Monday, 1 September 2014

“Trained by war and betrayed by peace”

In 1916, at the age of 17, my great-uncle Tom was killed during the battle of the Somme along with all of his ‘pals’ and another half a million or so boys and young men. Some 70 years later, the medals he had been awarded posthumously were stolen from his elderly sister’s house by teenagers of a different generation.

It’s odd how in those times the young possessed a sense of duty, courage and honour, a long forgotten innocence perhaps that drove them to sacrifice for their country, kin, and the freedoms they sought to defend. What was lacking in their leaders does not lessen their qualities.

How quickly the collective memory fades though, even with another war in between, all is taken for granted, unappreciated, mocked even. A Victorian scholar came to the conclusion that “War is the foundation of all the high virtues and faculties of men” and “that all great nations learned their truth of word and strength of thought in war; that they were nourished in war and wasted by peace, taught by war and deceived by peace; trained by war and betrayed by peace; in a word, that they were born in war and expired in peace."

This is especially true in the Christian life if the daily spiritual warfare we must engage in is not attended to.

The poor and persecuted church, dressed in rags with calloused knees from supplication, knows it’s at war. And it leans in hard to prayer, clings to its saviour, knows it’s only source of hope and strength. And strangely, through those times of strife, the persecuted become more and more open hearted to one another too; in similar fashion to those who lived through wars do; they reminisce about those days when people pulled together, looked out for one another. They are growing ever stronger in faith and virtue.

As the persecuted church is tested by such trials; the western church has a far greater test to endure; prosperity. The peaceful unhindered practice of faith, lives of relative opulence, slumped on the sofa, remote control in one hand and a mug of tea in the other. Smooth knees and calloused hearts ? It takes us on a downward path to complacency and even to an illusory sense of entitlement. This weakens souls and eliminates virtue. It’s an invisible war, but an eternally dangerous one.

Our memory has faded too, we forget what Jesus did for us, fail to appreciate it and take it for granted instead of developing a renewed sense of duty, courage and honour. Called to be vigilant; to pray like our lives depended on it (they do), make sacrifices for others, pass the test of generosity to those in need, be in solidarity in practical helpful ways with our suffering brethren. We are all required to show up for battle each morning, and fight all the day long, for what we believe in, cherish, hope for.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Threshold of horror breached

There is a tendency to become desensitized to horror these days; we can just change channels or switch off. I didn’t think I could be shocked anymore, until this week.

At an event that included a discussion on human trafficking, a religious sister told me of a recent discovery in Cebu. There had been a spate of child disappearances/abductions from the SM shopping mall and then a stroke of luck. One child was taken, but as his parents noticed almost immediately they were able to alert security at all exits and recovered him and the kidnappers were detained.

Investigation by the authorities revealed the purpose of the abductions; human organ trafficking. Not as in previous incarnations where the ‘donor’ is released later minus a kidney; but where every transplantable organ is taken and the rest disposed of. Rather like a butcher obtaining different cuts of meat from a pig, this new breed of criminal masterminds methodically maximizes its profits.

Just to give an idea, black-market prices for organs can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars each; simpler transplant organs like kidneys the cheapest, rarer items like heart and lungs, liver etc even more. So one child, fully harvested could be pushing a million dollars.

If this is not horrifying enough, consider the sophistication of the industry behind this scheme. It requires primarily medical personnel, at the early stages to connect with and offer the illegal service to those needing transplants, then expert surgeons, anesthetists, theatre staff and lab staff. Matching all these people and organs together requires a  complex, multinational network. The ‘donors’ may need to be transported, or what’s left of them kept on life support as some transplants require that the organs are still ‘live’.  

Even in our increasingly God-less age, I am amazed that doctors, nurses; so well educated and already so privileged and from a predominantly Catholic society could plumb such depths of depravity, just for money…

Another trafficking technique is to fool girls into thinking they can have a modelling career or other scam and then sell them to brothels overseas or locally..the film 'Human Trafficking' shows some of the techniques they use .. make sure your teenagers see the full film so as to protect themselves. Trailer below..

Thursday, 19 June 2014

A Clean Sheet .. a story from Padua

Saint Antony received many charisms from God, one of which was preaching in the Holy Spirit. When he spoke, hearts opened to God like flowers to the sun. Saint Francis of Assisi therefore entrusted him with preaching, and teaching his brothers. One of my favorite anecdotes from his life goes like this: One day Saint Anthony was preaching, and a passerby began to listen to him. The man had committed very grave sins and had been making fun of God, but when he heard Anthony's words of grace, his heart was touched and he could feel the incredible love Jesus had for him. Seeing himself loved so much, he began to sob like a little child, and his tears became even more abundant when he thought about all the harm he had done to Jesus with his sins. He then decided to change his life, to follow Jesus with all his heart, and to go to confession.

Upon entering Saint Anthony's confessional, his crying prevented him from uttering a single word. So Anthony suggested that he go back home, write his sins on a piece of paper, then come back to the confessional, and he did. Anthony slowly read the impressive list of sins while the man could only nod as a sign of acquiesce. He still hadn't recover his voice, so strong was the emotion that had seized him. Finally Anthony reassured his penitent and encouraged him to change his life and to live with Jesus according to the Gospel. Then he gave him a penance and the absolution from all of his sins. The man had made peace with God! Anthony carefully folded the paper where the terrible list of sins were written and gave it back to the forgiven sinner who left unburdened and joyful. 

When the man arrived home, he wanted to burn the paper. He unfolded it and to his surprise, he found the paper completely blank! His sins had totally disappeared! Gone! God was caught in the middle of a delicate act of mercy! It is then that the man realized even more the grace of his confession: when God sees that we come to Him with a real contrition, the desire not to sin any more, and the decision to change our ways, He rejoices so much that not only does He forgive us our sins, but He forgets them! They no longer exist! They are washed in the blood of the Lamb and God becomes amnesic of our evil deeds. 

If we have sincere contrition, even the debt caused by the sin is erased, either partly or totally, according to the depth of our repentance. In other words, the pain from having wounded Jesus, The one we love, spares us purgatory, either completely, or partly. Our desert fathers even claimed that the gift of tears is the greatest gift that we can expect from the Holy Spirit. It is a burning love, a most blessed burn because it opens wide the gates of Heaven!  

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


During the times of Pope Benjamin of Alexandria, there lived a righteous man in a village called "Queens Village". This village was later named Tida and was renowned for the sweetness of its natural water. 

The Lord enlightened this man's eyes; leading him in the way of solitude. So he arose and went to Pope Benjamin seeking his blessings and advice on the life of solitude with the Lord Jesus Christ. His Holiness prayed on him and directed him to a small cell made of stone beside the sea-shore. Because of its positioning, the cell overlooked the sea and the surrounding countries. The Lord guided and guarded this saint in his life of solitude and isolation, and many people went to visit him in his cell for the purpose of taking his blessings. 

In the year prior to the enthronement of the patriarch, an army sent by King Herakel invaded and possessed Syria, and later invaded and assigned a governor in Egypt. The king ordered the patriarch to leave the Orthodox faith or else he would be killed. Accordingly, the patriarch went into hiding. Likewise the Christians were told to deny their faith, or else they too would die. Some, out of fear, obeyed while others obeyed verbally, but not by heart. Great sorrow overshadowed all Christians during this time. 

The governor was aware of an ascetic living in an isolated cell beside the seaside, so he ordered his soldiers to find him and bring him back by force. Because of the saint's perfect love and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, he knew by the Spirit of what was taking place, and after finding him, the soldiers ordered that he believe in the heresy of King Marcoban voiced at the council of Chalcedon. The saint prayed to the Lord to deliver him and protect him from the hands of the heretics and so the Lord listened to his prayer and caused the soldiers to fall into a deep sleep and become as drunkards. The saint was then hidden from their eyes and so when they awoke and returned to the governor, they reported the ascetic was nowhere to be found. After this incident, the saint arose and ventured into the wilderness to live in and share a cave with wild beasts which rested in it during the heat of the day, and took shelter in the cold of the night. Though wild, they never attacked the saint, but rather, loved him and were friendly to him. Having not eaten for many days, his body became so weak that he could not stand to pray, so he asked the Lord to provide him with bodily food so that he may have the strength to stand up in reverence and pray. While he was praying for this, a wild cow approached him, screaming as if from pain. The saint noticed it laden with milk, so he took from his cave a shell into which he emptied the milk, and immediately the cow was relieved of its pain. The saint gave thanks to God for His tender mercies, and then drank from the cow's milk. This cow returned to the saint every three days, and the saint fed on its sweet milk for ten years without feeling the need for eating or drinking anything else. 

The evil one observed all that was happening and how the saint was growing in spirituality and in the fear of God daily, and he became enraged with envy. For this reason, the devil appeared to him in the form of a frightening beast hoping to distract him from his prayers, but when the saint called upon the Lord and crossed himself, the evil one vanished. Again the devil appeared to him as a vicious beast, wanting to attack him. But the Lord who gives His children power over the enemy, enabled him to overcome through the power of the Holy Cross. These incidences kept happening for a long time, and so the saint thought to himself, "I must have sinned in the sight of the Lord in this place, and so He must want me to leave this cave and go to another, and I, His faithful servant must do His will." So he got up and moved to a nearby cave, where again the enemy appeared to him as a hermit dwelling in the cave. The saint was so happy when he saw the old hermit, but was surprised when he neither spoke to him or approached him. The saint thought the hermit to be very holy and spiritual from his many years in ascetism, and therefore did not want to disturb his peace by speaking. The saint spent the night thinking about him, and as he fell asleep he saw someone in a vision warning him about the old hermit, "for he is the devil who wants to take you away from your Lord. He may have power to fight your body, but he has no power over your soul." The vision then disappeared and the saint woke up suddenly and frightened. He looked around for the hermit in the dark of the night, but could not find any trace of him. Assured that he was the enemy and that he will continue to attack, the saint armoured himself for battle and said, "I will not leave this cave!" As he thought about what had just happened, he heard at the cave's entrance the sounds of galloping horses, and words he could not comprehend. So he went out to look and saw a great number of soldiers all mounted on horses, dressed in black with their faces covered.

They were not looking towards him, so he assumed these soldiers must have lost their way and are undoubtedly looking for their enemies. When one of the soldiers saw him standing at the cave's entrance, he approached the saint: "Man, are you living in this cave?" The saint answered, "Yes". He said, "Tell us then which way our enemies have gone so that we may follow them and destroy them." The saint replied, "I have never seen anyone in this wilderness for as long as I have lived here." The soldier turned to him and questioned, "What then do you feed on?" to which the humble saint responded, "The grass of the wilderness is my food." In a fit of anger, the soldier condemned him saying, "You're lying to me, you know where our enemy has gone!" Having said this, he dismounted his horse, took the saint and tied his hands and feet to a tree which stood in the wilderness, and whipped him bitterly. As he continued beating him, the other soldiers approached him asking, "Why are you punishing this weak man? He has no money and no food to give us." One of the other soldiers came down from his horse and said to the saint, "I will save you from this pain and from this evil soldier, if you tell me where our enemy has gone." Again the saint replied, "I do not know where your enemy has gone." So this soldier, in turn whipped the saint with great hostility. When they lost hope in him, one of the soldiers took the bound saint and threw him on the back of his horse and rode to the top of a mountain. "Here we will throw you from the highest mountain top so that you may die the worst death, and your body be shredded and eaten by wild beasts!" But when they noticed the saint not responsive, they threw him on the ground and departed. After gaining consciousness, he wanted to return to his cave, but he could not find his way. He then realised that the soldiers were devils whose intention was to fight with humans and lead them into temptation. When he prayed to the Lord and made the sign of the Holy Cross on his face, a path suddenly opened up in front of him, leading him down the mountain to his cave. As he reached the bottom of the valley, the devil came to him again dressed in black and mounted on a red horse. The saint thought he must be the king's messenger travelling to a far country, and so he wanted to hide from this soldier. But when the evil one approached him he asked, "Why do you try to run from me? I am going to the land of Morocco with a letter from the king and I ask you to show me the quickest way to get there. I will give you food and clothing for directing me." The saint answered, "I am not familiar with direction, for I have lived in the wilderness for many years and have always longed for solitude so that I may lead a repentant life and not die in my sin." So the devil dismantled, took a rope and tied his hands and feet and beat him bitterly. The saint said to him, "You are asking me for something I know nothing about." The devil then threw the saint, bound on the back of his horse with the intention of taking him back into the world and proclaiming, "I found this man in the wilderness, searching for something that should never be (repentance), and looking for precious minerals (gold, which is Jesus Christ)." The devil's idea was to take the saint out of the wilderness so that he would not think of repentance. But as the soldier was about to leave, the Lord enlightened the saint's eyes, and so he realised it was the devil again; the hater and tempter of the godly. The saint immediately made the sign of the cross, and the devil was swallowed up into the earth with his horse. After praying throughout the night, the saint finally fell asleep. However, the devil never left him alone. He came to him as a solid wall, tumbling down on top of the sleeping saint. The saint woke up instantly and frightened, but couldn't find anyone or anything because it was so dark. He got up and began feeling the earth and the walls of the cave, when suddenly the devil grabbed his right ankle and aggressively dragged him and threw him about the cave's ground. Distressed over this vicious attack, the saint screamed...but no one answered. After great strugglewith this evil presence, the saint crossed himself and at once the devil left him. One night after he finished praying, he heard a man calling him by the name Pope Benjamin gave him: "Kyriakos, beloved of God, get up and follow me!" The saint thought to himself, "That's strange, I have never heard a voice like this before." So he arose and went to see where this voice was coming from. At the entrance of his cave, he saw a man resembling an angel with two wings. The saint said to him, "You disturbed me and worried me from my sleep; I do not want to follow you, perhaps you are the devil who tempts and destroys humans; depart from me!" and at the sign of the cross, he found him no more.

Another time when he went into his cave at night to pray, he knelt on the ground and stumbled on a great, black, cold body which felt bigger and more fearful than a dragon. It clung to the saint's neck, and he tried to lift up his head to scream, but could not. In his encounter with this beast, the saint realised that it was an evil presence, and so pleaded with the Lord to save him from it. God at once answered his plea by sending His angel to save the saint and cast out the beast. In all his trials, God was testing this saint's faith and patience, and when He knew the purity of his heart and his faithful and devoted love towards Him, He strengthened him and saved him from the evil one. 

Look my friends to what extent this pure saint suffered from Satanic wars, and consider his patience, love and faith in Christ Jesus in overcoming the enemy..! Our father Abba Benjamin the Patriarch said, "I have often wondered about this recluse and what God has done with him. I prayed that God might reveal to me whether he was alive or not." On the Sunday following the resurrection, I, Pope Benjamin,was praying in St. Mark's Cathedral church in Alexandria, when I noticed a monk dressed in worn out clothes, entering and standing in one of the church's corners. Immediately I told one of my disciples, "Go quickly and stand near that weak man!" I also ordered another disciple to go with him, "Don't remove your eyes from him for a moment, or else you won't find him!"When the Pope finished the mass, he asked his two disciples to take the monk to his cell. On arrival the Pope greeted the saint, but did not recognise him. When food was brought to him, he pretended to eat, but didn't. The Pope noticed this and when they were alone, he asked him, "Saintly father, where did you come from and where are you going?" The saint did not have the heart to hide anything from the patriarch, so he answered, "I am your son who dwelt in the cell in Tida and Efragon, and you are aware of all that had happened to me during that time. I have since been living in the wilderness." The Pope lowered his eyes to the ground and cried, "Bless me Father Kyriakos, for I glorify the Lord who allowed me to see you again, and thanks be to God who heard my prayer, and did not turn me away from Him, for I have asked of Him to reveal to me whether you are alive. Please bless me!" I asked the saint to tell me all that had happened to him, and so he revealed all. I asked Isezoros the writer to record the story of this saint, as it was told. Abba Kyriakos stayed with me for three days before returning to his place in the wilderness.

He told me God revealed to him that after four months, he will die in his cave, so I made note of his hour of deliverance to Paradise, and as the day approached, I directed Simon the bishop of Rasheed, and Tidor the bishop of Atreeb and Khael the bishop of Dimyat to go to the place instructed to them. I sent with them a guide to lead the way, and gave them food, drink and horses for transportation. Isezoros the writer and deacon also accompanied them on the journey to attend the saint's departure and bury his pure body. 

Along the way the devil appeared to them as a wild beast charging forward to attack them. From fright, they lost their sense of direction, but the saint saw them from afar frightened and lost in the wilderness and so he came forth and comforted them. When the saint took them into his cave, they told him all that had happened along the way. The saint explained to them that this beast was the devil; the one from whom he had had many trials... 

The saint knew by the spirit that these fathers were sent to bury his body after departure, so they remained with him for two days. On the third day, this pure, beautiful saint passed over into the Paradise of his fathers the saints. The bishops buried him with great reverence, and in a manner instructed to them by the Patriarch.

Isezoros the writer, who wrote the life story of Abba Kyriakos, as I Pope Benjamin told it, added to it what he saw and experienced during the time of the saint's departure, and the wonders which were revealed when his spirit departed his precious body.

Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit now and forever, Amen.

Saturday, 17 May 2014


In the wilderness of El Fayoum. Listen my friends and I will tell you what I witnessed with my own eyes and heard with my own ears...

One day, I was wandering in the wilderness and meditating on its valleys, mountains, and many wild beasts which become tame to humans. So I gave thanks to the Lord... As I ventured through the wilderness, I noticed many different trees and springs. Under one of the trees I found a skull which had turned white from the extreme heat and cold of the wilderness climate. I glorified the Lord and wondered who this skull belonged to and what life that person lead. I wished it had a tongue so that it could reveal to me what it is now experiencing. I looked towards the east and prayed to God, asking him to reveal to me its secret.

Before I had finished my prayers I heard a voice calling, "Father Stephanos, listen to me and remember my words for it will be a warning to you and your brothers.Warn them about the fearful judgement day; woe to those who don't pray and are not vigilant, for in the great day of the resurrection of bodies, no brother will defend his brother, nor father his son, but faithful work and mercy will bring one closer to God. Prayer lightens up brightly like a lantern, so beware and do not tarry. Tell my words to all in the hope that they will learn and so avoid coming to the place where I am; in torment and unquenchable fire and restless worms... My story is that I was a greedy merchant and even though I had a lot of money and treasures, I envied everybody and never gave money to the poor. I had no mercy on anyone and never prayed. Nothing I did pleased or glorified the Lord. I had good sons who loved all people and carried out many acts of love and mercy. They advised me to do good, but I refused to listen and thus did not give them access to my money. But despite the fact that I had great possessions, I was never satisfied with what I had...

One day I travelled to a distant country, for the purpose of trading. I took camels and servants, and was prepared to spend time during my journey in an oasis. I hired a guide for direction and took lots of money and goods for trade.After one day of travelling through the wilderness, the guide lost his sense of direction, and so for three days we roamed about the wilderness, not knowing where we were going. Woe to him whom God is not his leader! The morning heat was scorching, so the camels died, the servants escaped and I was left alone. The love of worldly possessions and luxuries prevented me from seeking shelter in a cave, so I stayed for three more days eating from the food remaining, until there was nothing left. I felt as if I was about to die, and I was very disturbed at how quickly life was disappearing considering I had done no good deeds to save me, and I had no power to raise myself up out of my present misery.

The next day, my eyes became heavy, so that I could no longer see, and on the third day my eyes opened, and I saw a very frightening angel, holding a sword of fire and from his mouth he breathed fire. He ordered my soul to leave my body, and after grabbing it, he gave it to the devil. So they stabbed my soul with a fork and brought me to this place of torment where I was thrown and left alone... I saw in the bottomless pit an old man whom I knew in the world and his deeds were just as bad as mine...he too was being tormented. I asked him for what reason he was cast here, and he said, "My terrible deeds..."

Suddenly I heard great thunder which no one on earth could bear hearing, and there he was, the angel in charge of torment. He grabbed me and cast me into Hades, where I remain until this hour." I Stephanos asked him, "Can you see those in Paradise?" He answered, "No one can see them, for between us and them is an unmeasurable distance. Woe to me and that hour when neither money nor possessions nor children saved me... So take heed to my words Father Stephanos, never delay to do good or pray, and alert all people to my words. I was always disobedient to my parents, and a lover of worldly desires. I never lived according to the commandments, and never had faith in Jesus Christ, even though I knew all along that the Lord who came into this world was incarnated of the Virgin Mary, and was resented by His own. I knew that through faith, the Holy Baptism and the sacrament of Holy Communion one could be saved, but because of my pride, I refused to abide in them. Never neglect these gifts!" He repeated these words three times and said, "I have been ordered to speak these words to you!" Then he ceased to speak.

I, Stephanos, took the skull into the cave, dug a hole and buried it. I then went to my brethren and told them all the things which took place. Together we prayed and asked the Lord our God to make us worthy to live in obedience, according to His will; to live in the hope of eternal life with our Saviour Jesus Christ, which has been promised to us after the resurrection of the dead. To Him is everlasting glory, amen.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Abba Stratios the hermit

During the reign of one of the Orthodox kings over Rome, there lived a Roman prince who was responsible for one hundred soldiers. Filled with the grace of God, he expressed to the king his desire to leave this materialistic world and seek the company of God as a monk in the wilderness.

He sailed to Alexandria and then travelled on foot to Tor Sinai...This took place two hundred years after the death of Abba John Aklimakos, the writer of 'The Ladder of Virtues of the Sinai Fathers, and Abba Anastasi of Sinai, the guardian of monks'. During Abba John's time, there were two hundred and fifty monks residing in the Sinai monastery. Abba Stratios dwelt in this monastery in strict ascetism; being fervent in spirit and in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so he was clothed with the 'eskeem' of monasticism.

After spending several years living within the monastery and serving his fellow brothers with sincere love, he asked his spiritual father for his blessings and permission so that he may venture into the wilderness to dwell there. He left, taking with him a head covering and a palm branch and went praising God saying, "I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1,2).

He kept walking until the Lord led him to a cave within the inner wilderness, and there he dwelt, in strict ascetism and fervencies and relentless spiritual struggle. He fed on the grass which grew on nearby rocks and drank fresh water from natural springs. He spent all his days praying and fasting, and only when he felt the need, would he feed upon a handful of grass and a mouthful of water. He lived as such for twelve years...

The Lord revealed to him that after forty days, he will depart from this temporary world and be united with the beloved Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole host of saints and angels. When Stratios felt the hour of his death approach, he made the sign of the cross in the wind and immediately the wind carried him and brought him safely inside the monastery. There he met his spiritual father who had aged very much, and when he saw Stratios, he asked, "Who are you?" The saint replied, "I am your son Stratios, who resided with you in this monastery twelve years ago...I have come to you because my hour of deliverance is at hand, and I would like to spend the rest of my time on earth, here with my fathers in this monastery." His spiritual father embraced him with joy, then called all the monastery fathers to him, by ringing the bells.

Immediately the fathers gathered and when they saw their fellow brother and hermit Stratios, they all rejoiced. They gave him a separate cell, and after he entered, he closed the door...he then left the monastery without anyone seeing him, and went straight to the tomb of Abba John Aklimakos, the writer of the Sinai Fathers and Abba Anastasi. He knelt at Abba John's tomb so that the prayers of these blessed saints who lived two hundred years before him, may help him. As he was kneeling and praying an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, "Stratios, the two saints John and Anastasi have come to you to bless you, O pure saint, before you depart from this world." Stratios immediately turned and saw the two saints saying to him, "We will also be present during your deliverance and the release of your soul, and we will pray for you in the cell your fellow brothers have given you." Having said this, they departed and Stratios returned to his cell.

He did not tell anyone of the things which took place, except his disciple to whom he said, "My son, after thirty seven days pass, open the door of my cell, as it will be the day of my not be neglectful in this command, for I want you to bury my body..."

As the day approached, they knocked on his door, but no one answered. So they pushed open the door of his cell and found him kneeling and covered from head to toe in rough cloth...Beside him they found a censor filled with coal and burning of sweet smelling incense. This signified that the hermit fathers had come to pray on him...

The monastery fathers prayed on him, then buried him with great reverence and honour in the place where their saintly forefathers had been laid. From his pure body came the beautiful scent of incense, which was a blessing to many. To our Lord be all glory, honour and worship now and unto the end of all ages, amen.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Anthony of Eygpt ... short story

Another report testifies that our monk was endowed with supernatural gifts that enabled him to observe hidden and distant events....

In the case of our Desert Father, the incident once occurred. Two men were on the way to visit Anthony when they ran out of water. One of them died, while the other lay down on the ground and was waiting likewise for death. At the same time Anthony on his mountain summoned two monks who were his guests and instructed them, “Take a jar of water, and quickly take the road to Egypt. Two brothers were on the way here, but one is already dead and the other one soon will be if you do not hurry. This was just now revealed to me while I was praying” [59.2-3]. The rescue of the man dying of thirst was successful.

The saint often foresaw the arrival of visitors days in advance and could even tell the purpose of their visit. Occasionally Anthony could also observe the purely spiritual, invisible world and thereby gained insights into the personal destiny of the human soul after death and separation from the body. He was sitting one day on the mountain and suddenly spied in the air a man who was being led upward and was welcomed by others who were overjoyed. It was simultaneously revealed to him that it was the soul of the monk Amoun, who lived in Nitria, a thirteen days' journey distant from Anthony. One can imagine the amazement of his friends when Anthony told them that the monk, with who they were acquainted, had just died. About a month later brothers came from Nitria and were able to confirm that Amoun had died at precisely the hour when Anthony had seen his soul travel to heaven. In further visions the saint saw the fate of the human soul after death."

Tuesday, 29 April 2014


Abba Bebnoda once said: I wanted to venture into the inner wilderness for the sake of receiving the blessings of the hermit fathers. I took some bread and water and walked for four days.My bread and water had finished, but I continued walking for a further four days until I was fraught with fear and the thought that I was going to die. With the little strength that was left in me, I stood to pray. With the Lord's encouragement, I continued walking for a few more days until I became extremely hungry and thirsty, and in exhaustion I fell to the ground. I opened my eyes and found a person standing before me. He touched my lips with his fingertips and immediately my strength was renewed. After walking continuously for another four days, I once again felt drained of any energy, so I lifted up my hands and prayed to the Lord. Before me approached the person I had seen before. Once more he touched my lips and my body and again my strength returned.After God granted me this wonderful miracle, I journeyed for a further seventeen days within the wilderness. In the distance I noticed a very strange looking man who wore no clothes, but the hair on his body covered him like a cloak. As he approached me, I became very frightened and so I ran to the top of the mountain; I thought that perhaps he may be a mountain lion. He remained at the foot of the mountain, but lifted his face towards me and said, "Come down my brother Bebnoda and do not be afraid, for I am a man like you and I have dwelt in this wilderness for many years because of my love for Christ." I was astonished he knew my name, but felt that indeed he was filled with the Holy Spirit, so at once I descended and knelt before him.

As we sat together, I asked him to tell me about his life. He humbly responded, "My name is Noufer, and I have dwelt in this wilderness for the past sixty years, living in the fear of God. The beasts are my friends and with them I share my cave. I feed upon wild grass and these fruit-bearing trees and you are the first person I have seen in sixty years." After a brief pause, he continued: "I began my spiritual life as a monk in the Barida Monastery where one hundred and forty monks lived together in love and harmony. Daily we ate together and praised together, and the peace of our Lord filled our hearts. At that time, I was still in my youth and diligently I learnt and observed the virtues and wisdom of my saintly fathers, for they resembled the angels of God. One day I heard my fathers speaking about the desert fathers who dwell within the wilderness. They said that these fathers speak to God as if face to face, just like Elijah and John the Baptist, so curiously I asked, "How could these desert fathers be of higher spirituality than yourselves?" They answered, "My son, they are the ones who are found just and righteous in the sight of God; we are nothing in comparison for we live a communal life - eat and drink when we feel the need, are served when we feel weak and we console one another in times of depression. But as for the desert dwellers, they have none of this. From the start of their ascetic life, they roam the wilderness in the intense heat of the day and the bitter coldness of the night. They suffer from the severity of hunger, thirst and exhaustion, and face relentless spiritual struggles and Satanic wars. But all this they endure patiently and willingly because of their great love for our Lord Jesus Christ and in expectation of their heavenly reward. Because of their perseverance and their strong faith, the Lord sends His angels to administer and serve them, just as it is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet, "Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint...when [they] seek water and there is none...I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in desolate heights and fountains in the midst of valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water..." (Isaiah 40:31, 41:17-18), and also in the Psalms of King David we aretold "The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them and delivers them out of all their troubles" (Ps 34:17).

Abba Noufer then said to me, "Abba Bebnoda, as I heard these words, my heart was enlightened, and so that night I packed enough bread to last me three days and went forth from the monastery in the hope that the Lord will lead me to the place He has chosen for me. As I left the monastery gate by night, I found standing before me a person full of light. I was very frightened and wanted to quickly return to my cell within the monastery. The lighted person approached me saying, "Do not be afraid for I am the angel of the Lord; I have been with you from your childhood, and I will accompany you always."Together we walked side by side for about seven miles through the wilderness.

I then continued journeying alone until I reached a small cave,so I knocked on the door and said, "Bless me my father!" A saintly father with the face of an angel emerged from within the cave with a warm smile. I knelt at his feet, but he raised me up saying, "May the Lord bless you my dear friend Noufer, please come in." I remained with him for a few days in order to learn and benefit from his spirituality and wisdom. He taught me how I should spend my time each day and he strengthened and forewarned me of the Satanic wars which I shall face. Finally he said to me, "My son, you too must face spiritual struggles, so arise and venture deep within the inner wilderness, and there spend your time in prayer and praise, for the Lord has called you to live an ascetic life." The saintly father accompanied me for four days until we found a deserted fortress and beside it was a fruit bearing palm tree. He turned to me and said, "Noufer, this is the place which God has chosen for you to serve Him in." The hermit father remained with me for a month, during which time he instructed me in the ways of virtues and godly deeds which I was to apply in my life of ascetism. We continued meeting one another once a year, until he passed away to the Heavenly Kingdom. I buried him with great respect and reverence in the place where he spent his life worshipping God. I Bebnoda then asked Abba Noufer, "Did you face any trials or hardships when you began your life of hermitage in the wilderness?" to which he replied, "Believe me my beloved brother, I have faced death many times; from hunger, thirst,extremes in temperature to the extent that my body withered, but I was patient and endured all things. Many times the devil would appear and torment me, but my Lord Jesus Christ,blessed be His name, would comfort me and save me from the traps of the enemy. This palm tree produces twelve baskets of dates a year, and each basket feeds me for a month. I also eat wild grass and because of God's great love, He makes the grass taste as sweet as honey in my mouth. Now my brother Bebnoda, let us go to the place where I live."

We walked for about three miles through the wilderness until we reached his fortress, and its nearby palm tree. After we stood to pray, we sat together and spoke about the many wonders of God. As the sun began to set, I saw before the entrance of the fortress a loaf of bread and a jug of water. Abba Noufer said to me, "Get up my brother and eat this bread and drink this water, for you have suffered greatly along the way to find me." We shared the meal and even though we ate until we were satisfied, there was plenty left over. We then stood to pray and remained praying throughout the night. The following day I looked at Abba Noufer's face and found it had become like fire. I was very frightened, but he turned to me and said, "Do not be afraid brother Bebnoda, for our beloved Lord Jesus Christ has sent you to me so that you may take care of and bury my body, for the hour of my deliverance quickly approaches." I bebnoda then asked him, "Father, do you think that the Lord will make me worthy enough to live within your dwelling place after your blessed departure?" But he replied,"My dear son, the only reason the Lord had in leading you here is to bury my body, and then return to your monastery to tell your fellow brothers the monks all the wonders you have seen,for in so doing they may praise and glorify our Father in heaven." I knelt before him and said, "Bless me my saintly father; may God be merciful to me and make me worthy of seeing you once again in His Heavenly Kingdom." Abba Noufer remained praying on me for a long while, then he turned to pray for himself with many tears before lying on the ground with his hands outstretched, and quietly he released his spirit. It was the 16th day of the blessed month of Baouna, and I Bebnoda saw before me a whole host of angels praising and singing as they carried the soul of the pure saint Abba Noufer saying, "Pure is your soul Noufer, for it is without blemish; so let us present it as a beautiful 'korban' to Christ our Lord, the King of Glory!" Immediately I took the tunic I was wearing and tore it in two. I wrapped the body of the blessed father Abba Noufer with one piece, and covered myself with the other. I placed his body in a small stone cave, and prayed on him before sealing the cave's entrance.

The same hour Abba Noufer departed, the palm tree withered and fell, and the fortress which was his home crumbled to the ground. It was then that I realised the strength of Abba Noufer's words when he told me that it was not God's will that I remain in his place.

I ate the bread which was left over from the meal we shared together and drank the rest of the water. I then stood to pray before returning to the monastery. Suddenly, the person who had come to me at the beginning of my journey and touched my lips, again returned to me. He strengthened and encouraged me and so I left Abba Noufer's blessed place glorifying the Lord through His beloved saint Abba Noufer the hermit. May his blessings be with us all, amen.