Chapter XXXI.—Concerning the Monks of Nitria, and the Monasteries called Cells; about the One in Rhinocorura; about Melas, Dionysius, and Solon.
They call this place Nitria. It is inhabited by a great number of persons devoted to a life of philosophy, and derives its name from its vicinity to a village in which nitre is gathered. It contains about fifty monasteries, built tolerably near to each other, some of which are inhabited by monks who live together in society, and others by monks who have adopted a solitary mode of existence. More in the interior of the desert, about seventy stadia from this locality, is another place called Cellia, 1496 throughout which numerous little dwellings are dispersed hither and thither, and hence its name; but at such a distance that those who dwell in them can neither see nor hear each other. They assemble together on the first and last days of each week; and if any monk happen to be absent, it is evident that he has been left behind involuntarily, having been hindered by suffering some disease; they do not all go immediately to see and nurse him, but each one in turn at different times, and bearing whatever each has suitable for disease. Except for such a cause, they seldom converse together, unless, indeed, there be one among them capable of communicating further knowledge concerning God and the salvation of the soul. Those who dwell in the cells are those who have attained the summit of philosophy, and who are therefore able to regulate their own conduct, to live alone, and are separated from the others for the sake of quietude. This is what I had briefly to state concerning Scetis and its philosophers. Some one would probably censure my writing as prolix, were I to enter into further details concerning their mode of life; for they have established individual courses of life, labors, customs, exercises, abstinence, and time, divided naturally according to the age of the individual.
Rhinocorura was also celebrated at this period, on account of the holy men, not from abroad, but who were natives of the place. I have heard 1497 that the most eminent philosophers among them were Melas, who then administered the church of the country; Dionysius, who presided over a monastery situated to the north of the city; and Solon, the brother and successor to the bishopric of Melas. It is said that when the decree for the ejection of all priests opposed to Arianism was issued, the officers appointed to apprehend Melas found him engaged as the lowest servant, in trimming the lights of the church, with a girdle soiled with oil on his cloak, and carrying the wicks. When they asked him for the bishop, he replied that he was within, and that he would conduct them to him. As they were fatigued with their journey, he led them to the episcopal dwelling, made them sit down at table, and gave them to eat of such things as he had. After the repast, he supplied them with water to wash their hands; for he served the guests, and then told them who he was. Amazed at his conduct, they confessed the mission on which they had arrived; but from respect to him, gave him full liberty to go whereever he would. He, however, replied that he would not shrink from the sufferings to which the other bishops who maintained the same sentiments as himself were exposed, and that he was willing to go into exile. Having philosophized from his youth, he had exercised himself in all the monastic virtues.
Solon quitted the pursuits of commerce to embrace a monastic life, a measure which tended greatly to his welfare; for under the instruction of his brother and other ascetics, he progressed rapidly in piety towards God, and in goodness towards his neighbor. The church of Rhinocorura having been thus, from the beginning, under the guidance of such exemplary bishops, never afterwards swerved from their precepts, and produced good men. The clergy of this church dwell in one house, sit at the same table, and have everything in common.
See above, note on c. 29. For Nitria and Cellia, see Ruf. H. M. 21, 22; Pallad. H. L. 69.369:1497
This is independent.