The APOPHTHEGMATA PATRUM includes about fifteen items relating to a
fourth-century Abba Ammonas who spent at least fourteen years at SCETIS and
was in touch with Saint ANTONY (Cotelier, 1864, pp. 120-24, Ammonas 7-8, Antony
26) before becoming a bishop. It is not too bold to identify this person with the
Ammonas who is mentioned in Chapter 15 of the HISTORIA MONACHORUM IN
AEGYPTO and who is supposedly Antony's immediate successor as leader of the
monks of Pispir.
This Ammonas is also thought to be the author of spiritual exhortations in the form
of letters, preserved in different languages. Along with the letters of Antony, with
which they have been intermingled in the Coptic and Arabic tradition, these letters
of Ammonas are among the
few documents that tell us something about the mysticism of the desert fathers.
Their central theme is the acquisition of the Spirit, coming to perfect the
purification and illumination of the monk's soul.
According to his own experience, the author describes the wonderful effects of this
divine gift, what one must do to make oneself worthy of it, the trials to be borne
and the temptations to be overcome. This original teaching is, it appears,
completely independent of EVAGRIUS PONTICUS. It is of basically biblical origin.
The most complete collection of the letters of Ammonas is preserved in Syriac
(Kmosko, 1913). Seven letters preserved in Greek have been published by F. Nau
(1914). A Latin translation from Arabic has been published in J. P. Migne in
Patrologia Graeca. An unpublished Georgian series is almost as complete as the
Syriac collection (Garitte, 1952, pp. 103-107).
ABBA AMMONAS - LETTER VII
ABBA AMMONAS - Obedience and Prayer
(Derwas J. Chitty (trans), "The Letters of Ammonas,", pp. 8 - 9)
To my beloved in our Lord, who are counted in the portion of the kingdom of
heaven: for in such wise have you sought God, imitating your fathers in the faith,
so that you should receive the promises also, because you are reckoned their sons;
for sons inherit the blessing of their fathers, because their zeal was like theirs. For
this cause, since the blessed Jacob followed all the God- fearing ways of his
parents, the blessings of his parents came upon him too. And having been blessed
by them, suddenly he saw the Ladder, and angels ascending and descending
And so now, as soon as men have been blessed by their fathers and have seen the
hosts, nothing is able to move them. For when blessed Paul saw these hosts, he
became unshakeable, and cried out and said, "Who shall separate me from the
love of Christ? Shall sword or famine or nakedness? But neither angels nor
principalities nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able
to separate me from the love of God" (Romans 8:38).
Now therefore, beloved, ask continually night and day that the blessings of my
fathers may come upon you, that the hosts of the angels may thus rejoice over you
in all things, and you may complete the rest of your days in all joy of heart. For if a
man attains to this measure, the joy of God will be with him continually:
henceforth he will not toil in any matter. For it is written, "The light of the
righteous is never put out" (Proverbs 13:9).
But I pray that you too may come to the place of life. And this I do because of your
obedience. For when our Lord saw that His disciples obeyed Him, He asked His
Father on their behalf saying, "that where I am, there may they be also, because
they have obeyed my word" (john 17:24). And again He asked that they might be
kept "from the evil one" (John 17:15), until they should attain to the place of rest.
This is what I pray and ask of our Lord, that you may be kept from the evil one,
and attain to God's place of rest, and be blessed. For after the Ladder, Jacob saw
face to face the host of angels, so that he even wrestled with an angel and
prevailed. And this God did that He might bless him. And may the God whom I
have served from my youth bless you.
ABBA AMMONAS - LETTER XI
ABBA AMMONAS - Obey Not Your Own Will, But God's
Derwas J. Chitty (trans), "The Letters of Ammonas,", pp. 14-16
Now my brethren, my beloved in the Lord, whom I love with my whole heart, I hear
that temptation is troubling you, and I am afraid it may come from yourselves. For
I have heard that you want to leave your place, and I was grieved to hear it,
though it is a long time since I have been seized by grief. For I know of a surety
that if you go away from your place now, you will make no progress at all. For it is
not the will of God, and if you go out acting on your own authority, God will not
work together with you nor go out with you, and I fear we shall fall into a
multitude of evils.
If we follow our own will, God no longer sends His power which prospers and
establishes all the ways of men. For if a man does something, imagining that it
comes from God, when really his own will is involved in it, then God does not help
him and you will find his heart embittered and feeble in everything in which he sets
his hand. It is on the pretext of better progress that the believer can go wrong and
end up being mocked. For Eve was deceived on no other pretext than that of good
and progress. For when she heard, "You shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5), by failing
to discriminate the voice of the speaker, she disobeyed the commandment of God,
and thus not only came by no good, but under the curse.
Solomon says in the Proverbs, "There are many ways which appear good unto men:
but the end thereof leads to the pit of hell" (Proverbs 14:12). He says this of those
who do not understand the will of God, but follow their own will. For such people,
not knowing the will of God, at first receive from Satan a fervor which is like joy,
but is not joy; and afterwards it turns to gloom and lays them open. But he who
follows the will of God endures great labor in the beginning, but afterwards finds
rest and gladness. Do nothing therefore on your own, until I have come to talk to
There are three motivations which accompany a man everywhere, and most monks
are ignorant of them, excepting only those who have become perfect, of whom
Scripture says, "Solid food is for the perfect, who by reason of their conscience
have their senses exercised to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14). What then
are these three? One is introduced by the enemy, another is begotten by the heart,
while the third is sown by God in a man. Of these three, God only accepts that
which is His own.
Examine yourselves, therefore, which of these three is impelling you to leave your
place. Do not go away until God permits you. I am aware what is God's will for
you; but it is difficult for you to recognize the will of God. Unless a man denies
himself and his own will, and obeys his spiritual parents, he will not be able to
recognize God's will; and even if he does recognize it, he needs God's help in
giving him strength to carry it out.
So you see it is a great matter to recognize the will of God, and an even greater
one to do it. But Jacob had these powers, because he obeyed his parents. For
when they told him to go to Mesopotamia, to Laban (Genesis 28:2), he obeyed
readily, even though he did not want to be separated from his parents. It was
because he obeyed that he inherited the blessing. And if I, who am your spiritual
father, had not formerly obeyed my spiritual parents, God would not have revealed
His will to me. For it is written: "The blessing of a father establishes the houses of
children" (Ecclesiastes 3:9). And if I endured great labor in the desert and the
mountains, asking God day and night until God revealed His will to me, do you too
now listen to your father in this, so that it may be for your rest and progress.
But I have heard that you have been saying, "Our father does not know our labor,
and how Jacob fled from Esau." But we know he did not run away of himself, but
was sent away by his parents. Do you therefore imitate Jacob, and remain until
your father sends you away, that he may bless you when you go, and then God will
prosper your affairs.
Farewell in the Lord. Amen.
The Sayings of ABBA AMMONAS The Desert Fathers, Bendicta Ward, P. 26-28
Benedicta ward, Sayings of The Desert Fathers, pp. 26-28.
1. A brother asked Abba Ammonas, 'Give me a word,' and the old man replied, 'Go,
make your thoughts like those of the evildoers who are in prison. For they are
always asking when the magistrate will come, awaiting him in anxiety. Even so the
monk ought to give himself at all times to accusing his own soul, saying, "Unhappy
wretch that I am. How shall I stand before the judgement seat of Christ? What
shall I say to him in my defence?" If you give yourself continually to this, you may
be saved.' 2. It was said of Abba Ammonas that he had killed a basilisk. Going into
the desert one day to draw water from the lake and seeing a basilisk, he threw
himself face to the ground saying: 'Lord, either I die or he does,' and immediately,
by the power of God, the basilisk burst asunder.
3. Abba Ammonas said, 'I have spent fourteen years in Scetis asking God night and
day to grant me the victory over anger.'
4. One of the Fathers telling about the Cells, said there was once a hard-working
old man there who wore a mat. He went to find Abba Ammonas, who, when he saw
him wearing the mat, said to him, 'This is no use to you.' But the old man
questioned him in the following way, 'Three thoughts occupy me, either, should I
wander in the deserts, or should I go to a foreign land where no-one knows me, or
should I shut myself up in a cell without opening the door to anyone, eating only
every second day.' Abba Ammonas replied, 'It is not right for you to do any of
these three things. Rather, sit in your cell and eat a little every day, keeping the
world of the publican always in your heart, and you may be saved.'
5. Some brethren found life difficult where they were living. Wanting to leave, they
came to find Abba Ammonas. He was out on the river. Seeing them walking along
the bank of the river, he asked the sailors to put him ashore. Then he called the
brethren, saying to them, 'I am Ammonas, to whose dwelling you are wanting to
go.' Having comforted their hearts, he sent them back whence they had come, for
this difficulty did not arise from sickness of soul, but simply from natural
6. One day when Abba Ammonas went to cross the river, he found the ferry-boat
ready to go and sat down in it. Then another boat came to the place and
transported the men who were there. They said to him, 'Come here, Father, and
cross the river with us.' But he replied, 'I will not embark except in the public
vessel.' As he had a handful of palm branches, he sat down, weaving them, and
then undoing them, until the boat came alongside. Thus he made the crossing.
Then the brethren made him a reverence, saying 'Why did you do that?' the old
man said to them, 'So as to walk without any anxiety of spirit.' That is an example;
we must walk in the way of God in peace.
7. Abba Ammonas was going to pay a visit to Abba Anthony, one day, and he lost
his way. So sitting down, he fell asleep for a little while. On waking, he prayed
thus to God, 'I beseech you, O Lord my God, do not let your creature perish.' Then
there appeared to him as it were a man's hand in the heavens, which showed him
the way, till he reached Abba Anthony's cave.
8. Abba Anthony predicted that this Abba Ammonas would make progress in the
fear of God. He led him outside his cell, and showing him a stone, said to him,
'Hurt this stone, and beat it.' He did so. Then Anthony asked him, 'Has the stone
said anything?' He replied, 'No.' Then Anthony said, 'You too will be able to do
that,' and that is what happened. Abba Ammonas advanced to the point where his
goodness was so great, he took no notice of wickedness. Thus, having become
bishop, someone brought a young girl who was pregnant to him, saying, 'See what
this unhappy wretch has done; give her a penance.' But he, having marked the
young girl's womb with the sign of the cross, commanded that six pairs of fine
linen sheets should be given her, saying, 'It is for fear that, when she comes to
give birth, she may die, she or the child, and have nothing for the burial.' But her
accusers resumed, 'Why did you do that? Give her a punishment.' But he said to
them, 'Look, brothers, she is near to death; what am I to do?' Then he sent her
away and no old man dared accuse anyone any more.
9. It was said of him that some people came to him to be judged, and Abba
Ammonas feigned madness. A woman standing near him said to her neighbour,
'The old man is mad.' Abba Ammonas heard it, caller her, and said, 'How much
labour have I given myself in the desert to acquire this folly and through you I
have lost it today!'
10. Abba Ammonas came one day to eat in a place where there was a monk of evil
repute. Now it happened that a woman came and entered the cell of the brother of
evil reputation. The dwellers in that place, having learnt this, were troubled and
gathered together to chase the brother from his cell. Knowing that Bishop
Ammonas was in the place, they asked him to join them. When the brother in
question learnt this, he hid the woman in a large cask. The crowd of monks came
to the place. Now Abba Ammonas saw the position clearly but for the sake of God
he kept the secret; he entered, seated himself on the cask and commanded the
cell to be searched. Then when the monks had searched everywhere without finding
the woman, Abba Ammonas said, 'What is this? May God forgive you!' After
praying, he made everyone go out, then taking the brother by the hand he said,
'Brother, be on your guard.' With these words, he withdrew.
11. Abba Ammonas was asked, 'What is the "narrow and hard way?" ' (Matt. 7.14)
He replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this, to control your thoughts, and to
strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the
sentence, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." '. (Matt. 19.27)
Sayings of the Saints
Anchorite and Bishop
Coptic Encyclopedia, (CE:113a-113b)