(348-465) Shenute (or Shenoute) was the abbot of the White Monastery in Egypt. He is considered a saint by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and is one of the most renowned saints of the Coptic Orthodox Church. (Wikipedia).
Shenoute was born in the middle of the fourth century AD (the date 348 AD, often mentioned but not universally accepted, is based on an inscription in his monastery, dating from the twelfth or thirteen century).
Around 385 AD, Shenoute became the father of the White Monastery in Upper Egypt. It has often been assumed that Shenoute was the immediate successor of the White Monastery’s founder, Pcol. However, the reconstruction of Shenoute’s literary corpus made it possible to realize that Pcol died in the 370s and was then succeeded not by Shenoute but by another father, Ebonh, and that a spiritual crisis during Ebonh’s tenure as head of the White Monastery, a crisis which seems to have involved carnal sin, enabled Shenoute to come to prominence and to become Ebonh’s immediate successor.
Because of his popularity in Upper Egypt and his zeal for Orthodoxy, Shenoute was chosen by Saint Cyril the Great to accompany him in representing the Church of Alexandria at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. There he provided the moral support that Saint Cyril needed to defeat the heresy of Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople. The eventual exile of the latter to Akhmim, Shenoute’s backyard, was a testimony to the impression that Shenoute had made upon the attendees of this council.
On 14 July 466 AD, following a short illness possibly brought upon by advanced age, Shenoute died in the presence of his monks.
From his uncle, Saint Pigol, Shenoute inherited a monastery based on the Pachomian system, though more austere and stringent. This made its followers few in number and probably promoted decline rather than growth. Shenoute implemented a more comprehensive system that was less stringent and more suitable to the surroundings and the background of the people. This new system had an unusual component, which was a covenant (diatheke) to be recited and adhered to literally by the new novices. It read as follows:
I vow before God in His Holy Place, the word which I have spoken with my mouth being my witness; I will not defile my body in any way, I will not steal, I will not bear false witness, I will not lie, I will not do anything deceitful secretly. If I transgressed what I have vowed, I will see the Kingdom of Heaven, but will not enter it. God before whom I made the covenant will destroy my soul and my body in the fiery Hell because I transgressed the covenant I made.
— Bell, the Life of Shenute by Besa, pp.9-10
Transgressors of that covenant were expelled from the monastery altogether. This was considered a near death sentence for those peasant monks.
Another interesting feature of Shenoute’s monastic system was the requirement for the new novices to live outside the monastery for a period of time before they were deemed worthy to be consecrated as monks. This seemed to be at odds with the Nitrian monastic system, which allowed the monks to live away from the monastic settlements only after they became proficient in the monastic life. Shenoute also utilized the time of the monks, outside prayer and worship, in more varied tasks within the monastery than the Nitrian monks were exposed to. Aside from the traditional trades of rope and basket weaving, the monks engaged in weaving and tailoring linen, cultivation of flax, leather work and shoe-making, writing and book-binding, carpentry, and metal and pottering-making. All in all, Shenouda tried as much as possible to employ the monks in their old professions. Such activities made the monastery a vast self-supporting complex, which occupied some 20 square miles (52 km2) of land.
As a monastic leader, Shenoute recognized the need for literacy among the monks. So he required all his monks and nuns to learn to read and encouraged more of them to pursue the art of writing manuscripts. This made the monastery more and more appealing to belong to and consequently made the threat of expulsion more painful.