Paphnutius The Hermit (The Asetic Or Bab Nuda), Saint

PAPHNUTIUS THE HERMIT (the Asetic or Bab Nuda), SAINT 

An anchorite in the Western Desert (feast day: 15 Amshir). The Copto-Arabic SYNAXARION briefly summarizes a Coptic text in which one tells of a journey he made in the inner desert, that is, the desert farthest from the Nile, in search of hermits living in this perfect solitude. The narration is preserved in Coptic, Greek, and Latin, as well as various Eastern languages (see Saint for details of manuscripts and editions).

After a journey of four days and four nights, found a cave, the occupant of which had been dead for some time. He saw to his burial and then, a little farther on, met a hermit called Timotheus, who was living among the antelopes but had a box at his disposal and was close to a spring and a date palm. This man, a monk from a monastery in the Thebaid, had become a hermit near his monastery, and after cohabiting for six months with a nun, went into the heart of the desert to expiate his sin. After leaving him, Paphnutius went “into the inner desert of the Oasis,” “where the Mazices live,” says a Greek text (ed. F. N. Nau, in Revue de l’Orient chrétien 10 [1905]:412), which may indicate the oasis of OXYRHYNCHUS, today called al-Bahnasa, for the Mazices lived in the desert southwest of Scetis. This passage in the text could correspond to a second journey by Paphnutius. He took bread and water for four days but had to walk for another four days without or drink. He thought he was going to die, but a man of light came to rescue him. Four more days passed, and he was still assisted by the man of light. Finally, at the end of seventeen days, he observed a man of fire, covered by long hair and resembling a leopard. This was Onuphrius, who recounted his life to and died after dictating his last wishes.

buried him, then had to continue his journey, for the date palm and the hut of crumbled immediately after he died. After three days and three nights, he came across a small cell and a hermit in palm leaves. The hermit had lived with three other brothers in this part of the desert for sixty years like Onophrius, but they lived on loaves miraculously brought to them.

They refused to tell him their names—in contrast with the other hermits he met—but asked him to make their way of life known in Egypt. stayed with them for one day, then went on his way.

He came to spring with date palms and all kinds of fruit trees and thought he had arrived in Paradise. Four young men in sheepskins in the form of aprons came to him. These were sons of councilors from Oxyrhynchus who, after attending the schools in the town, had decided together to embrace the hermit life. After four days’ walking, they had been led to this place by a man of light. There they found an old man who taught them the rules of the hermit life and died a year later. They had been living there for six years as semi-anchorites, meeting on Saturday and Sunday for Divine Liturgy; an angel brought the Eucharist to them. remained with them for seven days, and on Saturday participated with them in the miraculous Communion brought by the angel, which was repeated on Sunday morning. The names of these hermits were John, Andrew, Heraclamon, and Theophilus. After their refusal to keep him with them, Paphnutius left, and at the end of seven days’ walking, met some monks from Scetis, who transcribed his story and took it to their monastery, to it in the church.

The work attributed to ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN 1985 relates that Paphnutius, the one who visited Onophrius, lived at DAYR AL-SHAM‘, also called Dayr al-Shayyatin, situated on the left bank of the in the district of Giza. After his journey into the desert, he is said to have become a disciple of at Scetis, then to have lived at Dayr al-Sham‘, where he died and where his body was buried. The author of the text adds that “according to his biography,” he died on 15 Amshir, which presupposes a source different from that for the journey in the desert.

Should we identify the author of the narrative about Timotheus, Onophrius, and the other hermits with Saint OF SCETIS, the disciple and successor of Macarius the Great, as is done by the document attributed to Abu Salih? That Paphnutius, surnamed Kephalas, was born between 301 and 311, and had the reputation of loving solitude. Some authors, such as De Lacy O’Leary (pp. 219-20), do not hesitate to make this identification. However that may be, no other document, to our knowledge, affirms that the disciple of Macarius died at Dayr al-Sham‘. Curiously, the Synaxarion has no notice about Paphnutius of Scetis, alluding to him only as a disciple of Macarius in the passage devoted to the latter at 27 Baramhat.

A History of the Monks of the Desert, in fact of the hermits living in Upper Egypt and on the islands of the First Cataract, is attributed to a certain Paphnutius. It seems that this is another person.


  • O’Leary, De L. The Saints of Egypt. London, 1937.