The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

ABBA NILUS and ABBA NISTERUS - Prayer and the Virtues

Today we will look at the teachings of Abba Nilus and Abba Nisterus.  Unfortunately, there is no biographical information on either of these Desert Fathers available, beyond the fact that they lived in the Egyptian desert.  First, a few thoughts from Abba Nilus on prayer, and then some teachings from Abba Nisterus on several of the spiritual virtues:

BEGIN:  Abba Nilus said, "Everything you do in revenge against a brother who has harmed you will come back to your mind at the time of prayer."

"Prayer is the seed of gentleness and the absence of anger."

"Prayer is a remedy against grief and depression."

"Go, sell all that belongs to you and give it to the poor and taking up the cross, deny yourself; in this way you will be able to pray without distraction."

"Whatever you have endured out of love of wisdom will bear fruit for you at the time of prayer."

"If you want to pray properly, do not let yourself be upset or you will run in vain."

"Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases; then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer."  END

Abba Nisterus on the spiritual virtues:

BEGIN: Abba Nisterus the Great was walking in the desert with a brother.  They saw a dragon and they ran away.  The brother said to him, "Were you frightened too, Father?"  The old man said to him, "I am not afraid, my child, but it is better for me to flee, so as not to have to flee from the spirit of vainglory."

A brother questioned an old man saying, "What good work should I do so that I may live?"  The old man said, "God knows what is good.  I have heard it said that one of the Fathers asked Abba Nisterus the Great, the friend of Abba Anthony, and said to him, "What good work is there that I could do?"  He said to him, "Are not all actions equal?  Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him.  David was humble, and God was with him.  Elias loved interior peace and God was with him.  So, do whatever you see your soul desires according to God and guard your heart."

Abba Joseph said to Abba Nisterus, "What should I do about my tongue, for I cannot control it?"  The old man said to him, "When you speak, do you find peace?"  He replied, "No."  The old man said, "If you do not find peace, why do you speak?  Be silent and when a conversation takes place, it is better to listen than to speak."

A brother saw Abba Nisterus wearing two tunics and he questioned him saying, "If a poor man came to ask you for a tunic, which would you give him?"  He replied, "The better one."  And if someone else asked you for one, what would you give him?"  The old man said, "Half of the other one."  The brother said, "And if someone else asked for one, what would you give him?"  He said, "I should cut the rest, give him half, and gird myself with whatever was left."  So, the brother said, "And if someone came and asked you for that, what would you do?"  The old man said, "I would give him the rest and go and sit down somewhere, until God sent me something to cover myself with, for I would not ask anyone for anything."

Abba Nisterus said that a monk ought to ask himself every night and every morning, "What have we done that is as God will and what have we left undone of that which he does not will?"  "He must do this throughout his whole life.  This is how Abba Arsenius used to live.  Every day strive to come before God without sin.  Pray to God in his presence, for he really is present.  Do not impose rules on yourself; do not judge anyone. 

Swearing, making false oaths, lying, getting angry, insulting people, laughing, all that is alien to monks, and he who is esteemed or exalted above that which he deserves suffers great harm."

They said of Abba Nisterus when he lived at Rhaithou that for three weeks of the year he would weave baskets, making six each week."  END

From Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 153-155