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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

St. Pachomius, Founder of The First Christian Monasteries

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Founder of the worlds first Christian monasteries
Dates: c.AD 290-246
Birth Place: Esna, Upper Egypt
Feast Day: May 9 (West)
Emblem: Appearance of a hermit

The Worlds First Christian Cenobitic Monasteries were established by St. Pachomius in Coptic Christian Egypt near the banks of the Upper Nile River, under the Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor.

A competent administrator, this former Roman soldiar was highly influential in establishing orderly communal life for hermits in the region of Upper Egypt.

Life in the Roman army prepared Pachomius well for the path he chose to follow. Born to heathen parents in Egypt, he was conscripted into the Roman army, where he fought under Constantine the Great. He became a Christian after his return home, and immediately went to live in the wilderness, there putting himself under the guidance of an old hermit named Palemon.

Pachomius lived near the River Nile and became part of a small community of other ascetics committed to an austere life of a recluse. An angel is said to have visited Pachomius after a few years and told him to establish a monastery in the desert. It seems this Desert Father preferred the life of the community to that of the solitary. He was concerned, he was concerned, too, that some of his fellow hermits were extreme in their behaviour and that they were running the risk of madness from starvation and hardship.

His life in the army had taught Pachomius about the organization of a dedicated community, and he also had a flare for administration. After his first monastery was founded in AD 320, he established nine others for men and two nunneries for women, and wrote rules for living in these communities.

The monks and nuns took vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and regulations regarding (vegetarian)diet and prayer were strict but humane. Fanaticism was outlawed and meditation and prayer were supervised. Members lernt by heart passages from the Psalms and other books of the Bible. Pachomius acted as an army general might do in running the monasteries. Monks were commanded to move from one house to another, superiors were put in charge of each house, and accounts were presented each year.

The order he founded was known as the Tabennisiots, after a place near his first monastery. Pachomius' manuscripts have not survived, but his Rule was translated into Latin by St. Jerome, and this influenced Sts Basil the Great and Benedict, both of whome founded great monastic orders based on St. Pachomius' methods.

St. Athanasius the Aconite, patriarch of Alexanderia, was a friend of Pachomius and visited the monk in his monastery at Dendera, near the Nile, where Pachomius lived out his life. The Eastern Orthodox Church holds this remarkable man in high veneration.


Christ said, "If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34) In the first centuries of Christianity, there were believers who took these words as a direction to forsake all earthly pleasures. They followed the example of John the Baptist in hoping that hardship would wash away their sinful selves, and isolated themselves from society by living in deserts and other uninhabited places.

They led harsh lives, with little food. Legends say they were fed by ravens and wolves, and that water gushed from stony wastlands. The genuine humility and devotion shown by these ascetics attracted others, and soon groups of hermits chose to inhabit huts and caves close to each other,

From these loose communities, particularly those in Egypt, emerged teachers known as the "Desert Fathers". First amoung them was St. Pachomius who lived alone on the banks of the Nile until other ascetics gathered around him. Some were so fanatical in their contempt for their own bodies they risked starvation and madness. To impose some constraints, Pachomius set up a community of 100 followers who committed to abide by his "Rules". To vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, he added orders of prayer and routine.

By his death, cAD346, Pachomius had founded ten monasteries, amoung the first such Christian institutions. Another popular Egyptian hermit of the 4th century, St.Anthony, also organized a monastic community. Over the centuries many other founders have established similar orders.

Excerpts above, from:
The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia of Saints
By Tessa Paul

Egypt: Pachomius, Anthony, and the Hermits of Kellia

Hermit colonies had also been founded in Egypt as early as the 4th century. Pulils and followers gathered around these exemplary ascetics. Following his conversion to Christianity at the age of about 20, Pachomius (c. 292-346), a young man from the area around Thebes, (Upper Egypt)joined a hermit living on the edge of the desert. His notion of a life detached from the world was different to that of his hermit companions, however. In 323, together with a group of like minded individuals, he founded a monastery in the remote village of Tabennisi, where they lived together according to binding principles applied to all and under Pachomius' spiritual leadership. The followers of Pachomius grew rapidly in number. At the end of his life he was head of nine monasteries (for men). Two establishments for women were led by his sister Mary. Life in these popular communities, which are thought to have comprised several into even more remote areas east of the Nile and ultimately to the Red Sea region. In latter years he gathered puplils around him, traveled to Alexandria twice and corresponded with important theologians and Church figures such as Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria....

Continue on pg 18, 1st parag.

Excerpts above, from:
Monasteries and Monastic Orders, 2000 Years of Christian Art and Culture
By Kristina Kruger
Edited By Rolf Toman
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