Chapter XVI (continued), Life of St Onuphrius, Book 1a (Also St Pachomius, further down this page)Life No 6
I tore my tunic in half, keeping half to cover my body and using half in which to wrap his blessed body. I buried him in the natural tomb of a cave in the solid rock. I was alone, I wept afresh. Still weeping, I made as if to enter the cave where he had lived, but as I stood in front of it, it collapsed with a mighty roar, and the palm trees were torn up by the roots and lay prostrate. And then I knew that it was not God's will that I, Paphnutius, should live in that place. I returned to Egypt, and there I told the Church all that I had seen and heard.
The holy Onuphrius died on the eleventh day of June, that is the third day before the Ides. His blessings are with us to this present day to the praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be all honour and power unto the ages of ages. Amen.
The Life of Saint Pachomius, [c.290 - 346. Feast Day May 14.]
Abbot of Tabennisi
by an unknown Greek Author
translated into Latin from the Greek
by Dionysius Exiguus, Abbot of Rome. [A Scythian monk who lived in Rome c.500 - 550. 'Exiguus' was the name he gave himself. It carries the meaning of 'small, poor, unimportant']
Prologue by Dionysius
Dionysius Exiguus to my revered Lady, the glorious handmaid of Christ: [Rosweyde conjectures that this was a Roman widow called Galla, who according to Gregory the Great lived the life of a recluse on the Vatican Hill. She died in 550, and is celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on October 5.]
I reply to your respected request, and the valued opportunity it offers, by offering you the Life of Saint Pachomius, faithfully translated into Latin from its Greek source. Your initiative has long been reproaching me for my delay in fulfilling the promise I had made, so it would not be right for me to delay any longer, especially when you are someone who is accustomed to expect a solemn promise rather than a mere good intention. You have eagerly desired to learn more about the disciplines of the blessed Fathers, and by the grace of Christ there is a great number of stories which are there to be read and imitated. Because of the great interest you have shown in gathering together the deeds of each one of them, the credit for this document as a divine gift for future ages is yours.
You have said that you pay a great deal of attention to the virtues you admire so much in the lives of the Saints. Indeed, you have become one with them by the illustrious quality of your own deeds. For it is no use admiring virtue unless you aspire to it yourself. It is by living like the Saints that you show your union with them, just as on the contrary a life at odds with the Saints is like a great family disruption. It frequently gives rise to terrible family hatreds, senseless disputes, blind and stupid malice which can lead even to the shedding of blood, with the wicked at odds with the good, the avaricious with the generous, the turbulent with the peaceful, the lazy with the industrious, the angry with the placid, the rough with the gentle, the brazen with the modest, the stupid with the wise, the crafty with the simple, the overbearing with the meek. But the Apostle of the Gentiles sounds a trumpet call even more effectively about the nature of these people when he inveighs against the dangers of these present times in the following words: 'For these men are lovers of self, greedy, puffed up, proud, blasphemous, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, impious, without affection, without peacefulness, wrongdoers, incontinent, ungentle, unkind, betrayers, violent, arrogant, who love pleasure more than they love God' (2 Timothy 3.2-3).
Here the most blessed Paul sums up in a few wonderful words what I was saying earlier in a great many words, for he shows how those who love pleasure become captive to the most vicious desires. All sorts of evils arise when God is despised and pleasures are loved. Through a love of pleasure the devil entices and deceives, he titillates in order to bring about ruin, he flatters in order to destroy. To prevent future joy being preferred to the present, heavenly things to earthly, eternal things to transitory, he says, 'Those who love pleasures more than God, although they may have the appearance of piety, deny the power of all virtue' (Ibid. 5). In other words they are Christians in name but not in deed, and do more damage as enemies in our midst than enemies from outside; as part of the Church they disfigure the members of the Church. The Apostle gives us a forthright warning that we should avoid their company, and be separated from them not just by physical space but by our different standards of behaviour. Nor should anyone be surprised that these vermin are the enemies of the righteous when miserably and deceitfully they don't even spare each other, but quarrel fiercely among themselves. Your holy and glorious father, whose servant I am, has not only proved worthy to endure their attacks patiently and bravely but by his blessed death has triumphed over the whole world for the sake of the Truth who is Christ. He followed in almost every point the perfect rule of life of the Saints, and I earnestly desire to write learnedly and fluently about those rules so that it may be known in every place how your father came to be so famous and glorious, and how the human virtues of someone of this present day are to be admired. By the grace of Christ you stand in his inheritance, and may bequeath it to posterity in the shape of a book.
The Prologue of the Author
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the fount of wisdom and light of true knowledge, the true Word of God the father, by whom all things were made, is aware of our weakness and how prone we are to fall headlong into sin, but of his goodness he has offered us many remedies. Abraham our father was obedient to the commands of God, and in offering his own son as a sacrifice was found pleasing to God. And God swore by himself: 'In blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply you, as many as the stars of heaven in number, and numberless as the sands of the seashore. And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed' (Genesis 22.17-18). And the Apostle has lessons for us concerning this seed, for he says, 'I don't say seeds, in the plural, but seed, in the singular. And this seed is Christ' (Galatians 3.16).
And all the holy Prophets foresaw by the inspiration of the holy Spirit the hidden things of our salvation. Knowing that God cannot lie, they announced beforehand the heavenly medicines that would be available for our illnesses, and prayed continuously that he might look favourably on the human race. And the merciful Lord, who always anticipates our godly desires, never deserts those who seek him with their whole heart, but has fulfilled those promises in these last days by sending his only Son, born of a woman, born under the law (Galatians 4.4), who suffered in the likeness of our mortal flesh, and by his death destroyed him who had the power of death (Hebrews 2.14). And while in his divinity it remained impossible for him to suffer, he redeemed us from corruption and destruction. He completed the work of redemption for all people by washing us in the forgiveness of sins and giving us life, drawing every one towards the true faith by means of the teaching of the Apostles. As it says in the Gospel, 'Go and teach all nations and baptise them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit' (Matthew 28.19), so he has enfolded us into the bosom of his infinite love.
But as the proclamation of the Gospel has shone forth in all lands, and many by the grace of Christ have been adopted as sons, so the enemy of the human race has burned with rage, and waged much more severe and testing battles against the servants of God than he used to. Accursed and faithless, he has striven to do everything he can to obstruct the peacefulness of our journey to the heavenly realms. But his intentions have been foiled and brought to naught, as by the help of the gifts of God his own crafty tricks have been turned against him, bringing confusion to himself and eternal glory to the servants of Christ. For when by the Lord's permission, the pagan Emperors rose up and brought savage and stormy persecutions against Christians everywhere who were battling faithfully and patiently in spiritual warfare, many in Egypt became holy Martyrs, through all kinds of tortures enduring unto death in the name of Christ, and along with Peter the bishop of Alexandria, [Martyred in 311. Celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on November 26.] gained an eternal crown and obtained the reward of immortality.
And the multitude of the faithful began to increase daily, growing wonderfully in every place. Many churches flourished in zealous memory of the Martyrs, and monasteries most often among that number, practising abstinence as they renounced the world and adorned the secret places of solitude. People from all nations who had begun to believe in Christ were inspired by the sufferings of the Martyrs who had not wavered in their confession of Christ, and by the grace of the Lord they began to imitate the Saints in their life and discipline. They took to themselves this saying of the Apostle, 'They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, needy, straitened, afflicted, of whom the world was not worthy, wandering alone among the mountains, in caves and holes in the earth' (Hebrews 11.37-38). They sought the quietness of solitude, and by looking for the joyous divine gift of their own salvation through faith, they have furnished an example to others of a more sublime and sacred life.
Freed from all earthly cares, they emulated the holiness of the Angels while still living in this mortal flesh. They scaled the heights of virtue, their brilliance was beyond belief, they were manifestly in no way inferior to the Fathers of antiquity, and their merits were the equal of those who have striven even unto death in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. For they have undermined all the powers of those invisible enemies of whom the Apostle speaks, 'For we fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in high places' (Ephesians 6.12). By forestalling the multiform attacks of the ancient serpent they trod his head underfoot, and obtained those eternal rewards of which it is written, 'Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of humankind, what God has prepared for those who love him' (Isaiah 64.4 & 1 Corinthians 2.9).
Throughout the whole of that time the outstanding life of blessed Antony was held up as an example for all to follow. He stood out as emulating the examples of Elijah and Elisha and the holy John Baptist, seeking with single-minded zeal the hidden places of the inner desert, where in his love for virtue he lived the life of heaven. The holy Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, bore witness to him with his own pen. He was a worthy and perceptive interpreter of Antony's way of life. At the request of his brothers in Christ he wrote the Life of Antony for the edification of many, and as a model for spiritual men.
In the course of that work he also makes mention of Ammon [Vita Antonii cap.xxxii] who by the grace of God laid the foundations of the life now lived by those brothers in Mount Nitria. He also told us something of how that holy man Theodore, [ibid ] when he was with Antony, overcame the multifarious deceits of the devil with single-minded purpose and faith unfeigned before God. And thus in the overflowing grace of God he openly proclaimed what is celebrated in the Psalms, 'You have visited the earth and watered it, you have multiplied its riches' (Psalms 65.10). For joy and gladness has arisen in place of sadness and groaning, happiness and security in place of anxiety and misery.
Hence it is that those wonderful men, our monastic Fathers, have emerged in almost every region. Their names are written in the book of life. At that time there were very few monks in Egypt and the Thebaid, but after the persecutions of those cruel princes Diocletian and Maximian, a multitude of the Gentiles came in, as God had fore-ordained (Romans 11.25). The fertility of the Church was shown forth by its abundant fruitfulness, as the holy bishops with their Apostolic teachings led the way in the journey of faith by the integrity of their own lives.
And it was at this time that Pachomius, who lived in the Thebaid, by the grace of God became a Christian. He came of pagan parents and religion, and is said to have sought after virtue even as an adolescent by means of rigorous fasting. I mention this fact for the glory of Christ who has called us out of darkness into light, and for the benefit of those who may be reading this. For his beginnings in a strict way of life as a young person go a long way towards explaining his later perfection.
While he was still a boy he went with his parents to offer a sacrifice to an idol on the banks of the river Nile. But when the filthy pagan priest tried to perform his usual sacrilegious rites, the presence of Pachomius prevented the usual manifestations of the demon from happening. The priest stood as motionless as the idol he was worshipping, unable to understand why the demons were not giving their usual response, until at last an evil spirit revealed to him that it was because of Pachomius that the demons had been unusually silent.
"Why has this enemy of the gods come here?" he shouted frantically. "Drive him out! Get rid of him!"
When his parents heard this, they realised that he was parting company with them, and they were grievously upset, not least because he had been declared so forcefully an enemy of the gods. They were at their wits' end to know what to do with him, because he had spat out the wine of the demons' sacrifice before he had even tasted it. They knew that they could not understand it at all, but they just kept quiet. They saw to it that he was instructed in Egyptian learning and moulded in the study of the ancients.
It was at this time, after the persecutions, that Constantine won supreme command [312 AD] and carried out a campaign against the tyranny of Maxentius. He issued a royal decree that selected youths should be conscripted into military service, among whom was Pachomius, then aged twenty, as he himself later confirmed. As he was being carried off with others on board ship to foreign parts, they docked one evening in a certain port where the citizens, on seeing how strictly the raw recruits were being guarded, enquired what their situation was, and motivated by the commandments of Christ, took great pity on their miserable plight and brought them some refreshments. Pachomius was very surprised at what they were doing and asked who these men were who were so eager and willing to perform such humble acts of mercy.
He was told they were Christians, who were in the habit of doing acts of kindness to everyone, but especially towards travellers. He learned also what it meant to be called a Christian. For he was told that they were godly people, followers of a genuine religion, who believed in the name of Jesus Christ the only begotten son of God, who were well disposed to all people, and hoped that God would reward them for all their good works in the life to come. Pachomius' heart was stirred on hearing this, and, illumined by the light of God, he felt a great attraction towards the Christian faith. The fear of God was ignited in him, and drawing aside a little from his companions he lifted up his hands to the heavens.
"O Almighty God who made heaven and earth," he said, "if you will hearken to my prayer and show me how to order my life according to your holy name, and free me from my oppressive shackles, then I pledge myself to your service all the days of my life. I will turn my back on the world and cleave only to you."
He returned to his companions and the next day they set sail from that country. As they sailed about from place to place, Pachomius never succumbed to any of the illicit pleasures of the body or the world which might have tempted him. He was ever mindful of his promise and vow to serve God. By the help of divine grace he had been a lover of chastity from his earliest days.
Once the Emperor Constantine by his godliness and faith in Christ had won the victory over his enemies, he ordered the raw recruits to be released. So Pachomius obtained the freedom he longed for and returning straight away to the lower Thebaid he went to the church in the village of Chinoboscium, where he became a catechumen, and not long after received the grace of being bathed in the life-giving water. On the very night when he was initiated into the sacred mysteries he saw in his dreams a heavenly dew falling on to his right hand and turning into the thickness of honey. And he heard a voice saying to him. 'Take thought, Pachomius, for what this means. It is a sign of grace given to you by Christ.'
From then on he was inflamed with desire for God and grievously pierced by the saving dart of divine love, which impelled him to give himself entirely to the disciplines and precepts of God.
He came to hear about a certain anchorite called Palaemon serving the Lord in a remote part of the desert. He sought him out in the hope of being able to live with him. He knocked on his door, asking to be let in. After a while the old man opened up to him.
"What do you want? Who are you looking for?" he asked. He was of a rather intimidating appearance because of the life of strict solitude he had been living for such a long time.
"God has sent me to you," replied Pachomius, "so that I may become a monk."
"You would not be able to become a monk here. It is no light matter to entertain the idea of the chaste life of the true monk. There are many who have come in the past and have soon got wearied, strangers to the virtue of perseverance."
"Not everybody is like that", said Pachomius. "So I beg you, take me in, and in the course of time make trial of my will, and see what I shall be capable of."
"I have already told you, you can't become a monk here. Go rather to another monastery, and when you have learnt enough about how to live a life of abstinence come back, and then I might take you in. Listen carefully to what I am saying. I live an exceedingly abstemious life, my son. I punish my body with a most severe and difficult discipline. I eat nothing but bread and salt. I abstain from oil and wine completely. I keep vigil for half the night, spending some of that time in formal prayer and some in reading and meditating on the Scriptures. Sometimes, indeed, I keep vigil the whole night through."
This filled Pachomius with the sort of fear a small boy has in the presence of his teacher, but strengthened by the grace of the Lord he was determined to submit himself to hard work.
"If I have the aid of your prayers," said Pachomius, "I trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has given me an example of fortitude and patience, that I shall be made worthy of persevering in your holy way of life for all the rest of my days on this earth."
With spiritual insight Palaemon then discerned the depth of Pachomius' faith, and at last opened the door to him, took him in, and clothed him in the monastic habit. And so they lived together in the observance of abstinence and prayer. They also wove baskets and worked with their hands as the Apostle instructed (Ephesians 4.28), not only to earn their own living but so that they might have something to give to those in need. When they were keeping vigil and offering their nightly prayers, if the old man saw Pachomius about to be overcome by sleep, he would take him outside and make him carry loads of sand from one place to another, and by this exercise deliver his mind from the danger of being oppressed by the burden of sleep. He would instruct him as he did this, teaching him how to be diligent in prayer.
"Work hard, Pachomius," he would say. "Watch and pray lest the tempter draw us aside (which God forbid) from this work to which we have put our hand and cause all our work to be in vain."
Pachomius obediently and diligently submitted to all this, daily increasing more and more in the practice of holy abstinence, and giving the keenest joy to the old man, who never ceased to give thanks to God for the way Pachomius was living his life.
In due course the most holy day of Easter arrived.
"This feast is celebrated by all Christians," the old man said to Pachomius. "Let us get ready for it ourselves, according to our custom."
Always prompt to obey, Pachomius did what he was asked and contrary to their usual custom took some oil and mixed it with some crushed salt. As well as the oil he prepared lapsanum, that is, wild olives and herbs.
"I have done what your asked, father," said Pachomius, when all was ready. After the usual prayers, the blessed Palaemon came to the table, but when he saw the oil mixed with the salt, he clapped his hands to his head and wept copiously.
"My Lord has been crucified, and am I now to eat olive oil?" he said.
"Can you not just eat a little bit of it? asked Pachomius
"I can in no way do that," he replied.
So bread and salt was brought for the meal and they sat down together. The old man blessed the food with the sign of the Cross of Christ, and they both humbly gave thanks to God for the food they ate.
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