Saint Pishoy the Great is the founder of the monastery called after his name in Wadi El-Natroun. His name is “Pishoy” in Coptic, the equivalent of “Sammy”, meaning just. In French his name is St. Paisious, and the church mentions him in the liturgy as “The Perfect Man, the Beloved by our Good Savior” (al-ragol al-kamil habeeb mokhalisona al-saleh). He is also called “The Star of the Wilderness” (kawkab el-barieah).
Our saint was born 320 A.D. around the Nile’s Delta in Egypt. His righteous mother raised him up, after his father’s death, along with his six siblings. God has rewarded his mother for her well-upbringing of her children by sending to her His angels and chose Pishoy to become a servant for Him for the rest of his life.
In 340 A.D., when Pishoy was 20 years old, he went to the “Isqiet” wilderness and became a student of Saint Bimwa, who was a student of Saint Abu Makar the great. Over there, Pishoy, became a spiritual friend of the saint who was famous for obedience, St. Yuhanis the dwarf—who planted a dry stick in obedience of his teacher Saint Bimwa and it grew and became a fruitful tree through the blessing of his obedience.
When Saint Bimwa departed, God’s Angel appeared to Saint Pishoy and informed him that God wants him to live in solitude in the neighboring region, east of Saint Yuhanis’ place, because he will become a father and guidance to many monks. Saint Pishoy obeyed and lived in a cave (still exists to date in the famous Saint Mary’s monastery in El-Surian). For the strength of Saint Pishoy’s love of our Good Savior, he wanted to continue his conversation with God throughout prayer as long as possible so he used to tie his hair with a rope attached to the ceiling of his cave to wake him up if he fell asleep so that he continues his prayer to his beloved. And for that reason he was called “the Beloved by our Good Savior.”
Also, because of how much he liked prayer and meditation for God, he used to forget to eat the earthly food for many days, sustaining himself with the spiritual food of prayer, meditation, and reading the living word of God. Every person he got to meet used to get filled with peace, happiness, and assurance, and went away content. As a result he had a following of 2400 people who lived the life of continuous happiness under his guidance, and they lived in scattered caves in the mountain. They also used to gather around Saint Pishoy “like bees surrounding honey” as some of the old manuscripts stated. God’s promise to Saint Pishoy was fulfilled when He appeared to him when he first started living in his cavern, that “the entire mountain will be filled with worshipers under his guidance.”
Saint Pishoy was an energetic worker who ate from the work of his own hands. He once said to his disciples “I did not eat food provided by any person … my children, work with your hands to sustain yourselves and to make enough to give to charity as well.”
It is also mentioned about his defending of the faith, when he saved one of the teachers from a religious heresy without harming his feelings using a simple, wise way. He won him and won all of his following as well. Having heard of an ascetic in the mountain of Ansena who taught that there was no Holy Spirit, Saint Pishoy went to him carrying a weaved basket with three ears. When the old man asked him about the reason for making three ears for a basket, Saint Pishoy replied “I have a Trinity, and everything I do is like the Trinity”. After much debate from the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, the old ascetic reverted to the true faith.
He was not just pleasant, humble, emotionally sensitive, and sensitive to others’ feelings, but also he used to respect everyone’s humanity and his loving heart always listened to the poor and needy. For that he was called “the Perfect, Righteous Man.” (al-ragol al-bar al-kamil). With a humble heart, he used to carry all the trouble of his disciples and their weaknesses, while fasting so that he will lead them to the life of strive. He used to pray intermittently so that God will keep his disciples’ souls in the faith.
Because of his humbleness he used to wash the feet of strangers and visitors without knowing who they are or even looking at their face. For that reason, Jesus appeared to him posing as a stranger (the same way he appeared to Abraham in the Old Testament) and Saint Pishoy washed His holy feet and he did not know Him until he saw the scars of the crucifixion on His feet.
Because of the sympathy of Saint Pishoy’s heart, he carried an old man in the road and later he found that He was the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus then promised him that his body whom he kept pure and served through it all the people and the needy, and controlled it by spiritual exercises, will stay without decay because it carried Him. And, indeed, Saint Pishoy’s body is still without decay to date, and without being preserved chemically in any way or mummified.
It was also mentioned about him that he did not hurt the feelings of a person who was talking during one of Saint Pishoy’s sermons, and when that person saw the capacity of Saint Pishoy’s good heart he stopped talking and apologized.
Saint Pishoy was also spiritually detached from money and materialistic things. He refused what one of the rich people brought to him one day of gold and silver (since God informed him of this devil’s trick who wanted to keep him away from worship). So Saint Pishoy advised the rich man to return with his gold and silver and distribute it amongst the poor and the needy to win God’s blessing for him. When the rich man left him and Saint Pishoy returned back to his cubicle, the devil cried at him saying: “Oh, you!… you always ruin my tricks with your modesty” So Saint Pishoy answered him in meekness and vulnerability saying: “Since you fell, oh devil, and God spoils all your tricks against His children.”
Saint Pishoy loved his spiritual children and interacted with them as a loving father. He used to cry for his sins like Armia the prophet to the point he was called Saint Pishoy the Armian (Pishoy El-Army). He kept striving in prayer for one of his disciples who sinned until he came back repenting to God.
Many times Jesus appeared to Saint Pishoy because of his great love for Him. Saint Pishoy used to know many matters because of his prophetic spirit. Through it he knew the coming of Saint Ifram the Syrian from Syria before he actually came to visit him when he heard about his great spirituality. Saint Pishoy asked from God to give him a Syrian tongue so that he will be able to speak with the Syrian guest, and so it was granted to him.
In 407/408 A.D., as the Berbers invaded the wilderness of Scetes, Saint Pishoy did not want to stay at the monastery so that one of the Berber will not kill him and therefore the Berberine will lose his soul for it. So Saint Pishoy left and dwelt in the mountain of Ansena in Upper Egypt. At this time he met Saint Paul of Tammah in Antinopolis and the two became very close friends. While at the mountain of Ansena, Saint Pishoy built another monastery, the monastery of Saint Pishoy at Dayr al-Barsha, which exists until today near Mallawi. Saint Pishoy departed on 8 Epip (July 15) 417 AD.
On December 13 841 AD, 4 Koiak 557 AM, Pope Joseph I fulfilled the desire of Saint Pishoy and moved his body as well as that of Saint Paul of Tammah to the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in the wilderness of Scetes. It is said that they first attempted to move the body of Saint Pishoy only, but when they carried it to the boat on the Nile, the boat would not move until they brought in the body of Saint Paul of Tammah as well. Today, the two bodies lie in the main church of the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of Saint Pishoy in the Nitrian Desert. Eyewitnesses recount that the body of Saint Pishoy remains in incorruption until the present day.
May his blessings be with us all. Amen.