Benjamin El Anba-Bishoy, Coptic Hermit

For the Hermit Benjamin (Boules Nagib Youssef)(1944-1987), see the series at What follows are extracts from this interesting series.
benjamin 1
Boules Nagib Youssef (his name before monasticism) was born on April 20th, 1944 in the village of El-Bersha in Mallawi – province of Menya.

Among those who influenced him spiritually, in his blessed life, was a monk named Hegumen Ghabrial El-Muharraqy, who was accustomed to staying in the village in some seasons near Botros Saleh, Fr. Benyamin’s grandfather. He loved the child Boules very much; he would humor him and would talk to him a lot, especially about the Holy Bible and the lives of the Fathers.

When his grandfather felt that he began thinking of monasticism, he consulted Fr. Salama pastor of the church and the church’s committee. They agreed with him to give him [Fr. Benyamin] a piece of the land and to get him married so that he stayed with him.
benjamin soldier
When he [Fr. Benyamin] consulted his spiritual father, Fr. Salama about this, he advised him to be patient and obedient and to wait to see God’s work in him. The gloomy days went by and he found his grandfather withdrawing from his offer (the inheritance and the marriage). He went to Hegumen Salama joyously, announcing to him this good news and what took place…a major obstacle has been removed from his path.

From here, Boules began preparing for the monastic life…

At first he received a letter of recommendation from Fr. Armeya Ekladios which he took with him to the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in Biad on Tuesday 08/09/1970 (third of Mesra). There he received the rest of the rite of the Midnight Psalmody and other Church matters like the baking of the sacramental bread (Qurban/Orban). He stayed there for forty days, and it was the beginning of his path towards the monastic life.

He returned once again to his hometown for two weeks before getting a recommendation letter for H.G. Bishop Athanasius Metropolitan of Beni Suef who was at the headquarters of St. Samuel Monastery in El-Zora, Maghagha of the province of Menya. On Tuesday 02/11/1970, there he met with the late Bishop Mina El-Samoueli, Abbot of the Monastery, who at the time was Hegumen Mina El-Samoueli. He stayed with him for forty days as well.

During the few weeks Boules spent with the Abbot of the Monastery, the latter saw the sincerity of his desire and tested him. On 07/12/1970, he sent him to the Monastery in the desert with a travelling caravan carrying the Monks’ supplies that was headed to the Monastery.

His love for this path was revealed in the first few months in the Monastery, it was shown in his many struggles, his extraordinary love, his silence, quietness and calmness.
shenouda young
And on Tuesday 16/12/1971, H.H. Pope Shenouda III visited the monastery a month and a half after his enthronement. There he met Hegumen Shenouda Fahim, priest of Mallawi who was Fr. Benyamin’s confessor. He met the young Boules and spoke greatly of him to H.H. the Pope.
benjamin novice
On the next day, 17/12/1971 (7 Kiahk), H.H. the Pope tonsured Brother Boules and gave him the name: Monk Youannes El-Samoueli. He is most likely the first Monk for H.H. the Pope to tonsure. Next year on 06/10/1972, he received the blessing of the Priesthood by the hands of H.G. Bishop Athanasius, Metropolitan of Beni Suef.

In the Monastery he was appointed to work in the Monastery’s farms, he is most likely one of the first to begin working on some of these lands next to the spring of water which the Monastery drank from. Through this work he developed a love for silence and the life of a stranger (sojourner).
samuel mon 1960
Next to this, he could not bear the harsh life in the Monastery of St. Samuel which was characterized by its lack of resources and hardships. Yet he did not complain of the extreme poverty of the Monastery, the poverty which led to his infection with tuberculosis. As a result, he was forced to go to Cairo to present himself before the doctors to receive the necessary treatment, and he returned to the Monastery. But he quickly returned to complain (express) of the symptoms of this dreaded disease which deteriorated him severely and H.H. the Pope requested to see him.
From then on he went to the wilderness of Shiheet (Scetes) to be close to H.H. the Pope in St. Bishoy Monastery, and to get the necessary treatment with ease. He went there on Wednesday 27/10/1973, and just after the first month, he was officially affiliated with St. Bishoy Monastery. On Tuesday 30/10/1973, H.H. the Pope gave him the name of Benyamin El Anba-Bishoy, the name he is known by today.
bishop monastery 2
His love for solitude there was apparent from the very beginning. He lived in a quiet cell and leaned towards the quiet life more than usual. As for his assigned work which he carried out for seven full years there, he was working in the monastery’s farms. He first worked in the farm by the lake, then at a farm located within the monastery itself and later in the monastery’s farm by the desert road. He was very successful in this particular work.

In his last period of illness, he told the Fathers present and the doctors who treated him that he could not bear the hard effort the work in the farms required of him. From there he started thinking of a different lifestyle. He lived in a cell inside the retreat house building for the priests, and then he switched to one of the monks’ cell in the new building of the monastery (second floor).

He began urgently asking H.H. the Pope to give him permission to live in solitude (in the desert) and he kept asking for years until finally he [the Pope] allowed him this, and he [Fr. Benyamin] took a small cave close to Der El-Suryan. He began setting up the cave to make it suitable for living and from henceforth he lived in there from August, 1980, for seven years until his departure in the end of 1987.
syrian monastery
Fr. Benyamin’s cave was simple, it consisted of a room where he received the Fathers at the entrance and on the right side a narrow passageway which led to a small kitchen and a very primitive bathroom. There are two more rooms in the cave, one of them was his hermitage (his lock-up place or inner cell) and the other room he wanted to turn into a prayer altar, but didn’t. The cave contained only a humble mattress, some simple food utensils and a number of books like the Bible and the sayings of the Fathers. There weren’t any other books, clothes or money in the cave.
Benjamin cave
On one of the walls of his hermitage (the inner cell) he hung a panel on which he wrote:
“Know my brother the reason we stay in the cell, so that we know nothing of the world and what is in it or if people are good. When we hear the news of the world we will condemn and judge them and say that this one is righteous and that one is evil, and that is the work of God and not of man.”

From this saying we can interpret Fr. Benyamin’s manner of life. For the person who loves his readings, this shows the direction he is taking, but the one who chooses sayings from the books to write them down and hang them up, well that summarizes and describes his manner of life.

The work he did while he was in his cave as part of the rule of the Monk (prayer, reading and work) was the making of leather crosses, a common work done by those who did not leave their cells. Fr. Benyamin also worked on copying books, which is an essential work especially in the previous generation. Monks undertook the responsibility of copying holy books and church service books. There are still some of the books which he copied with his beloved ones and in the library of Baramos Monastery. A year before his departure, he copied the Book of Psalms, during 5th and 6th weeks of Lent, 1986. After his departure, we found his copying utensils in his cell.

Many times he had to remove large amounts of sand from around his cell or did some repairing himself. Some of the Fathers of the Monastery of St. Bishoy said that Fr. Benyamin settled for little to regain his strength. He relied on potatoes as his main meal as he used to eat a small portion of potatoes with bread every day. Each week he had one meal of boiled vegetables, some cheese and powdered milk. During the holy Fifty Days, in keeping with his mealtimes without changing, he accustomed himself to following the rules of the Church by not abstaining from food. He also had a hot drink during the day with some sweets or biscuits, while eating on his regular scheduled times without changing. By this he kept his regular rule during the feasts to make it easier for him to return to it after the holy Fifty Days.

During the regular days, he lived on 10 litres of water for a week and on other times he would live on a small amount of bread with 3 containers of water (gas can size) for a whole month. From time to time he would ask for bean foods like beans and lentils and most of this food he would distribute it to others like the workers and the Bedouins. One of the Fathers that carried his necessities from the Monastery to the cave, said that he used to need 14 loaves of bread and would return a number of them to the Monastery from time to time. During the Lord’s Feasts he would go to the Monastery of St. Bishoy and then to Baramos Monastery and would eat what is offered him for these occasions.

He spent a lot of time in prayer, he would pray the full Agpeya (The Coptic Book of Hours) daily. There are about 70 Psalms in the Agpeya that we have in our hands, and the Rite of the Hermit Monk requires the Monk to pray 150 Psalms.
He would pray the Psalms found in the Agpeya including the ones that are repeated in addition to the rest of the entire Psalter (Book of Psalms), and he would pray a great number of the Psalms as follows:
-The collection of Psalms in the Agpeya including the ones that are repeated, and that would be 138 Psalms (while counting Psalm 118 as one Psalm).
-The collection of the rest of the Psalms that are in the Psalter and that are not in the Agpeya, which would be 74 Psalms. He would pray a third of them after the Sext (sixth hour), the other third after Compline (twelfth hour), and the rest after the Midnight Prayer. That would amount to 212 Psalms prayed everyday according to his rule.
coptic gospels
After he finished his prayers, he would read a chapter from the Old Testament, a chapter from the New Testament, and a chapter from one of the Epistles/Letters while standing in the position of prayer, he would do this many times in one day and as a result, Fr. Benyamin studied the entire Holy Bible very well.

He himself told some of the Fathers, that a Monk in the Monastery used to pray 151 Psalms everyday despite living in communion (cenobitic) and was responsible for one of the Monastery’s jobs, so how much more should the Hermit do. Regarding prostrations (Metanyas), he used to refer to them as his canon, and he loved to carry them out in the early morning before sunrise, and he did a great number of prostrations daily. Also, everyday at sunset he would go out into the desert to pray some prayers in addition to all of the Litanies (the petitions of the Divine liturgy).
benjamin prayer
He used to say regarding prayer, “We are strangers in this world, but also in the monastery, we must offer many prayers or else we will perish!!” -keeping in mind that Fr. Benyamin was a Hermit in the desert. His mouth never ceased from praising, and especially the “arrow prayers” (The Jesus Prayer)… “O my Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me, O my Lord Jesus Christ help me, I praise You O my Lord Jesus Christ, and so on”

He used this prayer at 9.00 in particular, while working with his hands like removing the sand for example and other work. He would use a short sentence that starts with “Oh my Lord Jesus Christ…” and would add the rest to it which would represent his personal needs. He would begin his prayers that way, and he would pray these prayers until he poured out many tears.

When some of the Fathers visited Fr. Benyamin in his cave they noticed a number of injuries on his face and he tried to hide these injuries when they were with him. When they asked him of these severe injuries he replied that it was from the common cold that he just recently caught. However, they were not convinced and kept asking him more questions until they found out from him that he was suffering from severe anemia that needed him to be taken to the hospital immediately. They carried him to the Monastery and exerted great efforts to try to convince him to agree to be taken to the hospital.

The decision was made for him to be taken to the hospital and later he returned to the Monastery where he awaited the opportunity for his slight improvement so that he can ask them to let him return to his cave. In turn, some of the Fathers did not permit his moving back to his cave and this bothered him greatly.

For that reason he did not open the door of his cell for any of the Fathers the visitors, except for the one who brought him his food.

The first time he arrived at the hospital was on Sunday 30/08/1987 for a blood test, at that time he was in bad condition. They found that the percentage of hemoglobin in his blood to be 18% which typically is impossible to live with.
benjamin sick
He got a blood transfusion at Heliopolis Hospital many times. He underwent many medical examinations and started to improve greatly but did not succumb to any kind of pressure. In regard to his food, they pressed him to eat meat but he would decline right away. When the doctors insisted that he eat, especially meat to regain his strength since food is natural medicine that can’t be replaced, he agree to eat but only some potatoes and olives and this meant that he would double the quantity of food he ate regularly prior to his sickness. Fr. Elisha El-Baramosy confirmed this as he was the one who accompanied him in his last week.
When his health began to improve he insisted on returning to his cave, and the doctors who treated him permitted him to leave the hospital to return to the Monastery but not back to his cave. Nevertheless, when he arrived at the Monastery he insisted on returning to his cave and he did.

The last time for him to return to the hospital was due to him collapsing and hitting his head on the ground, leaving him unconscious for days. When he began to regain his consciousness little by little he tried to get up and walk to the cave’s door to find someone to help him. God willed that some of the Fathers were making their way to see him; they found him standing in front of his cave as if he was lost and they found out what happened from him. He was standing trying to grab the attention of another hermit far from him, many kilometers away!!!

In the hospital to which he was transferred to immediately, he quickly received the results of the x-rays which showed that he had internal bleeding in his brain, between the membranes. This is what caused his ongoing suffering and severe headaches, the time was too late for any surgical intervention and his gums were injured. He was continuously bleeding until he went into a coma. In spite of all of this Fr. Benyamin still carried out his spiritual rule, especially the Agpeya prayers and his Bible readings, committed to this even in the remaining days of his life. Even in carrying out what he can from the readings with the help of the Fathers the Monks. He also confessed and partook of the Holy Mysteries more than once in that period.

The Psalm that he loved and constantly recited was, “Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.” (Psalm 122). The last book that he was reading was “The Way to the Kingdom”, the doctor who treated him kept and held on to the book after him. He distributed most of his own personal books as gifts to all those who were around him, as if he felt that he no longer needed them. When his doctor told him that he will return shortly to his cave and will pray for him there, he [Fr. Benyamin] told him that he would not see it again and that it’s all finished!!

On Thursday 15/12/1987 he started to complain of all-night long severe headaches, the Father who was with him went to inform his doctor of this and Fr. Benyamin went into a coma after terrible pain, continuous internal bleeding and from his condition. The doctors immediately called for him to be taken by the ambulance to Salam Hospital (El-Mohandeseen) and when he arrived there, they took him to the operating room where they performed a quick surgery on him to remove the clot that formed in his brain. His condition worsened that day and the doctors were forced to carry out another surgical procedure which was hopeless. On this Thursday, a number of the Fathers the monks placed him on the hospital stretcher after the doctors injected him with a needle to stop the internal bleeding in his stomach.

However, when he entered the operating room he gave up his pure spirit in the presence of the Fathers who were deeply affected by this. This happened on Thursday, at three in the afternoon, Kiahk 8, December 17th, 1987, the same day of the Departure of St. Samuel the Confessor, his monastery which Fr. Benyamin was tonsured in.

One of the nurses happened to give him a picture of the Saint without any knowledge of the relationship Fr. Benyamin had with this Saint.
His body was taken back to the Monastery arriving there at eight in the afternoon on the same day. The Fathers were waiting for his arrival and it was a rainy day, the heavens rained on his burial and a rainbow appeared a sign of the covenant!!

The Fathers dressed the body in priestly vestments as is the custom to do so, and he was placed in the church before the sanctuary. He was laid in the open casket so that the Fathers may take his blessings, it was a solemn scene. The Fathers stayed the whole night reciting the Book of Psalms until it was time for the service of the Midnight Psalmody. They began the Holy Psalmody service, followed by the Divine Liturgy and then performed the Funeral Rite.

The Fathers carried the casket in procession in the Sanctuary around the Altar, then around the Church’s nave three time while chanting the appropriate Church hymns. They took him to the cemetery (Tafoos) and placed him inside while the Fathers were chanting “Golgotha”, the Rite of the Service of Christ’s burial.
bishoy monastery
It is worth mentioning that on that day, the Gospel reading for Matins was on the parable of the talents, and the Gospel reading for the Liturgy began with the verse, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32-36)

The major parts of the life of Benjamin the Hermit are found in the following postings, but consulting the index of postings will identify others and equally interesting posts on Copptic Hermits.


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