St. Matthew The Hermit

In this episode of our volunteer-driven research project “Walking The Way with The Saints”, we focus on St. Matthew the Hermit or Mor Mattai. We commemorate Mor Mattai on September 18 according to the Syriac Orthodox Liturgical Calendar.

Joseph Noun of St. Mark’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, NJ presents us with his research into the life of the saint and how his life shows us today that constant prayer, fasting, and faith can teach God’s ways to those around us.

Mor Mattai or Matthew the Hermit was born in the Roman empire in the city of Amida in the early 4th century AD. His family was Christian and he was educated at a local monastery and subsequently ordained a priest. When the Roman Empire persecuted Christians during the reign of Julian the Apostate, St. Matthew along with his brethren fled to the nearby Persian Empire and sought refuge at a remote cave atop Mount Alfaf. From there is where St. Matthew’s began his holy life.

Watch a presentation prepared by Joseph Noun

At the cave Mathew began practicing deep asceticism hence earning the name “The Hermit”. He later attained the perception to holiness by performing a number of miracles and attracted a multitude. So renowned was St. Mathew that he attracted the attention of the royal family, one of whom was the pagan Prince Behnam. Mor Mattai persuaded and convinced Behnam to renounce the old gods in favor of the One True God. The prince was so delighted by the Gospel that he asked the hermit to cure his sister Sarah from leprosy.

Once cured, both the Prince and the Princess agreed to be baptized and convert their country’s followers to Christianity. Their father was King Sinharib, who was a staunch pagan, and was not grateful in spite of the healing of his daughter from leprosy. With rage, he threatened his own children along with their followers to renounce Christ and follow the old gods. When they refused, they were martyred on the spot, thus marking the commemoration of St. Behnam, Sarah and the forty martyrs. The king became insane with regret and efforts by his counselors to calm him was in vain. In the same way that the angel appeared to Behnam to seek St. Matthew, he once again appeared to the King’s wife to seek the holy hermit.

St. Behnam and his sister St. Sarah baptism by Mor Mattai

When Sinharib and his wife met Mor Mattai, he agreed to cure the king in return for his conversion to Christianity. When cured, he together with his wife were baptized and the king who was delighted offered him a reward. Mor Mattai asked for the king to build a monastery at the site of the cave where he meditated at. Mor Mattai would later repose at the same site and till this day the monastery bears his name.

The monastery that bears his name continues to function till this day in spite of pillaging and attacks by bandits, and it still houses a library. Mor Mattai the Hermit’s feast day is on September 18 and he is venerated in all the Oriental Orthodox churches. The monastery that he founded would be the seat of the Maphrian, who is second in rank to the Patriarch of Antioch. Today the monastery is the seat of a local archbishop. Locals to this day refer to him as “Shaikh Mattai” and non-Christians and non-Syrian Christians flock to his tomb to seek healing. Formerly the seat of the second most senior cleric after the Patriarch and blessed with thousands of monks, it now has only two monks. It is a tourist site today and iconic site for Christianity in the East.

Mor Mattai Dayro (Monastery of St. Matthew)

All glory and honor be to you, O God, who glorified your servant Mor Mattai. May his prayers for us be an never ending stream.

May God bless all of you!

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