The Monk Pachomius the Great, together with Anthony the Great, Macarius the Great, and Euthymius the Great, was both an exemplar of wilderness dwelling, and a founder of the monastic “life-in-common” coenobitism in Egypt. The Monk Pachomius was born in the third century in the Thebaid (Upper Egypt). His parents were pagans and he received an excellent secular education. From youth he had the traits of good character, he was prudent of sensible in mind. When Pachomius reached age twenty, he was called up into the army of the emperor Constantine (in the year 315). They settled the new conscripts into the edifice of a city prison under a guard of sentries. The local Christians came with supplies of food, and they fed the soldiers and took sincere care of them. When the youth learned that these people acted thus for the sake of their God, fulfilling His commandment about love for neighbour, this made a deep impression upon his pure soul. Pachomius made a vow to become a Christian. Having returned from the army after the victory, Pachomius accepted holy Baptism, resettled himself into the lonely settlement of Shenesit and immediately he began to lead a strict ascetic life. Sensing the need for spiritual guidance, he turned to the Thebaid wilderness dweller Palamon. He was fondly accepted by the elder, and he began to proceed through monastic efforts on the example of his instructor.
One time, after ten years of wilderness life, the Monk Pachomius was making his way through the desert, when he halted at the ruins of the former village of Tabennis and here he heard a Voice, ordering him to form at this place a monastery. Pachomius reported about this to the elder Palamon, and they both considered the words heard to be a command from God. They set out to Tabennis and began by building there a small monastic hovel. The holy elder Palamon blessed the beginning foundations of the monastery and made a prediction of its future glory. But soon also the Monk Palamon expired to the Lord. An Angel of God then appeared to Saint Pachomius in the form of a schemamonk and entrusted to him an ustav-rule of monastic life. And soon his own elder brother John came and settled there together with him.
The Monk Pachomius underwent many a temptation and assault from the enemy of the race of man, but the Monk Pachomius bravely warded off all the temptations by his prayer to God and endurance.
Gradually there began a gathering of followers to the Monk Pachomius. Their teacher impressed everyone by his love for work, whereby he managed to accomplish all kinds of monastic tasks: he cultivated a garden, he conversed with those that arrived seeking guidance, and he tended to the sick. The Monk Pachomius introduced a monastic rule of “life-in-common,” making everything the same for everyone in food and attire. The monks of the monastery were to toil at the obediences assigned them for the common good of the monastery. Among the various obediences was the re-copying of books. The monks were not to possess their own money nor to accept anything from their kinsfolk. The Monk Pachomius considered that an obedience, fulfilled with zeal, was higher than fasting or prayer, and he demanded from the monks an exact observance of the monastic rule, strictly chastising flaggards.
To the Monk Pachomius one time came his sister Maria, who for a long time had wanted to see her brother. But the strict ascetic refused seeing her and via the gatekeeper he gave her the blessing to enter upon the path of monastic life, promising his help with this. Maria wept, but did as her brother had ordered. The Tabennis monks built her a hut on the opposite side of the River Nile. And to Maria also there began to gather nuns, and soon there was formed a women’s monastery with a strict monastic rule, provided by the Monk Pachomius.
The number of monks at the monastery grew quickly, and it necessitated the building of seven more monasteries in the vicinity. The number of monks reached 7,000 – all under the guidance of the Monk Pachomius, who visited at all the monasteries and administered them. But at the same time Saint Pachomius remained a deeply humble monk, who was always ready to comply with and accept the remarks of each brother.
Severe and strict towards himself, the Monk Pachomius had great kindness and condescension towards the spiritually immature deficiencies of monks. One of the monks was ardent for the deed of martyrdom, but the Monk Pachomius swayed him from this yearning and instructed him quietly to fulfill his monastic obedience, taming the pride in himself and training him in humility. One time a monk would not heed his advice and went off from the monastery, during which time he was set upon by brigands, who under the threat of death forced him to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Filled with despair, the monk returned to the monastery. The Monk Pachomius ordered him to pray intensely night and day, keep strict fast and live in complete solitude. The monk followed his advice, and this saved his soul from despair.
The monk taught to avoid against judging others and he himself feared to be judgmental of anyone even in thought.
It was with an especial love that the Monk Pachomius concerned himself over the sick monks. He visited them, he cheered up the disheartened, he urged them to be thankful to God and put their hope in His holy will. For the sick he lightened the fasting, if this should aid in their recovery of health. One time in the absence of the monk, the cook did not prepare the monks any cooked food, on the presumption that the brethren loved to fast. Instead of doing his obedience, this monk plaited 500 mats, something which the Monk Pachomius had not encouraged. In punishment for the disobedience, all the mats prepared by the cook were ordered burnt.
The Monk Pachomius always taught the monks to have hope only upon the help and mercy of God. At the monastery it happened that there was an insufficiency of grain. The saint spent the whole night at prayer, and in the morning there came from the main city a large quantity of bread for the monastery, at no expense. The Lord granted the Monk Pachomius the gift of wonderworking and healing the sick.
The Lord revealed to him the ultimate fate of monasticism. The monk learned that successive monks would not have such zeal in their efforts as did the first, and they would walk in the darkness of not having experienced guides. Prostrating himself upon the ground, the Monk Pachomius wept bitterly, calling out to the Lord and imploring mercy for them. In answer he heard a Voice: “Pachomius, be mindful of the mercy of God. About the monks to come, know that they shalt receive recompense, since that they too shalt have occasion to suffer the life burdensome for the monk.”
Towards the end of his life the Monk Pachomius likewise fell ill from a pestilence that afflicted the region. His closest and beloved disciple, the Monk Theodore, tended to him with a filial love. The Monk Pachomius died in about the year 348 at age 53, and he was buried on an hill near the monastery.