July 10, 2014

The Holy Myriad Venerable Martyrs of Nitria

The Holy Myriad Martyrs of Nitria (Feast Day - July 10);
Icon depicts St. Isidore the Presbyter


The myriad were slain in caves by fire,
They dwelt in a cave those in whom the Logos dwelt.

On July 10th the Orthodox Church commemorates the Holy Myriad (10,000) Martyrs of Nitria, who were venerable ascetic monks killed by burning at the order of Theophilos, Archbishop of Alexandria, due to his enmity against Isidore the Presbyter and the Four Tall Brothers. These holy ascetics lived in caves and huts in Nitria of Egypt and their chief job was to keep the commandments of God. They lived a life of fasting, vigils and prayers and they numbered around 10,000. Because Saint Isidore rebuked Theophilos regarding certain ecclesiastical and theological issues, and the monks of Nitria supported him, Theophilos came out against them with armed soldiers to bring them to justice and burned the Holy Fathers alive in their caves, with few that escaped and lived to tell the tale.

During the early years of his episcopate in Alexandria, Theophilos maintained good relations with his fellow clergy. In 394, when he was in Constantinople for the first time for a synod, he sat with Nektarios of Constantinople, Gregory of Nyssa, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. He got along well with the four monks of Nitria, known as the “Tall Brothers”. He included as members of ecclesiastical offices a number of the clergy of Alexandria. Among these was Isidore, whom he made an archpriest and patriarchal economos. He supported the teachings of Origen in a number of disputes. He banished an opponent of Origen, Bishop Paulus, and reproached Saint Jerome for showing hospitality to Paulus.

In 395, however, Theophilos abruptly changed his attitude, a change that apparently grew out of a quarrel and falling out with archpriest Isidore who was a friend of the Nitria monks. At the request of Archbishop John of Jerusalem, Theophilos sent his friend Isidore to Palestine to mediate a dispute between Archbishop John and Jerome. The mediation did not go well from which Theophilos developed an irritation toward Jerome. In the end Theophilos urged Jerome to respect the authority of Archbishop John, a request he again made in 399.

By 399, Theophilos’ attitude toward Isidore seemed to have changed, apparently over the handling of money. Immediately Theophilos attacked Isidore both with slanders and violence. When Isidore turned for protection to the monks of Nitria, Theophilus also turned against them and also against Origen’s teachings and his followers. In 401, at a synod in Alexandria, Theophilos had Origenism condemned. Leading a group of soldiers and armed servants, Theophilos then attacked the residence of the Nitria monks, who he accused of being Origenists, burned their buildings and monastic cells, and treated poorly those monks he captured. Certain monks of Nitria escaped to Palestine, from where the four Tall Brothers proceeded to Constantinople to seek protection from Emperor Arcadius and Archbishop John Chrysostom.

Though Theophilos himself did not order for the death of the monks, this was something the unruly soldiers did on their own, and therefore because Theophilos dispatched these soldiers, the death of the monks is blamed on him.