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- Hypatia - 97/97 -


One thing only in his conduct gave some handle for scandal, among the just persons who needed no repentance. It was well known that in his most solemn devotions, on those long nights of unceasing prayer and self-discipline, which won him a reputation for superhuman sanctity, there mingled always with his prayers the names of two women. And, when some worthy elder, taking courage from his years, dared to hint kindly to him that such conduct caused some scandal to the weaker brethren, 'It is true,' answered he; 'tell my brethren that I pray nightly for two women both of them young; both of them beautiful; both of them beloved by me more than I love my own soul; and tell them, moreover, that one of the two was a harlot, and the other a heathen.' The old monk laid his hand on his mouth, and retired.

The remainder of his history it seems better to extract from an unpublished fragment of the _Hagiologia Nilotica_ of Graidiocolosyrtus Tabenniticus, the greater part of which valuable work was destroyed at the taking of Alexandria under Amrou, A. D. 640.

'Now when the said abbot had ruled the monastery of Scetis seven years with uncommon prudence, resplendent in virtue and in miracles, it befell that one morning he was late for the Divine office. Whereon a certain ancient brother, who was also a deacon, being sent to ascertain the cause of so unwonted a defection, found the holy man extended upon the floor of his cell, like Balaam in the flesh, though far differing from him in the spirit, having fallen into a trance, but having his eyes open. Who, not daring to arouse him, sat by him until the hour of noon, judging rightly that something from heaven had befallen him. And at that hour, the saint arising without astonishment, said, "Brother, make ready for me the divine elements, that I may consecrate them." And he asking the reason wherefore, the saint replied, "That I may partake thereof with all my brethren, ere I depart hence. For know assuredly that, within the seventh day, I shall migrate to the celestial mansions. For this night stood by me in a dream, those two women, whom I love, and for whom I pray; the one clothed in a white, the other in a ruby- coloured garment, and holding each other by the hand; who said to me, 'That life after death is not such a one as you fancy; come, therefore, and behold with us what it is like.'" Troubled at which words, the deacon went forth yet on account not only of holy obedience, but also of the sanctity of the blessed abbot, did not hesitate to prepare according to his command the divine elements: which the abbot having consecrated, distributed among his brethren, reserving only a portion of the most holy bread and wine; and then, having bestowed on them all the kiss of peace, he took the paten and chalice in his hands, and went forth from the monastery towards the desert; whom the whole fraternity followed weeping, as knowing that they should see his face no more. But he, having arrived at the foot of a certain mountain, stopped, and blessing them, commanded them that they should follow him no farther, and dismissed them with these words: "As ye have been loved, so love. As ye have been judged, so judge. As ye have been forgiven, so forgive." And so ascending, was taken away from their eyes. Now they, returning astonished, watched three days with prayer and fasting: but at last the eldest brother, being ashamed, like Elisha before the entreaties of Elijah's disciples, sent two of the young men to seek their master.

'To whom befell a thing noteworthy and full of miracles. For ascending the same mountain where they had left the abbot, they met with a certain Moorish people, not averse to the Christianity, who declared that certain days before a priest had passed by them, bearing a paten and chalice, and blessing them in silence, proceeded across the desert in the direction of the cave of the holy Amma.

'And they inquiring who this Amma might be, the Moors answered that some twenty years ago there had arrived in those mountains a woman more beautiful than had ever before been seen in that region, dressed in rich garments; who, after a short sojourn among their tribe, having distributed among them the jewels which she wore, had embraced the eremitic life, and sojourned upon the highest peak of a neighbouring mountain; till, her garments failing her, she became invisible to mankind, saving to a few women of the tribe, who went up from time to time to carry her offerings of fruit and meal, and to ask the blessing of her prayers. To whom she rarely appeared, veiled down to her feet in black hair of exceeding length and splendour.

'Hearing these things, the two brethren doubted for awhile: but at last, determining to proceed, arrived at sunset upon the summit of the said mountain.

'Where, behold a great miracle. For above an open grave, freshly dug in the sand, a cloud of vultures and obscene birds hovered, whom two lions, fiercely contending, drove away with their talons, as if from some sacred deposit therein enshrined. Towards whom the two brethren, fortifying themselves with the sign of the holy cross, ascended. Whereupon the lions, as having fulfilled the term of their guardianship, retired; and left to the brethren a sight which they beheld with astonishment, and not without tears.

'For in the open grave lay the body of Philammon the abbot: and by his side, wrapped in his cloak, the corpse of a woman of exceeding beauty, such as the Moors had described. Whom embracing straitly, as a brother a sister, and joining his lips to hers, he had rendered up his soul to God; not without bestowing on her, as it seemed, the most holy sacrament; for by the grave-side stood the paten and the chalice emptied of their divine contents.

'Having beheld which things awhile in silence, they considered that the right understanding of such matters pertained to the judgment seat above, and was unnecessary to be comprehended by men consecrated to God. Whereon, filling in the grave with all haste, they returned weeping to the Laura, and declared to them the strange things which they had beheld, and whereof I the writer, having collected these facts from sacrosanct and most trustworthy mouths, can only say that wisdom is justified of all her children.

'Now, before they returned, one of the brethren searching the cave wherein the holy woman dwelt, found there neither food, furniture, nor other matters; saving one bracelet of gold, of large size and strange workmanship, engraven with foreign characters, which no one could decipher. The which bracelet, being taken home to the Laura of Scetis, and there dedicated in the chapel to the memory of the holy Amma, proved beyond all doubt the sanctity of its former possessor, by the miracles which its virtue worked; the fame whereof spreading abroad throughout the whole Thebaid, drew innumerable crowds of suppliants to that holy relic. But it came to pass, after the Vandalic persecution wherewith Huneric and Genseric the king devastated Africa, and enriched the Catholic Church with innumerable martyrs, that certain wandering barbarians of the Vandalic race, imbued with the Arian pravity, and made insolent by success, boiled over from the parts of Mauritania into the Thebaid region. Who plundering and burning all monasteries, and insulting the consecrated virgins, at last arrived even at the monastery of Scetis, where they not only, according to their impious custom, defiled the altar, and carried off the sacred vessels, but also bore away that most holy relic, the chief glory of the Laura,--namely, the bracelet of the holy Amma, impiously pretending that it had belonged to a warrior of their tribe, and thus expounded the writing thereon engraven--

'For Amalric Amal's Son Smid Troll's Son Made Me.

Wherein whether they spoke truth or not, yet their sacrilege did not remain unpunished; for attempting to return homeward toward the sea by way of the Nile, they were set upon while weighed down with wine and sleep, by the country people, and to a man miserably destroyed. But the pious folk, restoring the holy gold to its pristine sanctuary, were not unrewarded: for since that day it grows glorious with ever fresh miracles--as of blind restored to sight, paralytics to strength, demoniacs to sanity--to the honour of the orthodox Catholic Church, and of its ever-blessed saints.' ...............

So be it. Pelagia and Philammon, like the rest, went to their own place; to the only place where such in such days could find rest; to the desert and the hermit's cell, and then forward into that fairy land of legend and miracle, wherein all saintly lives were destined to be enveloped for many a century thenceforth.

And now, readers, farewell. I have shown you New Foes under an old face--your own likenesses in toga and tunic, instead of coat and bonnet. One word before we part. The same devil who tempted these old Egyptians tempts you. The same God who would have saved these old Egyptians if they had willed, will save you, if you will. Their sins are yours, their errors yours, their doom yours, their deliverance yours. There is nothing new under the sun. The thing which has been, it is that which shall be. Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone, whether at Hypatia or Pelagia, Miriam or Raphael, Cyril or Philammon.

THE END


Hypatia - 97/97

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