(c. 290 - 346)


 Saints Pachomius and David,
Athos, Dionysios, c. 1450.

THE CHILD of pagan parents, Pachomius was first introduced to Christianity while a conscript in the army.  In order to prevent desertion, he and his fellow-conscripts were imprisoned during a halt on a journey. The Christians brought food and comfort to the prisoners: and this experience seems to have converted Pachomius to the Christian life.

On release he retired to the village of Schenesit, began to lead an ascetic life, helped the poor and sick of the village and the travellers who passed through. Finding that the crowd which resorted to him hindered his practice of holiness, he retired to a senior ascetic Palamon, who lived a little way outside the village, and put himself under his tutelage.

AFTER the death of his spiritual father, Pachomius retired further, to the abandoned village of Tabennisi. Although from the first Pachomius seems to have realized his mission to substitute the cenobitical for the eremitical life, some time elapsed before he could realize his idea. First his elder brother joined him, then others, but all were bent upon pursuing the eremitical life with some modifications proposed by Pachomius (e.g., meals in common). Soon, however, disciples came who were able to enter into his plans. In his treatment of these earliest recruits Pachomius displayed great wisdom. He realized that men, acquainted only with the eremitical life, might speedily become disgusted, if the distracting cares of the cenobitical life were thrust too abruptly upon them. He therefore allowed them to devote their whole time to spiritual exercises, undertaking himself all the burdensome work which community life entails.

THIS community became progressively withdrawn from the neighbouring villages. At first the monks, though they lived and worshipped together, earned their livelihood by working in groups for the local farmers. This splitting of the community into work forces intermingled with local laborers had a negative effect on discipline: and Pachomius later arranged that work be performed for the community and not as casual employment.

The monastery at Tabennisi, though several times enlarged, soon became too small and a second was founded at Pabau (Faou/Phou). A monastery at Chenoboskion (Schenisit) next joined the order, and, before Pachomius died, there were nine monasteries of his order for men, and two for women.

Adapted from O. Chadwick, Western Asceticism, (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1958) pp. 18- 19 and The Catholic Encyclopedia.

The use of cryptograms (“angelic language”) in the Letters of Pachomius is discussed in : “Language Mysticism in the Nag Hammadi Texts and in Early Coptic Monasticism I: Cryptography.” Enchoria 9 (1979): 101–20.

Jerome: Translation into Latin of the Rule of Pachomius: Patrologia Latina, vol. 23, col. 61-86

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