The Gǝʿǝz version of Stephen of Thebes’ Sermo asceticus

My current projects include the editio princeps of the Gǝʿǝz version of Stephen of Thebes’ Sermo asceticus, which is preserved in an unicum, namely EMML 4493, ff. 103r-105r (dated 1528 CE). Stephen is one of the most mysterious Egyptian ascetical writers, because our sources seem to lack any biographical information about him. Although Stephen of Thebes remains shrouded in mystery, the numerous versions of his writings attest to the wide diffusion this ascetic writer once enjoyed.

The first who attempted a reconstruction of the ascetic corpus attributed to Stephen was Jean Darrouzès in 1961.[1] Darrouzès remarked that the Greek manuscripts attribute to Stephen three writings: the Sermo asceticus, a Diataxis and a series of brief monastic Entolai. It has already been remarked that the Diataxis is nothing else than a compilation from Logoi 3 and 4 of Abba Isaiah of Scetis.[2] For his part, William Veder pointed out that the Old Slavonic tradition does not feature the Sermo asceticus but, besides the Diataxis and the Entolai, attributes to Stephen a brief work titled On the All-Night Vigils (о бъдѣнхъ вьсенощьнꙑхъ).[3] A homily on penitence (incipit: قال اسمعوا ما اقول لكم يا اخوتى واولادى الاحبا الشعب المسيحى المحاضرين فى هذة البيعة المقدسة نصرانى يخالف وصايا اللة ويمشى فى طريق الشيطان ليس هو نصرانى) and [4] is attributed to Stephen in Arabic.

Thus, the following works have been preserved in various languages under Stephen of Thebes’ name:

  1. Sermo asceticus (Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Gǝʿǝz, Georgian)
  2. Diataxis (Greek, Slavonic)
  3. Entolai (Greek, Slavonic)
  4. On the All-Night Vigils (Slavonic only)
  5. Sermon on Penitence (Arabic only)
  6. Sermon on Daniel and Moses (Arabic only)

Undoubtedly, the most important of these writings is the Sermo asceticus. Between 1964 and 1970, three versions of this text appeared. Thus, Jean-Marie Sauget published in 1964 the Arabic version.[5] Five years later, Édouard des Places edited the original Greek text of the Sermo asceticus.[6] Finally, Gérard Garitte edited the Georgian text of the same sermon in 1970.[7]

Portions of a fragmentary Sahidic version have been published by Tito Orlandi, but they have been wrongly attributed to Paul of Tamma.[8] Only later Enzo Lucchesi has identified correctly the text and attributed the fragments in question to their real author.[9]

There are other Coptic Sahidic fragments of this text. They will all be mentioned in my forthcoming article. Until then, here is an excerpt from the draft version of the edition and translation of the Gǝʿǝz version, which has previously been unknown.

If you don’t see properly the Ethiopic text, you probably must install THESE FONTS on your computer. Or, alternatively, you can download the text HERE as PDF.


Stephanus Thebanus, Sermo asceticus – versio aethiopica

በስመ፡ አበ፡ ወወልድ፡ ወመንፈስ፡ ቅዱስ፡ ፩አምላክ። ንወጥን፡ በረድኤተ፡ እግዚአብሔር፡ ወንጽሕፍ፡ ሐዳጠ፡ እመብዙኅ፡ እምቃለተ፡ አቡነ፡ ብዙ.፡ እስጢፋኖስ፡ ዘሀገረ፡ ተባይሲ፡ በእንተ፡ ሥርዓተ፡ ምንኵስና፡ ወመድኀኒተ፡ ነፍስ፡ ዶሠቲ፡ ወበረካቲ፡ ተሀሉ፡ ምስለ፡ ገብሩ፡ ለዓለመ፡ ዓለም፡ አሜን።

In the name of the Father, athe Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. We begin through the help of the Lord to write the words of Father Éstifanos of the Land of Täbaysi on the order of the monastic life. May the Redeemer of the soul be with his servant forever and ever, amen.

1. ወይእዘኒ፡ ወልድየ፡ መቅድመ፡ ኵሉ፡ ግብር፡ ክሐድ፡ ዓለመ፡ ወርሐቅ፡ እምሀግርከ፡ ወእምኣዝማዲከ፡ ወእምነ፡ ኵሉ፡ ግብር፡ ዘይመጽእ፡ ላዕሌከ፡ ትካዘ፡ ዝንቱ፡ ዓለም፡ ከመ፡ ትርእይ፡ ግብረ፡ ዘኅቡእ።

Now, my son, above all matters, renounce the world and stay away from your homeland and relatives (Gen 12:1), and from all matters that will come upon you, the troubles of this world, in order to see the hidden things.

2. ወቅላእ፡ ግላ፡ እምልብከ፡ ወርሐቅ፡ እምተዐውር፡ ወርስዓት፡ ከመ፡ ትርእይ፡ ዝኢየስተርኢ፡ ኩን።

Remove the veil from your heart, and stay away from negligence and godlessness in order to see the invisible (2. Cor 3:12-18).

3. ዓቃቢሃ፡ ለልብከ፡ ከመ፡ ታእመር፡ ዘየኀድር፡ ውስቴትከ፡ እስመ፡ ዐቂበ፡ ልብሰ፡ ለፍጹማን፡ ይእቲ፡ እለ፡ ይፈልጡ፡ እኩየ፡ እምነ፡ ሠናይ።

Guard your heart in order to understand what dwells inside you, for the guarding of the heart is of the perfect ones, who distinguish bad from good.

4. ወልድየ፡ ፍራህ፡ እምእግዚአብሔር፡ ወርሐቅ፡ እምትዕቤት፡ ወእምአከይ፡ ወቅንአት፡ ወእምውዳሴ፡ ከንቱ፡ ወክመስስ፡ ወእምአብዝኀ፡ነገር።

My son, fear the Lord and stay away from pride, wickedness, envy, vainglory, reproach and from idle talk.

5. ወርሐቅ፡ እምፍትወታተ፡ መባልዕት፡ ወእምራእየ፡ ዓይን።

Stay away from the desires of food and the sight of the eyes.

6. ወኢትኩን፡ ዘከልአ፡ ልሰን፡ ወርሐቅ፡ እምትወከሐት፡ ወመዐት፡ ወቍጥዐ።

Do not be dishonest and stay away from quarrels, anger, and aversion.

7. ወክሐድ፡ ሕሊናከ፡ ወኢትስሐቅ፡ ወርሐቅ፡ እምተደምሮ፡ ወሁከት፡ ወጒየይ፡ እምነ፡ ሐሜት፡ ወተሳልቆ፡ ላዕለ፡ ሰብእ፡ ወኢትፍቅድ፡ ምያጤ፡ ቃል፡ በምንትኒ፡ ግብር፡ እምነ፡ ግብራት።

Renounce your thought(s) and do not laugh. Stay away from confusion and disturbance. Flee from calumny and mockery against people. Do not want confusion of word(s) in anything out of all things.

8. ርሐቅ፡ እምፈታው፡ ወእምልመድ፡ አኪት፡ ወኢትኩን፡ .ከየ፡ ወኢኃያል፡ ከመ፡ ኢትደቅ፡ ውስተ፡ ቀትል።

Stay away from the desire and from the bad habit. Do not be lazy and coward in order not to fall in the battle.

9. ወልድየ፡ ኩን፡ ርቱዐ፡ በኵሉ፡ ግብርከ፡ ወኢትኩን፡ መድልወ፡ ምንትኒ፡ በንገርከ፡ እስመ፡ እግዚአብሔር፡ ያፈቅር፡ ነገረ፡ ጽድቅ።

My son, be righteous in all your deeds and do not be hypocrite in any of your words, because the Lord loves the righteous speech.

10. ወልድየ፡ ርሐቅ፡ እምስሕተት፡ ወኢትኩን፡ መፍቀሬ፡ አስተሓውዘ፡ ጣዕማት፡ ወኢትሀበሌ፡ ገጽ፡ ወባሕቱ፡ እጥሪ፡ በከ፡ ኃፍረተ፡ ሠናይ፡ ወኢትኩን፡ ዓላዌ፡ ከመ፡ ኢትሙት፡ እንበለ፡ ጊዜከ።

My son, stay away from transgression, do not be lover of pleasure and good taste nor insolent, but acquire solitude (and) good shame. Do not be disobedient in order not to die before your time (Eccl 7:17).

11. ወልድየ፡ ኢትኩን፡ ፈታዌ፡ ፍትወታት፡ ወኢመፍቀሬ፡ ብሩር፡ እስመ፡ አፍቅሮ፡ ብሩር፡ ሥርወ፡ ኵሉ፡ እክየት።

My son, do not be lustful nor lover of money, for the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10).

12. ኢትኩን፡ መደልወ፡ ወኢትፍቱ፡ ምንተኒ፡ ነኪረ፡ ወእንግዳ።

Do not be hypocrite and do not long for anything strange and alien.

13. ጒየይ፡ እምኃጢአት፡ ወእኩይ፡ ወኢትኩን፡ ሥሡዐ።

Flee from sin and evil and do not be greedy.

14. አኃዝ፡ ርእሰከ፡ ወኢትኩን፡ ተዓዛዜ፡ በሕሊናከ።

Master yourself and do not be overwhelmed by your thought(s).

15. ኢትኩን፡ ዕራቄ፡ ወርሐቅ፡ እምሐስት።

Do not be thief and stay away from lie.

16. ወኢትኩን፡ አብደ፡ ወባሕቱ፡ ጒየይ፡ እምጸለእ።

Do not be lazy but flee from quarrel.

17. ወኢታፍልስ፡ ነገረ፡ እመካን፡ ኀበ፡ መካን።

Do not move the thing(s) from place to place.

18. ወኢትኩን፡ ጒጒዐ፡ ወሀውከ፡ አላ፡ ኩን፡ ህዱእ፡ ወማእምር፡ ወፍራህ፡ እምእግዚአብሔር።

Do not be troubled and agitated but rather be calm and wise, and fear the Lord.

19. ወኢትኩን፡ ተዓዋሬ፡ ወመንዛህልለ፡ ወዳእሙ፡ ኩን፡ ተአዛዜ፡ ወሰማዔ፡ ምክር።

Do not be negligent and careless but rather be obedient and listener of the advice.

20. ወኢትሕትት፡ እንበይነ፡ ምግብር፡ እኪት፡ ወኢትኩን፡ ጒሕልወ፡ ወኢትሑር፡ ምስለ፡ ጠዋይት፡ እስመ፡ እለ፡ ኵሎሙ፡ ምግብረ፡ ሰይጣን፡ እሙንቱ።

Do not search for the wicked things, do not be deceitful and do not walk with the crooked ones because they are all works of Satan.

21. ወባሕቱ፡ አጥሪ፡ ለከ፡ ፈሪሃ፡ እግዚአብሔር፡ ባሕቲታ፡ ወኢትኩን፡ ተሐባሌ፡ ወጒጒአ፡ አላ፡ ኩን፡ ትሕተ፡ ወየዋሀ፡ እስመ፡ የዋሃንሰ፡ ይወርስዋ፡ ለምድር።

Instead acquire for yourself the fear of the Lord alone, and do not be deceitful and restless, but be humble and meek, for “the meek will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5).

[1] J. Darrouzès, “Étienne le thébain,” in Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique vol. 4 (1961) coll. 1525-1526.

[2]J.-M. Sauget, “Une version arabe du ‘Sermon ascétique d’Étienne le Thébain,” Le Muséon 77 (1964) 367-406, at 368.

[3] First in an article published in Bulgarian, W. Veder, “Заповедите на Стефан Тивейски,” Preslavska knižovna škola 12 (2011) 165-209, and then for an English audience in “The Works of Stephen of Thebes in Slavonic Translation,” Polata knigopisnaja 39 (2012) xxx-xxx.

[4] G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur vol. 2 (Studi e testi, 133; Vatican: Biblioteca Apostolica, 1947) 498. For the sermon on penitence, cf. U. Zanetti, Les manuscrits de Dair Abû Maqâr. Inventaire (Cahiers d’Orientalisme, 11; Geneva: P. Cramer, 1986) nos. 245, 412.

[5] Sauget, “Une version arabe du ‘Sermon ascétique’.”

[6] É. des Places, “Le ‘Discours ascétique’ d’Étienne de Thèbes. Texte grec inédit et traduction,” Le Muséon 82 (1969) 35-59.

[7] G. Garitte, “Le ‘Discours ascétique’ d’Étienne le Thébain en géorgien,” Le Muséon 83 (1970) 73-93.

[8] T. Orlandi, Paolo di Tamma: Opere (CMCL; Rome: C.I.M., 1988) 65-68 (semi-diplomatic reproduction of the Sahidic text), 116-121 (continuous Sahidic text and Italian translation).

[9] E. Lucchesi, “Une version copte du Sermo asceticus d’Étienne le Thébain,” Analecta Bollandiana 115 (1997) 252. Lucchesi already expressed his doubts that the leaves in question would belong to the codex which contains the works of Paul of Tamma in his “À propos d’une édition récente des œuvres de Paul de Tamma,” Studia Orientalia Christiana. Collectanea 28 (1995) 161-165.


About Alin Suciu

I am a researcher at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities. I write mostly on Coptic literature, Patristics, and apocryphal texts.
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7 Responses to The Gǝʿǝz version of Stephen of Thebes’ Sermo asceticus

  1. Your Arabic sentence looks strange, Dr Suciu, because of its wrong code structure (¹) : « (incipit:قال ≺span dir=”ltr”≻≺span class=”UFICommentBody”≻≺span≻≺span≻اسمعوا≺/span≻≺/span≻≺/span≻≺/span≻ ما اقول لكم يا اخوتى واولاى الاحبا الشعب) », due, I think, to your correction after Mr Mina Monier’s remark. Would something like « (incipit : ≺span dir=”ltr”≻≺span class=”UFICommentBody”≻قال اسمعوا ما اقول لكم يا اخوتى واولاى الاحبا الشعب≺/span≻≺/span≻) » be better ? [The last three words are unclear to me : is واولاى actually واولادي ?]

    [There is a typo in a French reference : in note 1, « Étienne le thébain » must be written « Étienne le Thébain » (see here, sv “Darrouzès (Jean)”) (²).]

    [Note : Can’t we write Old Slavonic without some characters in the “Private Area” or in some other odd Unicode blocks ?…]

    1. I must use here ≺ and ≻ instead of… (U+003C LESS-THAN SIGN and U+003E GREATER-THAN SIGN) !
    2. R. P. Édouard des Places, S. J. is wrong there, in his note 4.

    • Alin Suciu says:

      Thanks for the comment, Richard. I was already wondering where have you been until now 🙂

      You are right, many thing are messed up in this post because of the code structure. Ethiopic got also partly messed up. But I don’t have time now to go through it again.

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