the plains remained anti-Chalcedonian. Threatened by imperial force, several leading monastic figures among the anti-Chalcedonians fled to Egypt. After the conflicts over Chalcedon, the close relation between the patriarchate and the monastic leaders in and around Jerusalem evolved into a system whereby one or more heads of monasteries were appointed in charge of all monastic communities with the title 'archimandrite'.41

Due to increasing imperial interest in Palestine as well as a steadily growing flow of pilgrims, the monasteries in Palestine and especially in the Judaean desert were flourishing in the sixth century. An important centre was established in 483 in the desert east of Bethlehem by John Saba, who like many of the prominent Palestinian monks came from Asia Minor. His laura soon attracted numerous educated monks from various backgrounds. Conflicts about leadership and theology led to a schism, and the establishment of the New Laura, which became a centre for the defence of the Evagrian-Origenist tradition.42 Several factors combined to produce enmity towards Sabas and his leadership, part of them probably referring to his lack of education, others to the strictness of his rule, to his monastic organisation and perhaps also to financial matters. Sabas, however, gained and retained the support ofthe patriarch and later the emperor. As part of the Second Origenist Controversy he, like his 'Origenist' adversaries, travelled to Constantinople. After the death of Sabas in 532, the 'Origenists' gained in influence, but the decisions of the council in Constantinople in 543 and the ecumenical council of 553 settled the issue. It seems that the close contacts between the monasteries and the patriarchate of Jerusalem, as well as the importance ofJerusalem to the imperial family, made it impossible for any opposition to retain control of Palestinian monasteries.


Although many of our early sources indicate an Egyptian background for Syrian monastic tradition, there is no doubt that the origins of monasticism in Syria are independent of developments in Egypt. The earliest references to independent Christian ascetics point to a tradition of itinerant preachers claiming a kind of apostolic authority.43 A first description of communities

41 See Binns, Ascetics and ambassadors of Christ and Steppa, John Rufus.

42 See especially Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of Cyriacus; but note, too, the prudent call for caution with regard to the use of Cyril's work sounded by D. Hombergen in his The Second Origenist Controversy.

43 The most important sources that combine itinerant preaching and ascetic life in Syria are The Acts of Thomas, probably written in the first half of the third century, and the two letters to the virgins, attributed to Clement of Rome but most probably written in Syria in the third century.

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