Abba John said, “We have put the light burden on one side, that is to say, self-accusation, and we have loaded ourselves with a heavy one that is to say, self-justification.”
The parents of a young girl died, and she was left an orphan; she was called Paesia. She decided to make her house a hospice, for the use of the Fathers of Scetis. So for a long time she gave hospitality and served the Fathers. But in the course of time, her resources were exhausted and she began to be in want. Some wicked men came to see her and turned her aside from her aim. She began to live an evil life, to the point of becoming a prostitute. The Fathers, learning this, were deeply grieved, and calling Abba John the Dwarf said to him, ‘We have learnt that this sister is living an evil life. While she could, she gave us charity, so now it is our turn to offer her charity and to go to her assistance. Go to see her then, and according to the wisdom which God has given you, put things right for her.’
So Abba John went to her, and said to the old door-keeper, ‘Tell your mistress I am here.’ But she sent him away saying, ‘From the beginning you have eaten her goods, and see how poor she is now.’ Abba John said to her, ‘Tell her, I have something which will be very helpful to her.’ The door-keeper’s children, mocking him, said to him, ‘What have you to give her, that makes you want to meet her?’ He replied, ‘How do you know what I am going to give her?’ The old woman went up and spoke to her mistress about him. Paesia said to her, ‘These monks are always going about in the region of the Red Sea and finding pearls.’ Then she got ready and said to the door-keeper, ‘Please bring him to me.’ As he was coming up, she prepared for him and lay down on the bed.
Abba John entered and sat down beside her. Looking into her eyes, he said to her, ‘What have you got against Jesus that you behave like this?’ When she heard this she became completely rigid. Then Abba John bent his head and began to weep copiously. She asked him, Abba, why are you crying?’ He raised his head, then lowered it again, weeping, and said to her, ‘I see Satan playing in your face, how should I not weep?’ Hearing this, she said to him, Abba, is it possible to repent?’ He replied ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Take me wherever you wish.’ ‘Let us go,’ he said and she got up to go with him. Abba John noticed that she did not make any arrangements with regard to her house; he said nothing, but he was surprised.
When they reached the desert, the evening drew on. He, making a little pillow with the sand, and marking it with the sign of the cross, said to her, ‘Sleep here.’ Then, a little further on, he did the same for himself, said his prayers, and lay down. Waking in the middle of the night, he saw a shining path reaching from heaven to her, and he saw the angels of God bearing away her soul. So he got up and went to touch her feet. When he saw that she was dead he threw himself face downwards on the ground, praying to God. He heard this: ‘One single hour of repentance has brought her more than the penitence of many who persevere without showing such fervour in repentance.’
[Abba John the Dwarf, Apophthegmata Patrum]
Abba John used to say, “The whole company of the holy men is like a garden which is full of fruit-bearing trees of various kinds, and wherein the trees are planted in one earth, and all of them drink from one fountain; and thus is it with all the holy men, for they do not have one rule only, but several varieties, and one man labours in one way, and another man in another, but it is one Spirit which operates and works in them.”
[On this day, the Church commemorates the departure of the great Abba Poemen, a shining star of the wilderness. This Father is the most heavily quoted in the Apophthegmata, his intercessions be with us all].
Some old men came to Abba Poemen and said to him, “When we see brothers who are dozing at the synaxis (services), shall we rouse them so they will be watchful?” He said to them, “For my part when I see a brother dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.”
[Abba Poemen, Apophthegmata Patrum]
A brother asked Abba Poemen, saying, “For what purpose were spoken the words, ‘Take no thought for the morrow?’ (Mat 6:34) The old man said unto him, “For the man who is under temptation, and is in affliction; for it is not right that such a man should take thought for the morrow, or should say, ‘How long shall I have to endure this temptation’, but he should think upon patient endurance, saying: ‘It is today, and the temptation will not remain thus for a long time.'”
[Abba Poemen, Apophthegmata Patrum]
Abba Poemen used to say, “Satan has three kinds of power which precede all sin. The first is error, the second is neglect (or laxity), and the third is lust. When error has come it produces neglect, and from neglect springs lust, and by lust man fell; if we watch against error neglect will not come, and if we be not negligent, lust will not appear, and if a man works not lust, he will, through the help of Christ, never fall.
[Today is the feast day of the Holy Abba Anthony, the first Christian monk.
“We have not lived your life, nor practised your ways, so remember us in your prayers, Peniot Abba Antonious”]
The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, “Speak a word; how are we to be saved?” The old man said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.” But they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.” Then the old man said to them, “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” (Matt. 5.39) They said, “We cannot do that.” The old man said, “If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.” “We cannot do that either,” they said. So he said, “If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,” and they said, “We cannot do that either.” Then the old man said to his disciples, “Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.”
[Abba Anthony the Father of Monks, Apophthegmata Patrum]
Abba John said, ‘I am like a man sitting under a great tree, who sees wild beasts and snakes coming against him in great numbers. When he cannot withstand them any longer, he runs to climb the tree and is saved. It is just the same with me; I sit in my cell and I am aware of evil thoughts coming against me, and when I have no more strength against them, I take refuge in God by prayer and I am saved from the enemy.’