Mothers of Egyptian Monasticism: Sarah, Theodora, and Synclitica

At the beginning of monastic life, three extraordinary women left us a spiritual legacy: Syncletica, Sarah and Theodora. Her spiritual motherhood applies not only to women, whether they are virgins or married women, but also to monks.

Maria Luciana Tartaglia OSB
Papal Athens of Saint Anselmo, Rome

“How do I get salvation?” This was the question asked to mothers and godfathers in the deserts of ancient Egypt, who wanted to know what they were doing in the desert. A concrete life must be “done” to be saved.

What paths should one take, what ascetic exercises should one undertake, what virtues should one strive for, and how should one put an end to the attacks and temptations of Satan, that is, how should one live here and now to attain eternal life? The cautionary and didactic words of these two Apophthegmata and Amma were collected from late ancient Egyptian monasticism, which were intended to aid their monastic and secular students, and recorded in writing in various series of Apophthegmata Patrum.

The most important groups are certainly those Alphabet symbolThe sayings are arranged alphabetically according to the author’s name geronticon Arranged by themes such as humility, obedience, charity, and non-judgment. The alphabetic group includes 133 fathers and three mothers: Sarah, Theodora, and Cyntlica. Although they were small in number compared to the parents, they were no less important. Their sayings are an important testament to their fame, their education, and the role they played.

But who are these mothers whose sole purpose in life was to follow the risen Lord?

They were women who devoted their lives from a young age to monasticism, in their homes and in the seclusion of a tomb like Syncletica, or in lonely places like Sarha, or in a quinobium like Theodora, in order to walk the path of cruel asceticism. Who led them, guided by the Holy Spirit, to the highest peaks of virtue.

This spiritual journey also gave them the gift of spiritual leadership, that is, they knew how to guide those who came to them seeking salvation through the enlightened discernment of God’s Word. They were always ready to admonish, encourage, console, accompany sternness and tenderness, enveloping their spiritual sons and daughters in their prayers so that after overcoming all the snares of Satan they could be revived and transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Her spiritual motherhood extended not only to women, be they virgins or wives, but also to monks, Abbasids, priests, bishops and lay believers. Spiritual leadership was not related to sexual factors but to the journey made by the Holy Spirit. Because she was the “woman of God” and belonged to the “pneumatophores” (spirit bearers). This enabled them “to quietly anchor the ship in the haven of salvation, and to make faith in God a safe anchor” (Syncletics Life 19). This mother was a reference point for the entire monastic and ecclesiastical community.

Traditions of the Three Spiritual Mothers

From Sarrha, Theodora and Synkletika many apophthegmata were delivered, instructions for a simple but safe spiritual path. Sarah, for example, pays special attention to the correct and constructive way of communicating with one’s neighbor, in the freedom and purity of the soul, without being swayed by the desire to be accepted and judged by others. She says, “If I beg God to be on good terms with people, I will find at everyone’s door to make penance. But I will ask more that my heart be pure toward all”(bundle 5).

On the other hand, Theodora emphasizes endurance of suffering and any adversity, “About time [des Lebens] to win and buy Theodora 1). Because pain and trial can make us grow and progress, and lead us to eternal life: “He is like trees: unless they receive storms and rain, they do not bear fruit. So this Aeon is also a storm to us. Only through many tribulations and trials have we become heirs of the kingdom of heaven “(Theodora 2).

Synkletika deepens the theme of the universal call to holiness, because this is the fruit of personal commitment and faith in God at work in us. It warns the worshipers with the following words:It seems to us that we are walking on calm seas while dangers surround the peoples of the world. We move by day with the sun of righteousness, and they move by night after ignorance. But it often happens that on a stormy night, by shouting and watching those who are in the world, the boat can be saved, while we carelessly drown in the calm sea because we have cast off the oar of justice ”(syncletics 26).

These mothers are figures that have not been sufficiently known and appreciated by scholars, academics and theologians, for a very long time. Today it must be rediscovered to appreciate the role that women have played in the history of the Church.

(Vatican News – Mr.)

Leave a Comment