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May 15, 2017

The Angelic Revelation of the Cenobitic Rule to St. Pachomios the Great

By Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis

(Lausiac History, Ch. 33)

In the land of Thebes, and in the district thereof which is called Tabenna,* there was a certain blessed man whose name was Pachomios, and this man led a beautiful life of ascetic excellence, and he was crowned with the love of God and of man. Now therefore as this man was sitting in his cell, there appeared unto him an angel who said unto him, “Since you have completed your discipleship it is unnecessary for you to dwell here; but come, and go and gather together unto yourself those who are wandering, and dwell with them, and lay down for them such laws as I shall tell unto you;" and the angel gave him a book (or tablet) wherein was written the following:

I. Let every man eat and drink whensoever he wishes, and according to the strength of those who eat and drink impose work; and you shall restrain them neither from eating nor fasting. Furthermore, on those who are strong you shall impose severe labors; and upon those who are of inferior strength and upon those who fast you shalt impose light labors.

II. And you shall make for them a cell, and they shall dwell together three by three.

III. And they shall partake of food all together in one chamber (or house).

IV. And they shall not take their sleep lying down, but you shall make for them seats so that when they are sitting down they shall be able to support their heads.

V. At night time they shall put on garments without sleeves, and their loins shall be girded up, and they shall be provided with skull-caps; and they shall partake of the Offering on the Sabbath and on the First Day of the Week, wearing skull-caps without any nap upon them, and each skull-cap shall have in the front thereof a cross in purple.

VI. And you shall establish the monks in four and twenty grades, and to each grade give a letter of the Greek alphabet from Alpha to Omega (i.e. from A to Z); every grade a letter.

And the blessed Pachomios performed and fulfilled these things according as he had been commanded by the angel; and when the head of the monastery asked him that was next to him concerning the affairs of the brethren, the man said unto him, “The voice of Alpha and the voice of Beta salute the head of the monastery.” Thus the whole of that assembly of brethren had letters of the alphabet assigned to them, according to the designation of the four and twenty letters. To those who were upright and simple he assigned the letter Iota (i.e. ι), and to those who were difficult and perverse he assigned the letter Ksi (i.e. ξ), and thus according to the dispositions and according to the habits and rules of life of the orders of monks did he assign letters unto them.

And he (i.e. the Angel) commanded that “a monk who was a stranger and who had a different garb from theirs should not enter in with them to the table; the man who sought to be accepted as a monk in that monastery was obliged to labor there for three years, after which he was to receive the tonsure. When the monks were eating together they were to cover up their faces with their head-coverings, that they might not see each other eating, and might not hold converse together over the table, and might not gaze about from one side to the other.” And he commanded that during each day they should repeat twelve sections of the Psalter, [and during each evening twelve sections of the Psalter], and during each night twelve sections of the Psalter, and that when they came to eat they should repeat the Great Psalm.

And the blessed Pachomios said unto the angel, “The sections of the Psalter which you have appointed unto us are far too few;" and the angel said unto him, “The sections of the Psalter which I have appointed are indeed few, so that even the monks who are weak may be able to fulfill the rule, and may not be distressed thereby. For unto the perfect no law whatsoever is laid down, because their mind is at all seasons occupied with God, but this law which I have laid down for those who have not a perfect mind is laid down for them, so that although they fulfill only such things as are prescribed by the rule they can acquire openness of face.” Now very many nuns hold fast unto this law and rule.

And there were living in that mountain about seven thousand brethren, and in the monastery in which the blessed Pachomios himself lived there were living one thousand three hundred brethren; and besides these there were there also other monasteries, each containing about three hundred, or two hundred, or one hundred monks, who lived together; and they all toiled with their hands and lived thereby, and with whatsoever they possessed which was superfluous for them they provided the nunneries which were there. Each day those whose week of service it was rose up and attended to their work; and others attended to the cooking, and others set out the tables and laid upon them bread, and cheese, and vessels of vinegar and water. And there were some monks who went in to partake of food at the third hour of the day, and others at the sixth hour, and others at the ninth hour, and others in the evening, and others who ate once a day only; and there were some who ate only once a week; and according as each one of them knew the letter which had been laid upon him, so was his work. Some worked in the paradise (i.e. the orchard), and some in the gardens, and some in the blacksmith’s shop, and some in the baker’s shop, and some in the carpenter’s shop, and some in the fuller’s shop, and some wove baskets and mats of palm leaves, and one was a maker of nets, and one was a maker of sandals, and one was a scribe: now all these men as they were performing their work were repeating the Psalms and the Scriptures in order.


* Tabenna (Tabennae, Tabennisi) is considered the first cenobitic monastery. It was a community founded by Pachomios on an island of the Nile in Upper Egypt.