Saint Pachomius the Great

May 14 is the Commemmoration of Saint Pachomius the Great”
“Saint Pachomius (Greek: Παχώμιος, ca. 292–348), also known as Pachome and Pakhomius, 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, at age 21, Pachomius was swept up against his will in a Roman army recruitment drive, a common occurrence during this period of turmoil and civil war. With several other youths, he was put onto a ship that floated down the Nile river and arrived at Thebes in the evening. Here he first encountered local Christians, who customarily brought food and comfort daily to the impressed troops. This made a lasting impression, and Pachomius vowed to investigate Christianity further when he got out. He was able to leave the army without ever having to fight, was converted and baptized (314).
Pachomius then came into contact with several well known ascetics and decided to pursue that path under the guidance of the hermit named Palaemon (317). One of his devotions, popular at the time, was praying with his arms stretched out in the form of a cross. After studying seven years with Palaemon, Pachomius set out to lead the life of a hermit near St. Anthony of Egypt, whose practices he imitated until Pachomius heard a voice in Tabennisi that told him to build a dwelling for the hermits to come to. An earlier ascetic named Macarius had created a number of proto-monasteries called lavra, 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.
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Pachomius established his first monastery between 318 and 323 at Tabennisi, Egypt. His elder brother John joined him, and soon more than 100 monks lived nearby. Pachomius set about organizing these cells into a formal organization. Until then, 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 created the community or cenobitic organization, in which male or female monastics lived together and held their property in common under the leadership of an abbot or abbess. Pachomius realized that some 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 all the community’s administrative tasks himself. The community hailed Pachomius as “Abba” (father), from which “Abbot” derives.
The monastery at Tabennisi, though enlarged several times, soon became too small and a second was founded at Pabau (Faou). After 336, Pachomius spent most of his time at Pabau. 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. Basil of Caesarea visited, then took many of Pachomius’ ideas, which he adapted and implemented in Caesarea. This ascetic rule, or Ascetica, is still used today by the Eastern Orthodox Church, comparable to that of the Rule of St. Benedict in the West.
Pachomius continued as abbot to the cenobites for some forty years. During an epidemic (probably plague), Pachomius called the monks, strengthened their faith, and appointed his successor. Pachomius then died on 14 Pashons, 64 A.M. (9 May 348 A.D.)
By the time Pachomius died (c. 345) eight monasteries and several hundred monks followed his guidance. Within a generation, cenobic practices spread from Egypt to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe The number of monks, rather than the number of monasteries, may have reached 7000.
His reputation as a holy man has endured. As mentioned above, several liturgical calendars commemorate Pachomius. Among many miracles attributed to Pachomius, that though he had never learned the Greek or Latin tongues, he sometimes miraculously spoke them. Pachomius is also credited with being the first Christian to use and recommend use of a prayer rope.
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“Who was Pachomius? It is difficult to tell what sort of a man he was. We cannot do so from his writings, for very little has come down to us: a few instructions and the Rules, but there are four very different ones and it is very probable that Pachomius wrote none of them. Nor by his biography, because there is not one life of Pachomius, but eight or nine, written by his disciples. Very soon dissensions arose among them; they did not all have the same idea of monastic life and each group wrote a life of Pachomius to justify his own point of view. Each of the Lives presents Pachomius from a different aspect.
Among these eight or nine Lives, three are longer, for they have come down to us complete (or almost so). They are designated by the language in which they are written: the Bohaïric life, the Saïdic life, (these are both Coptic dialects); and the Greek life. The others are only fragmentary.
An Egyptian like Antony, Pachomius was not born a Christian like him, but a pagan. He was born in 292 of a family of well-to-do peasants at Sne on the borders of the Nile a little higher up than Thebes. He had at least one brother and one sister known to us through the Lives.
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At that time Egypt was under Roman domination. In 312 the Emperor Maximin Daia needed soldiers to make war against Licinius. At that time, when one had no soldiers, one took them; people were conscripted by force. Some soldiers came to Pachomius’ village and took him away with other young men. He was about twenty years old and so ready for military service whether he liked it or not. So he was taken to Alexandria. As prisoners, he and his companions took ship on the Nile and went down to Thebes, the first large town, where they stopped for the night. The soldiers took the conscripts to the prison in the town, and there, the Christians brought them food and assistance. (Text 1).
Pachomius, the pagan, was moved by the charity of these Christians. It remained with him all his life; for him, a Christian does good to everyone. This conviction which came home to him then influenced his conception of the monastic life in which the idea of the service of God and the brethren had great importance.
The war being over, Pachomius was set free at Antinoe. He went back up the Nile but he did not go home. He wanted to serve God and, like Antony, he settled near a village (Seneset) where he was baptised about 313. In accordance with the promise he had made to serve mankind, he helped the people round about in any way he could. Then, like Antony, he too became a disciple of an ascetic who lived nearby (Text 2). Again like Antony, he underwent many temptations. The founder of the cenobitic life had no thought of starting something new; he began in the same way as Antony. But God had other ideas.
About 323 Pachomius left Palamon to live in an abandoned village called Tabennesi, always with the intention of being a hermit. His brother John came to join him. Then one night Pachomius had a vision; God intervened (Text 3). During the following days a disagreement arose between the two brothers. John wanted to remain faithful to the eremitical way and continue to live in their little cell, while Pachomius, after his vision, wanted to build a monastery.
In fact, people came. Pachomius had the gift of gathering them round him “because of his goodness”, say the Lives. Young people came to him, he instructed them and, faithful to his first inspiration, he served them (Text 4). One can see how his first experience of the charity of Christians had marked his life, he wanted to serve. As long as the novices were good, all went well; the young were spurred on by his example and wanted to share the work: “Let us live and die with this man” they said, “and he will lead us straight to God”. But other less well-disposed people came and things went wrong. Pachomius suffered a set-back and learnt a lesson (Text 5). The lesson was this: a monastery is not a cooperative and a community must have an economic system capable of holding it together. At his first attempt, faithful to the light received at his conversion, Pachomius had become the servant of all, receiving in return something to pay for the food of his followers. He gave them the following rule: Each one must be self-sufficient and administer his own affairs but must contribute towards the material needs ogf the monastery, whether it was food for the monks or food for the guests. They brought their contribution to Pachomius and he made do with what he received It was like a boarding-house, there was no sharing of possessions. After his set-back, Pachomius realised that to have a stable community, everything must be held in common. From then on he organised things differently and asked those who came to him to renounce their families and their possessions to follow the Saviour. He proposed as the way to God: that they lead the common life (in Greek Koino-bios), and establish a Koinônia, a community.
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From this time, Pachomius’ Koinônia really started, and very quickly. The map shows the area in the Upper Nile where Pachomius lived: Sne, his birth-place; Thebes, the capital where he was imprisoned; Antinoe where he was set free. You can also see his foundations (small letters), a chain of monasteries in Upper Egypt on the borders of the Nile where the land could be cultivated. The first four, very near in time and space, are numbered: Tabennisi, the first and Phbew the second to which the central government of the Order was transferred. The crosses mark the communities of nuns.
Pachomius died in 346, during a plague. He was only 54.
The succession was very difficult and cliques sprang up. There was opposition between a group of elders and the new generation, all depended on who took power. Two great figures, disciples of Pachomius, Theodore, of the older generation, and Horsiesius of the new were for a time at the head of this immense Order. After the death of Theodore in 368 and of Horsiesius in 387 everything disintegrated. There was indeed an effort at reform by the white monks of Shenoudi (or Chenoute), but this was not a success. The brutal abba used the stick rather than the carrot and discouraged those of good will.
Fortunately, in 404 Jerome, then at Bethlehem, translated the 4 Rules into Latin, as well as the 11 letters of Pachomius, one of Theodore and the book of Horsiesius. Thanks to these translations the Pachomian experience left its mark on the West.”

See also:

For a translation of the Greek life of St Pachomius from the “Vitae Patrum”, see

See further Philip Rousseau “Pachomius. The Making of a Community in Fourth-Century Egypt” (1999)
pachomious the making
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).


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