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10

DISCRETION

1. Antony said, ‘Some wear out their bodies by fasting; but because they have no discretion this only puts them further away from God.’

2. Some brothers came to Antony to tell him their dreams and find out whether they were true or whether they were illusions of the demons. They had set out with a donkey which had died on the journey. When they reached Antony, before they told him anything, he said, ‘Why did your donkey die on the journey?’ They said, ‘How did you know that, abba?’ He said, ‘The demons showed it to me.’ They said to him, ‘That is just what we have come to consult you about. We too have dreams which have often come true; and we do not want to be misled about this.’ Antony had answered them by taking his example from the donkey, showing them that such dreams are caused by demons.

A hunter happened to come by and saw Antony talking in a relaxed way with the brothers, and he was shocked. The hermit wanted to show him how we should sometimes be less austere for the sake of the brothers, and said to him, ‘Put an arrow in your bow, and draw it.’ He did so, and Antony said, ‘Draw it further’ and he drew it further. He said again, ‘Draw it yet further,’ and he drew it some more. Then the hunter said to him, ‘If I draw it too far, the bow will snap.’ Antony answered, ‘So it is with God’s work. If we always go to excess, the brothers quickly become exhausted. It is sometimes best not to be rigid.’ The hunter was ashamed when he heard this, and profited much from it. The brothers were encouraged and went home.

3. A brother said to Antony, ‘Pray for me.’ He answered, ‘Neither I nor God will have mercy on you unless you do something about it yourself and ask God’s help.’

4. Antony also said, ‘God does not let inner conflicts be stirred up in this generation, because he knows that they are too weak to bear it.’

5. Evagrius once said to Arsenius, ‘How is it that we educated and learned men have no goodness, and Egyptian peasants have a great deal?’ Arsenius answered, ‘We have nothing because we go chasing worldly knowledge. These Egyptian peasants have got their goodness by hard work.’

6. Arsenius of blessed memory said, ‘A monk living in a place that is not his native country will never be half-hearted, and so will be at peace.’

7. Mark asked Arsenius, ‘It is right, isn’t it, to have nothing unnecessary in one’s cell? I saw a brother who had a few cabbages, and he was rooting them out.’ Arsenius said, ‘It is right, but each should do what is right for his own way of life. If he is not strong enough to endure without the cabbages, he will plant them again.’

8. Peter, the disciple of Lot, told this story. ‘I was once in the cell of Agatho, when a brother came to him and said, “I want to live with the monks; tell me how to do so.” Agatho said, “From the first day you join them, remember you’re a pilgrim all the days of your life, and do not be too confident.” Macarius said to him, “What does confidence do?” He replied, “It is like a fierce drought. When it is dry, everyone flees away from the land because it destroys even the fruit on the trees.” Macarius said, “Is it only false confidence that is like that?” Agatho said, “No passion is worse than confidence; it is the mother of all passion. It is best for the monk’s progress that he should not be confident at all, even when he is alone in his cell.” ’

9. Daniel said, ‘When Arsenius was dying, he gave us this instruction: Do not make any offering for me. If I have made any offering for myself during my life, I shall find it.’

10. They said of Agatho that some people went to him because they heard he was a man of great discretion. Wanting to test whether he was irritable, they said to him, ‘Are you Agatho? We have heard of you that you are an adulterer and a proud man.’ He answered, ‘It is true.’ They said to him, ‘Are you that Agatho who gossips and slanders?’ He answered, ‘I am.’ They asked him, ‘Are you Agatho the heretic?’ He answered, ‘I am no heretic.’ So they asked him, ‘Why did you patiently bear it when we slandered you, but did not endure it when we said you were a heretic?’ He answered, ‘I agreed to the first charges against myself for the good of my soul. But I didn’t accept it when you said I was a heretic because that is to be separated from God, and I don’t want to be separated from God.’ They admired his discretion, and went away edified.

11. Agatho was asked, ‘Which is more difficult, bodily discipline, or guard over the inner self?’ He said, ‘Man is like a tree. His bodily discipline is like the leaves of the tree, his guard over the inner self is like the fruit. Scripture says that “every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3:10). So we ought to take every precaution about guarding the mind, because that is our fruit. Yet we need to be covered and beautiful with leaves, which is bodily discipline.’ Agatho was wise in understanding, earnest in discipline, armed at all points, careful about keeping up his manual work, sparing in food and clothing.

12. In Scetis there was a meeting to discuss something; and after the decision was taken, Agatho came in and said, ‘You have not made a good decision.’ They said to him, ‘Who are you to say that?’ He answered, ‘A son of man, for it is written, “If ye truly speak righteousness, judge ye the thing that is right, O ye sons of men” (Ps. 58:1).’

13. Agatho said, ‘If an angry man were to raise the dead, God would still be displeased with his anger.’

14. Three monks came to Achillas, and one of them had a bad reputation. The first monk said, ‘Abba, make me a fishing-net.’ He said, ‘I won’t.’ The second said to him, ‘Will you give us a memento of yourself to keep in our community?’ He answered, ‘I don’t have time.’ Then the third, the one who had the bad reputation, said to him, ‘Make me a fishing-net, and so I shall have a blessing from your hands, abba.’ At once he answered, ‘I will do that.’ But the first two, whose requests he had refused, said privately to him, ‘Why did you refuse our requests and consent to his?’ Achillas answered, ‘I could tell you that I would not do it because I had no time, and you would not be vexed. But if I did not do it for this monk, he would say, “The hermit has heard my reputation and for that reason has refused to make me a net.” So immediately I set to work with the string, to soothe his soul and prevent him being sad.’

15. They said of one hermit that for fifty years he ate no bread and drank very little water. He said, ‘I have destroyed lust and greed and vanity.’ When Abraham heard that he had said this, he came to him and said, ‘Was it you who said this?’ He answered, ‘Yes.’ Abraham said to him, ‘Supposing you go into your cell and find a woman on your mat, could you think she was not a woman?’ He said, ‘No. But I would fight against my thoughts, so as not to touch her.’ Abraham said, ‘Then you have not killed lust, the passion is still alive; you have only imprisoned it. Suppose you were walking along a road and saw stones on one side and gold in jars on the other, could you think the gold and the stones were of the same value?’ He answered, ‘No, but I would resist my desire and not let myself pick it up.’ Abraham said to him, ‘Then the passion still lives, you have only imprisoned it.’ He went on, ‘If you heard that one brother loved you and spoke well of you, and another brother hated you and slandered you, and they both came to visit you, would they both be equally welcome to you?’ He said, ‘No: but I would force myself to treat him who hates me just as well as him who loves me.’ So Abraham said to him, ‘Then your passions are alive, only in some measure holy men have got them chained.’

16. It was said that a hermit was working earnestly in his cell, wrapped up in his mat. He went to visit Ammon, who saw him using his mat like this, and said to him, ‘That is not a good idea.’ The hermit said, ‘Three thoughts trouble me. The first is that I ought to go and live somewhere else in the desert; the second is that I should go out and find a foreign country where no one knows me; the third is that I should shut myself in my cell, see no one, and eat every other day.’ Ammon said to him, ‘None of these three would be any use to you. Stay in your cell, eat a little every day, always keep in your heart the words of the publican in the Gospel, and you can be saved (Luke 18:13).’

17. Daniel said, ‘If the body is strong, the soul weakens. If the body weakens, the soul is strong.’ He also said, ‘If the body is prosperous, the soul grows lean; if the body is lean, the soul grows prosperous.’

18. Daniel also said that when Arsenius was in Scetis, there was a monk who stole the property of the other monks. Arsenius, wanting to do him good and free the others from being troubled, took him to his cell and said, ‘If you’ll stop stealing, I’ll give you whatever you want.’ He gave him gold, money and trinkets, and everything he found in his bag. But the monk stole again. Arsenius, seeing that he was always troubling the monks, expelled him, and said, ‘If you find a brother committing crimes through bodily infirmity, you must bear with him. But if he does not stop after being warned, expel him. He hurts his own soul, and also disturbs everyone who lives here.’

19. Soon after Evagrius had become a monk, he went to a hermit and said, ‘Abba, speak a word to me by which I may be saved.’ He said, ‘If you would be saved, when you go to visit someone, do not speak until he asks you a question.’ Evagrius was moved by this remark, and did penance before him, and pleased him by saying, ‘Indeed, I have read many books, and never found such learning.’ He went away much encouraged.

20. Evagrius said, ‘A wandering mind is strengthened by reading, and prayer. Passion is dampened down by hunger and work and solitude. Anger is repressed by psalmody and long-suffering and mercy. But all these should be at the proper times and in due measure. If they are used at the wrong times and to excess, they are useful for a short time. But what is only useful for a short time, is harmful in the long run.’

21. Ephriam was passing by when a harlot (she was the devil’s agent) began to make every effort to attract him to sinful intercourse: or, if she failed in this, at least to stir him to anger, for no one had ever seen him angry or brawling. He said to her, ‘Come with me.’ When they came to a crowded place, he said to her, ‘Come on, I will lie with you here as you wanted.’ She looked round at the crowd and said, ‘How can we do it here, with all these people standing round? We should be ashamed.’ He said, ‘If you blush before men, should you not blush the more before God, who discloses the hidden things of darkness?’ So she went away confused and taken aback, without gaining anything.

22. Some brothers once came to Zeno and asked him, ‘What is meant by the text in the book of Job, “Heaven is not pure in God’s sight” (Job 15:15)?’ He answered, ‘These brothers have stopped seeing their sins, and are searching the heavenly places. The meaning of that text is that since God alone is pure, it may be said that not even heaven is pure in his sight.’

23. Theodore of Pherme said, ‘If a friend of yours is tempted by lust, give him a helping hand if you can and pull him back. But if he falls into heresy, and persists in spite of your efforts, go away quickly, cut off his friendship. For if you stay with him, you may be dragged with him into hell.’

24. Once Theodore came to see John, who had been born a eunuch. While they were talking, Theodore said, ‘When I was in Scetis, I devoted myself to the soul’s work, and treated the body’s work as if it were a side-issue. But now it is the other way round; I treat the soul’s work as though it were the side-issue.’

25. Once one of the monks came to Theodore and said, ‘Look here, that brother has gone back to the world.’ Theodore said to him, ‘Don’t be surprised at that. Be surprised when you hear that a man has been able to escape the jaws of the enemy.’

26. Theodore said, ‘Many choose the repose of this world before God gives them His rest.’

27. They said of John the Short that he once said to his elder brother, ‘I want to be free of trouble like the angels, doing no work, and serving God unceasingly.’ He stripped himself and went into the desert. After a week there, he went back to his brother. When he knocked on the door, his brother answered without opening it, and said, ‘Who’s there?’ He said, ‘It’s John.’ His brother replied, ‘John has become an angel, and is no longer among men.’ But he went on knocking and saying, ‘It really is John.’ His brother did not open the door, but left him outside till morning as a punishment. At last he opened the door and said, ‘If you are a man, you need to work in order to live. If you are an angel, why do you want to come into my cell?’ So John did penance, and said, ‘Forgive me, brother.’

28. Once some monks came to Scetis, and John the Short was with them. During supper, an eminent presbyter got up to give them each a little water to drink. No one accepted it except John the Short. The others were surprised, and said, ‘How is it that you, the least of all, dared to accept the ministry of a great old man?’ He replied, ‘When I get up to hand water round, I’m glad if everyone takes it, because I’ve been able to do them a service and will have a reward. That’s why I took it just now, to let the one who offered it have his reward; perhaps he would have been sad if no one had accepted it.’ They all admired his discretion.

29. Poemen once asked Joseph, ‘What am I to do when temptations attack me? Do I resist them, or let them come in?’ He said, ‘Let them come in and then fight them.’ So he went back to his cell in Scetis. By chance, a man from the Thebaid told the brothers in Scetis that he had asked Joseph the same question, ‘When temptation comes, do I resist it, or do I let it in?’ and that he had said to him, ‘On no account let it in, but cut it off at once.’ When Poemen heard that Joseph had said this to the man from the Thebaid, he went back to Joseph at Panephysis and said to him, ‘Abba, I entrusted my thoughts to your care: and you said one thing to me, and the opposite to a monk from the Thebaid.’ Joseph said, ‘You know that I love you?’ He answered, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Didn’t you tell me to say what I thought as though I was talking for my own good? If temptations come, and you deal with them within yourself, they will strengthen you. I said this to you as I should say it to myself. But there are other men for whom it is bad that passions should enter, and they must cut them off at once.’

30. Poemen said, ‘In Lower Heracleon I once visited Joseph, and he had by his cell a very beautiful mulberry tree. In the morning he said to me, “Go and fetch yourself some mulberries to eat.” It was Friday. Now I did not usually eat on Fridays, as it was a fast day, so I asked him, “For the Lord’s sake, tell me why you said to me, ‘Go and eat.’ I didn’t go because it was a fast day, but I was ashamed to disobey your command, for I think you had some reason for it.” But he replied, “Hermits do not at first speak openly to brothers, but say some very indirect things; if they see that the brothers do these indirect things; then only do they say what is good for them because they know that the brothers will obey them in everything.” ’

31. A brother asked Joseph, ‘What shall I do? I cannot bear to be tempted, nor to work, nor to give alms.’ He said to him, ‘If you cannot do any of these, at least keep your conscience clear from every sin against your neighbour, and you will be saved, for God looks for the soul that does not sin.’

32. Isaac from the Thebaid said to his brothers, ‘Do not bring boys here. Boys were the reason why four monasteries in Scetis were deserted.’

33. Longinus asked Lucius, ‘I have three ideas and the first is to go on a pilgrimage.’ He answered, ‘If you do not control your tongue, you will never be a pilgrim wherever you travel. But control your tongue here, and you will be a pilgrim without travelling.’ Longinus said, ‘My second idea is to fast for two days at a time.’ Lucius answered, ‘The prophet Isaiah said, “Even if you bend your neck to the ground, your fast will not so be accepted” (Is. 58:5); you should rather guard your mind from evil thoughts.’ Longinus said, ‘My third idea is to avoid the company of men.’ Lucius answered, ‘Unless you first deal with your sins by living among men you will not be able to deal with yourself when you live alone.’

34. Macarius said, ‘If we remember the evil that men have done us, we close our minds to the power of remembering God. But if we remember the evil which the devils cause, we shall be undisturbed.’

35. Mathois said, ‘Satan does not know which passion will seduce the soul, and so he scatters his tares in it without direction. At one time he throws in the seeds of lust, at another the seeds of slander, and the rest in the same way. Wherever he sees a soul drawn towards one of the passions, he concentrates on that. If he knew what was most tempting to a soul, he would not scatter such a variety of temptations.’

36. They told this story of Nathyra, who was the disciple of Silvanus. When he was living in his cell on Mount Sinai, he regulated his life with moderation and allowed himself what his body needed. But after he was made bishop in Pharan, he afflicted himself with severe austerities. His disciple said to him, ‘Abba, when we were in the desert you did not torment yourself like this.’ Nathyra said to him, ‘My son, there we had solitude, and quiet and poverty, and so I wanted to discipline my body in such a way that I should not fall sick. For if I had fallen sick, I would have needed assistance which I could not have upon Mount Sinai. But now we are in the world where there are many opportunities of sin and if I fall ill, there are friends who will help me, and prevent me from falling away from a monk’s aim.’

37. A brother asked Poemen, ‘I am troubled in spirit, and want to leave this place.’ He said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I have heard an unedifying story about one of the brothers.’ Poemen said, ‘Is the story true?’ He said, ‘Yes, abba. The brother who told me is a man to be believed.’ He answered, ‘The brother who told you is not to be trusted. If he were, he would not have told you that story. When God heard the cry of the men of Sodom, he did not believe it until he had gone down and seen with his own eyes.’ The brother said, ‘I too have seen it with my own eyes.’ When Poemen heard this, he looked down and picked off the ground a wisp of straw and said, ‘What is this?’ The brother replied, ‘Straw.’ Then he reached up and touched the roof of the cell, and said, ‘What is this?’ He answered, ‘It is the beam that holds up the roof.’ Then Poemen said, ‘Keep remembering that your sins are like this beam: and that brother’s sins are like this wisp of straw.’ When Sisois heard this, he marvelled, and said, ‘How shall I bless you, Poemen? Your words are like precious jewels, full of grace and glory.’

38. Some neighbouring priests once came to the monastery of Poemen. Anub went in and said to him, ‘Let’s invite these priests to receive the gifts of God here in charity.’ But Poemen stood in silence for a long time, and made no reply: and Anub went out sadly. Those who were sitting round said to Poemen, ‘Why didn’t you answer him?’ Poemen said to them, ‘I’ve no reason to do so, for already I am dead. Dead men do not speak. It is not my fault that I am still here in your company.’

39. A brother once went out on a pilgrimage from the monastery of Poemen, and came to see a hermit who lived with love towards all and received many visitors. The brother told the hermit stories about Poemen and when the hermit heard of Poemen’s strength of character, he longed to see him. The brother returned to Egypt and after some time the hermit went from his country to Egypt to see the brother who had visited him for he had told him where he lived. When the brother saw the hermit, he was surprised and very glad. The hermit said to him, ‘If you love me, take me to Poemen.’ So the brother showed him the way there. The brother told Poemen this about the hermit, saying, ‘A great and very loving man, especially honoured in his own district, has come here wanting to see you.’ So Poemen received him kindly. After they had exchanged greetings, they sat down. The hermit began to talk about Holy Scripture, and about the things spiritual and heavenly. But Poemen turned his face away, and answered nothing. When the hermit saw that he would not speak with him, he was upset and went out: and he said to the brother who had brought him there, ‘My journey was in vain. I saw the hermit but he did not deign to speak to me.’ The brother went to Poemen, and said, ‘Abba, it was to talk with you that this great man came here, a man of much honour in his own land. Why did you not speak to him?’ Poemen replied, ‘He’s from above, and speaks of the things of heaven. I’m from below, and speak of the things of earth. If he’d spoken with me about the soul’s passions, I would willingly have answered him. But if he speaks of the things of the spirit, I know nothing about them.’ So the brother went out and said to the hermit, ‘The reason is that he does not easily discuss Scripture. But if anyone talks to him about the soul’s passions, he will answer.’ Then the hermit was stricken with penitence, and went to Poemen and said, ‘What shall I do, abba? My passions rule me.’ He looked at him happily and said, ‘Now you are welcome; you have only to ask and I will speak with understanding.’ The hermit was greatly strengthened by their talk, and said, ‘Truly, this is love’s way.’ He thanked God that he had been able to see such a holy man, and returned to his own country.

40. A brother came to consult Poemen and said, ‘I have committed a great sin, and I will do penance for three years.’ But Poemen said to him, ‘That is a long time.’ The brother said, ‘Are you telling me to do penance for one year then?’ Again he said, ‘That is a long time.’ Some of the people who were nearby suggested, ‘A penance of forty days?’ Again he said, ‘That is a long time.’ Then he added, ‘I think that if someone is wholeheartedly penitent, and determined not to sin that sin again, God will accept a penance of even three days.’

41. Ammon questioned Poemen on the subject of the impure thoughts within the heart, and on the subject of vain desire. Poemen said, ‘Can the axe do harm unless the woodman is using it? Do not reach out your hands to use those things, and they will do you no harm.’

42. Isaiah questioned him about the same subject. Poemen said, ‘Cloth, if it is too long in a chest, becomes rotten. If our bodies do not bring those thoughts into the daylight, then they will rot or be destroyed.’

43. Joseph asked him about the same subject. Poemen said, ‘If you shut a snake or a scorpion in a box in the end it will die. Wicked thoughts, which the demons scatter, slowly lose their power if the victim has endurance.’

44. Joseph asked Poemen, ‘How should we fast?’ Poemen said, ‘I suggest that everyone should eat a little less than he wants, every day.’ Joseph said to him, ‘When you were a young man, didn’t you fast for two days on end?’ He said to him, ‘That’s right, I used to fast three days on end, even for a week. But the great hermits have tested all these things, and they found that it is good to eat something every day, but on some days a little less. They have shown us that this is the king’s highway, for it is easy and light.’

45. Poemen said, ‘Do not live in a place where some are jealous of you; you will make no progress there.’

46. A brother came to Poemen, and said to him, ‘I have sown seed in my field, and I will make a love-feast with the crop.’ He said, ‘That’s a good idea.’ He went away with purpose, and invited more to the love-feast which he was making. When Anub heard this, he said to Poemen, ‘Aren’t you afraid of God that you said that to the brother?’ Poemen said nothing. But two days later he sent for the brother and called him to his cell. He said to him, in the hearing of Anub, ‘What did you ask me the other day? My attention was elsewhere.’ The brother said, ‘I have sown my field, and I am going to make a love-feast with the crop.’ Poemen said to him, ‘I thought you were talking about your brother, who is a layman. What you are doing is not a monk’s work.’ The brother was sad when he heard this, and said, ‘That’s the only kind of work that I know how to do: I can’t stop sowing seed in my field.’ When he had gone away, Anub began to apologize to Poemen, saying, ‘Forgive me.’ Poemen said to him, ‘Look here, I knew from the beginning that it was not a monk’s work. But I spoke to his soul’s need, and stilled his soul so that he might increase in charity; now he has gone away sadly, but he will go on with the same work.’

47. A brother asked Poemen, ‘What is the meaning of the text, “Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause” (Matt. 5:22)?’ He answered, ‘If you are angry with your brother for any kind of trouble that he gives you, that is anger without a cause, and it is better to pluck out your right eye and cast it from you. But if anyone wants to separate you from God, then you must be angry with him.’

48. Poemen said, ‘If a man sins and denies it, saying, “I have not sinned,” do not correct him, or you will destroy any intention he might have of changing. If you say, “Do not be cast down, my brother, but be careful about that in future,” you will move his heart to repent.’

49. The same monk said, ‘Experience is good. By experience men are tested.’ He also said, ‘If a man preaches but does not practise what he preaches, he is like a well of water where everyone can quench their thirst and wash off their dirt, but which cannot clean away the filth and dung that is around it.’

50. He also said, ‘He who knows himself is a man.’

51. He also said, ‘If a man appears silent in speech but is condemning other people in his heart, he is really talking incessantly. Another man may seem to talk all day, but he is keeping silence since he always speaks in a way that is right with his heart.’

52. He also said, ‘Suppose there are three men living together. One lives a good life in stillness, the second is ill but gives thanks to God, the third serves the needs of others with sincerity. These three men are alike, it is as if they were all doing the same work.’

53. He also said, ‘Evil cannot drive out evil. If anyone hurts you, do good to him and your good will destroy his evil.’

54. He also said, ‘A grumbler is not a monk. Anyone who gives evil for evil is not a monk. An irritable man is not a monk.’

55. A brother came to Poemen and said to him, ‘Many thoughts come into my mind and put me in danger.’ He sent him out into the open air, and said, ‘Open your lungs and do not breathe.’ He replied, ‘I can’t do that.’ Then he said to him: ‘Just as you can’t stop air coming into your lungs, so you can’t stop thoughts coming into your mind. Your part is to resist them.’

56. A brother asked him, ‘I have been left a fortune, what am I to do with it?’ Poemen said to him, ‘Go away, and come back in three days, and I will tell you.’ The brother came back as he was told, and Poemen said, ‘What can I tell you, brother? If I say, “Give it to the church,” they will dine off it. If I say, “Give it to your relations,” you will have gained no spiritual profit. If I say, “Give it to the poor,” you will be safe. So go and do what you like with it, I can give you no reason for choosing what to do.’

57. Poemen also said, ‘If a thought about your bodily needs comes to you, and you put it aside; and then it comes again, and you put it aside, what will happen? If it comes a third time, you will not notice it, and it will do you no harm.’

58. A brother said to Poemen, ‘If I see something wrong do you want me to tell you about it?’ He said to him, ‘It is written, “If a man answers before he has heard, it is foolishness to him and discredit” (Ecclesiasticus 11:8). If you are asked, speak; if not, say nothing.’

59. Poemen related a saying of Ammon, ‘One man kept an axe with him all his life but did not know how to cut down a tree; another knew how to use an axe, and could cut down a tree with a few strokes.’ He used to say that the axe was discretion.

60. He also said, ‘The will of man is a wall of brass, and a stone barrier between himself and God. If he puts it aside, he can say the words of the psalm, “By the help of my God I shall leap over the wall” and, “as for my God, his way is undefiled” (Ps. 18:29–30). If good conduct helps the will, then a man will do good.’

61. A brother asked Poemen, ‘I am suffering damage to my soul by being with my abba. What do you advise me to do? Should I continue to stay with him?’ Poemen knew that his soul was being harmed by his abba, and he was surprised that he even asked whether he ought to stay with him. He said to him, ‘If you want to stay with him, do so.’ The brother went away and stayed with his abba. But he came a second time to Poemen, and said, ‘My soul is very heavy.’ But Poemen did not say to him, ‘Leave your abba.’ He came a third time, and said, ‘Indeed, I can no longer stay with him.’ Then Poemen said, ‘Now you are saved, go, and stay with him no longer.’ He went on, ‘If you see your soul being harmed by something there is no need to ask what to do. What we should ask about rather is our secret thoughts, to get them tested by others. But there is no need to ask about obvious sins; they must be cut off at once.’

62. Abraham, who was a disciple of Agatho, once asked Poemen, ‘Why do the demons attack me?’ Poemen said to him, ‘Is it the demons who attack you? It is not the demons who attack me. When we follow our self-will then our wills seem like demons and it is they who urge us to obey them. If you want to know the kind of people with whom the demons fight, it is Moses and those like him.’

63. Poemen said that a brother asked Moses, ‘How does someone die to self? Is it through his neighbour?’ He answered, ‘Unless you think in your heart that you have been shut in a tomb for three years, you cannot attain to self-loss.’

64. A brother questioned Poemen and said, ‘How should a monk live in his cell?’ He said, ‘To stay in the cell is this: externally, to work with the hands, eat once a day, keep silence and meditate and, internally, to make progress by remembering your sins wherever you may be, and keeping the hours of prayer, and keeping a watch on the secret thoughts of the heart. If it is time to stop working with the hands, begin to pray and finish your work later in tranquillity. The aim of all this is to be with those who are good and to avoid the company of the wicked.’

65. Two brothers once came to Pambo. One of them asked him, ‘Abba, I fast for two days, and then eat two large buns. Do you think I am saving my soul, or losing it?’ The other said, ‘With my hands I make two vegetable stews every day, and I keep a little for food, and give the rest away in alms; do you think I shall be saved or lost?’ They pressed him for an answer but he did not reply. After some days they were on the point of going away. The clergy said to them, ‘Don’t be distressed, God will reward you. This is always the way of the abba, he doesn’t talk readily, unless God gives him something to say.’ So they went to Pambo and said, ‘Abba, pray for us.’ He said to them, ‘Are you going away?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ He gazed at them; and imagining himself in their place, he wrote upon the ground and said, ‘Pambo fasts for two days and then eats two large buns; do you think that makes him a monk? No, it does not.’ Then he said, ‘Pambo makes two vegetable stews every day and gives them away to the poor: do you think this makes him a monk? Not at all.’ He was silent for a little, and then said, ‘These works are good. But if you act rightly towards your neighbour, that is the way to be saved.’ So the brothers were encouraged, and went away joyfully.

66. A brother asked Pambo, ‘Why does the enemy prevent me doing good to my neighbour?’ He said, ‘Do not talk like that, or you will make God a liar. Say, “It is I myself do not want to be kind to others.” For God came down to us and said, “I have given you the power of treading upon scorpions and snakes” (Luke 10:19), and so you are beyond the power of the enemy. Why then do you not tread down these evil spirits?’

67. Palladius said, ‘The soul which is being trained according to the will of Christ should either be earnest in learning what it does not know, or should publicly teach what it does know. If it wants to do neither, though it could, it is mad. The first step on the road away from God is contempt for teaching, that is, not to want to give food to the soul that truly wants it.’

68. A brother said to Sisois, ‘Why do my passions not leave me?’ He said to him, ‘Because the vessels that fill those passions are within you. Empty them and the passions they cause will go away.’

69. A brother went to visit Silvanus on Mount Sinai. When he saw the brothers hard at work, he said to the old man, ‘ “Labour not for the meat which perisheth” (John 6:27) and “Mary hath chosen the best part” (Luke 10:42).’ Silvanus said to his disciple Zacharias, ‘Put this brother in a cell where there is nothing.’ When three o’clock came, the visitor kept looking at the door, to see when they would send someone to invite him to eat but no one did so. So he got up and went to Silvanus and said, ‘Abba, don’t the brethren eat today?’ He said, ‘Yes, they have eaten already.’ The brother said, ‘Why didn’t you call me?’ He replied, ‘You are so spiritual you do not need food. We are earthly, and since we want to eat, we work with our hands. But you have chosen the good part, reading all day, and not wanting to take earthly food.’ When the brother heard this he prostrated himself in penitence and said, ‘Forgive me, abba.’ Silvanus said, ‘I think Mary always needs Martha, and by Martha’s help Mary is praised.’

70. Syncletica said, ‘Merchants toil in search of riches and are in danger of their lives from shipwreck; the more wealth they win, the more they want; and they think what they have already is of no worth but bend their whole mind to what they have not yet got. But we have nothing, not even that which we ought to seek; we do not even want to possess what we need, because we fear God.’

71. She also said, ‘There is a useful sorrow, and a destructive sorrow. Sorrow is useful when we weep for our sins, and for our neighbour’s ignorance, and so that we may not relax our purpose to attain to true goodness, these are the real kinds of sorrow. Our enemy adds something to this. For he sends sorrow without reason, which is something called lethargy. We ought always to drive out a sadness like that with prayers and psalms.’

72. She also said, ‘It is good not to be angry. If it happens, do not give way to it for as much as one day.’

73. She said, ‘ “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). Likewise, if you wait until the sun is going down on your life, you will not know how to say, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:34). Why do you hate the man who has harmed you? It is not he who has harmed you but the devil. You ought to hate the sickness, not the sick man.’

74. She also said, ‘It is dangerous for a man to try teaching before he is trained in the good life. A man whose house is about to fall down may invite travellers inside to refresh them, but instead they will be hurt in the collapse of the house. It is the same with teachers who have not carefully trained themselves in the good life; they destroy their hearers as well as themselves. Their mouth invites to salvation, their way of life leads to ruin.’

75. She also said, ‘The devil sometimes sends a severe fast which is too prolonged; the devil’s disciples do this as well as holy men. How do we distinguish the fasting of our God and King from the fasting of that tyrant the devil? Clearly by its moderation. Throughout your life, then, you ought to keep an unvarying rule of fasting. Do you fast four or five days on end and then lose your spiritual strength by eating a feast? That really pleases the devil! Everything which is extreme is destructive. So do not suddenly throw away your armour, or you may be found unarmed in the battle and easily captured. Our body is the armour, our soul is the warrior. Take care of both, and you will be ready for whatever comes.’

76. Two monks came from Pelusium to see Sarah. On the way they said to each other, ‘Let us humiliate this amma.’ So they said to her, ‘Take care that your soul be not puffed up, and that you do not say, “Look, some hermits have come to consult me, a woman!” ’ Sarah said to them, ‘I am a woman in sex, but not in spirit.’

77. Sarah also said, ‘If I asked God that everyone should see good in me, I should be doing penance at the door of each one. I pray rather that my heart should be pure in all things.’

78. Hyperichius said, ‘He who teaches others by his life and not his speech is truly wise.’

79. There once came from the city of Rome a monk who had held a high place in the palace. He lived near the church in Scetis, and had with him a servant to take care of him. The priest of the church saw that he was weak and knew that he was used to comfort: and so he passed on to him whatever the Lord gave to him or to the church. After he had lived in Scetis for twenty-five years, he became well known as a man of prayer who had the spirit of prophecy. One of the great Egyptian monks heard of his reputation and came to see him in the hope that he would find there a more austere way of life. He came into his cell and greeted him; after they had prayed they sat down. But the Egyptian saw he had soft clothing, and a bed of reeds, and a blanket under him, and a little pillow under his head, and clean feet with sandals, and he was inwardly contemptuous. In Scetis they never used to live like this, but practised sterner austerity. But the old Roman, with his gift of prayer and insight, saw that the Egyptian monk was shocked to the core. So he said to his servant: ‘Make us a good meal today, for this abba who has come.’ He cooked the few vegetables that he had, and they ate at the proper hour: he had a little wine because of his weakness, and they drank that. In the evening they said twelve psalms, and went to sleep afterwards; they did the same in the night. In the morning the Egyptian got up and left, and saying, ‘Pray for me,’ he went away, not at all impressed. When he had gone a little way the old Roman wanted to heal his mind, and sent after him and called him back. He said: ‘What is your province?’ He answered, ‘I am an Egyptian.’ He said, ‘Of what city?’ He answered, ‘Of no city, I never lived in a city.’ He said, ‘Before you were a monk, how did you earn your living?’ He answered, ‘I was a herdsman.’ He said to him, ‘Where did you sleep?’ He answered, ‘In the fields.’ He said, ‘Had you a mattress?’ He answered, ‘Why should I have a mattress for sleeping in a field?’ He said, ‘So how did you sleep?’ He replied, ‘On the ground.’ He said, ‘What did you eat when you were in the fields? What wine did you drink?’ He answered, ‘What kind of food and drink do you find in a field?’ He said, ‘How then did you live?’ He answered, ‘I ate dry bread, and salt fish if there was any, and I drank water.’ Then the Roman said, ‘A hard life,’ and he added, ‘Was there a bath on the farm where you worked?’ The Egyptian said, ‘No: I washed in the river, when I wanted to.’ When the hermit had extracted these answers, and knew how the Egyptian lived and worked before he became a monk, he wanted to help him: and so he described his own past life in the world. ‘This wretch in front of you came from the great city of Rome, where I had an important post at the palace in the Emperor’s service.’ When the Egyptian heard this first sentence, he was moved, and began to listen attentively. He went on, ‘So I left Rome, and came into this desert. I, whom you see, had great houses and wealth and I scorned them, and came to this little cell. I, whom you see, had beds decked with gold, with costly coverings: and instead of them God gave me this bed of reeds and this blanket. My clothes were rich and expensive: and instead of them I wear these tatters.’ He went on, ‘I used to spend much money on my dinner table and instead of it He has given me these few vegetables and this little cup of wine. Many servants used to wait upon me, and instead the Lord has given one man alone to look after me. Instead of a bath I dip my feet in a little bowl of water, and I use sandals because of my infirmity. For the pipe and the lyre and all the varieties of music which used to delight me at dinner I say twelve psalms in the day, and twelve psalms in the night. For the sins which once I committed, I now offer this poor and useless service to God in quietness. See then, abba, do not be scornful of my weakness.’ When the Egyptian had listened to him, he came to his senses and said, ‘I am a fool. I came from a hard life of labour to be at rest in the monk’s way of life and now I have what I didn’t have before. But you have come of your own accord to this hard life, and have left the comforts of the world; you came from honour and wealth to loneliness and poverty.’ So he went away with much profit; and he became his friend, and used to go to the old man for his soul’s good, for Arsenius (this was his name) was a man of discernment, and full of the fragrance of the Holy Spirit.

80. A hermit said, ‘All chatter is unnecessary. Nowadays everyone talks but what is needed is action. That is what God wants, not useless talking.’

81. A brother asked some of the monks whether evil thoughts defiled a man. When they were asked this question, some said, ‘Yes,’ but some said, ‘No, for if that were so, we ordinary people could not be saved. If we think of vile actions but do not do them, it is this which brings salvation.’ The questioner was discontented with the monks’ diverse answers, and he went to an experienced hermit and asked him about it. He replied, ‘Everyone is required to act according to his capacity.’ Then the brother asked him, ‘For the Lord’s sake, explain this saying to me.’ So he said, ‘Look here, suppose there was a valuable jug and two monks came in, one of whom had a great capacity for a disciplined life, and the other a small capacity. Suppose that the mind of the more disciplined man is moved at the sight of the jug and he says inwardly, “I’d like to have that jug,” but the idea leaves him at once, and he puts away any thought of it, then he would not be defiled. But if the less disciplined man covets the jug and is strongly moved by an impulse to take it, and yet after a struggle he does not take it, he would not be defiled either.’

82. A hermit said, ‘If someone lives in a place but does not harvest the crops there, the place will drive that person out for not having done the work of that place.’

83. A hermit said, ‘If you do anything according to self-will, and not according to God’s will, you can afterwards return to the Lord’s way, if you did it in ignorance. But whoever obeys self-will and not God’s, and refuses to listen to warnings, but claims to know best, he will scarcely be able to come back to the Lord’s way.’

84. A hermit was asked, ‘What is meant by the text “Narrow and strait is the way” (Matt. 7:14)?’ He answered, ‘Narrow and strait is the way by which a man does violence to his thoughts and for God’s sake breaks down his self-will. This is what was written about the apostles, “Lo, we have left all, and followed thee” (Matt. 19:27).’

85. A hermit said, ‘As the order of monks is more honourable than that of men of the world, so the travelling monk ought to be in every way a mirror for the monks of the places where he stays.’

86. One of the monks said, ‘If a labourer remains where there are no other labourers, he can make no progress. The true labourer struggles that the work may not deteriorate. If an idle man works with a labourer the idle man becomes less idle; and if he does not make progress, at least he does not get idler by seeing someone else working.’

87. A hermit said, ‘If a man has words but no works, he is like a tree with leaves but no fruit. Just as a tree laden with fruit is also leafy, the man of good works will also have good words.’

88. A hermit said that a man once committed a serious sin. Stricken with remorse, he went to confess to another monk. He did not tell him what he had done, but put it in the form of a question, ‘If such a thought arose in someone’s mind, would he be saved?’ The monk, who had no discretion, answered, ‘You are completely lost.’ When the brother heard this, he said, ‘Well, if I’m going to perish, I’ll go and do it in the world.’ But on his way he considered the matter and decided to tell his temptations to Silvanus, who possessed great discretion in these matters. The brother went to him and did not tell him what he had done, but again put it in the form of a question, ‘If a thought like this came into someone’s mind, could he be saved?’ Silvanus began to speak to him with texts from Scripture, and said, ‘That judgement does not only fall on people tempted to sin.’ The brother perceived the force of the saying, and began to hope, and told him what he had done. When Silvanus learnt what he had done, he acted like a skilled physician and put on his soul a poultice made of texts from Scripture, showing him that repentance is available for all who in truth and in charity turn to God. After some years Silvanus met the monk who had driven the brother to despair, and told him what had happened, and said, ‘That brother, who despaired because of your words, and was going back to the world, is now a bright star among the brothers.’ He told him this so that we may know how perilous it is when anyone confesses thoughts or sins to someone without discretion.

89. A hermit said, ‘We are not condemned if bad thoughts enter our minds, but only if we use them badly. Because of our thoughts we may suffer shipwreck, but because of our thoughts we may also earn a crown.’

90. A hermit said, ‘Do not give to or receive anything from worldly people. Take no notice of women. Do not remain long in the company of a boy.’

91. A brother asked a hermit, ‘What shall I do, for I am troubled by many temptations, and I do not know how to resist them?’ He said, ‘Do not fight against them all at once, but against one of them. All the temptations of monks have a single source. You must consider what kind of root of temptation you have, and fight against that and in this way all the other temptations will also be defeated.’

92. A hermit said this about evil thoughts, ‘I beg you, my brothers, control your thoughts as you control your sins.’

93. A hermit said, ‘Anyone who wants to live in the desert ought to be a teacher and not a learner. If he still needs teaching, he will come to harm.’

94. A hermit was asked by a brother, ‘How do I find God? With fasts, or labour, or vigils, or works of mercy?’ He replied, ‘You will find Him in all those, and also in discretion. I tell you many have been very stern with their bodies, but have gained nothing by it because they did it without discretion. Even if our mouths stink from fasting, and we have learnt all the Scriptures, and memorized the whole Psalter, we may still lack what God wants, humility and love.’

95. A brother asked a hermit, ‘Abba, look here, I ask my elders questions, and they talk to me for the good of my soul, and I remember nothing they say. Is it any use asking questions when I gain nothing by it? I am deeply sinful.’ There were two empty vessels nearby. The hermit said, ‘Take one of those vessels and put oil in it, rinse it, pour out the oil, and bring the vessel back.’ He did so. He said, ‘Do it again.’ He did so. After he had done it several times, the hermit said, ‘Now, take both vessels and see which is the cleaner.’ He answered, ‘The one into which I put oil.’ The hermit said, ‘It’s the same for the one who asks questions. Although you remember nothing that you have heard, your soul will be cleaner than that of someone who never even asks questions.’

96. A brother was sitting quietly in his cell, and demons who wanted to seduce him came disguised as angels. They stirred him up to go out to the community in church, and they showed him a light. But he went to a hermit and said, ‘Abba, angels come to me with light, and urge me to go to the community.’ The hermit said to him, ‘Do not listen to them, my son: they are demons. When they come to urge you to go out, say, ‘I will go when I want to, I am not listening to you.’ He accepted the advice and went back to his cell. On the next night the demons came again as usual to tempt him. He answered as he had been told, saying, ‘I will go when I want to, I am not listening to you.’ They said to him, ‘It’s that wicked hermit who has deceived you. A brother came to him to borrow money; and, although he had some, he lied and said that he had none, and would give him nothing; that shows you he is a deceiver.’ At dawn the brother got up and came to the hermit and told him what had happened. He said to him, ‘It is true. I had some money, and I didn’t give it to the brother who wanted to borrow it. I knew that if I gave it to him, I should be harming his soul. I thought it better to transgress one commandment than ten. If he had received money from me, we should have had trouble on his account. So don’t listen to the demons who want to seduce you.’ So the brother went back to his cell, much comforted by the words of the hermit.

97. Three brothers once came to a hermit in Scetis. One of them said to him, ‘Abba, I have memorized the Old and New Testaments.’ But the hermit answered, ‘And you have filled the air with words.’ The second said to him, ‘I have written out the Old and New Testaments with my own hand.’ But the hermit said, ‘And you have filled the window-ledge with manuscripts.’ The third said, ‘The grass is growing up my chimney.’ But the hermit answered, ‘And you have driven away hospitality.’

98. They told this story of a great hermit. If anyone came to ask advice from him, he used to say with great confidence, ‘Look, I am acting in the place of God and sitting in his judgement seat; what do you want me to do for you? If you say to me, “Have mercy upon me,” God says to you, “If you want me to have mercy on you, you must have mercy on your brothers and then I will have mercy on you. If you want me to forgive you, you must forgive your neighbour.” Then is God the cause of your guilt? God forbid. It is in our control, whether we do or do not want to be saved.’

99. They said of a hermit in Cellia that he was a great spiritual worker. While he was at work, a devout man happened to come to his cell; and when he was outside the door, he heard the hermit fighting with his thoughts, and saying, ‘Am I to lose everything because of a single word?’ The man outside thought that he was quarrelling with someone, and knocked on the door to go in and make peace between them. But when he went in and saw no one else there, he trusted the hermit, and said, ‘With whom were you quarrelling, abba?’ He replied, ‘With my thoughts. I have memorized fourteen books of Scripture; and when I was out of my cell I heard one little word. When I came to say the divine office, I had forgotten all fourteen books and could remember only the one word which I heard outside. That is why I am quarrelling with my thoughts.’

100. Some brothers from a monastery came into the desert to see a hermit: and he received them gladly. As is the custom of hermits, when he saw that they were tired with their journey he made a meal for them, though it was not the proper time for eating, and he refreshed them with what he had in his cell. In the evening they said twelve psalms, and twelve more in the night. While the hermit was keeping watch, he heard them saying, ‘Hermits have more rest in the desert than monks do in the monastery.’ In the morning they went on to visit a neighbouring hermit. So he said to them, ‘Greet him for me, and tell him, “Do not water the vegetables.” ’ The neighbouring hermit understood the message, and kept them working until evening without any food. In the evening he prolonged the service to great length, and then said, ‘Let us rest a little for your sakes. You are tired after what is for you such hard work.’ He said, ‘We don’t usually eat today, but let’s eat a little for your sake.’ Then he brought them dry bread and salt and he said, ‘Look, we have a feast today because you have come,’ and he added a little sour wine to the mixture. They all got up, and sang psalms until dawn. He said, ‘Because you travellers are here, you must rest a little, and that prevents us keeping the rule.’ At daybreak, they wanted to hurry away, but he asked them to stay, and said, ‘Spend some more time with me: or at least, for the commandment’s sake, keep the hermit’s way of life with me for three days.’ But when they saw that he was not letting them rest, they stole away secretly.

101. A brother asked one of the hermits, ‘If I happen to over-sleep, and am late for the hour of prayer, I am ashamed that others will hear me praying so late, and so I become reluctant to keep the rule of prayer.’ He said, ‘If ever you oversleep in the morning, get up when you wake, shut the door and the windows, and say your psalms. For it is written, “The day is thine and the night is thine” (Ps. 74:16). God is glorified whatever time it is.’

102. A hermit said, ‘One man eats a lot and is still hungry. Another eats a little and has had enough. The man who eats a lot and is still hungry has more merit than the man who eats the little that satisfies him.’

103. A hermit said, ‘If some distracting dispute arises between you and another, and the other denies it and says, “I said no such thing,” do not argue with him or say, “You did say it.” For he will be exasperated, and will say, “Very well, and I meant it.” ’

104. A brother asked a hermit, ‘My sister is poor. If I give her alms, am I giving alms to the poor?’ He said, ‘No.’ The brother said, ‘Why is that, abba?’ He replied, ‘Because your relationship draws you to prefer her.’

105. A hermit said, ‘A monk ought not to listen to disparagement; he ought not to be disparaging, and he ought not to be scornful.’

106. A hermit said, ‘Do not be pleased at everything that is said, and do not agree with everything that is said. Be slow to believe, and quick to say what is true.’

107. A hermit said, ‘Sometimes a brother thinks of something when he is sitting in his cell, and meditating in his heart about it, he cannot understand its meaning and is not given true understanding by God. Then the demons come to his help, and they show him whatever meaning suits them.’

108. One of the hermits said, ‘When first we used to meet each other in the assembly and talk of what was helpful to our souls, we were always withdrawn more from the things of sense and we ascended to the heavenly places. But now when we meet we spend our time in gossip, and so we drag each other down.’

109. Another of the hermits said, ‘If our inner self behaves soberly, it can control the outer self: but if the inner self does not do this, what other means is there of controlling the tongue?’

110. He also said, ‘Because we have come to live in the desert we need to work hard praising God. If we are not going to undertake hard bodily labour, we must labour all the more in praising God.’

111. Another hermit said, ‘A man ought always to be working at something in his cell. If he is busy with the psalms, the devil comes to him day after day but finds no resting-place there; even if he succeeds in conquering him and taking him prisoner, God’s spirit often comes to him again. But if we are sinners and do not let God’s spirit come to us, he will leave us alone.’

112. Some Egyptian monks once went down to Scetis to see the hermits there. They saw them when they were famished after a long fast and therefore were gulping their food: and they were shocked. But the priest saw it and wanted to heal their minds and send them away edified. He spoke to them in the church, saying, ‘My brothers, fast longer.’ The Egyptian visitors wanted to leave, but he kept them. When they had fasted one day and then a second, they felt very weak for he had made them fast for two days without a break, though in Scetis the monks fast for a week. On Saturday the Egyptians sat down to eat with the brothers. They reached voraciously for their food. One of the monks held back their hands, and said, ‘Eat like monks in a disciplined way.’ One of the Egyptians threw off the restraining hand, and said, ‘Let go of me. I’m dying, I’ve not eaten cooked food all week.’ The priest said to him, ‘If you are so weak after a fast of only two days, why were you shocked at brothers who always fast for a week at a time?’ They did penance before them, and went away gladly, edified by their abstinence.

113. A brother who renounced the world and took the monk’s habit, immediately shut himself up in a hermitage saying, ‘I am a solitary.’ When the neighbouring hermits heard of it, they came and threw him out of his cell, and made him go round the cells of the brothers and do penance before them saying, ‘Forgive me. I am not a solitary, I have only just begun to be a monk.’

114. Some hermits used to say, ‘If you see a young man climbing up to heaven by his own will, catch him by the foot and pull him down to earth for it is not good for him.’

115. A brother said to a great hermit, ‘Abba, I want to find a monk who agrees with me and I’ll live and die with him.’ He said, ‘Your search is good, my lord.’ The brother repeated what he wanted, not understanding the irony of the hermit. But when the hermit saw that he really thought this was a good idea, he said to him, ‘If you find a monk after your own heart, do you plan to live with him?’ The brother said, ‘Yes, of course I want this, if I can find one who agrees with me.’ Then the hermit said to him, ‘You do not want to follow the will of anyone, you want to follow your own will, and that is why you will be at peace with him.’ Then the brother saw the sense of what he said, and prostrated himself in penitence, saying, ‘Forgive me. I was very proud of myself, I thought I was saying something good, when in fact there was nothing good about it at all.’

116. Two earthly minded brothers renounced the world. The younger was the first to begin the life of repentance. One of the hermits came to stay with them, and they brought a basin of water for him to wash. It was the younger who came to wash the feet of the visitor. But the hermit took his hand and motioned him away, and made the elder do it (it is the custom in a monastery to do this in order of seniority). But some brothers standing near said, ‘Abba, the elder brother is the younger in religion.’ The hermit answered, ‘I take away the first place from the younger, and give it to him who is older in years.’

117. A hermit said, ‘The prophets wrote books. Our predecessors came after them, and worked hard at them, and then their successors memorized them. But this generation copies them onto papyrus and parchment and leaves them unused on the window-ledge.’

118. A hermit said, ‘The cowl we use is the symbol of innocence, the scapular which covers neck and shoulders is the symbol of a cross, the girdle, the symbol of courage. Let us live our lives in the virtues symbolized by our habit. If we do everything sincerely, we shall not fail.’

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