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E07110: The Greek Life of *Alexandros/Alexander (founder of the Sleepless Monks, ob. c. 430, S00839) recounts the life of the founder of a radical style of monasticism who lived in Mesopotamia and Syria, founded many monasteries, and effected miracles. He died at Gomon on the Bosphorus, but his relics were later transferred to the monastery of the Akoimetoi in Constantinople, founded by his disciples. Written in Constantinople, in the late 5th or 6th century.

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posted on 14.11.2018, 00:00 by Bryan
Life of Alexandros, founder of the Akoimetoi (BHG 47)

Summary:

Origins
1-6. The author states that he is the first to undertake the writing of his hero’s life (4). Born into a wealthy family of an island of the east Aegean, Alexandros went to Constantinople to study grammar and joined the Praetorian Prefect's Guard. After studying the Bible, he distributed his wealth to the poor, and joined a coenobium in Syria under the archimandrite Elias.

The conversion of Rabbula of Edessa
7-22. After four years, he left the monastery because he felt that the way of life of the monks did not conform in a sufficient way with the evangelical ideal of indigence and contempt for worldly goods. After having lived as a hermit for seven years, he went to the nearest city and burned down a pagan temple. A councillor called Rabboulos (Rabbula) had a long verbal contest with Alexandros, accusing him of telling fables and speaking impieties against the gods. Rabboulos challenged Alexandros to prove the power of the Christian God by making fires falling from the sky, as Elias had done. Alexandros performed this miracle, and Rabboulos was converted. [The narrator says that 30 years later he Rabboulos testified to this miracles in front of bishops and kings.] Rabboulos was baptised at a martyrium rather than the church of the city. There, they found a possessed woman, which made Rabboulos hesitate about his decision to become a Christian. Yet he was convinced when the demon revealed the woman's sin, which had allowed him to attack her. During Rabboulos’ baptism, little crosses miraculously appeared all over his baptismal tunic. Following these miracles, many wanted to be baptised. However, Alexandros ordered them to destroy all the idols they had, before agreeing to baptise them. Alexandros recommended to Rabboulos that he distribute his wealth to the poor and become an ascetic. In order to prove that he and his family would not suffer any privations, he brought them to a desert where an angel in the form of a countryman miraculously fed them. Rabboulos renounced his riches, built a monastery for his wife and maidservants, and became a hermit. He was later elected bishop of Edessa in Mesopotamia, founded schools of the Syriac language, and spread Christianity in the region.

Mesopotamia
23-30. Alexandros left the city and wandered in the desert. He arrived at a den of thieves and converted them, transforming their den into a monastery. He gave them an abbot and rules. Then he arrived at the river Euphrates, where he lived in a barrel for 20 years. During these years, he attracted 400 disciples as monks and created a monastery, dividing the monks into 8 groups, speaking the 4 languages of the community – Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. The community only kept as much food as was necessary, and distributed the surplus to the poor. Gradually, Alexandros established a liturgical order of ceaseless services. Prayers were celebrated at each of the 24 hours of the day, and the doxology was sung 77 times.

The Euphrates limes
31-34 Alexandros chose 150 of his disciples and left the monastery. They crossed the Euphrates and entered the Persian desert, enduring extremely harsh conditions. There, Alexander predicted that the group would be helped by a passing Roman contingent. The soldiers indeed appeared and led them to a Roman fortress of the limes. The monks visited all the fortress towns of the border zone between the Roman and Persian empires, strengthening the people’s faith and encouraging solidarity within the communities. They convinced many rich people to write off the debts of the poor. At one fortress, the rich did not believe, and Alexandros’ curse caused three years of drought and famine. In the meantime, Alexandros moved to Antioch, and there he received letters from the locals requesting his prayers and forgiveness. A year of unprecedented bounty followed.

Palmyra, Antioch, Chalcis, Krithenion
35-37. Alexandros and his followers arrived in Palmyra, but the locals locked them out because they were afraid such a number of monks would destroy their food supplies. The monks, however, were supported by the barbarians of the countryside, and the local monasteries. Four days later, Alexandros arrived in another monastery where he met the local abbot who was his own brother, Petros. Alexandros reproached him for neglecting to entertain strangers in person, and left.

37-42. They arrived in Antioch, where bishop Theodotos ordered that they be driven away. At night, however, Alexandros and his monks returned, and occupied an old bathhouse, where they celebrated their services. Since the locals respected the holy man, the bishop did not dare expel the monks again. Alexandros founded a hostel for the poor, and became so popular that he started to reproach publicly the bishop and the Comes Orientis for their misdeeds. All this caused the envy of the clergy, and Alexandros with his monks were banished to the city of Chalcis in Syria. This turned out happily, since Alexandros met his brothers again after twenty years and fortified the faith of the people of the city. Alexandros escaped from Chalcis, dressed as a beggar. He arrived in a coenobium named Krithenion. He noticed that the community was following the style and order of asceticism which he had devised, yet he could not recognise any of the monks. Soon, he found out that that the monastery had been established by one of his disciples. When they learned who he was, twenty-four monks decided to follow him.

The monastery in Constantinople, persecution, death, and the foundation of the monastery of the Sleepless Monks
43-48. Near a church of *Menas [martyr venerated in Constantinople, S01698], in Constantinople [though the city is not named], three hundred monks from the region joined them. Alexandros founded a monastery, divided into six groups (Greek, Latin, and Syriac speaking) and following his system of ceaseless services. His community was provided with food in a miraculous way, and did not store any supplies. He performed many miracles. He was miraculously notified of a monk’s sins, and made him repent. He also caused water in pots to boil without using any fuel.

48-54 Alexandros was accused of heresy to the Praetorian Prefect. The authorities condemned him to death by lynching, yet he was miraculously spared from the mob. Eventually, Alexandros and his monks were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. The ceaseless service of the monastery ceased, and each one of the groups of the monks with its abbot was forced to leave. Alexandros died alone. Yet his monks and monasteries continued to grow and flourish everywhere. They founded the famous monastery of the Akoimetoi (the Sleepless Ones) and several other ones. The saint was buried in a place called Gomon in Bithynia, but his remains were transferred to the monastery of the Akoimetoi, where they performed miracles every day, being particularly effective against evil spirits.

Text: De Stoop 1911.
Summary: Giovanni Hermanin de Reichenfeld, Efthymios Rizos.

History

Evidence ID

E07110

Saint Name

Alexander the Akoimetos, holy monk and abbot, ob. c. 430 : S00839 Rabbula, bishop of Edessa, ob. 435/6 : S00784 Menas and Menaios, martyrs venerated in Constantinople : S01698

Saint Name in Source

Ἀλέξανδρος Ράββουλος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

450

Evidence not after

600

Activity not before

450

Activity not after

600

Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Constantinople

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

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Cult activities - Places

Martyr shrine (martyrion, bet sāhedwātā, etc.)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Exorcism Miracles causing conversion Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Aristocrats Pagans Soldiers

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Source

For the manuscript tradition of the text, see: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/14412/

Discussion

The Life of Alexandros/Alexander recounts the story of the founder of one of the most important monasteries of Constantinople, the monk of Alexandros whose monastic career started in early 5th century Syria and Mesopotamia. The hero is ascribed with devising a particular type of monastic community, marked by the celebration of continuous services around the clock. The text recounts the formation of the Sleepless Monks as a movement rather than the foundation of their house in Constantinople. From the narrative, it becomes evident that the radicalism of Alexander's style of asceticism and leadership rendered him controversial and attracted the hostility of others, which seems to have happened repeatedly, at the community of Elias which he joined in his youth, later at Antioch, and finally in Constantinople. Although a native of the east Aegean, Alexandros' monastic practice and movement emerged and grew in the Syriac-speaking world of Roman Mesopotamia, within the provinces of Osroene and Euphratensis. His missionary activity in Edessa, and his presumed association with the Christianisation of the local population and the conversion of the famous bishop of the city, Rabbula, cannot be confirmed from other sources. The story of Alexandros' foundation in Constantinople was apparently so embarrassing that it features in the most elliptic manner in the text. The author even fails to name the city, and does not inform us about the precise whereabouts of the monastery. It appears to have been near the church of Menas on the acropolis of Byzantium, which indicates that the community settled at a quite central location, near the palace and the patriarchate. Alexandros is thought to have arrived in Constantinople in the early 420s, but his behaviour soon attracted the hostility of other abbots and important people. His foundation was violently dissolved and he was prosecuted as a heretic, possibly under the accusation of Messalianism. Alexandros was, however, sheltered by Hypatios of Rufinianae, as we are told in the latter's Life (E05567), and it seems that he and possibly some of his followers retired to Gomon, on the upper part of the Asian coast of the Bosphorus, where he died in c. 430. The text is quite clear about the end of its hero's Constantinopolitan enterprise: the community was violently suppressed and dissolved, the abbot barely escaped lynching, and died alone in exile. The date of the text, which claims to be the first recording of Alexandros' story, is unknown. It certainly post-dates the re-foundation of the Sleepless monastery at Eirenaion and the transfer there of Alexandros' relics. This took place under his successor, John, who settled the community on a less remote site of the Asian Bosphorus coast, and organised the life of the community according to the model established by Alexandros, turning it into one of the most revered monastic houses of Constantinople. Our text was evidently produced by this monastery, perhaps in the mid or late 5th century, being contemporary or earlier than the Life of *Markellos (E07155).

Bibliography

Text: De Stoop, E., "Vie d' Alexandre l'Acémète," Patrologia Orientalis 6, fasc. 5 (1911; repr. 1971), 658-701. Translations: Baguenard, J.-M., Les moines Acémètes (Spiritualité Orientale 47; Begrolles-en-Mauges, 1988), 37-120 (French translation and commentary). Caner, D., Wandering, Begging Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late Antiquity (Berkeley, CA, 2002), 249–280. Theokritoff, E., “The Life of Our Holy Father Alexander,” Aram 3, 1–2 (1991), 293–318. Further reading: Dagron, G., "Les moines et la ville. Le monachisme a Constantinople jusqu'au concile de Chalcedoine," Travaux et Memoires 4 (1968), 229-76. Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire byzantin. I: Les églises et les monastères de la ville de Constantinople. (2nd ed.; Paris, 1969), 16-17. Hatlie, P., The Monks and Monasteries of Constantinople, ca. 350-850 (Cambridge, 2007). Wölfle, E., "Der Abt Hypatios von Ruphinianai und der Akoimete Alexander," Byzantinische Zeitschrift 79:2 (1986), 302-309.

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