Acoemetae

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Acoemetae (or "Acoemeti") was an order of monks in the 5th century, who by turns, kept up a divine service day and night. The order was founded about the year 400, by one Alexander, a man of noble birth, who fled from the court of Byzantium to the desert, both from love of solitude and fear of episcopal honours.

Alexander[edit]

When Alexander returned to Constantinople to establish the laus perennis, he brought with him the experience of a first foundation on the Euphrates, and three hundred monks. The enterprise, however, proved difficult, owing to the hostility of Patriarch Nestorius and Emperor Theodosius II. Driven from the monastery of St. Mennas, where he had been reared in the city, and thrown with his monks on the hospitality of St. Hypathius, Abbot of Rufiniana, he finally succeeded in building the monastery of Gomon at the mouth of the Black Sea where he died, about 440.

Successors[edit]

His successor, Abbot John, founded the Irenaion, on the eastern shore of the Bosphorus, opposite Sostenium or Istenia. In ancient documents it was referred to as the "great monastery", or motherhouse of the Acoemetae. Under the third abbot, St. Marcellus, when the hostility of Patriarch and Emperor had somewhat subsided, Studius, a former Consul, founded the famous Studion. Chiefly under Abbot Theodore (759-826), the Studion became a centre of learning, as well as piety, and brought to a culmination, the glory of the order. On the other hand, the very glamour of the new "Studites" gradually cast into the shade, the old Acoemetae.

Monasteries[edit]

The feature that distinguished the Acoemetae from the other Basilian monks was the uninterrupted service of God. Their monasteries, which numbered hundreds of monks and sometimes went into the thousand, were distributed in national groups, Latins, Greeks, Syrians, and Egyptians; and each group, into as many choirs as the membership permitted, and the service required. With them, the divine office literally carried out Psalm cxviii, 164: "Seven times a day have I given praise to Thee," consisting as it did, of seven hours: orthrinon, trite, ekte, enate, lychnikon, prothypnion, mesonyktion, which through St. Benedict of Nursia, passed into the Western Church under the equivalent names of prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, compline, matins (nocturns), and lauds.

The influence of the Acoemetae on Christian life was considerable. The splendour of their religious services largely contributed to shape the liturgy. Their idea of the laus perennis and similar institutions passed into the Western Church with St. Maurice of Agaune and St. Denys. Our modern perpetual adoration is a remnant of it.

Even before the time of the Studites, the copying of manuscripts was in honour among the Acoemetae, and the library of the "Great Monastery", consulted even by the Roman Pontiffs, is the first, mentioned by the historians of Byzantium. The recension of 2,000 letters of Isidore of Pelusium known to us from the manuscripts is ascribed in some of the manuscripts to the Acometae in the 6th century.

The Acoemetae took a prominent part — and always in the sense of orthodoxy — in the Christological discussions raised by Nestorius and Eutyches, and later, in the controversies of the Icons. They proved strong supporters of the Apostolic See, in the schism of Acacius, as did the Studites in that of Photius.

6th century[edit]

In the sixth century, while trying to combat the Eutychian tendencies of the Scythian monks, some Acoemetae themselves were influenced by Nestorianism, and were excommunicated by Pope John II. But this acceptance of Nestorianism was limited to only a comparatively small number of their members (quibusdam paucis monachis, says a contemporary document), and it could not seriously detract from the praise, given their order, by the Roman Synod of 484:

"Thanks to your true piety towards God, to your zeal ever on the watch, and to a special gift of the Holy Ghost, you discern the just from the impious, the faithful from the miscreants, the Catholics from the heretics."

Etymology[edit]

Greek akoimetai, from:

  • a: privative or lack of what is needed for existence
  • koiman: to rest

Akoimetai therefore means "without rest, unceasing". The term is sometimes used as an appellation for all Eastern ascetics, known by the rigour of their vigils. Usually, however, the name is used for a special order of Greek or Basilian monks, devoting themselves to prayer and praise without intermission, day and night.

See also[edit]

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