Icon of Onuphrius. Provenance and date unknown.
|Died||4th or 5th century|
|old hermit dressed only in long hair and a loincloth of leaves; hermit with an angel bringing him the Eucharist or bread; hermit with a crown at his feet|
|weavers; jurists |
Onuphrius or Onoufrios (
Onophrius was one of the
It is uncertain in which century Onuphrius lived; the account of
The name Onuphrius is thought to be a Hellenized form of a
According to Paphnutius’s account, Paphnutius undertook a pilgrimage to study the hermits’ way of life and to determine whether it was for him. Wandering in the desert for 16 days, on the 17th day, Paphnutius came across a wild figure covered in hair, wearing a loincloth of leaves. Frightened, Paphnutius ran away, up a mountain, but the figure called him back, shouting, “Come down to me, man of God, for I am a man also, dwelling in the desert for the love of God.”
Turning back, Paphnutius talked to the wild figure, who introduced himself as Onuphrius and explained that he had once been a monk at a large monastery in the Thebaid but who had now lived as a hermit for 70 years, enduring extreme thirst, hunger, and discomforts. He said that it was his guardian angel who had brought him to this desolate place. Onuphrius took Paphnutius to his cell, and they spoke until sunset, when bread and water miraculously appeared outside of the hermit's cell.
They spent the night in the prayer, and in the morning Paphnutius discovered that Onuphrius was near death. Paphnutius, distressed, asked the hermit if he should occupy Onuphrius’ cell after the hermit’s death, but Onuphrius told him, "That may not be, thy work is in Egypt with thy brethren." Onuphrius asked Paphnutius for there to be a memorial with incense in Egypt in remembrance of the hermit. He then blessed the traveler and died.
Due to the hard and rocky ground, Paphnutius could not dig a hole for a grave, and therefore covered Onuphrius’ body in a cloak, leaving the hermit’s body in a cleft of the rocks. After the burial, Onuphrius’ cell crumbled, which Paphnutius took to be a sign that he should not stay.
One scholar has written that Onuphrius’ life "fits the mold of countless desert hermits or anchorites... [However] despite its predictability, Paphnutius' Life of Onuphrius is marked by several unique details... the years of Onuphrius' youth were passed in a monastery that observed the rule of strict silence; a