St Paphnutius

Commemorated on 19th April


St Paphnutius, a revered ascetic and defender of Orthodoxy, stood with dignity and truth alongside the Holy Fathers at the First Ecumenical Council in 325AD. There is limited information about Paphnutius’ life. We know he was a disciple of St Anthony the Great and lived in Egypt as a monastic in the fourth century. He later became a bishop.

During the fierce persecutions of Christians under Emperor Maximillian, Paphnutius was condemned to work in the mines. While there, he was brutally tortured and lost his right eye. He was later freed, and returned to Egypt to live as an ascetic. Later, during the First Ecumenical Council, Emperor Constantine the Great highly honoured Paphnutius before the gathered assembly of bishops by embracing him and kissing on his right eye-socket. During the Council, there arose a debate regarding the celibacy of priests. The elderly Paphnutius, himself a striking example of the virtue of celibacy, argued against the notion that forced all clergy to be celibate, even if they were married prior to their ordination. This had been discussed at a previous synod of bishops in Elvira, Spain, around 305AD, and had gathered support from many of the bishops who were present at the First Ecumenical Council.

Paphnutius argued that celibacy for priests should be optional and not compulsory. He was persuasive in defending the sanctity of marriage, inspired by the words of St Paul: “Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous” (Heb 13:4). St Paphnutius acquired the virtue of sanctity through his asceticism and boldness of faith, making an impression on all who listened to him. With the grace-filled, bold uprightness of holy men such as Paphnutius, who protected both the priesthood and the sanctity of marriage, the Church continues to live in purity and truth, according to the words of St Paul: “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).

Source: Lychnos April / May 2017