Prof. Jaroslav Skira (Regis College)



Note: The full electronic versions of most of the texts can be found at Early Church Fathers (CCEL). These readings are adapted from the translations found at this site.

WEEK # 8: Syriac & Asian Christianity & the Roots of Monasticism
- Bardaisan, Aphrahat, Ephraem, Pachomius, Anthony, Desert Ascetics, Egeria -

Textbook reading:
Gonzalez. Story of Xianity. Chps. 15, 26 (pp. 231-248 only). Note the map on p. 232.
2. Laura Swan. The Forgotten Desert Mothers (Paulist, 2001). Chp. 1: "World of the Desert Mothers." [See Week 8 "Backround and readings].

Some Study Guidelines / Questions:
1. Remember to read the text historically-critically (i.e. in terms of an "exegesis").
2. In Aphrahat's christology, do you notice any similarities and differences from Nicea (325)?
3. In the sayings of the desert fathers & mothers, what things strike you as unique? as odd?

4. What are the "types" of ascetics mentioned by these authors?
5. What are Marcella's and Hypatia's "claims to fame"?
6. What are main facets of the spirituality/liturgy as described in Egeria's account? Are there similarities/differences from how your church celebrates the paschal week?



Archeology: Read the synopsis of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Anastasis) [built on the site that Egeria describes in the tutorial readings]. Click on the link to "Helena."


Ephraim the Syrian [c. 306-373]

Hymn 12

(RESP. - Blessed is He Who went down and was baptized in Jordan, and turned back the People from error!)

1. In Baptism Adam found again-that glory that was among the trees of Eden. He went down, and received it out of the water;-he put it on, and went up and was adorned therein.--Blessed be He that has mercy on all!

2. Man fell in the midst of Paradise,-and in baptism compassion restored him: he lost his comeliness through Satan's envy,-and found it again by God's grace. - Blessed be He that has mercy on all!

3. The wedded pair were adorned in Eden;-but the serpent stole their crowns: yet mercy crushed down the accursed one,-and made the wedded pair goodly in their raiment.-Blessed be He that has mercy on all!

4. They clothed themselves with leaves of necessity;-but the Merciful had pity on their beauty,-and instead of leaves of trees,-He clothed them with glory in the water.-Blessed be He that has mercy on all!

5. Baptism is the well-spring of life,-which the Son of God opened by His Life; and from His Side it has brought forth streams.-Come, all that thirst, come, rejoice!-Blessed be He that has mercy on all!

6. The Father has sealed Baptism, to exalt it;-and the Son has espoused it to glorify it;-and the Spirit with threefold seal-has stamped it, and it has shone in holiness.-Blessed be He that has mercy on all!

7. The Trinity that is unsearchable-has laid up treasures in baptism.-Descend, you poor, to its fountain!-and be enriched from it, you needy!-Blessed be He that has mercy on all!

Ephraim the Syrian, Hymns 13 [Hymn of the Baptized]

(RESP.-Brethren, sing praises, to the Son of the Lord of all; Who has bound for you crowns, such as king's long for!)

1. Your garments glisten, my brethren, as snow;-and fair is your shining in the likeness of Angels!

2. In the likeness of Angels, you have come up, beloved,-from Jordan's river, in the armour of the Holy Ghost.

3. The bridal chamber that fails not, my brethren, you have received:-and the glory of Adam's house to-day you have put on.

4. The judgment that came of the fruit, was Adam's condemnation:-but for you victory, has arisen this day.

5. Your vesture is shining, and goodly your crowns:-which the Firstborn has bound for you, by the priest's hand this day.

6. Woe in Paradise, did Adam receive:-but you have received, glory this day.

7. The armour of victory, you put on, my beloved:-in the hour when the priest, invoked the Holy Ghost.

8. The Angels rejoice, men here below exult:-in your feast, my brethren, wherein is no foulness.

9. The good things of Heaven, my brethren, you have received:-beware of the Evil One, lest he despoil you.

10. The day when He dawned, the Heavenly King:-opens for you His door, and bids you enter Eden.

11. Crowns that fade not away, are set on your heads:-hymns of praise hourly, let your mouths sing.

12. Adam by means of the fruit, God cast forth in sorrow:-but you He makes glad, in the bride-chamber of joy.

13. Who would not rejoice, in your bride chamber, my brethren?-for the Father with His Son, and the Spirit rejoice in you.

14. Unto you shall the Father, be a wall of strength:-and the Son a Redeemer, and the Spirit a guard.

15. Martyrs by their blood, glorify their crowns:-but you our Redeemer, by His Blood glorifies.

16. Watchers and Angels, joy over the repentant:-they shall joy over you my brethren, that unto them you are made like.

17. The fruit which Adam, tasted not in Paradise:-this day in your mouths, has been placed with joy.

18. Our Redeemer figured, His Body by the tree:-whereof Adam tasted not, because he had sinned.

19. The Evil One made war, and subdued Adam's house:-through your baptism, my brethren, lo! he is subdued this day.

20. Great is the victory, but today you have won:-if so be you neglect not, you shall not perish, my brethren.

21. Glory to them that are robed, glory to Adam's house!-in the birth that is from the water, let them rejoice and be blessed!

22. Praise to Him Who has robed, His Churches in glory!-glory to Him Who has magnified, the race of Adam's house.


Aphrahat, the Persian Sage [c.320-380]

Demonstrations 17

1.(This is) a reply against the Jews, who blaspheme the people gathered from among the Gentiles; for they say thus, "you worship and serve a man who was begotten, a son of man who was crucified, and you call a son of men, God. And though God has no son, you say concerning this crucified Jesus, that He is the Son of God." And they bring forward as an argument, that God said:-"I am God and there is none else beside Me." And again he said:-"You shall not worship another God." Therefore, (say they), you are opposing God in that you call a man, God.

2. Concerning these things, my beloved, so far as I, in my insignificance, can comprehend, I will instruct thee about them, that while we grant to them that He is man, and (while) we at the same time honour Him and call Him God and Lord, yet it is not in any novel fashion, that we have so called Him, nor that we have applied to Him a novel name, which they themselves did not employ. Yet it is a sure thing with us, that Jesus our Lord is God, the Son of God, and the King, the King's Son, Light of light, Creator and Counsellor, and Guide, and the Way, and Redeemer, and Shepherd, Gatherer, and the Door, and the Pearl, and the Lamp; and by many (such) names is He surnamed. But we shall leave aside all (the rest) of them, and prove concerning Him, that He Who came from God is the Son of God, and (is) God.

3. For the venerated name of Godhead has been applied also to righteous men, and they have been held worthy to be called by it. And the men with whom God was well pleased, them He called, My sons, and My friends. When He chose Moses His friend and His beloved and made him chief and teacher and priest unto his people he called him God. For He said to him :-I have made thee a God unto Pharaoh. And He gave him His priest for a prophet, And Aaron thy brother shall speak for thee unto Pharaoh, and than shall be unto him as a God, and he shall be unto thee an interpreter. Thus not alone to the evil Pharaoh did He make Moses God, but also unto Aaron, the holy priest, He made Moses God.

4. Again, hear concerning the title Son of God, by which we have called Him. They say that "though God has no son, you make that crucified Jesus, the firstborn son of God." Yet He called Israel "My first-born," when He sent to Pharaoh through Moses and said to him, Israel is My first-born; I have said unto thee, let My Son go to serve Me, and if you are not willing to let (him) go, lo! I will slay thy son, they firstborn. And also through the Prophet He testified concerning this, and reproved them and said to the people, Out of Egypt have I called My son. As I called them, so they went and worshipped Baal and offered incense to the graven images. And Isaiah said concerning them, "Children have I reared and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me." And again it is written, "you are the children of the Lord your God." And about Solomon He said, "He shall be to Me a son, and I will be to him a Father." So also we call the Christ, the Son of God, for through Him we have gained the knowledge of God; even as He called Israel My firstborn son, and as He said concerning Solomon, "He shall be to Me a son." And we call Him God, even as He surnamed Moses by His own Name. And also David said concerning them: "You are Gods and children of the Highest, all of you." And when they amended not themselves, therefore He said concerning them: "As men shall you die, and as one of the princes shall you fall."

5. For the name of Divinity is given for the highest honour in the world, and with whomsoever God is well pleased, He applies it to him. But however, the names of God are many and are venerable, as He delivered His names to Moses, saying to him: "I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. This is My Name for ever, and this is My memorial unto generations." And He called His name Ahiyah ashar Ahiyah, El Shaddai and Adonai Sabaoth. By these names is God called. The great and honourable name of Godhead He withheld not from His righteous ones; even as, though He is the great King, without grudging He applied the great and honourable name of Kingship to men who are His creatures.

6.a. For by the mouth of His prophet God called the heathen King Nebuchadnezzar, King of Kings. For Jeremiah said: "Every people and kingdom that shall not put his neck into the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Kings, My servant, with famine and with sword and with pestilence will I visit that people." Though He is the great King, He grudges not the name of Kingship to men. And (so), though He is the great God, yet He grudged not the name of Godhead to the sons of flesh. And though all fatherhood is His, He has called men also fathers. For He said to the congregation: "Instead of thy fathers, shall be thy children." And though authority is His, He has given men authority one over another. And while worship is His unto honour, He has yet allowed it in the world, that one man should honour another. For even though a man should do worship before the wicked and the heathen and them that refuse grace, yet is he not censured by God.

6.b. And concerning worship He commanded His people, "you shall not worship the sun or the moon or all the hosts of heaven; and also you shall not desire to worship any creature that is upon the earth." Behold the grace and the love of our good Maker, that He did not grudge to men the name of Godhead and the name of worship, and the name of Kingship, and the name of authority; because He is the Father of the created things that are over the face of the world, and He has honoured and exalted and glorified men above all creatures. For with His holy hands He fashioned them; and of His Spirit He breathed into them, and a dwelling-place did He become unto them from of old. In them doth He abide and amongst them doth He walk. For He said through the prophet, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them." Furthermore also the Prophet Jeremiah said: "You are the temple of the Lord, if you make fair your ways and your deeds." And of old David said: "You, Lord, hast been a dwelling-place unto us for generations; before the mountains were conceived and before the earth travailed, and before the world was framed; from age to age you are God."

7. How dost you understand this? For one prophet says: "Lord, you hast been our dwelling-place." And another said: "I will dwell in them and walk in them." First, He became to us a dwelling-place, and afterwards He dwelt and walked in us. For the wise both things are true and simple. For David says: "You, Lord, hast been our dwelling-place for generations, before the mountains were conceived and before the earth travailed, and before the world was framed. And you know, my beloved, that all created things that are above and that are beneath were created first, and after them all, man." For when God determined to create the world with all its goodly things, first He conceived and fashioned man in His mind; and after that Adam was conceived in His thought, then He conceived the created things; as he said "Before the mountains were conceived and the earth travailed," because man is older and more ancient in conception than the creatures, but in birth the creatures are older and more ancient than Adam. Adam was conceived and dwelt in the thought of God; and while in conception he (man) was held in His (God's) mind, He (God) by the word of His mouth created all the creatures. And when He had finished and adorned the world, when nothing was lacking in it, then He brought forth Adam from His thoughts, and fashioned man by His hands; and Adam saw the world completed. And He (God) gave him authority over all that He had made, just as a man who has a son and desires to make for him a marriage feast, betroths to him a wife and builds for him a house, and prepares and adorns all that is needed for his son; then he makes the marriage feast and gives his son authority over his house. So after the conception of Adam, He brought him forth and gave him authority over all his creation. Concerning this the Prophet said: "You, Lord, hast been our habitation for generations, before the mountains were conceived, and before the earth travailed and before the world was framed. From age unto age you are the Lord." That no one should suppose that there is another God, either before or afterwards, he said: "From age and unto age," just as Isaiah said: "I am the first and I am the last." And after that God brought forth Adam from within His thought, He fashioned him, and breathed into him of His Spirit, and gave him the knowledge of discernment, that he might discern good from evil, and might know that God made him. And inasmuch as man knew his Maker, God was formed and conceived within his thought, and he became a temple for God his Maker, as it is written, you are the temple of God. And (so) He Himself said: "I will dwell in them and walk in them." But as for the sons of Adam, who do not recognise their Maker, He is not formed within them, and does not dwell in them, and is not conceived in their thought; but they are accounted before Him as the beasts, and as the rest of the creatures.

8. Now by these things the stubborn will be convinced, that it is nothing strange that we call Christ the Son of God. For behold, He (God) conceived all men and brought them forth from His thoughts. And they will be forced to own that the name of Godhead also belongs to Him (Christ), for He (God) associated the righteous also in the name of God. And as to this, that we worship Jesus through Whom we have known God, let them be ashamed, inasmuch as they fill down and worship and honour even the heathen of the unclean Gentiles, if they possess authority; and (for this) there is no blame. And this honour of worship God has given to the sons of Adam, that by it they might honour one another---especially those who excel and are worthy of honour amongst them. For if they worship, and honour with the name of worship, the heathen-those who in their heathen wickedness deny even the name of God---and yet do not worship them as their maker, as though they worshipped them alone, and so do not sin; how much more does it become us to worship and honour Jesus, Who converted our stubborn minds from all worship of vain error, and taught us to worship and serve and minister to the one God, our Father and our Maker. … But as for us, we are certain that Jesus is God, the Son of God, and through Him we know His Father, an (have) all of us (turned away) from all other worship. Therefore it is impossible for us to repay Him Who bore these things for us. But by worship let us pay Him honour in return for His affliction that was on our behalf.

9. Furthermore, we must prove that this Jesus was beforehand promised from ancient times in the Prophets, and was called the Son of God. David said:-you are My Son; today have I begotten Thee. Again he said:-In the glories of holiness, from the womb, from of old, have I begotten thee, a child. And Isaiah said: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and His government was upon His shoulder, and His Name shall be called Wonderful, and Counsellor, and mighty God of the ages, and Prince of peace." And to the increase of His government and to His peace there is no end. Therefore tell me, O wise doctor of Israel, who is He that was born and whose name was called Child and Son and Wonderful and Counsellor, the mighty God of the ages, and Prince of peace, to the increase of whose government and to whose peace (he said), there is no end? For if we call Christ the Son of God, David taught us (this); and that we call Him God, this we learned from Isaiah. And His government was laid upon His shoulder; for He hare His cross, and went out from Jerusalem. And that He was born as a child, Isaiah again said:-Lo, the virgin shall conceive and bear; and His name shall be called Immanuel, which is, our God with us.


Lives & Sayings of Desert Fathers & Mothers

Monastic Communities (via Jerome [+c.420], Epistle 22.34-5 [To Eustochium]).

34. As I have mentioned the monks, and know that you like to hear about holy things, lend an ear to me for a few moments. There are in Egypt three classes of monks. First, there are the coenobites, … or, as we should say, men living in a community. Secondly, there are the anchorites, who live in the desert, each man by himself, and are so called because they have withdrawn from human society. Thirdly, there is the class called Remoboth, a very inferior and little regarded type, peculiar to my own province, or, at least, originating there. These live together in twos and threes, but seldom in larger numbers, and are bound by no rule; but do exactly as they choose. A portion of their earnings they contribute to a common fund, out of which food is provided for all. In most cases they reside in cities and strongholds; and, as though it were their workmanship which is holy, and not their life, all that they sell is extremely dear. They often quarrel because they are unwilling, while supplying their own food, to be subordinate to others. It is true that they compete with each other in fasting; they make what should be a private concern an occasion for a triumph. In everything they study effect: their sleeves are loose, their boots bulge, their garb is of the coarsest. They are always sighing, or visiting virgins, or sneering at the clergy; yet when a holiday comes, they make themselves sick-they eat so much.

35.a. Having then rid ourselves of these as of so many plagues, let us come to that more numerous class who live together, and who are, as we have said, called Coenobites. Among these the first principle of union is to obey superiors and to do whatever they command. They are divided into bodies of ten and of a hundred, so that each tenth man has authority over nine others, while the hundredth has ten of these officers under him. They live apart from each other, in separate cells. According to their rule, no monk may visit another before the ninth hour; except the deans above mentioned, whose office is to comfort, with soothing words, those whose thoughts disquiet them. After the ninth hour they meet together to sing psalms and read the Scriptures according to usage. Then when the prayers have ended and all have sat down, one called the father stands up among them and begins to expound the portion of the day. While he is speaking the silence is profound; no man ventures to look at his neighbour or to clear his throat. The speaker's praise is in the weeping of his hearers. Silent tears roll down their cheeks, but not a sob escapes from their lips. Yet when he begins to speak of Christ's kingdom, and of future bliss, and of the glory which is to come, every one may be noticed saying to himself, with a gentle sigh and uplifted eyes: "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away and be at rest." After this the meeting breaks up and each company of ten goes with its father to its own table. This they take in turns to serve each for a week at a time. No noise is made over the food; no one talks while eating. Bread, pulse and greens form their fare, and the only seasoning that they use is salt. Wine is given only to the old, who with the children often have a special meal prepared for them to repair the ravages of age and to save the young from premature decay.

35.b. When the meal is over they all rise together, and, after singing a hymn, return to their dwellings. There each one talks till evening with his comrade thus: "Have you noticed so-and-so? What grace he has How silent he is! How soberly he walks!" If any one is weak they comfort him; or if he is fervent in love to God, they encourage him to fresh earnestness. And because at night, besides the public prayers, each man keeps vigil in his own chamber, they go round all the cells one by one, and putting their ears to the doors, carefully ascertain what their occupants are doing. If they find a monk slothful, they do not scold him; but, dissembling what they know, they visit him more frequently, and at first exhort rather than compel him to pray more. Each day has its allotted task, and this being given in to the dean, is by him brought to the steward. This latter, once a month, gives a scrupulous account to their common father. He also tastes the dishes when they are cooked, and, as no one is allowed to say, "I am without a tunic or a cloak or a couch of rushes," he so arranges that no one need ask for or go without what he wants. In case a monk falls ill, he is moved to a more spacious chamber, and there so attentively nursed by the old men, that he misses neither the luxury of cities nor a mother's kindness. Every Lord's day they spend their whole time in prayer and reading; indeed, when they have finished their tasks, these are their usual occupations. Every day they learn by heart a portion of Scripture. They keep the same fasts all the year round, but in Lent they are allowed to live more strictly. After Whitsuntide they exchange their evening meal for a midday one; both to satisfy the tradition of the church and to avoid overloading their stomachs with a double supply of food.


Marcella (+.c.410) (via Jerome [+c.420], Epistle to Principia, 127 [cf. CCC 157])

5.a. … In those days no highborn lady at Rome had made profession of the monastic life, or had ventured-so strange and ignominious and degrading did it then seem-publicly to call herself a nun. It was from some priests of Alexandria, and from pope Athanasius, and subsequently from Peter, who, to escape the persecution of the Arian heretics, had all fled for refuge to Rome as the safest haven in which they could find communion-it was from these that Marcella heard of the life of the blessed Anthony, then still alive, and of the monasteries in the Thebaid founded by Pachomius, and of the discipline laid down for virgins and for widows. Nor was she ashamed to profess a life which she had thus learned to be pleasing to Christ. Many years after her example was followed first by Sophronia and then by others … . My revered friend Paula was blessed with Marcella's friendship, and it was in Marcella's cell that Eustochium, that paragon of virgins, was gradually trained. …

5.b. The unbelieving reader may perhaps laugh at me for dwelling so long on the praises of mere women; yet if he will but remember how holy women followed our Lord and Saviour and ministered to Him of their substance, and how the three Marys stood before the cross and especially how Mary Magdalen-called the tower from the earnestness and glow of her faith-was privileged to see the rising Christ first of all before the very apostles, he will convict himself of pride sooner than me of folly. For we judge of people's virtue not by their sex but by their character, and hold those to be worthy of the highest glory who have renounced both rank and wealth. It was for this reason that Jesus loved the evangelist John more than the other disciples. For John was of noble birth and known to the high priest, yet was so little appalled by the plottings of the Jews that he introduced Peter into his court, and was the only one of the apostles bold enough to take his stand before the cross. For it was he who took the Saviour's parent to his own home; it was the virgin son who received the virgin mother as a legacy from the Lord.

7. … When the needs of the Church at length brought me to Rome in company with the reverend pontiffs, Paulinus and Epiphanius-the first of whom ruled the church of the Syrian Antioch while the second presided over that of Salamis in Cyprus,-I in my modesty was for avoiding the eyes of highborn ladies, yet she pleaded so earnestly, "both in season and out of season" as the apostle says, that at last her perseverance overcame my reluctance. And, as in those days my name was held in some renown as that of a student of the scriptures, she never came to see me that she did not ask me some question concerning them, nor would she at once acquiesce in my explanations but on the contrary would dispute them; not, however, for argument's sake but to learn the answers to those objections which might, as she saw, be made to my statements. How much virtue and ability, how much holiness and purity I found in her I am afraid to say; both lest I may exceed the bounds of men's belief and lest I may increase your sorrow by reminding you of the blessings that you have lost. This much only will I say, that whatever in me was the fruit of long study and as such made by constant meditation a part of my nature, this she tasted, this she learned and made her own. Consequently after my departure from Rome, in case of a dispute arising as to the testimony of scripture on any subject, recourse was had to her to settle it. And so wise was she and so well did she understand what philosophers call … "the becoming," in what she did, that when she answered questions she gave her own opinion not as her own but as from me or some one else, thus admitting that what she taught she had herself learned from others. For she knew that the apostle had said: "I suffer not a woman to teach," and she would not seem to inflict a wrong upon the male sex many of whom (including sometimes priests) questioned her concerning obscure and doubtful points.

8. I am told that my place with her was immediately taken by you, that you attached yourself to her, and that, as the saying goes, you never let even a hair's-breadth come between her and you. You both lived in the same house and occupied the same room so that every one in the city knew for certain that you had found a mother in her and she a daughter in you. In the suburbs you found for yourselves a monastic seclusion, and chose the country instead of the town because of its loneliness. For a long time you lived together, and as many ladies shaped their conduct by your examples, I had the joy of seeing Rome transformed into another Jerusalem. Monastic establishments for virgins became numerous, and of hermits there were countless numbers. In fact so many were the servants of God that monasticism which had before been a term of reproach became subsequently one of honour. Meantime we consoled each other for our separation by words of mutual encouragement, and discharged in the spirit the debt which in the flesh we could not pay. We always went to meet each other's letters, tried to outdo each other in attentions, and anticipated each other in courteous inquiries. Not much was lost by a separation thus effectually bridged by a constant correspondence.

9. While Marcella was thus serving the Lord in holy tranquillity, there arose in these provinces a tornado of heresy which threw everything into confusion; indeed so great was the fury into which it lashed itself that it spared neither itself nor anything that was good. And as if it were too little to have disturbed everything here, it introduced a ship freighted with blasphemies into the port of Rome itself. The dish soon found itself a cover; and the muddy feet of heretics fouled the clear waters of the faith of Rome. No wonder that in the streets and in the market places a soothsayer can strike fools on the back or, Catching up his cudgel, shatter the teeth of such as carp at him; when such venomous and filthy teaching as this has found at Rome dupes whom it can lead astray. Next came the scandalous version of Origen's book On First Principles, and that 'fortunate' disciple who would have been indeed fortunate had he never fallen in with such a master. Next followed the confutation set forth by my supporters, which destroyed the case of the Pharisees and threw them into confusion. It was then that the holy Marcella, who had long held back lest she should be thought to act from party motives, threw herself into the breach. Conscious that the faith of Rome-once praised by an apostle -was now in danger, and that this new heresy was drawing to itself not only priests and monks but also many of the laity besides imposing on the bishop who fancied others as guileless as he was himself, she publicly withstood its teachers choosing to please God rather than men.

10. In the gospel the Saviour commends the unjust steward because, although he defrauded his master, he acted wisely for his own interests. The heretics in this instance pursued the same course; for, seeing how great a matter a little fire had kindled, and that the flames applied by them to the foundations had by this time reached the housetops, and that the deception practised on many could no longer be hid, they asked for and obtained letters of commendation from the church, so that it might appear that till the day of their departure they had continued in full communion with it. Shortly afterwards the distinguished Anastasius succeeded to the pontificate; but he was soon taken away, for it was not fitting that the head of the world should be struck off during the episcopate of one so great. He was removed, no doubt, that he might not seek to turn away by his prayers the sentence of God passed once for all. For the words of the Lord to Jeremiah concerning Israel applied equally to Rome: "pray not for this people for their good. When they fast I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt-offering and oblation, I will not accept them; but I will consume them by the sword and by the famine and by the pestilence." you will say, what has this to do with the praises of Marcella? I reply, She it was who originated the condemnation of the heretics. She it was who furnished witnesses first taught by them and then carried away by their heretical teaching. She it was who showed how large a number they had deceived and who brought up against them the impious books On First Principles, books which were passing from hand to hand after being 'improved' by the hand of the scorpion. She it was lastly who called on the heretics in letter after letter to appear in their own defence. They did not indeed venture to come, for they were so conscience-stricken that they let the case go against them by default rather than face their accusers and be convicted by them. This glorious victory originated with Marcella, she was the source and cause of this great blessing. You who shared the honour with her know that I speak the truth. You know too that out of many incidents I only mention a few, not to tire out the reader by a wearisome recapitulation. Were I to say more, ill natured persons might fancy me, under pretext of commending a woman's virtues, to be giving vent to my own rancour. I will pass now to the remainder of my story. …


Hypatia (+.c.415) (via Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 7.15 [cf. CCC 213])

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in coming to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more. Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort. This happened in the month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril's episcopate, under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius.


Egeria's Pilgrimage (c.404-417)

[An account of a prominent noblewoman's pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Holy Week, addressed to her "sisters" (possibly a religious community). This has been adapted and slightly modified from a version of the text found at:].

Book 27.1 [A description of her pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Lent] . . . And when the Paschal days come they are observed thus: Just as with us forty days are kept before Easter, so here eight weeks are kept before Easter. And eight weeks are kept because there is no fasting on the Lord's Days, nor on the Sabbaths, except on the one Sabbath on which the Vigil of Easter falls, in which case the fast is obligatory. With the exception then of that one day, there is never fasting on any Sabbath here throughout the year. Thus, deducting the eight Lord's Days and the seven Sabbaths (for on the one Sabbath, as I said above, the fast is obligatory) from the eight weeks, there remain forty-one fast days, which they call here Eortae, that is Lent.

27.2. [Sundays] Now the several days of the several weeks are kept thus: On the Lord's Day after the first cockcrow the bishop reads in the Anastasis [lit. resurrection, rotunda of the church] the account of the Lord's Resurrection from the Gospel, as on all Lord's Days throughout the whole year, and everything is done at the Anastasis and at the Cross as on all Lord's Days throughout the year, up to daybreak.

27.3. Afterwards, in the morning, they proceed to the greater Church, called the Martyrium, which is in Golgotha behind the Cross, and all things that are customary on the Lord's Days are done there. In like manner also when the dismissal from the church has been made, they go with hymns to the Anastasis, as they always do on the Lord's Days, and while these things are being done the fifth hour is reached. Lucernare [lit. lamp-lighting], however, takes place at its own hour, as usual, at the Anastasis and at the Cross, and in the various holy places; . . . [what follows is a description of weekday services].


Archeology: Read the first 6 paragraphs describing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Anastasis) [built on the sites that Egeria describes].
Optional: Images from a modern candlelit procession in Jerusalem.


28.1. . . . This is the custom of the fast in Lent: some, when they have eaten after the dismissal on the Lord's Day, that is, about the fifth or sixth hour [11 o'clock or noon], do not eat throughout the whole week until after the dismissal at the Anastasis on the Sabbath; these are they who keep the weeks' fast.

28.2. Nor, after having eaten in the morning, do they eat in the evening of the Sabbath, but they take a meal on the next day, that is, on the Lord's Day, after the dismissal from the church at the fifth hour or later, and then they do not breakfast until the Sabbath comes round, as I have said above.

28.3. For the custom here is that all who are apotactitae, as they call them here, whether men or women, eat only once a day on the day when they do eat, not only in Lent, but throughout the whole year. But if any of the apotactitae cannot keep the entire week of fasting as described above, they take supper in the middle (of the week), on the fifth day, all through Lent. And if any one cannot do even this, he keeps two days' fast (in the week) all through Lent, and they who cannot do even this, take a meal every evening.

28.4. For no one exacts from any how much he should do, but each does what he can, nor is he praised who has done much, nor is he blamed who has done less; that is the custom here. For their food during the days of Lent is as follows: ---they taste neither bread which cannot be weighed, nor oil, nor anything that grows on trees, but only water and a little gruel made of flour. . . .

29.1 And at the end of the weeks' fast the vigil is kept in the Anastasis from the hour of lucernare on the sixth weekday, when the people come with psalms from Sion, to the morning of the Sabbath, when the oblation is made in the Anastasis. And the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth weeks in Lent are kept as the first. . . . [Then follows a description of Holy Week, beginning with the Saturday before Palm Sunday].

30.1. . . .On the next day, that is, the Lord's Day, which begins the Paschal week [basically Palm Sunday], and which they call here the Great Week, when all the customary services from cockcrow until morning have taken place in the Anastasis and at the Cross, they proceed on the morning of the Lord's Day according to custom to the greater church, which is called the martyrium. It is called the martyrium because it is in Golgotha behind the Cross, where the Lord suffered.

30.2. When all that is customary has been observed in the great church, and before the dismissal is made, the archdeacon lifts his voice and says first: " Throughout the whole week, beginning from tomorrow, let us all assemble in the martyrium, that is, in the great church, at the ninth hour." Then he lifts his voice again, saying: " Let us all be ready today in Eleona at the seventh hour."

30.3. So when the dismissal has been made in the great church! that is, the martyrium, the bishop is escorted with hymns to the Anastasis, and after all things that are customary on the Lord's Day have been done there, after the dismissal from the martyrium, every one hastens home to eat, that all may be ready at the beginning of the seventh hour in the church in Eleona, on the Mount of Olives, where is the cave in which the Lord taught.

31.1. [Procession with Palms on the Mount of Olives] Accordingly at the seventh hour all the people go up to the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, and the bishop with them, to the church, where hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, and readings in like manner. And when the ninth hour approaches they go up with hymns to the Imbomon, that is, to the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and there they sit down, for all the people are always bidden to sit when the bishop is present; the deacons alone always stand. Hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, interspersed with lections and prayers.

31.2. And as the eleventh hour approaches, the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord," [Mt 21.9] and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." [This is a prayer still prayed today in Byzantine-Slavic churches].

31.3. And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old.

31.4. For all, even those of rank, both matrons and men, accompany the bishop all the way on foot in this manner, making these responses, from the top of the mount to the city, and thence through the whole city to the Anastasis, going very slowly lest the people should be wearied; and thus they arrive at the Anastasis at a late hour [lit. evening]. And on arriving, although it is late, lucernare takes place, with prayer at the Cross; after which the people are dismissed. . . .

[A description of Monday to Wednesday of Holy Week is omitted here]

34.1. [Wednesday in Holy Week.] . . .On the fourth weekday everything is done as on the second and third weekdays throughout the whole day from the first cockcrow onwards, but after the dismissal has taken place at the martyrium by night, and the bishop has been escorted with hymns to the Anastasis, he at once enters the cave which is in the Anastasis, and stands within the rails; but the priest stands before the rails and receives the Gospel, and reads the passage where Judas Iscariot [betrayed the Lord]. And when the passage has been read, there is such a moaning and groaning of all the people that no one can help being moved to tears at that hour. Afterwards prayer follows, then the blessing, first of the catechumens, and then of the faithful, and the dismissal is made. . . .

[A description of the services in which the Gospel's are read describing Jesus's last hours with apostles, and arrest/trial is omitted here].

37.1. [Veneration of the Cross] . . . Then a chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha behind the Cross, which is now standing; the bishop duly takes his seat in the chair, and a table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the deacons stand round the table, and a silver-gilt casket is brought in which is the holy wood of the Cross. The casket is opened and (the wood) is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title are placed upon the table.

37.2. Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through. And because, I know not when, some one is said to have bitten off and stole a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons who stand around, lest any one approaching should venture to do so again. . . .

37.3. And as all the people pass by one by one, all bowing themselves, they touch the Cross and the title, first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the Cross and pass through, but none lays his hand upon it to touch it. . . .

37.4. And when the sixth hour has come, they go before the Cross, whether it be in rain or shine, the place being outdoors, as it were, a court of great size and of some beauty between the Cross and the Anastasis; here all the people assemble in such great numbers that its crowded.

37.5. The chair is placed for the bishop before the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hour nothing else is done, but the reading of lessons, which are read thus: first from the psalms wherever the Passion is spoken of, then from the Apostle, either from the epistles of the Apostles or from their Acts, wherever they have spoken of the Lord's Passion; then the passages from the Gospels, where He suffered, are read. Then the readings from the prophets where they foretold that the Lord should suffer, then from the Gospels where He mentions His Passion.

37.6. Thus from the sixth to the ninth hours the lessons are so read and the hymns said, that it may be shown to all the people that whatsoever the prophets foretold of the Lord's Passion is proved from the Gospels and from the writings of the Apostles to have been fulfilled. And so through all those three hours the people are taught that nothing was done which had not been foretold, and that nothing was foretold which was not wholly fulfilled. Prayers also suitable to the day are interspersed throughout.

37.7. The emotion shown and the mourning by all the people at every lesson and prayer is wonderful; for there is none, either great or small, who, on that day during those three hours, does not lament more than can be conceived, that the Lord had suffered those things for us. Afterwards, at the beginning of the ninth hour, there is read that passage from the Gospel according to John where He gave up the ghost. This read, prayer and the dismissal follow.

37.8. [Evening Offices] And when the dismissal before the Cross has been made, all things are done in the greater church, at the martyrium, which are customary during this week from the ninth hour---when the assembly takes place in the martyrium---until late. And after the dismissal at the martyrium, they go to the Anastasis, where, when they arrive, the passage from the Gospel is read where Joseph begged the Body of the Lord from Pilate and laid it in a new sepulchre. And this reading ended, a prayer is said, the catechumens are blessed, and the dismissal is made.

37.9. But on that day no announcement is made of a vigil at the Anastasis, because it is known that the people are tired; nevertheless, it is the custom to watch there. So all of the people who are willing, or rather, who are able, keep watch, and they who are unable do not watch there until the morning. Those of the clergy, however, who are strong or young keep vigil there, and hymns and antiphons are said throughout the whole night until morning; a very great crowd also keep night-long watch, some from the late hour and some from midnight, . . .

38.1 [Easter Sunday] Now, on the next day, the Sabbath, everything that is customary is done at the third hour and also at the sixth; the service at the ninth hour, however, is not held on the Sabbath, but the Paschal vigils are prepared in the great church, the martyrium. The Paschal vigils are kept as with us, with this one addition, that the children when they have been baptised and clothed, and when they issue from the font, are led with the bishop first to the Anastasis.

38.2. The bishop enters the rails of the Anastasis, and one hymn is said, then the bishop says a prayer for them, and then he goes with them to the greater church, where, according to custom, all the people are keeping watch. Everything is done there that is customary with us also, and after the oblation has been made, the dismissal takes place. After the dismissal of the vigils has been made in the greater church, they go at once with hymns to the Anastasis, where the passage from the Gospel about the Resurrection is read. Prayer is made, and the bishop again makes the oblation. But everything is done quickly on account of the people, that they should not be delayed any longer, and so the people are dismissed. ...


Sayings of the Desert Monastics

1. Abba Ammonas was asked, "What is the "narrow and hard way?" (Mat 7.14) He replied, "The 'narrow and hard way' is this, to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, 'Lo, we have left everything and followed you.'" (Mat 19.27)

2. It was said of him that he had a hollow in his chest channelled out by the tears which fell from his eyes all his life while he sat at his manual work. When Abba Poemen learned that he was dead, he said weeping, "Truly you are blessed, Abba Arsenius, for you wept for yourself in this world! He who does not weep for himself here below will weep eternally hereafter; so it is impossible not to weep, either voluntarily or when compelled through suffering."

It was also said of him (Abba Arsenius) that on Saturday evenings, pre paring for the glory of Sunday, he would turn his back on the sun and stretch out his hands in prayer towards the heavens, till once again the sun shone on his face. Then he would sit down.

3. It was said of Abba Ammoes that when he went to church, he did not allow his disciple to walk beside him but only at a certain distance; and if the latter came to ask him about his thoughts, he would move away from him as soon as he had replied, saying to him, "It is for fear that, after edifying words, irrelevant conversation should slip in, that I do not keep you with me."

4. Abba Cyrus of Alexandria was asked about the temptation of fornication, and he replied, "If you do not think about it, you have no hope, for if you are not thinking about it, you are doing it. I mean, he who does not fight against the sin and resist it in his spirit will commit the sin physically. It is very true that he who is fornicating in fact is not worried about thinking about

5. Some of the monks who are called Euchites went to Enaton to see Abba Lucius. the Old man asked them, "What is your manual work?" They said , "We do not touch manual work but as the Apostle says, we pray without ceasing." The old man asked them if they did not eat and they replied they did. So he said to them "When you are eating, who prays for you then?" Again he asked them if they did not sleep and they replied they did. and he said to them, "When you
are a asleep, who prays for you the?" They could not find any answer to give him. He said to them, "Forgive me, but you do not act as you speak. I will show you how, while doing my manual work, I pray without interruption. I sit down with God, soaking my reeds and plaiting my ropes, and I say 'God, have mercy on me, according to your great goodness and according to the multitude of your mercies, save me from my sins.'" So he asked them if this were not prayer and they replied it was. Then he said to them, "So when I shave spend the whole day working and praying, making thirteen pieces of money more or less, I put two pieces of money outside the door and I pay for my food with the rest of the money. He who takes the two pieces of money prays for me when I am eating and when I am sleeping; so, by the grace of God, I fulfil the
precept to pray without ceasing."

6. A brother went to Abba Matoes and said to him, "How is it that the monks of Scetis did more that the Scriptures required in loving their enemies more than themselves?" Abba Matoes said to him, "As for me I have not yet managed to love those who love me as I love myself."

7. Amma Syncletica said: In the beginning there is struggle and a lot of work for those who come near to God. But after that there is indescribable joy. It is just like building a fire: at first it is smoky and your eyes water, but later you get the desired result. Thus we ought to light the divine fire in ourselves with tears and effort.

8. She also said: Those who put out to sea at first sailed with a favourable wind; then the sails spread, but later the wind becomes adverse. Then the ship is tossed by the waves and is no longer controlled by the rudder. But when in a little while there is calm, and the tempest dies down, then the ship sails on again. So it is with us, when we are driven by the spirits who are against us; we hold to the cross as our sail and so we can set a safe course.

9. She also said: There is an asceticism which is determined by the enemy and his disciples practise it. So how are we to distinguish between the divine and royal asceticism and the demonic tyranny? Clearly through its quality of balance."

10. She also said: Just as a treasure that is exposed loses its value, so a virtue which is known vanishes; just as wax melts when it is near fire, so the soul is destroyed by praise and loses all the results of its labour.

11. She also said: Just as one cannot build a ship unless one has some nails, so it is impossible to be saved without humility.

12. Amma Theodora: The same Amma said that a teacher ought to be a stranger to the desire for domination, vain-glory, and pride; one should not be able to fool him by flattery, nor blind him by gifts, nor conquer him by the stomach, nor dominate him by anger; but he should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; he must be tested and without partisanship, full of concern and a lover of souls.

13. She also said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that.