This is the famous portrait of Saint Shenoute of Atripe, Archimandrite of the White Monastery Confederation, which has recently been revealed.
“Tears to him were sweet as honey, so that his eyes were deeply sunken, like holes in walls, and because of the great flow of tears continually streaming from his eyes like water, they had become very black.” There was no question about Shenoute’s extraordinary charisma and power of personality.
He is one of the early desert fathers to have considered the lives of those living outside the monastery walls. He was keenly aware of the poverty of Egyptian peasants and is remembered as the founder of Coptic culture.
Many miracles are also credited to him. We are told that when Shenoute was once in Constantinople, he “was walking into the king’s palace when he found a grain of wheat which had been thrown away. He picked it up and put it in the pouch in his goat-skin habit until he returned to his monastery.” Back in the monastery in Atripe, when “it was a summertime there, and as the brothers were grinding grain for bread, he took the grain of wheat he had brought with him on his return from the king’s palace, and threw it under the mill-stone; and the Lord sent so great an abundance from the mill-stone that they were quite unable to gather it all up.”
On another occasion, we read of an apparition in which Saint Paul appears to Shenoute, and told him: “Because you love charity and give alms to anyone that asks you and keep all the commandments in all ways because of the love of God, behold! The Lord has sent me to you to comfort you because of what you do for the poor and the destitute.” Paul then presented Shenoute with a loaf of bread and gave it to him; and Shenoute took it and tied it in his scrip. Paul told him to put the loaf in the bread-store from which the brothers distribute the bread. When Shenoute arose from the vision, he found the loaf tied in his scrip; and he took it and secretly put the loaf in the store-room and closed the door. The blessed loaf was the reason for miraculous heaps of bread pouring forth; and “the multitudes and the brothers were supplied for six months by the abundance of bread which came forth from the door of the bread-store, and to this very day that bread-store is called ‘the Store-Room of the Blessing.”
The stick Shenoute is carrying, is a palm branch with its leaves removed. Once, when a well being dug collapsed on the labourers, Shenoute arose and took his palm branch, and went down to the well: “He reached out with his palm-branch and drove it into the wall of the well. It immediately took root and sent up palm-branches and palm-leaves, and the men who were working ate its fruit. From that day to this, the well has never moved again.”
On this day lift before God:
- Coptic Christians
- All those moved to action by the plight of the poor around them.
- All working to feed the hungry.
- All whose prayers take the form of tears.