December 2, 2020

Life of the Holy Hermits John, Andrew, Heraclemon and Theophilos of Oxyrhynchus


Below is continued the Life of Saint Onouphrios the Egyptian by Abba Paphnutios, which follows Abba Paphnutios after the burial of Saint Onouphrios (June 12), with his encounter of some anonymous monks, and this is followed by his encounter with the Holy Hermits John, Andrew, Heraclemon and Theophilos, who are commemorated together on December 2nd.

Life of Saint Onouphrios the Egyptian

By Abba Paphnutios

And when I perceived that it was not according to the will of God for me to remain in this place, I spread out my hands, and I prayed unto the Lord; and behold, the man who had come to me at the first, and who had given me strength, came to me again as he had done before. And he said unto me, "My God, our Lord, informed us this day that thou wast coming to us in this place. Behold, for six years we have seen no man except thyself."

And when we had talked together for a long time he said unto me, "O our brother, establish thy heart with a little bread, for thou hast travelled from a place afar off. The Lord hath ordained that we are to remain with each other for some days, and we will rejoice with thee, O our beloved brother." And whilst we were talking to each other, behold, five loaves of bread were brought in, and they were warm and soft as if they had been just baked in the oven, and straightway there were also brought in other articles of food, and we sat down and ate together. And he said unto me, "Behold, this is the sixth year since we came to this place, and four loaves of bread have been allotted to us daily, and these came to us through God; but as soon as thou didst come unto us this day, behold, a fifth loaf hath been brought for thee. And we have never known whence they came, but when we came in we found them placed here."

And when we had finished eating together we passed the whole night in praying, and we prayed till morning. And when the morning had come I entreated them to let me remain with them until the day of my death. And they said unto me, "O our brother labourer, it is not ordained for thee to tarry in this place. But rise up, and go into Egypt, and tell those whom thou shalt see there that the brethren here remember them; and it shall be a benefit unto those who hearken."

And I entreated them to tell me their names, but they would not be persuaded to utter them, and although I pressed them to do so they would not tell me their names. And they answered and said, "He Who hath given names unto everything, and Who knoweth everything, He it is Who knoweth our names. Now therefore, O our brother, keep us in thy memory until we see thee in the House of God. And be thou most careful and let not the world lead thee astray as it hath led astray many." And when they had finished saying these things they blessed me, and they saluted me, and I came forth from their mountain.

And when I had journeyed away from them for some days I came to a well of water, and I sat down there for a little because of my fatigue; and large trees were growing by the well. And when I had refreshed myself and had rested a little, I walked among the trees, and I marvelled, and I said unto myself, "Who was it that planted them in this place?" And among them there were date-palms, loaded with fruit, and citron trees, and pomegranate trees, and fig trees, and apple trees, and vines, and dorakion trees, and kisma trees, and trees which emitted sweet odours. And the well supplied water, and it watered all the trees which were growing in that place.

And whilst I was marvelling at the trees, and was looking at them, and at the fruit that was on them, behold four young men appeared in the distance, and their forms were goodly, and they were dressed in fine skin garments which, as it were, covered all their bodies. And when they had come up to me they said unto me, "Hail, thou man of God, O our beloved brother!" And I cast myself upon the ground and made obeisance unto them, but they raised me up and kissed me. And they remained in a state of great dignity, and they were like unto beings who had transferred themselves from another world in respect for the joy and comfort which they displayed towards me; and they gathered fruit from the trees and placed it in my mouth. And as for me my heart rejoiced because of the affection which they shewed towards me, and I passed seven days with them eating of the fruit of the trees.

And I asked them, saying, "Whence have ye come to this place? And of what region are ye natives?"

And they said unto me, "O our brother, God hath sent thee unto us so that we may declare unto thee our whole manner of life. For we are natives of a city of Egypt called Pemdje (Oxyrhynchus). Our fathers were councillors (or, magistrates) of the city, and they sent us to the school there to have us educated; and we were all in the same school together, and we were all of the same mind. And when we had finished our education in the school they sent us on to the college, and when we had been thoroughly well taught there and had learned therein all the learning and all the wisdom of this world, we wished to be instructed in the wisdom of God.

And it came to pass on a certain day that whilst we were talking together about these things a good resolution stirred in our inner man, and we four rose up, and we set ourselves on the way to the desert, so that we might live therein quietly until we should see what the Lord had ordained for us. And we took with us a few loaves of bread, sufficient for seven days. And when we had come into the mountain, straightway an ecstasy fell upon us, and a man, who was all light, laid hold of our hands and brought us into this place. And when we had come into this place we found a holy man of God, and the angel of the Lord put us in his hand, and he taught us to be servants of God for a year of days. And at the end of the year the holy and blessed old man died, and we remained by ourselves in this place.

Behold, O our lord brother, we declare unto thee by God that for sixty years we have not known the taste of bread, or of any other kind of food except the fruit of these trees whereon we live. If we wish to see each other we come here every week to do so. We pass the whole night of the First Day of the week together, and after that each one departeth to perform his spiritual labours [for the rest of the week]."

And I said unto them, "Where do ye receive the Eucharist?"

And they said unto me, "We assemble here for that purpose, for an angel of God cometh hither every Sabbath, and he administereth unto us the Eucharist on the Sabbath and on the First Day of the week."

And I stayed with them, and I rejoiced exceedingly. And they said unto me, "On the seventh day the angel of the Lord will come, and he will administer the Eucharist to thee and to us together. And the man who shall receive the Eucharist at the hand of that angel shall be cleansed from all sin, and the Adversary shall never have dominion over him."

And whilst we were talking together I smelled a strong sweet smell, the like whereof I never smelled before. And immediately the sweet smell reached us we rose up, and we stood on our feet, and we blessed God. And afterwards the angel came, and he administered unto us the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord. And I became like unto those who sleep, because of the awesome sight which I saw. And he blessed us, and he went up into heaven, and we watched him with our eyes. And when he had gone up they comforted me, and said unto me, "Be of good cheer, for thou shalt prevail, and thou shalt become a man of might;" and straightway I became of good cheer, even as those who are under the influence of wine.

And we stood on our feet during the eve of the First Day of the week, and we prayed the whole night long until the morning. And when the light appeared at dawn on the First Day of the week, behold, we smelled that exceedingly sweet smell again, and we enjoyed it, and we rejoiced after the manner of those who are in another world. And afterwards the angel came, and he administered unto us the Eucharist, and he blessed each one of us, saying, "Everlasting life shall be unto thee, and the power of prophecy which shall never be destroyed." And we all, with one mouth and with one accord, answered and said, "Amen; so be it!"

And afterwards the angel turned to me, and said unto me, "Arise, and depart thou to Egypt, and tell the God-loving brethren the things which thou hast seen, so that they may emulate the life and conversation of the saints." And I entreated him to let me remain with them, but he said unto me, "The Lord doth not allot unto us the work which is imagined by the heart, but God giveth unto each man according to what he is able to bear. Now, therefore, arise and depart, for that is what the Lord hath ordained for thee." And he blessed me, and went up into the heavens in great glory.

And they brought a large number of plums, and we ate them together, and I came forth from them, and they accompanied me on my way for a distance of six miles. And I entreated them, saying, "Declare unto me your names," and they declared me their names, each one of them. The name of the first was John, of the second Andrew, of the third Heraclemon, and of the fourth Theophilos; and they commanded me to declare their names unto the brethren, so that they might remember them in their prayers. And I on my part entreated them to keep my name in remembrance. And we prayed and we kissed each other. And I journeyed forth, and I grieved exceedingly; nevertheless, because of the blessing which the holy men had bestowed upon me, I rejoiced. And I came into Egypt after a journey of three days, and having found certain God-loving brethren I rested with them for ten days, and I described unto them what had happened unto me; and they said unto me, "Verily thou art worthy of a great reward."

Now those brethren were lovers of God, and they contended strenuously in the ascetic life, and they were worshippers of God with their whole hearts; and their place of abode was Shiet (Scete). And they made haste and they wrote down these things which they had heard from Abba Paphnutios, and they quickly put them in a book, which they sent to Shiet, where it was deposited in the church for the benefit of those who should hear it read. And they spoke about it, and it was the subject of meditation in the mouth of everyone. And they glorified God, and blessed His saints, through the grace and love to man of our Lord Jesus the Christ, to Whom be glory, and His Good Father, and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever! Amen.