Saint Sisoes the Great, Anchoret in Egypt
Commemorated on July 6
AFTER the death of St. Antony, St. Sisoes was one of the most shining lights of the Egyptian deserts. He was an Egyptian by birth. Having quitted the world from his youth, he retired to the desert of Sceté, and lived some time under the direction of abbot Hor. The desire of finding a retreat yet more unfrequented induced him to cross the Nile and hide himself in the mountain where St. Antony died some time before. The memory of that great man’s virtues being still fresh, wonderfully supported his fervour. He imagined he saw him, and heard the instructions he was wont to deliver to his disciples; and he strained every nerve to imitate his most heroic exercises; the austerity of his penance, the rigour of his silence, the almost unremitting ardour of his prayer, insomuch that the reputation of his sanctity became so illustrious as to merit the full confidence of all the neighbouring solitaries. Some even came a great distance to be guided in the interior ways of perfection; and, in spite of the pains he took he was forced to submit his love of silence and retreat to the greater duty of charity. He often passed two days without eating, and was so rapt in God that he forgot his food, so that it was necessary for his disciple Abraham to remind him that it was time to break his fast. He would sometimes be even surprised at the notice, and contend that he had already made his meal; so small was the attention he paid to the wants of his body. His prayer was so fervent that it often passed into ecstacy. At other times his heart was so inflamed with divine love, that, scarce able to support its violence, he only obtained relief from his sighs, which frequently escaped without his knowledge, and even against his will. It was a maxim with him, that a solitary ought not to choose the manual labour which is most pleasing to him. His ordinary work was making baskets. He was tempted one day as he was selling them, to anger; instantly he threw the baskets away and ran off. By efforts like these to command his temper he acquired a meekness which nothing could disturb. His zeal against vice was without bitterness; and when his monks fell into faults, far from affecting astonishment or the language of reproach, he helped them to rise again with a tenderness truly paternal. When he once recommended patience and the exact observance of rules, he told the following anecdote: “Twelve monks, benighted on the road, observed that their guide was going astray. This, for fear of breaking their rule of silence, they forbore to notice, thinking within themselves that at daybreak he would see his mistake and put them in the right road. Accordingly, the guide discovering his error, with much confusion, was making many apologies; when the monks being now at liberty to speak, only said, with the greatest good humour: ‘Friend, we saw very well that you went out of your road; but we were then bound to silence.’ The man was struck with astonishment, and very much edified at this answer expressive of such patience and strictness of observance.”
St. Sisoes was singularly devoted to humility; and in all his advices and instructions to others, held constantly before their eyes this most necessary virtue. A recluse saying to him one day, “Father, I always place myself in the presence of God;” he replied, “It would be much more your advantage to place yourself below every creature, in order to be securely humble.” Thus, while he never lost sight of the divine presence, it was ever accompanied with the consciousness of his own nothingness and misery. “Make yourself little,” said he to a monk, “renounce all sensual satisfactions, disengage yourself from the empty cares of the world, and you will find true peace of mind. To another, who complained that he had not yet arrived at the perfection of St. Antony, he said: Ah! if I had but one only of that great man’s feelings, I would be all one flame of divine love.
The saint said one time, “I am now thirty years praying daily that my Lord Jesus may preserve me from saying an idle word, and yet I am always relapsing.” This could only be the language which humility dictates; for he was singularly observant of the times of retirement and silence, and kept his cell constantly locked to avoid interruption, and always gave his answers to those who asked his advice in the fewest words. The servant of God, worn out with sickness and old age, yielded at last to his disciple Abraham’s advice, and went to reside awhile at Clysma, a town on the border, or at least in the neighbourhood of the Red Sea. Here he received a visit from Ammon, or Amun, abbot of Raithe, who, observing his affliction for being absent from his retreat, endeavoured to comfort him by representing that his present ill state of health wanted the remedies which could not be applied in the desert. “What do you say,” returned the saint, with a countenance full of grief, “was not the ease of mind I enjoyed there every thing for my comfort?” He was not at ease till he returned to his retreat, where he finished his holy course. The solitaries of the desert assisting at his agony, heard him, as Rufinus relates, cry out: “Behold, abbot Antony, the choir of prophets and the angels come to take my soul.” At the same time his countenance shone, and being some time interiorly recollected with God, he cried out anew, “Behold! our Lord comes for me.” At the instant he expired, his cell was perfumed with a heavenly odour. He died about the year 429, after a retreat of at least sixty-two years in St. Antony’s Mount. His feast is inserted in the Greek Menologies on the 6th of July;
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). St. Sisoes or Sisoy, Anchoret in Egypt. The Lives of the Saints. Volume VII: July. 1866. (http://www.bartleby.com/210/7/043.html ).
Troparion Saint Sisoes the Great — Tone 1
Dweller of the desert and angel in the body, / you were shown to be a wonder-worker, our God-bearing Father Sisoes. / You received heavenly gifts through fasting, vigil, and prayer: / healing the sick and the souls of those drawn to you by faith. / Glory to Him who gave you strength! / Glory to Him who granted you a crown! / Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!