SARAPION

Or Serapion, the name of several monks, who appear in the monastic sources of the fourth and fifth centuries. The name derives from that of the god Sarapis. It is not easy to distinguish the various Sarapions. The attempt was first made by Lenain de Tillemont (Vol. 10, pp. 56-62) and later by Butler (Vol. 2, pp. 213-15).

PALLADIUS (Historia lausiaca, chaps. 7, 46; Butler, pp. 25, 134) mentions (1) a Sarapion the Great among the principal monks who lived in NITRIA when Melania visited this desert in 372-373. We must probably distinguish from this Sarapion of Nitria (2) an abbot Sarapion, whom John CASSIAN knew at SCETIS toward the end of the fourth century and to whom he ascribes his fifth Conference, in which he sets out an Evagrius-inspired theory on the eight principal vices (Vol. 42, pp. 188-217).

This Sarapion was then a very aged monk who was distinguished, according to Cassian, by the grace of discernment that he had received. This remark of Cassian’s, it seems, rules out identifying this monk with (3) another Sarapion who also lived at Scetis at this time, “surpassing almost all the others by his age and by his merits”; from what Cassian reports of him (Vol. 54, pp. 76-77), he was not conspicuous for his discernment.

In fact, like many monks of Scetis, he remained attached to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make man in our image and likeness”), believing in his simplicity that God has a human form, and he accepted only with great difficulty the synodical letter of 399, in which the patriarch THEOPHILUS condemned the opinions of the Anthropomorphites.

It is difficult to say with which of these two monks we should identify an abbot Sarapion of whom Cassian further on in his Conferences (Vol. 64, pp. 23-24) reports the manner in which he taught a young monk true humility—or whether the latter is a namesake.

The alphabetic recension  of the has four apothegms under the name of Sarapion (413D-417A). The last is an extract from Cassian’s Conference 18. In apothegm 2, (4) a monk named Sarapion criticizes a brother in whose cell he sees a cupboard full of books, saying to him, “What shall I say to you? You have taken the goods of the widows and orphans, and put them in this cupboard”—the reflection of an unlettered monk who could well be the Anthropomorphite Sarapion. As for (5) the Sarapion who (in apothegm 1) converts a prostitute while pretending to be a client, he is probably the Sarapion nicknamed Sindonita.

devotes chapter 37 of his Historia lausiaca to this Sarapion, called Sindonita because he wore as his only garment a sindonion, a piece of light linen in which he wrapped himself. An Egyptian by birth, he led an itinerant life of asceticism. In the course of his wanderings, he sold himself as a slave to a couple of actors, then to some Manichaeans for the sole purpose of converting them. After traveling in various countries, he ended his life in Rome.

According to some witnesses, he returned to Egypt and was buried “in the desert.” R. Reitzenstein saw in the story of Sarapion Sindonita a pure romance from a cynical aretalogy (1906, p. 64), and conjectured the existence of a “Sarapion corpus” used by and by the author of a more developed life preserved in a Syriac version and published by Bedjan (Vol. 5, pp. 263-341).

Relying on the latter, F. Nau showed that this Sarapion is the monk called Paphnutius in the legendary life of Thaïs, a converted prostitute. The story has striking resemblances to the Sarapion of apothegm 1. A. Gayet claimed to have discovered, in the course of his excavations at Antinoopolis, the tombs of Thaïs and Sarapion, buried side by side.

This Sarapion is probably the hero of an anecdote, widely circulated in ancient monastic as “the story of the little Gospel,” from the Practical Treatise of Evagrius (chap. 97, pp. 704-705, in an anonymous form) to the Life of the Almoner (p. 48), of whom the different recensions have been cataloged by C. Butler (Vol. 1, 1898, pp. 98-99). Sarapion’s only possession was a Gospel. He sold it and gave the money to the starving, saying, “I have sold the book which said to me: Sell what you possess and give the price to the poor.'”

In a long recension of the Historia lausiaca, the name of Bessarion is substituted for that of Sarapion, a substitution that seems also to have occurred in the apopthegm Bessarion 12 in the alphabetic recension of the Apophthegmata Patrum.

There was also (6) an abbot Sarapion who was head of numerous monasteries in the region of Arsinoë and is mentioned by the author of the HISTORIA MONACHORUM. Also distinct is (7) Sarapion, a disciple of Saint ANTONY, to whom is incorrectly attributed the Coptic Life of Macarius published by E. Amélineau (p. 46); it is, in fact, much later (see MACARIUS THE EGYPTIAN). This Sarapion is, in fact, the bishop of Tmuis (see SARAPION OF TMUIS).

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