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THE REASON ST. ANTHONY THE GREAT COMMANDED HIS DISCIPLES TO CONCEAL HIS BODY AFTER HIS DEPARTURE ACCORDING TO THE COPTIC SYNAXARIUM

October 7, 2017

In a previous article, titled ‘Saint Anthony the Great on the display of bodies of the dead: he who did not bury the bodies of the dead after death transgressed the law, even though they were sacred’, I spoke about St. Anthony’s dislike of the current custom in his days followed by many of honouring the bodies of their dead, particularly of the holy martyrs, with funeral rites, wrapping their bodies in linen clothes, placing them on couches, and keeping them in their houses. The source for this is Life of St. Anthony which was written by St. Athanasius the Great, the 20th patriarch of the Coptic Church, and a close friend of Anthony. For this reason, St. Anthony was of the opinion that the dead should be buried and not be displayed to the living; and to avoid his body be used in a similar way, he ordered his disciples, after burying his body, to conceal where it was buried. The site of his grave remained a secret with two of his disciples, and they never revealed to anyone. To this day, no one knows where he was buried, though it must be somewhere in the Red Sea mountains behind his monastery.

From Life of St. Anthony no fact can be deduced that the custom which St. Anthony was talking about was about displaying bodies in churches. Clearly the text talks about displaying the bodies of martyrs and saints in houses, most probably the houses of the martyrs and saints themselves. The practice was most probably carried out by relatives. No evidence that the bodies of martyrs and saints were displayed in churches or monasteries in that early age. At what point in our history was that custom extended to churches and monasteries, no one knows for sure; but, by the Middle Period of our history – a period that can be taken to starts in the 10th century – the custom of displaying sacred relics in our churches and monasteries became widespread.

From Life of St. Anthony, too, the motive behind the display of the bodies of martyrs and saints at the homes of their relatives was to honour them. There is no mention of any monetary advantage or an intention to profit from the practice. The motive, it seems, has become more temporal by the Middle Period. We can say that from evidence we take from the Coptic Synaxarium, available to us in Arabic,[1] which was collected for the first time in the 12th century.[2] Under the 22nd of Toba, we have the piece that talks about St. Anthony, and it talks about the saint’s commandment to his disciples to bury and conceal his body:

“As for his body, his disciples concealed it for he used to blame those who displayed the bodies of martyrs and saints in order to gain silver and to have a profit from them.”

Here, we have a different motive ascribed to those who display the bodies of martyrs and saints – monetary profit. This can be taken only to reflect the later practice that appeared for the first time in the Middle Period of our history.

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[1] René Basset, Synaxaire arabe-jacobite (rédaction copte); Patrologia Orientalis (Paris, 1904 – 1929). The Synaxarium published by Basset is based on two Copto-Arabic manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, one from the 14th century while the other is dated the 17th century. It is published in Arabic text at the top of the page and equivalent French text at its bottom. In 2000, the Coptic bishop, Anba Samuel published the Arabic text of Basset’s edition in four volumes under the title: السنكسار القبطى اليعقوبى.

[2] The primary compilation of the Coptic Synaxarium is attributed to the 13th century cleric, Michael (or Mikha’il), who was bishop of Atrib and Malij, two towns in the Nile Delta. Other writers such as Peter (or Butrus) al-Jamil, bishop of Malij, in the last quarter of the 12th century and the first half of the 13th century, and John (Yuhanna), bishop of Burullus (Parallos), contributed to its production.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Egiziane permalink
    October 11, 2017 11:40 pm

    Another brilliant comment on the unwise and indignifying practice of preserving and displaying of relics of deceased martyrs and people who lived a saintly life. Thank you dear Dioscorus, read my comment above under Saint Anthony The Great.

Trackbacks

  1. EVIDENCE THAT SAINT ANTHONY THE GREAT DID NOT HAVE A QUALM ABOUT BURIAL OF MARTYRS AND SAINTS IN CHURCHES | ON COPTIC NATIONALISM في القومية القبطية
  2. THE DISPLAY OF THE REMAINS OF SAINT JIRJIS HABEB WAS UNWISE AND INDIGNIFYING TO THE SAINT | ON COPTIC NATIONALISM في القومية القبطية

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