ANTONY. Who comes this way? By his dress it is some brother-dweller in the desert. My old eyes do not recognize you yet, friend. Come nearer.
PAPHNUTIUS. Brother Antony! Do you not know me?
ANTONY. This is joy indeed! What pleasures God sends us, when we resign ourselves to have none! I did not think to see my brother Paphnutius again in this world. Is it indeed you, brother?
PAPHNUTIUS. Yes, it is I.
ANTONY. You are welcome, very welcome. Your coming gives me great joy.
PAPHNUTIUS. I am no less rejoiced to see you.
ANTONY. But what is the cause? What has brought Paphnutius from his solitary retreat? He is not sick, I trust? He has not come to old Antony for healing?
PAPHNUTIUS. No, I am in good health.
ANTONY. That’s well! I am glad of it.
PAPHNUTIUS. Brother Antony, it is three years since my peace was broken and disturbed by the persistent vision of a soul in peril. I heard a voice calling me night and day. But I stopped my ears—fearing my weakness. I thought “She calls me to ruin me.” “No, no,” the voice said. “I call you to save me.”
ANTONY. A woman’s voice!
PAPHNUTIUS. Before my vision it was well known to us all that in the great town on the edge of the desert there was a harlot called Thais, through whom many were destroyed body and soul.
ANTONY. It was she who called you!
PAPHNUTIUS. Brother Antony, it was God who called me. My disciples opposed me; nevertheless I went to the town to see Thais and wrestle with the demon.
ANTONY. A perilous enterprise.
PAPHNUTIUS. I went to her in the disguise of a lover, and began by flattering her with sweet words. Then I threw off the mask and brought terror to her soul with bitter reproaches and threats of God’s punishment.
ANTONY. A prudent course. Hard words are necessary when natures have grown soft and can no longer distinguish between good and evil.
PAPHNUTIUS. I was disarmed by her docility. Truly, brother Antony, my heart melted like wax when she spurned her ill-gotten wealth and abandoned her lovers.
ANTONY. But you hid your tenderness?
PAPHNUTIUS. Yes, Brother Antony.
ANTONY. What followed?
PAPHNUTIUS. She chose to live in chastity. She consented to be enclosed in a narrow cell. She accepted her penance with sweetness and humility.
ANTONY. I am rejoiced by what you have told me! All the blood in my old veins exults and rejoices!
PAPHNUTIUS. That is because you are a saint.
ANTONY. Brother, you cannot mean that you are sad?
PAPHNUTIUS. I rejoice immeasurably in her conversion. Yet at times I am uneasy. I fear that the penance may have been too long and severe for a woman of such delicate frame.
ANTONY. That does you no wrong. Where true love is, loving compassion is not wanting.
PAPHNUTIUS. I came to beg yours for Thais. Of your charity give me your prayers. I beg you and your disciples to join with me in praying for a sign. Let us persevere in prayer until it is shown us from heaven that the penitent’s tears have moved the divine mercy to indulgence.
ANTONY. Brother Paphnutius, I have never granted a request more gladly. Come, we will gather together my disciples.
PAPHNUTIUS. I know that God will listen to his good servant Antony.