HAMAI OF KAHYOR, SAINT
A fifth-century monk who was martyred (feast day: 11 Amshir). His cult is attested by some Coptic documents, in particular some typika (books containing rules and rubrics for divine service), from DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH, but his life has been preserved only by a fairly long notice in a single manuscript of the recension from Upper Egypt of the Copto-Arabic SYNAXARION. In his youth, Hamai became a monk in the Pachomian monastery of Qahyur. It was founded by THEODORUS OF TABENNESE with the assent of HORSIESIOS after the death of PACHOMIUS, and was located not far from Shmun (Hermopolis Magna, or al-Ashmunayn).
He was in the service of the brothers in the diaconia, a term here designating no doubt the function that assured the daily supplies for the monastery. The patriarch of Alexandria was then the great CYRIL I. He wrote to Anba Pachomius the Younger, archimandrite of Pbow and hence superior of the Pachomian congregation, asking him to come to Alexandria to discuss with him the difficulties the Arians were causing the church.
We cannot say precisely what heretics or dissidents he meant, for the term “Arians” remains vague in the medieval Arabic vocabulary and may designate the Melitians as well as the true Arians. Pachomius the Younger embarked on a journey on the Nile with two other old men, Yunas (Jonas) of Bakhanis-Tmoushons (a foundation of Pachomius himself, a little to the north of Pbow in the diocese of Hiw) and Nibus of Luxor, as well as other brethren. They made a stop at Qahyur. Hamai, impelled by the desire for martyrdom, persuaded the superior of the Pachomian congregation to take him in his train to Alexandria.
In the course of the journey, Yunas, at the request of Pachomius, relates a vision or rather double vision he has had, of the ark of the covenant and the two houses destined in the other world for the sons of Pachomius, one in hell, constructed of pitch and sulfur and filled with fire, reserved for the faithless monks; the other in heaven, made of pure gold with a high surrounding wall near the tree of life, permeated with an exquisite fragrance on which the brethren feed.
There Pachomius and his faithful brethren dwell. They have access to God before all the other inhabitants of paradise and without the mediation of the archangel Michael, who serves as a chamberlain. The text speaks briefly of their arrival in Alexandria and the visit to the archbishop Cyril. The story describes the prefect of the city as boastful, conceited, and of evil conduct. This is evidently the prefect Orestes (412-415), whose quarrels with the patriarch Cyril and the monks of Nitria are related by the historians (Socrates Historia Ecclesiastica 7.14). One of the monks, Ammonius, is said to have injured the prefect, who had him arrested and tortured to death.
Cyril ordered Ammonius to be given the honors due to martyrs. In our story, which seems parallel to that of the historian Socrates, the Pachomian monks are received by the prefect, and Hamai inveighs against him. In a rage, the prefect has the young monk crucified, then orders him beheaded. The text of the upper Egyptian Synaxarion then describes Hamai’s ascent to heaven, his burial at Alexandria, and the fervent veneration rendered to him by the monks and laity.
In contrast to the Coptic martyrdoms, there are here no interrogations interspersed with tortures between the prefect and the monk; the prefect does not attempt to make the candidate for martyrdom renounce his faith, and Hamai only reproaches the prefect for his pride and hardness of heart. This story resembles much more a monk’s life, and Pachomian characteristics are numerous: names of the monasteries, the place of the superior at Pbow, the devotion of the monks to the patriarch’s cause, the distribution of the souls into different houses, as in the Pachomian monasteries.
On the other hand the text reflects well the climate of the relations between the prefect Orestes and the Egyptian clerical and monastic world at the beginning of Cyril’s pontificate. Finally, this notice in the Synaxarion has certainly been translated and summarized on the basis of a Coptic life. It is, then, a witness to the Coptic hagiographic literature.
- Coquin, R.-G. “Apa Hamay, martyr pachomien au Ve siècle.” In Hommages a la mémoire de Serge Sauneron, Vol. 2, pp. 145-63. Cairo, 1979.