Pachomius: Eremite to Coenobite

“Saint Pachomius (Greek: Παχώμιος, ca. 292–348), also known as Pachome and Pakhomius (/pəˈkoʊmiəs/), is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism.
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.
macarius egypt
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… 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…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.”

See further
The entry for St Pachomius in the Prologue of Ohrid:
For the life of St Pachomius from the “Vitae Patrum”, see
See further Philip Rousseau “Pachomius. The Making of a Community in Fourth-Century Egypt” (1999)

For a translation of all existing documents from the cenobitic monasteries of Pachomius, the lives, rules, and other writings of Saint Pachomius and his disciples, see
“Pachomian Koinonia. Volume 1, The Life of Saint Pachomius and His Disciples.” Translated, with an introduction By Armand Veilleux. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1980: A translation of all existing documents from the cenobitic monasteries of Pachomius (292-346).
pachomian 2
“Pachomian Koinonia. Volume 2, Pachomian Chronicles And Rules”
Translated and annotated by Armand Veilleux OCSO, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1980: Descriptions of Pachomian monastic communities from a variety of ancient sources, including the Lausiac History and A History of the Monks in Egypt, and full translations of the Rule of Saint Pachomius and the Regulation of his successor, Horsiesios.
pachomian koinonia 3
“Pachomian Koinonia. Volume 3, Other Writings Of Saint Pachomius And His Disciples”
Translated and annotated by Armand Veilleux OCSO, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1982: A translation of all existing documents from the cenobitic monasteries of Pachomius (292-346).

Abbot Palaemon

“An Egyptian hermit who is best known for serving as mentor to St. Pachomius. With Pachomius, he labored to organize the hermits of the Egyptian desert into cenobitic communities, thereby laying the groundwork for the subsequent development of monasticism. Palaemon died at Tabennisi, the vast monastic center that sheltered the early Desert Fathers.

As an aged hermit, who earlier had sought refuge in the deserts of Upper Egypt from the Diocletian persecution and became one of the earliest Egyptian hermits, Palaemon one day received a visit from a young man, Pachomius, who had recently been released from military service. On enquiring his business, Palaemon learned that he had come to be his follower and pupil, desiring to leave the world and become an anchorite. Palaemon refused his request because he thought the young man would find such a life too severe. “I eat nothing but bread and salt,” he said, “I never taste wine, and I watch half the night.” Pachomius answered, “I believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, who will give me strength and patience to assist you in your prayers and to follow your holy conversation.” After this brave answer, the old hermit admitted him as his pupil and friend. “Let us make a compact,” he said, “that we part not, the one from the other, till God break our unison.”

And they never did break the union. Palaemon and Pachomius worked together to organize the hermits on cenobitical lines. Eventually, Palaemon followed Pachomius to Tabennisi, where the elderly saint died. In art, Saint Palaemon is depicted as an old hermit carding fleece; sometimes he is shown with his disciple Saint Pachomius.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: