November 27, 2016

Holy Abba Pinuphrios of Egypt

St. Pinuphrios of Egypt (Feast Day - November 27)


Pinuphrios had virtues of many colors,
And shined in the heavens as a new rainbow.

By St. John Cassian the Roman

(The Institutes, Bk. 4, Chs. 30-32)

Of the humility of Abbot Pinufius, who left a very famous Coenobium over which he presided as Presbyter, and out of the love of subjection sought a distant monastery where he could be received as a novice.

THE limits of the book compel us to draw to a close; but the virtue of obedience, which holds the first place among other good qualities, will not allow us altogether to pass over in silence the deeds of those who have excelled by it. Wherefore aptly combining these two together, I mean, consulting brevity as well as the wishes and profit of those who are in earnest, we will only add one example of humility, which, as it was shown by no novice but one already perfect and an Abbot, may not only instruct the younger, but also incite the elders to the perfect virtue of humility, as they read it. Thus we saw Abbot Pinufius [Pinuphrios] who when he was presbyter of a huge Coenobium which is in Egypt not far from the city of Panephysis, was held in honor and respect by all men out of reverence either for his life or for his age or for his priesthood; and when he saw that for this reason he could not practice that humility which he longed for with all the ardor of his disposition, and had no opportunity of exercising the virtue of subjection which he desired, he fled secretly from the Coenobium and withdrew alone into the furthest parts of the Thebaid, and there laid aside the habit of the monks and assumed a secular dress, and thus sought the Coenobium of Tabenna, which he knew to be the strictest of all, and in which he fancied that he would not be known owing to the distance of the spot, or else that he could easily lie hid there in consequence of the size of the monastery and the number of brethren. There he remained for a long time at the entrance, and as a suppliant at the knees of the brethren sought with most earnest prayers to gain admission.

And when he was at last with much scorn admitted as a feeble old man who had lived all his life in the world, and had asked in his old age to be allowed to enter a Coenobium when he could no longer gratify his passions, - as they said that he was seeking this not for the sake of religion but because he was compelled by hunger and want, they gave him the care and management of the garden, as he seemed an old man and not specially fitted for any particular work. And this he performed under another and a younger brother who kept him by him as entrusted to him, and he was so subordinate to him, and cultivated the desired virtue of humility so obediently that he daily performed with the utmost diligence not only everything that had to do with the care and management of the garden, but also all those duties which were looked on by the other as hard and degrading, and disagreeable. Rising also by night he did many things secretly, without any one looking on or knowing it, when darkness concealed him so that no one could discover the author of the deed.

And when he had hidden himself there for three years and had been sought for high and low by the brethren all through Egypt, he was at last seen by one who had come from the parts of Egypt, but could scarcely be recognized owing to the meanness of his dress and the humble character of the duty he was performing. For he was stooping down and hoeing the ground for vegetables and bringing dung on his shoulders and laying it about their roots. And seeing this the brother for a long time hesitated about recognizing him, but at last he came nearer, and taking careful note not only of his looks but also of the tone of his voice, straightway fell at his feet. And at first all who saw it were struck with the greatest astonishment why he should do this to one who was looked upon by them as the lowest of all, as being a novice and one who had but lately forsaken the world, but afterwards they were struck with still greater wonder when he forthwith announced his name, which was one that had been well known among them also by repute. And all the brethren asking his pardon for their former ignorance because they had for so long classed him with the juniors and children, brought him back to his own Coenobium, against his will and in tears because by the envy of the devil he had been cheated out of a worthy mode of life and the humility which he was rejoicing in having discovered after his long search, and because he had not succeeded in ending his life in that state of subjection which he had secured. And so they guarded him with the utmost care lest he should slip away again in the same sort of way and escape from them also.

How when Abbot Pinufius was brought back to his monastery he stayed there for a little while and then fled again into the regions of Syrian Palestine.

AND when he had stopped there for a little while, again he was seized with a longing and desire for humility, and, taking advantage of the silence of night, made his escape in such a way that this time he sought no neighboring district, but regions which were unknown and strange and separated by a wide distance. For embarking in a ship he managed to travel to Palestine, believing that he would more securely lie hid if he betook himself to those places in which his name had never been heard. And when he had come thither, at once he sought out our own monastery which was at no great distance from the cave in which our Lord vouchsafed to be born of a virgin. And though he concealed himself here for some time, yet like "a city set on an hill" (to use our Lord's expression) he could not long be hid. For presently some of the brethren who had come to the holy places from Egypt to pray there recognized him and recalled him with most fervent prayers to his own Coenobium.

The charge which the same Abbot Pinufius gave to a brother whom he admitted into his monastery in our presence.

THIS old man, then, we afterwards diligently sought out in Egypt because we had been intimate with him in our own monastery; and I propose to insert in this work of mine an exhortation which he gave in our presence to a brother whom he admitted into the monastery, because I think that it may be useful. "You know," said he, "that after lying for so many days at the entrance you are today to be admitted. And to begin with you ought to know the reason of the difficulty put in your way. For it may be of great service to you in this road on which you are desirous to enter, if you understand the method of it and approach the service of Christ accordingly, and as you ought."

Read chs. 33-43 for the rest of the words of Abba Pinuphrios. These words are seen to be most profitable for novices when they are tonsured monastics.

Read also Conferences, Bk. 3, Conf. 20, Chs. 1-12, which continues where the Institutes leaves off to tells us more about Abba Pinuphrios and his wise counsels.