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a passionate repentance

A certain monk nearly sixty years old, having heard tell of the good…

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may God stand
A certain monk nearly sixty years old, having heard tell of the good
deeds of the Blessed Man (St. John the Almsgiver, patriarch of
Alexandria 609-619), wished to put him to the test, to see if he was
quick to listen to calumnies and be scandalized, and if that would be
the case, if he would condemn him. He had first lived in the monastery
of Abba Seridon. And in this manner, he came to Alexandria and adopted
a lifestyle designed, without doubt, to scandalize men, but he was
approved by God who "gives to each," as David says, "according to what
is in his own heart."
Having thus entered the city, he wrote down for himself a list of names
of all the prostitutes, and he worked as a laborer in a workshop, and
each day he earned a keration (silver coin). When the sun went down, he
ate some warm beans for a follis (bronze coin), took the rest of the
follis, went into one of the prostitutes, gave her the follis and said:
"Grant to me this night, but there will be no fornication." And he
remained at her side during the evening, watching her so that she
wouldn't go fornicate. Late at night, he stood up in a corner of the
small room near the place where the woman laid, and he began a psalm,
praying for her, saying matins until dawn. Then he left, but he made
the woman swear that she would not tell anyone what he did. So that,
when one of the prostitutes had denounced him, that is to say revealed
his conduct, saying, "He did not come to us in order to fornicate, but
to save us," the monk prayed, and the woman was possessed by a demon, so
that after this day the others were afraid and did not unmask him for
the rest of his life. Some people said to the demoniac, "What is the
matter? God has recompensed you because you have lied. For it was in
order to fornicate and not for any other reason that this most vile man
came to you."
This holy Vitalios, for that was his name, wishing to flee from human
glory and to call back souls from the darkness, said in the hearing of
all as he labored in the workshop and left in the evening with his small
pay, "Come along, my lords, to Lady So-and-So who awaits you." Thus he
spoke in the place where he worked. And when many of them accused him
and mocked him he answered, "Haven't I a body like everyone else, or is
it only upon monks that the wrath of God descends so that they die from
the troubles that they bring upon themselves? Truly, they are also men,
like those in the rest of the world." Then certain ones said to him:
"Get yourself a wife, abba, and change your habit, lest God be
blasphemed because of you and lest you be condemned for the souls you
have caused to stumble." Again he replied to them with oaths, even
pretending to be angry, "As God lives, I am not going to listen to you.
Leave me alone. Must I now change my way of life, so that you won't be
scandalized? And as for taking a wife, should I take one for the
worries of a family and spend my days miserably? No, by God! If anyone
wants to be scandalized, let him be so. Let him beat his head against a
wall! What do you want of me? Did God set you up as my judges? Go on,
look after your own affairs. It isn't you who will defend me before
God. There is only one Judge, only one holy day of judgment; it is this
Judge who will render to each one according to his deeds. And if God
had not willed it, I would not be in Alexandria!" He said this and
created such a tumult by his shouting, that everyone refrained from
speaking to him. And he kept saying, "Truly, if you don't stop, I will
see that you do, and you will regret it!"
Then some of the church disciplinary officials, after having learned of
these things, reported this affair to the Papa. But God knew that the
saint did not wish to offend Abba Vitalios. The Papa turned a deaf ear
to this, and he did not believe anyone, but he shook off those who had
said evil of Abba Vitalios, and reproached them greatly, saying, "Stop
bringing me accusations against monks. Do you know what writers tell us
about the late emperor Constantine, how some impious men, including some
bishops and monks, gained access to his holy council and gave to him
denunciations against one another before the blessed emperor? The
saintly emperor Constantine summoned these people before him two by two,
the accuser and the accused, and made them speak face to face, the
plaintiff accusing the defendant of the sin that he had committed,
whether it was adultery or something worse -- a murder or whatever else.
And when he had ascertained that the majority of these accusations were
well-founded, remembering that it was said, "Who is weak, and I am not
weak?" and that the Lord Himself had not condemned the adulterous woman
caught in the very act of adultery, he followed their example. He had a
lighted candle brought, and before the eyes of everyone, the accusers
and the accused, he burned all the accusations that had been given to
him and said, "In truth, if with my own eyes I had seen a priest of God
or someone wearing the garments of an angel committing a sin, I would
undo my cloak and cover him, so that none could see him. That is the
very design you have had on this eunuch who is a servant of God. You
would have turned me from the path, and would have brought a terrible
condemnation on my soul." Having thus made them greatly ashamed, he
dismissed them.
However Vitalios, the servant of God, did not alter his conduct. After
all, this was the very thing he had asked of God. Thus after his death
he revealed in a dream to several people that one should not count as a
transgression the fact that someone is scandalized by his behavior,
since, he said, his own practices lent themselves so well to scandal,
"and I will condemn no one if he said something against me." Whatever
the case, his behavior brought compunction to many of these women,
especially at night when they saw him stretch his hands towards heaven
and pray for each one of them. Some abandoned prostitution, some
married and corrected their behavior in that way, while others renounced
the world completely and pursued an eremitical life. But no one knew
until his death that his admonitions and prayers had caused these
improper young women to break with their sin.
Once toward dawn, when he was leaving the house of the chief one of
such women, he was met by a dissolute fellow who was coming there to
fornicate with her. As soon as he saw master Vitalios leaving the
woman's establishment, the man slapped him and said, "You miserable
mocker of Christ, when will you stop abandoning yourself to these
activities?" The monk said to him, "Believe me, you poor little
creature, someday you will be slapped so hard that nearly all of
Alexandria will congregate to hear your cries." Just a short while
later the blessed Vitalios fell asleep peacefully in his cell, with
absolutely no one knowing that he had. He had a tiny cell at the city
gate called the Gate of the Sun, so that often, when he celebrated the
Liturgy in the Church of St. Metras (a martyr under Decius, dragged out
of city and stoned - Eus. HE 6. 41. 3) next to his cell, some of the
young women would meet each other and say, "Let's go to Liturgy! Abba
Vitalios is celebrating again! When they came to church, he was very
solicitous of them, eating and joking with them until other people were
irritated and would say, "All these women love the pseudo-abbot so much,
and they yield to his designs on them," because, as stated above, they
did not know his secret mode of life. Doubtless they had seen him enter
each one of those women's houses, but they were unaware that this
generous, chaste man was on an errand to save them.
Thus, as we have said, when unknown to anyone he had fallen asleep in
his cell, a demon in the guise of an evil-eyed Ethiopian appeared
alongside the man who had slapped Abba Vitalios, and struck him also,
saying, "Take this blow that you gave to Abba Vitalios!" The man
immediately fell to the ground and began to foam at the mouth. As Abba
Vitalios had prophesied, a large crowd assembled from all over the city
of Alexandria, drawn by the violence this man was suffering at the hands
of the demon, and especially since the sound of that slap was heard by
some as far as an arrow can travel. When he regained consciousness
several hours later, he possessed man tore his clothes from his chest
and ran to the saint's cubicle, shouting and saying, "I have sinned
against you, O Vitalios, servant of God! Have pity on me!" All those
who heard him ran with him, and when they arrived at the saint's cubicle
the demon came out of him in the sight of all, tearing him mightily.
And when those who accompanied him entered the cell, they found the
saint on his knees in prayer, having commended his soul to the Lord,
while on the ground this inscription was seen: "Men of Alexandria, do
not judge before the time, until the Lord comes." At this, the demon
immediately left the man, who then began to confess how he had wronged
the saint and to report what the saint had said to him.
All this was reported immediately to the Papa (St. John the Almsgiver).
Then he left, accompanied by the clergy, to view the remains of holy
Vitalios. When he saw the inscription on the ground, he said, "In
truth, it is by God's grace that humble John has escaped this
inscription, seeing that the blow dealt to this possessed man was one
that I might have received." Then all the prostitutes who had renounced
the world and those who had married led the saint's funeral procession
with candles and torches, weeping and saying, "We have lost our savior
and our teacher." "He did not enter our houses for any shameful
activity. We never saw him sleep except on his side, and he took only
one of us by the hand." Some of the people reproached them and said,
"Why didn't you say this to the rest of us? He scandalized the whole
city!" Then they told them what had happened to the demon-possessed
woman. "We were afraid the same thing would happen to us, and so we
kept our peace."
When he had been buried with high honors, the man who had obtained
punishment and healing from the saint remained behind, giving unceasing
testimony to his memory. In the end, he renounced the world and joined
that same monastery of Abba Seridon in Gaza, and by faith he occupied
the cubicle of Abba Vitalios, where he remained until his death.
Meanwhile, the most holy Patriarch performed great acts of thanksgiving
to God, because he had not been permitted to sin against God's servant
Vitalios. And since that time, many men and women have given aid to the
monks in Alexandria, forever afterward showing them hospitality, and
always careful not to condemn anyone when a similar occasion arose. May
the Lord, by this man's prayers, justify us and take pity upon us, until
that day when He reveals the hidden depths of men and bares the designs
of their heart.

Leontius Neapolitanus, Life of John the Almsgiver 38
(Leont. N. v. Jo. Eleem. 38) 36 in Gelzer's ed.
text ed. and French trans. by A. J. Festugière, (Paris, 1974
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