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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:
The Works of John Cassian.: Chapter XXII. How the brethren in Egypt work with their hands, not only to supply their own needs, but also to minister to those who are in prison.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXII.

How the brethren in Egypt work with their hands, not only to supply their own needs, but also to minister to those who are in prison.

And so taught by these examples the Fathers in Egypt never allow monks, and especially the younger ones, to be idle, 999 estimating the purpose of their hearts and their growth in patience and humility by their diligence in work; and they not only do not allow them to receive anything from another to supply their own wants, but further, they not merely refresh pilgrims and brethren who come to visit them by means of their labours, but actually collect an enormous store of provisions and food, and distribute it in the parts of Libya which suffer from famine and barrenness, and also in the cities, to those who are pining away in the squalor of prison; as they believe that by such an offering of the fruit of their hands they offer a reasonable and true sacrifice to the Lord.



The monks of Egypt were famous for their labours, and Cassian’s language might be illustrated from many passages in the Fathers; e.g., Epiphanius, in his third book against heresies, compares the monks, and especially those in Egypt, to bees, because of their diligence. So S. Jerome, writing to Rusticus (Ep. cxxv.), says that no one is received in a monastery in Egypt unless he will work, and that this rule is made for the good of the soul rather than for the sake of providing food. Compare also Sozomen H. E. VI. xxviii., where it is said of Serapion and his followers in the neighbourhood of Arsinöe that “they lived on the produce of their labour and provided for the poor. During harvest-time they busied themselves in reaping: they set aside sufficient corn for their own use, and furnished grain gratuitously for the other monks.” S. Basil also, in his Monastic Constitutions cc. iv. and v., speaks strongly of the value of labour and the Rule of S. Benedict (c. xlviii.) enjoins that “as idleness is the enemy of the soul, the brethren are to be employed alternately in manual labour and pious reading.”

Next: Chapter XXIII. That idleness is the reason why there are not monasteries for monks in the West.

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