet and taking him  gently by the hem of  his
tunic, she drew  him towards her own cave.  He followed her, saying, "I wonder
what this animal wants me to  do?" When she had led  him to her cave, she went
in and brought her cubs  which had been  born blind. He  prayed over them  and
returned  them to the hyena with  their sight healed. She in  turn, by wayn of
thankoffering, brought  the man the  huge skin of  a ram  and  laid it  at his
feet. He smiled at her as if  at a kind  person and taking  the skin spread it
under him.

Amma Syncletica said, "In the  beginning there are a great  many battles and a
good  deal  of suffering   for  those who    are  advancing towards   God and,
afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire. At first
they are ckoked with smoke and cry, until they obtain what they seek. As it is
written, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:24); so we also must kindle
the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work."

Abba Hyperichius said, "Praise God  continally with spiritual hymns and always
remain in meditation and  in this way  you will be  able to bear the burden of
the temptations that  come upon you. A traveller  who is carrying a heavy load
pauses from  time to time  and  draws in  deep  breaths; it makes  the journey
easier and the burden lighter."

When abba Apollo heard the sound of singing from the monks who welcomed us, he
greeted us  according to  the custom which  all  monks  folow... He  first lay
prostrate on the ground, then got up and kissed us and having brought us in he
prayed for us; then, after washing our feet with  his own hands, he invited us
to partake of some refreshment...

One could see his monks were filled with joy  and a bodily contentment such as
one cannot see on earth. For nobody among them was gloomy or downcast.

If anyone  did appear a   little downcast, abba  Apollo at  once asked him the
reason and told each one what was the secret recesses of his heart. He used to
say,  "Those  who are  going to inherit   the Kingdom of  heaven  must  not be
depondent about their salvation... we  who have been  considered worthy of  so
great a  hope,  how shall we  not  rejoice without ceasing, since  the Apostle
urges us always, "Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks"?"

Abba Poemen said, "There is no greater love than that a man lays down his life
for his neighbour.  When you hear   someone complaining and  you struggle with
yourself and  do not answer him back  with complaints; when   you are hurt and
bear it patiently, not looking for revenge; then you are laying down your life
for your neighbour."

One of the beloved of Christ who had  the gift of mercy used  to say, "The one
who is filled with mercy ought to offer it in the  same manner in which he has
received it, for such is the mercy of God."

Abba Antony said, "I no longer fear God, I love him; for love casts out fear."

Abba Agathon said, "If I could meet a leper, give him  my body and take his, I
should be very happy." That is  perfect charity. It  was also said of him that
when he came into the town one day to sell his goods, he  met a sick traveller
lying in the  public place with  no one to care for  him. The old man rented a
room and  lived with him  there, working with  his hands to  pay the  rent and
spending the rest on the  sick man's needs.  He stayed there four months until
the sick man was well again.  Then he went back to his cell in peace.

A soldier asked abba  Mios if God  accepted repentance. After  the old man had
taught him many things, he said, "Tell me, my dear, if your  cloak is torn, do
you throw it away?" He replied, "No, I mend it and  use it again." The old man
said to him, "If you are so careful about your  cloak, will not god be equally
careful about his creature?"

                GOD IS FOR ALL
God is the life of  all free beings. He is  the salvation of all, of believers
or  unbelievers, of the just or  the unjust, of the  pious  or the impious, of
those freed from passions or those caught up in them, of monks or those living
in the world, of the educated and the illitrate,  of the healthy and the sick,
of the  young or the old. He  is like the  outpouring of light, the glimpse of
the sun, or the changes of the weather which are the same for everyone without

Abba Pambo said, "If you have a heart, you can be saved."


There was an old man living in the desert who served God for so many years and
he said, "Lord, let me know if I  have pleased you."  He saw an angel who said
to him, "You have not  yet become like  the gardener in  such and such place."
The old man marvelled and said, "I will go off to the city to see both him and
what it  is that  he  does that surpasses all  my  work and toil of  all these

So he went to the city and  asked the gardener about his  awy of life.... When
they were getting  ready to  eat in the   evening, the  old  man heard  people
singing in  the  streets, for   the cell of   the gardener   was in a   public
place. Therefore the old man said to him, "Brother, wanting as  you do to live
according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you
hear them singing these songs?"

The man said, "I tell  you, abba, I have never  been troubled or scandalized."
When he heard this the old man said, "What,  then, do you  think in your heart
when you hear these things?" And he replied, "That they are all going into the
Kingdom." When he heard this,  the old man   marvelled and said, "This is  the
practice which surpasses my labour of all these years."

They asked  abba  Macarius, "How should  we  pray?" And the old  man  replied,
"There  is no need  to speak much in prayer;  often stretch out your hands and
say, "Lord, as  you will and as you  know, have mercy on me."  But if there is
war in your soul, add, "Help me!" and because he  knows what we need, he shows
mercy on us."

Abba Lot went to see abba Joseph and he 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 streched his hands toward heaven; his fingers became like ten
lamps of  fire and he said to  him, "If you will, you  can become  all flame."

Abba paul said, "Keep close to Jesus."

Some monks came to see abba Lucius and they said to him, "We  do not work with
our hands;  we  obey Paul's command  and  pray without  ceasing."  The old man
said, "Do you not eat or sleep?" They said, "Yes, we do."  He said, "Who prays
for you while you are asleep?... Excuse me, brothers, but  you do not practice
what you claim. I will show you how I pray without ceasing, though I work with
my hands."

"With God's  help, I collect  a few palm-leaves and sit   down and weave them,
saying, "Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great  goodnes; according to the
miltitude of thy  mercies do away with mine  offences."  He said to them,  "Is
this prayer or not?" They said, "Yes, it is."

And he continued, "When I have worked and prayed  in my heart  all day, I make
about sixteen pence. Two of these I put ouside my door and with the rest I buy
food. And he who finds the two coins outside the door prays for me while I eat
and sleep. And so by the help of God I pray without ceasing."

It is clear  to all who dwell in  Egypt that it is through  the monks that the
world is kept in being and that through them  also human life is preserved and
honoured by God... There is no town or village in Egypt that is not surrounded
by hermitages as if by walls, and all the people  depend on the prayers of the
monks as if on God himself.

Palladius said,  "One day when  I was  suffering from boredom   I went to abba
Macarius and said, "What shall  I do? My thoughts afflict  me, saying, you are
not  making any progress, go away  from here." He said to  me, "Tell them, for
Christ's sake, I am guarding the walls."

  _|_    This article is one  of many more articles  about the  Coptic Orthodox
   |     Church, the Christian Apostolic Church of Egypt. These articles can be
   |     obtained electronically from Copt-Net Repository,  using anonymous FTP
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