Monasticism was born in Egypt and was instrumental in the formation of the Coptic Church’s character of submission and humbleness. Thanks to the teachings and writings of the Great Fathers of Egypt’s Deserts. Monasticism began in the Coptic Church towards the end of the third century, and flourished in the fourth. By the end of the fourth century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian hills. Many of these monasteries are still flourishing and have new vocations till this day.
Saint Anthony, the world’s first Christian monk was a Copt from Upper Egypt. Saint Pachom, who established the rules of monasticism, was a Copt. And, Saint Paul, the world’s first anchorite is also a Copt. Other famous Coptic desert fathers include Saint Makarios, Saint Moses the Black, and Saint Mina the wondrous. Saint John Cassian said that the traveler from Alexandria in the north to Luxor in the south would have in his ears along the whole journey, the sounds of prayers and hymns of the monks, scattered in the desert, from the monasteries and from the caves, from monks, hermits and anchorites. For the monks, monasticism was the life of prayer, contemplation, solitude, worship and purity of heart. They had nothing in their minds, hearts and feelings except God alone. They lived the calm and quiet life abiding in the Lord, detaching themselves from everything and everyone, to be attached to Him alone. The more contemporary desert fathers include the late Pope Cyril VI and his disciple Bishop Mina Abba Mina.
Coptic Monasticism is considered the most profound spiritual revival in the history of the Church. The news of the spiritual life of the monks spread everywhere. They did not write about themselves- there is no Coptic history about the Coptic monks. But people came from everywhere in order to hear a word from one of the monks, and to take it as a word of spiritual guidance and benefit throughout their life. Saint Palladius visited many monks and wrote his famous book, the `Paradise of the Fathers’, from which we learnt about these holy fathers, who neither spoke nor wrote, but kept silent. They were not preachers but they were living sermons, they were examples of the true life, they were the image of God on earth. They influenced monasticism in the world.