Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"Ho! What's-your-name, I am Pior, your brother." ~ Saint Pior of Scetis in the Egyptian Desert

Saint Anthony the Abbot and Saint Paul the Hermit (by Velazquez, ca. 1634)
Besides being the feast day of Saint Anthony the Abbot, January 17 is also the feast of one of the lesser-known desert fathers, Saint Pior.

As almost no one outside of patristic scholarly circles has ever heard of Saint Pior, here is his brief biography, as taken from the roughly contemporary Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen (penned in the mid 5th century AD):
Pior determined, from his youth, to devote himself to a life of philosophy, and with this view, quitted his father's house after having made a vow that he would never again look upon any of his relations. 
After fifty years had expired, one of his sisters heard that he was still alive, and she was so transported with joy at this unexpected intelligence, that she could not rest till she had seen him. The bishop of the place where she resided was so affected by the groans and tears of the aged woman, that he wrote to the leaders of the monks in the desert of Scetis, desiring them to send Pior to him. The superiors accordingly directed him to repair to the city of his birth, and he could not say nay, for disobedience was regarded as unlawful by the monks of Egypt, and I think also by other monks.
He went with another monk to the door of his father's house, and caused himself to be announced. When he heard the door being opened, he closed his eyes, and calling his sister by name, he said to her, "I am Pior, your brother. Look at me as much as you please." [In the slightly more picturesque version of this story recorded by Palladius in his Lausiac History, Pior opens with, "Ho! What's-your-name, I am Pior, your brother. I am he."] 
His sister was delighted beyond measure at again beholding him, and returned thanks to God. He prayed at the door where he stood, and then returned to the place where he lived.
There he dug a well, and found that the water was bitter, but he persevered in the use of it till his death. Then the height to which he had carried his self-denial was known, for after he died, several attempted to practice philosophy in the place where he had dwelt, but found it impossible to remain there.
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I am convinced that, had it not been for the principles of philosophy which he had espoused, he could easily have changed the water to a sweet taste by prayer, for he caused water to flow in a spot where none had existed previously. It is said that some monks, under the guidance of Moses, undertook to dig a well, but the expected vein did not appear, nor did any depth yield the water, and they were about to abandon the task, when, about midday, Pior joined them. He first embraced them, and then rebuked their want of faith and littleness of soul. He then descended into the pit they had excavated, and, after engaging in prayer, struck the ground thrice with a rod. A spring of water soon after rose to the surface, and filled the whole excavation. After prayer, Pior departed, and though the monks urged him to break his fast with them, he refused, alleging that he had not been sent to them for that purpose, but merely in order to perform the act he had effected. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapter 29].

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