The Latin Systematic Collection


Verba Seniorum. (The Sayings of the Fathers)

Migne, Patrologia Latina 73, 855-1022. tr. based on: The Sayings of the Fathers, in Western Asceticism, Selected Translations with Introductions and Notes, Owen Chadwick, (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1958) pp. 37-189.  [FIERY PRAYER]





of Patience or Fortitude

 De patientia seu fortitudine





   1. Once when the holy Abba Antony was living in the desert, his soul was troubled by boredom and irritation. And he said to God: “Lord, I want to be made whole and my thoughts do not let me. What am I to do in this trouble, how shall I be made whole?” And rising up after a little while, he began to go outside. And he saw someone like himself sitting down and at worki then standing up to pray; then sitting down again to make a plait of palm leaves, and again standing up to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct Antony and make him careful. And he heard the voice of the angel saying: “Do this and you will be made whole.” When he heard it he was very glad and recovered his confidence. And he did what the angel had done, and found the salvation which he was seeking. 1. Sanctus Antonius abbas cum sederet aliquando in eremo  (Ruffin., l. III, n. 105) , animus ejus taedium et confusionem cogitationum incurrit, et dicebat ad Deum: Domine, volo salvus fieri, et non me permittunt cogitationes meae. Quid faciam in hac tribulatione, quomodo salvus ero? Et modice assurgens, coepit foras exire. Et vidit quemdam, tanquam seipsum, sedentem atque operantem; deinde surgentem ab operibus et orantem; et iterum sedentem, et plectum de palmis facientem, et inde rursus ad orationem  [0893B] surgentem. Erat autem angelus Domini missus ad correptionem et cautelam dandam Antonio. Et audivit vocem angeli, dicentis: Sic fac, et salvus eris. Ille autem, hoc audito, magnum gaudium sumpsit atque fiduciam. Et ita faciens, salutem quam quaerebat invenit.





That we ought to pray unceasingly and earnestly

De eo quo a sine intermissione et sobrie debet orori.





1. They said of Abba Arsenius that on Saturday evening he put his back to the setting sun and stretched out his hands towards heaven, and prayed, until at dawn on Sunday the rising sun lit up his face: and then he sat down again. 1. Dicebant de abbate Arsenio, quia vespere Sabbati lucescente Dominica, relinquebat post se solem, et extendebat manus suas ad coelum orans, donec mane die Dominico illustraret ascendens sol faciem ejus, et sic residebat  (Ruff., l. III, num. 21) .





2. The brothers asked Abba Agatho: “Father, which virtue in our way of life needs most effort to acquire?” And he said to them: “Forgive me, I think nothing needs so much effort as prayer to God. If a man is wanting to pray, the demons infest him in the attempt to interrupt the prayer, for they know that prayer is the only thing that hinders them. All the other efforts of a religious life, whether they are made vehemently or gently, have room for a measure of rest. But we need to pray till we breathe out our dying breath. That is the great struggle.” 2. Interrogaverunt fratres abbatem Agathonem, dicentes: Pater, quae virtus in conversatione plus habet laboris? Et dixit eis: Ignoscite mihi, quia puto non esse alium laborem talem, qualem orare  [0941B] Deum; dum enim voluerit homo orare Deum suum, semper inimici daemones festinant interrumpere orationem ejus, scientes quia ex nulla re impediuntur, nisi per orationem fusam ad Deum. Siquidem omnem alium laborem, quem homo in religiosa conversatione positus assumpserit, quamvis instanter et toleranter agat, habet tamen et possidet aliquam requiem: oratio autem usque ad ultimam exhalationem opus est, ut habeat laborem magni certaminis.





3. Abba Dulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion, said: “I once went into the cell of my abba, and found him standing in prayer, with his hands stretched towards heaven. He stayed like that for fourteen days. At the end he called me and said: “Follow me.” We went out and took our way through the desert. I grew thirsty, and said to him: “Abba, I am thirsty.” He took off his cloak, and went away a stone’s throw: and he prayed, and brought me the cloak full of water. And we went to the city of Lycus, and came to Abba John, and greeted him, and prayed. Then they sat down and began to talk about a vision which they had seen. Abba Bessarion said: “The Lord has given a commandment that the temples be destroyed.” And so it was done. They were destroyed.” 3. Narravit abbas Dulas, qui fuit discipulus abbatis Besarionis, dicens: Veni aliquando in cellam abbatis mei, et inveni eum stantem ad orationem: et manus ejus erant extensae in coelum. Permansit autem hoc faciens jugiter per quatuordecim dies. Et post haec vocavit me, et dixit: Sequere me. Et exeuntes  [0941C] perreximus in eremo; cum sitirem dixi ei: Abba, sitio. Ille autem melotem tollens discessit a me, quantum jactus est lapidis, et facta oratione attulit eam plenam aqua. Et abivimus in civitatem Lyco, et venimus ad abbatem Joannem; et salutantes eum, fecimus orationem. Deinde sedentes coeperunt loqui de visione quam viderant. Dixit abbas Besarion: Quia exivit praeceptum a Domino ut destruantur templa. Et factum est sic; et destructa sunt.





4. Abba Evagrius said: “If your soul grows weak, pray. As it is written, pray in fear and trembling, earnestly and watchfully. We ought to pray like that, especially because our unseen and wicked enemies are vehemently trying to hinder us.” 4. Dixit abbas Evagrius: Si deficis animo, ora. Ora autem cum timore, et tremore, et labore, sobrie et vigilanter. Ita oportet orare, maxime propter malignos et ad nequitias vacantes invisibiles inimicos nostros, qui nos in hoc praecipue impedire nituntur.





5. He also said: “When a contrary thought enters the heart, do not cast around here and there in your prayer, but be simply penitent—and so you will sharpen your sword against your assailant.” 5. Dixit iterum: Quando cogitatio contraria in  [0941D] corde venerit, noli alia pro aliis per orationem quaerere, sed adversus eum qui te impugnat, gladium lacrymarum exacue.





6. Epiphanius, of holy memory, the bishop from Cyprus, was told this by the abbot of his monastery in Palestine. “By your prayers we have kept our rule; we carefully observe the offices of terce, sext, none and vespers.” But Epiphanius rebuked him and said: “Then you are surely failing to pray at other times. The true monk ought to pray without ceasing, ought always to be singing psalms in his heart.” 6. Mandatum est sanctae memoriae Epiphanio episcopo Cyprio, ab abbate monasterii sui, quod habuit in Palaestina: Quia orationibus tuis non negleximus regulam, sed cum sollicitudine tertiam, sextam, nonam atque vesperam celebramus. Ille autem reprebendens eum, mandavit ei: Constat vos vacare ab oratione caeteris horis; eum autem qui verus est monachus, oportet sine intermissione orare, aut certe psallere in corde suo.

















7. Abba Isaiah said: “A priest at Pelusium was holding a love-feast: and while the brothers in church were eating and conversing, he rebuked them thus: ‘Be silent, my brothers. I know of one brother who is supping among you, and his prayer mounts in the sight of God like a darting flame.’” 7. Dixit abbas Isaias: Quia presbyter Pelusii cum faceret agapem, et fratres in ecclesia comederent et  [0942A] loquerentur sibi ad invicem, increpans eos dixit: Tacete, fratres; ego enim scio unum fratrem manducantem vobiscum, et oratio ejus ascendit in conspectu Dei velut ignis.





8. Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said: “Abba, as far as I can, I keep a moderate rule, with a little fasting, and prayer, and meditation, and quiet: and as far as I can I try to cleanse my heart of evil thoughts. What else should I do?” Then the old man rose, and spread out his hands to heaven, and his fingers shone like ten candles: and he said: “If you will, you could become a living flame.” 8. Venit abbas Lot ad abbatem Joseph, et dixit ei: Abba, secundum virtutem meam facio modicam regulam, et parvum jejunium, et orationem, et meditationem, et quietem, et secundum virtutem meam studeo purgare cogitationes meas; quid ergo debeo de caetero facere? Surgens ergo senex, expandit manus suas in coelum, et facti sunt digiti ejus velut decem lampades ignis, et dixit ei: Si vis, efficiere totus sicut ignis.





9. Some monks called Euchites, or “men of prayer,” once came to Abba Lucius in the ninth region of Alexandria. And the old man asked them: “What work do you do with your hands?” And they said: “We do not work with our hands. We obey St Paul’s command and pray without ceasing.” The old man said to them: “Do you not eat?” They said: “Yes, we eat.” And the old man said to them: “When you are eating, who prays for you?” Again, he asked them: “Do you not sleep?” They said: “We sleep.” And the old man said: “Who prays for you while you are asleep?” They would not answer him.And he said to them: “Forgive me, brothers, but you do not practise what you say. I will show you how I pray without ceasing though I work with my hands. With God’s help, I sit and collect a few palm-leaves, and plait them, and say: ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great mercy: and according to the multitude of thy mercies do away with mine iniquity.’ (Ps 51) And he said to them: “Is that prayer, or is it not?” They said: “It is prayer.” And he said: “When I stay all day working and praying in my heart, I make about sixteen pence. Two of these I put outside the door, and with the rest I buy food. And he who receives the two pennies outside the door, prays for me while I am eating and sleeping: and so by God’s grace I fulfil the text: ‘Pray without ceasing.’” 9. Venerunt aliquando ad abbatem Lucium in Ennato monachi quidam, qui dicebantur Euchitae  [0942B]  [(40) [0990C] Euchitae.] Quaedam editiones euschiti; quaedam, supra, apud Ruffinum, lib. III, num. 212, Cochiti. Noti Euchitae haeretici eućcomai, oro.] , hoc est orantes; et interrogavit eos senex, dicens: Quod est opus manuum vestrarum  (Ruff., l. II, n. 212) ? Et illi dixerunt: Nos non contingimus aliquod opus manuum, sed sicut dicit Apostolus  (I Thess. V) , sine intermissione oramus. Dicit eis senex: Et non manducatis? Illi autem dixerunt: Etiam manducamus. Et dicit eis senex; Quando ergo comeditis, quis pro vobis orat? Et iterum interrogavit eos, dicens: Non dormitis? 614 Et illi dixerunt: Dormimus. Et dixit senex: Et cum dormitis, quis pro vobis orat? Et non invenerunt quid ad haec responderent ei. Et dixit eis: Ignoscite mihi, fratres, quia ecce non facitis sicut dixistis: ego autem ostendam vobis, quia operans manibus meis, sine intermissione oro. Sedeo enim juvante Deo, infundens  [0942C] mihi paucas palmulas, et facio ex eis plectam, et dico: Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam, et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum dele iniquitatem meam  (Psal. L) . Et dixit eis: Oratio est, an non? Et dixerunt ei: Etiam. Et ille dixit: Quando permansero tota die laborans et orans corde vel ore, facio plus minus sedecim nummos, et pono ex eis ad ostium duos, et residuos manduco. Qui acceperit illos duos denarios, orat pro me tempore quo ego manduco vel dormio; atque ita per gratiam Dei impletur a me quod scriptum est: Sine intermissione orate  (I Thess. V) .





10. Some brothers asked Abba Macarius: “How should we pray?” And the old man said: “There is no need to talk much in prayer. Spread out your hands often, and say: ‘Lord, have mercy upon me, as thou wilt and as thou knowest.’ But if war presses into the soul, say: ‘Lord, help me.’ He knows what is best for us, and has mercy.” 10. Interrogaverunt quidam abbatem Macarium, dicentes: Quomodo debemus orare  (Ruff., l. III, n. 207) ? Et dixit ei senex: Non opus est multum loqui  [0942D] in oratione, sed extendere manus frequenter, et dicere: Domine, sicut vis et scis, miserere mei. Si autem instat bellum in animo, dicere: Adjuva me. Et quia ipse scit quae expediant, facit misericordiam nobiscum.





11. They said of Abba Sisois that unless he soon lowered his hands when he stood up to pray, his mind was snatched up into the heavenly places. So if he happened to be praying with another brother, he quickly lowered his hands and ended the prayer, so that his mind should not be rapt or remain in prayer too long for his brother. 11. Dicebant de abbate Sisoi, quia nisi cito deponeret manus suas quando stabat ad orationem, rapiebatur mens ejus in superioribus. Si ergo contingebat cum eo aliquem fratrem orare, festinabat cito deponere, ne raperetur mens ejus et moraretur.





12. An old man used to say: “Constant prayer soon cures the mind.” 12. Dicebat aliquis senex: Quia assidua oratio cito corrigit mentem.





13. One of the fathers said: “No one can see his face refiected in muddy water: and the soul cannot pray to God with contemplation unless first cleansed of harrnful thoughts.” 13. Dicebat quidam Patrum: Quia sicut impossibile est ut videat quis in aqua turbida faciem suam,  [0943A] sic et anima, nisi purgata fuerit a cogitationibus alienis, contemplative non potest orare Deum.





14. An old man once visited Mount Sinai. And when he was going away, a brother met him by the path, and groaned, and said: “Abba, we are afflicted by drought. There has been no rain.” And the old man said: “Why do you not pray and ask God?” And he said: “We have been praying and asking God constantly, and still there is no rain.” And the old man said: “I believe you are not praying intently enough. Shall we try whether it is so? Come, let us stand and pray together.” He stretched out his hands to heaven and prayed; and at once the rain fell. The brother was afraid at the sight, and fell down and worshipped him. But the old man fled away from that place. 14. Venit quidam senex aliquando in monte Sina; et cum exiret inde, occurrit ei frater in via, et ingemiscens dicebat seni illi: Affligimur, abba, propter siccitatem, quia nobis non pluit. Et dixit ei senex: Quare non oratis et rogatis Deum? Et ille dixit: Et orationem facimus, et deprecamur assidue Deum, et non pluit. Et dixit senex: Credo quia non oratis attentius. Vis autem scire quia ita est? Veni, stemus pariter ad orationem: et extendens in coelum manus oravit, et statim pluvia descendit. Quod cum vidisset frater ille timuit, et procidens adoravit eum: senex autem statim fugit illinc





15. The brothers told this story. “We once visited some old men, and after the usual prayer we exchanged greetings and sat down. And after we had talked together, we made ready to go, and asked once again for prayer to be made. But one of the old men said to us: `What, have you not prayed already?’ And we said: `Yes, father, when we came in, we prayed, and since then we have been talking.’ And he said: `Forgive me, brothers; one brother, while he was sitting and talking with you, offered a hundred and three prayers.’ And with these words he prayed, and sent us away.” 15. Narraverunt fratres, dicentes: Quia venimus  [0943B] aliquando ad quosdam senes, et cum ex more facta fuisset oratio, salutantes invicem sedimus. Et postquam locuti sumus, cum discederemus, poposcimus ut fieret rursus oratio. Dixit autem unus illorum seniorum ad nos; quid enim, non orastis? Et nos diximus: Etiam. Sed quando intravimus, Pater, tunc est facta oratio, et ex illa hora usque modo locuti sumus. Et ille dixit: Ignoscite mihi, fratres, quia vobiscum sedens quidam frater, et loquens, centum et tres orationes fecit. Hoc cum dixisset, facta oratione dimiserunt nos.











17.10.ABBA Poeman said: “There is nothing greater in love than that a person should lay down his life for his neighbor. 

17.10. Iterum dixit: Non est aliquid majus dilectione, etiam ut animam suam ponat quis pro proximo suo. 

When a person hears a complaining word and struggles against himself, and does not begin to complain; when a person bears an injury with patience, and does not look for revenge; that is when a person lays down his life for his neighbor.”

Etenim si quis audiens sermonem tristem, cum possit ipse id facere, certet atque sustineat, et non recontristet; vel etiam si laesus in re aliqua patienter tulerit, non retribuens contristanti atque laedenti se; eo modo hujusmodi homo animam suam ponit pro  [0975A] proximo suo  





SOME old men came to see Abbot Poeman and said to him, “when we see brothers sleeping during the Divine Office, shall we awaken them so that they [too] may keep vigil?  He said to them, “I prefer, when I see a brother sleeping, to put his head on my knees and let him rest.  

Senum nonnulli ad abbatem Poemenem profecti dixerunt ei: Prćcepisne, ut si viderimus fratres in sacro Officio dormitantes, vellicemus eos, quo excitentur ad vigiliam?  Ille vero ait issis: Ego profecto cum fratrentem dormitantem conspicio, caput eos pono super genua mea eique concilio requiem.





9.9 ONCE there was a meeting of monks in Scete, and the fathers discussed the case of a guilty brother.  But Abba Pior was silent.  9.9. Factus est aliquando conventus in Scythi, et loquebantur Patres de quodam fratre culpabili  . Abbas autem Pior tacebat: 
Afterwards he arose and went out: he took a sack, filled it with sand, and carried it on his shoulders;  and he put a little more sand in a basket and carried it in front of him. postea autem surgens egressus est, et tollens saccum, implevit eum arena, et portabat eum in humeris suis; et mittens in sportella modica de eadem arena, portabat etiam ipsam in ante.
     The fathers asked him: “What are you doing?”  He answered: “The sack with much sand is my sins: they are many, so I put them on my back and then I shall not weep for them. Interrogatus autem a Patribus quid hoc esset? Ille respondit: Saccus iste qui multum habet arenae, mea peccata sunt; et quoniam multa sunt, posui ea supra dorsum, ne doleam pro ipsis et plorem; 

      The basket with a little sand is the sins of our brother; and they are in front of me and I see them and judge them.  That is not right.  I ought to have my own sins in front of me, and think about them, and ask God to forgive me.” When the fathers heard this, they said: Truly this is the way of salvation” [Ibid. 9:9, p.104 slightly clearer grammar in Greek - Pior 3 p. 167]

ista autem arena modica peccata sunt istius fratris, et sunt ante faciem meam, et in ipsis exerceor judicans fratrem; quod non oportet ita fieri, sed mea magis peccata ante me esse, et de ipsis  [0911C] cogitare, et rogare Deum ut ignoscat mihi. Audientes autem Patres, dixerunt: Vere haec est via salutis.





17.2. [ABBA Antony] said “From our neighbor are life and death.  If we do good to our neighbor we do good to God; if we make our neighbor stumble, we sin against Christ.”

17.2. Dixit iterum: Quia de proximo est vita et mors; si enim lucremur fratrem, lucrabimur Deum; si autem scandalizamus fratrem, in Christo peccamus.





1.11. A BROTHER inquired of an old man, asking: “What thing is good enough that I should do it and live by it?” And the old man said: “God alone knows what is good. But I have heard that one of the fathers asked the great Abba Nesteros, who was a friend of Abba Antony, and said to him, ‘What good work should I do?’  1.  11. Frater interrogavit senem, dicens: Quae res sic bona est, quam faciam, et vivam in ea? Et dixit senex: Deus solus scit, quod bonum est; sed tamen audivi quia interrogavit unus Patrum abbatem Nisteronem magnum, qui erat amicus abbatis Antonii, et  [0856C] dixit ei: Quod opus est bonum ut faciam? 
     And he answered him, ‘Works are not all equivalent  Scripture says, Abraham showed hospitality and God was with him. And Elijah loved quiet, and God was with him. And David was humble and God was with him. Therefore whatever you see accords with God’s will and that you will, do it, and keep watch over your heart.’ Et ille respondit ei: Non sunt opera omnia aequalia. Scriptura dicit  (Gen. XVIII) : Quia Abraham hospitalis fuit, et Deus erat cum eo. Et Elias diligebat quietem, et Deus erat cum eo. Et David humilis erat, et Deus erat cum ipso. Quod ergo vides secundum Deum velle animam tuam, hoc fac, et custodi cor tuum.






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