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of ascetics is found in the early fourth-century Syriac writer Aphrahat. The ascetics are here called bnay qyama, a term which most probably refers to some kind of vow or covenant. The bnay qyama lived in ascetic and celibate households in the towns, in some cases men and women together, something Aphrahat disliked. Another Syriac term that is used to describe monks, ihidaya (meaning 'only-begotten', but also 'single-minded'), indicates that the monk was in some sense identified with Christ the 'Only-Begotten'. Like the use of the expression bnay qyama, this term points to a Jewish background. This background is also visible in the references to monks in the writings ofEphrem the Syrian.44

Although both Aphrahat and Ephrem indicate that there were settled monastic communities in Syria in the mid-fourth century, it is evident that the more common form of monastic life in Syria in the fourth century was the itinerant monk, with or without a group of followers. These itinerant monks are known mostly from hostile sources, especially the denouncement of some of them as heretics. They are often referred to as Messalians or Euchites, meaning those who pray constantly, and under this name condemned by councils in Syria and Asia Minor in the 390s, in Constantinople in 426 and in the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431.45 Their spiritual tradition is represented by the so-called Macarian homilies, which were probably written in Syria in the later fourth century. There are several indications that, in the early fifth century, some with their followers went from Syria through Asia Minor to Constantinople. In addition to being accused of doctrinal error, they are often denounced as lazy beggars and accused of both immoral behaviour and neglect of sacraments and church order. An important community of this background was the so-called akoimetoi, that is, the 'Sleepless Ones', a group founded by a certain Alexander. According to his biographer, he was a well-educated scribe in Constantinople who had renounced his possessions and become a monk in a Mesopotamian monastery during the 370s.46 He soon left the monastery and lived as an itinerant preacher with a large following of ever-praying disciples who begged for their livelihood. They were active mainly in the countryside, but were sometimes also found in cities, including Antioch. In the 420s

44 See Caner, Wandering, begging monks, 55-7; Sidney Griffith, 'Asceticism in the Church of Syria'; Philippe Escolan, Monachisme et église; Sebastian Brock, The luminous eye, 131-41.

45 For recent studies on the 'Messalians' see Columba Stewart, ""Working the earth of the heart"; Klaus Fitschen,MessalianismusundAntimessalianismus; Marcus Plested, TheMacar-ian legacy.

46 Life of Alexander the Sleepless (PO 6); see further J. Pargoire, 'Un mot sur les acémètes'.

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