St Pachomios the Great

Memory celebrated 15 May

Among the least known yet most venerated of our many saints was Pachomios, whose obscure life was such that his distance from man placed him closer to God, and yet he served both. Pachomios was one of the first monastics and the founder of communal monasticism.

Monasticism is not only one of the most sincere expressions of piety, but it is also one of the sturdiest pillars of the Christian faith. Monasticism is directed toward the attainment of the highest spiritual peace and serenity through prayer and meditation. The monastic thereby strives to attain likeness to God, in whose image all men are created. Those who look upon monastics as mere recluses seeking to avoid the harsh realities of life would do well to remember that without the strength of spirit and mind that the monasteries have provided, the light of Christianity would have been considerably dimmed, if not extinguished altogether.

Some of our greatest Christian stalwarts have been drawn from the monastic ranks. Their dedication to knowledge, wisdom, and faith in their eternal search for truth have been like those of the unheralded scientists whose microscopes have revealed the secrets that have helped mankind. The monk has often been the answer to both the apostate and the heretic.

The saint we honour for his endeavours in this much maligned but forceful and viable segment of Christianity is Pachomios. He was born during the reign of Constantine and was a soldier in the Byzantine army. Raised by pagan parents, he thoroughly enjoyed the military life with its pomp and splendour, but soon he discovered that he could perform greater service. He was not insensitive to his growing need for spiritual enlightenment and in an about-face he walked away from a life of conquest and riotous living, turning to one of earnest meditation and prayer. Bidding his parents farewell, he left the urban comforts of his native country, exchanging them for the barren wastes of the desert of Tavennisis in Egypt, to which he confidently strode for an unheralded approach to God.

His seeming estrangement from society developed into a greater intimacy with God, and after many years in retreat his reputation as a man of God was spread throughout the empire. People were fascinated by the stories they eagerly would hear about Pachomios, the hermit, monk, intellectual, philosopher, and humble servant of God.

Within a decade, a total of twelve monasteries had been established in the desert by Pachomios. These monasteries were populated by those who followed him into the oppressive wasteland in search of God. The rules of monasticism laid down by him are still followed today. Such was his conception of the monastic approach to God that no one has ever sought to change it. Although St. Pachomios would have preferred a complete isolation that he might give himself over totally to Jesus Christ, he fully realised that monasteries strategically located would lead to greater and more dedicated population of Christians who would see to more churches, since not all of Christianity could be wrapped up in tidy packages of humanity in cloisters. His full dedication to Jesus Christ did not bind him to the fact that the family unit was the nucleus of Christianity, but to supplement the work of priests there had to be the watchdogs who sat as silent watchdogs but who were always on the alert to warn of danger. These, then, were the monks, who, in spite of isolation were a driving force of Orthodoxy. They not only sat in on council sessions of importance, but some left their retreats to be ordained and rise in the hierarchy. St. Pachomios chose to stay with the cloister but his tremendous spirit went out into the land and we know him now as St. Pachomios the Great.

Many miracles came to be attributed to Pachomios; he attracted thousands who trekked mile after mile to be in his presence, to hear his counsel, and to receive his blessing. As a result, he was given the title of "Great" by the Fathers of the Church. Unlike the martyrs, Pachomios came to a peaceful end in his beloved desert on 15 May 395 AD.

from "Orthodox Saints" v. 2
by Fr George Poulos, Holy Cross Orthodox Press

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