Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Cave Dweller - Life of Fr. Benyamin the Hermit

Fr. Benyamin walking out of his cave

Moving to Live in St. Bishoy Monastery:

From then on he went to the wilderness of Shiheet (Scetes) to be close to H.H. the Pope in St. Bishoy Monastery, and to get the necessary treatment with ease. He went there on Wednesday 27/10/1973, and just after the first month, he was officially affiliated with St. Bishoy Monastery. On Tuesday 30/10/1973, H.H. the Pope gave him the name of Benyamin El Anba-Bishoy, the name he is known by today.

His love for solitude there was apparent from the very beginning. He lived in a quiet cell and leaned towards the quiet life more than usual. As for his assigned work which he carried out for seven full years there, he was working in the monastery’s farms. He first worked in the farm by the lake, then at a farm located within the monastery itself and later in the monastery’s farm by the desert road. He was very successful in this particular work.

In his last period of illness, he told the Fathers present and the doctors who treated him that he could not bear the hard effort the work in the farms required of him. From there he started thinking of a different lifestyle.

During this period. some of the Fathers of St. Bishoy Monastery said that Fr. Benyamin carried out the rite of the weekly lock-up, he would not go out except only on Sundays.

He lived in a cell inside the retreat house building for the priests, and then he switched to one of the monks’ cell in the new building of the monastery (second floor).

He began urgently asking H.H. the Pope to give him permission to live in solitude (in the desert) and he kept asking for years until finally he [the Pope] allowed him this, and he [Fr. Benyamin] took a small cave close to Der El-Suryan. He began setting up the cave to make it suitable for living and from henceforth he lived in there from August, 1980, for seven years until his departure in the end of 1987.

Monday, 25 February 2013

His Tonsuring - Life of Fr. Benyamin the Hermit

Beginning in his monastic life

His Tonsuring:

During the few weeks Boules spent with the abbot of the monastery, the latter saw the sincerity of his desire and tested him. On 07/12/1970, he sent him to the monastery in the desert with a travelling caravan carrying the monks’ supplies that was headed to the monastery.

His love for this path was revealed in the first few months in the monastery, it was shown in his many struggles, his extraordinary love, his silence, quietness and calmness.

And on Tuesday 16/12/1971, H.H. Pope Shenouda III visited the monastery a month and a half after his enthronement. There he met Heg. Shenouda Fahim, priest of Mallawi who was Fr. Benyamin’s confessor. He was at the monastery as a delegate for the priests of Menya to meet with H.H. the Pope in the monastery. He met the young Boules and spoke greatly of him to H.H. the Pope.

On the next day, 17/12/1971 (7 Kiahk), H.H. the Pope tonsured Brother Boules and gave him the name: Monk Youannes El-Samoueli. He is most likely the first monk for H.H. the Pope to tonsure, Heg. Pachomios was another monk who was tonsured with him.

Next year on 06/10/1972, he received the blessing of the priesthood by the hands of H.G. Bp. Athanasius, Metropolitan of Beni Suef, God give him many years.

In the monastery he was appointed to work in the monastery’s farms, he is most likely one of the first to begin working on some of these lands next to the spring of water which the monastery drank from. Through this work he developed a love for silence and the life of a stranger (sojourner).

St. Samuel Monastery (1960)

Next to this, he could not bear the harsh life in the monastery of St. Samuel which was characterized by its lack of resources and hardships. Yet he did not complain of the extreme poverty of the monastery, the poverty which led to his infection with tuberculosis. As a result, he was forced to go to Cairo to present himself before the doctors to receive the necessary treatment, and he returned to the monastery. But he quickly returned to complain (express) of the symptoms of this dreaded disease which deteriorated him severely and H.H. the Pope requested to see him.

The Path of Monasticism - Life of Fr. Benyamin the Hermit

Coptic monks baking Orban

This incident had a great impact on Fr. Benyamin as he stated, and has filled his heart with the love of holiness. During the period of his recruitment, he gained the love and respect of his fellow officers and soldiers who were moved by his love and gentleness.

At the end of the period of the recruitment, when his grandfather felt that he began thinking of monasticism, he consulted Fr. Salama pastor of the church and the church’s committee. They agreed with him to give him [Fr. Benyamin] a piece of the land and to get him married so that he stays with him. So he began with the six (carats? –قراريط) of land to give to Boules.

When he [Fr. Benyamin] consulted his spiritual father, Fr. Salama about this, he advised him to be patient and obedient and to wait to see God’s work in him. The gloomy days went by and he found his grandfather withdrawing from his offer (the inheritance and the marriage). He went to Heg. Salama joyously, announcing to him this good news and what took place…a major obstacle has been removed from his path.

From here, Boules began preparing for the monastic life…

At first he received a letter of recommendation from Fr. Armeya Ekladios which he took with him to the monastery of the Virgin Mary in Biad on Tuesday 08/09/1970 (third of Mesra). There he received the rest of the rite of the Midnight Psalmody and other church matters like the baking of the sacramental bread (Qurban/Orban). He stayed there for forty days, and it was the beginning of his path towards the monastic life.

He returned once again to his hometown for two weeks before getting a recommendation letter for H.G. Bp. Athanasius Metropolitan of Beni Suef who was at the headquarters of St. Samuel Monastery in El-Zora, Maghagha of the province of Menya. On Tuesday 02/11/1970, there he met with the late Bp. Mina El-Samoueli abbot of the monastery who at the time was Heg. Mina El-Samoueli. He stayed with him for forty days as well.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A Strange Thing Took Place - Life of Fr. Benyamin the Hermit

Young Fr. Benyamin 

The person who accompanied Fr. Benyamin for many years before his monasticism was Cantor Abdo who was mentioned earlier. He learned from him the Midnight Psalmody and hymns, and began waking up early with him to pray the Psalmody before going out to the field. Later he was ordained deacon by the hands of the late Bishop Sawires, former metropolitan of Menya.

In regard to his behavior before monasticism, he loved reading, especially the lives of the saints. He was used to fasting until sunset every day and in the fasts like great Lent, he would sometimes abstain from food for two days. Others witnessed him when he ate simply and wisely.

The idea of monasticism began to develop in him before his recruitment period, while under the age of twenty. He began bringing this up with the priest and the chanter of the church until his recruitment in 1964, and he spent that period between Cairo and Alexandria. During the short holidays he would spend it with his relatives here and there,  and at this time something wondrous happened to him and he told us this himself:

One day during my 24 hour break I went immediately to my relatives’ home to spend the night there, but I couldn’t find anyone at home. So I went wandering around in the streets of Alexandria where I met a girl around my age. We started chatting about various things, some spiritual and some general. When it was evening, I left her so that we can meet the next day.

Pope Kyrillos VI

I went to one of the hotels to spend the night there, and in the morning I went out looking for her in different churches!!! But couldn’t find her anywhere, so I went into one of the churches feeling as if I was hurt.

I saw the late Pope Kyrillos VI censing  the church, so I stood in my place in the aisle where he was coming through. When he was right in front of me, he took the censer in his other hand and slapped me on the face and continued his way without uttering a word as if nothing happened! I was stuck in my place and felt the place of the slap.  I stood…I regretted… and went out immediately to my military unit.

I was very upset with myself, how could I be concerned with such a thing? And what is even stranger…how did the Pope know? He awakened me?!

His Childhood - Life of Fr. Benyamin

Fr. Benyamin the Hermit

Beginning Of His Life And Upbringing:

Boules Nagib Youssef (his name before monasticism) was born on April 20th, 1944 in the village of El-Bersha in Mallawi – province of Menya. His mom (Mariam Botros Saleh) passed away on 05/25/1950 when he was still six years old. When his father married a second time, it seemed as if it did not settle with him, or he wasn’t treated well by his grandmother and father. He turned to his grandfather (Botros Saleh) in the village of El-Malakeya, where he made a good living. His grandfather appointed him over his livestock and farm, he embraced him and allowed him to help his Uncle Lamey in the farm.

Boules (known in his hometown and among his family members as Sobhy) had three sisters: Priscilla, Raoufa and Theodora, and he is ranked second after Priscilla (order of birth). Boules entered a Coptic elementary school in his hometown which was affiliated with the church there. There he received his elementary school certificate, but circumstances did not permit him to complete any further studies.

Cantor Abdo (chanter of the Church of St. George in El-Malakeya) said that Fr. Benyamin, in his childhood, was like other children in their energy and hyperactivity. At the time, nothing about his personality distinguished him from other children.

Fr. Benyamin himself described himself saying, “I was arrogant, a lover of revenge.” He added that a lot of times he would cause brawls and fights between families from El-Malakeya to El-Bersha, but he would go back and ask God to save him and to save others, and God would save them.[1]

Among those who influenced him spiritually, in his blessed life, was a monk named Hegumen Ghabrial El-Muharraqy, who was accustomed to staying in the village in some seasons near Botros Saleh, Fr. Benyamin’s grandfather. He loved the child Boules very much; he would humor him and would talk to him a lot, especially about the Holy Bible and the lives of the Fathers. In turn, the child was affected by this Father and grew attached to him. The Father on his part, frequently visited this place for ten years.

Regarding this period, Fr. Benyamin himself said, “My grandfather highly esteemed this monk for ten years, and I began to serve my grandfather’s house, his farm, and livestock for ten years also, this was before my departure to the monastery.”

Father Hegumen Salama Ayoub (priest of the Church in El-Malakeya) also had an impact on Fr. Benyamin, who stood beside him and helped him a lot. Also, the late Hegumen Armeya Ekladios (shepherd of the Church in El-Bersha and his confessor) who as described by his congregation, has brought an ascetic spirit to his people there and discipled many, a good number of them became monks.

He was also greatly influenced by Mr. Ramsis, the active servant and beloved preacher who became Hegumen Gabrail Anba Bishoy who departed in 1996.


[1] From a conversation he had with Mrs. Mary in the hospital.