Saint Paphnutius was an Egyptian during the fourth century C.E. The first we hear about Paphnutius is during his study under Saint Anthony, who lived in the desert. A story about his life during this period has been passed down to us, and I'll recount it here. While traveling in the desert, he met a man who was wearing only a loincloth and whose beard had grown all the way to the ground. The man was so hairy that Paphnutius ran away in fear (no kidding). However, the man, whose name was Onuphrius, called out to him to say that he too was a servant of God. Onuphrius then took Paphnutius back to his cave, where food miraculously appeared before them. The two talked and talked all night until Onuphrius told Paphnutius that he had been sent to bury Onuphrius, who had been living alone in a cave for seventy years, and that this life wasn't for Paphnutius. Onuphrius then knelt down and died, leaving Paphnutius to bury the corpse. That having been done, the cave collapsed and the date palm outside died, apparently communicating to Paphnutius that he was to leave the area. Onuphrius is generally recognized as a saint, as well.

When Paphnutius had studied under Anthony for a few sandy years, he was made bishop of Upper Thebaid. While there, he was part of a group of confessors under the emperor Maximinus, a fairly mean fellow by our standards, although not so much when compared to other persecutors of Christians. When the group of confessors pledged their undying love for Jesus, he had each of their right eyes put out and their left legs crippled before sending the lot of them to work in the mines. What mines those are, I do not know, but Paphnutius spent a long time in them. When he was released after the persecutions had ended, Paphnutius returned to his diocese and continued his duties there. During this period, the Arian heresy was beginning to penetrate Egypt, and Paphnutius was seen as one of the most vigorous defenders of Catholicism in the face of the Arian challenge.

Because of all these good works, Paphnutius recieved special honors at the Council of Nicea in 325, which he attended. He also had the chance to meet the new, Christian emperor, Constantine, while there. Constantine even took a special liking to Paphnutius and conferred repeatedly with the one-eyed saint in private, never failing to dismiss Paphnutius by kissing him on the spot where his eye used to be*. This was meant as a gesture of respect, apparently, since it honored the sacrifice that Paphnutius had made for the faith. Also while at the Council of Nicea, Paphnutius argued forcefully against the imposition of total celibacy on the clergy. The bones of his argument appear to have been that to impose celibacy would be bad since it would break up pre-ordination marriages. His suggestion, to allow married men to remain married after ordination, was adopted by the council, who respected his chastity as well as his reputation.

At some point after that, Paphnutius made the acquaintance of Saint Athanasius. The two were nearly inseparable. They both went to the Council of Tyre in 335, which is where Paphnutius drops off of our historical radar. After this trip, the only thing we know about Paphnutius is that he is recorded by the church as a martyr on (oddly enough) September 11. The details of his death are a mystery, although it's thought that he died around 350 C.E.

*Eww, yucky.


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