In Pursuit of Perfection
After Paphnutius had given up to the Lord this musician who had been blessed with the practice of every virtue, he himself worked even harder at his disciplines. And again he asked the Lord if there was anyone else like him upon the earth. And again the voice of the Lord came to him, saying: "Know that the headman of the next village is similar to you." On hearing this Paphnutius hurried to him without delay and knocked on his door. Now this man always welcomed guests, and he greeted Paphnutius, took him inside, washed his feet and set food before him, all in the most friendly manner. As he was eating Paphnutius began to question his host about his deeds, his disciplines, his rules of life. He replied in humility that he preferred to hide his good deeds rather than publish them, but Paphnutius insisted, saying that it had been revealed to him that he was equal in worth to any monk. This made him feel even more humble still.
"I am not aware of anything particularly good in anything I do," he said. "But since the Word of God from whom nothing is hidden has come to you I cannot remain silent. So I will tell you of what I do in the midst of the many situations in which I am placed. No one knows that for the last thirty years my wife and I have agreed to be continent. She had given me three sons, they were the only reason for having sex with her, I have not been with anyone else, nor she either. I have always received guests, since no one before me seems to have been willing to give a welcome to visiting pilgrims. I have never let anyone go from my house without giving them food for their journey. I have never neglected the poor, but have contributed to their needs. When administering justice I have never practised any favouritism even to my own sons. The profits due to someone else's labour has never found its way into my house. Where I have seen strife I have spared no effort in trying to bring peace to the quarrelling parties. No one has ever been able to bring any reproach against my servants, my flocks have never caused any harm to my neighbour's produce, I have never stopped anyone from producing food in my district, I have never chosen the best bit of new ploughed land for myself leaving the less fertile to others, as far as I could I have never let the strong oppress the weak, I have tried throughout my life not to grieve anyone. If I have been involved in any lawsuit I have not condemned anyone out of hand, but have tried to bring adversaries to agreement. This, now, by the grace of God has been my way of life up to the present."
Listening to this the blessed Paphnutius kissed him and blessed him saying: "'May the Lord bless you out of Sion, and may you see the good things of Jerusalem' (Psalm 128.5). You have done all these things thoroughly and properly. One thing is lacking, the greatest good of all, that putting all else aside you seek that true wisdom of God, and search for those hidden treasures which you cannot arrive at in any other way than by denying yourself, and taking up your cross and following Christ" (Matthew.16.24). On hearing this he did not wait even to set things in order in his house, but followed the man of God to the desert.
When they came to the river there was no ferry to be found, but Paphnutius bade him walk into the water with him, even though it was quite deep at that place. They crossed over easily, the water coming scarcely up to their waist. When they arrived at the desert Paphnutius put him in a cell at a little distance from the monastery and gave him a spiritual rule to live by. He instructed him in the practice of striving after perfection, and initiated him into the more advanced levels of wisdom (scientiae secretiora). While giving him all this instruction he devoted himself anew to even greater efforts, because he judged that the works of this person who had been busied with the affairs of the world had been even more demanding. "For," he said, "if people living in the world can do such good works, how much more should we not endeavour to surpass them in works of abstinence, both in quantity and in quality."
After spending some time in this programme, Paphnutius had drawn him so far into the knowledge of wisdom (scientiae perfectionem) that he had already become perfect in what he was doing. And one day as Paphnutius sat in his cell he saw that man's soul taken up to heaven amidst choirs of angels singing "Blessed is he whom thou hast chosen and taken. He shall dwell in thy tabernacles." (Psalm 65.5). Paphnutius then continued in fasting and prayer, giving himself up to even greater efforts towards perfection.