Saturday, 17 May 2014
ABBA STEPHANOS THE HERMIT,
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.