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E06498: In 555/557, Cyril of Scythopolis composes the Life of *Ioannes/John the Hesychast (ascetic in Palestine, S02544), recounting his life as a miracle working ascetic, while the hero is still alive. Written in Greek in Palestine.

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posted on 2018-09-13, 00:00 authored by erizos
Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of John/Ioannes the Hesychast (CPG 7537 = BHG 897)

(References to other saints, and their cults, are highlighted in bold.)

Origins, youth, and episcopate (AD 453-490)
1-2. Ioannes is born to a prominent family in Nicopolis of Armenia on 8 January 453. At the age of 18, he builds a church for *Mary (mother of Christ, S00033) at Nicopolis, where he creates a coenobium with ten monks.

3. At the age of 28, he is ordained bishop of Colonia, and continues practising his asceticism also as bishop.

4. Nine years later (490), his brother-in-law becomes governor of Armenia, and causes problems to the church of Colonia. With the blessing of Patriarch Euphemios of Constantinople, Ioannes steps down from his see, and goes to the Holy Land. He first stays at the gerokomeion of Eudokia in Jerusalem, where there is an oratory (εὐκτήριον) of the martyr *George (soldier and martyr, S00259). He prays for a quiet and appropriate place for his ascetic retirement.

At the laura of Sabas (AD 491-503)
5. In 491, guided by a cross-shaped star in heaven, Ioannes leaves the gerokomeion and reaches the Great Laura of Sabas who initially does not recognise his virtue and assigns him to the novices.

6. Ioannes assists in building works at the Laura.

7. He is allowed to have a cell and live as an ascetic. Sabas decides to have him ordained as priest, but Ioannes reveals his episcopate to Patriarch Elias. The patriarch orders that Ioannes be allowed to practice his asceticism without distractions, and Sabas allows him to live in absolute seclusion. For four years, he only leaves his cell once, in order to attend the dedication of the church of *Mary (the main church of the Great Laura) in 501.

Anchorite in the desert (AD 503)
8. In 503, during the unrest caused by the rebellious monks of the Great Laura, and the temporary departure of Sabas, Ioannes, then 50 years old, retires to the desert of Rouba, and lives as a recluse. At some point, he gets lost in the desert, but is miraculously brought back to his cell.

9. Miracle in the desert, concerning monastic disobedience. Ioannes is miraculously provided with a copious amount of food at Easter.

10. During the Saracen invasion of 503, Ioannes refuses to leave the desert and is miraculously guarded by a lion.

Back to the Great Laura, various miracles (AD 509)
11. Having returned to the Great Laura, and established the New Laura, Sabas convinces Ioannes to return and take up residence with the monks. He is now 56 years old (509/510). His episcopate and early life are miraculously revealed.

12. Sabas dies, on 5 December 532. Ioannes has a dream concerning the departure of the soul of a righteous man from his body.

13. Miraculous protection of two disciples of Ioannes from a lion.

14. The author, Cyril of Scythopolis, embraces monastic life (543). He initially ignores the advice offered to him by Ioannes, and is miraculously punished for his disobedience.

15-16. Miracles revealing Ioannes’ power over demons.

17. Miracle causing the conversion of a Monophysite to Orthodoxy.

18. At Ioannes’ exceedingly arid and rocky cell, a fig tree grows miraculously, confirming that Ioannes will be granted the kingdom of heaven.

19. As Cyril is writing, Ioannes is still alive, aged 104 (AD 557). Cyril mentions Ioannes’ struggles on account of Orthodoxy, against the Origenists and Theodore of Mopsuestia, but he refrains from giving details.

20. Additional paragraph by a different author: Ioannes died on 7 December.

Text: Schwartz 1939.
Summary: Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Ioannes/John the Hesychast, ascetic in Palestine, ob. 559 : S02544 George, soldier and martyr : S00259 Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033

Saint Name in Source

Ἰωάννης Γεώργιος Θεοτόκος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

New Laura

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

New Laura Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Cyril of Scythopolis

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Places Named after Saint

  • Hospital and other charitable institutions

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle with animals and plants Miraculous protection - of people and their property Punishing miracle Exorcism Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Ecclesiastics - abbots Heretics Foreigners (including Barbarians)


Born in Scythopolis in c. 525, Cyril was the son of a lawyer serving the bishopric of the city. He grew up in an environment closely linked to the clergy and monasteries of the Chalcedonian Orthodox community of Palestine. During a visit to Scythopolis in c. 531-2, Sabas the Sanctified blessed little Cyril and marked him out as a future monk. Cyril was indeed tonsured, and left for Jerusalem in 543. At the advice of John the Hesychast, he joined the monastery of Euthymios in the same year, where he stayed for ten years. He was chosen to join the 120 monks who reclaimed the New Laura for Orthodoxy, after the expulsion of the Origenists from it in 553. In 557, he was preparing to move to Sabas’ Great Laura, after which nothing is known about his life. All the information concerning Cyril's life is deduced from his writings. Cyril’s only known work are the Lives of the Monks of Palestine (Μοναχικαὶ Ἱστορίαι), a collection of seven monastic biographies of uneven length. The most extensive and important works of this corpus are the lives of Euthymios and Sabas, founders of the two monasteries which defined Cyril’s own life as a monk. In the epilogue of the Life of Euthymios, the author informs us that he conceived the idea of the work, while living at the monastery of Euthymios and witnessing various miracles of that saint. In the early to mid 540s, he started collecting notes of stories which were orally recounted by older monks, but was only able to turn them into a coherent narrative when he moved to the New Laura (555-558). The Life of Euthymios was apparently the first of these biographies to be composed, starting in c. 556, at the request of Georgios, abbot and founder of a monastery near Cyril’s native Scythopolis. The Life of Sabas was either slightly later, or roughly contemporary. The third major biography is the Life of Ioannes/John the Hesychast, Cyril’s personal mentor, which was written while its hero was still alive at the age of 104, in 557/558. The briefer Lives of Kyriakos, Theodosios, Theognios and Abraamios are probably the last to be written by the author. By including these figures, which were closely connected with Sabas and his monastery, Cyril produced a gallery of hagiographies of the main Chalcedonian monasteries of the Judaean Desert, which resembles and perhaps follows the model of Theodoret’s Religious History. For the manuscript tradition of the texts, see:


The Life of Ioannes is an example of a hagiographic text produced before the death of its hero. It supplements the information of the Life of Sabas (E06677) concerning the development of the Great Lavra.


Text: Schwartz, E., Kyrillos von Skythopolis (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 49.2; Leipzig, 1939). Translations: Baldelli, R., and Mortari, L., Storie monastiche del deserto di Gerusalemme (Abbazia di Praglia, 1990). Festugière, A.-J., Les moines d'Orient, vol. 3, part 3, Les moines de Palestine: Vie des saints Jean l'hésychaste, Kyriakos, Théodose, Théognios, Abraamios (Paris, 1962). Price, R., and Binns, J., Cyril of Scythopolis, Lives of the Monks of Palestine (Cistercian Studies Series 114; Kalamazoo, 1991). Further reading: Flusin, B., Miracle et histoire dans l'œuvre de Cyrille de Scythopolis (Paris, 1983). Flusin, B., "Palestinian Hagiography (Fourth-Eighth Centuries)," in: S. Efthymiadis (ed.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography I: Periods and Places (Farnham, 2011), 199-226. Hombergen, D., The Second Origenist Controversy: A New Perspective on Cyril of Scythopolis' Monastic Biographies as Historical Sources for Sixth-Century Origenism (Rome, 2001).

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