1. Some of the hermits once came to Joseph in Panephysis, to ask him if they should break their fast when they received brothers as guests, to celebrate their coming. Before they asked their question, Joseph said to them, ‘Think about what I am going to do today.’ He put two seats made of reeds tied in bundles, one on his left and the other on his right, and said, ‘Sit down.’ Then he went into his cell and put on rags; he came out, and walked past them, and then went in again and put on his ordinary clothes. The visitors were astonished, and asked him what it meant. He said to them, ‘Did you see what I did?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Did the rags change me for the better?’ They said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Did good clothes change me for the worse?’ They said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘So I am myself whether I wear good clothes or rags. I was not changed for better or worse because I changed my clothes. That is how we ought to be when we receive guests. It is written in the Holy Gospel, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). When visitors come we should welcome them and celebrate with them. It is when we are by ourselves that we ought to be sorrowful.’ When they heard this they were amazed that he knew what they intended to ask him, and they praised God.
2. Cassian said, ‘We came from Palestine to Egypt, and visited one of the hermits. After he had welcomed us, we asked him, “When you receive guests, why don’t you fast? In Palestine they do.” He answered, “Fasting is always possible but I cannot keep you here for ever. Fasting is useful and necessary, but we can choose to fast or not fast. God’s law demands from us perfect love. I receive Christ when I receive you, so I must do all I can to show you love. When I have said goodbye to you, I can take up my rule of fasting again. ‘The sons of the bridegroom cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them; when he is taken from them, then they can fast’ (Matt. 9:15).” ’
3. Cassian also said, ‘We came to another hermit and he invited us to eat, and though we had eaten he urged us to eat more. I said I could not. He replied, “I have already given meals to six different visitors, and have eaten with each of them, and I am still hungry. And you who have only eaten once are so full that you cannot eat with me now?” ’
4. In Scetis there once went out an order that they should fast for a week, and then celebrate Easter. During the week some brothers happened to come into Egypt to visit Moses, and he cooked a little vegetable stew for them. The nearby hermits saw the smoke, and said to the clergy of the church, ‘What is that smoke? Moses must be disobeying the order, and cooking in his cell.’ The clergy said, ‘We will talk to him when he comes.’ On Saturday the clergy, who knew the greatness of his way of life, said to Moses in front of the whole congregation, ‘Moses, you have broken a commandment of men: but you have kept the commandments of God valiantly.’
5. A brother came to Poemen in the second week of Lent and told him his thoughts, and found peace of mind from his answer. Then he said, ‘I almost didn’t come to see you today.’ Poemen asked him why. He said, ‘I was afraid that the door wouldn’t be opened as it is Lent.’ Poemen answered him, ‘It is not wooden doors we were taught to shut; the door we need to keep shut is the mouth.’
6. A brother said to Poemen, ‘If I give my brother something, for instance a piece of bread, the demons made the gift worthless by making me think that it was done to please men.’ The hermit said to him, ‘Even if it is done to please men, we still ought to give our brothers what they need.’ He told him this parable: ‘In a town there were two farmers. One of them sowed seed, and gathered a poor harvest; the other was idle and did not sow, and had no harvest to gather. If famine came, which of them would survive?’ The brother answered, ‘The one who sowed seed, even if the harvest was poor.’ He said, ‘It is the same for us. We sow a few seeds, and they are poor, but in the time of famine we shall not die.’
7. A brother came to a hermit: and as he was taking his leave, he said, ‘Forgive me, abba, for preventing you from keeping your rule.’ The hermit answered, ‘My rule is to welcome you with hospitality, and to send you on your way in peace.’
8. A hermit who was very holy lived near to a community of monks. Some visitors to the community happened to go to see him and made him eat, though it was not the proper time. Later the monks of the community said to him, ‘Weren’t you upset, abba?’ He answered, ‘I am upset when I do my own will.’
9. They said there was a man in Syria who lived near the way into the desert, and it was his work faithfully to refresh every monk who came from the desert, at whatever time he came. One day a hermit arrived, and he offered him food. But the hermit refused, saying, ‘I am fasting.’ The man was saddened, and said, ‘Please do not pass over your servant, do not scorn me. Let us pray together. Look, here is a tree; let us obey him for whom the tree bows down when he kneels and prays.’ So the hermit knelt and prayed, but nothing happened. Then the man knelt down, and at once the tree bent its trunk. They rejoiced at the sight, and gave thanks to God who is always doing wonders.
10. Two brothers once came to see a hermit whose custom it was not to eat every day. When he saw them, he welcomed them cheerfully and said, ‘A fast has its own reward, but whoever eats because of love, obeys two commandments: he loses his self-will, and he refreshes his brothers.’
11. A hermit in Egypt lived in a desert place and far away lived a Manichaean priest, at least he was one of those whom Manichaeans call priests. While the Manichaean was on his way to visit another of that erroneous sect, he was caught by nightfall in the place where this orthodox holy man lived. He wanted to knock on his door and ask for shelter; but he was afraid to do so, for he knew that he would be recognized as a Manichaean, and thought that he would be denied hospitality. But so severe was his plight that he put that consideration aside and knocked. The hermit opened the door and knew who he was; he welcomed him joyfully, made him pray with him, gave him supper and a bed. The Manichaean lay thinking in the night and wondering, ‘Why was he not hostile to me? He is a true servant of God.’ At daybreak he got up, and fell at his feet, saying, ‘After this I will be orthodox, and I shall not leave you.’ So he stayed with him.
12. A monk of the Thebaid received from God the grace of ministry, to serve the poor as they had need. In a village once he happened to be holding a love-feast. A woman dressed in rags came up to him to receive her share. When he saw the rags, he meant to take a great handful, so as to give her a big helping: but his hand was kept nearly shut, and he took only a little. Another, well-dressed, woman came up and, seeing her clothes, he meant to take a little handful for her but his hand was opened, and he took a big helping. So he asked about the women, and found that the well-dressed woman had been a lady who had sunk to poverty and still dressed well because she felt that she had a standard to maintain for her family. But the other had put on rags so that she would receive more.
13. A monk had a poor brother living in the world, to whom he gave all the profit from his work. But the more he gave him, the poorer the brother became. So the monk told a hermit what was happening. The hermit said to him, ‘If you’ll take my advice, you won’t give him anything else, but you’ll say, “Brother, I have given you what I had. It is your turn now to work and give me some of your produce.” Accept whatever he brings you, and give it to any poor pilgrim or needy person you find, and ask them to pray for him.’ The monk listened to this advice, and followed it. When his brother from the world came, he spoke to him as the hermit had advised, and his brother went away sadly. The next day, he brought the monk a few vegetables from his garden. The monk accepted them, and gave them to some hermits, asking them to pray for his brother. He received a blessing from them and returned home. Later his brother brought him vegetables and three loaves of bread which he accepted and gave away, and again received a blessing. Now the third time his brother brought him expensive food, wine and fish. The monk was astonished at the sight, and called in poor men, and fed them. But he said to his brother from the world, ‘Do you need as much food as all that?’ His brother said, ‘No, not exactly. When I used to accept presents from you, it was as though a fire came into my house and consumed it, but now, when I receive nothing from you, I have plenty, and God blesses me.’ So the monk went and told the hermit what had happened. The hermit said to him, ‘Don’t you know that a monk’s work is a fire that consumes whatever it touches? It is best for your brother that he should earn a little by his own efforts, and be prayed for by holy men: then he receives God’s blessing, and he will have plenty.’
14. One of the hermits said, ‘There are some who do good, yet the devil insinuates a mean spirit into them, so that they lose the reward of all the good they do. Once when I was living in Oxyrhynchus with a priest who was generous in almsgiving, a widow came to ask him for a little barley. He said to her, “Go and fetch some, and I will weigh it for you.” She brought him some. But when he weighed the measure she had taken he said, “It is too much,” and so he made the widow ashamed. After she had gone, I said, “Priest, did you lend barley to that widow, or what?” He said, “No; I gave it her.” So I said, “If you wanted to make her a gift, why were you so exact about the measure that you made her ashamed?” ’
15. A hermit lived a common life with another brother, who was a man with a merciful heart. Once, in a time of famine, people came to his door to take part in a love-feast, and he gave bread to everyone who came. When his brother saw this, he said, ‘Give me my share of the bread, and do what you like with your share.’ So he divided the bread into two, and went on giving away his own share as usual. Crowds flocked to the hermit, hearing that he gave to all comers. God, seeing what he did, blessed that bread. But the brother who had taken his share, gave none away, and when he had eaten all his bread he said to the other hermit, ‘I’ve only got a bit of my bread left, abba; let me come back and live with you.’ The hermit said to him, ‘Certainly, whatever you like.’ So they began to live together again and to have everything in common. Again, they had plenty of food, and again the needy kept coming to receive a love-feast. One day the brother happened to go in and he noticed that there was no bread left. A poor man came, asking for alms. So the hermit said to the brother, ‘Give him some bread.’ He said, ‘There isn’t any left, abba.’ The hermit said, ‘Go and have a look for some.’ The brother went in, and saw the bin full of loaves. He was afraid at the sight, and took some and gave them to the poor man. He recognized the faith and goodness of the hermit, and glorified God.