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Chapter XVII.

I visited two monasteries of St. Anthony, which are at the present day occupied by his disciples. I also went to that place in which the most blessed Paul, the first of the eremites, had his abode. I saw the Red Sea and the ridges of Mount Sinai, the top of which almost touches heaven, and cannot, by any human effort, be reached. An anchorite was said to live somewhere within its recesses: and I sought long and much to see him, but was unable to do so. He had for nearly fifty years been removed from all human fellowship, and used no clothes, but was covered with bristles growing on his own body, while, by Divine gift, he knew not of his own nakedness. As often as any pious men desired to visit him, making hastily for the pathless wilderness, he shunned all meeting with his kind. To one man only, about five years before my visit, he was said to have granted an interview; and I believe that man obtained the favor through the power of his faith. Amid much talk which the two had together, the recluse is said to have replied to the question why he shunned so assiduously all human beings, that the man who was frequently visited by mortals like himself, could not often be visited by angels. From this, not without reason, the report had spread, and was accepted by multitudes, that that holy man enjoyed angelic fellowship. Be this as it may, I, for my part, departed from Mount Sinai, and returned to the river Nile, the banks of which, on both sides, I beheld dotted over with numerous monasteries. I saw that, for the most part, as I have already said, the monks resided together in companies of a hundred; but it was well known that so many as two or three thousand sometimes had their abode in the same villages. Nor indeed would one have any reason to think that the virtue of the monks there dwelling together in great numbers, was less than that of those was known to be, who kept themselves apart from human fellowship. The chief and foremost virtue in these places, as I have already said, is obedience. In fact, any one applying for admission is not received by the Abbot of the monastery on any other condition than that he be first tried and proved; it being understood that he will never afterwards decline to submit to any injunction of the Abbot, however arduous and difficult, and though it may seem something unworthy to be endured.

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