by Mr. Lambros Skontzos, Theologian – Professor
Egypt was the cradle of monasticism in Early Christian times. Great ascetic figures brightened Egyptian monasticism. One of them was Saint Isidore of Pelusium; a truly great personality of Orthodox monasticism, who perfectly combined asceticism and theology in him.
He came from Lower Egypt. He was born in 350 AD near Mount Pelusium, which was located at the northeastern edge of the Nile Delta, and took his name after that. His virtuous, faithful and noble parents raised him with piety.
Having enough financial resources, they gave him a great education. He first learned how to read in his hometown. Then, around 370 AD, he went to Alexandria where he attended the famous philosophical schools.
He studied Theology at the famous Catechetical School of Alexandria, where his teacher was the great ecclesiastical theologian and teacher, Didymus the Blind.
He read ancient Greek literature and studied in depth the Holy Bible and the Church Fathers. He was a great admirer of St John Chrysostom (354-407 AD) and a scholar of his works. He even supported him during his confrontation with Archbishop Theophilus (+412 AD) and worked for his rehabilitation in Alexandria.
His encounter with the Great Athanasius (298-373 AD), by whom he was ordained a deacon, was a milestone in his life. Upon entering the Holy Clergy he displayed extraordinary zeal and piety.
He, as a deacon, actually used his philosophical knowledge and as a result he was distinguished as a great thinker, but also as a man of virtue and deep faith in God. Having as his model Timios Prodromos (St. John the Baptist), he worked actively, leading a number of people to salvation. After being ordained an Elder, he returned to Pelusium, where he developed a tremendous pastoral work, while he became a great spiritual personality, distinguished by his holiness.
Around 400 AD he decided to retire to a monastery in the area, where he was subjected to a holy elder and began his personal struggle for catharsis and sanctification. He prayed continuously and studied the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Church Fathers, and ancient Greek philosophy, and he gained great reputation as a great and mature father, whom a multitude of people visited in order to benefit and develop spiritually. He offered to numerous visitors spiritual food and Abrahamic hospitality, by ministering them himself.
By his personal purification and struggle against his passions he became an ascetic model for a large crowd of monks in the surrounding area. He became their supervisor, and also admonished and supported them. In order to have peace, he withdrew deeper into the desert, for more quietness, prayer, exercise and study. But he did not leave his visitors.
He communicated with them with letters. More than two thousand of these letters survived. His high spirituality, his philosophical and poetic skills, and the unparalleled way to persuade their recipients, for the love and mercy of God, were impressed in those letters. In fact, because of its elegance, his pen is nowadays a subject of study by the philologists.
Through many of his letters he strongly reprimanded those who had committed serious mistakes in order to instruct them.
Some examples of this type of letters were sent to Bishop Eusebius of Pelusium, to Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria and to Emperor Theodosius II (408-450 AD), in which he indicated the errors they had committed and called them to repent and correct their mistakes. He considered repentance to be the highest virtue.
Isidore strongly disapproved the acts of vicious clergymen. He condemned the phenomena of simony, avarice and immorality of clergymen, which tarnished the reputation of the Church in the eyes of non-Christians. He spoke out against candidate Bishops, who were trying to ascend with dishonest means. He considered the Ordination to be a great duty, in which there must be no passions and that the priest should be a model of holy life.
Apart from the letters, he also wrote wonderful theological treatises. In his work “Discourse to the Greeks” he defends the teaching of the Church about Divine Providence, while in his work “On That Which Has Not Been Destined” he demonstrates how groundless is the illusion of fatalism. It is worth mentioning that the Greek philosophy breathing its last breath at that time attempted to distort the truth of the Church.
Isidore also wrote many books opposing heresies. In his book “Letter of Divine Wisdom and Outward Exercise”, he vehemently condemned the Nestorian heresy and other heresies.
In a letter he had asked Emperor Theodosius II to participate in the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. In a letter to St. Cyril of Alexandria, who was the most forceful opponent of Nestorius, he was asking him to tone down his rhetoric, saying that the truth would be revealed through dialogue.
The infallible guidelines, according to him, are the Holy Bible and the divine Fathers of the Church, who interpreted hagiographical texts with humility and prayer. On the contrary, illusion is the result of selfishness and personal projection.
In 437 he was reposed in the Lord. He passed away peacefully, giving up his holy soul to Him, whom he loved and served all his life. He is revered as a saint, whose feast day is February 4.
Saint Isidore of Pelusium can also become our teacher in the present age, where faith in God has weakened, disrespect and immorality have reached high levels, and illusion and falsehood tend to stifle the redeeming truth of our Church.
His letters reprimanding the vicious and sinoniac clergymen of his time can also cure the contemporary phenomena of moral decline, decay and breakdown of the orthodox belief of the present clergy.