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Visions and Special Awareness

“Another report testifies that our monk was endowed with supernatural gifts that enabled him to observe hidden and distant events....

In the case of our Desert Father, the incident once occurred. Two men were on the way to visit Anthony when they ran out of water. One of them died, while the other lay down on the ground and was waiting likewise for death. At the same time Anthony on his mountain summoned two monks who were his guests and instructed them, “Take a jar of water, and quickly take the road to Egypt. Two brothers were on the way here, but one is already dead and the other one soon will be if you do not hurry. This was just now revealed to me while I was praying” [59.2-3]. The rescue of the man dying of thirst was successful.

The saint often foresaw the arrival of visitors days in advance and could even tell the purpose of their visit. Occasionally Anthony could also observe the purely spiritual, invisible world and thereby gained insights into the personal destiny of the human soul after death and separation from the body. He was sitting one day on the mountain and suddenly spied in the air a man who was being led upward and was welcomed by others who were overjoyed. It was simultaneously revealed to him that it was the soul of the monk Amoun, who lived in Nitria, a thirteen days' journey distant from Anthony. One can imagine the amazement of his friends when Anthony told them that the monk, with who they were acquainted, had just died. About a month later brothers came from Nitria and were able to confirm that Amoun had died at precisely the hour when Anthony had seen his soul travel to heaven. In further visions the saint saw the fate of the human soul after death."...source: The Desert Fathers: Anthony and the Beginnings of Peter Gorg
From the beginnings, visions were influential in the movement. Pachomius was led through a vision to establish the first monastery at Tabennesis.... He had the reputation of being a man who could discern spirits...; that is, he could distinguish whether a vision was divinely inspired or demonic.... This ability, Pachomius claimed, extended to his being able to determine which monk was living correctly and which monk was not....

Pachomius used his visions as a means of instructing the brothers..., and undoubtedly his reputation for divining or discerning spirits and men was one means by which he controlled the monks under his care..., and attempted to ensure their doctrinal purity.... After the death of Pachomius, visions still had influence in the community. The brothers requested that Theodore continue Pachomius' practice of teaching through visions.... It was on the basis of a dream vision that Orsisius selected Theodore to assist him to govern the monasteries and elevated him to the position of Abbot.... And it was through a vision that Theodore was assured that he would later become spite of Pachomius' unexpected and harsh discipline of him....source: "Gnostic Proclivities in the Greek Life of Pachomius and the Sitz im Leben of the Nag Hammadi Library" Charles W. Hedrick, Novum Testamentum, Vol. 22, Fasc. 1 (Jan., 1980), pp. 78-94.
Visionary experiences figure prominently in other works of desert literature. ...both Antony and Pachomius enjoyed visionary gifts. In the Apophthegmata, some abbas have visions not of heaven, but of the invisible world of angels and demons. Abba Paul the Simple was reputed to have the gift of "seeing the state of each man's soul, just as we see their faces." One weekend, he was sitting outside the church watching the monks go into the synaxis. In his vision, he saw the monks entering "with sparling eyes and shining faces"; he also saw "each one's angel rejoicing over him." But Paul noted one monk who appeared "dark," accompanied by demons, while his guardian angel followed behind at a distance, downcast and grieving. But when the monks emerged from the liturgy, the monk who had previously been accompanied by demons and enveloped in gloom appeared "with a shining face and white body." Paul began jumping up and down and shouting "O the ineffable loving kindness and goodness of God!" He ran to an elevated spot and announced to the congregation his vision. The once gloomy monk confessed that he had undergone a conversion while at the liturgy: he had been guilty of fornication, but the scriptual reading from the prophet Isaiah had provoked in him a transformation of heart. It is hard to evaluate this somewhat bizarre narrative....But it narrates a commonly mentioned phenomen; that certain elders had a sort of second sight that enabled them to peer into the spiritual world that bristled around human beings....source: Desert Christians : An Introduction to the Literature of Early William Harmless, pp. 242-243
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