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E00094: Coptic Homily on Saint *Onnophrios, the Anchorite (Egyptian anchorite, 4th c., S00055), attributed to Pisenthios, Bishop of Koptos (569–632), delivered on the saint’s feast day, encourages the congregation to imitate his life according to personal ability.

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posted on 2014-10-24, 00:00 authored by gschenke
Pisenthios of Coptos, Homily on Saint Onnophrios


The homily on the occasion of the feast day of Apa Onnophrios, the anchorite, is delivered at the site of the saint’s holy topos, apparently at the monastery of Tsenti, as the colophon states.

The bishop claims that Onnophrios’ life is instructive for all generations, regardless of a person’s age or gender and entreats the congregation to try and imitate the saint’s life to the best of their abilities. Going through examples of everyday life situations he gives advice on how to handle them with a constant view of how the saint would like them to act.

If they are not able to hunger and thirst in the same way as Apa Onnophrios did, they should at least fast during Lent and twice a week, and generally be satisfied with modest portions of food and wine, as well as of material goods.

In addition to advice for women on how to act, dress, and adorn themselves, all with the greatest measure of modesty, he offers advice to the congregation on how to bring up their children. He emphasises the importance of keeping children from distractions such as idle chanting and music making, for constantly distracted children are in great danger of harming themselves.

The bishop also lays out the rules for how to behave on a pilgrimage to a saint’s feast day, starting with the prayers for a safe journey when leaving one’s home, and remembering and uttering the saint’s life and contests while one is on the way to his shrine.

It is important to stay away from the ignorant, who sing, clap hands, and chant false laments. Instead, upon arrival at the topos of the saint, one should go straight to the church and beseech Apa Onnophrios to intercede for oneself before the Lord to be made worthy to inherit heaven with the saint. An eager vigil, fighting drowsiness by uttering psalms and responding to those who are singing psalms is vital. But full attention to the words read out in church is needed, without exchanging idle words and distracting gossip with one’s neighbours during service.

After the night vigil, neither food nor drink should be tasted until one has received communion and heard the deacon say 'Go in peace'. And the walk to the altar should be accomplished without haste and in an orderly fashion.

Upon returning home, one should eat with moderation only, give some to the poor, and continue to meditate on the word of Christ day and night in the hope of becoming worthy to join in the inheritance with the saints.

Summary: Gesa Schenke.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Onnophrios, Egyptian Anchorite : S00055

Saint Name in Source

ⲁⲡⲁ ⲟⲛⲛⲟϥⲣⲓⲟⲥ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Coptic

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Coptos Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Pisenthios, Bishop of Koptos

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Other lay individuals/ people Women Crowds


British Library London, Oriental Ms 6800; extracts of the discourse are published in Budge 1915, 1206–1216. Crum 1915-1917 offers a complete edition of the text with translation into French and brief commentary. The manuscript itself provides the year 748 of the martyrs, i.e. 1031/32 AD as its date of production. The title of the discourse is stated in the British Library parchment manuscript as: ⲁⲡⲁ ⲡⲓⲥⲉⲛⲑⲓⲟⲥ ⲙⲡⲧⲟⲟⲩ ⲛⲧⲥⲓⲛⲧⲓ ⲉⲧⲃⲉ ⲡⲡⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⲁⲡⲁ ⲟⲩⲁⲛⲟϥⲣⲉ 'Apa Pisenthios on the mountain/of the monastery of Tsinti on Saint Apa Onnophrios' There is no reason to doubt this attribution.


The place mentioned in which bishop Pisenthios of Koptos is giving his sermon on the occasion of the feast day of Onnophrios is referred to as ⲧⲟⲡⲟⲥ, the Greek τόπος, which is assumed to be a church in the vicinity of the city of Koptos. The colophon states that this sermon was delivered at the monastery of Tsenti, which is the monastery in which Pisenthios lived, even as bishop of Koptos. It might have been Pisenthios himself who dedicated a topos to Onnophrios, the famous anchorite and quintessential perfection of the ascetic life, in which he and his life would be commemorated on his feast day. But this connection to the monastery of Tsenti could also have been exclusively fabricated by the people producing this manuscript at the beginning of the 11th century, as it is only the colophon that states that the sermon was delivered at that locality. Pisenthios rather than relate details of the saint‘s life, seizes the opportunity to encourage the congregation to follow his example of the highest moral standard, adjusting it to their personal circumstances. He offers the most direct practical advice for proper behaviour at home and on a pilgrimage to a saint’s shrine.


Editions: Budge, E.A.W., Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (Coptic Texts 5; London: British Museum, 1915), 1206-1216. Crum, W.E., “Discours de Pisentius sur Saint Onnophrius,” Revue de l’Orient Chrétien 20 (1915-1917), 38-67. Translation: Vivian, T., Paphnutius, Histories of the Monks of Upper Egypt and the Life of Onnophrius (Cistercian Studies 140; Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1993), 167-188. Further reading: Gabra Abdel Sayed, G., Untersuchungen zu den Texten über Pesyntheus, Bischof von Koptos (569–632) (Bonn: Habelt, 1984). Müller, C.D.G., and Gabra, G., “Pisentius, Saint,” in: A.S. Atiya (ed.), The Coptic Encylopedia. 8 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1991), vol. 6, 1978-1980. O'Leary, De L., Saints of Egypt (London: SPCK, 1937), 210 and 234-236. van der Vliet, J., “Pisenthios de Coptos (569–632): moine, évêque et saint. Autour d'une nouvelle édition de ses archives,” in: M.-F. Boussac (ed.), Autour de Coptos: actes du colloque organisé au Musée de Beaux-Arts de Lyon (17-18 mars 2000) (Lyon: Topoi, 2002), 61-72. For a full range of the documentary evidence on *Onnophrios: Papaconstantinou, A., Le culte des saints en Égypte des Byzantins aux Abbassides (Paris: CNRS, 2001), 161-162.

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