Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chapter Twenty One of My New Book

There is a basic problem with the study of early Christianity - the field has been corrupted by influence of Americans.  This shouldn't be taken as a slight against the United States of America.  America has led the world with respect to cultural innovation.  America always looks forward to the future.  It equates faith with progress rather than faithfulness.  As many of us know all too well, even the word 'conservative' has been corrupted to mean something other than adherence to the past.  This nation is simply too undisciplined to adhere to anything other than the simplest passions.  As such, the bottom line here is that it is impossible to rediscover the past in a culture unable to control its own creative impulses.  Uncovering the sublimest of truths often has more to do with not-doing than doing.

It was after all mostly American scholars who condemned the discovery at Mar Saba simply because it demonstrated how inadequate its understanding of the Christian religion really was.  Indeed in the end the Letter to Theodore offended American theologians and scholars.  It challenged their inherited presuppositions and forced people to question a whole host of things they simply took for granted to be true.  It would be easier to simply find a way to ignore the document rather than start over the whole process of understanding our inherited religious tradition.

The philosopher Heraclitus once declared that we never step into the same river twice.  We can't relive history, or if you will - we can't wipe out the damage that scholarship has done against its own reputation by simply ignoring a challenging text for the last fifty years.  In order to move forward we have to go back to our surviving sources - all the surviving witnesses which tell us anything about the earliest three hundred years of Christianity - in order to help us see broad patterns repeated over and over again through time.  It may not be a perfect methodology, but it is the only option that we now have available to us.

In other words, as we enter the age of Nicaea it is impossible not to notice that the pairing of two male partners continues in the monastic culture of Egypt and Palestine.  Of course it is not simply a matter of there all monks living together as yoked pairs.  Rather as Claudia Rapp of the University of Vienna notes "we are faced with the simultaneous availability of several options for monastic living, not only in larger communities and as individuals, but also in smaller groups of two or three."[1]  Some monks lived on their own, others in pairs or triads or even larger groups.  Nevertheless we should take it for granted now that the dyad or triad (a father or 'abba' leading a pair of younger initiates) was a distinctly Alexandrian mystical conception.  Its perpetuation through the ages is the survival of the original model of Secret Mark and indeed the grouping witnessed by Origen, Theodore and Athenodorus.

Palladius of Galatia who visited Egypt in the 390s offers important details which are very important to consider about the survival of this 'Origenist' culture into the post-Nicene age.  As Rapp notes according to his very generous estimate, Nitria was home to 5000 monks.  Palladius further notes that they “have different ascetic practices (politeias), each one according to his ability and desire. Thus it is possible to live by oneself, or as a twosome, or in a group of many."[2]  It would be impossible to go through all the paired monks listed in this book.  Yet any survey would necessarily start with the pair of 'Origenist' monks Pambo and his disciple Ammonius mentioned as living with two sisters and who "having reached the perfection of the love of God, made their home in the desert, the women living separately by themselves, and the men by themselves, so as to have a sufficient distance between them."[3]

It was from Nitria that an exodus of hundreds of 'Origenist' monks into Palestine prompted by the persecutions of the Patriarch Theophilus in 399.  There was after all a sympathetic bishop in Jerusalem named John at this time (387 - 417 CE) and beyond.  It will be argued in fact that Palestine was recognized as the place to be for neo-Alexandrian monks everywhere in the world at this time.  It was something like an ancient precursor to Woodstock.  There was a sudden influx of monks from Cappadocia some of whom happened to be disciples of Basil and Gregory - others came from the related neo-Marcionite cultures of Armenia and other remote regions.

This sudden gathering of like-minded people in this region is demonstrated by collision of St Saba the Sanctified, the founder of the Mar Saba monastery, and a group of famous Origenists from Nitria in the very same year.  Saba was drawn from Caesarea in Cappadocia to the teachings of a famous monk Armenian monk named Euthymius who had settled in Palestine.  It might be useful to gain some background on the pattern of pairing among Palestinian monks by using Euthymius as an example.

As first Euthymius was partnered at the time with a certain Theoctistus.  The two men left the laura of Pharan to found the first coenobium or communal monastery in the Judean Desert in the early fifth century.  The pair went deep into the desert and this monastery, named for Theoctistus, was Euthymius’ home for about ten years (411-421).  It was then that Euthymius chose to leave the monastery of Theoctistus and begin an anachoretic life with his pupil Domitian. The two reached a mountain called Marda (identified with Masada) and stayed on its top for some time, feeding on wild plants and salt bushes (Atriplex) and drinking the water collected in reservoirs which they found on the site. The chapel erected by Euthymius later served as the core for a small laura on the hilltop.

Euthymius and his pupil Domitian later moved into the desert area east of Tell Ziph. Here Euthymius founded another coenobium, named after the main settlement of the area, Capar Baricha (Bani Na’im).  After founding the Capar Baricha monastery, Euthymius decided to return to the plateau area west of the monastery of Theoctistus. According to Cyril, “he loved this place dearly, for it was rather level and at the same time quiet and blessed with fresh air, and most important of all... the place was lonely and not situated on a thoroughfare”.  Thus, Euthymius and his pupil Domitian left the Ziph area and settled at Mishor Adummim, in a small cave which later served as the burial place of Euthymius.

In the years following the council of Chalcedon, the monastery of Euthymius reached the peak of its prestige. In the spring of 457, Saba was received by Euthymius, who sent him as a novice to the monastery of Theoctistus. In the summer of that year, Elias and Martyrius the Cappadocian – two experienced monks – arrived from Nitria, in Egypt.  They stayed in the monastery of Euthymius for a time, and then went on to found their own monasteries.  Yet most significant of all is that Elias went on to become Patriarch of Jerusalem and maintained a close relationship with Saba both during and after his rule (494 - 513 CE).

Irfan Shahid in his Byzantium and the Arabs notes that Elias's "relations with St. Sabas, whom he knew from the days of Euthymius, remained close after his election to the patriarchate of Jerusalem."[5]  Indeed Shahid marshals a wealth of information to demonstrate how close Saba was to the former Origenist monk.  It would be impossible to argue based on this evidence that Saba merely 'co-existed' with the refugees from Nitria.  The evidence clearly suggests some sort of common spiritual heritage.[6]  Indeed, in spite of what is preserved in Cyril of Scythopolis's Life of Saba it is hard to believe that Saba's own building activities weren't somehow related to the sudden influx of 'Origenists' from all parts of the world.

There was after all an Origenist core at the heart of the New Laura of the massive monastic compound which bears his name to this very day.  Up until recently we had no living testimonies of this Origenist community at Mar Saba.  Nevertheless Panayiotis Tzamalikos rediscovered at least part of that heritage in 2012 with the publication of a hitherto ignored codex at a remote monastery in Greece which came from that sixth century milieu.  From this lost book Tzamalikos concludes that one of our most famous monastic voices - that of 'John Cassian' - was wholly fabricated in order to hide the existence of this  Origenist Cassian of Mar Saba or as Tzamalikos calls him 'Cassian the Sabaite.'[7]

As Tzamalikos notes "we come across an unknown Greek Father, who was condemned to spiritual death and total extinction, only because inquisitors of doctrine deemed him as a sympathizer of Origen and an admirer of Didymus the Blind and of Evagrius; in other words, an author who drew on ‘heretics’ into his own writings."[8]  By the time the Emperor Justinian assembled the fifth council of Constantinople in 553 CE to condemn Origenism in the monastery the tradition went underground.  The emperor tried to control the situation in the monastery and perhaps to some degree the manuscripts of Origen were destroyed or removed from Mar Saba.  Nevertheless it becomes quite clear that the texts of Clement of Alexandria known to Cassian the Sabaite continued to exist in the library.  Indeed they were probably spared from the fire owing to their association with someone other than Origen.

Annick Martin put forward the possibility that the Letter to Theodore might have been a fifth century composition by an Origenist monk deliberately falsified under the name of Clement.[8]  This is a radical hypothesis of course which fails to take into account the obvious similarities in language and ideas with respect to the real Clement of Alexandria.  Nevertheless it draws our attention to the perpetuation of neo-Alexandrian culture at Mar Saba which ultimately accounts for the survival of the letter there for over a thousand years.

By far the most basic conception that was passed forward from the 'Origenist' monks was that of the grouping of monks in dyads and triads.  This becomes very apparent again as we return to Palladius's account of the region before the expulsion of Origenist monks.  Aside from the pair of Other prominent names mentioned include the brothers Paesius and Isaias, Macarius and his two disciples, Macarius and Paphnutius, Anthony and his two disciples, Sarapion who used to walk about naked in linen cloths and his associate, and Chronius and Jacob later joined by Paphnutius.

Yet it is often overlooked that Palladius himself explicitly mentions that he was similarly yoked to a brother.  The Lausiac Histories concludes with his impassioned declaration of love for "the brother who has been with me from youth until this day."  We read:

I know that for a long time he has not eaten from desire nor fasted from desire. I consider that he has conquered desire of riches, the greatest part of vainglory. He is satisfied with what he has, he does not deck himself out with clothes, when despised he gives thanks, he runs risks for his close friends, he has engaged in contests with demons a thousand times and more; so that one day a demon tried to make an agreement with him and said: 'Agree to sin just once, and whatever woman you mention to me in the world I will bring her to you' ... He has visited 106 cities and stayed in most of them, but by God's mercy he has had nothing to do with a woman, not even in a dream.[9]

While scholars have attempted a number of implausible interpretations of the passage - including the idea that Palladius was talking about himself.  One clear possibility is that Palladius is referencing his teacher Evagrius.

Evagrius, like Saba, helps us connect the Cappodocian fathers to the Origenist monks of the Nitria and another site called the Kellia.  Palladius curiously never identifies Evagarius as an Origenist - which he clearly was.  It has long been taken to be a sign that he was protecting both his teacher's reputation and his own by implication.  If we pay special attention to Evagarius's association with Kellia, a monastic site in the western Nile Delta for a moment, we will find physical evidence that its monks often slept two to a room.  Rapp that the site has been excavated by French and Swiss scholars since the 1960s and notes that over time in the monastery it was also possible for a hermit to have two disciples, as Anthony had done. Indeed, one hermitage at Kellia features, in addition to the dwelling for the abba, symmetrical accommodation for two disciples.  After their abba's death, they would have inherited the enclosure and taken on a disciple of their own, necessitating the re-arrangement of the inner walls.  These would have been the setups envisioned by Benedict when he criticized monks who lived in groups of two or three.[10]

Rapp goes on to note that this pairing of monks was certainly still a viable option in the seventh century, when John Klimax, the leader of a community on the Sinai peninsula, explained in his Spiritual Ladder: “All monastic life may be said to take one of three forms. There is the road of here is the road of withdrawal and solitude for the spiritual athlete; there is the life of stillness shared with one or two others; there is the practice of living patiently in the community."[11]  It was not only in context of eremitism that two (or three) monks could live together. The cenobitic life, too, offered opportunities for two or three men to share close quarters and to enjoy recognition as a social unit.

At the White Monastery, of Apa Shenoute, for example, each cell within the monastery was shared by two monks.  The “Rule of the Angel” that, according to Palladius' Historia Lausiaca, inspired Pachomius' foundation specified that within the monastic enclosure, the monks should live in cells in groups of three. However, the Rule of Pachomius itself mentions dwellings for larger groups of up to ten monks within the monastery.

The monastic site experienced its first heyday in the sixth century, although its origins reach back to the fifth century. Various parts of it continued to be inhabited until the 14th century.  Of particular relevance are the 89 hermitages, largely founded in the sixth century, because most of them were intended for habitation by two monks. The spatial arrangement within some of these hermitages suggests that the hermits who lived  there were of equal status, as “brothers.” They consist of two adjoining suites of two or three rooms each, with a shared kitchen and courtyard in the center.  There are no facilities for storage of foodstuffs or for baking, which suggests that the hermits depended on regular deliveries of bread, water and wine.[12]

A careful reading of the textual sources complements the picture suggested by the archaeological record. The monastic literature of late antique Egypt makes frequent reference to two monks living together and being recognized as “brothers."  Most prominent are stories where two “brothers” went to the city together to sell their handicraft. When one of them fell into sin with a woman, the other promised to share the burden of his penance. This is depicted as a great example of charity, and indirectly confirms that hagiographers and their audience were familiar with the notion that two monks could share the same spiritual capital, as it were, through the act of vicarious penance.

This commitment extended even beyond death.  Paired monks, as Rapp like to call them, are often reported to have made a promise to one another to be united in death and to be buried in the same tomb, so that their relation may extend into the afterlife. Various paths could lead to such an arrangement of monastic companionship: the two may have been biological brothers who took up the monastic life together, or a disciple (sometimes two disciples) lived with an abba whose cell he (or they) would later inherit, or two men who already knew one another made a joint decision to become monks. Pachomius, for example, was joined in his initial explorations of the eremitic life by his brother, until the latter passed away, and Anthony, as has been noted, was assisted by two disciples who lived with him on the Inner Mountain.

Relations between such paired monks were not always easy, as one particularly interesting papyrus from the monastic settlement at Labla of the year 511 illustrates. Aioulios, the legal owner of the monastic cell which he inhabits with his  “brother” Eulogios makes a written promise: “[...] that after my death my cell will belong to Eulogios. [...] If I leave Eulogios during my lifetime, my cell will belong to Eulogios,  or if I bring any layman or monk to be senior to (?) Eulogios into my cell without permission of Eulogios, my cell will belong to Eulogios.” Having received such assurances of of the permanence of Aioulios' commitment to honor the status of Eulogios as his only equal companion and sole heir, the latter in turn declares in the same document that “it is not lawful for me to cast you away from me while you live, until you die."[13]

It is interesting to note that the Palestinian monasteries of the fourth through sixth centuries also seem to have been governed by a 'pair' of disciples.  Joseph Patrich perhaps the world's greatest authority on the history of the Mar Saba monastery notes that there were many monasteries within the Sabaite order.  The heads of the other monasteries during St Saba's lifetime were normally called adminstrators or supervisors or dioiketai.  There is a more or less consistent pattern here of each monastery being governed by two paired individuals often described as 'brothers' in some for or other.  

In the Heptastomos laura, Sabas appointed from the outset two administrators, Paul and Andreas who are described as brothers and this fraternal pairing continues here through to the brothers Paul and Andreas, defined as "administrators" or dioiketai.[14]  The coenobium of Zannos was jointly ruled by the brothers Zannos and Benjamin.[15]  In the laura of Gerasimus, a combination of laura and coenobium, in which, after his death in 475, the "brothers in the flesh" Basil and Stephen served in the administration for six years.  Already then we see change take hold of the order for after them, however, the fathers of the monastery elected a single hegoumenos, Eugenius, who had been the deputy of Sabas as archimandrite of the monks, and who headed the monastery for forty-five years until his death.[16]

This becomes manifest as we follow perhaps the most influential same sex 'couple' of the period - John Moschus and Sophronius of Jerusalem.  Both men hailed from Damascus and likely knew each other prior to taking monastic vows.  In John' greatest work The Spiritual Meadow we see clear signs of the relationship between Moschus and Sophronius as one of warm companionship and respect.  John Moschus addresses Sophronius variously as ‘my lord’, ‘my brother’, ‘my companion’, ‘Abba’, and ‘my holy and faithful son’. The two men had the deepest of friendships with Moschus again identifying Sophronius as 'his beloved in Christ.'[17]

The two men came to the New Lavra after the expulsion of the Origenists and must have found their books well preserved including many texts of Clement. In 603, they left Palestine, on this occasion unwillingly, before the approach of the Persians. Their escape-route was to lead them through Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor to Seleucia, and from there for a second time to Egypt. Here they became intimates of another Chalcedonian patriarch, John the Almsgiver (610–20), whose biography they wrote jointly. Here too Sophronius was cured of an eye ailment, apparently through the intercession of Saints Cyrus and John, whose shrine was located at Menuthis (Aboukir). This prompted him to write the Account of the Miracles of Saints Cyrus and John.[18]

When Jerusalem fell to the Persians in 614, Sophronius and John, in a significant move, made their way from Egypt to Rome. As staunch Chalcedonians, they could count on a sympathetic reception there among Greek monks. The ties between Rome and Chalcedonian monks from the East were to become significant in the seventh century, as the career of Maximus the Confessor would demonstrate. Rome would also assume the role of a natural ally for the patriarch Sophronius in his political and geographical isolation in the see of Jerusalem. It was in Rome that, shortly before his death, John Moschus compiled the hagiographical material he had collected into the Spiritual Meadow. Sophronius became the literary executor of this work, and also had the responsibility of taking his friend's body to its final resting-place on Mount Sinai. In the event, the Arab incursions rendered the burial there impossible, and John's remains were conveyed to the monastery of Theodosius.

It seems that Sophronius subsequently remained at St Theodosius from 619 to about 626, when we find him in North Africa in the company of a number of Greek monks, among whom was Maximus. These monks in all probability belonged to the circle of John Moschus, and had been forced to flee Egypt before the Arab advance.  Maximus becomes an important disciple of Sophronius but more importantly for our understanding it is very clear that because Maximus was in the inner circle of these monks from Mar Saba he is one of our greatest sources for quotes from unknown works of Clement of Alexandria.  Both John and Sophronius also make use of a variety of surviving and lost texts of Clement.

There clearly was a large collection of writings of Clement of Alexandria at Mar Saba.  These were present here as early as Cassian (fifth century) and continued to be cited by sixth century visitors such as John Moschus, Sophronius and Maximus.  Indeed John of Damascus makes reference to all the same material plus a collection of at least twenty one letters of Clement from which the Letter to Theodore was presumably originally attached.  Some of these likely have survived and if a letter for some reason were almost destroyed, either of age, fire, or if it was ordered to be destroyed because of its alleged controversial content, some conscientious monk maybe realized its immense value and decided to copy it before it was destroyed. And if no other paper was available (which seems to be the case), one could use the blank pages inside a book.


[3] When a certain city wanted Ammonius to be their bishop it is said that he began to mutilate himself - even his penis.  We read "when desire arose in him, he never spared his poor body, but heating an iron in the fire he would apply it to his members, so that he became a mass of ulcers."
[6] (a) Elias laid the foundation of the New Church of the Mother of God (Theotokos) but it was Saba during his visit to Constantinople who requested Justinian to complete the structure (b) a certain monk named Jacob found another lavra on the same ground as that of the lavra of Saba.  Elias sent men from Jerusalem to dismantle the structure (c) Elias figured in Saba's efforts to have John Hesychius ordained at Jerusalem.  After learning that he was already a bishop he allowed him to remain a solitary (d) in 501 Elias went up to the lavra of St Saba and dedicated its Great Church of the Mother of God which had been recently constructed by Saba), and built a sacred altar (e) when Saba disappeared from his lavra into the desert and inmates of the lavra missed him and took him for dead, Elias stood by him, protected him against a revolt of sixty monks and ultimately convinced him to reassume control of the monastery (f) Elias also gave Saba a pound of gold to help relocate the sixty rebellions inmates a permanent convent.  Elias was also involved in expelling four of the rebellious monks for holding 'heretical views" (g) he sent Saba and numerous other heads of monasteries to Constantinople

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