Anthony Alcock translates Coptic text of the life of St. Barsoum el Erian


  • So St. Parsouma cut off his tongue before dying???
  • I suppose so!  Not something you hear from more modern revelations of his story.
  • Perhaps an ancient form of penance...seems like a number of Coptic saints did it, St. Parsouma St. Simon the Tanner, and Origen.
  • Well, I personally have reservations.  We know why St. Simon and Origen did what they did, and it was not forgiven.  The text is very ambiguous as to the reason of St. Barsoum cutting a small piece of his tongue, or at least I'm unable to understand it.
  • You must all realize that what original manuscripts have and what we are taught in Sunday School are not always consistent. Both oral tradition and written hagiographical tradition have nuances that cannot be ignored. Every hagiographical story is not written for historical accuracy or narrative entertainment of some sort. Such stories are written to pass on a moral, theological and spiritual lesson (much like the Bible). Thus when we find certain "facts" that are inconsistent with modern society, we question the whole story and forget that ancient stories need to be seen through as motifs of their milieu, not ours. The only thing that really applies to us is the underlying moral, theological and spiritual lesson which is often hidden in motifs. Thus, cutting of his tongue (or any other strange facts, like female saints cutting off their breasts to look like men), are motifs that underlie deeper messages. It takes years of studies to identify and understand these motifs. Since I did not read this story, I can't comment. But I am fully aware of things our "saints" did that are not saintly at all...because we are viewing them in the wrong paradigm. 
  • Remnkemi said:

    Such stories are written to pass on a moral, theological and spiritual lesson (much like the Bible). Thus when we find certain "facts" that are inconsistent with modern society, we question the whole story and forget that ancient stories need to be seen through as motifs of their milieu, not ours. 

    Does this include the Resurrection of Christ?

  • I'm not sure what you're trying to say by referencing John Shelby Spong. If you're implying that what I wrote about textual criticism of hagiography is outlandishly liberal like Spong's "Twelve Points for Reform" or any of his anti-literalism of scripture, then you might be missing the point. 

    For the record Spong, and those like him who criticize literal interpretation and unaltered transmission of creeds, are by definition heterodox. I would never defend them or their ideology. It is abundantly clear from scripture that his Twelve Points are meaningless. Since this really is tangential to the topic at hand, we need not get into detail.

    On the other hand, a purely literal and historical understanding of hagiography is incomplete. Oral transmission studies, as a field of history, clearly shows motifs are used in the oral transmission of stories. 

    Let me put it this way:
    Two saint stories have very specific details of a female who becomes a monk. Both stories give the exact same name of the female. Both stories have this female as the daughter of the Emperor, both stories have this female going to Egypt, both stories have this female secretly tell her gender to the hegomen of Shiheet, both stories have the female struggle and finally abused by fellow monks, both stories have the saints's gender revealed to the other monks post-mortem. These are very specific details, not generalizations. Yet both stories are 100 years apart (which we know because the authors give the names of the Emperor and the hegomen monk). Are these stories meant to be taken 100% literally? I would think it would be foolish to think so. But if we understand that oral tradition relies on texts as motifs, we see that both stories are telling the same spiritual lesson. This doesn't mean that both stories are without a doubt fictional either (This is where Orthodoxy differs from the liberal intellectualism of Spong and some of the Bollandists). It is very likely that both female saints historically lived in separate centuries. But the stories did not give specific details to each saint, they gave one message for both saints because that is how the author and the author's audience understood the world around them.

    One more thing. The fact that the Gospels are "synoptic" reveals the presence of motifs. The fact that historical details in the life of Jesus shows affinity to Old Testament heroes shows motifs. The fact that certain aspects of Christ's life are prophetic show motifs. These motifs are not to be understood in an exclusively allegorical interpretation nor in an exclusively historical interpretation either. Thus, the Resurrection of Christ cannot be understood as allegorical only. It is historical. It occurred historically in time and yet it applies outside of time. Christ, being God, is outside time. His message and His love for man exists outside of time and it is not conditional to the author's/evangelists' and the author's audience's/first century Christians' understanding of the world. It is foolish to reduce to the Resurrection (or Christ Himself) to a historical delusion requiring non-historical interpretations that conform to a modern audience differently from any other generation. 

    Sorry if I confused you or misunderstood your question. I hope I clarified things.
  • I read something by Fr. Tadros Malaty describing the story of Pope St. Matta al Maskeen who cut his tongue to try to avoid the papacy:

    "He was ordained a priest at the age of eighteen by the bishop of that era. When he felt the honour bestowed on him he escaped to St Anthony's Monastery. He did not tell the monks there about his priesthood and served as a deacon. While he was reading the gospel, a celestial hand appeared and offered him incense three times. The elders of the monastery recognised that he would be ordained patriarch. He left vainglory and escaped to the holy land to work as a builder and practise worship during the night. The glory followed him again so he returned to St. Anthony's Monastery. He was made the abbot of this monastery when Prince Yalpogha led some of the monks, including the abbot, in humility to Cairo to avenge in them deeds of the Crusaders.

    Once again he escaped from the monastery to AlMuharraq Monastery to carry sand, work in the kitchen and serve the sick, elders and visitors. He led a life of self-denial, and had only one garment. He was exposed to many fearful wars against the devil but he conquered him. The wild beasts used to keep him company outside the monastery.

    When he was chosen to be ordained patriarch he escaped hiding in the bottom of a ship, but God revealed him by a little child. Then he cut the tip of his tongue hoping they would release him, but God cured him at once. Finally he sought the counsel of the elders of St. Anthony's monastery and accepted the ordination." Source

    It seems when I go back and read St. Barsoum's account, the cutting of the tongue was a way of debasing himself from the praises of the people, that rather than concentrating on the blessed words off his tongue, that they too raise their own tongues to God alone.  At least that's my best guess on the Coptic story.
Sign In or Register to comment.