Saint Pachomius (ca. 292-348), also known as Abba Pachomius and Pakhom in Arabic الأنبا باخوميوس, is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism. His saint day is celebrated on 9 May.
After studying seven years with the Elder Palamon, 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 Marcarius 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 moved out of Egypt into Palestine and the Judea Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe.
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 or 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.)
His reputation as a holy man has endured. He is currently commemorated in several liturgical calendars, including that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The Pachomian system tended to treat religious literature as mere written instructions.
The earliest original writings in Coptic language were the letters by St. Anthony of Egypt, first of the “Desert Fathers.” During the 3rd and 4th centuries many ecclesiastics and monks wrote in Coptic, among them, St. Pachomius, whose monastic rule (the first cenobitic rule, for solitary monks gathered in communities) survives only in Coptic. St. Athanasius, is the first Patriarch of Alexandria to use Coptic, as well as Greek.