July 18, 2016

Life and Sayings of Holy Abba Pambo of Nitria (+ 393)

St. Pambo of Nitria (Feast Day - July 18)


Pambo crucified himself in life,
And he stands at your side O crucified Savior.

From the Coptic Life

There appeared in the monastic community of Nitria a certain person named Abba Pambo. He was second after Abba Antony. Abba Pambo was thus called alethenos (“the true one”) concerning whose virtues the whole brotherhood testified. I myself did not meet him in my time there, but the brothers spoke with me about him, saying that that man never said a lie nor ever commited a sin with his tongue from the time that he became a monk; neither oath nor curse ever came from his mouth, nor did he ever speak an unnecessary word. He had a wife and two sons, but they themselves did not agree to become monastics.

When he came to the brothers he went and found an old man and said to him, “Teach me a psalm,” for he was illiterate, and the old man began to teach him this psalm: “I said, ‘I will watch my ways so as to be unable to sin with my tongue.’” And after the old man had given him the beginning of the text, Pambo stopped him, saying, “My father, since I haven’t yet learned the beginning of the text, I will not learn the rest.” And when Abba Pambo went to his cell, he spent eight years putting into practice the saying that he had learned, for he came into contact with no one, saying, “Unless I first master my tongue, I will come into contact with no one lest I fall on account of my tongue.”

After eight years, he went and paid a visit to the old man who had given him the psalm. The old man said to him, “Pambo, why haven’t I seen you until today? Why didn’t you come to learn the psalm?” Abba Pambo said to him, “Since I hadn’t learned the first verse, I didn’t return to you to get the second since God had not given me the grace until now to learn it. In order not to act as if I despised you, I have come to visit you, my father. For if I learn the first verse, I will come to see you again.” And when he returned to his cell, he stayed there another ten years and did not come into contact with anyone.

By Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis
(Lausiac History)

In this mountain [Mount Nitria] there also lived the blessed man Pambo, who was the teacher and master of the Bishops Dioscorus, Ammonius, Eusebius, Euthymius and Origen the nephew of Dracontius, a marvelous man. Now this man Pambo possessed the power to utter words of prophecy, and splendid triumphs, yet with all these he despised gold and silver, even as the Word demands. Now the following things [concerning him] were related unto me by the blessed woman Melania:

'When I first came from Rome to Alexandria I heard concerning the life and deeds of Pambo, inasmuch as the blessed man Isidore, who also brought me unto him in the desert, told me about him. And I brought unto him a basket which was filled with stamped silver (i.e., coined money) three hundred pounds in weight, and I begged him to accept some of my possessions for his needs. He was sitting and plaiting the leaves of palm trees, and as he was doing this he merely blessed me, and said, “God grant you your reward!” Then he said unto his steward, whose name was Origen, “Take and distribute this among all the brethren who are in the ‘Island’ and in Libya;” for these monasteries are exceedingly poor, and he commanded the steward not to give unto any man who dwelt in Egypt, for those who dwell therein have abundant means of subsistence. Now I stood there and I expected to be treated with honor or to be praised for the greatness of the gift, but when I heard nothing from him, I said unto him, “Master, do you know how much money it is, and that there are three hundred pounds in the basket?” Then Pambo, without lifting up his gaze, said unto me, “My daughter, He unto whom you have offered your money has no need to know the weight. For He who weighed the mountains in a balance knows how much is the weight of your silver. If you had given the money unto me you would have done well to have informed me concerning the weight thereof; but since you have given it to God, Who did not despise the two mites of the widow, what need have you to tell Him? Hold your peace.”

Now our Lord so directed that in the day on which I entered the mountain this blessed man died without having been ill, for he died while he was sewing together palm leaves for mats, without fever and without sickness. And he was seventy years old. Now he was sewing together palm leaves for a mat, and coming to the end of it he sent and called me. And when he had finished sewing it, he said unto me, “Take this mat from my hands, so that you may keep me in remembrance, for I have nothing else whatever to leave you;” and having given it unto me he straightway died. And I wrapped his body in linen swathings, and buried him, and then I departed from the desert; and I shall treasure the mat as a sacred relic until the day of my death.'

Now at the time of the death of this holy man Pambo there were standing before him certain famous men, Origen the priest and steward, and Ammonius, together with the remainder of the brethren, and they told me that at the time of his death, he said, “From the day wherein I came into this desert and built this cell in which I have lived until this day I know not that I have ever eaten the bread of idleness or bread which did not come from the labor of mine own hands; and my soul repents not that I have ever spoken an empty word in my life; thus I go to God like one who has, as yet, not made a beginning in the fear of God.”

And Origen and Ammonius, the servants of Christ, in telling us the story of his life, bore witness concerning him that he was never asked a question by any man about a saying from the Book, or about the rules and labors of the ascetic life which he did not either answer immediately, or say, “I have not as yet understood the matter.” Now there were times when he spake these words only after three months’ consideration of a matter; and he used to make answer with such understanding that every man received the things which were said by him with as great reverence as if they had been said by God. Now this excellence was also attributed to Anthony the Great and to the rest of the holy men.

Among other things which are said concerning the holy man Pambo is the following. The blessed man Pior once went to Pambo’s cell and took with him some bread, and Pambo made a complaint, saying unto him, “Why have you done this?” Then Abba Pior made answer, saying, “Let this thing be not grievous to you;” but Pambo was silent and sent him away. And after some time Abba Pambo went to the cell of Abbo Pior, and he took with him bread which had been dipped in water; and being asked, “Why have you done this?” the blessed man Pambo said unto him, “Let it not be grievous to you that I have also dipped the bread in water.”


1. There was a monk named Pambo and they said of him that he spent three years saying to God, 'Do not glorify me on earth.' But God glorified him so that one could not gaze steadfastly at him because of the glory of his countenance.

2. Two brethren came to see Abba Pambo one day and the first asked him, 'Abba, I fast for two days, then I eat two loaves; am I saving my soul, or am I going the wrong way?' The second said, Abba, every day I get two pence from my manual work, and I keep a little for my food and give the rest in alms; shall I be saved or shall I be lost?' They remained a long time questioning him and still the old man gave them no reply. After four days they had to leave and the priests comforted them saying, 'Do not be troubled, brothers. God gives the reward. It is the old man's custom not to speak readily till God inspires him.' So they went to see the old man and said to him, Abba, pray for us.' He said to them, 'Do you want to go away?' They said, 'Yes.' Then, giving his mind to their works and writing on the ground he said, 'If Pambo fasted for two days together and ate two loaves, would he become a monk that way? No. And if Pambo works to get two pence and gives them in alms, would he become a monk that way? No, not that way either.' He said to them, 'The works are good, but if you guard your conscience towards your neighbor, then you will be saved.' They were satisfied and went away joyfully.

3. Four monks of Scetis, clothed in skins, came one day to see the great Pambo. Each one revealed the virtue of his neighbor. The first fasted a great deal; the second was poor; the third had acquired great charity; and they said of the fourth that he had lived for twenty-two years in obedience to an old man. Abba Pambo said to them, 'I tell you, the virtue of this last one is the greatest. Each of the others has obtained the virtue he wished to acquire; but the last one, restraining his own will, does the will of another. Now it is of such men that the martyrs are made, if they persevere to the end.'

4. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, of holy memory, begged Abba Pambo to come down from the desert to Alexandria. He went down, and seeing an actress he began to weep. Those who were present asked him the reason for his tears, and he said, 'Two things make me weep: one, the loss of this woman; and the other, that I am not so concerned to please God as she is to please wicked men.'

5. Abba Pambo said, 'By the grace of God, since I left the world, I have not said one word of which I repented afterwards.'

6. He also said, 'The monk should wear a garment of such a kind that he could throw it out of his cell and no-one would steal it from him for three days.'

7. Once it happened that Abba Pambo made the journey to Egypt with some brothers. Meeting some lay people who were sitting down, he said to them, 'Stand up, greet the monks, so that you may be blessed, for they speak with God without interruption and their lips are holy.'

8. They said of Abba Pambo that as he was dying, at the very hour of his death, he said to the holy men who were standing near him, 'Since I came to this place of the desert and built my cell and dwelt here, I do not remember having eaten bread which was not the fruit of my hands and I have not repented of a word I have said up to the present time; and yet I am going to God as one who has not yet begun to serve him.'

9. He was greater than many others in that if he was asked to interpret part of the Scriptures or a spiritual saying, he would not reply immediately, but he would say he did not know that saying. If he was asked again, he would say no more.

10. Abba Pambo said, 'If you have a heart, you can be saved.'

11. The priest of Nitria asked him how the brethren ought to live. He replied, 'With much labour, guarding their consciences towards their neighbour.'

12. They said of Abba Pambo that he was like Moses, who received the image of the glory of Adam when his face shone. His face shone like lightening and he was like a king sitting on his throne. It was the same with Abba Silvanus and Abba Sisoes.

13. They said of Abba Pambo that his face never smiled. So one day, wishing to make him laugh, the demons stuck wing feathers on to a lump of wood and brought it in making an uproar and saying, 'Go, go.' When he saw them Abba Pambo began to laugh and the demons started to say in chorus, 'Ha! ha! Pambo has laughed!' But in reply he said to them, 'I have not laughed, but I made fun of your powerlessness, because it takes so many of you to carry a wing.'

14. Abba Theodore of Pherme asked Abba Pambo, 'Give me a word.' With much difficulty he said to him, 'Theodore, go and have pity on all, for through pity, one finds freedom of speech before God.'

From the Sayings of Abba Anthony

6. Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, 'What ought I to do?' and the old man said to him, 'Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.'

From the Sayings of Abba Theophilos the Archbishop

2. The same Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, 'Say something to the archbishop, so that he may be edified.' The old man said to them, If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.'

From the Sayings of Abba Isaiah the Priest

7. Abba Isaac said to the brethren, 'Our Fathers and Abba Pambo wore old garments woven from palm fronds and mended all over; now you are foppishly dressed. Go away from here; leave this place.' When they prepared to go harvesting he said to them, 'I am not giving you any more directions because you would not keep them.'

12. Abba Isaac said that Abba Pambo used to say, 'The monk's garment should be such that he could throw it out of his cell for three days and no-one would take it.'

From the Sayings of Abba Poemen

47. The old man said that a brother asked Abba Pambo if it is good to praise one's neighbour and that the old man said to him, 'It is better to be silent.'

75. He said of Abba Pambo that Abba Anthony used to say of him, 'Through fearing God, he caused the spirit of God to dwell in him.'

150. Abba Poemen said, 'In Abba Pambo we see three bodily activities; abstinence from food until the evening every day, silence, and much manual work.'

From the Sayings of Abba Sisoes

53. If anyone asked Abba Sisoes about Abba Pambo, he would say, 'Pambo was very great in his works.'

Hymn of Praise:
Saint Pambo

By St. Nikolai Velimorivich

The monks asked Pambo the Blessed:
‘Is it good to praise your neighbor?’
Then Pambo was silent and to the brethren replied:
‘It is good to praise but it is better to remain silent.’
And still, they asked Pambo: ‘And who is perfect?’
‘For the sake of the will of God, one who denies his own.’
The monks remained silent while one will say:
‘Yet one more reply, do not deny us:
And what kind of garment should a monk have?’
‘The kind you throw away and no one takes.’
Thus the saint spoke and closed his mouth,
For he protected his tongue in order not to speak unnecessarily.
Pambo, all radiant at the hour of his death
Questioned about his life, he uttered:
‘Undeserving bread, I never did taste,
Neither for a word, my soul repented.’