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Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite

Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite

Saint Shenouda was born around 348 to devout Christian parents and spent much of his early life as a shepherd for his father's small flock. As a youth he accompanied his father on a visit to his uncle Saint Pigol, the abbot of the famed White Monastery. As a result of a vision, Pigol kept the young Shenouda and trained him in the ways of monasticism. In 385 following the death of Pigol, Shenouda was chosen by his fellow monks as the new abbot. The monastery at that time consisted of thirty aging monks, but by Shenouda's death in 466 the White Monastery had grown to over two thousand monks and close to two thousand nuns and covered an area three thousand times its original size.

The charismatic Saint Shenouda brought about a complete reform in Christian monasticism. He had "inherited" a system from his uncle based on the Pachomian Rule, though even more strict and austere. As a result, the followers were few in number and declining. Shenouda created a new Rule that was less stringent and appealed to the backgrounds and natures of the people in the region, who would later join his monastery in droves. He also had his monks utilize their time outside prayer and worship by having them use their skills and old professions for the benefit of the monastery and the community. Thus the monks were engaged in crafts and trades of every type, from clothweaving to shoemaking to pottery. For the first time, the monastery was self-sufficient. He also encouraged literacy amongst the populace by requiring his monks and nuns to be literate and to engage in the art of manuscript copying.

Shenouda's spiritual work in Egypt and the surrounding area made him quite popular and famous within the Egyptian Christian Church, as well as beyond. No doubt as a result of this popularity, he was chosen by Saint Cyril the Great to accompany him to the Council of Ephesus in 431 where Shenouda aided the council in refuting the teachings of Nestorius that, among other things, denied the sacred position and holiness of the Virgin Mary as well as denied the human nature of Jesus. Shenouda was instrumental in preserving the unity of the Church.

Saint Shenouda was also a leader of the peasants under the Greek landlords. He opened the monastery's church to the public and preached constantly to the peasants who came to him on religious and moral issues intending to elevate them from being slaves to confident Christians. He and his monks also defended the peasants who came to him for protection from their oppressive landlords. His heroic deeds have been lauded down through the centuries. Once he risked his life to save a group of captives from the Blemmyes warriors, and even appealed on behalf of the peasants to Emperor Theodosius.

Saint Shenouda died at the age of 118 surrounded by his fellow monks at the White Monastery, singing with them until the moment of his death the praises of God.