Lives of the Saints
There was a man in Alexandria called Paphnutius who kept the commandments of God
and was held in honour by all. He took a wife from a family of similar status to
himself, who had many good points, except that she was sterile. This made him very
unhappy, because he had no one to whom he could bequeath his possessions and
who could manage his estates well after his death. Night and day he was very active
in caring for the poor, and he spent a lot of time in church, fasting and praying to God
to give him a son. His wife too was very sad at seeing how unhappy her husband was,
and she too gave much money to the poor and to various oratories, and prayed that
God would grant him his desire.
Paphnutius cast about trying to find some person beloved of God who might be able
by his prayers to get him what he longed for. He visited a monastery where it was
said that the father of the monastery had great influence with God. He gave them
quite a large sum of money and regained much of his self-confidence from the abbot
and the brothers.
After some time he confided in the abbot what it was that he longed for above
everything else, and the abbot had compassion on him and prayed to God that he
might be given a child. God heard their prayers and granted them a daughter, and
Paphnutius was so impressed with the abbot's way of life, that he kept up a regular
association with the monastery from then on. He also brought his wife to the
monastery that she might be blessed by the abbot and brothers. Once the child was
weaned and had attained the age of seven years, she was baptised and given the
name Euphrosyna. She was a great joy to her parents, for she had been accepted by
God, and was very beautiful.
When she was twelve years old her mother passed away from this world. It fell to her
father to continue teaching her to read and write and learn about all the other things
necessary for living in this world. The girl was diligent in her studies and her father
was astonished at how gifted she was. The reputation of her intelligence and good
sense spread throughout the city, as did the beauty of her countenance which
reflected the beauty of her soul. Many parents sought after her as a bride for their
sons, but a definite agreement could never be reached because her father just kept
on saying, "Let the will of the Lord be done." But one of them richer and more
important than the others pressed him so forcefully to promise his daughter in
marriage that at last he agreed.
Much later, when she was eighteen, he took her with him to visit the monastery
where he was so well known, and again gave a considerable sum of money to help
with the monastery's needs. "I have brought the fruit of your prayers with me," he
said to the abbot, "that you might pray for her as I give her hand in marriage. "The
abbot made arrangements for her to stay in the guesthouse, and had several
conversations with her in which he encouraged her to be chaste and humble and
patient in the fear of God. She stayed there for three days and joined in each day
with the psalms. She saw something of the way of life and spiritual purpose of the
monks, and was deeply moved.
"How blessed these men are, in this life living like Angels, and afterwards enjoying
life without end."And her heart began to yearn zealously after the fear of God.
After three days Paphnutius went to the abbot again. "Come, father," he said, "so
that your handmaid can give you thanks, and pray for her as we go back to the city.
"When the abbot came the girl threw herself at his feet. "Please pray for me, father, "
she said, "that God may enlighten my soul." The abbot stretched out his hands over
her and blessed her. "God, you know human beings before they come to be born.
Grant your protection to this your handmaid, that she may merit your assistance and
a portion in the kingdom of heaven." They thanked the old man, and went back to the
city, and whenever Paphnutius met one of the monks he would invite him back to his
house to pray for his daughter.
The anniversary of the day the abbot founded the monastery occurred a little later
and he sent one of the brothers to Paphnutius with an invitation for him to come to
the solemn celebration. He knocked at the door and asked for Paphnutius, but the
slave replied that he was out.
Euphrosyna heard what the slave said, came to the door herself and invited the
brother inside and began to question him eagerly. "Tell me, brother, how many
brothers are there in the monastery?" "Three hundred and fifty-two." "Does the abbot
accept anyone who comes wanting to join?" "He receives them joyfully, mindful of
what the Lord said, 'He that comes to me I will not cast out' (John 6.37)" "Does
everyone join in singing the psalms and fasting?" "We sing the psalms in common,
and each one fasts according to his ability, as he decides. Our practices are not rigidly
imposed, but are freely chosen as spontaneous acts of will." Euphrosyna thought for a
moment about what the monk had said. "I would like to leave here," she said at last,
"and join this indescribable sort of life, but I am frightened of disobeying my father,
who wants to hand me over to a husband, because it would suit his empty and
fleeting business interests in this world." "Sister, don't allow any man to stain your
body and bring such beauty into defilement, but give yourself as a bride to Christ who
can give you the kingdom of heaven and the company of Angels in exchange for every
transitory delight. Leave without telling anyone, change your clothes into monastic
garments and come to the monastery." "I like that idea. But who will cut my hair off?
I don't want any old layperson to do it, who would not see it as a religious act."
"Look, your father will be coming to the monastery to spend there or four days there.
Get on of the monks to come to you and he will happily cooperate with you in
anything you want to do."
As they were talking thus, Paphnutius came back home. "How is it," he said when he
had greeted the monk, "that you have come to visit our humble dwelling?"
"The abbot has sent me because it is the anniversary of the monastery, and he
invites you to come and share in the blessings." This pleased Paphnutius very much,
and he went back to the monastery with him in his boat. By the time he had got
there, Euphrosyna had called one of her most reliable slaves to her. "Go the
monastery of Theodosius," she said, "go into the church, and ask any monk you meet
there to come and see me."
By the mercy of God the slave met a monk as he was coming out of the monastery
carrying his goods for sale, and asked him to come and see Euphrosyna, which he did.
"Pray for me, father," she said as she greeted him. He said a prayer of blessing and
they sat down. "Sir," said Euphrosyna, "I have a father who is a Christian and a
servant of God, and is very wealthy. He had a wife who gave me birth, but she is now
dead. My father finds it convenient in his business affairs to hand me over into the
toils of this wicked world. I don't want to be stained in that way, but I am frightened
of disobeying my father, and I don't know what to do. I spent a sleepless night
asking God to have mercy on my soul, and when morning had come I had the idea of
sending to the monastery for one of the brothers to come and bring me a word of
salvation and tell me what I ought to do. Father, I know you are sent by God. I beg
you, as you hope for a blessing on your own soul, teach me the path of God." "What
the Lord says," he replied, "is 'Whosoever will not renounce father and mother and
brothers and children, yes, and his own life also, cannot be my disciple'. I can't tell
you any more than that.
However, if you think you have the bodily strength to go through with it, leave it all,
flee from the worldly riches of your father, who will have no difficulty in finding people
to bestow it on - poorhouses, hospitals, hospices, monasteries, widows, students,
pilgrims, the sick, prisoners - let him deal with his property as he will and as it
pleases him. But you, think only of how to save your own soul." "I trust in God and I
trust in your prayers, that it is my task to labour for the salvation of my soul, God
being my helper." "Intentions like that must not be flouted. But there is still time to
change your mind." "No, I have troubled you for the very purpose that you may help
me to fulfil my desires. Say your prayer of blessing over me and cut my hair off." The
monk prayed, cut her hair off and clothed her with the monastic habit. [No indication
of how he happened to have a spare habit with him! But perhaps we are meant to
understand that he simply placed his own scapular over her shoulders "May God who
leads all his saints to freedom preserve you from all evil," he prayed. And he left her
and went on his way rejoicing.
Meanwhile Euphrosyna took thought about what she would do next.
"If I go to a monastery of women, my father will be able to find me and drag me off
to my promised bridegroom. So I shall go to a monastery of men, where no one would
suspect me to be. "She shed her female clothing and dressed in male attire. She put
five hundred solidi in her pocket and late that night stole out of the house, and lay
low till morning. By the providence of God her father went out early in the morning to
spend some time in church. Euphrosyna presented herself at the monastery where her
father was so well known, and sent a message to the abbot by means of the
"I am a eunuch from the palace standing at the gate and wanting to speak with you."
The abbot went out, Euphrosyna prostrated herself, the abbot prayed and they sat
"What is it that has brought you here, my son?" asked the abbot. "I am one of the
palace eunuchs, and I have a great longing to be part of the monastic life. The city
nowadays holds the monastic life in high regard. I have heard of how good your way
of life is here, and I long to share it with you. I have many possessions, and if my
master releases me I shall hand them over to you." "You are very welcome, my son.
The monastery is here. If that is what you want to do, come and live with us. What is
your name, my son?"
"Smaragdus." ["Emerald"] "You are too young to live as a solitary. You need to have
a teacher, so that you can learn the rule and customs of the monastery."
"Whatever you say, father, that I will do." She put the five hundred solidi into the
abbot's hand. "Please accept these in the meantime," she said, "and if it proves that
I am able to persevere in this life the rest will follow."
The abbot summoned a brother called Agapitus, a sober, [impassibilis. Perseverance
in monastic discipline was expected to bring about a state where one was no longer
subject to the passions. One had become passionless, impassible] holy man, and
handed Smaragdus over into his care. "From now on he will be your son and your
disciple. Set your seal upon (consigna) him, that he may come to be even greater
than his master." Smaragdus knelt, Agapitus signed (consignavit) him with the cross
and said a prayer, they all said "Amen", and Agapitus took him into his own cell.
Now when Smaragdus came into the church to join in the prayers, the beauty of his
face proved to be such that many demons were encouraged to scatter evil thoughts
among the brothers, so that they were indignant with the abbot for allowing such
beauty into the monastery.
"Your face is disturbingly beautiful, my son," said the abbot to Smaragdus, "and the
brothers are very weak, so I want you to remain alone in your cell, and sing the
psalms there, and eat there, and not come out of it at all." And he instructed
Agapitus to get a single cell ready for Smaragdus and leave him there. Agapitus did
everything the father of the monastery told him and put Smaragdus in a solitary cell,
where he gave himself night and day to prayers, and fasting, and vigils, serving God
in simplicity of heart, so that Agapitus wondered, and told all the other brothers of
his constancy. They all praised God that from their weakness had come such strength.
When her father, Paphnutius, came home he went to his daughter's room, and was
worried at not finding her there. He enquired anxiously for the serving men and
women what had happened to Euphrosyna. We saw her last night," they said, "But
when she did not appear this morning we thought that the father of her bridegroom
must have some and taken her away." He sent slaves to the bridegroom's house, but
they did not find her there. The bridegroom and his father were very upset, and came
back to see Paphnutius. They found him lying on the ground in a terribly distressed
state. "Someone must have abducted her and run off with her," they said to him. He
sent slaves on horseback throughout the whole of Alexandria, they boarded the ships
in the harbour in their frantic search for her, they investigated the women's
monasteries, the hermitages, the anchorites' caves, the houses of friends and
neighbours. They did not find her and at last they began to mourn her as dead,
father-in-law grieving for daughter-in-law, bridegroom for bride, father for daughter.
"Alas! Alas!" cried Paphnutius, "Alas, my beautiful daughter! Alas, the joy of my eyes!
Who has invaded my territory? Who has stolen my treasure? Who has despoiled my
vineyard? Who has put out the light of my life, dispossessed me of my hope, violated
my daughter's beauty? What wolf has snatched my precious lamb? There is no place
where such beauty as hers could go unremarked. Where is the sea across which her
regal appearance could have been led away captive? She has been a model of
generosity, a comforter in time of trouble, a solace for those in distress, a harbour for
those hard pressed. O Earth, Earth! Never may you receive my bones until I discover
my Euphrosyna's fate!" Inspired by these words of Paphnutius, and many more like
them, the voices of all who heard him were raised in mourning and weeping. The
whole city lamented Euphrosyna.
Paphnutius could not reconcile himself to his loss, he could find no comfort anywhere,
so he went to his friend the abbot and fell at his feet. "I beg you not to cease from
prayer, that the labour of your prayer may bring forth fruit, for something has
happened to my daughter and I do not know what." The venerable old man was very
sorry to hear this, and he called all the brothers together. "My brothers," he said, "I
am going to ask you to be so kind as pray to God that he may mercifully show us
what has happened to the daughter of our friend Paphnutius." They prayed and fasted
for a whole week, but were given no revelation about Euphrosyna, such as they were
usually granted when they prayed to God for someone else. Euphrosyna herself, of
course, was praying to God day and night that he would not bring her life out into the
When the abbot realised that there was not going to be any revelation from God
either to him or anyone else, he did his best to comfort Paphnutius. "Don't rebel
against the Lord's discipline, my son," he said. "Whom the Lord loves, he chastens"
(Proverbs 3.11-12). Remember that not a sparrow falls to the ground without our
Father (Matthew 10.29), how much more your daughter! Nothing happens without his
permission. Surely, since he has revealed nothing to us about your daughter he has
something better in store for you. I am sure that if she has wandered into evil paths,
which God forbid, God would never ignore such great labours as the brothers have
been doing. I have confidence in the Lord that he will in this life reveal her to you."
Paphnutius was comforted by his words, and prayed and gave thanks to God daily,
while giving himself to good works and almsgiving.
From time to time he kept on visiting the monastery, commending himself to the
prayers of the brothers. One day he fell at the abbot's feet, and opened his heart.
"Pray for me, father, for I cannot stop grieving for my daughter, but more and more
from day to day the wound is reopened and grows bigger and my soul is troubled."
The abbot could see how troubled he was."Would you like to talk to a very spiritual
brother of ours who used to belong to the palace of Theodosius?" - not realising that
he as talking about Paphnutius' daughter. "Yes, I would," said Paphnutius. The abbot
summoned Agapitus. "Take Paphnutius with you to the cell of Smaragdus," he said.
And so without any warning Euphrosyna found that her father was in her cell with her.
Seeing her father in such sorrow her tears began to fall, which Paphnutius put down
to her feelings of sympathy. He did not recognise her, for the beauty of her face had
wasted away by reason of her abstinence and vigils and tears. Besides, her face was
half hidden by her cowl, so that he could not see her clearly. They prayed and sat
down. She began to speak to him about the future kingdom of blessedness and
eternal glory, to which one could attain by humility and chastity, by a holy way of life,
by almsgiving and charity, by contempt of the world and by not loving children more
than God who has made us all. And she drew on holy scripture to show that
tribulation encourages patience, and patience acceptance (Romans 5.3-4). And she
had great compassion on her father, seeing him in such great sorrow.
She was frightened of being recognised and making things worse for him, but she
nevertheless wanted to bring him some comfort. "I am quite sure that God is not
turning his face away from you," she said. "And if your daughter's soul had been lost,
God would have revealed that to you, and would not blame you, or debar you from
light perpetual, because of her soul being claimed by the devil. But I am confident
that she must have chosen a better part for herself (Luke 10.42), as I have already
said, in accordance with the Gospel where it says, 'Whosoever loves father or mother
more than me is not worthy of me' (Matthew 10.37). And 'Anyone who has not
renounced everything he possesses cannot be my disciple' (Luke 14.26). But God is
quite able to reveal her to you sometime in the course of this life. So until then, be
content. Why destroy yourself by excessive grief? Just give thanks to God, doubting
nothing. "Now my teacher Agapitus has told me several times that someone called
Paphnutius, a man abounding in good works, has been visiting us in great grief
because he believes his daughter must be dead, without any idea of that has really
happened to her, but in great sorrow because she was his only daughter.
He has been falling at the feet of the abbot, begging that God will reveal the truth to
him through the prayers of the abbot and all the brothers. So you pray to God also, as
I will, unworthy though I am and aware of my many sins. I will pray that God will give
you patience and longsuffering and that he will fulfil in you, as in your daughter, what
it is best for you both. For that reason I would like to see you and talk to you more
often, so that perhaps I may humbly be able to give you some consolation."
At this point she bade Paphnutius farewell, fearful that too prolonged a conversation
might give her away. As Paphnutius moved away her soul was filled with compassion
for him, her cheeks paled and tears flowed and she coughed up blood, weakened by
fasting as she was, and not having eaten that day. But Paphnutius was greatly
comforted, and went back to the abbot. "That brother has really done my soul good,"
he said. "His words of comfort have brought me such happiness and grace from God
that it is almost as if I had found my daughter again." And commending himself to
the prayers of the abbot and all the brothers he went back home magnifying God.
When Smaragdus had lived in her cell for thrifty-eight years she fell ill and died. A
few days earlier Paphnutius had paid one of his usual visits to the monastery and
after being greeted by the brothers and praying with them he said to the abbot, "With
your permission, father, may I see Smaragdus, for I have a great longing to see him?"
The abbot called Agapitus and told him to take Paphnutius to Smaragdus' cell.
Paphnutius went in and found him lying there mortally ill, burst into tears and
embraced him. "Alas, where are your promises now? Where are your sweet words
promising me that there would come a time when I would see my daughter with my
own eyes? I shall never see her, and not only that but you are leaving us as well, the
only one who could give me some comfort. Woe is me! Who shall comfort me in my
old age? To whom can I go? Who can help me? I am weighed down now by a double
grief. It is thirty-eight years since I lost my daughter, without any news of her at all
which I have prayed for day and night, and now another grief overwhelms me, for I
have never found anyone like unto this brother. What hope have I left? Where do I
find comfort? I shall go down in sorrow to my grave." Smaragdus became aware of his
tears and inconsolable grief.
"Why are you in such a turmoil and, killing yourself with worry?" she said. "The arm of
the Lord is not weakened. Is there anything that God finds too difficult? Put away
your sadness. Remember how God revealed to the patriarch Jacob that Joseph for
whom he had mourned was alive. But I have a request to make. Stay with me for
three days without leaving my side." So Paphnutius stayed for three days wondering
within himself whether God was about to reveal to Smaragdus something about
"I have waited as you asked, my brother," he said on the third day, "and have not
gone off anywhere else."
Smaragdus, who was really Euphrosyna, knew that this was the day of her death
"Almighty God has taken up my wretchedness and fulfilled all my desires," she said to
Paphnutius, "for he has defended me from the snares of the enemy, against whom I
have striven manfully right up to the end, not in my own strength but by his power. I
have finished my course and there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness (2
Timothy 4.8). I don't want you to worry any more about your daughter Euphrosyna, for
I am she, and you are my father. So now you have seen me and have achieved your
desire. But I would rather you did not tell anyone; don't let anyone else strip my body
and wash it, but do it yourself. And I declared to the abbot that I had great
possessions, and that if I proved able to persevere and endure in this place I would
leave them all to him. So please fulfil what I have promised, for this place is worthy
of respect, and pray for me." So saying she gave up her sprit. It was the first of
Paphnutius saw that she was dead, and his stomach heaved and he fell to the floor
as if dead. Agapitus came in and saw that Smaragdus was dead and that Paphnutius
was lying half dead on the floor. He threw some water in his face and picked him
up."Are you all right, Paphnutius?" he asked. "Let me be. Let me die on this spot," he
said. "I have seen wonderful things here today." He got up and gazed upon her face,
while his own tears streamed forth. "Woe is me, my most sweet daughter!" he cried.
"Why did you not reveal yourself to me sooner, so that I could have willingly joined
you here myself. Woe is me! Why did you hide? How is it that you have endured the
snares of the enemy and the spiritual powers of darkness in this life and now have
entered into life eternal?"
As Agapitus listened to him, he realised the wonderful thing that had happened and
was amazed. He ran to tell it all to the abbot, who came and fell down before
Euphrosyna. "Euphrosyna, bride of Christ and daughter of the saints," he cried, "forget
not your servants in this monastery and pray for us to the Lord Jesus Christ, that we
may strive manfully to enter the gateway of salvation and receive our portions with
him and his saints." He assembled all the brothers and with all due honour he ordered
her holy body to be buried. As they were all together as witnesses of this stupendous
miracle, they glorified God who had worked such a great miracle even in the weaker
sex. One of the brothers who was blind in one eye tearfully kissed her face, and as
soon as he touched her his sight was restored. All the brothers who were there and
saw what had happened blessed the Lord and gave thanks to him from whom all
blessings flow. Greatly strengthened and edified, they buried her in her family grave.
Her father gave everything he possessed to the church, the hospice and the
monastery, but the greater part to the monastery, which he joined, and dwelt in the
same cell as that in which Euphrosyna had fallen asleep. Paphnutius lived in this holy
life for ten years before departing to the Lord, and the abbot and all the brothers
buried him next to his daughter, glorifying God. The anniversaries of their departure
to the Lord are celebrated to this present day, glorifying the Father and the Son and
the holy Spirit. to whom be honour and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
St. Euphrosyne and Her Father Paphnoutius
Our righteous Mother Euphrosyne, who lived during the reign of Saint Theodosius the
Younger (408-450), was the daughter of Paphnutius of Egypt. Forsaking her father and
his wealth, she renamed herself Smaragdus, and pretending to be a eunuch of the
emperial palace, she dressed herself as a man and entered a monastery of men where
her identity remained unknown until her repose thirty-eight years later.
Plagal of the 4th Tone
The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Mother. For you took up the
Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for
it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy
Euphrosyne, your soul rejoices with the angels.
Desiring to reach the life on high, thou earnestly didst spurn every vain and fleeting
pleasure here below and didst live among men as if a man, O all-famed Euphrosyne,
since for Christ thy Bridegroom's sake thou forsookest a bridegroom that was
 Vitae Patrum, Life No 19, The Life of St Euphrosyna, Virgin [Celebrated in the
Roman martyrology on January 1] by an anonymous author.
 Reading courstesy of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA. Apolytikon
courtesy of Narthex Press. Also see The Spiritual Mothers p. 423.
|The Life of St Euphrosyna, Virgin