August 27: Orthodox saints

The Monk Pimen the Great was born in about the year 340 in Egypt. With his two brothers, Anubias and Paisias, he went into one of the Egyptian monasteries, and all three accepted monastic tonsure [see Definition, right]. The brothers were such strict ascetics that when their mother came to the monastery to see them, they did not come out to her from their cells. The mother stood there for a long time and wept. Then Pimen said to her through the closed door of the cell: "If you bear with the temporal parting from us now, then in the future life you will see us, since we do hope upon God the Lover-of-Mankind!" The mother was humbled and returned home.

Fame about the deeds and virtues of Pimen spread throughout all the land. One time the governor of the district wanted to see him. However, Pimen, shunning fame, reasoned thus: "If dignitaries begin coming to me with respect, then also many of the people will start coming to me and disturb my quiet, and I shall be deprived of the grace of humility, which I have found only with the help of God." And so he relayed a refusal to the messenger.

For many of the monks, Pimen was a spiritual guide and instructor. And they wrote down his answers to serve to the edification of others besides themselves. A certain monk asked: "Ought one to veil over with silence the sin of a transgressing brother, if perchance one see him?" Pimen answered: "If we reproach the sins of brothers, then God will reproach our sins, and if you see a brother sinning, believe not your eyes and know, that your own sin is like a wood-beam, but the sin of your brother is like a wood-splinter, and then you will not come into distress and temptation." Another monk turned to the saint, saying: "I have grievously sinned and I want to spend three years at repentance. Is such a length of time sufficient?" Pimen answered: "That is a long time." The monk continued to ask how long a period of repentance did the Pimen reckon necessary for him -- a year or forty days? Pimen answered: "I think that if a man repents from the depths of his heart and posits a firm intent to return no more to the sin, then God would accept also a three-day repentance." To the question, as to how to be rid of persistent evil thoughts, Pimen answered: "If a man has on one side of him fire, and on the other side a vessel with water, then if he starts burning from the fire, he takes water from the vessel and extinguishes the fire. Like to this are the evil thoughts, suggested by the enemy of our salvation, which like a spark can enkindle sinful desires within man. It is necessary to put out these sparks with the water, which is prayer and the yearning of the soul for God."

Pimen was strict at fasting and did not partake of food for the space of a week or more. But others he advised to eat every day, only without eating one's fill. For a certain monk, permitting himself to partake of food only on the seventh day but being angry with a brother, Pimen said: "You would learn to fast over six days, yet cannot abstain from anger for even a single day." To the question, which is better -- to speak or be silent, Pimen said: "Whoso speaks on account of God, does well, and whoso is silent on account of God -- that one does act well." And moreover: "It may be, that a man seems to be silent, but if his heart does judge others, then he is always speaking. But there are also those, who all the day long speak with their tongue, but within themself they keep silence, since they judge no one."

Pimen said: "For a man it is necessary to observe three primary rules: to fear God, to pray often, and to do good for people." Also, he said, "Malice in turn never wipes out malice. If someone does your harm, do them good, and your good will conquer their bad."

One time, when Pimen with his students arrived at an Egyptian wilderness-monastery (since he had the habit to go about from place to place, so as to shun glory from men), it became known to him, that the elder living there was annoyed at his arrival and also was jealous of him. In order to overcome the malice of the elder, Pimen set off to him with his brethren, taking along with them food as a present. The elder refused to come out to them. Thereupon Pimen said: "We shall not depart from here, until we are granted to see and pay respect to the holy elder," -- and Pimen remained standing in the bright heat at the door of the cell. Seeing such perseverance and lack of malice on the part of Pimen, the elder received him graciously and said: "It is right what I have heard about you, but I see in you the good deeds and an hundred times even more so." Thus did Pimen know how to extinguish malice and provide good example to others. He possessed such great humility, that often with a sigh he said: "I shalt be cast down to that place where Satan was cast down!"

One time a monk came to Pimen from afar, to get his guidance. He began to speak about sublime matters difficult to grasp. Pimen turned away from him and was silent. To the bewildered monk the other brothers explained, that Pimen did not like to speak about lofty matters. Then the monk began to ask Pimen about the struggle with passions of soul. Pimen turned to him with a joyful face and for a long while he provided instruction.

Pimen died at age 110, in about the year 450. Soon after his death he was acknowledged as a saint pleasing to God and received the title "the Great" -- as a sign of his great humility, modesty, uprightness, and self-denying service to God.

Notes for this article:




Egyptian monasteries


(verb) shaving the head or part of the head, especially as a preliminary to becoming a priest or a member of a monastic order.
(noun) the part of a monk's or priest's head that has been shaved.

Sainted Hosia the Confessor was bishop for more than 60 years in the city of Cordova (Spain) during the 4th Century.

Constantine the Great (306-337) deeply revered him and made him a privy counselor. Hosia advised Constantine to convene the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (now Iznik) in the year 325, and he was the first to undersign the deliberations of this Council. After the death of Constantine, Hosia firmly defended Athanasias of Alexandria (326-373) against the emperor Constantius (337-361), an advocate of the Arian heresy. For this, Constantius sent him to prison in Sirmium. Upon his return to Cordova, Hosia died in the year 359.




Nicea (Iznik)



Constantine the Great

Athanasias of Alexandria



First Ecumenical Council

Icon depicting the First Ecumenical Counsel

Arian heresy

Sainted Liberius the Confessor, became the Bishop of Rome (Pope) in the year 352, after the death of Pope Julius I.

Liberius was a fervent proponent of Orthodoxy against the Arian heresy and a defender of Athanasias of Alexandria. The emperor Constantius (337-361), inclining to side with the Arians, was not able to compel Liberius to make a judgement against Saint Athanasias nor therefore against Orthodoxy. For such intransigence, Liberius was sent off to prison in Beroeia (Thrace), but was soon returned back on the insistent demands of the Roman people. Before his return, Liberius was summoned to the Third Sirmian Semi-Arian Council, where he was forced to undersign the deliberations of the Council. Pope Liberius afterwards deeply repented of this, and toiled much at Rome for the affirmation of Orthodoxy. He died peacefully in the year 366.





Pope Julius I

Athanasias of Alexandria



 The Monk Pimen of Palestine lived during the 6th Century in a cave in the Ruv wilderness. The holy fathers Sophronios and John Moschos speak about him in Chapter 167 of the book, The Spiritual Meadow (Limonarion).

One time, during winter, the monk Agathonikes came to Pimen for guidance and remained to spend the night in an adjoining cave. In the morning he mentioned, that he had suffered much from the cold. Pimen answered that he himself had been uncovered, but he did not feel the cold because a lion came to him and lay alongside him, warming him. "But I know," -- added the ascetic -- "that I shall be devoured by wild beasts, since when I lived in the world and shepherded sheep, a man came by my flock whom my dogs attacked and tore apart. I could have saved him, but I did not. It was later revealed to me, that I myself would die a similar death." And so it occurred: three years later it became known that the Pimen of Palestine was torn apart by wild beasts. This happened at the end of the 6th Century.


The Spiritual Meadow
book for purchase

From the Holy Mountain
review of the book
William Dalrymple retraces the steps of John Moschos' journey when writing "The Spiritual Meadow."
book for purchase