Coptic Hermits

I previously commented that the Coptic Orthodox Church has in modern times required that a Hermit be an old and experienced member of a monastery, the Hermit being re-defined as some sort of advanced Monk. This would seem to be current practice. For example, the Coptic Bishop Youssef of the Diocese of the Southern United States says on the Diocesan website: “…the hermits are those who have reached a higher order than the monks. They would leave the monastery to live in solitude in unknown places outside of the monastery and would come back to the monastery from time to time to attend liturgies.”

However, in answer to a question about the existence of current anchorites or hermits, Pope Shenouda III (1923-2012) said

“There are none among the monks, because all the monasteries monks are well known by name and location and their becoming. So, if the Lord has allowed to have an anchorite nowadays, that will not be one of the monks, but he should be one who left for the inner wilderness to live in devoutness without joining a monastery. He could have started as a monk but kept away unrevealed by anyone until now.”

coptic hermit cave
Pope Shenouda also addressed a popular Coptic belief that the number of hermits was fixed, and that someone could only become a hermit when one of the existing hermits died. “There is nothing that can justify the notion of the limited number especially because there was a probability that there were other unrevealed anchorites. Besides, the gathering of the anchorites to choose one to complete the number means that they lead a community and not a solitary life! And this does not correspond with the anchorites life who might spend decades without meeting a human being.”

Pope Shenouda had himself lived as a hermit in a cave for a period of six years from 1956 to 1962.

See also Fr Samaan el Souriany “The Hermit Fathers” available at

“Hermit fathers have reached the highest level of spirituality and monasticism. They have died to worldly desires and possessions, with the intention of living completely for the Lord who is their every fulfilment and blessing and meaning in life. The Apostle Paul spoke of them saying: “They wandered around in sheepskin and goatskin, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. Of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves” (Hebrew 11:37,38). Such was the life of Elijah the prophet, John the Baptist, Abba Paula the First Hermit, and many who followed. No generation has been and will be without their blessings and prayers.

Hermits are monks who have progressed in their life of solitude. They live in the inner wilderness, in places no one knows, and for many tens of years without seeing the face of a fellow human… Not all hermits start their spiritual life in a monastery. For example, Abba Paula the hermit started his spiritual life in the wilderness. St. Mary the Egyptian, lived the life of a recluse after her repentance in the wilderness without having joined a convent.”


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