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Chapter XXI.

Of the spontaneous service of some of the brethren.

We have been told of brethren in whose week there was such a scarcity of wood that they had not enough to prepare the usual food for the brethren; and when it had been ordered by the Abbot’s authority that until more could be brought and fetched, they should content themselves with dried food,778778    Xerophagia (ξηροφαγία), “dried food,” distinguished from what is raw (omophagia) in the next chapter. Cf. for the word, Tertullian on Fasting c. i. and xvii. though this was agreed to by all and no one could expect any cooked food; still these men as if they were cheated of the fruit and reward of their labour and service, if they did not prepare the food for their brethren according to custom in the order of their turn—imposed upon themselves such uncalled-for labour and care that in those dry and sterile regions where wood cannot possibly be procured unless it is cut from the fruit trees (for there are no wild shrubs found there as with us), they wander about through the wide deserts, and traversing the wilderness which stretches towards the Dead Sea,779779    This shows that Cassian is here writing about the monks of Palestine, not those of Egypt, who (according to the next chapter) had a permanent cook. There is a further allusion to and description of this desert in the Conference VI. i. collect in their lap and the folds of their dress the scanty stubble and brambles which the wind carries hither and thither, and so by their voluntary service prepare all their usual food for the brethren, so that they suffer nothing to be diminished of the ordinary supply; discharging these duties of theirs towards their brethren with such fidelity that though the scarcity of wood and the 226Abbot’s order would be a fair excuse for them, yet still out of regard for their profit and reward they will not take advantage of this liberty.

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