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Chapter XXIX.—Concerning the Monks of Thebaïs: Apollos, Dorotheus; concerning Piammon, John, Mark, Macarius, Apollodorus, Moses, Paul, who was in Ferma, Pacho, Stephen, and Pior.
366Apollos flourished about the same period in Thebaïs.
He early devoted himself to a life of philosophy; and after having
passed forty years in the desert, he shut himself up, by the command of
God, in a cave formed at the foot of a mountain, near a very populous
district. By the multitude of his miracles, he soon became
distinguished, and was the head of many monks; for he directed them
profitably by his instructions. Timothy, who conducted the church of
Alexandria, has given us a history of his method of discipline and of
what divine and marvelous deeds he was a worker; he also narrates the
lives of other approved monks, many of whom I have mentioned.14891489
Here we learn that Timothy furnished the storehouse
for this monastic biography. The stories of this chapter are probably
also borrowed from him, at least in part. There is a more conspicuous
divergence from Palladius and Rufinus.
In that time many good monks, to the number of about two thousand, preached philosophy in the neighborhood of Alexandria; some in a district called the Hermitage, and others more towards Mareotis and Libya. Dorotheus, a native of Thebes, was among the most celebrated of these monks. He spent the day in collecting stones upon the seashore, which he used in erecting cells to be given to those who were unable to build them. During the night, he employed himself in weaving baskets of palm leaves; and these he sold, to obtain the means of subsistence. He ate six ounces of bread with a few vegetables daily, and drank nothing but water. Having accustomed himself to this extreme abstinence from his youth, he continued to observe it in old age. He was never seen to recline on a mat or a bed, nor even to place his limbs in an easy attitude, or willingly to surrender himself to sleep. Sometimes, from natural lassitude, his eyes would involuntarily close when he was at his daily labor or his meals; and when nodding during his eating, the food would fall from his mouth. One day, being utterly overcome by drowsiness, he fell down on the mat; he was displeased at finding himself in this position, and said, in an undertone of voice, “If angels are persuaded to sleep, you will persuade also the zealous.” Perhaps he might have said this to himself, or perhaps to the demon who had become an impediment to his zealous exercises. He was once asked by a person who came to him while he was exhausting himself, why he destroyed his body. “Because it destroys me,” was his reply.
Piammon and John presided over two celebrated Egyptian monasteries near Diolcus. They were presbyters who discharged their priesthood very carefully and reverently. It is said that one day, when Piammon was officiating as priest, he beheld an angel standing near the holy table and writing down in a book the names of the monks who were present, while he erased the names of those who were absent. John had received from God such power over sufferings and diseases, that he healed the gouty and restored the paralytic.
A very old man, named Benjamin, was practicing philosophy very brilliantly about this period, in the desert near Scetis. God had bestowed upon him the power of relieving the sick of every disease without medicine, by the touch only of his hand, or by means of a little oil consecrated by prayer. The story is, that he was attacked by a dropsy, and his body was swollen to such a size that it became necessary, in order to carry him from his cell, to enlarge the door. As his malady would not admit of his lying in a recumbent posture, he remained, during eight months, seated on a very large skin, and continued to heal the sick, without regretting that his own recovery was not effected. He comforted those who came to visit him, and requested them to pray for his soul; adding that he cared little for his body, for it had been of no service to him when in health, and could not, now that it was diseased, be of any injury to him.
About the same time the celebrated Mark, Marcarius the
younger, Apollonius, and Moses, an Egyptian, dwelt at Scetis. It is
said that Mark was, from his youth upwards, distinguished by extreme
mildness and prudence; he committed the Sacred Scriptures to memory,
and manifested such eminent piety that Macarius himself, the presbyter
Ruf. H. M. 22; the place was thus named from
the number of cells located there.
declared that he had never given to him what priests present to the
initiated at the holy table, but that an angel administered it to him
whose hand up to the forearm he declares himself to have seen.
Macarius had received from God the power of dispelling demons. A murder which he had unintentionally committed was the original cause of his embracing a life of philosophy. He was a shepherd, and led his flock to graze on the banks of Lake Mareotis, when in sport he slew one of his companions. Fearful of being delivered up to justice, he fled to the desert. Here he concealed himself during three years, and afterwards erected a small dwelling on the spot, in which he dwelt twenty-five years. He was accustomed to say that he owed much to the calamity that had befallen him in early life, and even called the unintentional murder he had committed a salutary deed, inasmuch as it had been the cause of his embracing philosophy and a blessed mode of life.
Apollonius, after passing his life in the pursuits of commerce, retired in his old age to Scetis. On reflecting that he was too old to 367learn writing or any other art, he purchased with his own money a supply of every kind of drug, and of food suited for the sick, some of which he carried until the ninth hour to the door of every monastery, for the relief of those who were suffering from disease. Finding this practice advantageous to himself, he adopted this mode of life; and when he felt death approaching he delivered his drugs to one whom he exhorted to go and do as he had done.
Moses was originally a slave, but was driven from his master’s house on account of his immorality. He joined some robbers, and became leader of the band. After having perpetrated many evil deeds and dared some murders, by some sudden conversion he embraced the monastic life, and attained the highest point of philosophy. As the healthful and vigorous habit of body which had been induced by his former avocations acted as a stimulus to his imagination and excited a desire for pleasure, he resorted to every possible means of macerating his body; thus, he subsisted on a little bread without cooked food, subjected himself to severe labor, and prayed fifty times daily; he prayed standing, without bending his knees or closing his eyes in sleep. He sometimes went during the night to the cells of the monks and secretly filled their pitchers with water, and this was very laborious, for he had sometimes to go ten, sometimes twenty, and sometimes thirty and more, stadia in quest of water. Notwithstanding all his efforts to macerate his body, it was long before he could subdue his natural vigor of constitution. It is reported that robbers once broke into the dwelling where he was practicing philosophy; he seized and bound them, threw the four men across his shoulders, and bore them to the church, that the monks who were there assembled might deal with them as they thought fit, for he did not consider himself authorized to punish any one. For they say so sudden a conversion from vice to virtue was never before witnessed, nor such rapid attainments in monastical philosophy. Hence God rendered him an object of dread to the demons, and he was ordained presbyter over the monks at Scetis. After a life spent in this manner, he died at the age of seventy-five, leaving behind him numerous eminent disciples.
Paul, Pachon, Stephen, and Moses, of whom the two latter were Libyans, and Pior, who was an Egyptian, flourished during this reign. Paul dwelt at Ferme, a mountain of Scetis, and presided over five hundred ascetics. He did not labor with his hands, neither did he receive alms of any one, except such food as was necessary for his subsistence. He did nothing but pray, and daily offered up to God three hundred prayers. He placed three hundred pebbles in his bosom, for fear of omitting any of these prayers; and, at the conclusion of each, he took away one of the pebbles. When there were no pebbles remaining, he knew that he had gone through the whole course of his prescribed prayers.
Pachon also flourished during this period at Scetis. He followed this career from youth to extreme old age, without ever being found unmanly in self-control by the appetites of the body, the passions of the soul, or a demon,—in short, in all those things which the philosopher should conquer.
Stephen dwelt at Mareotis near Marmarica. During sixty years, through exactness, he attained the perfection of asceticism, became very noted as a monk, and was intimate with Antony the Great. He was very mild and prudent, and his usual style of conversation was sweet and profitable, and well calculated to comfort the souls of the afflicted, to transform them into good spirits, if even they had previously been depressed by griefs which seemed necessary. He behaved similarly about his own afflictions. He was troubled with a severe and incurable ulcer, and surgeons were employed to operate upon the diseased members. During the operation Stephen employed himself in weaving palm leaves, and exhorted those who were around him not to concern themselves about his sufferings. He told them to have no other thought than that God does nothing but for our good, and that his affliction would tend to his real welfare, inasmuch as it would perhaps atone for his sins, it being better to be judged in this life than in the life to come.
Moses was celebrated for his meekness, his love, and his
power of healing of sufferings by prayer. Pior determined, from his
youth, to devote himself to a life of philosophy; and, with this view,
quitted his father’s house after having made a vow that he would
never again look upon any of his relations. After fifty years had
expired, one of his sisters heard that he was still alive, and she was
so transported with joy at this unexpected intelligence, that she could
not rest till she had seen him. The bishop of the place where she
resided was so affected by the groans and tears of the aged woman, that
he wrote to the leaders of the monks in the desert of Scetis, desiring
them to send Pior to him. The superiors accordingly directed him to
repair to the city of his birth, and he could not say nay, for
disobedience was regarded as unlawful by the monks of Egypt, and I
think also by other monks. He went with another monk to the door of his
father’s house, and caused himself to be announced. When he heard
the door being opened, he closed his eyes, and calling his sister by
name, he said to her, “I am Pior, your brother; look at me as
much as you please.” 368His
sister was delighted beyond measure at again beholding him, and
returned thanks to God. He prayed at the door where he stood, and then
returned to the place where he lived; there he dug a well, and found
that the water was bitter, but he persevered in the use of it till his
death. Then the height to which he had carried his self-denial was
known; for after he died, several attempted to practice philosophy in
the place where he had dwelt, but found it impossible to remain there.
I am convinced that, had it not been for the principles of philosophy
which he had espoused, he could easily have changed the water to a
sweet taste by prayer; for he caused water to flow in a spot where none
had existed previously. It is said that some monks, under the guidance
of Moses, undertook to dig a well, but the expected vein did not
appear, nor did any depth yield the water, and they were about to
abandon the task, when, about midday, Pior joined them; he first
embraced them, and then rebuked their want of faith and littleness of
soul; he then descended into the pit they had excavated; and, after
engaging in prayer, struck the ground thrice with a rod. A spring of
water soon after rose to the surface, and filled the whole excavation.
After prayer, Pior departed; and though the monks urged him to break
his fast with them, he refused, alleging that he had not been sent to
them for that purpose, but merely in order to perform the act he had
See another story of Pior in Soc. iv. 23.
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