In the beginning of the fourth century, great levies of troops were made throughout Egypt for the service of the Roman emperor. Among the recruits was Pachomius, a young pagan, then in his twenty-first year. On their way down the Nile the recruits disembarked at a village near the Thebaid, whose inhabitants gave the strangers food and money. Marveling at this kindness, Pachomius inquired who they were; he was told they were Christians, who hoped for remuneration only in the life to come. He then prayed God to make the truths of that wondrous faith known to him, and promised in exchange to devote his life to His service.
When he was discharged, he went to a Christian village in the Thebaid, where there was a church; he joined the group of catechumens, was instructed and baptized. Desiring to consecrate his life to God, he sought out Palemon, an aged solitary, to learn from him the paths to perfection, and with great joy embraced the most severe austerities. Their food was bread and water, once a day in summer, and once every two days in winter; sometimes they added herbs, but mixed ashes with them. They slept only one hour each night, and this short repose Pachomius took while sitting upright without support.
Three times God revealed to him that he was to found a religious order at Tabenna. An Angel then gave him a rule of life for a monastery which would require fewer corporal austerities, to accommodate persons whose fear of those practices prevented them from adopting religious life. Trusting in God, he built a monastery, although he had no disciples; but vast multitudes soon flocked to him, and he trained them in perfect detachment from creatures and from self.
Pachomius opposed vanity and vainglory in all its manifestations. One day one of the monks, by dint of great exertions, contrived to make two mats instead of the one which was the usual daily task, and set them both out in front of his cell, that Pachomius might see how diligent he had been. But the Saint, perceiving the motive which had prompted his act, said, This brother has taken a great deal of pains, from morning till night, only to give his work to the devil. Then, to cure him of his delusion, Pachomius imposed on him as a penance to keep to his cell for five months, under a very severe regime.
The visions and miracles of the Saint were innumerable, and he read all hearts. His holy death occurred in 348.
Reflection. To live in great simplicity, said Saint Pachomius, and in a wise ignorance, is exceedingly wise.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5