The Woman who Dwelt in a Cave...
A saintly hermit told the brothers the following story:
One day, as I was sitting in the desert, I began to feel worried and sad. A thought came to me: “Get up and go for a walk in the desert”. So I walked and came to a water-course and gazing into the distance in the moonlight- night had fallen already- I saw something hirsute sitting on a rock. At first I thought it was a lion and stopped walking in that direction. But then I thought it over and realized that, even if it were a lion, I shouldn’t be afraid, but rather should take courage and believe in the grace of Christ. So I started off again, heading towards the rock. Near the rock there was a small hole. No sooner did the figure see me approaching in the distance than it sprang up and disappeared into the cave.
When I got to the rock, I found a basket with some beans and a pitcher full of water, so I realized that the figure must have been a person, rather than a lion. So I went up to the opening of the cave and shouted: “Servant of God, please, do me a favour and come out and bless me”. No answer. I insisted that whoever it was should come out and give me a blessing, but the reply came: “Forgive me, Elder, but I can’t come out”. When I asked why, I received the answer: “Forgive me, but I’m a woman and quite naked”. When I heard this, I immediately took off the cloak I was wearing, wrapped it up and threw it into the cave. “Take this clothing, put it on and come out, please”. She did so. As soon as she came out, we said the usual prayer and sat down. Then I implored her: “Do me the favour, mother Elder, of telling me how you came to this place, how you spend your time here and how you found this cave”.
Then she began to tell me her life story:
“I was a ‘canonical’, she said [that is a woman dedicated to the Church but not tonsured as a nun], ‘and had dedicated my life to the church of the Resurrection of Christ. But where I used to perform this duty, there was a monk, who had his cell near the gate. This monk started to become familiar and seemed very pleased to be in my company or to speak with me. On one occasion I overheard him weeping and confessing this sinful inclination to God. I knocked on the door, and, when he realized it was me, he didn’t open it. Instead, he continued weeping and confessing to God. When I saw this, I said to myself: ‘Here’s this man repenting his own sin, but I’m unrepentant. He’s repenting and bewailing his transgression, so how can I remain like this, without the attire of mourning within me’.
So I immediately took the decision. I went back to my cell, put on an old and worn piece of clothing, filled my basket with beans and my jar with water. I went into the church of the Resurrection and made a prayer: ‘You, Lord, Who are our great and wonderful God, you Who came to earth to save the lost and raise the fallen, You who hearken to all those who sincerely ask Your assistance, show Your compassion and mercy to me, too, sinner that I am. And if it’s your good pleasure to accept my return and the repentance of my soul, bless these beans and this water, so that they’ll suffice for all the years of my life, so that I won’t be distracted- with the excuse of seeing to the needs of the flesh and the body- from continuous worship’.
Then I went to Golgotha and made the same prayer. I embraced the holy rock and the sacred vessels and again called upon the holy name of God. Then, in total secrecy, I left and, with complete confidence, gave myself into the hands of God. I went down to Jerusalem, crossed the Jordan and took the road that led to the bank of the Dead Sea. I’d never seen the sea-level so high. So I went up into the mountains and wandered in the desert until I came to this water-course. I climbed up onto the rock and found this cave. Since then I’ve come to love this place very much. I like to think that God gave it to me so that I could truly repent. I’ve lived here for thirty years and have never set eyes on another person, apart from you today.
And the beans in my basket and the water in my jar have never run out to this day, even though I’ve eaten and drunk as much as necessary. Of course, as time passed, my first clothes wore out and fell to pieces, but as my hair grew and got longer, I covered myself with it as if it were clothing. And so, by the grace of Christ, neither the cold nor the heat, even the furnace of the summer, do me any harm’.
She finished her story here and invited to me to eat some of the beans she had in her basket, because she’d been told “from the outside”, that I was very hungry. We ate and drank until I was full. But I saw that both the basket and the pitcher were still full, so I gave glory to God.
When it was time for me to go, I wanted to leave her my outer raso [habit], but she wouldn’t take it and said: “Bring me new clothes when you next come”.
I was filled with joy when she said this and begged her to wait for me and to welcome me again. We prayed again, I bade her farewell and left, imprinting the location on my mind so that I’d be sure to find it next time I came. I left and went to the church in the neighbouring village and told the priest what I’d seen and heard. He gathered the faithful and in a speech he made to them said: “Not far from our church, there are some saintly hermits whose clothes have fallen apart and they’re going about the desert completely naked. Anyone who’s got clothes to spare, bring them here and we’ll hand them out”.
Immediately, the Christians brought in a good many clothes. I took what I needed and, full of joy, started out again, hoping to see once more the blessed face of this spiritual mother, in the cave. I went back to the place, and tired myself out looking, but I couldn’t find the cave. When eventually I did find it, the God-bearing woman wasn’t there any more, and that upset me.
I went away, saddened. A few days later, some hermits came to visit me and two of them said: “We two were wandering around the desert on the other side of the sea when we suddenly saw, at night, sitting on a rock, a hermit with long hair. When we quickened our steps to meet up with him and take his blessing, he avoided us and went into the entrance of a nearby cave. We wanted to go in ourselves, but as we approached the doorway, a voice came from out of the depths of the cave, saying: ‘Servants of God, please don’t disturb me. On the rock next to you there’s a basket of beans and a pitcher of water. If you want, you can eat and drink’.
The voice gave us its blessing and we went to the rock as we’d been told to do. There on the rock were the basket of beans and the jar of water. We ate and drank and rested for the remainder of the night.
When we woke up in the morning we went to get the blessing of the cave-dwelling hermit, but saw that the person had already fallen asleep in the Lord. We wanted to prepare him for burial, but realized that it was a woman, covered with her own very long hair. We blessed ourselves with her holy relics and rolled a large rock across the entrance to the cave. Once we’d prayed, we started out on the road back”.
I then realized that it was the same ‘canonical’ who had lived as a hermit and had become a holy mother. So I told them what I had heard from her mouth and, all together we glorified God, to Whom, indeed, glory is due unto the ages of ages. Amen.
P.V. Paskhos, Αγγελοτόκος έρημος, Armos Publications, pp. 137-42.