Erotic Dreams and Nightmares from Antiquity to the Present (Charles Stewart, 2002)

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NOTE: This article is excerpted from the The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Jun., 2002), pp. 279-309

http://historia.up.krakow.pl/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Erotic-Dreams-and-Nightmares-from-Antiquity-to-the-Present.pdf

 

The Mixed Dream

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Early Christian preachers such as Justin Martyr assimilated all of the pagan gods to ‘demons’ under the control of the Devil (Pagels 1988: 42). According to pagan cosmology, demons were not intrinsically evil, but they were biddable. The magical papyri of the last centuries BCE and first centuries CE reveal how people sought, through ritual incantations, to command demons to carry dreams to others. In one particular example, a man named Hermeias exhorts the demons to cause his unresponsive object of desire to lust for him, even when she is ‘drinking, working, conversing, sleeping, dreaming, having an orgasm in her dreams, until she is scourged by you and comes desiring me.1

Granted the prevailing association of demons with dreams in popular thought, Christians were counselled to distrust their sleeping visions as possibly satanic. Dreams thus came to be placed squarely on the negative side of a morally polarized universe. John Climacus, whose Ladder of divine ascent synthesized the ascetic tradition and became a handbook for monks, wrote: ‘Devils often take on the appearance of angels of light or martyrs and they appear to us in sleep and talk to us … And if we start to believe in the devils of our dreams, then we will be their playthings when we are also awake’ (Climacus, Ladder, 3).

Beginning with Tertullian, the Church Fathers held that dreams could come variously from God, the Devil or the Soul (Tertullian, On the soul, 47). This tripartite scheme was apparently adapted from pre-Christian philosophical traditions. A look at the third-century BCE Alexandrian physician Herophilus’ classification of dreams reveals that the erotic dream figured centrally in the transition from paganism to Christianity:

“Herophilus says that some dreams are inspired by a god and arise by necessity, while others are natural ones and arise when the soul forms for itself an image (eidolon) of what is to its own advantage and of what will happen next; and still others are mixed (synkra-matikoi) and arise spontaneously (ek tou automatou) according to the impact of the images, whenever we see what we wish, as happens in the case of those who in their sleep make love to the women they love.”2

Herophilus
Greek physician Herophilus, considered to be the father of human anatomy, was accused of conducting live dissections of some 600 prisoners.

The interesting part of this scheme is the third, or mixed category. In so far as people see what they inwardly desire in these dreams, they seem identical to enypnia – the physical state dreams discussed earlier.3 Yet, this identification cannot be correct, since Herophilus pointedly differentiates them from the category of dreams produced exclusively by the soul. Mixed dreams have an exogenous element; they result from outside forces – the impact of images on the sleeper. These images happen to coincide with internal desires.

Herophilus’ mixed dream, with its ready erotic exemplification, corresponded to the demonic dream in the Christian tripartite system (von Staden 1989: 310). Early ascetic theories of human nature and psychology reveal how monks understood demons to inspire erotic dreams. These accounts, presented by writers such as Evagrius and Cassian, possibly illuminate what Herophilus intended by the mixed dream. Certainly they take us deeper into the genesis of the erotic nightmare.

Evagrius

For Evagrius, who became a monk in Egypt around 382 CE, demons could manipulate an individual’s previously acquired, emotionally charged memories to excite the passions, and set sinful thoughts in train. Thus evil thoughts were simultaneously exogenous and endogenous; demons activated what was already there. Evagrius conceded that disturbing thoughts would inevitably occur, even in the course of monastic life – such thoughts were part of the human condition. Sin set in only if one mentally entertained a thought for too long. As he expressed it: ‘It is not up to us whether evil thoughts might trouble the soul or leave it in peace. What does depend on us is whether they linger or not, and whether they set the passions in motion or not’ (Praktikos, 6). The goal was inner stillness, which Evagrius referred to by the familiar Stoic term, apatheia (Guillaumont 1971: 98ff.).

Evagrius named eight primary demons, the model for what would become the ‘seven deadly sins’ in Western Christianity. Each of these demons normally attacked only one of the two vulnerable parts of the soul, the high-spirited or the sensual. Predictably, the demon of fornication (porneia) attacked the sensual part of the soul. According to Evagrius “it compels one to desire ‘remarkable’ bodies; it violently attacks those living in abstinence in order to cause them to quit, convinced they will amount to nothing. And, soiling the soul, it inclines it to ‘those acts’ [obscene acts]. It causes monks to speak and hear things, as if some object were visible and present” (Praktikos, 8).

As this passage shows, the battle with demons spilled over into the realm of dreams and (other) hallucinations where the power of the will to resist demons was weakest. Although demons could provoke erotic dreams and nightmares, these were normally two distinct types of dream (Praktikos, 21, 22, 54). The phenomenon of an erotic nightmare required a fusion of demonic domains that contravened the normal division. In such dreams the sensual part of the soul joined forces with the irascible to overwhelm the intellect. It was the opposite of Plato’s ideal scenario of self-mastery where the intellect and the high spirits co-operated to overpower the appetitive part. In Evagrius’ psychology the erotic nightmare was not excluded but rather given a powerful theorization. It was the exception that confirmed the rule.4 The erotic dream was a mixed dream then, not only because external demons aroused internal thoughts, but also because it simultaneously affected the two parts of the soul.

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If dreams were, indeed, controllable, then anyone who experienced an erotic dream was potentially culpable. John Cassian excused nocturnal emissions if they occurred to someone with a full stomach (Cassian, Conferences, 12.2). In such cases they were a simple physical fact of the body, and he allowed that it was ‘natural’ for emissions to occur as often as every two months, although three times a year was a more acceptable frequency (Cassian, Institutions, 6.20; Conferences, 2.23).

 

The sinfulness of erotic dreams and nocturnal emissions continued to be a topic of debate in ascetic ‘anthropology’- as patristic theories of human nature and psychology are sometimes known – throughout the Middle Ages in both the Eastern and Western Churches (Elliott 1999; Fogen 1998). Excusable nocturnal emissions became sinful erotic dreams if one entertained them, allowed them to linger, and, most importantly, if one consented to them (Elliott 1999: 20). The way to fight the images and sensations of the mixed dream was to sever them with the knife of the will, withholding assent so that externally instigated images did not connect with bodily passions. Nocturnal emissions unaccompanied by visual imagery indicated spiritual progress (Evagrius, Praktikos, 55; Angelidi forthcoming).

From the Monastery to the World

The account developed to this point presents the views of learned texts representing the ideas and practices of elite, free men in antiquity and a narrow subsection of monks and high clerics in the early Christian period. Their practices of self-cultivation may not have been shared by very many of their contemporaries, but their influence on subsequent generations has been enormous. If the ancient Greek ethic of self-moderation was explicitly elitist, the Christian ethic became increasingly unified in conception and intended for all – men and women, young and old alike. I turn now to consider how the ascetically influenced Christian ethic of self diffused to the population at large and how the Christian laity was conditioned to view the erotic dream as dangerous and nightmarish.

Incubus, 1870
Incubus, 1870

In popular vocabulary the word incubus, as we saw, gave people a ready label for the erotic nightmare.5 In the wake of Augustine’s writings about concupiscence and original sin, the general term for demonic interference in a dream, ‘inlusio‘ (illusion), came to have automatically erotic overtones in succeeding generations (Elliott 1999: 20). Likewise, the term ‘phantasma‘, which Aristotle had used interchangeably with phantasia to mean a ‘mental perception, image, or representation’, came to mean a distorted – usually by demons – mental representation (Schmitt 1999: 278). If normal sensory perceptions were like water that flowed through a person, then memories could be likened to water that was stored and which remained clear. Phantasmata, on the other hand, were like stagnant water that had become cloudy, rank, and overgrown with algae.

How did these developments affect popular views of these matters? Certainly the laity were not expected to live up to the ascetic standards of the monks – this would have meant the extinction of Christian society – nor were they necessarily concerned by, or even able to comprehend, the high-flown arguments of theology. People in the world no doubt continued to have extra-marital sexual relations, dreams, erotic dreams, nocturnal emissions, and nightmares. But the Church did make attempts to regulate these phenomena. Early penitential books such as the Irish penitential of Cummean, composed in the seventh century after the model of Cassian’s rules for monks, represented one such effort. This penitential is notable for its comprehensive distinctions among erotic deeds and thoughts.

“He who merely desires in his mind to commit fornication, but is not able, shall do penance for one year … He who is willingly polluted during sleep, shall rise and sing nine psalms in order, kneeling … He who desires to sin during sleep, or is unintentionally polluted, fifteen psalms; he who sins but is not polluted, twenty-four” (Bieler 1963: 115;Asad 1993: 101).

Aurelius Prudentius Clemens

The dissemination of prayer formulas comprised another area for ascetic influ-ence on the development of mainstream Christianity. The expanding practice of bedtime prayers is of particular interest here (Le Goff 1988: 225). Early in the fifth century CE, Prudentius composed a hymn before sleep that included the following lines: ‘If a man’s stains of guilty conduct are few and far between, him the clear and flashing light teaches secret things; but he who has polluted and befouled his heart with sins is the sport of many a fear and sees fright-ful visions’ (Daily round 6.49). And it concluded with the following exorcistic entreaty: ‘The cross drives out every sin; before the cross darkness flees away; consecrated with this sign, the spirit cannot be unquiet. Away, away with the monstrosities of rambling dreams! Away with the deceiver and his persistent guile!’ (Daily round 6.133).

Between the fifth and thirteenth centuries, the Church’s mode of eliciting and forgiving lay sins altered. Initially, there was the brutally demanding office of penance in which the penitent was excluded from the worshipping com-munity (Asad 1993: 100). This person’s sins and their on-going punishment were socially apparent. The practice of individual, private confession to a cleric gradually replaced penance until the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), when it was made mandatory for all. Later, the Protestants identified compulsory confession to lascivious clerics as a practice that increased rather than decreased general sexual excitation. In the reformed Church confession would have no place. Each individual would be responsible for his or her own actions in the face of God. This was not an easy option, but rather the beginning of an in-worldly asceticism. In Weber’s famous formulation, asceticism ‘now … strode into the market-place of life, slammed the door of the monastery behind it, and undertook to penetrate just that daily routine of life with its methodicalness, to fashion it into a life in the world, but neither of nor for this world’ (1991 [1904-5]: 154).

CompendiumMaleficarumEngraving15
Woodcut from the Malleus maleficarum

Just as the new order of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations got underway in the sixteenth century, so, too, did the witch-hunts. The judicial system became a means to contravene the new space of private conscience that the reformers had begun to stake out. Officials asserted greater power than ever to interrogate individuals about their inner thoughts, convictions, and fantasies. These witch trials frequently involved accusations that men and women attended sabbaths at which they had sex with the Devil. The witch-hunting manuals developed an elaborate picture of incubi that attacked women and succubi that copulated with men. According to the Malleus maleficarum (Kramer & Sprenger 1970 [1486]: 41 ff.), such erotic episodes occurred more frequently to women since they were more feeble, credulous, and less self-controlled than men.

These various developments continue the story of erotic dreams and self-control begun in antiquity, a contention that emerges more clearly if we closely consider the tenth-century Canon episcopi (Lea 1939: 38; Russell 1972: 292). This text urged priests to eradicate demonic sorcery from their parishes. It also alerted clerics that some women, ‘seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons (daemonumi llusionibuse t phantasmatibusse ductae), believe themselves, in the hours of night, to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of the pagans’ (Lea 1939: 178). In such cases, priests were instructed to teach that these beliefs were false delusions of the Devil. The Canon episcopi conceded that women did undergo demonic molestation but only ‘in their spirits’ (cum solus eius spiritus). The problem, from the Church’s point of view, was the exuberant folk credulity aroused by these tales, and the laity’s apparent inability to distinguish imagined from real experiences. Thus the Canon episcopi emphasized that:

“[w]hile the spirit alone endures this [demonic manipulation], the faithless mind thinks these things happen not in the spirit, but in the body. Who is there that is not led out of himself in dreams and nocturnal vision, and sees much when sleeping that he has never seen when waking? Who is so stupid and foolish as to think that all these things which are only done in spirit happen in the body …” (Lea 1939: 179).

The text of the canon Episcopi in Hs. 119 (Cologne), a manuscript of Decretum Burchardi dated to ca. 1020.
The text of the canon Episcopi in Hs. 119 (Cologne), a manuscript of Decretum Burchardi dated to ca. 1020.

Uncertainty over ‘the imaginal’6 thus lay at the centre of European witchcraft.

Renaissance theologians had to decide whether witches’ transformations, flights, and sabbaths were merely dreams, and if so, whether the individuals involved none the less merited prosecution for believing them. The issues begin to look very much like those posed by the desert Fathers. The difference between the first ascetics and the laity during the witch craze was that earlier a (male) individual had largely been left to monitor his own spiritual failures. Later (male) clerics decided this matter on behalf of (female) individuals. Torture and capital punishment replaced internally imposed humility and renewed ascetic effort as responses to erotic dreams.

The matter of the reality of witchcraft, and the responsibility for dream visions, was never uniformly decided throughout the main period of witch-hunting, that is, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Carlo Ginzburg (1983) reveals how the authorities resolutely ignored statements by Friulian villagers that they fought demons ‘in the spirit’, while their bodies were at home, asleep. The accused called themselves benandanti (good-doers) and imagined that their practices were fundamentally Christian. Under the duress of long interrogation, however, the benandanti changed their stories and confessed that they had consorted with demons ‘for real’.

The benandanti told mainly of fighting against malevolent forces in order to safeguard the community’s harvest, and it is possible that many ‘witches’ stories’ were, likewise, not particularly sexual. The inquiring authorities, however, assumed that witchcraft must involve sexual acts with the Devil and thus they pushed the stories in that direction through questioning. Judges showed a particular interest in the issue of whether the intercourse with the devil was voluntary or forced, frightening or pleasurable (Kramer & Sprenger 1970 [1486]: 114; Lancre 1982 [1613]: 200-1). Whether or not actual erotic nightmares or erotic dreams had occurred to the accused, there was a likelihood that erotic nightmare scenarios would occupy a conspicuous place in the final confession.

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The nocturnal visionary tradition of the benandanti led the Roman Inquisition to accuse them of being witches, malevolent Satanists depicted in this 1508 woodcut.

Freud once rhetorically asked, ‘Why are [the witches’] confessions under torture so like the communications made by my patients in psychic treatment?’ (Ginzburg 1990: 150; Roper 1994: 245). The answer would seem to lie in the shared conviction in the importance of an underlying libidinal impulse. This sexual Urszene could be uncovered through confession, although both psychoanalysts and inquisitors faced a besetting uncertainty as to whether these received confessions were truth or fantasy (Ginzburg 1990: 151).

In this section I have retrained attention on the persistent factor of dreams, particularly demonically distorted dreams (phantasmata), at the heart of the European witchcraft phenomenon. My contention is that dreams, erotic dreams, nightmares, and erotic nightmares all occasionally figured in witch-craft cases. The effect of the threatening manuals for prosecutors, and of the prosecutions themselves, was to funnel even innocuous dreams into an erotic nightmare formulation, thereby further defining and maximally diffusing a category of experience that first arose in the context of early Christian asceticism.

  1. Greek magical papyri XVIIa; in Betz (1986: 253). For more on demons sending (erotic) dreams, see Eitrem (1991) and Faraone (1999).
  2. Found in the first-century CE author, Aetius, Placita, 5.2.3; text and translation in von Staden (1989: 386).
  3. Galen considered erotic dreams as textbook examples of the category of dreams that reflected an individual’s physical state: ‘men full of sperm will imagine that they are having sexual intercourse’ (On diagnosis from dreams, in Oberhelman 1983: 46).
  4. ‘The sin of accidie (boredom, despondency) – also known as the noonday demon – provides one example of a demonic thought that allied the irascible and sensuous parts of the soul and ‘suffocated the intellect’ (Evagrius, Praktikos, 36). Evagrius considered accidie ‘the heaviest of the demons’ (Praktikos, 12). I thank George Calofonos for his discussion of these ideas.
  5. An indication of the currency of the term may be found in Augustine’s City of God, 15.23. 17 My use of this term perhaps differs somewhat from its use in Jungian circles and elsewhere (cf. Tedlock 1987: 3).
  6. I use ‘imaginal’ to refer to a state of consciousness in which one has the impression that what one is witnessing is absolutely ‘real’ and independent of one’s mind, although one is, in fact, only imagining it. The term ‘imaginary’, by contrast, implies an awareness, even in the moment of imagining, that what one beholds is only a product of one’s imagination. Dreams, visions, hallucinations, and apparitions are, generally, experienced imaginally and then subsequently accounted for as imaginary.
  7. Succubus
    http://xylographilia.com/product/succubus/
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Eastern Orthodox Saints Who Committed Suicide (Synaxarion & Church Fathers)

In the first few centuries of Orthodox Christianity, the Orthodox Church and the Church Fathers accepted the act of suicide if it was to preserve one’s virginity; i.e. an individual could commit suicide to prevent being raped and it was not considered a mortal sin and one was even eligible to be ranked as a virgin-martyr. Also, some of the martyrs commemorated in the Church were not actually killed by their tormentors but rather they leapt to their own deaths after a period of torture or with the threat of martyrdom. Thus, in the Lives of the Saints of the first few centuries, one can find many saints who committed suicide. After the 4th-5th century, suicide was no longer an acceptable practise to preserve chastity which creates a little confusion. Those before this time period are saints in the ranks of heaven, whereas those who commit suicide after this time period have committed mortal sin and lost their souls.

The majority of the early Church Fathers evidently not only justified but commended suicide in such an extremity. The first Father distinctly to condemn the practice was Augustine (De civ. Dei. I. 22–27). He takes strong ground on the subject, and while admiring the bravery and chastity of the many famous women that had rescued themselves by taking their own lives, he denounces their act as sinful under all circumstances, maintaining that suicide is never anything else than a crime against the law of God. The view of Augustine has very generally prevailed since his time. In the 9th century, St. Theodore of Studite clearly states in his epistle: “It is not permitted in any situation whatsoever for a service or liturgy to be performed for him (namely, the one who commits suicide)” [PG 99, 1477B].

Church Councils Suicide cropped

Interestingly, though homosexual rape and pedophilia were quite predominant in the early days of the Church (both within and without of Christianity), the Fathers seem to only accept women virgin-martyrs. There is no mention of “economia” when it comes to male on male rape. It should be noted that in some medieval non-Christian cultures, a common practise of male victors in a raid or war was to rape (sometimes gang-rape) the male captors to shame and humiliate them. This practise continues today throughout the world both in war and prison systems.

Also, the early Fathers don’t talk much about clergymen hiding behind their rank to sexually abuse others (whether heterosexual, homosexual or pedophilia). This trend which existed in the early Orthodox Church is today quite predominant worldwide. Perhaps this silence is because St. Constantine the Great set the precedent of protecting them when he stated at the First Ecumenical Council: “If I would see with my own eyes a bishop, a priest or a monk in a sinful act, I would cover him with my cloak, so that no one would ever see his sin.”

ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO SUPPORTED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY

AmbroseOfMilan

St. Ambrose of Milan (4th c.): Though St. Ambrose disapproved of suicide in general, he embraced the idea that women who committed suicide to protect their virginity received the martyr’s crown. St. Ambrose ends his ascetical treatise On Virgins by explaining to his sister that suicide is preferable to losing one’s virginity. He tells his sister that she can be confident suicide is permissible when protecting chastity because the Church has examples of martyrs who did that very thing. He then proceeds to tell the story of a teenager named Pelagia who lived in Antioch. She threw herself off a building to avoid lecherous pursuers. St. Ambrose even has her rationalizing her plans in his retelling. Ambrose’s Pelagia says, “God is not offended by the remedy [avoiding rape], and faith mitigates the misdeed [of suicide].” Though still a “misdeed,” St. Ambrose clearly views it as the lesser of two evils when a woman’s virginity is at stake.

Eusebius

Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, Church Historian (4th c.): In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius writes about the abominable treatment of female Christians formed a feature of the persecutions both of Maximian and Maximin, who were alike monsters of licentiousness. Eusebius wrote about the suicides of St. Domnina and Her Two Daughters and evidently approved of these women’s suicide. [Book VIII, Chapter 12]

 

St John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom (4th-5th c.): St. John Chrysostom’s stance regarding suicide and martyrdom is relatively close to St. Ambrose’s. John condemns suicide, believing it to be against God’s will, and claims that real martyrs do not commit suicide. Even though they do not kill themselves, John believed they must face death willingly. However, like St. Ambrose, Chrysostom accepts suicide for women who are attempting to protect their purity.

St. John Chrysostom, like many of his contemporaries, highly prized virginity, and when he considered the importance of sexual purity, St. John rationalized behaviors that would otherwise be condemnable. Specifically, John advocated suicide for women when necessary to protect their chastity. In his sermon on Julian, suicide is a defeat, though John probably had men in mind while preaching that sermon. In his sermon on the Virgin-Martyr Pelagia, suicide is victory over the enemies of God and over the Devil himself.

SaintJerome

St. Jerome (4th-5th c.): The early Church Father St Jerome categorically stated that Christ would not receive the soul of one who commits suicide. [Saint Jerome, Letters 39:3]. However, St Jerome makes an interesting exception to their otherwise absolute and inclusive condemnation: those who commit suicide in order to preserve their chastity.

 

ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO OPPOSED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY

St. Augustine of Hippo (5th c.): This, then, is our position, and it seems sufficiently lucid.  We maintain that when a woman is violated while her soul admits no consent to the iniquity, but remains inviolably chaste, the sin is not hers, but his who violates her. (Of Lucretia, Who Put an End to Her Life Because of the Outrage Done Her, City of God Chapter 19).

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ORTHODOX SAINTS IN THE SYNAXARION WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE

This list is just a brief sample and by no means complete. One can find numerous examples from the first few centuries of the Orthodox Church in the Synaxarion.

St. Agathonike (165 or 251 AD): St. Agathonike did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity, but is in the ranks of “voluntary martyr.” During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Agathonike became so excited while watching Carpus and Papylus die martyrs’ deaths that she believed she should join them on the pyre. The crowd tried to dissuade her after she announced her intentions, reminding her that her son needed her. She replied that God would take care of him, at which point she disrobed and threw herself on the fire. In the Latin recension of the text, however, Agathonike is arrested with the other two martyrs, which leads Musurillo to suggest, “The Latin redactor was attempting to colour the facts for a later age.” [See: Martyrdom of Carpus, Papylus, and Agothonike 44].

She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 13th

1013carpuspapylusagathoodrus

St. Apollonia (2nd century): St. Apollonia also did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity but did so after being tortured. Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (247–265), relates the sufferings of his people in a letter addressed to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, of which long extracts have been preserved in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: “At that time Apollonia, parthénos presbytis (mostly likely meaning a deaconess) was held in high esteem. These men seized her also and by repeated blows broke all her teeth. They then erected outside the city gates a pile of fagots and threatened to burn her alive if she refused to repeat after them impious words (either a blasphemy against Christ, or an invocation of the heathen gods). Given, at her own request, a little freedom, she sprang quickly into the fire and was burned to death.” [6.41 (PG 20:605–607)]

She is celebrated in the Greek Church on February 9th.

St Apollonia

St. Pelagia of Antioch (late 3rd century): St. Pelagia was a Christian saint, virgin, and martyr who committed suicide during the Diocletian Persecution rather than be forced by Roman soldiers to offer a public sacrifice to the pagan gods. She was 15 years old.

She was home alone during the Diocletian Persecution when Roman soldiers arrived. She came out to meet them and, discovering they intended to compel her to participate in a pagan sacrifice, she received permission to change her clothes. She went to the roof of her house and threw herself into the sea. The patristic sources treat this as a sacred martyrdom rather than an ignoble suicide, usually with reference to the potential that she would have been dishonored by the soldiers.

She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 8th.

Saint Pelagia of Antioch
Saint Pelagia of Antioch

Saints Domnina, Berenice, and Prosdoce (c. 310)

Saint Domnina and her daughters Berenice (Bernice, Veronica, Verine, Vernike) and Prosdoce are venerated as Christian martyrs by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Domnina was arrested by soldiers for her adherence to the Christian religion. Fearing that the soldiers would rape her and her daughters, they threw themselves into a river after they asked their guards for a chance to rest for a while or after the soldiers had become drunk with wine. All three women drowned.

The account of St. John Chrysostom tells a slightly different story: according to Chrysostom, Domnina, after jumping into the river, pulled her daughters in with her to prevent them from being raped. Chrysostom praised Domnina for her courage and Domnina’s daughters for their obedience.

She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 4th.

judas

 

PATRISTIC SERMONS LAUDING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY

Saint John Chrysostom delivered the following sermon about St. Pelagia, the Virgin Martyr:

“Even women now poke fun at death and girls mock passing away and quite young, unmarried virgins skip into the very stings of Hades and suffer no ill effects. All of these blessings we experience because of Christ, born of a virgin. For after those blessed contraction pains and utterly awe-inspiring birth the sinews of death were unstrung, the devil’s power was disabled and from then on became contemptible to not just men but also women, and not just women, but also girls….

“It’s for this reason that blessed Pelagia too ran to meet death with such great delight that she didn’t wait for the executioners’ hands nor did she go to court, but escaped their cruelty through the excess of her own enthusiasm. For while she was prepared for tortures and punishments and every kind of penalty, even so she was afraid that she would destroy the crown of her virginity. Indeed, that you might learn that she was afraid of the sexual predation of the unholy men, she got in first and snatched herself away in advance from the shameful violence. None of the [Christian] men ever attempted any such act at all. Instead they all filed into court and displayed their courage there. Yet women, by nature vulnerable to harm, conceived for themselves this manner of death. My point is that, were it possible both to preserve one’s virginity and attain martyrdom’s crown, she wouldn’t have refused to go to court. But since it was utterly inevitable that one of the two would be lost, she thought it a sign of extreme stupidity, when it was possible for her to attain each victory, to depart half crowned. For this reason she wasn’t willing to go to court or to become a spectacle for lecherous eyes, or to give opportunity for predatory eyes to revel in the sight of her own appearance and crudely insult that holy body. Instead she went from her chamber and the women’s quarters to a second chamber – heaven….

“Don’t simply pass over what happened, but consider how it’s likely that she was raised as a gentle girl, knowing nothing beyond her chamber, while soldiers were posted against her en masse, standing in front of the door, summoning her to court, dragging her into the marketplace on weighty sorts of grounds. There was no father inside, no mother present, no nurse, no female attendant, no neighbor, no female friend. Instead, she was left alone in the midst of those executioners. I mean, how isn’t it right that we be astonished and amazed that she had the strength to come out and answer those executioner soldiers, to open her mouth and utter a sound, just to look, stand, and breathe? Those actions weren’t attributable to human nature. For God’s influence introduced the majority. Most assuredly, at the time she didn’t just idly stand around, but displayed all her personal qualities – her enthusiasm, her resolve, her nobility, her willingness, her purpose, her eagerness, her bustling energy. But it was as a result of God’s help and heavenly good goodwill that all these qualities reached maturity….

“In addition to what’s been said, I marvel as well at how the soldiers granted her the favor, how the woman deceived the men, how they didn’t work out the deception. After all, one can’t say that no one effected anything of the sort. For many women, it seems, gave themselves up to a cliff or hurled themselves into the sea or drove a sword through their breast or fastened a noose. That time was full of numerous dramas of that kind. But God blinded the soldier’s hearts so that they wouldn’t openly see the deception. That’s why she flew up out of the middle of their nets….

“Lot’s of people who’ve tumbled from a high roof haven’t suffered any ill effect. Others, in turn, despite suffering permanent disability to some part of their body, have lived for a long time after the fall. But in the case of that blessed virgin God didn’t allow any of these options to happen. Instead, he ordered the body to release the soul immediately and received it on the grounds that it had struggled sufficiently and completed everything. For death wasn’t caused by the nature of the fall, but by God’s command. From that point the body wasn’t lying on a bed, but on the pavement. yet it wasn’t without honor as it lay on the pavement…For this reason, then, that virginal body purer than any gold lay on the pavement, on the street.” [St. John ChrysostomA homily on Pelagia, Virgin and Martyr, translated into English by Wendy Mayer, from the book Let Us Die That We May Live (pp. 148-161)]

Let Us Die

Saint John Chrysostom delivered a sermon about St. Domnina and her two daughters:

In St. John’s sermon probably preached in the 390s in Antioch, the story takes an interesting turn. The women do not just kill themselves; John suggests that the mother actually drowns her daughters. He preaches, “And so, the mother entered in the middle [of the river], restraining her daughters on either side.” Once in the river, John says, “That blessed woman [Domnina] … lowered them down into the waters, and in this way they drowned.” Domnina then drowns herself to claim her martyr’s crown. Astonishingly, in this sermon, the protection of virginity not only justifies self-murder, but also John uses it justify murdering one’s children. He actually esteems Domnina because he claims that drowning her own daughters was an exceedingly painful form of martyrdom. Domnina could have suffered at the court, but then she would not have been able to ensure her daughters’ purity.

She endured far greater tortures in the river [than she would have at court]. My point, as I started saying, is that it was truly far more cruel and painful than to see flesh scourged, to drown her own innards, I mean her daughters, by her own hand, and to see them suffocating, and it required far greater philosophy than to endure tortures for her to have the capacity to restrain her children’s right hands and to drag them along with her into the river’s currents. For it was not the same in terms of pain to see [her daughters] suffering badly at the hands of others and to herself act as death’s servant, to herself promote their end, to herself stand against her daughters in place of an executioner.

John imputes extraordinary suffering to a mother who kills her young daughters, and he not only excuses the killing but also lauds it because she did it to preserve virginity. John commends these martyrs as prime examples for mothers and daughters in his congregation. No doubt, this sermon worried not a few daughters whose reputations were at risk. [see, The Cult of the Saints: St. John Chrysostom, http://www.svspress.com/the-cult-of-the-saints-st-john-chrysostom/ ]

Cult of saints

Saint Ambrose replies to Marcellina, who had asked what should be thought of those who to escape violence killed themselves, by narrating the history of Pelagia, a virgin, with her mother and sister…

  1. As I am drawing near the close of my address, you make a good suggestion, holy sister, that I should touch upon what we ought to think of the merits of those who have cast themselves down from a height, or have drowned themselves in a river, lest they should fall into the hands of persecutors, seeing that holy Scripture forbids a Christian to lay hands on himself. And indeed as regards virgins placed in the necessity of preserving their purity, we have a plain answer, seeing that there exists an instance of martyrdom.
  2. Saint Pelagia lived formerly at Antioch, being about fifteen years old, a sister of virgins, and a virgin herself. She shut herself up at home at the first sound of persecution, seeing herself surrounded by those who would rob her of her faith and purity, in the absence of her mother and sisters, without any defence, but all the more filled with God. What are we to do, unless, says she to herself, you, a captive of virginity, takest thought? I both wish and fear to die, for I meet not death but seek it. Let us die if we are allowed, or if they will not allow it, still let us die. God is not offended by a remedy against evil, and faith permits the act. In truth, if we think of the real meaning of the word, how can what is voluntary be violence? It is rather violence to wish to die and not to be able. And we do not fear any difficulty. For who is there who wishes to die and is not able to do so, when there are so many easy ways to death? For I can now rush upon the sacrilegious altars and overthrow them, and quench with my blood the kindled fires. I am not afraid that my right hand may fail to deliver the blow, or that my breast may shrink from the pain. I shall leave no sin to my flesh. I fear not that a sword will be wanting. I can die by my own weapons, I can die without the help of an executioner, in my mother’s bosom.
  3. She is said to have adorned her head, and to have put on a bridal dress, so that one would say that she was going to a bridegroom, not to death. But when the hateful persecutors saw that they had lost the prey of her chastity, they began to seek her mother and sisters. But they, by a spiritual flight, already held the field of chastity, when, as on the one side, persecutors suddenly threatened them, and on the other, escape was shut off by an impetuous river, they said, what do we fear? See the water, what hinders us from being baptized? And this is the baptism whereby sins are forgiven, and kingdoms are sought. This is a baptism after which no one sins. Let the water receive us, which is wont to regenerate. Let the water receive us, which makes virgins. Let the water receive us, which opens heaven, protects the weak, hides death, makes martyrs. We pray You, God, Creator of all things, let not the water scatter our bodies, deprived of the breath of life; let not death separate our obsequies, whose lives affection has always conjoined; but let our constancy be one, our death one, and our burial also be one.
  4. Having said these words, and having slightly girded up the bosom of their dress, to veil their modesty without impeding their steps, joining hands as though to lead a dance, they went forward to the middle of the river bed, directing their steps to where the stream was more violent, and the depth more abrupt. No one drew back, no one ceased to go on, no one tried where to place her steps, they were anxious only when they felt the ground, grieved when the water was shallow, and glad when it was deep. One could see the pious mother tightening her grasp, rejoicing in her pledges, afraid of a fall lest even the stream should carry off her daughters from her. These victims, O Christ, said she, do I offer as leaders of chastity, guides on my journey, and companions of my sufferings. [On Virgins, Book III, Chapter 7:32-35]

Ambrose virgins.jpg

SERMONS OF CHURCH FATHERS CONDEMNING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY

St. Augustine of Hippo, That Christians Have No Authority for Committing Suicide in Any Circumstances Whatever, City of God Chapter 20.

It is not without significance, that in no passage of the holy canonical books there can be found either divine precept or permission to take away our own life, whether for the sake of entering on the enjoyment of immortality, or of shunning, or ridding ourselves of anything whatever.  Nay, the law, rightly interpreted, even prohibits suicide, where it says, “Thou shalt not kill.”  This is proved especially by the omission of the words “thy neighbor,” which are inserted when false witness is forbidden:  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”  Nor yet should any one on this account suppose he has not broken this commandment if he has borne false witness only against himself.  For the love of our neighbor is regulated by the love of ourselves, as it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  If, then, he who makes false statements about himself is not less guilty of bearing false witness than if he had made them to the injury of his neighbor; although in the commandment prohibiting false witness only his neighbor is mentioned, and persons taking no pains to understand it might suppose that a man was allowed to be a false witness to his own hurt; how much greater reason have we to understand that a man may not kill himself, since in the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” there is no limitation added nor any exception made in favor of any one, and least of all in favor of him on whom the command is laid!  And so some attempt to extend this command even to beasts and cattle, as if it forbade us to take life from any creature.  But if so, why not extend it also to the plants, and all that is rooted in and nourished by the earth?  For though this class of creatures have no sensation, yet they also are said to live, and consequently they can die; and therefore, if violence be done them, can be killed.  So, too, the apostle, when speaking of the seeds of such things as these, says, “That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die;” and in the Psalm it is said, “He killed their vines with hail.”  Must we therefore reckon it a breaking of this commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” to pull a flower?  Are we thus insanely to countenance the foolish error of the Manichæans?  Putting aside, then, these ravings, if, when we say, Thou shalt not kill, we do not understand this of the plants, since they have no sensation, nor of the irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses; if so, then it remains that we understand that commandment simply of man.  The commandment is, “Thou shall not kill man;” therefore neither another nor yourself, for he who kills himself still kills nothing else than man.

penguin-city-of-god

St. Augustine of Hippo, Of Suicide Committed Through Fear of Punishment or Dishonor, City of God Chapter, Book I, Chapter 17.

And consequently, even if some of these virgins killed themselves to avoid such disgrace, who that has any human feeling would refuse to forgive them?  And as for those who would not put an end to their lives, lest they might seem to escape the crime of another by a sin of their own, he who lays this to their charge as a great wickedness is himself not guiltless of the fault of folly.  For if it is not lawful to take the law into our own hands, and slay even a guilty person, whose death no public sentence has warranted, then certainly he who kills himself is a homicide, and so much the guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offence for which he doomed himself to die.  Do we justly execrate the deed of Judas, and does truth itself pronounce that by hanging himself he rather aggravated than expiated the guilt of that most iniquitous betrayal, since, by despairing of God’s mercy in his sorrow that wrought death, he left to himself no place for a healing penitence?  How much more ought he to abstain from laying violent hands on himself who has done nothing worthy of such a punishment!  For Judas, when he killed himself, killed a wicked man; but he passed from this life chargeable not only with the death of Christ, but with his own:  for though he killed himself on account of his crime, his killing himself was another crime.  Why, then, should a man who has done no ill do ill to himself, and by killing himself kill the innocent to escape another’s guilty act, and perpetrate upon himself a sin of his own, that the sin of another may not be perpetrated on him?

The suicide of judas
The Suicide of Judas, ca. 1492. Fresco at Chapel of Notre Dame des Fontaine, France.

 

 

Prophecies of the Holy Fathers about Monasticism in the End Times

NOTE: In both the verbal and fax homilies that Geronda Ephraim gives to his monastics, he emphasizes “we are the monks of the last days; the holy fathers prophesied about our generation.” He uses this as a kind of encouragement for his monastics not to fall in despair for being weak and not gaining great spiritual heights as “this generation will not accomplish any great feats like the fathers of old.” It is also used to justify the secularization, worldiness, and lack of ascesis in contemporary Greek-American monasticism, to encourage the younger monastics not to have logismoi or be scandalized with the contrast between what is written in the monastic texts and what is actually practised and lived in the monasteries. These prophecies are also used as “leverage” as to why only blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim, the Prayer, and patient endurance are necessary.

Geronda Ephraim teaches his monastics that they are the last generation of monks whom the Desert Fathers prophesied about.
Geronda Ephraim teaches his monastics that they are the last generation of monks whom the Desert Fathers prophesied about.

The prophecies of Abba Moses the Ethiopian, do not appear in any of the Patristic writings of the time, nor his Synaxarion. Much like the “Constantinople Prophecy” of St. Methodius (believed to be the work of a 7th century Syrian Monophysite), none of the Church Fathers mention or quote these prophecies. They only appear in 20th century books about end-time prophecies.

https://www.scribd.com/document/341638753/Alexander-Byzantine-Apocalyptic-Tradition

The 20th century became a hotbed for the dissemination of spurious prophecies attributed to various saints. Many of these spurious prophecies were accepted as legitimate and incorporated into the eschatology of various contemporary Elders, especially on Mount Athos. Moreover, antiquated and heretical “prophetic” and “visionary” texts that were never accepted by the Church—The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius; The Apocalypse of St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ, etc.—contained so many Scriptural errors, heresies, and mythological traditions that only the passages that fit into the specific eschatological teaching of Constantinople’s liberation were extracted and the remainder of the texts ignored.

Interestingly, many of these prophecies accurately describe certain aspects of the life and atmosphere in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries.

 desert_fathers

Abba Ischyron

The Holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, “What have we ourselves done?”

One of them, the great Abba Ischyron, replied, “We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.”

The others replied, “And those who come after us, what will they do?”

He said, “They will struggle to achieve half our works.”

They said, “And to those who come after them, what will happen?”

He said, “The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them, and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our Fathers.”

An Anonymous Elder

“It is better to dwell together with three God-fearing people rather than dwell together with thousands who don’t have the fear of God. I tell you this because when the end of the world approaches, if, for example, there is a monastery with 100 monks, then it is questionable whether two or three monks from among them will be found who will save their souls. Again, even though the monks are 50, there will not be found even one amongst them who will save his soul.”

“All will throw themselves into food and their heart will love the dining tables, the belly, and money.”

“Nevertheless, do not be amazed so much on account of this, it is more amazing to see whether one soul will escape from the mouth of the enemy.”

Abba Pambo (d. 374)
Abba Pambo (d. 374)

Abba Pambo

“And I will tell you this, my child that the days will come when the Christians will add to and will take away from, and will alter the books of the Holy Evangelists, and of the Holy Apostles, and of the Divine Prophets, and of the Holy Fathers. They’ll tone down the Scriptures and will compose troparia, hymns and writings technologically.”

“Their nous will be spilled out among them, and will become alienated from its Heavenly Prototype. For this reason, the Holy Fathers had previously encouraged the monks of the desert to write down the lives of the Fathers not on parchment, but onto paper, because of the coming generation will change them to suit their own personal tastes. So you see, my child, the evil that comes will be horrible.”

Then the disciple asked: “So, then, Geronda, the traditions and the practices of Christians are going to be changed? Maybe there won’t be enough priests in the Church when these unfortunate times come?”

And the Holy Father continued: “In those times, the love for God in most souls will grow cold and a great sadness will fall upon the world. One nation shall face off against another. Peoples will move away from their own places. Rulers will be confused. The clergy will be thrown into anarchy, and the monks will be more inclined to negligence. The Church leaders will consider anything concerned with salvation—both for their own souls and the souls of their flock—as useless and they will despise any such concern. All will show eagerness and energy for every matter regarding their dining table and their appetites. They’ll be lazy in their prayers and casual in their criticisms. As for the lives and teachings of the Holy Fathers, they will not have any interest to imitate them, nor even to hear them. Rather, they will complain and say, ‘If we had lived in those times then we would have behaved like that.’ And the Bishops shall give way to the powerful of the world, giving answers on different matters only after taking gifts from everywhere and consulting the rational logic of the academics. The poor man’s rights will not be defended; they’ll afflict widows and harass orphans. Debauchery will permeate these people. Most won’t believe in God; they’ll hate each other and devour one another like beasts. They’ll steal from each other; they’ll be drunk and walk about blind.”

The disciple asked again: “What can we do in such a state?”

And Abba Pambo answered: “My child, in those times, whoever will save his soul and prompt others to be saved will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

St. John the Dwarf (d. ca. 405)
St. John the Dwarf (d. ca. 405)

Abba John

Abba John used to say, that he saw in a vision one of the old men in a state of stupefaction, and behold, three monks were standing on the shore of a lake, and a voice came to them from heaven (or from the other shore of the lake), which said, “Take ye wings of fire and come to me”; and two of them took wings of fire and flew over to the other side, even as it was told them. Now the third remained behind, and he wept abundantly, and cried out, and at length wings were given to him also, but they were not of fire like those of his companions, for they were weak and feeble wings, and it was only with the greatest difficulty, and after dropping down into the water, and with most painful exertions that he reached the [opposite] shore. And even so is it with this generation, for although it taketh to itself wings, they are not the powerful wings of fire, but it forceth itself to take weak and feeble wings.

St. Moses the Ethiopian (d. ca 405)
St. Moses the Ethiopian (d. ca 405)

Abba Moses the Ethiopian

Abba Moses, prophesying said, “In the last days of the seventh and a half eon, the monastic state will be completely neglected and in the future, the monks will despise the salvation of their souls. Therefore, the brothers will go about amidst the tumults and troubles: darkened, useless and careless, and they will not cultivate the virtues at all; enslaved in the passions of sin. For where the ancient strugglers burned Satan, that is where Satan is going to burn and set aflame those monks and he will defeat those negligent monks who despise the laws of the monastic life. But where righteousness abounded, there is to abound much more sin and iniquity, because the love of the many will grow cold, and without fear they will be going around the villages with gluttony and wine-drinking, and between the vanity of the world, sinning together in licentiousness and the impurities of the flesh.

“And in those days there will be hate, envy, contentious strivings, and fights in the coenobiums, until murder; likewise, even in the idiorhythmic lavras, from the evils of one towards the other one’s neighbors, on account of the canons and spiritual struggles being neglected.” [NOTE: The fistfight at St. Anthony’s Monastery between two novices from Toronto—the brothers Eleutheris and Demetrios—is still talked about today. As well, the Athonite Fathers who are here in the States still talk about the monk at Filotheou who chased another monk with a knife throughout the monastery ready to murder him].

“They will elect abbots and shepherds: men without virtues, unbelievers, making no progress, anomelies, and uncouth—not discerning the right path from the left, careless and worrying about many things.”

“The abbots will seize their primacy with gifts and will take upon the abbacy without knowing how to catechize and admonish the flock of the brotherhood and without realizing that they should be the type and example in order to benefit their flock. But from such negligence and despisement of the shepherds, they will lead themselves into perdition.”

After these things, the salve of God Moses saw that a cloud and tempest—gloomy, dark, and more fearful temptations—fell upon the monks from the arctic and the monks were persecuted. And because of destructive heresies they will be forced to cast away the monastic schema and get married. Then the few strugglers who were tried as gold and silver in the furnace of many great afflictions, persecutions and grief—those who show themselves tried and victorious over these great afflictions and temptations—will be magnified, glorified, and honored by God more than those who endured the burden of the day and the burning heat and the cold of the night.

After these things, the slave of God Moses saw that the winter of afflictions, temptations and grief of the terrible heresies passed by and there was peace and calm.

Again, however, after the passing of some number of years, the Angelic Order of Monks will become negligent and worse than the first—temptations will rise up again and they will be more violent. He saw how the monks mingled dishonorably with the nuns and that the evil desire was mixed up together with the tyranny, so that even those who didn’t want to were corrupted. But the priests will be polluted with fornications and their prebyteras will commit adultery. Likewise, those men with whom the presbyteras committed adultery will go with other married women.

Then it will be done: The wrath of God consuming every evil generation there with fire, and they will be driven away into eternal fire.

Blessed, then, is whoever does not submit and bow down in the lawless work of debaucheries—which are more violent and heavier sins than murder—but they shall resist and reproach the lawlessness as John the Forerunner and they will be triumphant in reproaching the incest and they will be murdered by the vile, unclean, and licentious people of those times. They will be given comfort and rest in the bosoms of the glorious Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and they will dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven, adorned and gladdened along with all the Saints; whose share and portion may we also acquire through the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

16-quarrel

Abba Silvanus

As Abba Silvanus was sitting with brethren, one day he was rapt in ecstasy and fell with his face t the ground. After a long time, he got up and wept. The brethren besought him, saying, “What is it, Father?”

But he remained silent and wept. When they insisted on his speaking, he said, “I was taken up to see the Judgement, and I saw there many of our sort (i.e. monastics) coming to punishment and many seculars going into the Kingdom.”

st-nifon11

St. Nephon

NOTE: The Life of St. Nephon is one of Geronda Ephraim’s favorite books. He gave his spiritual child, Archimandrite Ignatios Apostolopoulos—who now resides at St. Anthony’s Monastery—an obedience to translate it into English.  It was published in 1989 under the title, Stories, Sermons, and Prayers of St. Nephon: An Ascetic Bishop. Fr. Demetrios Carellas, another spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, wrote the introduction. Geronda Ephraim’s teachings are greatly influenced by this book and he paraphrases St. Nephon’s prophecies and visions in many of his homilies. Geronda Ephraim presents this particular prophecy as being fulfilled right now; i.e. this is the last generation of monks and the end of the world is just around the corner.

“The prophets of the Lord God will not disappear till the end of the world, just as the workers of Satan will never be absent. In the last days, however, all that work truly for Christ will hide from the people wisely. And if they don’t perform signs and wonders like today, nevertheless, they will always walk on the narrow path in all humility. In the Kingdom of God, they will be greater than the wonderworkers, because in their time there will not be anyone performing miracles, to incite them to spiritual struggles, since those who will occupy priestly offices throughout the world will be completely unsuitable and will have no trace of virtue. But the leaders of the monks will also be the same. They will have surrendered to gluttony and vainglory. Consequently, they will constitute more of a stumbling block than a model. That’s why virtue will be neglected. Avarice will reign everywhere. But woe to the monk who will prosper with gold, because they will be disgraced in the eyes of the Lord and will not see the face of God.

Monastics and laymen will lend money with interest. They will not prefer that God multiply it for them through alms to the poor. For this reason, also, if they do not withdraw from this greed, they will sink to the abyss. Then, as I said before, the majority will be misled by ignorance into the chaos of the broad and wide road of perdition.”

jhhh

Tales of Monks and Nuns Who Fell (John Moschos, 7th Century)

NOTE: This article is excerpted from “Leimon” (Spiritual Meadow):

Spiritual Meadow

223. One of the fathers said that in Thessa10nica there was a monastery of virgins. One of them was coerced by the operation of the evil one into going out of the monastery. She went out and fell into lechery by the <machinations> of the demon who scoffed at her until she left <the monastery>. Once she had fallen, she remained some time in sin then finally, undergoing a change of heart by the cooperation of God the good, she came to repentance. <Re>entering her community in order to repent, she fell before the gateway of the monastery-and died. Her death was revealed to one of the holy bishops. He saw holy angels coming to receive her soul and demons in attendance; he witnessed a dialogue taking place between them. The angels were saying: ‘She came in repentance’, but the demons said: ‘She has served us so long a time that she is ours’. Their altercation lasted some time and then the demons, those who obstruct the good, said: ‘She did not get as far as entering the monastery; how can you say she repented?’ In answer <to this> the holy angels said: ‘Insofar as God saw her intention tending in that direction, he accepted her repentance. And she was mistress of repentance by virtue of the goal she set before herself: the Lord of life and the Master of all’. Put to shame by these <words>, the demons withdrew. The holy bishop who witnessed this revelation told it to some people from whom we heard it-and told it to you. In knowledge of this, brethren, let us secure ourselves against giving in to any kind of sinful thoughts. Let us rather resist and fight, especially against <the temptation> to go out of one’s monastery, lest we unwittingly fall well and truly into the snares and nooses of our enemy.

St. John Moschos

242. Abba Peter, the disciple of Abba Isaiah told us:

Once when I was at Abba Macarios’ with my father, Abba Isaiah, some people came from the eighteenth mile-stone out of Alexandria. With them they had a consecrated virgin/widow fearfully possessed by a devil. They begged the elder to have pity and cure her, for the nun was violently devouring her own flesh. When the elder saw her so terribly afflicted and pulling her own flesh to pieces, he made the sign of the cross and reproached the demon. The demon replied to the elder: ‘I will not come out of her; for it was unwillingly and against my own wishes that I went into her. It was your colleague and ally, Daniel, who interceded with God and sent me into her’. The elder said: ‘By what means did you enter into her”! He said: ‘She was my instrument. I taught her to go often to the baths, shamelessly and unblushingly adorned. I shot and wounded many with her <looks>-and her with theirs, ensnaring not only worldlings, but clerics too, and I titillated them, <inciting them> to shameful intercourse with her. By <their> assent to shameful thoughts and by what they saw with their eyes at night (for I made it all visible to them) I trapped them into ejaculation. Now it so happened that the hoary old glutton, Daniel, met her as she was washing at the bath and going back to her cell. He heaved a sigh to God and prayed for her to be sent a correction-for her own salvation, and for the other nuns who lived soberly, that they might be completely enclosed. It was on account of this that I dwelt in her. When the elder heard this, he said: ‘He who handed over can redeem’, and the elder sent them to Abba Daniel.

Tales of Monks Who Fell (Abba John of Lycus)

NOTE: The following tales are from The Lausiac History of Palladius, chapters 44-45:

Lausaic History of Palladius

Chapter XLIV
A TALE OF ABBA JOHN ABOUT SOMEONE WHO FELL

There was a certain monk,” he said, “who lived in the nearer desert, keeping every proper discipline and working for his daily bread. After he had persevered for a long time in prayer and grown in virtue he began to trust in himself alone and in the beauty of his own settled life. The tempter then began to try him as he tried Job, and one evening showed him the image of a beautiful woman wandering in the wilderness. Finding the door open she came right in to his cell, knelt at his feet and begged to be allowed to stay, overtaken as she was by the night. He took pity on her and let her in, which he ought not to have done.

“A further mistake was to question her closely. She told him a long story, sprinkled with all sorts of flattery and falsehood, and spun out the conversation at great length. Little by little, she somehow enticed him on to thoughts of love. They chattered together, laughing and giggling. The way she talked fascinated him; she began to hold his hand, his beard, his neck, and finally captivated this athlete completely. His mind was in a turmoil, a safe opportunity of pleasure was presenting itself, the deed was as good as done, and he gave consent in his mind to all these thoughts. He tried to have intercourse with her like a foolish horse breaking out wildly in search of a mare. She suddenly cried out with a loud voice and vanished out of his hands, as nothing but a sort of shadow. The crowd of demons who had deceived him could now be heard in the air mocking him and laughing, and crying with a loud voice, ‘”He who exalts himself will be humiliated” (Luke 14.11). You were once lifted up into heavenly things, so now will you be cast down into the lowest depths.’

“He spent the night weeping, got up in the morning and continued to lament the whole day through. Despairing of his own salvation (which he ought not to have done) he went back to the world. This is what the devil wants. As soon as he makes a mock of anyone he reduces him to a foolishness from which it is not possible to escape. Wherefore, my sons, it is not good for us to live near the towns, nor to converse with women, lest images of them stay in your mind which you cannot get rid of, images which have been put there by what you have seen and heard. But neither should we let our minds be weighed down, driving us into despair, for those who do not lose hope will not be deprived of the mercy of the merciful God.”

Barren tree

Chapter XLV
A TALE OF THE SAME ABBA JOHN ABOUT SOMEONE WHO WAS LED TO REPENT

There was a certain young man in the city who had done many evil things and sinned gravely. He began to be sorry for his sins, inspired by God, and went into a graveyard where he fell on his face, weeping for his past life, speechless, not daring so much as to call upon God to ask pardon, so little did he estimate his life to be worth. So having shut himself up in a tomb and faced up to the sort of life he had been leading, he groaned from the depths of his being. At the end of a week the demons who had been leading his former life into damnation came shouting at him by night.

“Where is this profane wretch, sated with lust and pleasure-seeking, who now suddenly pretends to be honest and moderate in this untimely manner? Has he got beyond it? Does he now want to be a Christian, with upright and clean habits? As if you could expect anything good to become of you in future, stuffed full as you are with the wickedness we have given you. You are going to get out of here quickly, aren’t you, and return to what we are accustomed to give you. There are lots of brothels and taverns left for you yet. Will you not come and indulge your desires, since there is no other hope left for you? Doubtless judgment will come swiftly, but you are destroying yourself. Why rush madly towards your own punishment? Why are you so intent on being punished before the due time?”

They said much more. “You belong to us. You are enrolled in our company. You are familiar with every kind of wickedness. We all find you disgusting, but will you dare to flee? Aren’t you going to listen to us? Won’t you answer? And come away with us as well?”
He just kept weeping, shutting his ears, replying never a word, however much the demons kept on at him. When they saw that all their continued urgings were having no effect these wicked and disgusting demons took him and laid about him heavily with whips, beating every inch of his body. When they had finished their torment they went away leaving him half dead. He lay where they had left him, unable to move more than anything else. He came to his senses and began groaning again.

When his family came to look for him and learned the reason for what had happened to his body they begged him to return home, but he refused, even when they tried to force him. The next night the demons tormented him again worse than before. To prevent his relations persuading him to go back home they kept telling him that it would be better to die than return to his former sinful ways. On the third night they invaded him with such cruel torments that they pushed him to the limits of endurance and nearly made him give up the ghost. But they saw that he would not give in and they departed leaving him lifeless. As they went they cried, “You have won, you have won, you have won.”

No further harm came to him. For the rest of his life he dwelt simply in that tomb, cleansed of all evil, displaying nothing but pure virtue. He was very precious in the sight of God for his virtues and for the miracles that he did, for he led many to admire him and awakened their zeal to emulate the integrity of his way of life. Thus it came about that many of those who had given up hope for themselves were led into doing good things, and conducted their lives properly. In them the Scripture was fulfilled, ‘He who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Luke 24.11).

So let us practise humility, my sons, the foundation of all virtues. A long spell of solitude at a distance also brings many benefits.

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Numerous other cautionary tales about monks and nuns who fell into delusion or fornication are found in The Lausiac History:

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Corrections of a flagellatory kind, inflicted by force, by Bishops and the heads of Monasteries.

NOTE: The following article is taken from the 4th Chapter of History of Flagellation Among Different Nations. New York: Medical Publishing Co., 1930: pp. 47-53. Though the Abbots and Abbesses don’t inflict flagellation in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, each one has their own form of punishment to humble and correct insubordinates. Geronda Ephraim has stated that Elder Joseph the Hesychast use to hit him and his other monastics; both with his cane as well as with slaps across the face and head, as a form of disciplinary action..

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It must be confessed, however, that though self-flagellation made no part of the rules or statutes in those early stages of Christianity, the same cannot be said of that method of correction, when imposed by force upon such monks as had been guilty of offences, either against the discipline of the order, or against piety: an extensive power of inflicting such salutary corrections, having, from the earliest times, been lodged in the hands of abbots and the superiors of convents.

Nay more, we find that bishops during the very first times of Christianity, assumed the paternal power we mention, even with regard to persons who were bound to them by no vow whatever, when they happened to have been guilty either of breaches of piety or of heresy. Of this, a remarkable proof may be deduced from the 59th Epistle of St. Augustin, which he wrote to the Tribune Marcellinus, concerning the Donatists. St. Augustin expresses himself in the following words: “Do not recede from that parental diligence you have manifested in your researches after offenders; in which you have succeeded to procure confessions of such great crimes, not by using racks, red-hot blades of iron, or flames, but only by the application of rods. This is a method of coercion which is frequently practiced by teachers of the fine arts upon their pupils, by parents upon their children, and often also by bishops upon those whom they find to have been guilty of offences.”

"The application of rods is a method of coercion which is frequently practiced by bishops upon those whom they find to have been guilty of offences."
“The application of rods is a method of coercion which is frequently practiced by bishops upon those whom they find to have been guilty of offences.”

Another proof of this power of flagellation, assumed by bishops in very early times, may be derived from the account which Cyprianus has given of Cesarius, Bishop of Arles; who says, that that bishop endeavoured as much as possible, in the exercise of his power, to keep within the bounds of moderation prescribed by the Law of Moses. The following are Cyprianus’s words: “This holy man took constant care that those who were subjected to his authority, whether they were of a free or servile condition, when they were to be flagellated for some offence they had committed, should not receive more than thirty-nine stripes. If any of them, however, had been guilty of a previous fault, then indeed he permitted them to be again lashed a few days afterwards, though with a smaller number of stripes.”

"When they were to be flagellated for some offence they had committed, they did not receive more than 39 stripes."
“When they were to be flagellated for some offence they had committed, they did not receive more than 39 stripes.”

From the two passages above, we are informed that the power of whipping, possessed by bishops, extended to persons of every vocation, indiscriminately; and with much more reason may we think that those persons who made profession of the ecclesiastical life, were subjected to it. In fact we see that even the different dignities which they might possess in the church, did not exempt them from having a flagellation inflicted upon them by their bishops, when they had been guilty of offences of rather a serious kind; and Pope St. Gregory the Great, moreover, recommended to the bishops of his time, to make a proper use of their authority. In his sixty-sixth Epistle, he himself prescribes to Bishop Paschasius, the manner in which he ought to chastise Deacon Hilary who had calumniated Deacon John. “Whereas,” he says, “guilt ought not to pass without adequate satisfaction, we recommend to Bishop Paschasius to deprive the same Deacon Hilary of his office, and after having caused him to be publicly lashed, to confine him to some distant place; that the punishment inflicted upon one, may thus serve to the correction of many.”

"We recommend that after having caused him to be publicly lashed, to confine him to some distant place; that the punishment inflicted upon one, may thus serve to the correction of many.”
“We recommend that after having caused him to be publicly lashed, to confine him to some distant place; that the punishment inflicted upon one, may thus serve to the correction of many.”

This power of inflicting the brotherly correction of whipping was also possessed by the abbots and priors in all the ancient monasteries; though, at the same time, it was expressly provided by the rules of the different orders, that the same should be assumed by no other persons. “Let no man, except the abbot or him to whom he has intrusted his authority, presume to excommunicate, or flog a brother.”

When the faults committed by monks were of a grievous kind, the abbot was not only charged to correct them by means of his discretionary power of flagellation, but he was moreover expressly directed to exert that power with rigour. In the rule framed by St. Fructuosus, Bishop of Braga, it is ordained with respect to a monk who is convicted of being a liar, a thief, or a striker, “That if, after being warned by the older monks he neglects to mend his manners, he shall, on the third time, be exhorted in the presence of all the brethren, to leave off his bad practices. If he still neglects to reform, let him be flagellated with the utmost severity.” The above rule of St. Fructosus is mentioned by Ecbert, in his Collection of Canons, which together with his Councils of England, has been published by Spelman.

“That if, after being warned by the older monks he neglects to mend his manners, he shall, on the third time, be exhorted in the presence of all the brethren, to leave off his bad practices. If he still neglects to reform, let him be flagellated with the utmost severity.”
“That if, after being warned by the older monks he neglects to mend his manners, he shall, on the third time, be exhorted in the presence of all the brethren, to leave off his bad practices. If he still neglects to reform, let him be flagellated with the utmost severity.”

St. Ferreol, Bishop of Usez, framed a rule for monks, which like that above, makes severe provisions against such monks as are addicted to the practice of thieving. “With regard to the monk who stands convicted of theft, if we may still call him a monk, he shall be treated like him who is guilty of adultery for the second time; let him therefore be chastised with the whip, and with great rigour too. The same punishment ought to be inflicted upon him as upon a fornicator, since it may be justly suspected that his lewdness has induced him to commit theft.”

Committing indecencies with other monks, or with boys, were offences which the Statutes of Convents likewise directed to be punished by severe flagellations; and the above St. Fructuosus, Bishop of Braga, ordered that the punishment should, in the above case, be inflicted publicly. “If a monk,” it is said in his rule, “is used to tease boys and young men, or is caught in attempting to give them kisses, or in any other indecent action, and the fact be proved by competent witnesses, let him be publicly whipped.”

“If the brothers who have been excommunicated for their faults, persevere so far in their pride, as to continue, on the ninth hour of the next day, to refuse to make proper satisfaction to the abbot, let them be confined, even till their death, and lashed with rods.”
“If the brothers who have been excommunicated for their faults, persevere so far in their pride, as to continue, on the ninth hour of the next day, to refuse to make proper satisfaction to the abbot, let them be confined, even till their death, and lashed with rods.”

Refusing to make proper satisfaction to the abbot for offences committed, or in general persevering in denying them, were also grievous faults in the eye of the first founders, or reformers, of monastic orders. In the rule framed fifty years after that of St. Benedict, in order to improve it, the following direction was contained: “If the brothers who have been excommunicated for their faults, persevere so far in their pride, as to continue, on the ninth hour of the next day, to refuse to make proper satisfaction to the abbot, let them be confined, even till their death, and lashed with rods.” Nor is the rule of the above-mentioned Bishop of Braga less severe against those monks whose pride prevents them from making a proper confession of the offences they may have committed. “To him,” it is said in that rule, “who, through pride and inclination to argue, continues to deny his fault, let an additional and severer flagellation be imparted.”

The habit of holding wanton discourses, or soliciting the brethren to wickedness, was also deemed by the founders of religious orders to deserve severe flagellations; and St. Pacom ordered in his rule, which it was said had been dictated to him by an angel, that such as had been guilty of the above faults, and had been thrice admonished, should be publicly lashed before the gate of the convent.

The habit of holding wanton discourses, or soliciting the brethren to wickedness, was also deemed by the founders of religious orders to deserve severe public flagellations
The habit of holding wanton discourses, or soliciting the brethren to wickedness, was also deemed by the founders of religious orders to deserve severe public flagellations

Attempts to escape from monasteries, were, even in very early times, punished by flagellation. We read in Sozomenius, that St. Macarius of Alexandria, Abbot of Nitri in Thebaid, who had five thousand monks under his direction, ordered that chastisement to be inflicted upon those who should attempt to climb over the walls of the monasteries. “If anyone continues in his wickedness, and says, I can no longer bear to stay here, but I will pack up my things and go where God will direct me; let any one of the brothers inform the prior, and the prior the abbot, of the fact; let then the abbot assemble the brothers, and order the offender to be brought before them and chastised with rods.”

"Let then the abbot assemble the brothers, and order the offender to be brought before them and chastised with rods.”
“Let then the abbot assemble the brothers, and order the offender to be brought before them and chastised with rods.”

The holy founders of religious orders have also been very severe in their provisions against such monks as seek for familiarities with the other sex. In the rule of the Monastery of Agaunus, it was ordained, that, “If any monk had contracted the bad habit of looking on women with concupiscence, the abbot ought to be informed of the fact, and bestow upon the monk a corrective discipline; and that, if he did not mend his manners in consequence thereof, he ought to be expelled from the society as a scabby sheep, lest he should ruin others by his example.” The above monastery had been built by Sigismond, King of Burgundy, to the honour of one hundred and twenty Martyrs of the Theban Legion, of which St. Maurice was the commander, under the reign of the Emperor Maximinus.

St. Maurice's Abbey is built on the ruins of a Roman shrine of the 1st century B.C. dedicated to the god Mercury in the Roman staging-post of Agaunum
St. Maurice’s Abbey is built on the ruins of a Roman shrine of the 1st century B.C. dedicated to the god Mercury in the Roman staging-post of Agaunum

The above-quoted rule of St. Fructuosus, is no less severe against those monks who seek for the company of women. In the fifteenth chapter, which treats of the lewd and quarrelsome, it is ordered, that, “If after having received proper reprehensions they persist in their wicked courses, they shall be corrected by repeated lashings.” And St. Columbanus, who is the first who instituted the monastic life in France, and has written a rule as a supplement to that of St. Benedict, also expresses himself with great severity against such monks as are convicted of having barely conversed with a woman in the absence of witnesses; for though there are faults for which he orders only six lashes to be given, yet, in the case here mentioned he prescribes two hundred. “Let the man who has been alone with a woman, and talked familiarly to her, either be kept on bread and water for two days, or receive two hundred lashes.”

http://elfinspell.com/HxFlagellation/Chap4.html

1904 illustration of a medieval Spanish flagellant
1904 illustration of a medieval Spanish flagellant

Children and Orthodox Monasticism (Gerontikon)

NOTE: In Greece, Geronda Ephraim was known to allow children as young as 12 become nuns. Here, until the GOA Charter was established, people as young as 16 were allowed to become monastics in Geronda’s monasteries. Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsas, Abbess of Holy Protection Monastery (PA) originally wanted to become a nun at a very young age. Her parents were so adamantly opposed that they even brought charges against Geronda Ephraim for proselytizing youth. Eventually it was settled and Geronda Ephraim arranged a marriage for her with another spiritual child who wanted to become a monk, Ioannis Voutsas (now Geronda Joseph, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in NY). In the early 90’s, he blessed them to renounce the world and become monastics: Ioannis went to Filotheou Monastery on Mt. Athos and Athena went to Archangel Michael Monastery on Thassos. In a couple of years, they both became superiors of monasteries in North America.

Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsa.
Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsa.

Children in early monasteries lived in a precarious situation, simultaneously cherished and nurtured as a gift from God and vulnerable to the dangers of ascetic discipline and the vicissitudes of the adults around them.

Major monasteries where there were children (Map from Chitty, The Desert A City)
Major monasteries where there were children (Map from Chitty, The Desert A City)

“Do not bring young boys here. Four congregations in Scetis are deserted because of boys.” – Abba Isaac of Nitria

“When you see a cell built close to the marsh, know that the devastation of Scetis is near; when you see trees, know that it is at the doors; and when you see young children, take up your sheep-skins and go away.” – Abba Makarios the Great

Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)
Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)

One of the inhabitants of the Thebaid came to see Abba [Father] Sisoes one day because he wanted to become a monk. The old man asked him if he had any relations in the world. He replied, “I have a son.” The old man said, “Go and throw him into the river and then you will become a monk.” As he went to throw him in, the old man sent a brother in haste to prevent him. the brother said, “Stop, what are you doing?” But the other said to him, “The abba told me to throw him in.” So the brother said, “But afterwards he said do not throw him in.” So he left his son and went to find the old man and he became a monk, tested by obedience. From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Alphabetical Collection

Bielin. Monastery of St Basil of Ostrozh, interior fresco of church, St Sisoes the Great
Bielin. Monastery of St Basil of Ostrozh, interior fresco of church, St Sisoes the Great

Or do you not know that boys especially are not able to continue in virtue unless they are granted some relaxation or small comfort? Pachomius, in the Parilopomena

“It is easier for children to reach this degree, that, being obedient from their earliest age, they may eagerly strain ahead to the things that are before (Phil 3:13) until they reach perfection…. For ground that has been cleared is ready to be planted….” Pachomius, in The Life of Pachomius

“For what constitutes a child? Ignorance. What constitutes a child? Want of instruction; for they are our equals so far as their degree of knowledge permits.” Epictetus, Discourses Book 2

Pachomius “set a little one in the midst of his disciples saying, ‘Anyone who shall receive a young child such as this in my name receives me (see Mt 10:42).’ But as for other little ones who have acquired an evil bent in their [youth] [the ms breaks off for a few words]…. [as Solomon] says, ‘Anyone who lives wantonly from his youth shall become a slave (Prov. 31:21).’ And so my brothers, every young child as well as those who are older whom the Lord has brought to us for the rebirth, let us be zealous … many times, let us teach them….” Tenth Sahidic Life of Pachomius, Fragment 2  

St. Pachomius Great Schema Angel

As for the manner of keeping [the children], there is no need to say many words; one word is sufficient. The man who cleanses his own conscience to perfection (Heb 9:14, 2 Cor 7:1), in the fear of God and in truth, he it is who can keep the little ones with the Lord’s help—for he needs his help. First Greek Vita of Pachomius 49

If someone among the brothers is caught easily laughing and playing with boys and having friendships with those of tender years, he shall be admonished three times to withdraw from their intimacy and to be mindful of honesty and of the fear of God. If he does not desist, he shall receive the very severe punishment he deserves. Pachomian Federation

https://www.scribd.com/doc/255965520/Child-Sacrifice-in-Egyptian-Monastic-Culture

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Stories from the Gerontikon

It was said of a certain Abba Apollo of Scetis, that he had been a shepherd and was very uncouth. He had seen a pregnant woman in the field one day and being urged by the devil, he had said, Ί should like to see how the child lies in her womb.’ So he ripped her up and saw the foetus. Immediately his heart was troubled and, filled with compunction, he went to Scetis and told the Fathers what he had done. Now he heard them chanting, ‘The years of our age are three score years and ten, and even by reason strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble.’ (Ps. 90.10) He said to them, Ί am forty years old and I have not made one prayer; and now, if I live another year, I shall not cease to pray God that he may pardon my sins.’ In fact, he did not work with his hands but passed all his time in prayer, saying, Ί, who as man have sinned, do you, as God, forgive.’ So his prayer became his activity by night and day. A brother who lived with him heard him saying, Ί have sinned against you, Lord; forgive me, that I may enjoy a little peace.’ And he was sure that God had forgiven him all his sins, including the murder of the woman; but for the child’s murder, he was in doubt. Then an old man said to him, ‘God has forgiven you even the death of the child, but he leaves you in grief because that is good for your soul.’

Jeptha the Gileadite sacrifices his daughter to thank his deity for being victorious over the Ammonites in Judges 11.
Jeptha the Gileadite sacrifices his daughter to thank his deity for being victorious over the Ammonites in Judges 11.

There was a monk in Scetis called Abba Carion. He had two children which he left with his wife when he withdrew from the world. Later, there was a famine in Egypt, and his wife came to Scetis, destitute of everything, bringing the two little children (one was a boy, called Zacharias, the other was a girl). She waited in the marsh land, at a distance from the old man. (For there was a marsh beside Scetis, and they had built churches and wells there.) Now it was the custom in Scetis, that when a woman came to talk with a brother or with someone else whom she had to see, that they should sit far away from one another while they talked. So the woman said to Abba Carion, You have become a monk and now there is a famine; who is going to feed your children?’ Abba Carion said to her, ‘Send them to me.’ The woman said to the children, ‘Go to your father.’ When they got close to their father, the little girl ran back to her mother but the boy stayed with his father. Then the old man said to his wife, ‘That is good. Take the little girl and depart; I will look after the boy.’ So he was brought up in Scetis and everyone knew that he was his son. As he grew older, they murmured in the fraternity about him. Hearing of it, Abba Carion said to his son, ‘Zacharias, get up; we will go away from here, because the Fathers are murmuring.’ The young man said to him, Abba, everyone here knows that I am your son, but if we go somewhere else, we can no longer say that I am your son.’ But the old man said to him, ‘Rise, let us go away from here.’ So they went to the Thebaid. There they were given a cell and stayed there several days. But down there the same murmuring recurred about the child. Then his father said to him, Zacharias, get up, we will go to Scetis.’ A few days after their arrival in Scetis once again they murmured about him. Then young Zacharias went to the lake which was full of nitre, undressed, went down to it and jumped in, up to the nose. He remained there many hours, as long as he could, until his body was changed and he became like a leper. He came out, and put on his clothes again and went back to his father who scarcely recognized him. When he went to communion as usual, Abba Isidore, the priest of Scetis, had a revelation of what he had done. When he saw him, he was filled with wonder. Then he said to him, Last Sunday the boy Zacharias came and communicated like a man; now he has become like an angel.’*

Icon of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, Monastery of Stavroniketa
Icon of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Monastery of Stavroniketa

Abba Carion said, Ά monk who lives with a boy, falls, if he is not stable; but even if he is stable and does not fall, he still does not make progress.’

The Sacrifice of Jephthah's Daughter - Icon in the Monastery of St. Catherine
The Sacrifice of Jephthah’s Daughter – Icon in the Monastery of St. Catherine

For further examinations on children and orthodox monasticism, see:

St Anthony's Monastery Arizona Nov03 081