As this period was distinguished by many holy men, who devoted themselves to a life of philosophy, it seems requisite to give some account of them, for in that time there flourished a very great abundance of men beloved of God. There was not, it appears, a more celebrated man in Egypt than John. He had received from God the power of discerning the future and the most hidden things as clearly as the ancient prophets, and he had, moreover, the gift of healing those who suffered with incurable afflictions and diseases. Or was another eminent man of this period; he had lived in solitude from his earliest youth, occupying himself continually in singing the praises of God. He subsisted on herbs and roots, and his drink was water, when he could find it. In his old age he went, by the command of God, to Thebaïs, where he presided over several monasteries, nor was he without part in divine works. By means of prayer alone he expelled diseases and devils. He knew nothing of letters, nor did he need books to support his memory; for whatever he received into his mind was never afterwards forgotten.
Ammon, the leader of the monks called Tabennesiotians, dwelt in the same region, and was followed by about three thousand disciples. Benus and Theonas likewise presided over monastic orders, and possessed the gift of foreknowledge and of prophecy. It is said that though Theonas was versed in all the learning of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans, he practiced silence for the space of thirty years. Benus was never seen to manifest any signs of anger, and never heard to swear, or to utter a false, a vain, a rash, or a useless word.
Copres, Helles, and Elias also flourished at this period. It is said that Copres had received from God the power of healing sickness and divers diseases, and of overcoming demons. Helles had from his youth upwards been trained in the monastic life, and he wrought many wonderful works. He could carry fire in his bosom without burning his clothes. He excited his fellow-monks to the practice of virtue by representing that with a good conduct, the display of miracles would follow. Elias, who practiced philosophy near the city of Antinoüs, was at this period about a hundred and ten years of age; before this he said he had passed seventy years alone in the desert. Notwithstanding his advanced age, he was unremitting in the practice of fasting and courageous discipline.
Apelles flourished at the same period, and performed numerous miracles in the Egyptian monasteries, near the city of Acoris. He at one time worked as a smith, for this was his trade; and one night the devil undertook to tempt him to incontinence, by appearing before him in the form of a beautiful woman; Apelles, however, seized the iron which was heating in the furnace, and burnt the face of the devil, who screamed like a wild bird and ran away.
Isidore, Serapion, and Dioscorus, at this period, were among the most celebrated fathers of the monks. Isidore caused his monastery to be closed, so that no one could obtain egress or ingress, and supplied the wants of those within the walls. Serapion lived in the neighborhood of Arsenoites, and had about a thousand monks under his guidance. He taught all to earn their provisions by their labors and to provide for others who were poor. During harvest-time they busied themselves in reaping for pay; they set aside sufficient corn for their own use, and shared it with the rest of the monks. Dioscorus had not more than a hundred disciples; he was a presbyter, and applied himself with great exactness to the duties of his priesthood; he examined and carefully questioned those who presented themselves as candidates for participation in the holy mysteries, so that they might purify their minds and not be without a consciousness of any evil they might have committed. The presbyter Eulogius was still more scrupulous in the dispensation of the Divine mysteries. It is said that, when he was officiating in the priestly office, he could discern what was in the minds of those who came to him, so that he could clearly detect sin, and the secret thoughts of each one of his audience. He excluded from the altar all who had perpetrated crime or formed evil resolutions, and publicly convicted them of sin; but, on their purifying themselves by repentance, he again received them into communion.