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Author Topic: Stories from the Life of St. Arsenius  (Read 3798 times)
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« on: October 13, 2010, 11:51:08 PM »

St. Arsenius was born in Rome in about 360 A.D. A well-educated man, of senatorial rank, he was appointed by the Emperor Theodosius I as a tutor to the princes Arcadius and Honorious. He left the palance in 394 and sailed secretly to Alexandria, from there he went to the desert of Scetis and placed himself under the guidance of St. John the Dwarf. He was reknowned for his austerity and silence.

Here are some stories from the sayings of the desert fathers about him:

While still living in the palace, Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words, 'Lord, lead me in the way of salvation.' And a voice came saying to him, 'Arsenius, flee from men and you will be saved.'

Having withdrawn to the solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, 'Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.'

It happened that when Abba Arsenius was sitting in his cell that he was harassed by demons. His servants, on their return, stood outside his cell and heard him praying to God in these words, 'O God, do not leave me. I have done nothing good in your sight, but according to your goodness, let me now make a beginning of good.'

It was said of him that, just as none in the palace had worn more splendid garments than he when he lived there, so no one in the Church wore such poor clothing.

Someone said to blessed Arsenius, 'How is it that we, with all our education and our wide knowledge get nowhere, while these Egyptian peasants acquire so many virtues?' Abba Arsenius said to him, 'We indeed get nothing from our secular education, but these Egyptian peasants acquire the virtues by hard work.'

One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, 'Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education ask this peasant about your thoughts?' He replied, 'I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.'

Blessed Archbishop Theophilus, accompanied by a magistrate, came one day to find Abba Arsenius. He questioned the old man, to hear a word from him. After a short silence the old man answered him 'Will you put into practice what I say to you?' They promised him this. 'If you hear Arsenius is anywhere, do not go there.'

Another time the archbishop, intending to come to see him, sent someone to see if the old man would receive him. Arsenius told him 'If you come, I shall receive you; but if I receive you, I receive everyone and therefore I shall no longer live here.' Hearing that, the archbishop said, 'If I drive him away by going to him, I shall not go any more.'

A brother questioned Abba Arsenius to hear a word of him and the old man said to him, 'Strive with all your might to bring your interior activity into accord with God, and you will overcome exterior passions.'

He also said, 'If we seek God, he will show him-self to us, and if we keep him, he will remain close to us.'

Someone said to Abba Arsenius, 'My thoughts trouble me, saying, "You can neither fast nor work; at least go and visit the sick, for that is also charity."' But the old man, recognising the suggestions of the demons, said to him, 'Go, eat, drink, sleep, do no work, only do not leave your cell.' For he knew that steadfastness in the cell keeps a monk in the right way.

Abba Arsenius used to say that a monk travelling abroad should not get involved in anything; thus he will remain in peace.

Abba Mark said to Abba Arsenius, 'Why do you avoid us?' The old man said to him, 'God knows that I love you, but I cannot live with God and with men. The thousands and ten thousands of the heavenly hosts have but one will, while men have many. So I cannot leave God to be with men.'

Abba Daniel said of Abba Arsenius that he used to pass the whole night without sleeping, and in the early morning when nature compelled him to go to sleep, he would say to sleep, 'Come here, wicked servant.' Then, seated, he would snatch a little sleep and soon wake up again.

Abba Arsenius used to say that one-hour's sleep is enough for a monk if he is a good fighter.

The old man used to tell how one day someone handed round a few dried figs in Scetis. Because they were not worth anything, no one took any to Abba Arsenius in order not to offend him. Learning of it, the old man did not come to the synaxis saying, 'You have cast me out by not giving me a share of the blessing which God had given the brethren and which I was not worthy to receive.' Everyone heard of this and was edified at the old man's humility. Then the priest went to take him the small dried figs and brought him to the synaxis with joy.

Abba Daniel used to say, 'He lived with us many a long year and every year we used to take him only one basket of bread and when we went to find him the next year we would eat some of that bread.'

It was said of the same Abba Arsenius that he only changed the water for his palm-leaves once a year; the rest of the time he simply added to it. One old man implored him in these words, 'Why do you not change the water for these palm-leaves when it smells bad?' He said to him, 'Instead of the perfumes and aromatics which I used in the world I mus tbear with this bad smell.'

Abba Daniel used to tell how when Abba Arsenius learned that all the varieties of fruit were ripe he would say, 'Bring me some.' He would taste a very little of each, just once, giving thanks to God.

Once at Scetis Abba Arsenius was ill and he was without even a scrap of linen. As he had nothing with which to buy any, he received some through another's charity and he said, 'I give you thanks, Lord, for having considered me worthy to receive this charity in your name.'

It was said of him that his cell was thirty-two miles away and that he did not readily leave it: that in fact others did his errands. When Scetis was destroyed he left weeping and said, 'The world has lost Rome and the monks have lost Scetis.

Abba Mark asked Abba Arsenius 'Is it good to have nothing extra in the cell? I know a brother who had some vegetables and he has pulled them up.' Abba Arsenius replied, 'Undoubtedly that is good but it must be done according to a man's capacity. For if he does not have the strength for such a practice he will soon plant others.'

Abba Daniel, the disciple of Abba Arsenius, related this: 'One day I found myself close to Abba Alexander and he was full of sorrow. He lay down and stared up into the air because of his sorrow. Now it happened that the blessed Arsenius came to speak with him and saw him lying down. During their conversation he said to him, 'And who was the layman whom I saw here?' Abba Alexander said, here did you see him?' He said, 'As I was coming down the mountain I cast my eyes in this direction towards the cave and I saw a man stretched full length looking up into the air.' So Abba Alexander did penance, saying, 'Forgive me, it was I; I was overcome by sorrow. 'The old man said to him, 'Well now, so it was you? Good; I thought it was a layman and that was why I asked you.'

Another time Abba Arsenius said to Abba Alexander, 'When you have cut your palm-leaves, come and eat with me, but if visitors come, eat with them.' Now Abba Alexander worked slowly and carefully. When the time came, he had not finished the palm leaves and wishing to follow the old man's instructions, he waited until he had finished them. When Abba Arsenius saw that he was late, he ate, thinking that he had had guests. But Abba Alexander, when at last he had finished, came away. And the old man said to him, 'Have you had visitors? "No, 'he said. 'Then why did you not come?' The other replied, 'You told me to come when I had cut the palm-leaves; and following your instructions, I did not come, because I had not finished.' The old man marvelled at his exactitude and said to him, 'Break. your fast at once so as to celebrate the synaxis untroubled, and drink some water, otherwise your body will soon suffer.'

One day Abba Arsenius came to a place where there were reeds blowing in the wind. The old man said to the brothers, 'What is this movement?' They said, 'Some reeds.' Then the old man said to them, 'When one who is living in silent prayer hears the song of a little sparrow, his heart no longer experiences the same peace. How much worse it is when you hear the movement of those reeds.'

When Abba Arsenius was living at Canopus a very rich God-fearing virgin of senatorial rank came from Rome to see him. When the Archbishop Theophilus met her, she asked him to persuade the old man to receive her. So he went to ask him to do so in these words, 'A certain person of senatorial rank has come to Rome and wishes to see you.' The old man refused to meet her. But when the archbishop told the young girl this, she ordered the beast of burden saddled saying, 'I trust in God that I shall see him, for it is not a man whom I have come to see (there are plenty of those in our town), but a prophet.' When she had reached the old man's cell, by a dispensation of God, he was outside it. Seeing him, she threw herself at his feet. Outraged, he lifted her up again, and said, looking steadily at her, 'If you must see my face, here it is, look.' She was covered with shame and did not look at his face. Then the old man said to her, 'Have you not heard tell of my way of life? It ought to be respected. How dare you make such a journey? Do you not realise you are a woman and cannot go anywhere? Or is it so that on returning to Rome you can say to the other women: I have seen Arsenius? Then they will turn the sea into a thoroughfare with women coming to see me.' She said, 'May it please the Lord, I shall not let anyone come here, but pray for me and remember me always.' But he answered her, 'I pray to God to remove remembrance of you from my heart.' Overcome at hearing these words, she withdrew. When she returned to the town in her grief she fell ill with a fever, and blessed Archbishop Theophilus was informed that she was ill. He came to see her and asked her to tell him what was the matter. She said to him, 'If only I had not gone there! For I asked the old man to remember me, and he said to me, "I pray God to take the remembrance of you from my heart." So now I am dying with grief.' The archbishop said to her, 'Do you not realize that you are a woman, and that it is through women that the enemy wars against the Saints? That is the explanation of the old man's words; but as for your soul, he will pray for it continually.' At this her spirit was healed and she returned home joyfully.

Abba David related this about Abba Arsenius. One day a magistrate came, bringing him the will of a senator, a member of his family who had left him a very large inheritance. Arsenius took it and was about to destroy it. But the magistrate threw himself at his feet saying, 'I beg of you, do not destroy it or they will cut off my head.' Abba Arsenius said to him, 'But I was dead long before this senator who has just died.' And he returned the will to him without accepting anything.

It was said of Abba Arsenius and Abba Theodore of Pherme that, more than any of the others, they hated the esteem of other men. Abba Arsenius would not readily meet people, while Abba Theodore was like steel when he met anyone.

.. The story of an Abba of Rome (considered probably St. Arsenius) [I will add, this was what I was thinking of on the other thread, it took me long enough to find it because it was not in with his regular collection]

There was a monk from Rome who lived at Scetis near the church. He had a slave to serve him. The priest, knowing his bad health and the comfort in which he used to live, sent him what he needed of whatever anyone brought to the church. Having lived twenty five years at Scetis, he had acquired the gift of insight and became famous.

One of the great Egyptians heard about him and came to see him, thinking he would find him leading a life of great corporal austerity. He entered and greeted him. They said the prayer and sat down. Now the Egyptian saw he was wearing fine clothing, and that he possessed a bed with both a blanket and a small pillow. He saw that his feet were clean and shod in sandals. Noticing all this, he was shocked, because such a way of life is not usual in that district; much greater austerity is ordinarily the rule.

Now the old man had the gift of insight, and he understood that his visitor was shocked, and so he said to him who served him, “We will celebrate a feast today for the abba’s sake.” There were a few vegetables, and he cooked them and at the appointed hour, they rose and ate. The old man had a little wine also, because of his illness; so they drank some.

When evening came, they recited the twelve psalms and went to sleep. They did the same during the night. On rising at dawn, the Egyptian said to him, “Pray for me,” and he went away without being edified.

When he had gone a short distance, the old man, wishing to edify him, sent someone to bring him back. On his arrival he received him once again with joy and asked him, “Of what country are you?” He said, “Egypt.” “And of what city?” “I am not a city dweller at all.” “And what was your work in the village?” “I was a herdsman.” “Where did you sleep?” He replied, “In the field.” “Did you have anything to lie upon?” He said, “Would I go and put a bed under myself in a field?” “But how did you sleep?” He said, “On the bare ground.” The old man said next, “What was your food in the fields, and what wine did you drink?” He replied, “Is there food and drink in the fields?” “But how did you live?” “I ate dry bread, and, if I found any, green herbs and water.” The old man replied, “Great hardship! Was there a bath house for washing in the village?” He replied, “No, only the river, when we wanted it.”

After the old man had learnt all this and knew of the hardness of his visitor’s former life, he told him his own former way of life when he was in the world, with the intention of helping him. “I, the poor man whom you see, am of the great city of Rome and I was a great man in the palace of the emperor.” When the Egyptian heard the beginning of these words, he was filled with compunction and listened attentively to what the other was saying. He continued, “Then I left the city and came to this desert. I whom you see had great houses and many riches and having despised them I have come to this little cell. I whom you see had beds all of gold with coverings of silk, and in exchange for that, God has given me this little bed and this skin. Moreover, my clothes were the most expensive kind and in their stead I wear these garments of no value. Again, at my table there was much gold and abundance, and instead of that, God has given me this little dish of vegetables and a cup of wine. There were many slaves to serve me, and see how in exchange for that, God troubles this old man to serve me. Instead of the bath house, I throw a little water over my feet and wear sandals because of my weakness. Instead of music and lyres, I say the twelve psalms and the same at night. Instead of the sins I used to commit, I now say my little rule prayer. So then, I beg you, abba, do not be shocked at my weakness.”

Hearing this, the Egyptian came to his senses and said, “Woe to me, for after so much hardship in the world, I have found ease; and what I did not have before, that I now possess. While after so great ease, you have come to humility and poverty.” Greatly edified, he withdrew, and he became his friend and often went to him for help. For he was a man full of discernment and the good fragrance of the Holy Spirit.


I was thinking of this because when I think of the little way, I think about how are relative comforts we come out of these days are like those of royalty in days past.. And so for our weakness there can be some things done.. Nevertheless.. even so.. there is a need for the greater austerity too.


Another version of the stories, consolidated:

Arsenius after his retreat only distinguished himself among the anchorets by his greater humility and fervour. At first he used, without perceiving it, to do certain things which he had practised in the world, which seemed to savour of levity or immortification, as, for instance, to sit cross-legged, or laying one knee over another. The seniors were unwilling, through the great respect they bore him, to tell him of this in a public assembly in which they were met to hold a spiritual conference together; but abbot Pemen or Pastor made use of this stratagem: He agreed with another that he should put himself in that posture; and then he rebuked him for his immodesty; nor did the other offer any excuse. Arsenius perceived that the reproof was meant for him, and corrected himself of that custom. In other respects he appeared from the beginning an accomplished master in every exercise of virtue in that venerable company of saints. To punish himself for his seeming vanity at court, because he had there gone more richly habited than others, his garments were always the meanest of all the monks in Sceté. He employed himself on working-days till noon in making mats of palm-tree leaves; and he always worked with a handkerchief in his bosom, to wipe off the tears which continually fell from his eyes. He never changed the water in which he moistened his palm-tree leaves, but only poured in fresh water upon it as it wasted. When some asked him one day why he did not cast away the corrupted water, he answered: “I ought to be punished by this ill smell for the sensuality with which I formerly used perfumes when I lived in the world.” To satisfy for former superfluities he lived in the most universal poverty, so that in a violent fit of illness having occasion for a small sum to procure him some little necessaries, he was obliged to receive it in alms, whereupon he gave God thanks for being made worthy to be thus reduced to the necessity of asking alms in his name. The distemper continued so long upon him that the priest of this desert of Sceté caused him to be carried to his apartment contiguous to the church, and laid him on a little bed made of the skins of beasts, with a pillow under his head. One of the monks coming to see him, was much scandalized at his lying so easy, and said: “Is this the abbot Arsenius?” The priest took him aside, and asked him what his employment had been in the village before he was a monk? The old man answered, “I was a shepherd, and lived with much pains and difficulty.” Then the priest said: “Do you see this abbot Arsenius? when he was in the world he was the father of the emperors; he had a thousand slaves clothed in silk, with bracelets and girdles of gold, and he slept on the softest and richest beds. You who were a shepherd, did not find in the world the ease which you now enjoy.” The old man, moved by these words, fell down, and said: “Pardon me, father, I have sinned; he is in the true way of humiliation;” and he went away exceedingly edified. Arsenius in his sickness wanting a linen garment, accepted something given him in charity to buy one, saying: “I return thanks to thee, O Lord, for thy grace and mercy in permitting me to receive alms in thy name. One of the emperor’s officers, at another time, brought him the will of a senator, his relation, who was lately dead and had left him his heir. The saint took the will, and would have torn it to pieces, but the officer threw himself at his feet, and begged him not to tear it, saying such an accident would expose him to be tried for his life. St. Arsenius, however, refused the estate, saying, “I died before him, and cannot be made his heir.”

'Flores apparuerunt in terra nostra. . . Fulcite me floribus. (The flowers appear on the earth. . . stay me up with flowers. Sg 2:12,5)
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« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2019, 08:02:13 PM »

St. Arsenius employed himself in making mats of palm tree leaves.
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« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2020, 11:16:03 AM »

St. Arsensius was a tutor for Arcadius and Honorius, the sons of Emperor Theodosius I, for eleven years.
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