On Preparation for Departure

St. Euthymius the Great ca. 377-473

Listen to an edifying and true story that some Egyptian elders I met told me about a man thought holy by all but who in secret stirrings of his heart angered God becuase, I think, of assent to impure thoughts. Their story went as follows. A man with second sight, on entering this man’s city, found him gravely ill and all the citizens affirming with tears, “If the saint dies, we have no firther hope of salvation; for we are all protected through his intercession.” On hearing this, the man with second sight hurried off to get a blessing from the supposed saint. When he drew near, he saw many candles all ready and great crowds of clerics and laymen, including the bishop himself, waiting to conduct the funeral. Going in to him, he found him still breathing, and saw with the eye of his mind the devil of hell with a fiery fork inserting the fork into his heart and with many tortures pulling at his soul; and he heard a voice from heaven saying, “Just as his soul did not give me rest for a single day, so you too are not to stop pulling at his soul and torturing it.” I have recounted this to make us at all times ready for combat and prepared for the departure of the soul from the body, lest, seduced by love of pleasure, we be unbearably tormented at the time of departure…let us entreat God, Who has applied corrective not capital punishment, to free His creature from the plot of the impure and pleasure loving spirit. (Cyril of Scythopolis: The Lives of the Monks of Palestine. Life of Euthymius pp. 33-34)

Comments

  1. What’s amazing about this text is the image of a devil with a pitchfork. I always thought that “caricature” was an invention of the Middle Ages West. Certainly, there’s no “western influence” going on in the 5th century Palestinian desert.

  2. I grew up with the vision of little red devils with horns, hoofed feet, pointy red tails and pitchforks used to torment the sinners burning in the lake of fire. It seemed that the devil was a joke if that was the way it really was. This post gives me the creeps. The ancient fathers didn’t embelish their stories about demons. The thought of a demon milling about a dying man, tormenting and trying to pry out his soul with a firey fork, is chilling.

  3. I completely agree. I wonder how early we can find the “pitchfork” imagery. If I come across any more I’ll certainly post it. Thanks for sharing brother!

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