Friday, December 05, 2008

The History of the Blessed Man Hor

Palladius speaks of a Nitrian monk who died shortly before his arrival named Hor, who never told a lie or spoke an oath, and never spoke at all beyond what was absolutely necessary.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The History of Abba Ammon

Arsisius tells Palladius of the monk Ammon, who was orphaned at age twenty-two and compelled to marry. He and his wife lived for eighteen years as brother and sister, and then parted ways to both become monastics. Ammon at this time departed to Nitria, where there were yet no monasteries, and became a founder of monasticism in that region.

Palladius reports a story from St. Athanasius' history of Abba Anthony, of a time when Abba Ammon needed to cross a river called "the Wolf" and was carried over by an angel.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Concerning the Monks who lived in Nitria

Palladius departs from Alexandria and crosses the lake Mareotis to dwell for a year at Mount Nitria. He meets many monks there, and hears of the desert hermits. Near the church were several bakers who provided for the community, and anyone who came and wished to work was invited to join for a year or two. Three whips hung from a palm tree: the first to punish "monks who transgress in folly," the second for thieves, and the third for strangers who "transgress in any manner whatsoever" (99). Every evening the entire community gathered to sing the Psalms. In Nitria Palladius meets the monk Arsenius, who tells him of the saints of that place.
The History of Abba Macarius the Alexandrian and a Certain Virgin

Palladius tells of an Alexandrian virgin who was quite rich but gave nothing to the poor or to the Church, saying that she needed all her money to provide for her niece's wedding. A priest named Macarius, who had been a jewelsmith in his youth, decided to show the virgin the folly of her ways. He approached her saying that he was in possession of some valuable emeralds and gems which the owner would sell for only five hundred dinars. The sale of just one emerald, he assured her, would bring her more than five hundred dinars which she could use on her niece's wedding. She gave Abba Macarius the money and asked him to buy the gems on her behalf.

Abba Macarius took the money and spent it on the poor. The virgin waited a long time to ask him about the money, because he was a well-respected man nearly one hundred years of age. But she finally inquired and he invited her to come to his house and see the gems and emeralds he had purchased for her. He showed her women in his care who were diseased and deformed and said, "these are the gems," then showed her the men and said, "these are the emeralds. If these please thee [good and well]; but if not take thy money" (98). She was ashamed and became grateful to the priest Macarius. Meanwhile, the niece she had been saving up her money for ended up dying.
The History of the Maiden Alexandra

Didymus tells of an Alexandrian maiden named Alexandra who "shut herself up in a tomb until the end of her life" (95). And "the blessed woman Melha" tells of once asking through a window why Alexandra had shut herself up. When she was young, Alexandra had devoted her live to God as a nun, and was grieved when a young man fell in love with her. So she chose to shut herself up rather "than to cause a man who was made in the form of the image of God to stumble." (96)
The History of Didymus

In Alexandria Palladius met an old blind man named Didymus who, though he had little formal education, was thoroughly versed in Scripture and in "the belief of the truth." Didymus asked Palladius to pray in his cell and when Palladius refused, the old man told him of a time when Abba Anthony had come to pray in his cell. "Thou also, if thou wishest to walk in his footsteps and [to imitate him] in [his] life and deeds... remove thyself from contention." (95)
The History of the Virgin Potamiaena

Abba Isidore tells Palladius a story that he had heard from St. Anthony of a young virgin named Potamiaena who was the servant of a wealthy Alexandrian who wanted to sleep with her. Because she refused, he handed her over to the prefect Basilides revealing that she was a Christian. She survived many tortures and, when threatened with death, continued to refuse submitting to her master's desires and instead confessed Christ. She was dipped in boiling pitch which immediately grew cold and so she died a martyr's death along with many other Alexandrian Christians in the reign of Septimius Severus.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Homily Four

Acts 2:1-13

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.

Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.

And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.

There they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?

"And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?

"Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

"Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes

"Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God."

So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "Whatever could this mean?"

Others mocking said, "They are full of new wine."


I'm interested by the phrase "all with one accord" and would like to look this up in Greek. (ομοθυμαδον : homo-thema-ADV, or homothemously, or "with one theme")

It's interesting to note that when the apostles began speaking "in tongues," they were all using real human languages. The didn't know these languages, but yet they were using them. I'm wondering now about the tradition among some groups of "speaking in tongues" which usually implies something other than a human language. Are there Scriptural roots to this practice?

And it's worth noting what the apostles said in all these languages-- they proclaimed the wonderful works of God.


Chrysostom begins his homily by asking why the coming of the Holy Spirit came about with "sensible tokens." For two reasons, he says-- first that, if even with miraculous sounds there were still some who thought the apostles were drunk, then without any signs none would have believed. And secondly, that the loud sound like a rushing wind was so startling that it brought people all together out into the streets, where they could see the apostles.

Chrysostom notes that the tongues like fire were "cloven"-- that is, all distributed from one source, and that they came upon all apostles-- not just the Twelve, but the entire 120. "Observe now," says Chrysostom, "how there is no longer any occasion for that person to grieve, who was not elected as was Matthias." (25)

The circumstances of Pentecost bear note: "Observe, how when one is continuing in prayer, when one is in charity, then it is that the Spirit draws near." (26)

And Chrysostom notes that not only were people from diverse countries amazed at the apostles' speaking in their own tongue, but they were also amazed by the content of that speech: "we do hear them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." (26)

The apostles, upon receiving the Holy Spirit, responded better than their predecessors in hearing God's call:

they said not, they were "weak in voice, and of a slow tongue." For Moses had taught them better. They said not, they were too young. Jeremiah had made them wise. (27)

The rest of the sermon is about Peter's particular role in this event.

[The eleven] expressed themselves through one common voice, and he was the mouth of all... He who had not endured the questioning of a poor girl, now in the midst of the people, all breathing murder, discourses with such confidence, that this very thing becomes an unquestionable proof of the Resurrection... For wherever the Holy Spirit is present, He makes men of gold out of men of clay. (28-29)

The conclusion of the homily compares Peter to the Greek philosophers; comparing Plato and Pythagoras unfavorably-- despite all their learning and airs-- to the "uncouth rustic" of Bethsaida:

Where now is Greece, with her big pretentions? Where the name of Athens? Where the ravings of the philosophers? He of Galilee, he of Bethsaida, he, the uncouth rustic, has overcome them all. (29)

Why then, it is asked, did not Christ exercise His influence upon Plato, and upon Pythagoras? Because the mind of Peter was much more philosophical than their minds. They were in truth children shifted about on all sides by vain glory; but this man was a philosopher, one apt to receive grace. (29-30)

For where an action is done for glory, all is worthless. For though a man possess all, yet if he have not the mastery over this, he forfeits all claim to true philosophy, he is in bondage to the more tyrannical and shameful passion. Contempt of glory; this it is that is sufficient to teach all that is good, and to banish from the soul every pernicious passion. (31)