Saint Paul the Simple and the Mercy of God

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St. Paul the Simple

Blessed Abba Paul the Simple, the disciple of Abba Anthony, told the Fathers that which follows: One day he went to a monastery to visit it and to make himself useful to the brethren. After the customary conference, the brothers entered the holy church of God to perform the synaxis there, as usual. Blessed Paul looked carefully at each of those who entered the church observing the spiritual disposition with which they went to the synaxis, for he had received the grace from the Lord of seeing the state of each one’s soul, just as we see their faces. When all had entered with sparkling eyes and shining faces, with each one’s angel rejoicing over him, he said, ‘I see one who is black and his whole body is dark; the demons are standing on each side of him, dominating him, drawing him to them, and leading him by the nose, and his angel, filled with grief, with head bowed, follows him at a distance.’ Then Paul, in tears, beat his breast and sat down in front of the church, weeping bitterly over him whom he had seen. The brethren, seeing this strange behaviour and the abrupt change which had brought him to tears and compunction, asked him persistently to tell them why he was weeping, fearing lest he were doing it as a sign of accusation against all of them. Then they asked him to go to the synaxis with them. But Paul kept apart from them and remained sitting outside, lamenting over him whom he had seen in this state. Shortly after the end of the synaxis, as everyone was coming out, Paul scrutinized each one, wanting to know in what state they were coming away. He saw the man, previously black and gloomy, coming out of the church with a shining face and white body, the demons accompanying him only at a distance, while his holy angel was following close to him, rejoicing greatly over him. Then Paul leaped for joy and began to cry out, blessing God, ‘O the ineffable loving-kindness and goodness of God!’ and he went running up to an elevated place and in a powerful voice he said, ‘Come, see the works of the Lord, how terrible they are and worthy of our wonder! Come and see him who wills that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth! Come, let us bow down and throw ourselves at his feet and let us say, “Only You can take sins away!”‘ Everyone ran together in haste, wanting to hear what he was saying. When they were all assembled, Paul related what he had seen at the entrance to the church and what had happened afterwards and he asked that man to tell them the reason why God had suddenly bestowed such a change upon him. Then the man whom Paul pointed out told all that had happened to him in front of everyone, saying, ‘I am a sinful man; I have lived in fornication for a long time, right up to the present moment; when I went into the holy church of God, I heard the holy prophet Isaiah being read, or rather, God speaking through him: “Wash you, make you clean, take away the evil from you hearts learn to do good before mine eyes. Even though your sins are as scarlet I will make them white like snow. And if you will, and if you listen to me, you shall eat the good things of the earth.” (cf. Is. 1:16-19) And I,’ he continued, ‘the fornicator, am filled with compunction in my heart because of this word of the prophet and I groan within myself, saying to God, “God, who came into the world to save sinners, that which You now proclaim by the mouth of Your prophet, fulfill in me who am a sinner and an unworthy man.” From now on, I give my word, I affirm and promise in my heart that I will not sin any more, but I renounce all unrighteousness and I will serve You henceforth with a pure conscience. Today, O Master, from this time forward, receive me, as I repent and throw myself at Your feet, desiring in future to abstain from every fault.’ He continued, ‘With these promises, I came out of the church, sure in my soul that I would no longer commit any evil before God.’ At these words they all with one voice cried out to God, ‘How manifold are Thy works, Lord, in wisdom hast Thou made them all.’ (Ps. 104:24) So, as Christians, having learnt from the holy Scriptures and from holy revelations, let us know the great goodness of God for those who sincerely take refuge in him and who correct their past faults, by repentance, and let us not despair of our salvation. In truth, as it was proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah, God washes those who are dirty with sin, whitens them as wool and as snow and bestows the good things of the heavenly Jerusalem on them; just as, in the prophet Ezekiel, God has sworn by an oath, to satisfy us and not to let us be lost. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God; so turn, and live.”‘ (Ezek. 18:32)

* This excerpt is from “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers” translated by Benedicta Ward

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