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The Laughable Stories of Bar-Hebraeus, by Bar-Hebraeus, tr. E.A.W. Budge, [1897], at

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The Fifth Chapter


CLXXIV. One of the Fathers said, "Young men in the beginning of their career take unto themselves labours for the sake of vain glory, but afterwards Divine grace secretly whispereth to them and persuadeth them to labour for Divine and not for human glory."

CLXXV. Another father said, "When God (Glory be to His Grace!) saw that the Fathers were exalted in their minds, He used to send them to men who wrought righteousness, even though they toiled little in the ascetic life, in order that they might be abased somewhat. Thus He sent Antony to a tailor, and Macarius to two women, and Paphnutius to a thief and a singer, and He sent two solitaries to a shepherd."

CLXXVI. It was said by God unto a certain man who was righteous according to this world, "Flee from men and thou shalt live," God indicating to him that he should go into the desert. Then a second voice came to him, saying, "Flee, keep silence, and lead a life of contemplation," that is to say, "When thou hast gone and hast become mighty in the deeds of the ascetic life then thou shalt dwell alone with thy soul 1."

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CLXXVII. A certain brother said unto one of the aged men, "My thoughts wage war against me and say unto me, Thou art not able to fast and to pray, therefore go out of thy cell, and depart and minister unto the sick and let thy righteousness be sufficient for thee." The aged man made answer to him, "Go, eat, drink, and labour not, only do not depart from thy cell," for he knew that persistent dwelling in the cell would cut off all [his] thoughts 1.

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CLXXVIII. Another sage said, "He that dwelleth in the world seeth not his sins by reason of the disturbed state of the affairs [therein]; but if he dwell in the peace and quietness of the desert, he will see God clearly and his sins will be rebuked."

CLXXIX. A certain noble and honourable and believing woman came from Rome to Egypt to Abbâ Arsenius and entreated him to make mention of her in his prayers. And he replied, "I will pray unto God that He may make the remembrance of thee to pass out of my heart." Now although by reason of her grief and sorrow she became sick, yet he did as he had said, that he might shut the door against the women who thronged to see him 1.

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CLXXX. Abbâ Antony said, "As a fish which is lifted up out of the water dieth, even so doth the recluse who tarrieth outside his cell."

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CLXXXI. Abbâ Theodore and Abbâ Luke remained for fifty years in doubt, for they were vexed about the matter of changing their [dwelling] place, and they said, "Behold, in the winter will we change [it];" thus they did, and they did not go forth [from it] until the end of their lives 1.

CLXXXII. One of them said, "The recluse who loveth a life of contemplation in his cell doth not flee meeting his neighbour because he despiseth and hateth him, but because of the sweet fruits which he plucketh therefrom, that is to say, freedom from worldly toil and from the sight and learning [of the same]."

CLXXXIII. Abbâ Agathon kept a stone in his mouth for a period of three years until he succeeded in keeping silence 2.

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CLXXXIV. One of the old men gave a cup of wine [twice] to Sisoes the great and he drank [it], but when he mixed it for him the third time he would not drink, saying, "Forbear, old man, for thou knowest not whether it be Satan," referring by these words to drunkenness which is the mother of all vices 1.

CLXXXV. Abbâ Arsenius used, every Saturday night, to leave the sun behind him, and to stretch out his hands towards heaven and to pray until the sun rose in his face 2.

CLXXXVI. Certain of the Fathers said, "Whosoever doth not receive all the brethren alike is not, as yet, perfect."

CLXXXVII. Certain philosophers went once on a time to the desert that they might tempt the recluses,

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and they said to one of the old men, "What do ye more than us? For we fast, and pray, and watch, and lead lives of self-abnegation." And they replied, "We do not only preserve our minds from turning to debating and reasoning but every aspect of our minds is in converse with God."

CLXXXVIII. Abbâ Macarius the Great arrived at so great a pitch of humility that when the brethren spake with him they spoke as unto a saint, and the great old man answered them never a word. But when a certain man of the brethren said unto him insultingly, "Ho father, if only thou hadst been a camel thou mightest have stolen natron and they would never have beaten thee," he gladly made answer unto them.

CLXXXIX. Abbâ Ḳîrnên used to say 1, "If the man who dwelleth with a young man would be mighty in the ascetic life, he will not descend [from his cell] even for a moment, and he will not stretch himself out in his presence even for the sake of comfort. For young men excite lust by means of their faces, which are like those of women, and they stir up tribulation by their audacity."

CXC. When Abbâ Pachomius was afflicted by the

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passion of fornication he used to cast himself down naked before a hyaena's den, and take a desert viper and press it upon his body that it might bite him and that he might die. And he never went into a city or into a village, so that he might not see a woman 1.

CXCI. Once on a time Abbâ Abraham said to Abbâ Sisoes, "Father, thou art grown old, let us now go and live among men for a little." And he replied, "Let us go where there is no woman 2. This he said not

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because he was afraid for himself, but that he might warn his disciples not to fall.

CXCII. Abbâ Ammon used to say, "There are some men who might live in their cells for a hundred years, and yet not know how it is meet for a recluse to live therein 1."

CXCIII. Abbâ Agathon said, "The man of anger will never be accepted by man, even though one rose from the dead."

CXCIV. Once when Abbâ Moses of Paṭrâ was battling against fornication he went to Abbâ Isidore [for advice]. And Isidore took him up upon the roof of his house, and shewed him the hosts of devils waging war in the west and the angels who were gaining the mastery in the east. This he did to him so that Moses might be encouraged to fight, and he returned to his cell 2.

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CXCV. Mother Sarâ fought for seven years against the demon of fornication upon the roof until she had overcome him 1. She used to say, "Whenever I put my feet upon the ladder to go up, I set my death before my eyes before I ascend 2."

CXCVI. Concerning her it is said that she dwelt in an upper chamber over the river, and that she never once looked out to see the river which passed by the side of her cell 3.

CXCVII. There were two brethren who went back into the world and took wives, but afterwards they repented and returned [to their cells]. And when the period of their repentance was ended and they went forth from their seclusion, the countenance of the one was transformed and was sad, but the appearance of the other was fair to see and his face was radiant. Now when the fathers saw them they were doubtful

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if the repentance of each was equally [sincere], and they said, "The one meditateth upon his sins and on hell, but the other on God's mercy which is poured out abundantly upon all men 1."

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CXCVIII. One of the brethren asked Abbâ Sisoes, saying, "What wouldst thou do, O father, for I have fallen?" Sisoes said to him, "Rise up," and the brother said unto him, "I have fallen many times and risen up [after them]. How long shall I continue to fall and rise up?" The old man said unto him, "Until death shall overtake thee in one of them, I mean either in rising up or in falling 1."

CXCIX. One of the brethren went into the world and married a woman, and when his master heard thereof he prayed and entreated God, saying, "O Lord, permit not Thy servant to be dragged through the mire of the world;" and when the betrothed man and his bride went in to sleep together, he gave up the ghost and was not united unto her.

CC. One of the brethren was perfect to such a degree that even wild animals became his friends, and he used to nourish their young 2. Now a certain father

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said unto him, "Go and enter a monastery of brethren, and dwell with them if thou wishest to be perfect," meaning thereby that to dwell [in peace] with the brethren was much more difficult than to live [friendlily] with wild animals.

CCI. Abbâ Poemen said, "An evil nature is a wall of brass between God and man."

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CCII. When the mother of Abbâ Poemen and of his brethren went to see them, they did not bring her into their cells neither did they speak with her 1, thus keeping

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the command of our Lord Who said, "Whosoever loveth father or mother, &c. 1"

CCIII. Abbâ Ammon the virgin 2 once went to Abbâ Antony and said unto him, "I observe that I labour in the ascetic life more than thou, how is it then that thy name is more renowned in the world than mine?" Abbâ Antony said unto him, "Because I love our Lord more than thou."

CCIV. Once a year Abbâ Arsenius used to taste once every kind of fruit in order that he might give praise unto God, but Evagrius 3 never at any time ate any fruit or any green thing.

CCV. Abbâ Poemen used to say, "As a snake or a scorpion having been placed in a closed vessel for a long time will in process of time die, even so will the wicked thoughts which are stirred up in the heart of ascetics, unless they actually turn them into actions, become powerless and perish."

CCVI. Abbâ Jacob used to say, "For a man to teach his neighbour without being asked to do so, is as if a man were to rebuke his neighbour."

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CCVII. A certain brother asked Abbâ Sisoes saying, "So then thou hast not, O father, yet arrived at Antony's capacity [for ascetic labours]?" The old man said unto him, "If I had had only one thought of Abbâ Antony's my whole being would have been like a pillar of light 1."

CCVIII. A certain aged man was asked by a brother, "When I am in the place of purity, and the hour for prayer cometh, must I return?" The aged man said to him, "Nay, brother. Who having been rich would return to poverty?" Now he referred to the lifting up of the mind and to the converse with God in the place of purity.

CCIX. It is said concerning Saint Ammon 2 the virgin

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that when he was compelled by his parents to take a wife, on the night of the feast, immediately after

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going in with the bride to the feast, he brought out from his bosom the Book of the Apostle Paul, and admonished and taught the young woman the words which were written therein by the blessed man on virginity, saying, "It is better for a man not to approach a woman 1, and I would that all men should live even as do I in purity 2," and again [where] he saith, "The woman who hath never known man meditateth upon her Lord, that she may be holy 3 in her body and in her soul." 4 With words such as these did he exhort his betrothed one, and they made their bodies temples to the Holy Spirit.

CCX. One of the old men said, "If thou seest a young man who lusteth to go up to heaven of his own will, take hold of his leg and sweep him thence."

CCXI. One of the solitaries had so thoroughly dried up his body through the labour of fasting and prayer that the sun could be seen [shining] through his ribs.


38:1 The man here referred to was Arsenius. The story as given in my MS. of Palladius is as follows:—"When Arsenius was in the p. 39 palace he prayed to God, saying, 'O Lord, direct me how to live.' And a voice came to him which said, 'Arsenius, flee from men and thou shalt live.'" And again, when he was living in the monastery, he prayed to God the [same] words, and again he heard a voice saying to him, "Arsenius, flee, keep silence, and lead a life of contemplation, for these are the roots which prevent a man from sinning." ### (fol. 197b, Nos. 1 and 2.)

39:1 The text of the story in full runs:—### p. 40 ### (fol. 198b, No. 7).

40:1 The text of the story in full runs:—### p. 41 ### p. 42 ### (fol. 229a, No. 251).

42:1 The text in Palladius differs somewhat and reads:—### (fol. 199b, No. 12).

42:2 In Palladius:—### p. 43 ### (fol. 205a, No. 61).

43:1 Compare the following:—Abraham, the disciple of Sisoes, said to him, "Supposing there be a congregation on Saturday or Sunday, and that a brother were to drink three cups of wine: would that be too much?" Sisoes replied, "If Satan did not exist it would not be too much, but since he doth exist it is too much." ### (fol. 207a, No. 87).

43:2 In Palladius:—### (fol. 209, No. 105.)

44:1 In Palladius:—### Compare also:—### (fol. 234a, Nos. 289 and 194).

45:1 The actual words of Pachomius are:—### (fol. 70a).

45:2 In Palladius the story ends:—### p. 46 (fol. 245a, No. 369).

46:1 The saying in full runs.—### (fol. 262a, No. 495).

46:2 The full text runs:—### p. 47 ### (fol. 269b, no. 551).

47:1 In Palladius this story ends here (fol. 270, No. 555).

47:2 In Palladius:—### (fol. 231a, No. 266.)

47:3 In Palladius, see No. 202, fol. 222 a.

48:1 The full text runs:—### p. 49 ### (fol. 175a, No. 587).

49:1 In Palladius the text runs:—### (fol. 276b, No. 592).

49:2 This story is told of Macarius of Alexandria, and in full reads:—### p. 50 ### (fol. 325b, No. 161). See also Rosweyde, Vitae Patrum, pp. 228, 650, 732.

51:1 The full text of the story is as follows:—### (fol. 280a, No. 3).

52:1 "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." St. Matthew x. 37.

52:2 In Palladius, ### "Abbâ Ammon, he of Nitria," i.e., the Nitrian desert (fol. 305 b, No. 165), but Bar-Hebraeus seems to have missed the meaning of ### here.

52:3 The followers of Evagrius never drank their fill of water, and many of them ate neither bread nor fruit, nor any green thing except bitter herbs. ### (fol. 192 a. Triumphs of Evagrius).

53:1 In Palladius this story runs:—### (fol. 320b, No. 287).

53:2 The story has been much abridged by Bar-Hebraeus; the full text runs:—### p. 54 ### p. 55 ###. Eventually Ammon's wife thinks it better for herself and her husband to live wholly apart, and they do so (fol. 54a Of Abbâ Ammon).

55:1 Corinthians vii. 1. Bar-Hebraeus quotes the Peshîttâ Version.

55:2 1 Corinthians vii. 6.

55:3 The Peshîttâ has ###.

55:4 1 Corinthians vii. 34.

Next: The Sixth Chapter: Profitable Sayings of Muhammedan Kings and of Their Sages