During the reign of Julian the Apostate, in the Thracian town of Dorostolon, lived a young man, Emilian, a servant of the mayor of the town. When the apostate emperor began to destroy Christianity throughout the realm of the Roman Empire by fire and sword and, when the emperor's representative came to Dorostolon to kill the Christians, he did not find a single one. Rejoicing at this, he sponsored a great banquet for the citizens of Dorostolon and ordered sacrifices to be offered to the idols and rejoicing ensued throughout the entire town, day and night. That night, St. Emilian entered the pagan temples, markets and the streets of the town and smashed all of the idols with a sledgehammer. The next day there was terror in the city. Everyone sought the destroyer of their gods. A peasant was passing by the temple that morning and was seized. Emilian, seeing that an innocent man would suffer, said to himself: "If I conceal my works, what benefit would I receive from that which I did? Before God, will I not be found as the murderer of this innocent man?" Therefore, he appeared before the emperor's legate and admitted all. The enraged legate asked Emilian, who had prompted you to do this? The martyr of Christ replied: "God and my soul ordered me to destroy those lifeless pillars which you call gods." The judge then ordered that Emilian be flogged and, after flogging and other tortures, ordered him to be buried alive. Thus ended the earthly life of St. Emilian and he was received into the heavenly life on July 18, 362 A.D.
Pambo was an Egyptian and an ascetic on Mount Nitria. He was a contemporary of St. Anthony the Great, and himself was great in monastic asceticism. He was known particularly for two characteristics: through extensive training, he sealed his lips so that he did not speak one unnecessary word and that he never ate anyone's bread except that bread which he earned with his own hands by weaving reeds. He was similar to an angel of God and, in later years his face shown like the face of Moses once did, so much so that the monks were unable to look him in the face. He did not render an immediate answer even to a simple question before praying and contemplating about it in his heart. The Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria once visited the monks in Nitria. The monks begged Pambo saying: "Tell the pope a constructive word, which would be beneficial to him." The quiet Pambo replied: "If he does not benefit by my silence he will not even benefit by my word." At one time, St. Pambo with his monks traveled throughout Egypt. When they came upon a group of men who remained seated as the monks passed by, St. Pambo addressed them and said: "Arise and greet the monks so that you may receive a blessing from them for they continually converse with God and their lips are holy." This glorious saint was able to discern clearly the fate of both the living and the dead. He rested in the Lord in the year 386 A.D.
Paisius and Isaiah were brothers of a wealthy family. They were both monks. One became a saint because of his asceticism in the wilderness and the other because of his works of mercy toward men. Saint Pambo saw them both in Paradise. This settled a dispute among the monks concerning the question: Which is better asceticism and a life of mortification or corporal works of mercy? Both, one and the other, lead to Paradise when it is done in the Name of Christ.
John was a recluse in the Monastery of the Caves of St. Anthony in Kiev. Throughout thirty years of his life he was tortured by lustful passions, which he ceaselessly struggled against until finally he conquered them with God's help and by touching the relics of St. Moses the Ugrian (July 26). Being victorious over impure passion, St. John was surrounded by an internal heavenly light by which he could see at night as though it were day.
The monks asked Pambo the Blessed:
"Is it good to praise your neighbor?"
Then Pambo was silent and to the brethren replied:
"It is good to praise but it is better to remain silent."
And still, they asked Pambo: "And who is perfect?"
"For the sake of the will of God, one who denies his own."
The monks remained silent while one will say:
"Yet one more reply, do not deny us:
And what kind of garment should a monk have?"
"The kind you throw away and no one takes."
Thus the saint spoke and closed his mouth,
For he protected his tongue in order not to speak unnecessarily.
Pambo, all radiant at the hour of his death
Questioned about his life, he uttered:
"Undeserving bread, I never did taste,
Neither for a word, my soul repented."
Which is more pleasing to God: a life of mortification in the wilderness or works of mercy? Men of prayer in the wilderness think that man among men, no matter how many good works he performs, will find it difficult to safeguard the purity of the heart and to direct the mind toward God. Benefactors of men say: that the man in the wilderness is totally occupied with his own salvation and does not help in the salvation of others. Two Egyptian brothers, Paisius and Isaiah, inherited a great estate from their parents, sold the estate and each took their share of the money. One of them immediately distributed his money to the poor, became a monk and withdrew into the wilderness to lead a strict life of asceticism that through patience, fasting, prayer and purifying the mind from all evil thoughts in order to save his soul. The other brother likewise became a monk, but did not want to enter the wilderness rather he built a small monastery near the town, a hospital for the sick, a public refectory [dining room] for the needy and a resting place for the sorrowful. He dedicated himself completely to the service of his fellow men. When both brothers died, a dispute ensued among the monks of Egypt: which of the two fulfilled the law of Christ? Unable to agree among themselves they came to St. Pambo and questioned him about this. St. Pambo replied: "Both are perfect before God; the hospitable one is similar to the hospitable Abraham and the ascetical one is similar to Elijah the Prophet, both of whom equally pleased God." But not all the monks were satisfied with this response. Then St. Pambo prayed to God to reveal the truth to him. After praying for several days, St. Pambo said to the monks: "Before God I tell you that I saw both brothers Paisius and Isaiah together in Paradise." With this, the dispute was settled and all were satisfied.
To contemplate the miraculous experience of Balaam (Numbers 22):
About the remembrance of the imminent separation of the body
"Yes, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle(body) to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ had showed me" (2 Peter 1: 13-14).
Here is a good reminder to lovers of the body who, because of the body, forgot their souls. The body must be put off. No matter how costly we hold it to be, no matter how much worth we attach to it, no matter how much we caress and pamper it, we must put it off one day. O how powerful and truthful are these words "to put it off!" When the soul is separated from the body, the soul puts off the body as no longer necessary. Those who suffer shipwreck reach the shore on a plank. They come to the shore and discard the plank. When spring blossoms, the serpent sheds its skin and puts it off. When a butterfly wings its way out of the cocoon, the cocoon is put off. In the same manner the body is put off when the soul departs from it. No longer of use and without benefit, even harmful to other men, it is put off from the house, put off from the city, put off from the sun and is buried deep into the ground. Think about this, you who live in luxury and are adorned, you who are haughty and gluttonous!
As long as the soul is in the body, it should utilize the body for its salvation submitting to the law of God and performing the works of God. Do you see how the apostolic soul is a lover of labor! "As long as I am in this tabernacle (body) to stir you up." That task was given to him by God. He wants to conscientiously complete it to the end because he must put off his body. Brethren, let us labor first to embrace the apostolic warning and secondly, to remind others, all others, for whom we wish good. In haste we are approaching the shore of the other old world, as the hour hastily approaches when we must put off the bodies and, with a naked soul, appear before the judgment of God. What will we say at the Dread Judgment Seat of God? To what goals have we, in this earthly life, used the device from the earth, which is called the body?
O Lord Jesus, Righteous Judge, direct our mind to think of death and judgment.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.