Saint Timotheus


An anchorite (23 Kiyahk). The Life of this saint is inserted into the Lower Egyptian of the Arabic SYNAXARION of the Copts at 23 Kiyahk and from there passed into the Ethiopian Synaxarion. Its source, however, is the story of a search for hermits living in the desert, attributed to one PAPHNUTIUS and presented within the Life of ONOPHRIUS, although the text concerning the latter occupies only half the work by Paphnutius. The passage concerning Timotheus was included in some versions of the PATRUM.

After a journey of four days and four nights in the inner desert (the desert most distant from the Nile; from several indications, this could be in the neighborhood of the oasis of Oxyrhynchus, today al- Bahariyyah), Paphnutius arrives at a cave where he finds the skeleton of a monk. After burying him, he continues on his way and comes to another cave. Although it is empty Paphnutius sees traces of footprints and waits for evening, thinking that the occupant will return.

At sunset he sees a herd of bubals (a type of antelope) approaching, and among them is a naked brother with long hair. Fearing that he is seeing a spirit, the latter recites the Lord’s Prayer, but Paphnutius reassures him and puts three questions to him: How long has he been in the desert? What does he eat and drink? Why is he naked?

The hermit then tells his story. He had been a monk in a cenobium in the Thebaid, following the trade of weaver, work also carried on in the Pachomian monasteries (Halkin, 1932, pp. 107-108). When the idea came to him to live alone, he had built a not far from the monastery; there he continued his trade, and gave alms to strangers and to the poor. The devil became jealous and set out to tempt him, entering the body of a who entrusted him with modest tasks. From their habitual contacts, familiarity grew between the monk and the nun, and they lived together for six months.

However, Timotheus—he reveals his name to Paphnutius at the end of the story—was stricken with remorse and reflected on the torments of hell that awaited him if he remained in sin: “the outer darkness, the gnashing of teeth, the inextinguishable fire, the worm that does not sleep [instead of “does not die”; cf. Mark 9:48, the expression found in some Egyptian texts] and devours the soul of the impious.” Hence he decided to separate from the woman and went off into the desert. There he found a cave with a spring and a date palm, elements also occurring in the Life of Saint PAUL OF THEBES.

This date palm has given him a cluster of dates every month; he never eats bread, and his hair has grown long to replace his worn-out garments. He does not suffer from cold, for the climate is of an even temperature. He was, however, afflicted by a malady of the liver—for four years, the Synaxarion says. A man of glory—the Synaxarion says an angel—appeared to him, massaged his side, opened it, and took out the liver, from which he removed the ulcers, then put the organ back in place and closed the opening, saying to him, “Henceforward, sin no more.”

This episode, which sets the liver in relation to the passions, presupposes the Greek conception of the three parts of the soul, in which the liver is the seat of concupiscence. In proof of his statements, Timotheus shows Paphnutius the ulcers removed by the man of glory. Paphnutius wishes to remain with Timotheus, but the latter dissuades him: “Your strength is not enough to sustain the attacks of the demons.” After receiving the blessing of Timotheus, Paphnutius leaves him and pursues his search for the desert hermits.

This passage in the work of Paphnutius is interesting, for it presents a wandering monk: his presence among the bubals is revealing; we know of Apa Pshosh (the Bubal), later bishop of Oxyrhynchus, and the patrum mentions anchorites living among the bubals. Paphnutius Kephalas, a monk at Scetis, was also named “the Bubal,” or vagrant animal because of his great love for the most secret and inaccessible solitude, where he remained hidden for days on end (John Cassian Collationes 3.1, 3, and 18.15).

Timotheus lives naked, in contrast with Onophrius, who wears a girdle of foliage. This nudity, which does not seem due to Gnostic influence, expresses complete contempt for the world, such as appears in several Egyptian monastic texts, but it is also the sign of a paradisiacal life, which is suggested as well by the hermit’s food.

He never eats bread, an earthly food, but only the fruit of a date palm that miraculously furnishes him with a cluster every month; nor does he suffer from the climate, for it is always temperate. Despite this somewhat novelistic aspect, the story retains some realistic features: the underlying misogyny—woman is the devil’s instrument to make the hermit fall—and the desert, the favorite abode of the demons, chosen for that reason by Timotheus.

[See also: Onophrius, Saint; Paphnutius of Scetis, Saint.]


  • Halkin, F. Sancti Pachomii vitae graecae. Hagiographi Bollandiani 19. Brussels, 1932.
  • Nau, F. “Le chapître ‘peri tôn anachôrèton agiôn’ et les sources de la vie de Paul de Thèbes.” Revue de l’Orient Chrétien 10 (1905):387-417.
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  • Williams, C. A. Oriental Affinities of the Legend of the Hairy Anchorite. University of Illinois Studies 10, 2 and 11, 4. Urbana, 1925-1926.