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“Sozomen on Pachomius and the Monks of Egypt”

from Historia Ecclesiastica, 3.14 - Greek Text with English translation

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I shall commence my recital with Egypt and the two men named Macarius, who were the celebrated chiefs of Scetis and of the neighboring mountain; the one was a native of Egypt, the other was called Politicus, because he was a citizen and was of Alexandrian origin. They were both so wonderfully endowed with Divine knowledge and philosophy, that the demons regarded them with terror, and they wrought many extraordinary works and miraculous cures. The Egyptian, the story says, restored a dead man to life, in order to convince a heretic of the truth of the resurrection from the dead. He lived about ninety years, sixty of which he passed in the deserts. When in his youth he commenced the study of philosophy, he progressed so rapidly, that the monks surnamed him “old child,” and at the age of forty he was ordained presbyter. The other Macarius became a presbyter at a later period of his life; he was proficient in all the exercises of asceticism, some of which he devised himself, and what particulars he heard among other ascetics, he carried through to success in every form, so that by thoroughly drying up his skin, the hairs of his beard ceased to grow. Pambo, Heraclides, Cronius, Paphnutius, Putubastus, Arsisius, Serapion the Great, Piturion, who dwelt near Thebes, and Pachomius, the founder of the monks called the Tabennesians, flourished at the same place and period. The attire and government of this sect differed in some respects from those of other monks. Its members were, however, devoted to virtue, they contemned the things of earth, excited the soul to heavenly contemplation, and prepared it to quit the body with joy. They were clothed in skins in remembrance of Elias, it appears to me, because they thought that the virtue of the prophet would be thus always retained in their memory, and that they would be enabled, like him to resist manfully the seductions of amorous pleasures, to be influenced by similar zeal, and be incited to the practice of sobriety by the hope of an equal reward. It is said that the peculiar vestments of these Egyptian monks had reference to some secret connected with their philosophy, and did not differ from those of others without some adequate cause. They wore their tunics without sleeves, in order to teach that the hands ought not to be ready to do presumptuous evil. They wore a covering on their heads called a cowl, to show that they ought to live with the same innocence and purity as infants who are nourished with milk, and wear a covering of the same form. Their girdle, and a species of scarf, which they wear across the loins, shoulders, and arms, admonish them that they ought to be always ready in the service and work of God. I am aware that other reasons have been assigned for their peculiarity of attire, but what I have said appears to me to be sufficient. It is said that Pachomius at first practiced philosophy alone in a cave, but that a holy angel appeared to him, and commanded him to call together some young monks, and live with them, for he had succeeded well in pursuing philosophy by himself, and to train them by the laws which were about to be delivered to him, and now he was to possess and benefit many as a leader of communities. A tablet was then given to him, which is still carefully preserved. Upon this tablet were inscribed injunctions by which he was bound to permit every one to eat, to drink, to work, and to fast, according to his capabilities of so doing; those who ate heartily were to be subjected to arduous labor, and the ascetic were to have more easy tasks assigned them; he was commanded to have many cells erected, in each of which three monks were to dwell, who were to take their meals at a common refectory in silence, and to sit around the table with a veil thrown over the face, so that they might not be able to see each other or anything but the table and what was set before them; they were not to admit strangers to eat with them, with the exception of travelers, to whom they were to show hospitality; those who desired to live with them, were first to undergo a probation of three years, during which time the most laborious tasks were to be done, and, by this method they could share in their community. They were to clothe themselves in skins, and to wear woolen tiaras adorned with purple nails, and linen tunics and girdles. They were to sleep in their tunics and garments of skin, reclining on long chairs specially constructed by being closed on each side, so that it could hold the material of each couch. On the first and last days of the week they were to approach the altar for the communion in the holy mysteries, and were then to unloose their girdles and throw off their robes of skin. They were to pray twelve times every day and as often during the evening, and were to offer up the same number of prayers during the night. At the ninth hour they were to pray thrice, and when about to partake of food they were to sing a psalm before each prayer. The whole community was to be divided into twenty-four classes, each of which was to be distinguished by one of the letters of the Greek alphabet, and so that each might have a cognomen fitting to the grade of its conduct and habit. Thus the name of Iota was given to the more simple, and that of Zeta or of Xi to the crooked, and the names of the other letters were chosen according as the purpose of the order most fittingly answered the form of the letter. These were the laws by which Pachomius ruled his own disciples. He was a man who loved men and was beloved of God, so that he could foreknow future events, and was frequently admitted to intercourse with the holy angels. He resided at Tabenna, in Thebaïs, and hence the name Tabennesians, which still continues. By adopting these rules for their government, they became very renowned, and in process of time increased so vastly, that they reached to the number of seven thousand men. But the community on the island of Tabenna with which Pachomius lived, consisted of about thirteen hundred; the others resided in the Thebaïs and the rest of Egypt. They all observed one and the same rule of life, and possessed everything in common. They regarded the community established in the island of Tabenna as their mother, and the rulers of it as their fathers and their princes.

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original Greek text with English translation
Ascetic life
Sozomen in Greek with English Translation
Church Historian
Migne Greek Text
Patrologiae Graecae Cursus Completus
Patrologia Graeca


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