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Abba Poemen: Brief Life and Sayings


Saint Poemen’s feast day is August 27. He was from Egypt and although there are some difficulties determining his identity he most likely lived in Scete in the fourth century. His sayings make up one seventh of the entire Sayings of the Desert Fathers. He was renowned for his discretion. Many of his sayings and deeds are also preserved in the Paradise of the Fathers.

Some Sayings of Abba Poemen

Poemen said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

He also said, “If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live.”

Abba Poemen heard of someone who had gone all week without eating and then had lost his temper. The old man said, “He could do without food for six days, but he could not cast out anger.”

Abba Isaac came to see Abba Poemen and found him washing his feet. As he enjoyed freedom of speech with him he said, “How is it that others practice austerity and treat their bodies hardly?” Abba Poemen said to him, “We have not been taught to kill our bodies, but to kill our passions.”

Some old men came to Abba Poemen and said to him, “When we see brothers who are dozing at the synaxis (services), shall we rouse them so they will be watchful?” He said to them, “For my part when I see a brother dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.”

A brother came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, “I sow my field and give away in charity what I reap from it.” The old man said to him, “That is good,” and he departed with fervour and intensified his charity. Hearing this, Abba Anoub said to Abba Poemen, “Do you not fear God, that you have spoken like that to the brother?” The old man remained silent. Two days later Abba Poemen saw the brother coming and in the presence of Abba Anoub said to him, “What did you ask me the other day? I was not attending.” The brother said, “I said that I sow my field and give away what I gain in charity.” Abba Poemen said to him, “I thought you were speaking of your brother who is in the world. If it is you who are doing this, it is not right for a monk.” At these words the brother was saddened and said, “I do not know any other work and I cannot help sowing the fields.” When he had gone away, Abba Anoub made a prostration and said, “Forgive me.” Abba Poemen said, “From the beginning I too knew it was not the work of a monk but I spoke as I did, adapting myself to his ideas and so I gave him courage to intensify his charity. Now he has gone away full of grief and yet he will go on as before.”

A brother once went out on a pilgrimage from the monastery of Abba Poemen, and came to a hermit, who lived in love towards all and received many  visitors.  The brother told the hermit stories of Abba Poemen.  And when he heard of Poemen’s strength of character, he longed to see him.

The brother returned to Egypt.  And after some little time, the hermit rose and went from his country to Egypt to see the brother who had visited him: for he had told him where he lived.  When the brother saw the hermit, he was astonished, and very glad.  The hermit said to him, “Of your charity towards me, take me to Abba Poemen.”  And the brother rose up and showed him the way to the old man.

And the brother told Abba Poemen this about the hermit, “A great man of much charity, and particular honor in his own province, has come here wanting to see you.”  So the old man received him kindly.  And after they had  exchanged greetings, they sat down.

But the hermit began to talk of the Holy Scripture, and of the things of the spirit and of heaven.  But Abba Poemen turned his face away, and answered nothing.  When the hermit saw that he would not speak with him, he was distressed and went out.  And he said to the brother who had brought him there, “My journey was useless.  I went to the old man and he does not deign to speak to me.”

The brother went to Abba Poemen, and said, “Abba, it was to talk with you that this great man came here, a man of much honor in his own land.  Why did you not speak to him?”  The old man answered, “He is from above, and speaks of the things of heaven.  I am from below, and speak of the things of the earth.  If he had spoken with me on the soul’s passions, I would willingly have replied to him.  But if he speaks of the things of the spirit, I know nothing about them.”

So the brother went out and told the hermit, “The reason is that the old man does not easily discuss Scripture.  But if anyone talks to him about the soul’s passions, he answers.”

Then the hermit was stricken with penitence, and went to the old man and said, “What shall I do, Abba?  My passions rule me.”  And the old man gazed at him with gladness and said, “Now you are welcome.  You have only toask and I will speak with understanding.”  And the hermit  was much strengthened by their discourse, and said, “Truly, this is the way of love.” And he thanked God that he had been able to see so holy a man, and returned to his own country.”



Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone

With the rivers of your tears, you have made the barren desert fertile. Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you, your labors have borne fruit a hundred-fold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O Poemen, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.