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E07036: The Greek Life of *Arsenios (ascetic of Sketis in Egypt, ob. 445, S01693) recounts the life and ascetic virtues of its hero. He instructed his disciples not to distribute alms or a memorial meal (agape) for his soul, and not to let anyone take his remains. Written presumably in Egypt, some time during Late Antiquity.

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posted on 01.11.2018, 00:00 by erizos
Life of Arsenios (BHG 167y)

1. During the reign of the emperor Theodosius I, Arsenios, a Roman citizen of senatorial rank, decides to withdraw from social life and dedicate himself to God. In Constantinople, Theodosius needs a suitable tutor for his sons Arcadius and Honorius, and writes to his western co-emperor, Gratian, for help.

2. Gratian, in consultation with the Pope, suggests Arsenios, who becomes the teacher of the young princes.


3. The emperor Theodosius demands from Arsenios to be a strict tutor, and forbids him to treat the boys as princes.

4. One day, Arsenios beats Arcadius for an error. The boy remains resentful till he grows up, and attempts to have his master assassinated. However, Arsenios is miraculously warned, and flees to Sketis in Egypt.

5. He joins the monastic community of *Ioannes/John the Dwarf (Kolobos) [S02671].

6. Although called back by Theodosius, Arcadius, and Honorius, Arsenios prefers to live as a monk.

7-14. [lacuna] Arsenios becomes a hermit and visits famous ascetics in the desert, including Moses the Ethiopian. His fame spreads. A wealthy senatorial woman [Melania the Elder?] visits him, but he reproaches her. He lives alone, eats very little, keeps night vigils, and is very humble. He instructs his fellow monks on various aspects of the ascetic life. The author recounts various tales and quotes exemplifying Arsenios’ monastic virtue.

13. Approaching death, Arsenios instructs his disciples not to offer alms/memorial meal (agape) in his memory nor to let anyone take his body (leipsanon), but bury it in the mountain.

551-564 Διηνυκὼς οὖν πολλοῖς ἔτεσιν ὁ μακάριος τοὺς ἀσκητικοὺς αὐτοῦ ἀγῶνας καὶ ἀνάπλεος ὢν πολλοῦ κατορθώματος, ἐπείπερ ἔνεστι ὁ τῆς ἐνθένδε μεταναστάσεως αὐτοῦ καιρός, παρήγγειλε τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ λέγων· «Μὴ φροντίσητε ποιεῖν ἀγάπας ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ· ἐγὼ γάρ, εἴ τι ἐποίησα ἐμαυτῷ, ταύτην ἔχω εὑρεῖν.» Ἐταράχθησαν οὖν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ταῦτα ἀκούσαντες. Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ γέρων· «Οὔπω ἦλθεν ἡ ὥρα. Ὅτε δὲ ἔρχεται ἡ ὥρα, λέγω ὑμῖν. Κριθῆναι δὲ ἔχω μεθ’ ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τοῦ βήματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἐὰν δῶτε τὸ λείψανόν μού τινι.» Οἱ δὲ εἶπον· «Τί οὖν ποιήσωμεν ὅτι οὐκ οἴδαμεν ἐνταφιάσαι;» Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ γέρων· «Οὐκ οἴδατε βαλεῖν σχοινίον εἰς τὸν πόδα μου καὶ ἆραί με εἰς τὸ ὄρος;»

‘Having spent several years in his ascetic struggles and being full of great achievements, when the time of his departure from this life approached, the blessed man asked his disciples and said: “Do not fuss about alms (agapas) for my sake; for, if I have done anything for myself, I shall be rewarded.” His disciples were dismayed to hear these things, but the elder told them: “It is not time yet. When the time comes, I shall tell you. But I shall have to be condemned with you at Christ’s tribunal, if you give my body (leipsanon) to anyone.” The others said: “What shall we do then – for we do not know how to bury him?” And the old man told them: “Can’t you put a rope onto my leg and drag me to the mountain?”’

14. Arsenios leaves his leather coat, wool tunic, and sandals to the narrator, who wears them for a blessing. Arsenios died at the age of 95. He was 40 when he left Theodosius’ court. He spent 40 years at Sketis, 10 years at Troe near Upper Babylon, 3 year at Canopus, and another 2 years at Troe where he died.

15-16. Encomion of Arsenios’ qualities.

Text: Halkin 1989.
Summary: Arsen Nișanyan, Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Arsenios the Great, ascetic of Scetis and Turah, ob. 445 : S01693

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica

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

Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Foreigners (including Barbarians) Monarchs and their family Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Attempts to prevent the veneration of one's relics Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes


For the manuscript tradition, see:


The Life of this great desert father is an notable text of monastic hagiography. Its date is difficult to define.


Text: Halkin, F., Hagiographica inedita decem (Corpus Christianorum Series Graeca 21; Turnhout: Brepols, 1989).

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