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Evagrius Ponticus

Evagrius Ponticus

(Greek: Εὐάγριος ὁ Ποντικός, "Evagrius of Pontus"; Georgian: ევაგრე ქართველი), also called Evagrius the Solitary (345–399 AD), was a Christian monk and ascetic. One of the most influential theologians in the late fourth-century church, he was well known as a thinker, polished speaker, and gifted writer. He left a promising ecclesiastical career in Constantinople and traveled to Jerusalem, where in 383 he became a monk at the monastery of Rufinus and Melania the Elder. He then went to Egypt and spent the remaining years of his life in Nitria and Kellia, marked by years of asceticism and writing. He was a disciple of several influential contemporary church leaders, including Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Macarius of Egypt. He was a teacher of others, including John Cassian and Palladius of Galatia.

Life

There are five main sources of information on Evagrius's life. Firstly, there exists a biographical account in chapter 38 of The Lausiac History of bishop Palladius of Helenopolis (c.420); Palladius was a friend and disciple of Evagrius, and spent about nine years sharing Evagrius's life in the desert. Secondly, there is a chapter on Evagrius in the anonymous Enquiry about the monks of Egypt, which predates Palladius, and is a first-hand account of a voyage taken by seven monks from Palestine in the winter of 394-5 to the principal monastic sites in Egypt. The final three sources are briefer and with more distinct biases: Evagrius features in some of the Apophthegmata literature, as well as in the church histories of Socrates and Sozomen.[4]:11f[full citation needed] Evagrius was born into a Christian family in the small town of Ibora, modern-day İverönü, Erbaa[5] in the late Roman province of Helenopontus. He was educated in Neocaesarea, where he was ordained as a lector under Basil the Great. Around 380 he joined Gregory of Nazianzus in Constantinople, where Gregory had been installed as bishop, and was promoted to deacon. He stayed on in Constantinople after Gregory left in July 381, and eventually became an archdeacon. When Emperor Theodosius I convened the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, Evagrius was present, despite Gregory's premature departure. According to the biography written by Palladius, Constantinople offered many worldly attractions, and Evagrius's vanity was aroused by the high praise of his peers. Eventually, he became infatuated with a married woman. Amid this temptation, he is said to have had a vision in which he was imprisoned by the soldiers of the governor at the request of the woman's husband. This vision, and the warning of an attendant angel, made him flee from the capital and head for Jerusalem.[6] For a short time, he stayed with Melania the Elder and Rufinus of Aquileia in a monastery near Jerusalem, but even there he could not forsake his vainglory and pride. He apparently took special care of his dress, and spent much of his time sauntering through the streets of the cosmopolitan Holy City.[7]:264 He fell gravely ill and only after he confessed his troubles to Melania, and accepted her instruction to become a monk was he restored to health.[7]:264 After being made a monk at Jerusalem in 383, he joined a cenobitic community of monks in Nitria in Lower Egypt in around 385,[7]:264 but after some years moved to Kellia. There he spent the last fourteen years of his life pursuing studies under Macarius of Alexandria and Macarius the Great (who had been a disciple of Anthony the Great, and lived at the monastic colony of Scetis, about 25 miles away).[7]:264 Evagrius lived an ascetic life. He ate only once a day and did not consume fruit, meat or vegetables or any cooked food.[8] He also refrained from bathing. His extreme diet ruined his digestive tract and it is suspected he suffered from urinary tract stones.[8] Evagrius did not sleep more than third of a night and devoted much time to contemplation and prayer.[8]

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