Life of Mar Aba – chapter 8

In the last chapter we began to see hagiographical elements appear in the depiction of the travels of Mar Aba: everywhere he goes he teaches people, converts heretics and pagans, and demonstrates his moral and spiritual virtues.   But of course hagiography is primarily a form of fiction, rather than history, and, although the genre irritates me deeply, it is foolish to complain that a text written for one purpose is not something written for another.

Nevertheless we can still gain useful information.  Doubtless Aba went to Alexandria to study, rather than to teach.  Similarly he must have followed the path of many before and since and visited the hermits in the Egyptian desert in search of spiritual wisdom.  His path to Constantinople via Athens and Corinth is likely enough — how one hates to have to read between the lines! — and the statement about the situation at Athens probably does reflect the events around the final closure of the Academy by Justinian.

But with chapter 8 it seems that we have reached pure fiction; the unedifying “miracles” that disfigure this kind of literature.

8.  In a holy nunnery the Superior had long been ill with lower abdominal pain and dysentery, and was near to death.  In the same nunnery was a heretic woman who was arrogant towards the Superior and embittered her with her blasphemies.  When the Superior, a large, excellent woman, heard of the learning and virtue of the blessed one, she believed that, if he would send her a blessing on her food, she would instantly be healed.  She sent to ask. 

Because she ate only peas, on which she lived, he sent her some, because she had nothing else.  When the Superior, who was near to death, ate the peas, she became well and immediately the dysentery stopped, although peas are harmful for this disease.  But the divine providence wills what it will.  And as through the blessed Moses with bitter wood, or through the prophet Elisha with salt, bitter water was made sweet, so did it here through this blessed one.

And the Superior pleaded with God, through the prayer of the blessed one, because of the blasphemy of that woman in the monastery, and in the night, she died, because she blasphemed God and the blessed one, because the Superior had recovered through his blessing. 

 

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