Surprised by so many references to lust by the desert fathers? Don’t be.
The Bible is absolutely clear: we should surrender our body to the Lord and Glorify God in our daily life. Ephesians 3:16: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” With the Spirit indwelling you, every word, every thought, and every deed is in His view. The Holy Spirit knows you. He knows your strengths and your weaknesses. He knows your sinful acts and your holy deeds. He knows you better than you do. The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to build you up in the body of Christ to the glory of God.
He regenerates (Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. John 3:3-5).
He indwells (If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. Romans 8:11).
He anoints (As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him. 1 John 2:27).
He baptizes (‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know — this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne.
Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. Acts 2:17-41).
He empowers (But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. Micah 3:8).
He sanctifies (to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans. 15:16).
He comforts (And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. John 14:16-26).
He gives joy (For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17).
He gives discernment (these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Cor. 2:10-16).
He bears fruit (By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:22-23).
He gives gifts (Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 1 Corinthians 12:3-11).
20. Once the disciple of a great hermit was tempted by lust. When the hermit saw him struggling, he said, `Shall I ask the Lord to release you from your trouble?’ But he said, ‘Abba, I see that although it is a painful struggle I am profiting from having to carry this burden. But ask God in your prayers, that he will give me enough patience to endure it.’ Then his abba said to him, `Now I know that you are far advanced, my son, and beyond me.’
21 They said of one of the hermits that he had initially gone to Scetis taking his infant son with him. The boy was brought up among the monks and did not know what women were. When he became a man, the demons showed him visions of women at night. He told his father, and wondered what they were. Once they both went into Egypt and saw women. The son said, `Father, there are the people who came to me during the night in Scetis.’ His father said, `These are monks of the world, my son. They wear one kind of dress, and monks of the desert another.’ The hermit was amazed that the demons had shown him visions of women in Scetis, and they both went straight back to their cell.
22. A brother was tested by temptation in Scetis. The enemy brought into his mind the memory of a beautiful woman which troubled him deeply. By God’s providence it chanced that a visitor came from Egypt and arrived in Scetis. When they met to talk, he told the brother that his wife was dead (she was the woman about whom the monk was tempted). When he heard the news, he put on his cloak at night and went to the place where he had heard she was buried. He dug in the place, and wiped blood from her corpse on his cloak and when he returned he kept it in his cell. When it smelt too bad, he put it in front of him and said to his temptation, `Look, this is what you desire. You have it now, be content.’ So he punished himself with the smell until his passions died down.
23. A man once came to Scetis wanting to be a monk. He brought with him his infant son, who had just been weaned. When the child grew to be a young man, the demons began to attack him and trouble him. He said to his father, `I am going back to the world, because I cannot bear these bodily passions.’ His father helped him but the young man said, `I cannot bear it any longer, father. Let me go back to the world.’
His father said to him, `Listen to me, son. Take forty loaves, and enough palm leaves for forty days’ work, and go to the inner desert; stay there forty days and God’s will be done.’ He obeyed his father and went into the desert and remained there, making plaits from the dry palm leaves and eating dry bread. After he had been there twenty days he saw a demon coming to attack him. The devil came to him like a black woman, evil-smelling and ugly. He could not bear her smell and thrust her from him.
She said to him: `I am she who seems sweet in the hearts of men. But because of your obedience and travail, God has not let me seduce you, but has shown you my ugliness.’ He got up and thanked God, and came to his father, and said, `Now I do not want to go to the world, father. I have seen the devil’s work, and his foulness.’ But his father knew what had happened, and said, `If you had stayed there forty days, and done all that I told you, you would have seen still greater things.’
25. A hermit was once living far out in the desert. A woman of his family wanted to see him after many years; she found out where he was and took the road to the desert. She joined some camel-drivers and went with them into the desert, for she was being drawn there by the devil. When she reached the hermit’s door, she knocked, saying who she was. `I am your kin,’ and she stayed with him. But another monk was living nearer to Egypt. He was filling his jug with water at supper time.
Suddenly the jug was upset, and the water spilt. By God’s inspiration he said to himself, `I will go to the desert, and tell the others what happened to this water.’ He got up and went. At evening he slept in a pagan temple by the roadside, and during the night he heard demons saying, `Tonight we have driven that monk to lust.’ When he heard this, he was grieved and he went to the hermit, and found him sad, and said to him, `What am I to do, abba? I filled my jug with water and at supper time it was spilt.’ The hermit said to him, `You have come to ask me why your jug was upset. But what am I to do? Last night I fell into lusting.’ He replied, `I knew that.’ The hermit said, `How did you know?’
He replied, `I was sleeping in a temple, and I heard demons talking about you.’ The hermit said, `Look here, I am going back to the world.’ But he begged him not to saying, `Don’t go, abba, stay here in your cell but send that woman away. This has happened because the enemy attacked you.’ When the hermit heard this, he made his way of life more penitential and sorrowful, until he returned to his earlier state.
26. A hermit said, `Chastity is born of tranquillity, and silence, and inner prayer.’
27 A brother asked a hermit, `If a man happens to fall into temptation, what becomes of those who are caused to stumble by it?’ The hermit told him this story. `In a monastery in Egypt there was a deacon. An official, persecuted by a judge, came there with all his family. By the devil’s instigation, that deacon lay with the official’s wife and all the brothers were shocked. But he went to a hermit, and told him what had happened. Now the hermit had a secret inner room to his cell. When the deacon saw this, he said, “Bury me alive here, and do not let anyone know.”
He hid in that inner room, and there did true penance. A long time after, it happened that the Nile failed to flood. When they were all saying litanies, it was revealed to one of those holy men that unless the deacon who had hidden with such and such a monk, should return, the water would not rise. When they heard this, they marveled, and came and hurriedly brought him out of his hiding place. He prayed, and the water rose. The men who had before been shocked by him, were now edified by his penitence and glorified God.’
28 Two brothers went to a town to sell what they had made. In the town they separated, and one of them fell into fornication. Afterwards the other brother said, `Let us go back to our cell, brother.’ But he replied, `I’m not coming.’ The other asked him, `Why, brother?’ He replied, `Because when you left me, I was tempted, and was guilty of fornication.’ The other, wanting to help him, said, `The same thing happened to me; after I left you, I also fell into fornication. Let us go together, and do penance with all our might, and God will pardon us sinners.’
When they returned to their cell, they told the brothers what had happened to them, and were told what penance they should do. But the one did penance not for himself, but for the other, as though he himself had sinned. God, seeing his earnestness and his charity, revealed to one of the elders, a few days later, that he had forgiven the fornicator because of the charity of the brother who had not sinned. Truly, this was to lay down his soul for his brother.
29. Once a brother came to a hermit and said, `My brother keeps leaving me, and goes travelling everywhere: and I am upset about it.’ The hermit said, `Bear it calmly, brother. God will see your earnestness and endurance and will bring him back to you. It is not possible for a man to be recalled from his purpose by harshness and severity; demon cannot drive out demon. You will bring him back to you better by kindness. That is how God acts for, our good, and draws us to himself.’
He told him this story: In the Thebaid were two brothers. When one of them began to suffer lust, he said to the other: `I am going back to the world.’ The other wept and said, `I won’t let you go away, my brother, to lose your toil and your chastity.’ But he refused to listen and said, `I am not staying here: I am going. Either come with me, and I will return with you, or let me go, and I will remain in the world.’ The brother came and told this to a great hermit.
The hermit said to him, `Go with him, and because of your effort, God will not let him perish.’ So he went with him to the world. When they came to a village, God looked on the efforts of him who followed his brother out of love and took away the other brother’s passion. He said to his brother, `Let us go back to the desert, my brother. Look, I imagine that I have already sinned with a woman and what have I got out of it?’ So they returned to their cell unharmed.
30. A brother, being tempted by a demon, went to a hermit and said, `Those two monks over there who live together live sinfully.’ But the hermit knew that a demon was deceiving him. So he called the brothers to him. In the evening he put out a mat for them, and covered them with a single blanket, and said, `They are sons of God, and holy persons.’ But he said to his disciple, `Shut this slandering brother up in a cell by himself; he is suffering from the passion of which he accuses them.‘
31. A brother said to a hermit, `What am I to do, for these foul. thoughts are killing me?’ The hermit said to him, `When a mother wants to wean her baby, she smears something bitter on her breasts: and when the infant comes as usual to suckle, he tastes the bitterness and is repelled. So you ought to put bitterness into your thought.’ The brother said to him, `What bitterness is this?’ The hermit said to him, `The thought of death and torment, which-is prepared in the next world for sinners.’
32. A brother asked a hermit about thoughts of this kind. The hermit said, `I have never been tempted by that.’ The brother was scandalized by him, and went to a second hermit and said, `Look here, that hermit said this to me and I am shocked, because it is unnatural.’ He said to him, `The meaning of the words of that man of God isn’t on the surface. Go and apologize to him and he will show you the power in his words.’ So the brother went to the hermit, and apologized to him.
He said, `Forgive me, abba, I was a fool, and did not say goodbye to you when I left. I beg you, explain to me how it is that you are not troubled by lust.’ He said to him, `The reason is this: ever since I became a monk, I have never taken my fill of bread, or water, or sleep, and because I am tormented by desire for food, I cannot feel the pricks of lust.’ So the brother went away, having profited by the words of the hermit.
33. A brother asked a hermit, `What can I do? My mind is always thinking about fornication; and does not let me rest even for an hour, and my heart is suffering.’ So the hermit said to him, `When the demons sow thoughts in your heart, and you feel this, don’t listen to your heart, for that is the demons’ suggestion. Though the demons are careful to send thoughts to you, they do not force you to accept them. It is up to you to receive or reject them.
Do you know what the Midianites did? They decked their daughters, and set them where the Israelites could see them: but they did not force them to intermingle; it was as each one wished. Others were wrathful and uttered threats, and avenged the act of whoredom with the death of those who had dared do it. This is what should be done with the lust that rises in us.’
But the brother replied, `What am I to do, if I am weak, and this passion masters me?’ The hermit said, `This is the way to be strong: when temptations start to speak in your mind do not answer them but get up, pray, do penance, and say “Son of God, have mercy upon me.” But the brother said, `Look here, abba, I meditate on such words, but they do not help me to be penitent, for I do not know the meaning of the words on which I am meditating.’
The hermit said, `Well, go on meditating. I have heard that Poemen and other monks said that a snake-charmer does not know the meaning of his words: but the snake hears them, and knows their meaning, and obeys the charmer and lies down. So though we do not know the meaning of the words, the demons hear, and are afraid and flee.’
34. A hermit used to say, `A lustful thought is brittle like papyrus. When it is thrust at us, if we do not accept it but throw it away it breaks easily. If it allures us and we keep playing with it, it becomes as difficult to break as iron. We need discernment to know that those who consent lose hope of salvation and for those who do not consent, a crown is made ready.’
35. Two brothers who were attacked by lust went away and married wives. Afterwards they said to each other, `What have we done? We have ceased to live like angels and have lost purity, and later on we will come to fire and torment. Let us go back to the desert, and do penance for our fault.’
They went to the desert, and asked the fathers to accept them, and confessed what they had done. The monks shut them up for a whole year, and gave them each an equal amount of bread and water. Now they were alike in appearance and at the end of the year’s penance, they came out. The fathers saw that one looked pale and melancholy, the other strong and bright. They were astonished, for they had been given the same quantity of food and drink.
They said to the man who was sad and troubled, `What did you think about while you were in that cell?’ He said, `I was thinking about the punishment I shall incur for the evil I have done; I was so afraid that my bones cleaved to my flesh.’ Then they asked the other, `What were you thinking while you were in the cell?’
He said, `I was thanking God that he has saved me from pollution in this world and punishment in the next, and has called me back to live here like the angels and I thought continually on my God and was glad.’ The monks said, `The penitence of both men is equal before God.’
36. In Scetis there was a hermit who became gravely ill, and was nursed by the brothers. When the hermit saw how much they did for him, he said, `I’d better go to Egypt, and then I shan’t be a trouble to these brothers.’ Moses said to him, `Don’t go; you will fall into lust.’
Now the hermit was vexed by this and said, `My body is dead. How can you say that to me?’ So he got up and went to Egypt. When the inhabitants in Egypt heard that he had arrived, they brought him many gifts. A pious maiden came to him, wishing to minister to him because he was ill. After a short time he recovered somewhat from the illness which had gripped him, and he lay with her, and she conceived.
When her neighbours asked her who the father was, she said, `This hermit,’ but they did not believe her. Then the hermit said, `Yes, I am the father. Keep the baby for me when it is born.’
When the baby had been weaned, the hermit carried it on his shoulders, and arrived at Scetis on a feast day; he went into church in front of all the brothers. When they saw him, they wept. He said to them, `Do you see this baby? He is the child of disobedience. Beware, my brothers, remember what I have done though I am old, and pray for me.’ Going to his cell, he returned to his earlier way of life.
37. A brother was sorely tempted by the demon of fornication. Four demons appeared before him like beautiful women, and attacked him continuously for forty days. He fought like a man, and was not overcome. Seeing how good a fight he put up, God gave him grace not to suffer the sting of bodily passion ever again.
38. In lower Egypt there was a very famous hermit, who lived alone in his cell. It happened that by Satan’s wiles a harlot heard of him, and said to the young men, `What will you give me, if I seduce that hermit?’ They agreed to give her a present. In the evening she came to his cell pretending she had lost her way. When she knocked at his door, he came out and seeing her, he was troubled, and said, `What have you come here for?’ She pretended to weep, and said, `I’ve lost my way.’
He felt truly sorry for her, and led her into the little courtyard, and went himself to the inner room of his cell and shut the door. She cried aloud, `Abba, the beasts will eat me here.’ Again he was anxious, and afraid of the judgment of God and he said to himself, `Why has God’s wrath come on me like this?’ He opened his door and brought her inside. Then the devil began to goad his heart to desire her. He knew that it was the devil’s goading, and said silently, `The ways of the enemy are darkness, but the Son of God is light.’
He got up and lit the lamp. When he began to burn with desire, he said, `People who do things like this go into torment. Test yourself, and see whether you can bear a fire which is everlasting.’ Then he put his finger in the flame of the lamp and he burnt it, but he did not notice the pain because of the fire of passion within him. So, until the dawn came, he burnt his fingers one after the other.
The wretched woman saw what he was doing, and in terror she lay as still as a stone. At dawn the young men came to the monk and said, `Did a woman come here yesterday evening?’ He said: `Yes, she is asleep over there.’ They went in, and found her dead. They said, `Abba, she is dead.’ Then he turned back the cloak that he was wearing, and showed them his hands, and said, `Look what that child of the devil has done to me. She has cost me every finger I possess.’ He told them what had happened, and said, `It is written, “Render not evil for evil” (1 Peter 3:9).’ He prayed, and restored her to life. She was converted and lived chastely for the rest of her days.