Above: Egypt and Palestine in 395 Common Era
SAINT POEMEN (DIED CIRCA 450)
Roman Catholic Abbot
His feast transferred from August 27
SAINT JOHN THE DWARF (BORN CIRCA 399)
Roman Catholic Monk
His feast transferred from October 17
SAINT ARSENIUS THE GREAT (CIRCA 355-CIRCA 450)
Roman Catholic Monk
Each of these saints has a separate feast day on the Roman Catholic calendar, but to tell their collective story in one post makes much sense to me. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Our story begins with St. Poemen (died circa 450). He and other hermits settled at Skete, in the Libyan desert. In 408 Berber raids forced them to relocate. So the hermits moved to the ruins of a pagan temple at Terenuthis, Egypt. St. Poemen and Anubis, his brother, alternated as abbot until the latter died. The saint loved austerity, insisted on the frequent taking of the Holy Eucharist, had a reputation for holiness, and uttered many pithy and wise sayings, for which he was famous.
St. Poemen mentored St. John the Dwarf (born circa 399). Born into a poor family at Basta in Lower Egypt, St. John went into the desert while a young man. There he met St. Poemen. Initially conceited and short-tempered, St. John grew spiritually, became gentle and humble, and lived most of his life austerely. Late in life he was so spiritually-minded as to be absent-minded. St. John died at Mount Quolzum, where he had lived since Berber raids had forced him to leave Skete.
While preparing for this post I read that St. John was also a disciple of one St. Ammoes. I can find no other information about this saint, certainly a holy hermit in the north African desert. Undoubtedly his positive influence was evident in St. John’s spiritual maturation.
St. Arsenius the Great (circa 335-circa 450) tutored the Roman Emperors Arcadius (reigned in the East from 395 to 408) and Honorius (reigned in the West from 395 to 423), sons of Theodosius I “the Great” (reigned in the East from 379 to 395 and in the West from 392 to 395), for a decade. Then he left Constantinople to live in a monastic community at Alexandria, Egypt. From there he moved to Skete, where St. John the Dwarf taught him how to live a holy hermit. St. Arsenius chose this life over the alternative, luxury. Circa 434 Marizi tribal raids forced him to leave Skete. So St. Arsenius moved to the rock of Troe, Memphis, Egypt, where he lived for a decade. Later he spent time on the island of Canopus, near Alexandria, before returning to Troe, where he died. St. Arsenius also wrote a commentary on the Gospel of Luke.
In the lives of these saints we see wisdom, holiness, humility, and erudition. We also witness the opposite of materialism. How much does one person need? I can answer that question only for myself. It is a question the answer to which I continue to seek. And I encourage you, O reader, to seek your own answer with God’s help and direction.
Regardless of the personalized answer to that question, I am certain of one universal rule: Rust, moths, and thieves cannot deprive us of intangible blessings. St. Poemen, starting a chain reaction of holiness, passed along such blessings. Maybe you, O reader, can identify someone who has blessed you intangibly. And maybe you will bless others in the same way.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JUNE 18, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS DELPHINUS OF BORDEAUX, AMANDUS OF BORDEAUX, SEVERINUS OF BORDEAUX, VENERIUS OF MILAN, AND CHROMATIUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS
THE FEAST OF ANSON DODGE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST
THE FEAST OF BERNARD MIZEKI, ANGLICAN CATECHIST AND MARTYR
THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN THEOLOGIAN
O God, by whose grace your servants
Saint John the Dwarf, and
Saint Arsenius the Great,
kindled with the flame of your love,
became a burning and a shining light in your Church:
Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline,
and walk before you as children of light,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Psalm 133 or 34:1-8 or 119:161-168
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 723