Father of Spiritual Communal Monastic Life
. 292 Thebes, Egypt
Died 9 May 348 Egypt
Feast May 9
Roman Catholic Benedictines and the Eastern Orthodox celebrate his feast day on May 15.
Saint Pakhom 292-348, also known as Pachome and Pakhomius , is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism. In the Coptic churches his feast day is celebrated on May 9. In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches his feast day is celebrated on May 15
He 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 held in captivity. 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).
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. 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. The first to join him was his elder brother John, and soon more than 100 monks lived at his monastery. He came to found nine monasteries in his lifetime, and after 336, Pachomius spent most of his time at his Pabau monastery. From his initial monastery, demand quickly grew and, by the time of his death in 346, one count estimates there were 3000 monasteries dotting Egypt from north to south. 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. Other sources maintain that the number of monks, rather than the number of monasteries, may have reached 7000.
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.
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.
He remained abbot to the cenobites for some forty years. When he caught an epidemic disease (probably plague), he called the monks, strengthened their faith, and appointed his successor. He then departed on 14 Pashons, 64 A.M. (9 May 348 A.D.)