In this episode of our volunteer-driven research project “Walking The Way with The Saints”, we focus on St. Paphnutius the Ascetic. Daniel Michalski 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.
St. Paphnutius the Ascetic is remembered in the Coptic Orthodox Church on the 15th of Meshir. He is not to be confused with the Paphnutius who was Bishop of Thebaid and attended the Ecumenical Council of Nicea. That being said, we do not know exactly who St. Paphnutius was or what years he lived. He lived sometime in the 4th century, when Paphnutius was in Egyptian Christian circles what Mina is today. We may, in spite of the lack of clarity, gather details of St. Paphnutius’ life which benefit our spiritual lives.
St. Paphnutius was a devout monk in the Egyptian deserts. He wrote a book on the monks of Upper Egypt and The Life of Ounophrios. He has in this way left for us a rich treasure chest of spiritual stories. His writings may be read for the edification of the soul and encouragement in living a holy and ascetic lifestyle.
St. Paphnutius lived in the deserts according to the strictest monastic rules, restricting himself for the sake of the Kingdom. Led by the Spirit to go deep into the barren desert, he visited many hermits and anchorites, including the renowned Sts. Ounophrios and Timothy. He received blessing from these great and holy Anchorites. While traveling through the deserts, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and provided the wandering monk food and water for his journey.
St. Paphnutius was once going with a group of monks to feed some animals. They were carrying cucumbers for the animals. While St. Paphnutius and the other monks were going on their way, one of the cucumbers fell on the ground. Rather than allow an animal to eat the dirty cucumber, St. Paphnutius picked it up and ate it himself. His humility and love for God’s creation was so great he placed even animals before himself, not wishing any of God’s creatures to receive any but the best and most ready gifts. In the same way, we ought to prefer others to ourselves and not despise animals but treat them as precious creatures of God. Through such service we actually rule over the animals. St. Paphnutius in being overly careful for animals, emulated Adam as he was made to be. Animals who sense that humility which is the scent of their master will come to us and obey us.
Another time, during his journeys in the desert, St. Paphnutius came to cave of a hermit. The monk was dead and fell apart when St. Paphnutius touched him. St. Paphnutius prayed over the body, then dug with his hands and buried him. This shows St. Paphnutius had a care and concern for the brethren even after death. He put into practice the Christian belief in the continued sanctity of the body and after the soul’s departure and the hope of the resurrection of the dead.
St. Paphnutius, having lived most of his life in strict monasticism departed from this world in communion with God, the Church, and the angels. Through his life he teaches us the value of living in prayer and fasting, of humility, of love for animals, and of care for the departed. His life and writings are a light for us in our journey and an example to imitate.
May his prayers and blessing be with us all, and glory be to God forever. Amen!
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