A fifth-century ascetic and recluse who was visited by Saint SHENUTE (feast day: 11 Kiyahk). The only complete account of his life is a short notice in the Copto-Arabic SYNAXARION. Fragments in Coptic allow a more exact idea of the lost Life. A series of five leaves from the same manuscript was put together again by H. G. Evelyn-White in 1926: two fragments from Cairo, two from Leipzig, and one from the John Rylands Library, Manchester, that had been published by E. Amélineau in 1888 and by J. Leipoldt in 1906.
The following account comes from the Synaxarion. Pidjimi was a shepherd in the village of Fishah in the diocese of Masil or Malij. When he was twelve, an angel took him away from his flock so that he could practice asceticism in the desert of Scetis. There he stayed until he was twenty-four. Demons attacked him in many animal forms, but he annihilated them through the power of God.
Then he found a valley to which he withdrew for three years, living on dates and a little water each week, saying 2,400 prayers a day and as many at night, and fasting for forty and even eighty days. After twenty- four years, the Lord sent an angel to ask him to return to his own country, where he remained a recluse, consulted by the people. Then the angel took him to Pharan on the Red Sea (the Arabic wrongly has Euphrates), where the people had left the straight path. One day when he was carrying baskets of produce to sell in the country, he became so weary that an angel carried him. The great Saint SHENUTE one day saw a column of precious stones appear before him, while a voice declared, “This is the prophet Anba Pidjimi.”
In the vision Pidjimi asked Shenute to fetch water so that Pidjimi might receive him, and when Shenute reached the cell, the water was already boiling. The two hermits found the skull of a dead man from olden times. They revived him, and he told them of the fate of the dead in hell before the Savior’s arrival. At the end of his life, Anba Pidjimi predicted the day of his death to his intimate associates. He died at the age of seventy. As H. G. Evelyn-White validly concluded, he lived from about 380 to 450, since he appears as the predecessor of Shenute.
The Coptic fragments better illustrate certain parts of this Life. The first extract shows by what maxims Pidjimi educated himself as he went into the desert and specifies the different kinds of animals that he had to struggle against at the beginning. The text states precisely that his prayers involved 24,000 prostrations at night and 140 by day. The next passage relates the journey to Pharan, the name of which is surely correct here.
In fact, the angel who takes him is preceded by a great apparition of Saint MICHAEL with the Lord and the twelve apostles. The last episode concerns the meeting with Shenute. The Coptic text says explicitly that by these miracles God intended to show to Pidjimi the election of which Shenute was the beneficiary in his eyes. The signs of this election are the welcome with the boiling water and the skull recalled to life by Shenute’s staff tapped three times against the bones.
Evelyn-White rightly compares Pidjimi with Abbot Bitimios in the alphabetical apothegm Macarius 33, where Bitimios tells how Macarius received the two young “Romans” (Saints MAXIMUS AND DOMITIUS) at Scetis. The episode was already received from someone other than Pidjimi himself. It is possible that the apothegms of Benjamin must be considered to be from Pidjimi. Indeed, a very old Georgian collection of apothegms places a Pitimi at the letter P with the first apothegm of Benjamin (Esbroeck, 1975, p. 387). No Coptic text has ever listed a Benjamin among the desert fathers.
If one stands back from the text, one sees that this Life tends to justify Shenute’s mission through the life of an earlier ascetic at Scetis who is not Saint MACARIUS, and who had moral authority over the monastic community of Pharan along the Red Sea. There is some chance that these communities may have become Chalcedonian. It is very probable that the Life of Pidjimi was intended to formulate the rights of anti-Chalcedonian monachism at Pharan long after the death of Shenute himself.
- Amélineau, E. Monuments pour servir à l’histoire de l’Egypte chrétienne. Paris, 1888.
- Esbroeck, M. van. “Les Apophtegmes dans les versions orientales.” Analecta Bollandiana 93 (1975):381-89.
- Evelyn-White, H. G. New Coptic Texts from the Monastery of Saint Macarius. New York, 1926.
- Kammerer, W., et al. A Coptic Bibliography. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1950; repr., New York, 1969.
- Leipoldt, J. Sinuthii archimandritae vita et opera omnia. CSCO, Series Coptica 2, 2, pp. 77-78.
MICHEL VAN ESBROECK