PREPARED BY: GEORGE TADROS KOREISA
As the sun was setting, the monks came out, each from his cell wearing his black wear with the Kolonswa [head cover] and walking stick. All were hurrying to get away to enjoy a quiet moment in contemplation on God’s wonders of nature and His love for them. In few minutes, almost all of them disappeared but for an old monk leaning on his walking stick and hardly able to move his feet. He lifted up his eyes to admire the sun in its most beautiful moment when it is near setting and sending its crimson rays that reflect on the sand and turn it into gold, and the quietness of the desert is everywhere.
The old monk talked to God, “What fatherly love that our Creator has. You gave us this sun to serve all humanity by illuminating the darkness of he world and giving life to earth.“
He knelt with humility and reverence then stood up lifting his eyes and praying, “O Lord my Creator, the heavens declare Your glory; And the firmament shows Your handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world. In them You have set a tabernacle for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit is to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.”
At this point the old monk became quiet. He was lost in his thoughts not knowing how to express himself. He scanned the desert and saw the monks spread like the stars that light up the sky. He heard enthralling hymns and joyful praises. He was moved for he saw all his children, who were more than a thousand monks, praying to their Creator. Then he thought, “Am I in the midst of earthly angels or heavenly humans? God, kindle all the hearts with your love.”
While he was walking and moving little by little away from the monastery, he noticed strange ghosts hurrying to hide behind the mountain. He knew them well; they were members of a tribe that dwelled near the convent situated near the mountain of shehit [Scetis]. He wondered, ”What were they thinking of and whom are they plotting against? I know them well and I know their leader. He’s a hot-tempered and hard-hearted man. He’s a professional criminal, a gang leader and a dangerous highwayman.
Disperse their counsel, O God, Who dispersed the counsel of Ahithophel.
Remember o Lord his salvation and reveal Yourself to him and to those who haven’t known You yet. And you, mountain of the Holy Lord, are you still sheltering highwaymen and thieves? Isn’t what our holy father Saint Abu Makar [St. Makarius] did to you enough? He changed you with the grace of God into a holy circle of prayers, supplications and liturgies. He made you a second heaven and you’re now called the mountain of Shehit, which means the measure of hearts.”
The silence was interrupted by a beautiful voice coming from far away. It was the church bell of the convent followed by the bells of the monasteries coming to him through the air calling all to the prayer of the eleventh hour. To the beat of the bells the monk walked back to the monastery and closed the door.
Behind the high walls surrounding the convent, the nuns were trickling silently but fast into the church. First, kneeling before the altar, then getting the blessing of the compartment containing the saints’ relics, then saluting the mother and the other nuns and finally each going to her place in the church.
The prayers of the eleventh hour were lifted up to heaven and the voice of the mother was gentle saying,
“The Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day or the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; he shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore. Alleluia.“
Then each nun sang her Psalm, was blessed with heavenly grace and went back to her cell for private worship.
After making sure all the nuns were safe, the mother looked up to the castle church atop the convent and said, “Archangel Michael, protector of this convent, begin your work now.”
Then she went to her cell and closed the door. By the soft light of a candle set before the icon of the Virgin Mary, the mother was pondering the matters of the convent, reviewing each nun’s situation and spirituality and asking that each nun would grow more in grace. Once in a while she looked with love and compassion at the icon of the Virgin Mary asking for her intercession. Then she thanked God for his mercies and love in spite of the hardships they endured those days. She smiled recalling that some of the nuns distributed some of their earnings to the poor and needy. She said, “Thank You Beloved Jesus for You’re the Only One Who takes care of our convent. We cede ourselves to You to do Your Will.”
As the night fell on the desert, a man was making his way to the convent. He was tall, wearing a monk’s clothes, holding a long walking stick, leaning on it and dragging his feet across the sand and walking in a solemn and dignified manner. In a few moments, he used the stick to knock on the door of the convent. A soft voice asked, “Who are you sir?”
The man answered in a calm voice, “Inform the mother that the poor priest Daniel from Shehit is at the door.”
The sister replied from inside, “A few moments please.”
Then, he said, “But tell her to let me in to rest till tomorrow.”
Joyfully, the sister ran to tell the mother that Abba Daniel, father of Shehit, was at the door requesting entrance to the convent.
The mother’s joy was even greater and she ordered the bell of the convent to toll. All the nuns assembled and hurried to meet the man of God, namely, Abba Daniel.
The hymns were heard in the silence of the night giving an air of feast to the convent. Then the mother knelt solemnly before the saintly visitor while the nuns kissed his feet. Many of them longed to see Abba Daniel and the grace flowing from his eyes, giving a wonderful peace to the soul that eliminates worries and turn them into continuous joy.
As it was the habit of the convent to wash the visitors’ feet, the nuns ran and brought water in a vessel and washed the priest’s feet. Meanwhile, the mother was repeating her welcome to the visitor, asking for his prayers and blessings for her and for all the sisters for God to give them peace and calmness until the day on which they would meet Him. The mother also asked if it was possible for Abba Daniel to see one of the sisters and pray for her. Her name was Helena, she was blind since birth, and she came to the convent a few years back. Her life was peaceful and she spent it in the practice of the sacraments and in constant activities. She was loved by all and missed only the grace of eyesight to be able to read the scriptures. When Helena was brought to the priest, the mother asked if he could pray for her to be cured from her blindness. The priest replied, “Give her what is left of the water in the vessel.”
Helena took the water, made the sign of the Cross in the name of Jesus and then prayed, “Through the prayer of Saint Abba Daniel, let it be your will God.”
When she washed her eyes, she ran and fell at the man’s feet kissing them and saying, “Father, father, I can see, truly I can see you. You are a man of God and a saint of the desert. How can I repay your prayers and love?”
In the middle of Helena’s joy, the other nuns were singing and praising the Gracious and Merciful God. The mother shouted, “Blessed is the hour when you, Father Daniel, arrived and set foot in the convent. Blessed he who comes in the name of the Lord. Thank God who sent you to us tonight.”
The man was not aware of what he was doing and the tears were pouring from his eyes. He tried to prevent the nuns from kissing his feet but they all vied to hold on to him and get his blessing. He fell into a coma and his life passed before his eyes. His tears poured like a fountain and when he was asked to give the prayer of thanksgiving and praise in the church he cried, “My daughters pray for me, I’m truly a sinner, go and praise the Lord. Leave me alone to weep over my sins.”
As much as he was repeating these pleas, as much as the nuns were holding onto him not wanting to leave him. He insisted on remaining where he was and finally they left him. They went in the church and remained all night praying and praising the Lord.
He remained at the door in a profusion of tears and a violent struggle.
At sunrise, all the sisters came out to say goodbye to the important guest. They waited until he disappeared behind the mountain. When he was there, he through himself on the sand in a frenzy of weeping and wailing. He trembled, he was very afraid and his weeping increased till his eyes were swollen.
Few hours later, he got up crying, “O miserable. If the blind see in the name of Abba Daniel, then how is the greatness of one who practices the work of God? Misery on me, how did I waist my life in sins and bad deeds? Who am I to wear Abba Daniel’s clothes? And how did my sinful lips dare utter his name? “
He took off the clothes and said, “Blessed are you clothes, I’m not worthy to hold you in my hands. I’m a sinner, a thief and even a leader of criminals. O miserable, how did I make the Creator of heaven and earth angry? O sun that sees my sadness, tell your Creator that I’m not worthy to look at you.“
He took a handful of sand, kissed it, wetted it with his tears then he said, “Who am I to walk on this blessed sands that kissed the feet of the great Saint Abu Makar, the leader of this holy desert? Moses the black treaded these sands as a violent criminal then walked on them as the devout Saint Abba Moses the black. Creator of these sands, forgive me for I’m a sinner. How many times I have stolen, vandalized and even taken holy things while You’re Patient my Lord and my God? You could have destroyed and eliminated me, but You’re Long suffering and Your dearest wish is the salvation of sinners.”
He lifted his hands eastwards and prayed, “O Lord, You didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners, so accept me in the name of all who labored for you and satisfied you from the beginning. Through the prayers of Abba Daniel, from now on I shan’t continue walking in the same way.”
He enveloped his body in Abba Daniel’s clothes, threw himself on the sand and went into a peaceful sleep after the long hours that passed since he went to the convent.
When that thief left his tribe to enter the convent as Abba Daniel, he was preparing the way for his partners to rob the convent at their leisure. They watched him from afar until he entered the convent and the door was closed behind him. They were all holding their swords and ready for the moment when they could go in the convent. They could not do that before because high castle walls that were impossible to climb surrounded the convent.
They waited as they watched the door to the convent. When nothing happened for hours, they started to worry then they became suspicious. After a while the suspicion turned into fear and terror. As daylight came, they lost hope in him and went back to their place. They were sad as they waited until noon for his return, but he didn’t come back.
They went to look for him in the desert till they came behind the mountain. They saw an incredible sight: their mighty leader thrown on the sand in a pitiful state. They ran to him then in wonder and amazement went into a discussion about what might have happened to put him in this state. One of them said mockingly, “Those virgins must have overpowered him.”
Another one said, “He must have wanted to become a monk and live there so they turned him away.”
A third one said, “Maybe one of the nuns made him a Christian.”
The man’s sad face smiled and said in a soft voice, “Truly the Spirit of God uttered in your mouth that I’ll become a monk and that because of a nun I’ll become a Christian.”
One of the partners said, “What happened to you? Maybe you found precious stones and you want to cheat us and keep them to yourself. Show us what you have.”
They searched him thoroughly and found him very sorry. His face was yellow, his eyes faded. His cruel nature was replaced by a calmness they were not familiar with.
He narrated the story of his entrance to the convent, the matter of the blind nun and what happened until the moment when they came to find him. Hearing the story, they were filled with fear and a terrible silence, and each of them began to think about himself and his life. Finally they decided to see this Saint in whose name the eyes of the nun were opened. So they immediately left to go to the place where Abba Daniel lived.
Before sunset, the men and their repentant leader met with Abba Daniel. He welcomed them and greeted them as if he knew them, then he turned to our weeping friend and said to him, “My son, why are you weeping? The Lord chose you as a vessel for his name.”
Then Abba Daniel smiled and inquired calmly, “How is the convent? And how is Helena?”
The weeping man was very afraid and fell at the Saint’s feet crying, “Father, forgive me for I‘ve sinned.”
Then he proceeded to tell the story of what happened till the moment when he jokingly suggested that the blind nun wash her eyes in the vessel water. He said, “Through her faith and your prayers, Father, the miracle happened and God cured her.”
Then, Abba Daniel smiled and said, “I knew everything, since your entrance to the convent I was present in the spirit among you. And you, beloved, with faith you can move mountains. With faith you can capture the kingdom of heaven, and the door is open for you. The Lord Jesus invites you in with your beloved friends. All you have to do is repent with a strong will and true remorse.”
The repentant thief replied, “My Father, I promised God that I shan’t go back to my previous life; also I would like to become a monk.”
Therefore, Abba Daniel encouraged him and talked to him about God's love. They were interrupted by the beautiful sound of the bells of the monasteries calling all to the prayer of the eleventh hour. They all stood up and following the rhythm of the bells tolling, they walked toward the monastery where the door was open to let the Saintly Father in with the men who repented, eleventh hour and the bells tolled.
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