Baring-Gould’s Lives of the Saints – Saints Theodulus, Priest Paul, Proclus, Hypatius, Isaac, and Others, Monks and Martyrs at Sinai

Article

(5th century)

[Roman Martyrology. German Martyrology on the 13th January. The account of the martyrdom of these monks was written by Saint Nilus himself, an eye-witness of their passion, and father of Theodulus, one of the sufferers, though not the martyr of the same name.]

“O my friends,” says Saint Nilus, in his account of the tragedy commemorated this day “I, wretched man that I am, had two sons, one of whom I had to lament, the other remained ^^dth his mother. After I had become the father of these two, my wife and I separated. A vehement craving after solitude and rest drew me into the desert; I could think and look to nothing else, When the desire of anything has engrossed the mind, it draws it violently from all things else, even from good works, and strains towards that which it desires, heeding no impediments and toils. When, then, I was thus impelled to go forth, I took my two sons — they were quite little fellows then — and I led them to their mother, and I gave one to her, and kept the other with me, and I told her my design, and begged her not to oppose it. She did not resist me, seeing my earnestness, yielding rather to necessity than consenting spontaneously. But know, all of you, that the separation of those who have been united in legitimate marriage, and have become one body, by Him who in His secret council has joined them, is no light matter. It is like hacking through a living body with a sword.”

Nilus, having escaped with his little son Theodulus into the deserts of Sinai, took up his abode with the monks, and served God in the solitude and rest he had so much desired. “Among these,” continues Nilus, “Caesar’s money does not circulate, for they neither buy nor sell. Each is ready to give freely to the other whatever he wants. Olives and dates, and rarely bread, is all they have to give, but they become tokens of charity, and sufficiently evidence liberality of intention. There is no envy among them, and he who abounds less in gocid works does not feel jealous of him who abounds more. Their cells are not close together, but at some little distance from one another, not because of want of love, but that they may mould themselves to the pattern God has set before them in all quiet and silence. On the Lord’s Day they all assemble in one church, and meet accordingly once a week; lest, on the other hand, total isolation should break the bonds of concord and make them forgetful of the offices due to one another, and their manners become savage and uncouth. After having all participated of the Divine Mysteries, they accordingly meet to converse. But why should I relate more of their ways? All at once a storm came on, a cloud of barbarians burst upon the settlement, early one morning, when the hymns had just ceased. I was there then with my son. I was descending the holy mountain to visit the Saints who inhabited the bush, as I was wont to do often, when I heard the noise of shouts and cries, and like yelping of dogs, the barbarians carried off all the Saints had prepared for their winter provision. They dragged them out of the church and stripped them, and made a circle round them with drawn swords, and eyes filled with fury, ready to kill them. Then, first they bade the priest stretch out his neck, and he, without a cry, though they cut him on the back with their blades, signed himself and whispered, ‘Blessed be the Lord!’ One blow cut him from the back-bone to the jaw, and cut through his ear; the next blow was from his shoulder to his cheek. So the holy man sank down modestly. The previous evening that admirable man at supper had said, ‘ How do we know whether we shall all live to meet again at table?’ After that they killed him who lived with the old priest, and then the boy who served them.” Then the Arabs, brandishing their bloody weapons, rushed after the monks, who scattered in all directions, some escaping down the valley, and some, Nilus included, flying up the all but inaccessible rocks of Sinai, whither the Arabs did not trouble themselves to pursue them. Nilus escaped reluctantly, for his boy was in the hands of the barbarians. “I stood bewildered,” he says “not knowing what to do, and bound to the child by my bowels of love, and unable to fly till the boy made signs to me with his eyes to escape; but I could hardly persuade myself to do so. My feet went forward and dragged my body along, I hardly knew how, for my heart would not leave him, and I turned my face ever and anon to look at the boy. Thus I reached the mountain, following the others, and saw my poor boy carried away, unable to look about him as he would, but furtively casting glances towards where I was. Such is the tie of nature, that separation of bodies does not break it, but it is cruelly wrenched. The cow which is led away lows piteously and often, always turning its head towards the dear calf, and by its eyes proving the intensity of its grief. And I, when I had reached, I know not how, the mountain top, with my mind one way and my body elsewhere, I tried still to see my son, but I could not, the distance was too great. Then I burst into prayer to God, weeping for my captive son and the murdered saints.”

“After the barbarians had killed many others, they went their way; and as day declined we were able, without fear, to descend and bury the bodies. We found some quite dead, but Theodulus, the priest, was still breathing and able to speak. Therefore we, sitting down there, passed the night there, weeping, at the old man’s request.” The dying priest bade them be of good cheer, reminding them that Job was robbed of his substance and his children, and was grievously plagued in his body, yet, trusting in God, he was given in the end more than he had lost. Then, kissing the survivors, he breathed forth his holy soul. Saint Theodulus and these martyrs fell on January 14th; but other sufferers who were put to death by this horde of barbarians are commemorated with them. Saint Nilus gives an account of the sufferings of several of these, whom the Arabs hunted from the rocks, wherever there was a spring of water and a patch of herbage.

Nilus, having obtained money, went into the desert in quest of the Arabs, in company with an armed embassy, to their chief or king, that he might ransom his son. “Having gone eight days, we were hard pressed for want of water; but those who knew the locality said that there was a spring somewhere near. So the party ran here and there in their eagerness to find and enjoy it; and I went along too, but on account of my age was not able to travel as fast as they, and could not run without loss of dignity. Now the well was really behind them, hidden behind a little hill, so that they kept rushing further from it, and I, ascending the mound, lighted suddenly upon it, for it lay on the other side, and there I saw a number of Arabs gathered round it. When I thus fell into the hands of the enemy, I cannot say whether I was glad or sorry, for I was between the two conditions of mind, being fearful for my personal safety, but very anxious to see my son, whom I hoped to deliver out of captivity, or at least to share captivity with him. Those who had accompanied me escaped, throwing themselves down, and creeping away behind the hill; but the barbarians, shouting, surrounded me, and dragged me violently about, but I looked about with great desire, hoping among them to catch a sight of my boy.

“Suddenly, some of our party, armed, appeared on the horizon, and the barbarians, in great alarm, fled away, and in a moment the spot where they had swarmed was bare and lifeless.

“Next day we continued our course, and so for four days did we persevere, till we reached the camp; and when it was announced that there were ambassadors come to the King, we were brought before Haman, the chief of the barbarians. Who, when we had presented gifts, gave us a gracious reception, and lodged us near him, till he could make perquisition for the offenders. My heart beat violently, and I waited the result in an agony of suspense. Every sound seemed to me to speak of him whom I sought so anxiously; my ears were ever on the alert, and my mind on the stretch for the tidings, that I might be certified whether my son lived or was dead. Ever before my eyes I saw his image, sometimes I saw him killed in one way, sometimes in another, and I fancied I heard his weeping voice calling me. O wretched boy! art thou alive or art thou dead? If thou hast escaped death, what miserable bondage is thine? If thou hast died, where is thine unburied corpse?

“At last the messengers returned, and by their faces I read the sad news. ‘You need not speak,’ I said, ‘I see in your countenances that I have no hope.’ But they assured me that Theodulus, my little fellow, was not dead, but was sold to some one or other in the city Eleusa. Then I resolved to go there in quest of him. But I had no rest in mind, for I thought, Well, if he lives, he is lost to me, for he serves as a slave; he cannot follow his free will, but is for ever subject to the caprice of a master.

“As we were on our way to Eleusa, a young man, driving some laden animals, met us. He had already seen me in the camp, and he knew all about my affair. He, being in Eleusa, made inquiries, and learned that my son had been brought there by the barbarians, and had been sold. Seeing me coming, he advanced last and smiling towards me, and when we were within speaking distance, he shouted cheerily to me, and stretching forth his right hand, he turned it behind him over his shoulder, and pulled out a letter from his quiver, which he gave to me, telling me that my boy was alive, and bade me be of good cheer, and not to be out of heart because he was a slave, for he had been bought by a Christian priest.

“Then I, being without money or home, and unable thus to reward the fellow, blessed him with many tears, and prayed that he might be abundantly rewarded by God for the joy he gave me, I being unable to offer him anything.

“But I, as soon as I reached the city, went first of all to the church, as to the source of all good, and I gave honour there to God, watering the pavement with my tears, and filling the sacred building with the sound of my sobs. Thence I was guided to the house where my son was, sending first of all before me messengers to break the news of my coming. All knew me, by the report which had preceded me, to be the father of the boy who had been sold there, and there was not a person all along the street who did not express joy, in countenance, and running out of their houses with glad faces, seemed as though each rejoiced with me over a lost son re-found.

“Now when we came to the door of the house, he was called out and told that I was there, and they brought him to salute me. And when we saw one another, we did not rejoice, nor exclaim at first, but both cried till our tears dribbled over our breasts. He ran to me, but scarcely knew me, I was so ragged in dress, and my hair uncombed. Believing what others said rather than knowing me, he came with arms outspread and clasped me round with bursting heart. But I knew him when he was a long way off, though there were numbers of others there, for it was just the same face, stamped by constant remembrance on my mind; and unable to contain my joy, my strength suddenly failed me, and I fell down. Then the people, seeing me with open mouth on the ground, thought me dead. There was great outcry, but when my son had clasped me in his arms, my spirit came back, and I knew where I was, and who I was, whom I saw before me with mine eyes. Then I hugged him and he hugged me, never satisfying our great desire. However, at last, when more composed, I blamed myself to him as the cause of all these misfortunes, because I had taken him away from his home to a wild place which was full of danger, and it was so, as I said.”

Then Theodulus told his father all his adventures with the Arabs. “Father,” said he, “on the night after we were taken, the barbarians had prepared everything for a sacrifice, altar, sword, incense, and the like, and we thought we were sure to be killed and offered up on the morrow. Then my fellow captive, in the night, ran away and escaped, but I was afraid to do so, not knowing whither to go in the desert, but I prayed to God till I fell asleep. And, waking early in the morning when dawn broke on the horizon, I knelt with my hands on my knees, and my face bowed upon them, wetting my bosom with my tears, and again with my whole heart I cried out to Him who alone could deliver me, ‘Thou, Lord, alone hast power over life and death. Thou hast shown wonders of old and hast delivered Thy servants out of peril. Thou didst save Isaac, lying on the altar, and Joseph from the hands of his brethren. Save me, too, for Thy great Name’s sake.’

“Then, presently, the Arabs awoke, and making a great noise because my companion was gone, asked me where he was; but when I said that I did not know, because I had not run away, they were not angry. Then my mind became calm, and I blessed God. After that they consulted, and brought me to the city to sell me. They stripped me naked, and put a sword round my neck, to show that if I was not bought they would kill me. Then I was exposed for sale, auJ I stretched out my hands suppliantly to the purchasers to save me from death, promising my glad service if they would redeem my blood. Then after a while he came by and bought me, even the Bishop of this place.”

Now the Bishop had bought the boy out of charity, and he at once surrendered him to his father, regarding nothing the price he had paid for him, and he, moreover, furnished them with food for their long journey home; and before he dismissed them, feeling confident of their vocation, he ordained together to the priesthood both father and son.

MLA Citation

  • Sabine Baring-Gould. “Saints Theodulus, Priest Paul, Proclus, Hypatius, Isaac, and Others, Monks and Martyrs at Sinai”. Lives of the Saints, 1897. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 January 2014. Web. 22 November 2017. <>