Born in Asia Minor and educated in Constantinople, Alexander became an officer in the Roman army. Challenged by Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler from (Matthew 19:21), Akimetes sold his possessions and retreated from court life to the desert. Tradition states that he set fire to a pagan temple after seven years of solitude. Upon arrest and imprisonment Alexander converted the prison governor and his household, and promptly returned to his abode in the desert. Shortly thereafter he had the misfortune to fall in with a group of robbers.
His evangelistic zeal, however, could not be contained and he converted these outcasts into devoted followers of Jesus. This group became the core of his band of monks.
Around 400 AD, he returned to Constantinople with 300–400 monks, where he established laus perennis to fulfill Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Driven from Constantinople, the monks established the monastery at Gormon, at the mouth of the Black Sea.
This became the founding monastery of the order of the Acoemetae (literally, the sleepless ones). Alexander died here in 430 AD, but the influence of the Acoemetae continued. The houses were divided into six choirs rotating throughout the day, each new choir relieving the one before, to create uninterrupted prayer and worship twenty-four hours a day.
John, the second abbot of the Acoemetae, founded another monastery on the eastern shore of the Bosphorus, referred to in many ancient documents as the “great monastery” and motherhouse of the Acoemetae. The library here was recognized for its greatness throughout the Byzantine Empire and indeed was consulted by several popes.
The third abbot established a monastery in the capital under the royal consul, Studius, who dedicated the new monastery to John the Baptist. Studion became a renowned center of learning and piety, the most important monastery in Constantinople. Studion continued until 1453 when the Turks captured Constantinople.
The lasting impact of the Acoematae has been their worship and their contribution to church liturgy. The monasteries, numbering into the hundreds and sometimes thousands, were organized into national groups of Latins, Greeks, Syrians, and Egyptians, and then into choirs.
In addition to laus perennis, which passed into the Western Church with St. Maurice of Agaune, they developed the Divine Office—the literal carrying out of (Psalm 119:164), “Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous judgments.” This became an integral part of the Benedictine rule of the seven hours of prayer—Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.
Point to Ponder: “Depend upon it, if you are bent on prayer, the devil will not leave you alone. He will molest you, tantalize you, block you, and will surely find some hindrances, big or little or both. And we sometimes fail because we are ignorant of his devices…I do not think he minds our praying about things if we leave it at that. What he minds, and opposes steadily, is the prayer that prays on until it is prayed through, assured of the answer.” – Mary Warburton Booth