When Christians first began living as monks in the Egyptian desert at the beginning of the fourth century, they had few books and almost no learning. As they gained experience, they concentrated that experience in the form of an oral tradition of tales and sayings (apophthegmata). Apart from the Scriptures (also learned by heart) this was the only training manual they had. Consequently, when the onslaught of barbarians drove many monks out of Egypt early in the following century, they found it better to preserve their oral tradition in writing. Thus, towards the end of the fifth century there eventually emerged a codification of this monastic lore. It was in two parts: one in which the items were arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the monk who either authored the saying or was characterized in the tale; the other in which all the remaining “anonymous” material was arranged under various heads. The present volume is an attempt to provide the reader with a readable translation of the first of those parts.
“Abba Antony said: ‘A time is coming when people will rave and when they see somebody who is not raving, they will attack him, saying: ‘You are raving [mad]’; for he is not like them.’” (Page 37)
“He also said: ‘Do not entrust your conscience to somebody in whose heart you do not have confidence.’” (Page 260)
“He also said: ‘There are some who, after wearing their bodies away with askēsis, have become distant from God because they did not have discretion.’” (Page 32)
“Dioscorus 2 [3.23] A brother asked Abba Poemen: ‘My logismoi are troubling me; they are not allowing me to be concerned about my sins but are making me pay attention to the shortcomings of my brother.’ Abba Poemen told him how Abba Dioscorus was in his cell weeping over himself. His disciple was staying in another cell; when he visited the elder he found him weeping. He said to him: ‘Why are you weeping, father?’ The elder said: ‘I am weeping for my sins.’ His disciple said to him: ‘You do not have sins, father.’ The elder replied: ‘Indeed, if I am permitted to see my sins, three or four others will not be enough to weep for them.’” (Page 93)
“Abba Macarius visited Abba Pachomius of the Tabennesiotes, and Abba Pachomius asked Abba Macarius: ‘When there are brothers who are out of order, is it good to correct them?’ Abba Macarius said to him: ‘Correct [them] and judge aright those who are under your authority, but judge nobody who is not, for it is written: ‘Do you not judge those who are inside [the fellowship]? But God judges those who are outside [it]’ ’ [1 Cor 5:12–13].” (Page 209)