Saint Pachomius the Great


Saint Pachomius (Ⲡⲁϧⲱⲙ in Coptic, Παχώμιος in Greek) was born in Thebes to pagan parents around 292 AD. Not much is known of his early life but at 21 we know he was conscripted into the Roman army. This type of conscription was fairly common during the Roman empire of this time and was unavoidable for anyone not of very high social status. While being transported on the Nile with other conscripts in a ship, he experienced an act of Christian charity that would forever change his life.


A group of Christians in Thebes would visit the transport ships daily to provide the young conscripted soldiers fresh food and water. The charitable act so moved Saint Pachomius that he made a promise to investigate the faith more thoroughly as soon as he was done with his service. Several years later he was dismissed from Roman service and returned home to seek out the Christians. In 314 AD he converted and was baptized. Through the group in the city he was placed in contact with a desert hermit named Palaemon. After seven years of study under Palaemon, Saint Pachomius left for Tabennisi to live a life of a Hermit. It was at Tabennisi he heard a voice tell him that he should build a dwelling for new hermits to live in.


Sometime in the years 318 to 323 AD Saint Pachomius built his first monastery at Tabennisi. His older brother joined him in founding the monastery and it wasn't long until the monastery counted over 100 monks. He created the cenobitic or community organization in which male or female monastics lived together under the leadership of an abbot or abbess - a change from the traditional Christian asceticism where hermits often lived solitary lives. The community he formed called Saint Pachomius "Abba" and the term Abbot was derived from this title of love and honor. In 336 Saint Pachomius formed the second monastery at Pabau. Remarkably, Saint Pachomius and the fellow members of the two monasteries never became priests, though Saint Athanasius did visit and attempt to persuade him of an ordination.


Saint Pachomius was the first to create a written rule. The first rule was composed of prayers and dictated that the monks pray them without exception each day. As the communities grew, he added to the Rule to help balance prayer and work with the day organized around the liturgy. The Ascetia (ascetic rule) is still used by the Eastern Orthodox Church and is comparable to that of the Rule of Saint Benedict in the Roman Catholic Church. Saint Basil of Caesarea implemented many of the practices of Saint Pachomius in Caesarea. Saint Benedict of Nursia also adapted and incorporated parts of this first rule into his own Rule.


For forty years Saint Pachomius served as abbot. In 348 he called the monks together in prayer and appointed his successor - a terrible plague was sweeping through Egypt. On May 9th, 348, Saint Pachomius died (14 Pashons). Several hundred monks spread out over eight monasteries were following his practices and the practices spread from Egypt to Palestine, Syria, North Africa and Europe within only a generation of his passing. Saint Pachomius is considered the first Christian to use and recommend the use of a prayer rope. His feast day is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on May 9th (or on the 15th for the Benedictines and Eastern Orthodox).

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