Some stories from the Apophthegmata Patrum

I suppose that only a few will download the PDFs of Anthony Alcock’s new translation from Coptic of the Sayings of the Fathers.  But it contains many stories that the monks told each other.  Here are one or two samples.  I have over-paragraphed them for readability.

226. It was said of Apa Macarius that one day as he was walking in the desert, he found a skull. He moved it with his staff and it spoke.

The elder said to it: ‘Who are you ?’ It said: ‘I am the high priest of the pagans who were in this place. And you are Macarius the spirit-bearer at all times. If you are merciful to those in punishment, they will have a little rest.’

Apa Macarius said: ‘ What is rest ?’ He said: ‘As the heaven is far from the earth, so is the fire below us and above us as we stand in the middle of the fire. It is impossible for anyone to see the face of his neighbour, but back is turned to back. When you pray for us, each one for a moment sees the face of his neighbour.’

The elder heard this and said: ‘Woe to the day when the man was born if this is rest from punishment.’

The elder said to him: ‘Is there torture worse than this ?’

The skull said to him: ‘The great tortures below us.’

The elder said: ‘We who did not know God are given a little mercy. Those who knew God and denied Him and did not do His will, they are below us.’

The elder then took the skull, dug a hole in the ground, put it there and left.

It looks as if there is a mistake in the text: surely it must be the skull that describes “those below us”, rather than Macarius?

Here’s another:

231. At the time of Julian the Impious, when he went to Persia, he sent a demon to the west to bring news to him in haste. When the demon reached places where a monk lived, he stayed there for ten days. He did not move. He was unable to walk because the monk did not stop praying day or night.

The demon returned to the one who had sent him without having done anything. He said to him: ‘Why did you take so long ?’

The demon replied: ‘I took so long and did nothing because I spent ten days waiting for Apa Publius to stop praying when I might leave, but he did not stop. I was prevented from leaving and I returned, having wasted my time.’

The impious Julian then became angry, saying: ‘I will deal with him when I get back.’

Within a few days he was struck and died through the providence of God. One of the eparchs with him went and sold everything he had and gave the money to the poor. He came to the elder and became a monk with him.


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