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Coptic Anchorites
Abba Stephanos the Anchorite

Anba Stephanos The Anchorite of the Wilderness of Fayoum
Edited from Arabic by Archdeacon Aziz Nashed

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     Hearken, O brethren, so that I may tell you of something I have seen with my eyes and heard with my ears.

  It happened that once while I was wandering about in the wilderness, meditating on the Lords creation .. its deep valleys, high mountains, tamed beasts and birds of all species, I got amazed and I praised the almighty creator.

  Then amidst a location covered with various trees and fountains of water, I came upon a skull neglected in the sand of the wilderness. It turned white in color due to the intense heat by day and frigidity by night. I glorified the Lord and wondered what might be its story. I wished if it could speak and tell me about what it had encountered; of joy or misery throughout its life. I looked then, towards the east and prayed to the Lord so that he might show me its concerns.

  However, before finishing my prayers, I heard a voice calling : Listen carefully, father Stephanos, for I am going to tell you my story in order to caution you and also for you to recount it to your brethren, warning them of the day of judgment and to urge them to be vigil and to persevere in praying, for the resurrection of the bodies is a fact. Nobody on that day can redeem his brother or father, but each one will be judged according to his deeds. Deeds of mercy please God, and prayers illuminate your heart. Beware of delay and convey my message to everyone otherwise they join me in that place where, Its worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched   (Mark 9:44)

  Regarding my biography, I state that I was a greedy merchant who earned money through usury, and who had an excessive desire to acquire more. I was always envious and I had malicious desire all my brethren dispossessed.

I have never given to the needy nor felt sympathy towards them.

  I have never felt the need to pray or to pursue the Lords commandments. I was physically strong and healthy and I was fortunate to have good children who helped the needy and cared for the strangers. They always urged me to be merciful and be a good-doer but I didnt care. However, in spite of all the riches I had possessed, I have never allowed them to touch it, because I was striving to accumulate it.

  One day I traveled to a distant oasis to carry on commerce. I prepared myself for a long stay, and I took many camels and many lads. I hired a guide to go on with me and carried a lot of money and goods. Unexpectedly, the guide lost his way and I was left wandering about in the wilderness for three days.

Woe to the person who has a guide other than the Lord. The intensified heat of the sun killed the camels and pushed the lads to flee. I was left alone; nevertheless I was attached to my possessions, which I preferred not to abandon. I stayed three more days eating of what was left over until there was no more to be eaten. Then I realized that I approached death, and began to meditate over life and the transient world and how I had enraged God with my evil deeds. I started loosing my consciousness and then I lost my eye sight.

  However, on the third day, I opened my eyes and saw a dreadful angel holding a flaming sword and blowing fire from his mouth. He ordered my soul to get out, where he received,  and passed it to his fellow Demons who hooked it and then brought me to this place of torture where they cast me and left.

   In the depth, I met with an elder whom I was acquainted with in the world. He was an evil-doer like me, and thus he was then suffering punishment.

  Suddenly I heard an enormous thundering sound, and the angel of torture appeared, and cast me down into the darkest pit of Hades, where I exist until now.

  I asked him if he could see those who dwell in the paradise. He said that none could see them except the righteous, for there was a vast immeasurable gap between both.

  Woe to me, for neither money nor children could help me out of it, and time of repentance has passed.

  Therefore, beware Father Stephanos, and persevere in praying and giving. Urge others to watch because they do not know when our Lord is coming. I disobeyed my parents, pursued my lusts and transgressed the Divine commandments.

  However, behold, the only way for salvation is the belief in Jesus Christ who was incarnate of the Holy Virgin St. Mary and who was rejected by the Jews, and through whom we are baptized and receive the Holy Eucharist.

  Woe to me, I the wicked because I had known all these facts, but I did not observe them.

  Then he repeated these words three times, adding that he was commanded to deliver that message to me. He then stood silent.

  I took the skull and buried it in a cave. And went back to my brethren to recount all the story.

  We wish and pray that God may enlighten our hearts and help us live according to his will, and look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the coming age.

  Glory be to God forever and ever.

Amen.

 

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