May 16, 2018

The Manner By Which Saint Theodore the Sanctified Embraced Monasticism

The Life of Saint Pachomios

By an Unknown Greek Author

Chapter 29

The name of Pachomios became well known everywhere, giving rise to universal thanksgiving towards God. Numbers of people were renouncing the affairs of the world and turning to this extraordinary monastic way of life and its spiritual search. Theodore was numbered among them, and this is the story of his conversion. He was a young man of nearly fourteen years of age, of Christian parents, highly respected in the world. On the eleventh day of the Egyptian month Tybi, that is, the eighth day before the Ides of January, a certain Egyptian festival was being celebrated as usual. He was giving thanks to God, aware that he had a large and splendid house and an abundance of possessions of all kinds, when he suddenly felt compunction in his heart.

"What will it profit you, O Theodore," he began to wonder, "if you gain the whole world (Mk. 8:36) and enjoy all its worldly delights, at the price of being excluded from the good things of eternal and immortal life? No one who lives only for present pleasure can expect the reward of unending glory."

In a great turmoil over these thoughts he went into an inner chamber of his house and fell weeping on his face:

"Almighty God, who know the secrets of our hearts," he prayed, "you know that there is nothing in this world that is more important to me than your love. So I beg you in your mercy to guide me in your will and enlighten my miserable soul lest in the darkness of my sins I fall into eternal death. Grant that by the gift of your redemption I may praise and glorify you forever."

As he was praying thus his mother came in and saw his eyes were full of tears:

"Why are you so sad, my beloved son?" she asked. "And why are you hiding away from us? We have been worried and upset, looking for your everywhere so that you can share our festival banquet."

"Go and have your banquet, mother," he said. "For my part I could not eat a thing."

She continued to beg him, but in vain. He would not come and join them in the feast. Daily while going to school to learn his letters he began to fast at least until vespers, though he would often fast for two days at a time. He abstained from all rich and fancy foods for a period of two years, striving to attain to perfect continence, in so far as his young age would allow. He began to wonder whether he should seek out a monastery and bind himself to a holy Rule. He gave up all that he had and sought out some pious men living a godly life together, and went to live with them, progressing daily in the fear of God.

Chapter 30

These monks had a holy custom of gathering together after the evening prayers to meditate on the divine wisdom, and it so happened one evening that Theodore heard one of them talking of what the Tabernacle of the Old Testament and the Holy of Holies signified for people of the present day.

"As regards those whose foreskins were circumcised," he said, "the outer court of the Temple signified the early Jewish people, but the inner court, the Holy of Holies, prefigured the vocation of all the Gentiles, that is, a vocation to be found worthy of entering into the more sacred place in order to participate in the greater mysteries. Instead of the animal sacrifices, the manna in the ark, the flowering rod of Aaron and the tables of the Law, the thurible, the table, and the propitiatory candelabra, God himself has mercifully made himself known to us in the person of his incarnate Word, and enlightened us with the light of his presence, and has become himself the propitiation for our sins. Instead of manna he has given us his own body for food."

"This teaching I learned from our holy father Pachomios," this same brother went on to say. "He has begun to gather monks together in his monastery of Tabennisi, and by God's help I made great progress while I was among them. And I bear in mind that through this great man all my sins were forgiven."

Theodore found his heart burning as he listened to this, and he prayed silently:

"O Lord God, if this is what a righteous man on earth should be like, grant that I may see him and follow in his footsteps in obedience to all his commands, that so I may be found worthy to enjoy all those good things which you have promised to those who love you."

And he wept freely, overcome by the wound of divine love.

A few days later the venerable Pekusios, a man of a distinguished old age, came to visit them, desirous of knowing how they did. Theodore earnestly begged him to take him as his companion and guide him to the holy Pachomios. Without any argument he freely agreed to do so, and when they arrived there Theodore worshiped the Lord:

"Blessed are you, O Lord," he said, "for answering so quickly the prayers of sinners. You have deigned to grant me what I asked."

And as soon as he entered the monastery and saw Pachomios he wept for joy.

"Don't weep, my son," the venerable father said, "for I am only a sinful human being, trying to do the work of God."

Having said that, he introduced him into the monastery. Theodore's mind lit up when he saw how many brothers there were, and he flung himself with great zeal into the cycle of daily worship. In the course of time he made great strides in virtue. God showered great gifts upon him; he became practiced both in good works and good words, with a wonderful humility and heartfelt contrition, meticulous in his fasting, wide awake in his vigils, earnest in prayer, losing no opportunity to seek after ever greater gifts of spiritual grace. He was able to give great comfort to those who were in some distress, and knew how to correct with humility and good will those who had strayed into some misdemeanor. Pachomius could see what a brilliant and shining example he was, and took him to his heart and loved him deeply.

Chapter 31

As soon as his mother heard that he was with Pachomios, she got the bishops to write a letter requesting that she should be reunited with her son, and armed with this she hurried to visit him. She lodged with the virgins in the monastery which, as we have said, was at some distance from the men, and sent the bishops' letter to the holy Pachomios, with an earnest request that he would allow her to see her son. Pachomios summoned Theodore to him.

"I have to tell you, my son," he said, "that your mother is here and wants to see you. She has even brought letters to us from the bishops. So make haste and satisfy your mother, especially seeing that she brings a letter which the holy bishops have written."

"Venerable father," he replied, "I have gained some knowledge of spiritual things. Before I do as you ask please first assure me that if I do see her I will not have to answer for it in the day of Judgment. Like anyone else in the world I have given her due respect according to the commandments of Christ. But in the times before the manifestation of Christ's grace, the sons of Levi turned their backs upon their own parents in order to fulfill the righteousness of the law (Ex. 32:26-28, Lev. 21:11, Deut. 33:8-9). Is it not even more incumbent upon me, who have been made partaker of such great gifts, to put the love of God before love of parents? The Lord says in the Gospel, 'He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me' (Matt. 10"37)."

"If you have decided it would not be right to see her," Pachomios replied, "I will not bring any pressure to bear on you. Those who utterly renounce this world do need to deny themselves completely. Monks especially ought to flee from all idle and worldly meetings and meaningless conversations, and associate seriously only with those who are members of Christ. For if anyone governed by some worldly passion says, 'My parents are my flesh. Therefore I ought to love them,' he should pay attention to what the blessed Peter the Apostle says, 'A man is in bondage to anyone who overcomes him' (2 Pet. 2:19)."

When Theodore's mother realized that he was not going to meet her, she decided to stay permanently in the monastery with the virgins of Christ, saying to herself, "If the Lord wills, I may at least catch sight of him among the other monks, and I shall also bring benefits to my own soul for as long as I persevere in this way of life. It is certain that those who maintain a strict discipline for Christ's sake and not for the sake of vainglory will acquire virtue upon virtue, and in a short space of time will give offense to none."