The members of the confraternity were called in Greek philoponoi (the lovers of work) or the spoudaioi (the zealots). They were lay people who undertook a variety of services: caring for the poor, building churches, and assisting in worship services. They are mentioned in the time of St. Athanasius. The attributed to Athanasius and dating from the mention them also.

The Life of , written by his friend Zachariah the Scholar in the early sixth century, highlights the role of this confraternity in combating paganism. In a homily ascribed to on the Archangel Michael, it says that the archbishop sent to the people who had received the faith several priests, deacons, and philoponoi.

This detail is only mentioned in the version of the homily but is omitted in both the Bohairic and Arabic versions. Among the famous philoponoi was the sixth-century John Philoponus, who wrote several commentaries on Aristotle and some works attacking the Council of Chalcedon. In addition to the literary sources, several papyri mention the role of the philoponoi in and philanthropic activities.