Letters to Olympias
The deaconess Olympias to whom seventeen of Chrysostom's extant letters are addressed was the most eminent of his female friends. She belonged to a Pagan family of high rank, and was born about 368. Her father Seleucus who was a count of the Empire died when she was a young girl and she was brought up under the guardianship of an uncle Procopius, who has a devout Christian and a friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. Gregory took great interest in her, speaking of her in his letters as «his own Olympias» and delighting to be addressed by her as «father.» Her governess Theodosia, sister of St. Amphilochius of Iconium, was a woman whom Gregory exhorted her to imitate as the very pattern of Christian goodness. The orphan girl had great personal beauty, and was the heiress of a large fortune. Naturally therefore she had many suitors, and in 384 at the age of sixteen she was wedded to Nebridius, a young man of high rank and irreproachable character. The marriage however does not seem to have been a happy one, and perhaps in this fact as well as in the death of her husband about two years after their union, Olympias saw a divine intimation that she should not entangle herself again in the worldly cares and anxieties incident to married life. The Emperor Theodosius wished to unite her to a young Spaniard, Elpidius, a kinsman of his own, and irritated by her refusal, ordered her property to be confiscated until she should have attained her thirtieth year, unless she consented to the proposed union. Olympias however remained inflexible and in a letter of dignified sarcasm thanked the Emperor for relieving her from a heavy burden. «He could not have conferred a greater blessing upon her unless he had ordered her wealth to be bestowed upon the Churches and the poor.» Theodosius perceiving the uselessness, if not regretting the injustice, of his harsh decree, cancelled it, and left her in the undisturbed enjoyment of her property. Henceforward her time and wealth were devoted to the service of religion. She ministered to the necessities of the sick and poor, and supported the work of the Church in Greece, Asia Minor and Syria with such lavish donations, not only of her money but of her land, that even Chrysostom, who might be called the great preacher of almsgiving, warned her against indiscriminate liberality, reminding her that as her wealth was a trust committed to her by God she ought to be discreet in the management of it. This salutary advice gained him the ill-will of many avaricious bishops and clergy who had profited, or hoped to profit, by her gifts. She in her turn requited the Archbishop for his spiritual care by many little feminine attentions to his bodily wants, especially by seeing that he was supplied with wholesome food, and did not overstrain his feeble constitution by a too rigid abstinence. She herself however practised the most austere asceticism, renouncing the luxury of the bath, wearing none but old coarse clothing, and subjecting herself to severe restrictions in respect of food and sleep. After the expulsion of Chrysostom from Constantinople 404, through the intrigues of his enemies, Olympias suffered much from the persecution to which all his followers were subjected. She was accused of having been concerned in causing the fire which broke out immediately after his departure, and destroyed the Cathedral Church and the Senate House. Her intrepid demeanour before the præfect who tried in vain to frighten her into a confession of guilt, or induce her to edge Arsacius who had been intruded into the See by an arbitrary exercise of imperial power, excited general admiration; and the tidings of her fortitude were a great consolation to the exiled archbishop in the midst of much bodily suffering, and mental distress. It is not quite certain whether she was driven from Constantinople or voluntarily retired from it; nor have we any definite information concerning the remainder of her life.
To My Lady
The most reverend and divinely favored deaconess Olympias, I John, Bishop, send greeting in the Lord.
1. Come now let me relieve the wound of your despondency, and disperse the thoughts which gather this cloud of care around you. For what is it which upsets your mind, and why are you sorrowful and dejected? Is it because of the fierce black storm which has overtaken the Church, enveloping all things in darkness as of a night without a moon, and is growing to a head every day, travailing to bring forth disastrous shipwrecks, and increasing the ruin of the world? I know all this as well as you; none shall gainsay it, and if you like I will form an image of the things now taking place so as to present the tragedy yet more distinctly to you. We behold a sea upheaved from the very lowest depths, some sailors floating dead upon the waves, others engulfed by them, the planks of the ships breaking up, the sails torn to tatters, the masts sprung, the oars dashed out of the sailors» hands, the pilots seated on the deck, clasping their knees with their hands instead of grasping the rudder, bewailing the hopelessness of their situation with sharp cries and bitter lamentations, neither sky nor sea clearly visible, but all one deep and impenetrable darkness, so that no one can see his neighbour, while mighty is the roaring of the billows, and monsters of the sea attack the crews on every side.
But how much further shall I pursue the unattainable? For whatever image of our present evils I may seek speech shrinks baffled from the attempt. Nevertheless even when I look at these calamities I do not abandon the hope of better things, considering as I do who the pilot is in all this – not one who gets the better of the storm by his art, but calms the raging waters by his rod. But if He does not effect this at the outset and speedily, such is His custom – He does not at the beginning put down these terrible evils, but when they have increased, and come to extremities, and most persons are reduced to despair, then He works wondrously, and beyond all expectation, thus manifesting his own power, and training the patience of those who undergo these calamities. Do not therefore be cast down. For there is only one thing, Olympias, which is really terrible, only one real trial, and that is sin; and I have never ceased continually harping upon this theme; but as for all other things, plots, enmities, frauds, calumnies, insults, accusations, confiscation, exile, the keen sword of the enemy, the peril of the deep, warfare of the whole world, or anything else you like to name, they are but idle tales. For whatever the nature of these things may be they are transitory and perishable, and operate in a mortal body without doing any injury to the vigilant soul. Therefore the blessed Paul, desiring to prove the insignificance both of the pleasures and sorrows relating to this life, declared the whole truth in one sentence when he said – For the things which are seen are temporal. 2Corinthians 4:18 Why then do you fear temporal things which pass away like the stream of a river. For such is the nature of present things whether they be pleasant or painful. And another prophet compared all human prosperity not to grass, but to another material even more flimsy, describing the whole of it as the flower of grass. For he did not single out any one part of it, as wealth alone, or luxury alone, or power, or honour; but having comprised all the things which are esteemed splendid among men under the one designation of glory he said all the glory of man is as the flower of grass. Isaiah 40:6
2. Nevertheless, you will say, adversity is a terrible thing and grievous to be borne. Yet look at it again compared with another image and then also learn to despise it. For the railings, and insults, and reproaches, and gibes inflicted by enemies, and their plots are compared to a worn-out garment, and moth-eaten wool when God says Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings, for they shall wax old as does a garment, and like moth-eaten wool so shall they be consumed. Isaiah 50:7–8 Therefore let none of these things which are happening trouble you, but ceasing to invoke the aid of this or that person, and to run after shadows (for such are human alliances), do thou persistently call upon Jesus, whom you serve, merely to bow his head; and in a moment of time all these evils will be dissolved. But if you have already called upon Him, and yet they have not been dissolved, such is the manner of God's dealing (for I will resume my former argument); He does not put down evils at the outset, but when they have grown to a head, when scarcely any form of the enemy's malice remains ungratified, then He suddenly converts all things to a state of tranquillity and conducts them to an unexpected settlement. For He is not only able to turn as many things as we expect and hope, to good, but many more, yea infinitely more. Wherefore also Paul says now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 Could He not, for example, have prevented the three children at the outset from falling into trial? But He did not choose to do this, thereby conferring great pain upon them. Therefore He suffered them to be delivered into the hands of barbarians, and the furnace to be heated to an immeasurable height and the wrath of the king to blaze even more fiercely than the furnace, and hands and feet to be bound with great severity and they themselves to be cast into the fire; and then, when all they who beheld despaired of their rescue, suddenly, and beyond all hope, the wonder-working power of God, the supreme artificer, was displayed, and shone forth with exceeding splendour. For the fire was bound, and the bondmen were released; and the furnace became a temple of prayer, a place of fountains and dew, of higher dignity than a royal court, and the very hairs of their head prevailed over that all devouring element which gets the better even of iron and stone, and masters every kind of substance. And a solemn song of universal praise was instituted there by these holy men inviting every kind of created thing to join in the wondrous melody; and they uttered hymns of thanksgiving to God for that they had been bound, and also burnt, as far at least as the malice of their enemies had power; that they had been exiles from their country, captives deprived of their liberty, wandering outcasts from city and home, sojourners in a strange and barbarous land; for all this was the outpouring of a grateful heart. And when the malicious devices of their enemies were perfected (for what further could they attempt after their death?) and the labours of the heroes were completed, and the garland of victory was woven, and their rewards were prepared and nothing more was wanting for their renown; then at last their calamities were brought to an end, and he who caused the furnace to be kindled, and delivered them over to that great punishment, became himself the panegyrist of those holy heroes, and the herald of God's marvellous deed, and everywhere throughout the world issued letters full of reverent praise, recording what had taken place, and becoming the faithful herald of the miracles wrought by the wonder-working God. For inasmuch as he had been an enemy and adversary what he wrote was above suspicion even in the opinion of enemies.
3. Do you see the abundance of resource belonging to God? His wisdom, His extraordinary power, His loving-kindness and care? Be not therefore dismayed or troubled but continue to give thanks to God for all things, praising, and invoking Him; beseeching and supplicating; even if countless tumults and troubles come upon you, even if tempests are stirred up before your eyes let none of these things disturb you. For our Master is not baffled by the difficulty, even if all things are reduced to the extremity of ruin. For it is possible for Him to raise those who have fallen, to convert those who are in error, to set straight those who have been ensnared, to release those who have been laden with countless sins, and make them righteous, to quicken those who are dead, to restore lustre to decayed things, and freshness to those which have waxen old. For if He makes things which are not, come into being, and bestows existence on things which are nowhere by any means manifest, how much more will He rectify things which already exist. But you will say there are many who perish, many who are caught by snares. Many such things have indeed often taken place, yet afterwards have all received their appropriate correction, save some few who have remained in an incurable condition, even after the change in their circumstances. Why are you troubled and distracted because such a person is cast out and such another is put into his place? Christ was crucified and the release of Barabbas the robber was demanded, and the depraved populace clamoured for the preservation of the murderer rather than of the Saviour and benefactor. How many think you then stumbled at these things? How many were destroyed? But I must carry my argument yet further back. Did not He who was crucified become immediately after his birth a wanderer and a fugitive? Was He not from the very cradle removed with the whole household into a strange land, taking that long journey into a barbarous region? And this removal gave occasion to torrents of blood, and cruel murder and slaughter, and all the children of tender age were cut to pieces just as if they had been soldiers arrayed in battle, and infants torn from the breast were handed over to death, and even when the milk was in their throats, the sword was driven through their necks. What could be more distressing than this tragedy? And these things were done by him who sought to destroy Jesus, yet the long-suffering God endured this tragical cruelty, which caused so much bloodshed, and forbore to prevent it although He had the power, displaying his long-suffering for some inscrutably wise purpose. And when Jesus had returned from the foreign land and was grown up, war was rekindled against him on every side. First of all the disciples of John were envious of Him and tried to slander Him, although John himself behaved reverently to Him, and they said He who was with you beyond Jordan, behold the same baptizes and all men come to Him. John 3:26 For these were the words of men who were already irritated, and agitated by ill-will, and consumed by that passion. For the same reason also one of the disciples who said these things disputed with a certain Jew and raised a contentious argument about purifying, comparing one kind of baptism with another, the baptism of John with that of the disciples of Christ. For there arose it is said, a questioning on the part of John's disciples with a certain Jew about purifying. And when He began to work miracles how many calumniators He had! Some called Him a Samaritan and demoniac saying You are a Samaritan and hast a Devil John 8:48 others a deceiver, saying This man is not of God but deceives the multitude John 7:12 others a sorcerer saying He casts out devils through Beelzebub the prince of the Devils Matthew 9:34 and they continually said these things against Him and called Him an adversary of God, and a gluttonous, and greedy man, and a drunkard, and a friend of the wicked and depraved. For He said, the Son of man came eating and drinking and they say behold a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. Luke 7:34 And when he was conversing with the harlot they called Him a false prophet; For had He been a prophet, one said, He would have known who this woman is which speaks unto Him; Luke 7:39 in fact every day they sharpened their teeth against Him. And not only did the Jews thus oppose Him, but even those who were reputed to be his brethren were not sincerely attached to Him, but even out of his own family opposition was kindled against Him. See at least how they also themselves were perverted, from the evangelist adding the remark for neither did His brethren believe in Him. John 7:5
4. But since you call to mind many who were offended and went astray, how many of the disciples do you suppose were offended at the time of the crucifixion? One betrayed Him, the others took to flight, one denied Him, and when all had abandoned Him He was led away bound without companions. How many then think you who had lately seen Him working His miracles, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, casting out devils, multiplying loaves, and doing all other kinds of wonderful deeds, were offended at that season, when they beheld Him led away and bound, surrounded by common soldiers, and followed by Jewish priests making a tumult and uproar; alone in the midst hemmed in by all his enemies, and the traitor standing by and exulting in his deed? And what was the effect think you when He was being scourged? And probably a vast multitude was present. For it was an illustrious festival which brought all together, and this drama of iniquity was enacted in the capital city, and in the very middle of the day. How many think you who were present then were offended when they saw Him bound, scourged, streaming with blood, examined before the governor's tribunal, and not one of His disciples standing by? What was the effect again when He was subjected to those manifold kinds of mockery, successively repeated, when they crowned Him with thorns, then arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, then put a reed in His hand, then fell down and worshipped Him, setting in motion every species of ribaldry and derision? How many think you were offended, how many bewildered, how many perplexed when they smote Him on the cheek and said prophesy unto us you Christ, who is He that smote you? Matthew 26:28 and when they led Him hither and there, and spent the whole day in scoffs and abuse, and ribaldry and derision in the midst of the Jewish assembly? And when the servant of the High-Priest dealt Him a blow; and when the soldiers parted His garments among them and when He was led up to the cross, having the marks of the scourge upon His back, and was fastened to the wood, how many think you were offended? For not even then were those savage beasts softened, but became more furious than before, and the tragedy became more intense, and the ribaldry increased. For some said Ah! Thou that destroyest the temple, and in three days buildest it up; Matthew 27:40 and some, He saved others, Himself He cannot save. Matthew 27:42
And others said If you are the Son of God come down from the cross and we will believe you. Matthew 27:40
Again when they insulted Him by offering Him gall and vinegar on the sponge how many think you were offended? Or when the robbers reviled Him? Or when as I have already said, they made that dreadful and monstrous assertion that the robber and housebreaker, the man laden with the crime of murder deserved to be released rather than Jesus, and having received permission from the judge to make their choice preferred Barabbas, desiring not only to crucify Christ, but also to involve Him in infamy? For they thought that by these means they should be able to manufacture the belief that He was worse than the robber, and such a great transgressor that neither on the plea of mercy, nor of the privilege of the Festival was it possible to save Him. For they did everything with a view to slander His fame; which also was the reason why they crucified the two robbers with Him. Nevertheless the truth was not obscured, but shone forth all the more clearly. And they accused Him of usurping kingly power saying Every one who makes himself a king is not a friend of Cæsar bringing this charge of usurpation against one who had not where to lay his head. Moreover they brought a calumnious accusation of blasphemy against Him. For the High Priest rent his clothes saying He has spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? Matthew 26:65 And what was the nature of his death? Was it not a violent one? Was it not the death of capital offenders? Of execrable criminals? Was it not of the vilest kind? Was it not the death of those who have perpetrated the worst offenses, and are not worthy to draw even their last breath upon the earth? And then as to the manner of his burial, was it not accomplished as a matter of favour? For a certain one came and begged for his body. Thus not even he who buried Him belonged to his own friends, to those whom He had benefited, to his disciples, to those who had enjoyed such free and salutary intercourse with Him, for all had taken to flight, all had hurried away from Him. And that base suspicion which his enemies contrived in consequence of the resurrection when they said His disciples came and stole Him Matthew 28:13 how many think you were offended, how many for a time upset by that? For the story prevailed at that time, although it was a fabrication, and was bought for money; nevertheless it held its ground among some people, after the seals (of the sepulchre were broken) after the manifest appearance of the truth. For the multitude did not know the prediction of the resurrection (and no wonder), inasmuch as even his disciples did not understand it; for we read they did not know that He must rise again from the dead. John 20:9 How many therefore think you were offended in those days? And yet the long-suffering God patiently endured, ordering all things according to His own inscrutable wisdom.
5. Then again after those days the disciples continued to live in hiding and secrecy, being fugitives full of fear and trembling, continually shifting from place to place, and even when they began to appear after fifty days, and to work miracles, they did not enjoy perfect security; but even after those events there were innumerable stumbling-blocks to offend the weaker brethren, when they were scourged, when the Church was distressed, when they themselves were driven away, and their enemies had the upper hand in many places, and raised tumults. For when they had acquired much confidence by means of the miracles which they wrought, then the death of Stephen again caused a severe persecution, and dispersed them all, and involved the Church in confusion; and the disciples were again alarmed, fugitive, and distressed. And yet the Church continually grew, when it flourished by means of the signs which were wrought and became illustrious from the manner of its introduction. One disciple for example was let down through a window, and so escaped the hands of the ruler; others were brought out of prison by an angel and so released from their fetters; others were received into the houses of common people and artisans when they were driven out by those in authority; they were courteously treated in every way, by female sellers of purple, by tentmakers, and tanners dwelling in the outskirts of the cities, and by the sea shore. Frequently moreover they did not dare to appear in the middle of the towns; and if they did venture there themselves their entertainers did not. And thus amidst alternate trials, and respites from trial, the fabric of the Church was wrought, and they who once stumbled were afterwards set upright, and they who wandered away were brought back, and the ruined places were built up more firmly than before. For this cause when Paul prayed that the preaching of the word might proceed by a smooth course only, God rich in wisdom and resource did not yield to His disciple; nay even when many times invoked he would not consent but said my grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 2Corinthians 12:9 If then even now you will reckon up the good things with the painful, you will see that many events have occurred which if not positive signs and wonders do yet resemble signs, and are unspeakable proofs of the great providence and succour of God. But that you may not hear everything from me without any trouble, I leave this as your task, that you may reckon up everything accurately and compare them with the misfortunes, and by occupying yourself with this good employment may divert your mind from despondency; for you will derive much consolation from this work.
Pray say many kind words from me to all your blessed household. May you continue in good health and good spirits, most reverend and divinely favoured lady.
If you wish me to write long letters inform me of this, and pray do not deceive me by saying that you have thrown off all despondency, and are enjoying a season of rest. For letters are a remedy of the proper kind to produce great cheerfulness in you, and you will continually see letters from me. And when you write to me again do not say I have much comfort from your letters, for this I know of myself, but tell me that you have as much as I wish you to have, that you are not confounded with sorrow, that you do not pass your time in weeping, but in serenity and cheerfulness.
Do not be anxious on my behalf, nor rack yourself with solicitude, on account of the severity of the winter, and the weakness of my digestion, and the incursions of the Isaurians. For the winter is only what it is wont to be in Armenia; nothing more need be said about it; and it does not very seriously injure me. For in anticipation of these things I have devised many plans for averting the mischief which might arise from them; keeping up a constant fire, setting screens about the chamber in which I live, using a large number of rugs, and staying always indoors. This indeed is irksome to me, if it were not for the benefit to be derived; for as long as I remain indoors I am not severely distressed by the cold; but if I am compelled to go out a little, and come in contact with the outer air, I suffer no small damage. Wherefore I beseech you dear lady, and entreat you as a very great favour to pay great attention to the restoration of your bodily health. For dejection causes sickness; and when the body is exhausted and enfeebled, and remains in a neglected condition, deprived of the assistance of physicians, and of a wholesome climate, and an abundant supply of the necessaries of life, consider how great an aggravation of distress is occasioned thereby. Wherefore I beseech you, dear lady, to employ various and skilled physicians, and to take medicines which avail to correct these conditions. For a few days ago when I suffered from a tendency to vomiting, owing to the state of the atmosphere, I had recourse among other remedies to the drug which was sent me by my most discreet mistress Syncletion, and I found that no more than three days» application of it cured my infirmity. I beseech you therefore to make use of this remedy also yourself and to arrange that some more of it may be sent to me. For having again felt somewhat upset, I again had recourse to it, and completely cured my disorder; for it allays the deep internal inflammation, draws out moisture on the skin, causes a moderate degree of warmth, infuses no little vigor, and excites an appetite for food; and all these effects I experienced in the course of a few days. Let then my most honoured lord the Count Theophilus be exhorted to take means to send some of this to me again. And do not be distressed at my wintering here, for I am in a much more comfortable and sounder state of health than I was last year; so that if you also would take the requisite care of yourself, you would be in a far more satisfactory condition. Now if you say that your ailments have been produced by despondency how is it that you again ask for letters from me, seeing that you have not derived any benefit from them in the direction of cheerfulness, but have sunk so deeply under the tyranny of despondency as even to desire to depart out of this world. Are you ignorant how great a reward even of sickness awaits one who has a thankful spirit? Have I not often, both in person, and through letters, discoursed to you concerning this theme? But since the pressure of business perhaps, or the peculiar nature of your sickness, and the quick succession of changes in your condition do not permit you to retain what I have said constantly and clearly in your mind, listen once more while I try to heal the wounds of your despondency by repeating the same incantations: for to write the same things, it is said, to me indeed is not grievous, and for you it is safe. Philippians 3:1
2. What is it then which I say and write? Nothing, Olympias, redounds so much to the credit of any one as patient endurance in suffering. For this is indeed the queen of virtues, and the perfection of crowns; and as it excels all other forms of righteousness, so this particular species of it is more glorious than the rest. Perhaps what I have said seems obscure; I will therefore try to make it clearer. What then is it that I affirm? Not the spoliation of goods, even if one were to be stripped bare of all one's possessions, not the loss of honours, nor expulsion from one's country, and transportation to a distant land, nor the strain of labour and toil, nor imprisonment, and bondage, nor reproaches, and abuse, and scoffings (not indeed that you are to think the courageous endurance of such things a slight kind of fortitude, as Jeremiah that great and eminent prophet proves who was not a little distressed by this kind of trial); Jeremiah xv yet not even this, nor the loss of children, even should they be torn from us in one fell swoop, nor the perpetual assaults of enemies, nor anything else of that nature, no, nor even the head and crown of things accounted painful, namely death, terrible and loathsome though it be, is so oppressive as infirmity of body. And this is proved by the greatest hero of endurance, who, when he was encompassed by bodily sickness, thought death would be a release from the calamities which were depressing him; and when he underwent all the other sufferings, was not sensible of them, although he received blow after blow, and at last a deadly one. For it was no slight matter, but rather an evidence of the most malignant cruelty on the part of his enemy in dealing with one who was no novice in suffering, nor entering the lists for the first time, but already exhausted with the frequent repetition of assaults, to inflict upon him that deadly blow, the destruction of his children, so cruelly inflicted moreover that all of either sex were destroyed at the same moment in early youth and by a violent end, and so instantaneous was their death that it involved their burial also. For their father neither saw them laid upon abed, nor kissed their hands, nor heard their last words, nor touched their hands and knees, nor did he shut their mouths, or close their eyes when they were about to die, acts which tend not a little to console parents who are being parted from their children; neither did he follow some of them to burial, and find others on his return home to console him for those who had departed; but he heard that as they were reclining on their couches at a banquet, a banquet full of love, not of excess, a table of brotherly kindness, they were all overwhelmed; and blood, and wine, the cups and the ceiling, the table, and the dust, and the limbs of his children, were all mingled together. Nevertheless when he heard these things, and others before these which were also distressing; for they too had perished in a distressing way; flocks and whole herds had been destroyed, the latter having been consumed by fire sent down from heaven, (so said the evil messenger of this tragedy,) and the former having been all seized together by various enemies, and cut to pieces as well as the shepherds themselves; nevertheless I say when he saw this great storm stirred up in a brief moment of time affecting his lands, his house, his cattle, and his children, when he saw billow following billow, and long lines of rocks, and the darkness was profound, and the surging waves unbearable, even then he was not tortured by despondency, and scarcely seemed to feel the things which had happened, save so far as he was a man and a father. But when he was delivered over to sickness and sores, then did he also long for death, then did he also bewail himself and lament, so that you may understand how this kind of suffering is more severe than all others, and this form of patience the highest of all. Nor is the Devil himself unaware of this fact; for when after having set in motion all these trials he perceived that the hero remained untroubled and undismayed he rushed to this as the greatest contest of all, saying that all the other calamities were bearable, as loss of child, or property, or anything else (for this is what is meant by the expression skin for skin Job 2:4) but the deadly blow was when pain was inflicted on a man's body. And therefore when he had been worsted after this contest, he had no longer a word to utter, although on former occasions he had made the most strenuous and shameless resistance. In this instance however he found that he could not invent any further shameless device, but hid his face and retreated.
3. Think not however that it is an excuse to justify you in desiring death, that Job desired it, not being able to bear his sufferings. For consider the time when he desired it, and the disposition of his circumstances – the law was not given, the prophets had not appeared, grace had not been shed forth as it was afterwards, nor had he the advantage of any other kind of philosophy. For as a proof that more is demanded from us than from those who lived then, and that harder tasks are assigned to us, listen to Christ, when He says Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 5:20 Do not think therefore that to pray for death now is exempt from blame, but hearken to the voice of St. Paul when he says To depart and to be with Christ is far better, but to abide in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Philippians 1:23–24 For in proportion as the strain of the affliction is increased are the garlands of victory multiplied; in proportion as the gold is heated does it become purified, the longer the merchant makes his voyage on the sea, the larger is the freight which he collects. Do not then think that the labour now allotted to you is a slight one, but rather that it is higher than all which you have undergone, I mean that which consists in infirmity of body. For in the case of Lazarus Luke xvi (and although I may have often said this to you, it nowise hinders me from saying it now) this bodily infirmity availed for his salvation; and he departed to the bosom of the man who possessed a dwelling which he shared with all who passed by, and was continually shifting his home on account of God's command, and sacrificed his own son, his only begotten, who had been given him in extreme old age; although Lazarus had done none of these things yet he obtained this blessing inasmuch as he cheerfully endured poverty, and infirmity, and friendlessness. For this is so great a good to those who bear anything bravely that it releases any one who may have committed the greatest sins from the heaviest burden of them; or if any one is an upright and just man it becomes an additional ground of the greatest confidence. For it is a bright wreath of victory for the just, shining far above the brightness of the sun, and it is the greatest means of purification for those who have sinned. On this account Paul delivers the man who had made the incestuous marriage to destruction of the flesh, purifying him by this means. For as a proof that what was done did purify even from so great a stain hear his words that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 1Corinthians 5:5 And when he was accusing others of another very awful sin, that of partaking unworthily of the holy table and those secret mysteries, and had said that such a person will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, 1Corinthians 11:27 observe how he says that they also are purified from that grievous stain – therefore are many weak and sickly among you. 1Corinthians 11:30 And then by way of proving that they will not be confined to this condition of punishment, but that some profit will be derived from it, namely release from the penalties to which the sin is liable, he added: for if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But now when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. 1Corinthians 11:31–32 Moreover that they who have lived very righteously derive much benefit from such chastisement is plain from the case of Job, who was more illustrious after it than before, and from the case of Timothy, who although he was such a good man, and entrusted with such an important ministry, and made the circuit of the world with Paul passed not two or three days, nor ten or twenty, or a hundred, but many in succession in ill health, his body being very seriously enfeebled. Paul shows this where he said Use a little wine for your stomach's sake, and your frequent infirmities. 1 Timothy 5:23 And he who raised the dead did not cure this man's infirmity, but left him in the furnace of his sickness so that he might therefrom contract a very great abundance of confidence. For the lessons which Paul himself had enjoyed from his Master, and the training which he had received from Him, he imparted to his disciple. For although he was not subjected to bodily infirmity, yet he was buffeted by trials not less severe, which inflicted much physical pain. For there was given unto me he says a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me meaning by this the blows, the bonds, the chains, the imprisonments, the being dragged about, and maltreated, and tortured by the scourges of public executioners. Wherefore also being unable to bear the pain occasioned to the body by these things for this I besought the Lord thrice (thrice here meaning many times) that I might be delivered from this thorn. And then when he did not obtain his petition, having learned the benefit of the trial, he held his peace, and rejoiced at the things which happened unto him.
Therefore even if you remain at home, and are set fast in bed, do not consider your life an idle one; for you undergo more severe pains than those who are dragged, and maltreated, and tortured by executioners, inasmuch as in this excessive infirmity of yours you have a perpetual executioner residing with you.
4. Do not then now desire death, nor neglect the means of cure; for indeed this would not be safe. On this account Paul also exhorts Timothy to take the greatest care of himself. As regards infirmity then enough has now been said. But if it is separation from me which causes your despondency expect release from this. And I have not said this now merely to encourage you, but I am sure that it really will be the case. For if it were not destined to happen, I should long ago, so at least I think, have departed from this world, considering the trials which have been inflicted on me. For to pass over all that occurred in Constantinople, after my departure thence, you may understand what sufferings I endured on that long and cruel journey, most of which were sufficient to produce death; what I endured after my arrival here, after my removal from Cucusus, and after my sojourn in Arabissus. Yet I have survived all these things, and now I am in sound health, and great security, so that all Armenians are astonished that with such a feeble and flimsy frame as mine I can support such an intolerable amount of cold, or that I can breathe at all, when those who are habituated to the winter are suffering from it in no common degree. Nevertheless I have remained uninjured up to the present day, having escaped the hands of robbers who have repeatedly attacked us, and yet in daily want of the necessaries of life, and deprived of the use of a bath; and although since my sojourn here I have been constantly without this luxury I am now so established in the habit that I do not even long for the comfort to be derived from it, but am in sounder health than before. And neither the inclemency of the climate, nor the desolation of the region, nor the scarcity of provisions, nor the lack of attendants, nor the unskillfulness of physicians, nor the deprivation of the bath, nor perpetual confinement in one chamber as in a prison, and the impossibility of moving about which I always used continually to need, nor perpetual contact with fire and smoke, nor fear of robbers, nor a constant state of siege, nor anything else of this kind has got the better of me; on the contrary I am in a sounder condition of health than I was elsewhere, although I then received great care and attention. Taking all these things then into consideration pray shake off the despondency which now oppresses you, and do not exact inordinate and cruel penances from yourself. I sent you the treatise which I have lately written, that no one can harm the man who does not injure himself, and the letter which I now send your honour contends for the same position. I beg you therefore to go over it constantly, and if your health permits you, recite it aloud. For if you will, it may prove an effectual remedy for you. But if you are contentious with me, and do not try to cure yourself, and will not rouse yourself from these dismal swamps of despondency in spite of the unlimited amount of advice and exhortation which you enjoy I shall not on my part readily consent to send you frequent and long letters, if you are not to derive any benefit in the way of cheerfulness from them. How then shall I know this? Not by your merely saying so, but by a practical proof, inasmuch as you lately affirmed that it was nothing but despondency which caused this sickness of yours. Since then you have yourself made this confession I shall not believe that you have got rid of your despondency unless you have got rid of your bodily infirmity. For if it is the former which causes your disorder, as you say in your letter, it is obvious that when that has been dispersed the other will be removed at the same time, and when the root has been plucked up, the branches perish with it – and if the branches continue flowering and flourishing, and producing an unnatural amount of fruit I cannot believe that you have been set free from the root of your distress. Therefore do not show me words but facts, and, if you get well, you will see letters sent to you again exceeding the limits of former communications. Deem it then no small consolation that I am alive, and in good health, and that in the midst of such circumstances I have been set free from sickness and infirmity, which, as I know, is a great annoyance and vexation to my enemies. It follows therefore that you should deem this the greatest encouragement, and the crown of your consolation. Do not call your household desolate, which has now a higher place assigned to it in Heaven by reason of the sufferings which it endures. I was grievously distressed on account of Pelagius the monk. Consider therefore what great rewards they deserve who bravely hold their ground, when men who pass their time in such a habit of discipline and endurance are found susceptible of degradation.
Having risen from the very gates of death I address this letter to the discreet lady; and I am very glad that your servants have met me just as I am anchoring at last in harbour. For had they met me when I was still tossing on the open sea, and experiencing the cruel waves of bodily sickness, it would not have been easy for me to deceive your cautious spirit, by sending good tidings instead of sorrowful. For the winter, which has become more than commonly severe, brought on a storm of internal disorder even more distressing, and during the last two months I have been no better than one dead, nay worse. For I had just enough life to be sensible of the horrors which encircled me, and day and dawn and noon were all one night to me as I spent all my time closely confined to my bed, and in spite of endless contrivances I could not shake off the pernicious effects of the cold; but although I kept a fire burning, and endured a most unpleasant amount of smoke, and remained cooped up in one chamber, covered with any quantity of wraps, and not daring to set a foot outside the threshold I underwent extreme sufferings, perpetual vomiting supervening on headache, loss of appetite, and constant sleeplessness. Thus restlessly did I pass through my long dark sea of troubles. But not to distress your mind by dwelling upon my miseries, from all of them I am now relieved. For as soon as spring approached, and a little change in the temperature took place, all my troubles spontaneously vanished. Nevertheless I still require great care as regards diet; therefore I put only a light load on my stomach, so that it may be able to digest it easily. But it has occasioned me no little concern to learn that my discreet mistress was brought to the verge of death. Nevertheless in consideration of my great affection, and anxiety, and solicitude for your welfare I was relieved from this care, even before the arrival of your letters, many persons having come from thence who brought me tidings of your restoration to health.
And now I am exceedingly glad and delighted to hear, not only that you have been released from your infirmity, but above all that you bear the things which befall you so bravely, calling them all but an idle tale; and, which is indeed a greater matter, that you have applied this name even to your bodily infirmity, which is an evidence of a robust spirit, rich in the fruit of courage. For not only to bear misfortunes bravely but to be actually insensible to them, to overlook them, and with such little exertion to wreathe your brows with the garland prize of patience, neither labouring, nor toiling, neither feeling distress nor causing it to others, but as it were leaping and dancing for joy all the while, this is indeed a proof of the most finished philosophy. Therefore I rejoice, and leap for joy; I am in a flutter of delight, I am insensible to my present loneliness, and the other troubles which surround me, being cheered, and brightened, and not a little proud on account of your greatness of soul, and the repeated victories which you have won, and this, not only for your own sake, but also for the sake of that large and populous city, where you are like a tower, a haven, and a wall of defense, speaking in the eloquent voice of example, and through your sufferings instructing either sex to strip readily for these contests, and descend into the lists with all courage, and cheerfully bear the toils which such contests involve. And the wonder is that without thrusting yourself into the forum, or occupying the public centres of the city, but sitting all the while in a small house and confined chamber you serve and anoint the combatants for the contest, and while the sea is thus raging round you, and the billows are rising to a crest, and crags and reefs, and rocky ledges and fierce monsters appear on every side, and everything is shrouded in the most profound darkness you, setting the sails of patience, float on with great serenity, as if it was noonday, and calm weather, and a favourable breeze wafting you on, and so far from being overwhelmed by this grievous tempest are not even sprinkled by the spray; and very naturally so; such is the force of virtue as a rudder. Now merchants and pilots, and sailors and voyagers when they see clouds gathering up, or fierce winds rushing down upon them, or the breakers seething with an abundance of foam keep their vessels moored inside harbour; and if they chance to be tempest-tossed in the open sea they do their best, and devise every means to bring their ship to some anchorage, or island or shore. But you, although such innumerable winds, and fierce waves burst upon you together, and the sea is heaved up from its very depths owing to the severity of the storm, and some are submerged, others floating dead upon the water, others drifting naked upon planks, you plunging into the mid ocean of calamities call all these things an idle tale, sailing on with a favourable breeze in the midst of the tempest; and naturally so; for pilots, even if they are infinitely wise in that science, nevertheless have not skill sufficient to withstand every kind of storm; consequently they often shrink from doing battle with the waves. But the science which you have is superior to every kind of storm – the power of a philosophic soul– which is stronger than ten thousand armies, more powerful than arms, and more secure than towers and bulwarks. For the arms, and bulwarks, and towers which soldiers have, are serviceable for the security of the body only, and this not always, nor in every way; but there are times when all these resources are baffled, and leave those who fly to them for refuge destitute of protection. But your powers do not repel the weapons of barbarians, nor the devices of hostile men, nor any assaults and stratagems of that kind, but they have trampled under foot the constraining forces of nature, put down their tyranny and levelled their citadel. And while ceaselessly contending with demons, you have won countless victories, yet have not received a single blow, but stand unwounded in the midst of a storm of darts and turn the spears which are hurled at you back upon those who discharge them. Such is the wisdom of your art; by the sufferings which you undergo you take vengeance on those who inflict them; by the plots of which you are the subject you put your enemies to pain, possessing in their malice the best foundation for the materials of fame. And you, knowing these things well yourself, and having gained perception by experience, naturally call them all an idle tale. For how, pray, should you not call them by that name, possessing as you do a mortal body, and yet despising death as if you were hastening to quit a foreign country, and return to your own land; a chronic sufferer from the most severe infirmity, and yet more cheerfully disposed than the thriving and robust, not depressed by insults, nor elated by honours and glory, the latter being a cause of infinite mischief to many who after an illustrious career in the priesthood, and after reaching extreme old age, and the most venerable hoar hairs, have fallen into disgrace on this account, and become a common spectacle of derision for those who wish to make merry. But you on the contrary, woman as you are, clothed with a fragile body, and subject to these severe attacks, have not only avoided falling into such a condition yourself, but have prevented many others from so doing. They indeed before they had advanced far in the contest, even at the very outset and starting point, have been overthrown; whereas you, after having gone countless times round the farther turning post, have won a prize in every course, after playing your part in manifold kinds of wrestling and combats. And very naturally so; for the wrestlings of virtue do not depend upon age, or bodily strength, but only on the spirit and the disposition. Thus women have been crowned victors, while men have been upset; so also boys have been proclaimed conquerors, while aged men have been put to shame. It is indeed always fitting to admire those who pursue virtue, but especially when some are found to cling to it at a time when many are deserting it. Therefore, my sweet lady, you deserve superlative admiration, inasmuch as after so many men, women, and aged persons who seemed to enjoy the greatest reputation have been turned to flight, all lying prostrate before the eyes of the world, and this not after a severe onslaught, nor any alarming muster of the enemy's force, but overthrown before the encounter and worsted before the struggle, you on the contrary after so many battles and such large muster of the enemy are so far from being unstrung, or dismayed by the number of your adversities, that you are all the more vigorous, and the increase of the contest gives you an increase of strength. For the recollection of what has been already achieved becomes the ground of cheerfulness, and joy, and greater zeal. Therefore I rejoice, and leap for joy; for I will not cease repeating this, and taking about with me everywhere the material of my joy; so that although my separation from you distresses you, yet you have this very great consolation arising from your successful exploits; for I also who am banished to so great a distance gain no small cheerfulness from this cause – I mean your courage.
Why do you lament? Why do you belabour yourself, and demand of yourself a punishment which your enemies were not able to demand from you, having thus abandoned your soul to the tyranny of dejection? For the letters which you sent to me by the hands of Patricius have discovered to me the wounds which have been inflicted on your mind. Wherefore also I am very sorrowful and much distressed that when you ought to be using every exertion and making it your business to expel dejection from your soul, you go about collecting distressing thoughts, even inventing things (so you say) which do not exist, and tearing yourself to pieces for no purpose, and to your very great injury. For why are you grieved because you could not remove me from Cucusus? Yet indeed, as far as you were concerned, you did remove me, having made every exertion and endeavour for this purpose. And even if it has not been actually accomplished you ought not to be vexed on that account. For perhaps it seemed good to God that I should be set to run the longer double course, in order that the garland of victory might be rendered more glorious. Why then are you vexed on account of these things, in consequence of which my fame is spread abroad, when you ought to leap and dance for joy and bind wreaths upon your brow, because I have been deemed worthy of so great an honour which far exceeds my merits? Is it the desolation of this place which grieves you? Yet what can be pleasanter than my sojourn here? I have quietness, and tranquillity, plenty of leisure and good bodily health. For although the town has neither market-place nor market that is nothing to me. For all things are poured abundantly upon me as out of a flowing spring. I find my lord the Bishop here and my lord Dioscorus are constantly employed in providing for my refreshment. And the good Patricius will tell you that as far as my sojourn here is concerned I pass my time cheerfully and gladly, surrounded by attention. But if you lament the events which occurred in Cæsarea, here again your conduct is unworthy of yourself. For there also bright garlands of victory were woven for me, inasmuch as all were proclaiming and publishing my praises, and expressing wonder and astonishment at the ill-treatment to which I had been subjected followed by expulsion. Meanwhile however do not let any one know these things, although they are the theme of much gossip. For my lord Pœanius has disclosed to me that the presbyters of Pharetrius himself have arrived on the spot, who declare that they were in communion with me and had no communication or intercourse or partnership with my adversaries. Therefore to avoid upsetting them do not let any one know these things. For certainly the things which befell me were very grievous: and if I had not suffered any other distress the events which happened there would have sufficed to procure innumerable rewards for me: so extreme was the danger which I encountered. Now I beseech you to keep these matters secret, and so I will give you a short account of them, not in order to grieve you but rather to make you glad. For herein consists the material of my gain, herein consists my wealth, herein the means of getting rid of my sins– that my journey is continually encompassed by trials of this kind, and that they are inflicted upon me by persons from whom they were quite unexpected. For when I was about to enter the region of Cappadocia, having escaped from that man of Galatia, who nearly threatened me with death, many persons met me on the way saying the lord Pharetrius is awaiting you, and going about in all directions for fear of missing the pleasure of meeting you, and making every possible endeavour to see you, and embrace you, and show you all manner of affectionate regard; and he has set the monasteries of men and women in motion for this purpose. Now when I heard these things I did not expect that any of them would really take place, but formed an impression in my own mind precisely the reverse: but of this I said nothing to any of those who brought me this message.
2. Now when I arrived late one evening at Cæsarea, in an exhausted and worn-out condition, being in the very height of a burning fever, faint and suffering to the last degree, I lighted upon an inn situated just at the outskirts of the city, and took great pains to find some physicians and allay this fiery fever; for it was now the height of my tertian malady. And in addition to this there was the fatigue of the journey, the toil, the strain, the total absence of attendants, the difficulty of getting supplies, the want of a physician, the wasting effects of toil, and heat and sleeplessness; thus I was well near a dead man when I entered the city. Then indeed I was visited by the whole body of the clergy, and the people, monks, nuns, physicians, and I had the benefit of great attention, as all paid me every kind of ministration and assistance. Yet even thus, being oppressed by the lethargy arising from the feverish heat I was in an extremely distressed condition. At length by degrees the malady was coming to an end and abating. Pharetrius however nowhere appeared; but waited for my departure, I know not with what purpose in view. When then I saw that my disorder had slightly abated I began to form plans for my journey so as to reach Cucusus, and enjoy a little repose after the calamities of the way. And while I was thus situated it was suddenly announced that the Isaurians in countless multitudes were overrunning the district of Cæsarea, and had burnt a large village, and were most violently disposed. The tribune, having heard this, took the soldiers which he had and went out. For they were afraid lest the enemy should make an assault also upon the city, and all were in terror, and in an agony of alarm the very soil of their country being in jeopardy, so that even the old men undertook the defense of the walls. While affairs were in this condition suddenly towards dawn a rabble of monks (for so I must call them, indicating their frenzy by the expression) rushed up to the house where we were, threatening to set fire to it, and to treat us with the utmost violence unless we turned out of it. And neither the fear of the Isaurians, nor my own infirmity which was so grievously afflicting me, nor anything else made them more reasonable, but they pressed on, animated by such fierce rage that even the proconsular soldiers were terrified. For they kept threatening them with blows and boasted that they had shamefully beaten many of the proconsular soldiers. The soldiers having heard these things, sought refuge with me, and entreated and beseeched me, saying even if we are to fall into the hands of the Isaurians deliver us from these wild beasts. When the governor heard this he hastened down to the house intending to succour me. But the monks would not pay any heed to his exhortations, and in fact he was powerless. Perceiving the great strait in which affairs were placed and not daring to advise me either to go out to certain death, or on the other hand to stay indoors, owing to the excessive fury of these men, he sent to Pharetrius beseeching him to grant a few days respite on account of my infirmity and the impending danger. But even then nothing was effected, and on the morrow the monks arrived even fiercer than before, and none of the presbyters dared to stand by me and help me, but covered with shame and blushes (for they said that these things were done by the instructions of Pharetrius) they concealed themselves and lay hid, not responding even when I called them. What need to make a long story? Although such great terrors were imminent, and death well near a certainty, and the fever was oppressing me (for I had not yet got relief from the troubles arising from that cause) I flung myself at high noon into the litter, and was carried out thence, all the people shrieking and howling, and imprecating curses on the perpetrator of these deeds, while every one wailed and lamented. But when I got outside the city, some of the clergy also gradually came out and escorted me, mourning as they went. And having heard some persons say Where are you leading him away to manifest death? one of those who was warmly attached to me said to me Depart I entreat you; fall into the hands of the Isaurians, provided you get clear away from us. For wherever you may fall, you will fall into a place of security, if only you escape our hands. Having heard and seen these things the good Seleucia, the generous wife of my lord Ruffinus (a most attentive friend she was to me), exhorted and entreated me to lodge at her suburban house which was about five miles from the city and she sent some men to escort me, and so I departed there.
3. But not even there was this plot against me to come to an end. For as soon as Pharetrius knew what she had done, he published, as she said, many threats against her. But when she received me into her suburban villa I knew nothing of these things; for when she came out to meet me she concealed these things from me, but disclosed them to her steward who was there, and ordered him to afford me every possible means of repose, and if any of the monks should make an assault, wishing to insult or maltreat me, he was to collect the labourers from her other farms, and thus marshal a force against them. Moreover she besought me to take refuge in her house, which had a fortress and was impregnable, that I might escape the hands of the bishop and monks. This however I could not be induced to do, but remained in the villa, knowing nothing of the plans which were devised after these things. For even then they were not content to desist from their fury against me but Pharetrius beset the lady as she says, strictly threatening her, constraining and forcing her to expel me even from the suburbs, so that at midnight, I knowing nothing of these things, the lady being unable to endure his annoyance, announced, without my knowledge, that the barbarians were at hand, for she was ashamed to mention the compulsion which she had undergone. So in the middle of the night Evethius the presbyter came to me, and having roused me from sleep, exclaimed with a loud voice Get up, I pray you, the barbarians are upon us, they are close at hand. Imagine my condition on hearing this! Then, when I said to him what must we do? We cannot take refuge in the city lest we suffer worse things than what the Isaurians are going to do to us, he compelled me to go out. It was midnight, a dark, murky night without a moon – a circumstance which filled up the measure of our perplexity – we had no companion, no assistant, for all had deserted us. Nevertheless under the pressure of fear and in the expectation of immediate death, I got up, suffering as I was, having ordered torches to be lit. These however the presbyter ordered to be put out, for fear as he said lest the barbarians should be attracted by the light and attack us; so the torches were extinguished. Then the mule which carried my litter fell on its knees, the road being rugged, and steep and stony, and I who was inside was thrown down and narrowly escaped destruction, after which I dismounted, and was dragged along on foot, being held fast by Evethius the presbyter (for he also had alighted from his mule), and so I plodded on, led, or rather hauled by the hand, for to walk was impossible through such a difficult country, and among steep mountains in the middle of the night. Imagine what my sufferings must have been, encompassed as I was by such calamities, and oppressed by the fever, ignorant of the plans which had been made, but in terror of the barbarians and trembling. with the expectation of falling into their hands. Do you not think that these sufferings alone, even if nothing else besides had befallen me, would avail to blot out many of my sins, and afford ample material for obtaining praise with God? Now the reason of all this, at least as I suppose, was, that as soon as I arrived in Cæsarea, those who were in official positions, the learned men who were ex-vicars, and ex-governors, the ex-tribunes and indeed the whole people visited me every day, paid me great attention, and treated me as the apple of their eye; I suppose these things irritated Pharetrius and that the envy which drove me from Constantinople did not refrain from pursuing me even here. This at least is what I suppose, for I do not positively declare it but only suspect it to be the fact.
And what is one to say about the other events which happened on the way, the fears and the perils? As I recall them day by day, and continually bear them in mind, I am elated with pleasure, I leap for joy as one who has a great treasure laid up in store for him; for such is my position and feeling about them. Wherefore also I beseech your Honour to rejoice at these things, to be glad, and leap for joy, and to glorify God who has counted me worthy to suffer such things. And I beseech you to keep these matters to yourself, and not to divulge them to any one, although for the most part the proconsular soldiers can fill all the city (with the story) as they themselves have undergone extreme danger.
4. Nevertheless do not let any one know this from your prudence, but rather put down those who talk about it. But if you are distressed lest the consequences of my ill-treatment should remain, know for certain that I have shaken myself entirely free from them, and that I am in better bodily health than when I was sojourning in Cæsarea. And why do you dread the cold? For a suitable dwelling has been prepared for me, and my lord Dioscorus does and arranges everything so as to prevent my having the least sensation of cold. And if I may form a conjecture from the outset of my experience, the climate now seems to me oriental in character, no less than that of Antioch. So great is the warmth, so pleasant is the temperature. But you have grieved me much by saying, perhaps you are annoyed with me as having neglected you, yet I dispatched a letter many days ago to your honour begging you not to move me from this place. Now I have had occasion to consider that you need a strong defense and much toil and labour to be able to make a satisfactory apology for this expression. But perhaps you have made a partial apology, by saying I am generally occupied in thinking how to increase my affliction. But I in my turn reckon it as the greatest accusation that you should say I take a pride in increasing my sorrow by thinking over it: for when you ought to make every possible effort to dispel your affliction you do the devil's will, by increasing your despondency and sorrow. Are you not aware how great an evil despondency is?
As to the Isaurians, dismiss your fears in future concerning them: for they have returned into their own country: and the governor has done everything necessary in this respect; and I am in far greater security here than when I was in Cæsarea. For in future I have no one to fear so much as the bishops, with a few exceptions. On account of the Isaurians then fear nothing: for they have retreated, and when winter has set in they are confined to their own homes, although they may possibly come out after Whitsuntide. And what do you mean by saying that you have not the benefit of letters from me? I have already sent you three long letters, one by the proconsular soldiers, one by Antonius, and the third by Anatolius my servant; two of them were a salutary medicine capable of reviving any one who was desponding or stumbling, and conducting him into a healthy state of serenity. When you have received these letters then go over them constantly and thoroughly, and you will perceive their force and enjoy experience of their healing power, and benefit, and will inform me that you have derived much advantage therefrom. I have also a third letter ready, similar to these, which I do not choose to send at the present time having been exceedingly vexed at your saying I accumulate sorrowful thoughts, even inventing things which do not exist, an utterance unworthy of yourself, which makes me hide my head for shame. But read those letters which I have sent, and you will no longer say these things, even if you are infinitely bent on being despondent. I at least have not ceased, and will not cease saying that sin is the only thing which is really distressing; and that all other things are but dust and smoke. For what is there grievous in inhabiting a prison and wearing a chain? Or in being ill-treated when it is the occasion of so much gain? Or why should exile be grievous or confiscation of goods? These are mere words, destitute of any terrible reality, words void of sorrow. For if you speak of death you only mention that which is the debt of nature: a thing which must in any case be undergone even if no one hastens it: and if you speak of exile you mention that which only involves a change of country and the sight of many cities: or if you speak of confiscation of goods you mention what is only freedom and emancipation from care.
5. Do not cease to pay attention to Maruthas the Bishop, as far as it concerns you, so as to lift him up out of the pit. For I have special need of him on account of the affairs in Persia. And ascertain from him, if you can, what has been accomplished there through his agency, and for what purpose he has come home, and let me know whether you have delivered the two epistles which I sent to him: and if he is willing to write to me, I will write again to him: but if he should not be willing let him at least signify to your prudence whether any thing more has taken place there, and whether he is likely to accomplish anything by going there again. For on this account I was anxious to have an interview with him. Nevertheless let all things which depend on you be done, and take care to fulfill your own part, even if all men are rushing headlong to ruin. For your reward will thus be perfected. By all means therefore make friends with him as far as it is possible. I beseech you not to neglect what I am about to say, but to pay diligent heed to it. The Marsian and Gothic monks where the Bishop Serapion has constantly been concealed have informed me that Moduarius the deacon has come bringing word that Unilas, that excellent bishop whom I lately ordained and sent into Gothia, has been laid to rest, after achieving many great exploits: and the deacon was the bearer of a letter from the king of the Goths begging that a bishop might be sent to them. Since then I see no other means of meeting the threatened catastrophe with a view to its correction save delay and postponement (as it is impossible for them to sail into the Bosporus or into those parts at the present time), take measures to put them off for a time on account of the winter season: and do not by any means neglect this: for it is a matter of the greatest importance. For there are two things which would specially distress me if they were to happen, which God forbid: one is that a bishop should be appointed by these men who have wrought such great wickedness, and who have no right to appoint, and the other is that any one should be made without consideration. For you know yourself that they are not anxious to create some worthy man bishop, and if this should take place, which heaven forbid, you are aware what will follow. Use all diligence therefore to prevent either of these things happening: but if it were possible for Moduarius quietly and secretly to hasten out to me it would be of the greatest advantage. But if this is not possible let what is practicable under the circumstances be done. For that which takes place in the case of money, and actually occurred in the case of the widow in the gospel, also holds good in the case of practical affairs. For as that poor woman when she had cast two mites into the treasury surpassed all those who had cast in more, because she used up her whole substance: even so they who devote themselves to the work in hand with all their might discharge it completely, so far as they are concerned, even if nothing results from it, and they have their reward perfected.
I am very grateful to Hilarius the bishop: for he wrote to me asking to be allowed to depart to his own country, and to set things in order there, and then to come back again. As his presence therefore is of great service (for he is a devout, inflexible, and zealous man) I have urged him to depart and to return speedily. Take care then that the letter is quickly and safely delivered to him and not cast on one side: for he eagerly and earnestly begged for letters from me, and his presence is a great benefit. By all means therefore have a care of the letters; and if Helladius the presbyter be not on the spot see that they are delivered to my friends by the hands of some discreet man who has a head on his shoulders.
Nothing strange or unnatural has befallen your Piety, but only what is quite natural and consonant to reason, that by a constant succession of trials the sinews of your soul should become more braced, and your zeal and energy for the struggle increased, and that you should therefrom derive much joy. For such is the nature of affliction – when it lays hold of a brave and noble soul, this is what it is wont to effect. And as the fire makes the piece of gold, when it is applied to it, of better proof: so also affliction when it visits golden characters renders them purer and more proven. Wherefore also Paul said affliction works patience, and patience probation. Romans 5:3–4 For these reasons I also rejoice and leap for joy, and derive the greatest consolation of this my solitude from a consideration of your fortitude. On this account, even though innumerable wolves encompass you, and many crowds of wicked doers, I fear nothing; but I pray both that existing temptations may be suppressed, and that others may not occur, thus fulfilling the Lord's precept who bids us pray that we may not enter into temptation; but if it should be permitted to happen again I have good confidence concerning your golden soul, which acquires therefrom the greatest riches for itself. For by what means will they be able to terrify you, who dare everything to their own destruction? Will it be by loss of goods? But I know well that these are counted by you as dust and cheaper than dirt. Or shall it be by expulsion from country and home. But you know how to dwell in great and populous cities as if they were uninhabited, spending the whole of your time in quietness and rest, and treading worldly ambitions under foot. Or do they threaten death? This also you have constantly practiced by anticipation, and if they should drag you to slaughter, they will be dragging a body which is already dead. What need to speak more at length? No one will be able to do anything to you of this kind which he will not find you have already abundantly made yourself undergo. For by always walking in the narrow and strait path, you have trained yourself in all these things. Wherefore having practised this most beautiful art in the course of your training, you now shine forth the more gloriously in the contest itself, not only being in no wise disturbed by the things which are happening, but rather elated, and leaping and dancing for joy. For the contests which you have anticipated in your training you now undertake with much ease, although it be in a woman's body, feebler than a cobweb, treading under foot with derisive scorn the fury of lusty men gnashing their teeth upon you; being ready to suffer even worse things than they prepare for you. Happy and thrice happy are you by reason of the crowns of victory to be won, but even more by reason of the contest itself. For such is the nature of these struggles, even before the prizes are given even in the midst of strife they have their recompense and reward – the pleasure which you are now enjoying, the cheerfulness, the courage, the endurance, the patience, the power which is proof against capture and conquest and rises superior to all things; the perfect training which renders you insensible to any terror at the hands of any one, the power of standing on a rock in the midst of mighty billows of tribulation, and sailing in a calm with a favourable breeze when the sea is raging around you. These are the prizes of affliction even in this world before the kingdom of heaven is won. For I know very well that, even at this present time, being elated with joy, thou dost not consider yourself clothed with a body, but if an opportunity should summon you to do it, you would divest yourself of it more readily than others do of the raiment which they wear. Rejoice therefore and be glad both for yourself, and for those who have died a blessed death, not in a bed, nor in a house, but in prison, and chains, and torment; and bewail those only who do these things, and grieve for them. But since you also wish to be informed concerning my bodily health, let me tell you that I have been relieved for the present from the infirmity which was lately oppressing me, and am now in a more comfortable condition: the only fear is lest the winter on its return should again make havoc of my feeble digestion; and as far as the Isaurians are concerned we now enjoy great security.