Pachomius the Great
Father of Spiritual Communal Monastic Life
|Died||9 May 348
|Honored in||Roman Catholic Church
Coptic Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
Oriental Orthodox Churches
14 Pashons (Coptic Orthodox)
Roman Catholic Benedictines and the Eastern Orthodox celebrate his feast day on 15 May.
|Attributes||Hermit in a garb, Hermit crossing the Nile on the back of a crocodile|
Saint Pachomius (Greek: Παχώμιος, ca. 292–348), also known as Pachome and Pakhomius (/pəˈkoʊmiəs/), is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism. In the Coptic churches his feast day is celebrated on 9 May. In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches his feast day is celebrated on 15 May.
Saint Pachomius was born in 292 in Thebes (Luxor, Egypt) to pagan parents. According to his hagiography, he was swept up against his will in a Roman army recruitment drive at the age of 20, a common occurrence during the turmoils and civil wars of the period, and with several other recruits, put on board a vessel that was falling down the river. They arrived in the evening at Thebes. It was here that local Christians would daily bring food and comforts to the inmates, which made a lasting impression on him, and he vowed to investigate Christianity further when he got out. He was able to get out of the army without ever having to fight, was converted and baptized (314). He then came into contact with a number of well known ascetics and decided to pursue that path. He sought out the hermit Palaemon and came to be his follower (317). He prayed often with his arms stretched out in the form of a cross; which posture was then much used in the church.
After studying seven years with the Elder Palaemon, Pachomius set out to lead the life of a hermit near St. Anthony of Egypt, whose practices he imitated until, according to legend, he heard a voice in Tabennisi that told him to build a dwelling for the hermits to come to. An earlier ascetic named Macarius had earlier created a number of proto-monasteries called "larves", or cells, where holy men would live in a community setting who were physically or mentally unable to achieve the rigors of Anthony's solitary life. Pachomius set about organizing these cells into a formal organization.
Up to this point in time, Christian asceticism had been solitary or eremitic. Male or female monastics lived in individual huts or caves and met only for occasional worship services. Pachomius seems to have created the community or cenobitic organization, in which male or female monastics lived together and had their possessions in common under the leadership of an abbot or abbess. Pachomius himself was hailed as "Abba" (father) which is where we get the word Abbot from. This first cenobitic monastery was in Tabennisi, Egypt.
He established his first monastery between 318 and 323. The first to join him was his elder brother John, and soon more than 100 monks lived at his monastery. 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. The monastery at Tabennisi, though several times enlarged, soon became too small and a second was founded at Pabau (Faou). After 336, Pachomius spent most of his time at his Pabau monastery. Though Pachomius sometimes acted as lector for nearby shepherds, neither he nor any of his monks became priests. St Athanasius visited and wished to ordain him in 333, but Pachomius fled from him. Athanasius' visit was probably a result of Pachomius' zealous defence of orthodoxy against Arianism.
From his initial monastery, demand quickly grew. By the date of St. Pachomius' death (c. 345) there were eight monasteries and several hundred monks. Within a generation after his death, this number grew to 7000 and then spread from Egypt to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe. Other sources maintain that the number of monks, rather than the number of monasteries, may have reached 7000. He is also credited with being the first Christian to use and recommend use of a prayer rope. He was visited once by Basil of Caesarea who took many of his ideas and implemented them in Caesarea, where Basil also made some adaptations that became the ascetic rule, or Ascetica, the rule still used today by the Eastern Orthodox Church, and comparable to that of the Rule of St. Benedict in the West.
Among many miracles wrought by him, the author of his life assures us, that though he had never learned the Greek or Latin tongues, he sometimes miraculously spoke them. He remained abbot to the cenobites for some forty years. When he caught an epidemic disease (probably plague), he called the monks, strengthened their faith, and appointed his successor. He then departed on 14 Pashons, 64 A.M. (9 May 348 A.D.)
His reputation as a holy man has endured. He is currently commemorated in several liturgical calendars, including that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The Pachomian system tended to treat religious literature as mere written instructions.
The earliest original writings in Coptic language were the letters by St. Anthony of Egypt, first of the “Desert Fathers.” During the 3rd and 4th centuries many ecclesiastics and monks wrote in Coptic, among them, St. Pachomius, whose monastic rule (the first cenobitic rule, for solitary monks gathered in communities) survives only in Coptic. St. Athanasius, is the first Patriarch of Alexandria to use Coptic, as well as Greek.
- Pachomius, The Rule, London, 2012. limovia.net ISBN 978-1-78336-019-2
- (Greek) Ὁ Ὅσιος Παχώμιος ὁ Μέγας. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
- "Saint Pachomius the Great", Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church, Los Angeles, California
- Butler, Alban., The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, Vol. V, D. & J. Sadlier, & Company, 1864
- Bacchus, Francis Joseph. "St. Pachomius." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 31 May 2013
- Huddleston, Gilbert. "Monasticism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 31 May 2013
- Kenneth W. Harl (2001), The World of Byzantium, ISBN 1-56585-090-4 (audio recording)
- Peter Brown (Norton, 1971), The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150–750, pp.99
- Philip Rousseau (University of California Press, Berkeley 1985), Pachomius: the Making of a Community in Fourth-Century Egypt, pp.74–75 ISBN 0-52005048-7
- Encyclopædia Britannica
- The Rule Of Pachomius: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, & Part 4
- Coptic Orthodox Synaxarium (Book of Saints)
- Page of the "Saint Pachomius Library" (contains sources in full text)
- Opera Omnia by Migne Patrologia Latina with analytical indexes
- Hypothetical reconstruction of a Pachomian monastery