The Life of St. Thomas The Hermit
+ His Birth:
Abba Thomas was born in a village called Shenshif (north Ekhmim – Upper Egypt) of two pious parents who raised him in the fear of God. They brought him up well in all godliness and raised him in the Christian tradition. He led a quiet, peaceable life renouncing the vanities of the world and its lusts. Since his youth, he perceived that the world is passing away and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever [1 John 2:17]. Therefore he longed for monasticism, and dedicated his life for constant prayer and contemplation.
He left his home and headed towards the wilderness, where he lived in a cave in the mount of Shenshif. He led there an ascetic life following the example of Abba Antonius solitary monasticism.
+ His Spiritual Struggle:
His life was an example of, wisdom and spiritual vigilance. The gift of tears and the grace of unceasing prayers were endowed upon him by the Holy Spirit. He persevered in praising and praying night and day in love of the name of Jesus Christ. The angels and saints used to come to visit and encourage him. Therefore the mount of Shenshif where he lived became sanctified.
Although he shunned the attention, and loved solitude, he never stopped any of the fathers from meeting with him to benefit from his spiritual insight.
He was once praying and reciting Psalm (6):
O Lord do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your wrath when he became aware of the presence of three monks from the monastery of Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite, who were following him. They were reciting the Psalm: 97Sing to the Lord a new song for the Lord has wrought wonderful works.. Their voices were so sweet and angelic that he was filled with love of God, and joined them joyfully in praising and glorifying God the whole night.
+ He lived an ascetic life full of spiritual strife and great corporal austerity. He passed the night in vigil and prayers stemming of a pure heart full of love to our Lord Jesus Christ as the prophets saying, I meditate on You in the night watches because You have been my help. (Ps.63)
+He persevered in fasting and disdaining the bodily lusts. Thus he ate only once a week and his food was limited to herbs and legume without excess of food or drink.
Undoubtedly, his fasting and his prayers empowered him to overcome satanic warfare and granted him the gift of casting out the demons as it is written this kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting. (Mark 9: 29)
+ The Virtues of St. Thomas the Anchorite
+ Since his early youth, his intentions and thoughts were sanctified through prayer and fasting, that his heart knew nothing of sin or semi sin. He knew nothing but to love the Lord Jesus Christ and to abide unto Him. There is none upon earth that I desire beside You (Ps.73:25).This love captured his heart and prevailed over all his spiritual life. Furthermore he was concerned not only about his own salvation but also about that of others.
+ Purity of the heart is the characteristic feature which was attributed to the desert fathers. It is the purity which identified Adam in the Garden of Eden before his fall. It is also the merit which marked the Apostles who when our Lord Jesus Christ called them, they left all and followed Him.
+ Purity was the virtue which eased Abba Thomas’s life with God. He was likened to the angels, as that one of the disciples of Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite said after visiting Abba Thomas, I have just come back from the heavenly Jerusalem carrying many blessings.
+ Likewise he also acquired the virtue of holiness which made him worthy to see God and speak with Him. St. Peter the Apostle says, as He Who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1 Peter 1: 15). It is this holiness that qualifies one to see the Lord, for without it nobody can see Him, as pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)
Abba Thomas had such a fine reputation and a great spiritual standing throughout the wilderness that Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite and Abba Wissa his disciple witnessed to his holiness in a well known manuscript.
+ He led a life of perfection and undefiled conduct as written, you shall be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:48) Therefore Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite said to his disciples regarding him, Go to benefit of the light of the Mount of Shenshif and to realize to what extent Abba Thomas has been consummated in the virtues.
Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven. (Matt. 5:16).
+ St. Thomas and the fruit of the Spirit
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. [Ephesians 5:22]
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one to the profit of all, for one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the same Spirit, to another discerning of Spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. [1 Cor.12:4-11]
+ Revealing these gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit signifies the work of God to His saints, as, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will. [Heb. 2:4]
+ Abba Thomas was granted the gift of prophecy and predicting some of the future events. The Lord acquainted him with the hour of his departure. However, he preferred not to inform abba Shenouda of it, in order not to disturb him due to the mutual love between them. Nevertheless, when abba Shenouda requested a sign through which he would know that hour, Abba Thomas said to him, When the rock on which you used to rest in front of your cell splits in two, then you know it is the hour of my departure. Then Abba Thomas added, You will also follow me and fall asleep on the seventh day of the Coptic month Abib, and you will be greeted by a band of saints.
+ More importantly, that prophecy was fulfilled exactly as Abba Thomas had predicted and this was a witness to his gift of prophecy.
+ Among his many gifts was his natural talent in teaching and counseling based upon his wisdom and the function of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, the great fathers of the wilderness like Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite and his disciples longed to contact him to benefit of his high spiritual counsels, regardless of the hardships of traveling back and forth across the deserted wilderness. Yet they counted all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through the guidance of his saint, For in them you think you have eternal life and these are they which testify of Me. (John 5:39) And, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps. 119:105)
+ In addition, Abba Thomas was granted the gift of healing the sick and casting out the demons. The Lord said, However, this kind (the demons ) does not go out except by prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:21) And because he led an ascetic life and great corporal austerity persevering in praying and fasting, he was given the power over unclean spirits to cast them out and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. No wonder he was referred to as The physician.” Many people from all across Egypt and abroad frequented his monastery appealing for his prayers and blessings.
+ Due to the purity of his heart and his holiness he was granted the grace of discoursing with the Lord Jesus Christ. Few are those of whom we know who were granted this grace:Moses and Elijah the prophets (of the Old Testament) and Saint Paul the Apostle (of the New Testament).
It is difficult to perceive what kind of discourse occurred between the Lord and abba Thomas. However we have to assume that it was pertaining the heavenly Kingdom and eternal life.
+ Behold, if Saint Peter the Apostle rejoiced when he saw the transfiguration of Jesus Christ and heard His discourse with Moses and Elijah, that he shouted saying, Lord it is good for us to be here:(Matt. 17:4), then how much more was the excitement and joy of Abba Thomas when he saw our Lord Jesus Christ and talked to Him. I assume that he said to the Lord, I will not let You go unless You bless me. (Gen. 32:26). Just like what Jacob the father of the fathers had said. The Lord would say to him, Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful over a few things enter into the joy of your Lord. (Matt. 25:21).
+ Later on, as we examine the episode of the departure of abba Thomas we will see that prior to his falling asleep our Lord visited him to encourage and comfort him. Behold, instead of sending an angel or archangel, the Lord in Person visited him. However, Thomas was familiar with the presence of angels. Abba Wissa the disciple of Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite witnessed to this fact in his widely known manuscript. He claimed that the angels frequently came to minister to Abba Thomas, and to support him against the Satanic warfare and to save him from Satans malicious snares.
Worthy of notice, that the presence of the angel to Saint Paul and Silas the apostles in their prison shook the foundations of the prison and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. (Acts 16:26)
+ The Prophecy of St. Thomas
Oftentimes Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite would traverse the region between his monastery in the Western mount to the cell of Abba Thomas in Shenshif in the Eastern mount, to enjoy his company. These meetings were stamped with the spiritual fragrance that evidenced their love for our Lord Jesus Christ. They lived the heavenly life on earth as they spent the time in offering the sacrifice of praise to God. +Finally, on their last meeting, Abba Thomas Addressed Abba Shenouda saying, This is our last meeting together in flesh because the angel of the Lord told me tonight that the Lord will visit me shortly after. Then he continued saying, and he also told me of the day of our departure. Let your disciples look forward to that day as a sign to them forever. He referred to that day saying, That day will correspond with the birthday of Abba Kyrillos the Wise Man the Archbishop of Alexandria and Abba Boctor of the Kafous Monastery. Furthermore, on the day the seventh of the Coptic month Abib a choir of saints will come out to receive you.
Undoubtedly, Abba Thomas would be (after his departure) on the top of that choir of saints who would receive Abba Shenouda’s spirit, owing to the great love that bound them. While pondering that prophecy, Abba Shenouda asked Abba Thomas, “You have told me, father, about my departure, nevertheless how will I know of the hour of your departure?
However, Abba Thomas did not disclose that secret nor did he leave Abba Shenouda confused but he said to him, I tell you this as a sign unto which you would know the hour of my sleep. When you see that the rock on which you used to sit in front of your cell, had split in two, then you know that my soul has separated from my body. Then he added saying, “I ask you to come then to bury me. The archangel Raphael who took care of Tubit the son of Tubia in the foreign land, will lead you and your associates on the route to my place without a vessel. Then in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, do me a favor and lay my poor body in the ground to return earth to earth. In submission, Abba Shenouda yielded to Abba Thomas saying, Let Gods will be done.
In fact Abba Thomas was not concerned about his burial, but rather anxious to comfort Abba Shenouda and his disciples praying that they would see the heavenly reception of the souls of the righteous saints and enjoy the blessings of the presence of Christ with His angels.
At the end of their meeting they embraced one another and Abba Shenouda said to Abba Thomas, I bid you farewell until we meet in the heavenly Jerusalem. Then he returned back to his monastery to exceed his asceticism.
Back in his cell, Abba Shenouda kept pondering on what Abba Thomas had announced to him.
+ A few days later, Abba Shenouda was praying in front of his cell, when he noticed that the rock on which he used to sit had split in two. At that point, he sighed and said, Alas, the wilderness of Shenshif has lost its illuminating lamp, for Abba Thomas had filled the deserted wilderness with prayers and praises. Men from everywhere came seeking his teachings and guidance, and he gave them an example of piety, righteousness and holiness. Based upon his teachings and example, the region became crowded with saints and disciples.
Abba Shenouda looked up towards heaven and implored Abba Thomas saying, O Abba Thomas pray on our behalf that our Lord may forgive us our sins and help us as He helped you. As he was looking up towards heaven, he saw the Archangel Raphael approaching him saying, Peace be with you, the bosom friend of God and the beloved of Abba Thomas. Lets go and wrap the body of the beloved Abba Thomas, for the lord has sent me to carry you and lay the body of Abba Thomas in the earth.
+ Abba Shenouda felt comforted, and he followed the Archangel Raphael. It was night when he started his trip. On his way he met with Abba Tamrinus (one of his disciples) who was praying the first watch of the midnight prayer and reciting his Psalm. Abba Shenouda asked him to follow him, and being a monk who is committed to obedience, he yielded without argument. Furthermore, the presence of Archangel Raphael convinced him that something serious was imminent. Therefore he followed his teacher calmly while he continued reciting his Psalm.
During their wandering about amidst the cells, they met with Abba Okhnoukh The Courageous monk, who was firm in his faith. He was reciting the Psalm:90, He who dwells in the help of the Most High shall rest under the shelter of the God of heaven. When Abba Shenouda asked him to follow them, he did not hesitate but obeyed instantly.
Abba Shenouda kept walking, followed by Abba Temrinus and Abba Okhnoukh, with the Archangel Raphael was leading the way, until they met with Abba Yousab The Wise Writer, who was then reciting the Psalm: They are overthrown and fallen, but we are risen, and set upright (Ps.19). Abba Shenouda asked him to join them, and he immediately obeyed.
Heading to the altar, Abba Shenouda together with his associates of saints, raised to God a thanksgiving prayer, before they were miraculously carried to Abba Thomass cave without a vessel.
On entering Abba Thomass cave, Abba Shenouda saw Our Lord Jesus Christ and His angels (the Cherubim and the Seraphim) as well as David the prophet. He offered the worship to our Lord and addressed himself to David the prophet saying, Bless me O father. David the prophet then responded saying, Blessed is he who comes in the name of lord. Again abba Shenouda offered worship to the Lord, while David the prophet started to sing with his guitar saying, Our mouth is filled with gladness and our tongues with joy. Doubtless that joy was due to our lords presence and was based upon His promise to His disciples, I will see you again and your heart will rejoice and your joy no one will take from you. (John 16:22) Likewise it was the bliss of joining Abba Thomas to the choir of the saints of the victorious church.
After the consolation bestowed upon all who were in attendance, our lord Jesus Christ ascended to heaven with His angels carrying the spirit of Abba Thomas.
+The presence of our Lord at the hour of Abba Thomas departure recalls our Lords promise to His disciples, if I am lifted up from the earth will draw all peoples to Myself. (John 12:32) likewise His words, In My Fathers house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2-3) Abba Thomas was entitled to abide in such mansions, and there the Lord came to receive him in His kingdom.
May his prayers and blessings be with us all.