Sayings & Stories of the Desert Fathers

On Living Soberly

There was an old man in Scete who had indeed endurance of body, but not much heedfulness in remembering what was said to him. So he went to the abbot John the Short to consult him about forgetfulness: and after hearing his discourse, returned to his cell and forgot what the abbot John had said. Again he went and questioned him: but as soon as he reached his cell, he forgot what he had heard, and so, after much going to and fro, forgetfulness overmastered him. Sometime after, meeting the abbot he said, “Father, you know that I again forgot what you said to me? But I did not come back, lest I should be a trouble to thee.” The abbot John said: “Go, light the lamp.” And he lit it. And he said, “Bring other lamps, and light them from this one.” And he did so. And the abbot John said to the old man, “Is the lamp injured in any way, that you have lit the others from it?” And he said, “No.” “So neither is John injured, if all Scete should come to me, nor am I hindered from the love of God: come therefore whenever you wish, hesitating not at all.” And so by the patience of them both, God freed the old man of forgetfulness: for that indeed was the business of them that dwelt in Scete, to give courage to those who were besieged by any passion and who struggled in travail with themselves that they might come to good.

The abbot Moses asked the abbot Silvanus, saying, “Can a man every day make a beginning of the good life?” The abbot Silvanus answered him, “If he be diligent, he can every day and every hour begin the good life anew.”

They used to say of Abba Or that he neither lied nor swore nor cursed anybody and that he never spoke other than out of necessity.

The same father would say to his disciple, “Make sure you never bring an alien maxim into this cell.

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