The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
For centuries, scholars have known of the connection between the Therapeutae monasteries of Alexandria and the subsequent Christian monasteries in Egypt and ancient Palestine.
Catholic writers maintain that it is quite impossible to make any historical gap or line of severance between the Therapeutae or, “the monks of the old law,” as St. Jerome calls them, and the Christian monks of Alexandria.Eusebius, St. Jerome, Sozomenes, and Cassien, all maintained that the monasteries in Christendom were due to the Therapeutae converts of St. Mark, the first Bishop of Alexandria.Eusebius writes an elaborate chapter to show that Philo, in his book “The Contemplative Life,” made a mistake, and sketched a community of Christians, believing them to be Jews. St. Jerome makes the same assertion; and it is well known that the poet Racine, in a fit of piety, translated Philo’s treatise to be used as a Catholic book of devotion.No writer in the early Christian Church could see any difference between a Therapeutae and a Christian monastery. Without doubt the three grades of Christian ecclesiastics—the ephemereut or bishop, the presbyter, and the diakonos, were derived from the three grades of Therapeutae monks.If there was no connection between the Therapeutae of Alexandria and the early Christians, why was the word “Therapeutae” first used to name the new sect? “The Christians,” says Bingham, citing Epiphanius, “were at first called Therapeute and Jessians.” The word “Jessians,” by the same Father, was pronounced an equivalent of Essenes.
The other names given to Christians in the earliest times are also important. The school of philosophy at Alexandria was called, by the outside world, “The Eclectics,” and so were the early Christians. They were also named Brethren, Believers, Saints, Temples of God, Temples of Christ, all strange names for professed anti-mystics.
Gnostics was also a term used for the early Christians. Clement of Alexandria called himself a Christian Gnostic. Athanasius and Evagrius Ponticus also make use of the same term.Socrates cites a passage from the writings of the latter which describes “a monk of great renown, of the sect of the Gnostics;” and he shows that this alludes to “a monk in a village called Parembole, near Alexandria, whom Evagrius and the rest called by the then known name of Christian Gnostics.In the Greek Church the consecrated bread (pain bénit) is almost as much esteemed as that of the communion table, and the holy water is drunk eagerly by the sick, etc., plain echoes of early Essenism.
At the ordination of a priest the same power is given by the ceremony of touching the communion chalice and pattine. In a Greek monastery, at the termination of the chief meal in the refectory, the presiding monk blesses a small portion of the food and drink, and it is handed round to all, quite reproducing the Therapeutae “mysteries” of Philo.The monks of the Greek Church still retain traces of the Therapeutae influence. The strictest, those of the “Great Habit,” content themselves with four, and even two hours sleep. They eat no flesh and they never drink anything but water.They are cenobites; and some, in a little garden with figs, grapes, and cherries, still attempt to be anchorites like St. Anthony. And it must be remembered, that a perfected Essene was deemed holy and called “The Temple of the Holy Ghost.”St. Dionysius the Areopagite furnishes us with another important fact. The word Therapeutae, in the early church, was used to describe the third and highest grade of Christian initiation, the perfected adept.
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