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E00141: Coptic Life of *Pisenthios (ascetic and bishop of Koptos, ob. 632, S00057), from Edfu (Upper Egypt), attributed to his disciple, John the Presbyter, and presented on his feast day (7 July), mentioning his exceptional humility as a monk and bishop, his ability to perform miracles in life, his healing power, as well as his ability to converse with and intercede on behalf of the dead; 7th c. or later.

online resource
posted on 2014-11-03, 00:00 authored by gschenke
Brit. Mus. Ms. Oriental 7026:

The text is presented on the feast day of the saint and introduced as follows:

ⲡⲃⲓⲟⲥ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲧⲡⲟⲗⲩϯⲁ ⲙⲡⲉⲛⲡⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⲛⲉⲓⲱⲧ ⲉⲧⲧⲁⲓⲏⲩ ⲁⲡⲁ ⲡⲉⲥⲉⲛⲑⲓⲟⲥ ⲡⲉⲡⲓⲥⲕⲟⲡⲟⲥ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲡⲁⲛⲁⲭⲱⲣⲓⲧⲏⲥ · ⲙⲡⲧⲟⲟⲩ ⲛⲧⲥⲉⲛϯ
ⲉⲁϥϩⲓⲥⲧⲟⲣⲓⲍⲉ ⲙⲙⲟϥ ⲛϭⲓ ⲓⲱⲥ ⲡⲉⲡⲣⲉⲥⲃⲩⲧⲉⲣⲟⲥ ⲙⲡⲉϩⲟⲟⲩ ⲙⲡⲉϥⲣⲡⲙⲉⲉⲩⲉ ⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⲉⲧⲉ ⲥⲟⲩ ⲙⲛⲧϣⲟⲙⲧⲉ ⲡⲉ ⲙⲡⲉⲃⲟⲧ ⲉⲡⲏⲫ ϩⲛ
ⲟⲩⲉⲓⲣⲏⲛⲏ ⲛⲧⲉ ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ϩⲁⲙⲏⲛ

‘The life and conduct of our holy honourable father, Apa Pisenthios, the bishop and anchorite at the mountain of Tsenti, as related by John the presbyter on the day of his holy commemoration which is day 13 of the month Epiph [7 July]. In God's peace. Amen.'

The text recounts the saint's numerous miracles performed as an ascetic, living in the desert. He is described as being luminous and full of sweet odour by day and night.

The speaker addresses both saint and audience and explains that he had sworn an oath not to speak of the miracles that occurred through the saint until long after his death, due to the saint’s humility.

The account begins with the monk Pisenthios, who had the habit of praying exceedingly, reciting numerous holy books by heart.

The first miracle occurred to the saint himself, when he fell ill and stayed in his cell unattended and without provisions for over a week. He received a divine visit from the prophet Elijah the Tishbite who sat with him. One of the other ascetics who eventually arrived to look for Pisenthios found him with the prophet whom he described as an utterly hairy being, yet graceful and full of light. When he was told that this was the prophet Elijah, he was sworn to secrecy about the miraculous visit paid to Pisenthios at least for the duration of the saint’s lifetime (Fol. 25b–28b).

Pisenthios is referred to as the thirteenth apostle (Fol. 27b, line 9–10: ⲡⲙⲉϩ ⲙⲛⲧϣⲟⲙⲧⲉ ⲛⲁⲡⲟⲥⲧⲟⲗⲟⲥ ⲁⲡⲁ ⲡⲉⲥⲩⲛⲑⲓⲟⲥ), and after he was made bishop of Koptos by the archbishop Apa Damianos, it is claimed that he acted as protector, not just of the district of Koptos, but of the entire country of orthodox Christians.

Fol. 29a, lines 5–9:

ⲁⲩⲱ ⲕⲁⲧⲁ ⲛⲉϩⲣⲏⲧⲱⲛ ⲛⲧⲁⲛϫⲟⲟⲩ · ⲉⲧⲃⲉ ⲡⲉⲛϫⲟⲉⲓⲥ ⲛⲉⲓⲱⲧ ⲛⲉⲡⲓⲥⲕⲟⲡⲟⲥ ⲁⲡⲁ ⲡⲉⲥⲩⲛⲑⲓⲟⲥ · ⲡⲉⲛⲧⲁ ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲟⲩⲟⲛϩ⟨ϥ⟩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ
ϩⲛ ⲛⲉⲛⲕⲁⲓⲣⲟⲥ ⲉϥⲟ ⲛⲛⲁϣⲧⲉ ⲉⲡⲉⲛⲧⲟϣ ⲙⲙⲁⲧⲉ ⲁⲛ · ⲁⲗⲗⲁ ⲉⲧⲉⲭⲱⲣⲁ ⲧⲏⲣⲥ · ⲛⲛⲉⲭⲣⲓⲥϯⲁⲛⲟⲥ ⲛⲟⲣⲑⲟⲇⲟⲝⲟⲥ ·

‘… and according to the things we have said concerning our fatherly lord bishop Apa Pisenthios, whom God revealed in our lifetime, as protector not for our district alone, but for the whole country of orthodox Christians.’

Pisenthios, pasturing sheep in his early youth, has a vision of a pillar of fire just like Moses. He asks God to let his companions have the vision too, a wish God grants him (Fol. 32b–33a).

The fish miracle:
When one of the brothers at the mountain of Tsente was very ill and desired to eat a bit of fish, Pisenthios, on his way to fill his bucket with water from the river, prayed to God to have mercy on this very ill brother and not to deny him his wish. When Pisenthios reached the riverbank, the flood water was so high that it had transported a large fish onto the bank. Pisenthios thanked the Lord, collected the fish and gave it to his ailing brother. This account of events, it is claimed, was given to John, the encomiast presenting the saint’s life, by Pisenthios himself (Fol. 33b–34b).

The miracle at the well:
Another time, when Pisenthios had forgotten to bring a rope and bucket to the well where he intended to draw drinking water to fill his container, he said a prayer, whereupon the water rose to the rim of the well from where the saint could easily fill his container, before he ordered it to go down again (Fol. 35b–36a).

When Pisenthios prayed with his hands stretched up to heaven, his ten fingers shone like torches so that it was mistaken for a fire lit by the saint, as one eyewitness claimed (Fol. 39b).

Other eyewitnesses claimed that they found the famous monk hiding on the mountain of Jeme not wishing to become a bishop, but rather to remain a simple ascetic (Fol. 40a–42a).

The encomion presented seems to make use of material from sermons by Pisenthios himself, arguing that the encomiast would otherwise not be able to do the saint justice:

Fol. 45b, lines 1–5:

ⲛⲛⲁϭⲙϭⲟⲙ ⲇⲉ ⲛⲕⲟⲥⲙⲉⲓ ⲙⲡⲉⲛⲕⲱⲙⲓⲟⲛ ⲙⲡⲡⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⲛⲁϣ ⲛϩⲉ ⲉⲓⲙⲏⲧⲉⲓ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲛ ⲧϥⲧⲁⲡⲣⲟ ⲙⲙⲓⲛ ⲙⲙⲟϥ · ⲁⲗⲗⲁ ⲙⲁⲣⲛ
ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲕⲁⲗⲉⲓ ⲙⲙⲟϥ ⲛϥⲭⲱⲣⲏⲅⲉⲓ ⲛⲁⲛ ·

‘Yet how will we be able to adorn the encomion on the saint, if not by means of his own mouth? But let us invoke him, and let him lead us …’

The water miracle in the desert:
During the time of the Persian invasion, John, the author of the encomion, fled together with the saint into the desert seeking refuge in a cave on the mountain of Jeme. They had brought water jugs with them, but soon ran out of water. John nearly died of thirst, but the saint went out in good spirits. Returning a long time later, the saint announced joyfully that John should go and drink some water, if he was as thirsty as he seemed to be. John swears as an eyewitness that all the water jugs had miraculously filled up with water again (Fol. 46a–49b).

The saint is claimed to have been a trained scribe, a skilled reader of omens, as well as a master-physician healing everyone seeking his help (Fol. 52b–53a).

Illustrating the saint’s clairvoyance, John, the encomiast, offers a selection of miracles from the many miraculous events that occurred when Pisenthios was bishop of Koptos, claiming that to relate all of them would take far too long. These miracles concern typical worries of a bishop’s flock, danger on the roads, human relationships, financial problems, fraud and murder.

Punishing a rapist:
When bishop Pisenthios was hosting visitors from Alexandria, a shepherd who had raped a local woman that morning, approached the bishop to receive a blessing from him. The saint, enraged at the man’s sin, rejected him and threw him out. The puzzled shepherd, seemingly starting to feel guilty, confessed to John, the encomiast, what he had done and assumed that the saint must somehow have found out about it.

In the hope of making up for his sin, the shepherd brings a selection of cheeses as a donation for his soul and begs John to hand them over to the saint. When the saint later asks for some cheese to offer to his visitors, John hands over all the cheese donations received that day, including those of the shepherd. But Pisenthios picks out and rejects the cheese donated by the rapist shepherd, scolding John and instructing him to return them to the sinner right away. (Fol. 57b–61b).

Staying safe from wild animals on dark desert roads:
Once when John was sent by the saint on an errand to the region of Jeme, he returned late and was caught in the dark on a desert route. Two hyenas chased him riding on his donkey ready to attack him. In his despair, John prayed to the saint and immediately upon hearing the saint’s name, the wild animals fled in terror. Next, John was attacked by a pack of wolves and separated from his donkey. He prayed to the saint again, and immediately, when the wolves heard his name, they ran off. When John reached his home on the mountain of Tsente, he found the donkey had already returned. Pisenthios scolded John, claiming that he had told him before not to travel on those paths in the dark, and warning that the wild animals would have killed him, if it were not for the mercy of God. (Fol. 61b–63a).

Pregnancy out of wedlock:
When Pisenthios was visited by a man and his grown up son, he informed the father of his son’s secret affair with a local girl who became pregnant as a result. To lessen the surprised father’s disbelief, Pisenthios gave her address and pointed to the expected offspring as proof of his errant son’s misconduct:

ⲁϥⲟⲩⲱϣⲃ ⲛϭⲓ ⲡⲉⲡⲣⲟⲫⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ϫⲉ ⲉⲕϣⲁⲛⲃⲱⲕ ⲉϩⲟⲩⲛ ⲉⲡⲉⲕϯⲙⲉ ⲕⲛⲁⲁⲡⲁⲛⲧⲁ ⲉⲩⲥϩⲓⲙⲉ ϩⲙ ⲡϣⲟⲣⲡ ⲛϩⲟⲟⲩⲧⲛ ⲙⲡⲉⲕϯⲙⲉ · ⲉⲧϣⲉⲉⲣⲉ ⲧⲉ ⲛⲛⲓⲙ ⲛⲣⲱⲙⲉ ⲧⲉ · ⲡⲉⲧⲛϩⲏⲧⲥ ⲛⲁⲣ ⲙⲛⲧⲣⲉ ⲛⲁⲕ ϫⲉ ⲡⲉⲕϣⲏⲣⲉ ⲡⲉⲛⲧⲁϥ ⲛⲕⲟⲧⲕ ⲛⲙⲙⲁⲥ

'The holy prophet (Pisenthios) answered: "When you go back to your village, you will come upon a woman on the first street of your village, being the daughter of such and such a one. That which is inside her will bear witness for you that it was your son who has been sleeping with her."'

Pisenthios insists that the boy must take responsibility and marry the girl. Otherwise, he threatens, he will be excluded from church (ⲁⲩⲱ ⲛⲁⲙⲉ ⲙⲉⲓⲁⲛⲉⲭⲉ ⲉⲕⲁⲁϥ ⲉⲥⲩⲛⲁⲅⲉ ϣⲁⲛⲧⲉϥϫⲓⲧⲥ “And certainly I am unable to let him come to church, until he marries her.”) (Fol. 63b–65b).

The sign of the cross on a pregnant ewe appears on her lamb:
When bishop Pisenthios was asked to bless a ewe belonging to a local man, he made the sign of the cross on her with his fingers. That sign was so powerful that the lamb born afterwards displayed a white cross on the spot where the saint had touched the ewe. (Fol. 65b–66a).

In the same way, the saint healed whoever needed healing by making the sign of the cross over them.

Casting out a demon:
When approached to cast out a powerful demon from a young man who had suffered for seven years, the saint asked John to bring him some water from the monastery. John went and received water from the altar of the shrine and delivered it to the saint. The saint then dipped his finger into the holy water and made the sign of the cross on the youth. He then gave some water to the father of the patient and instructed him to administer it to his son. If he would drink of it, God would heal him. The encomiast explains at this point that the saint did not want to drive out the demon by himself, so as to avoid praise.

Soon afterwards, the father returned to thank the saint, reporting that as soon as he had given his son to drink from the water the saint provided, the demon left the son and he was healed (Fol. 67a–69a). The saint then an


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Pisenthios, Bishop of Coptos : S00057 Elijah, Old Testament prophet : S00217 Severos, bishop of Antioch, ob. 538 : S00262 Elisha, Old Testament prophet : S00239

Saint Name in Source

ⲁⲡⲁ ⲡⲉⲥⲉⲛⲑⲓⲟⲥ ϩⲏⲗⲓⲁⲥ ⲁⲡⲁ ⲥⲉⲩⲏⲣⲟⲥ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Coptic

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Koptos Tsente

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

Koptos Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis Tsente Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Verbal images of saints

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracles experienced by the saint Miracle with animals and plants Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous sound, smell, light Other specified miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Animals Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Attempts to prevent the veneration of one's relics Contact relic - dust/sand/earth


The paper manuscript Brit. Mus. Ms. Oriental 7026 is kept at the British Library in London. The colophon gives AD 1006 as the date of manuscript production. The manuscript, containing also other texts, was produced by monks of the monastery of saint Merkourios the General on the mountain of Edfu for their monastery.


Text and Translation: Budge, E.A.W., "The Life of Bishop Pisentius, by John the Elder," in: Coptic Apocrypha in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, (London, 1913), 75–127 (text) and 258–330 (trans.). Dekker, R, "The Sahidic Encomium of Pesunthios, Bishop of Keft" (unpublished thesis): 4767524/The_Sahidic_Encomium_of_Pesunthios_Bishop_of_Keft_unpublished_thesis_main_text_ Bohairic version: Amélineau, M., Un Évéque de Keft au VIIe siécle (Paris, 1887). Further reading: Dekker, R., "Reconstructing and re-editing the archive of Bishop Pesynthios of Koptos/Keft (7th century)": Dekker, R., "Bishop Pesynthios of Koptos (Egypt): 'He did not pursue the honour, but it was the honour that pursued him”': Bishop_Pesynthios_of_Koptos_Egypt_He_did_not_pursue_the_honour_but_it_was_the_honour_that_pursued_him_ Dekker R., "Encomium on Pesynthios of Coptos The Recently Discovered Sahidic Version from Shaykh Abd al-Qurna": Encomium_on_Pesynthios_of_Coptos_The_Recently_Discovered_Sahidic_Version_from_Shaykh_Abd_al-Qurna 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), 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 Pisenthios: Papaconstantinou, A., Le culte des saints en Égypte des Byzantins aux Abbassides (Paris: CNRS, 2001), 174.

Continued Description

swered:Fol. 68b, lines 11–12:ⲙⲁⲗⲓⲥⲧⲁ ϣⲁⲣⲉ ⲙⲙⲟⲟⲩ ⲙⲡⲉⲑⲩⲥⲓⲁⲥⲧⲏⲣⲓⲟⲛ ⲧⲁⲗϭⲟ ⲛⲟⲩⲟⲛ ⲛⲓⲙ · ⲉⲧⲡⲓⲥⲧⲉⲩⲉ‘Certainly, the water from the altar heals anyone who believes.’The miracle of the jealous husband, the saint acting as marriage councillor:A local man from Koptos who believed that his wife was cheating on him, evicted her from the house and spread rumours about her and the alleged adulterer. When bishop Pisenthios heard about this, he assured the man that he would find proof that what he believed was wrong. But the suffering husband rejected the saint’s help. Soon afterwards, the man fell ill and asked his parents to take him to Pisenthios to ask for healing. His parents took him to the monastery, where they asked John to entreat the bishop for help. When the bishop saw him, he advised the man to be reconciled with his innocent wife and to wait for her unborn child to be born. As a sign of surety that no adultery has taken place, the saint told the husband that if her new born was a son, it would show that his wife was innocent and faithful to her husband. If it was be a girl, it would show that she was not. The couple was blessed with a boy and the marriage resumed a happy course. (Fol. 69a–74a).Intervening in a financial crisis, uncovering fraud and murder:A soldier stationed in the vicinity approached the bishop after the ceremony for the feast of Apa Severus of Antioch, asking Pisenthios for help concerning a heavy debt of 36 solidi which he was pressed to repay instantly. He claimed that he did not have the money or anything else, and that his creditors had already taken his only son from him to make him work off the debt. He asked the bishop, whom he had heard to be exceedingly generous, if he knew someone who could give him the amount of money to repay his debt and free his only son. In truth, the soldier had robbed 36 solidi from a man whom he had killed and, feeling guilty, he now wanted to donate this amount for the salvation of his soul. His wife was waiting for him in the boat holding onto the stolen cash. The saint immediately saw through the scheme and was very angry with the man, sending him away and telling him that his murdering another man would not be forgiven for any donation in the world. (Fol. 74b–76b). The miracle of the serpent’s death:When the saint had fled into the wilderness on the mountain of Jeme, because of the Persians, he prayed exceedingly and told John, who had accompanied him, to be careful of a large serpent nearby, saying that, however, he had confidence that God would remove the serpent. The next morning, John found the serpent lying dead in the desert circled by vultures. (Fol. 77a–78a).The saint’s death:When the end of his life was near, Pisenthios had a vision of a man of light who informed him that his death was drawing near, announcing that he had five days left. After three days of illness, he asked John to take care of his burial, seemingly demanding that his remains should not to be relocated as relics.Fol. 81a, lines 3–5: ⲁⲗⲗⲁ ϯϩⲧⲏⲕ ⲙⲡⲣⲧⲣⲉ ⲗⲁⲁⲩ ⲛⲣⲱⲙⲉ ϥⲓ ⲡⲁⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲉⲡⲟⲩⲉ · ⲙⲡⲙⲁ ⲛⲧⲁⲧⲣⲉⲩϣⲓⲕⲧϥ ⲛⲁⲓ ·‘But be careful, do not let anyone remove my body from the place which has been dug for me.’The saint asked for a simple burial dressed in his monastic attire and wrapped in a burial shroud, a procedure for which he had saved a single solidus, so as not to burden anyone with his death. On the 13th day of the month of Epiph [7 July] he died at sunset and the brothers prepared him for burial, celebrated the ritual, and buried him where he had instructed them, so that he remained close to the monastery in the mountain of Tsente (Fol. 78a–82b).(Text and trans. Wallis Budge, slightly modified)In the Bohairic version, which differs from the Sahidic in many respects, three additional miracles are related.The healing of two women through a contact relic of the saint:On his way to his cell, the saint met two women, one with dropsy, the other with a severe headache distorting her face. When the saint saw that the women were looking at him, he began to run away from them. But one of them pursued him, entreating him to put his hand on her head so that she could receive healing through him. But the saint claimed that he was only a sinner and fled into his cell. In her faith, the woman then picked up the sand on which the saint had set his right foot, wrapped it in her garment and then put it to her forehead. She was healed immediately. When the woman with dropsy saw her, she asked for some of the sand, swallowed it and was healed from her illness too. They took the rest of the sand home to keep as a blessing for themselves.The woman who suffered from headaches had a son who was underdeveloped and could neither walk nor speak. She then took some of that sand, dissolved it in water and washed the child with it. She also gave some of it to him to drink, and not a week later the young boy was completely healed. The death of the presbyter whose spittle landed on a Cherub during service:When the saint saw a presbyter spitting from his mouth near the altar during service, he told him the story of a former visiting presbyter at the monastery who coughed during the service, released some phlegm and died. The saint resurrected him to inquire about the sin he had committed to receive such punishment. The resurrected presbyter then said that he did not know what he had done, all he knew was that spat out some phlegm. The saint informed him that his spittle had landed on the wing of a Cherub, who overthrew him causing his death. The resurrected presbyter was then taken back to his home on a donkey where he died again three days later. The laments of a mummy invoking the saint for intercession:When the saint had fled to the mountain of Jeme, he showed John, the encomiast, the cave where he prayed, so that John could bring him some provisions there every Sabbath to sustain his body. The saint took John to a rock-cut tomb filled with mummies releasing a sweet smell. They put the mummies to the side to make room for the saint to dwell in the cave and found a parchment roll on which the names of all the people buried in that tomb were recorded. John returned to the monastery and did not visit the saint until the next Sabbath, bringing him water and provision. John claims that when he arrived at the cave, he heard someone weeping and beseeching the saint to pray to the Lord for him so that he would be delivered from the punishments he suffered. The saint was conversing with one of the mummies who told him that he was a man from Hermonthis whose parents were Greeks worshipping Poseidon. The mummy was lamenting about all the different horrible punishments and tortures he witnessed and endured after death and entreating the saint to pray for him, so that his torments would end. The saint assures the mummy that God is merciful and orders him to lie down again until the day of the resurrection. John, the encomiast, tells his audience that he saw the mummy with his own eyes lying down again. When the saint noticed that John had witnessed this miracle, he ordered him to never speak of it during the saint’s lifetime, or else be excommunicated. John claims to have kept the episode secret until this very moment.(Summary: G. Schenke)

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