The members of the 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 canons attributed to Athanasius and dating from the mention them also.

The Life of Severus of Antioch, written by his friend Zachariah the Scholar in the early sixth century, highlights the role of this in combating paganism. In a homily ascribed to Severus of Antioch on the 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 Philoponus, who wrote several commentaries on Aristotle and some works attacking the of Chalcedon. In addition to the literary sources, several mention the role of the philoponoi in economic and philanthropic activities.