St. Pachomius the Great – May 153 min read
St. Pachomius was born to pagan parents in Thebaid (Upper Egypt). There he received an excellent secular education. From his youth, he had a good character, and he was prudent and sensible.
At the age of either 20 or 21, he was called to serve in the Roman army. It was then that he stayed in a prison, used to house the new conscripts, which was run by Christians. He was so impressed by their love of their neighbor that he vowed to become a Christian after his military service ended.
Thus in 314 Pachomius was baptized and began to practice the ascetic life. Three years later he withdrew to the desert under the guidance of the elder Palamon. According to tradition, after ten years with Palamon, he heard a voice telling him to found a monastic community at Tabbenisi (also Tabenna, Tabbenisiot). He and Palamon traveled there, and subsequently, Pachomius had a vision in which an angel came to him, clothed in a schema (a type of monastic garment), and gave him a rule for the cenobitic life. This is significant because up until this time ascetics had for the most part lived alone as hermits, not together in a community. Pachomius’ rule balanced the communal life with the solitary life; monks live in individual cells but work together for the common good.
Furthermore, Pachomius was strict with the community of monks that began to grow around him. He gave everyone the same food and attire. The monks of the monastery fulfilled the obediences assigned them for the common good of the monastery. The monks were not allowed to possess their own money nor to accept anything from their relatives. St Pachomius considered that an obedience fulfilled with zeal was greater than fasting or prayer. He also demanded from the monks an exact observance of the monastic rule, and he chastised slackers. Once he even refused to speak directly with his own sister in order that he might maintain his detachment from the world. (He did, however, talk to her through a messenger, and he blessed her desire to become a nun; soon, she had her own all-female monastic community growing up around her.)
Pachomius lived the rest of his life managing his monastery, performing wonders, fighting the demons, and of course in fervent prayer. Near the end of his life, he was granted another vision: the Lord revealed to him the future of monasticism. The saint learned that future monks would not have such zeal in their struggles as the first generation had, and they would not have experienced guides. Prostrating himself upon the ground, St. Pachomius wept bitterly, calling out to the Lord and imploring mercy for them. He heard a voice answer, “Pachomius, be mindful of the mercy of God. The monks of the future shall receive a reward since they too shall have occasion to suffer the life burdensome for the monk.”
By 348, Pachomius directed almost three thousand monks. This, however, was also the year that he was infected by some form of plague or pestilence. St. Pachomius died around the year 348 at the age of fifty-three and was buried on a hill near the monastery.