Monday, May 14, 2007

Bearding the Monk: Everything Stands by Compassion

Today is the Feast Day of St Pachomius in the Benedictine calendar, celebrated on May 15th in the Christian East. In this icon Pachomius' mentor St. Paleron is the monk with the longer beard, ostensibly to show his greater wisdom. The shorter, red beard of Pachomius indicates his youth, and also his eagerness to learn the ways of God. And he certainly was eager.

We can learn a few things from him.

Pachomius was born in Eqypt in the late 200's and was converted after observing the kindesses of Egyptian Christians to oppressed Roman soldiers, of which he was one. He went on to embrace the monastic life, and became the first to write a rule for cenobites, or those who live in monastic community. His rule, based somewhat on the canon practice of St Augustine, became one source of Basil's and later Benedict's Rule. Pachomius was also the first to advocate use of a prayer rope, ostensibly the fore-runner of the Jesus prayer and Jesus beads as well as the Western rosary.

If Pachomius had been a Minnesotan, we would have said that he had "issues" with church leadership and community life.

My favorite story about Pachomius is when Athanasius came calling in 333 A.D. The great creedal Christian bishop intended to reward Pachomius for his defense of orthodoxy by ordaining him to the priesthood. Pachomius fled away, worrying that the worldly honor would derail his journey to God with his community. He never was ordained, nor were any in his community.

Even more helpful for us who live in modern community is this snippet from the Asketikon, a history of Pachomius' monastic followers (as cited in Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary, pp. 1890-91).

Listen for Pachomius' pre-occupation with self and his exasperation concerning community/ churchly life.

Then, marvel at the divine response.

"Abba Pachomius saw an endless congregation of brethern, and they were making their way along a deep and gloomy valley. Many of them came with the intention of going up out of that valley, but were unable to do so; so many of them met each other face to face, but because of the great density of the darkness, they did not recognize each other; many fell down through exhaustion, and others were crying out mournfully.

Pachomius cried out to God with tears and said: 'O Lord God, who sustains the universe, if it is indeed to be thus, why do you permit these monasteries to come into being? And if those who are to be governors over the brethren be wicked, what is to become of those who are to be governed by them?For when the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch.

I have toiled absolutely in vain! Remember, O Lord, my works and those of these brethren. They submitted to be governed with all their souls. Remember that you did promise me, saying, 'until the end of the world I will allow this spiritual seed to exist.' You know, O Lord, that from the time when I put on the garb of the monks, I have never satisfied myself with anything that grows upon the earth, not even with water.'

Pachomius then heard a voice saying:'You boast of yourself, O Pachomius. You are a man. Ask mercy for yourself, because everything stands by compassion.'"


Sam W said...

There is a stark reminder of humility. The truth of our powerlessness over others in securing them the promise of salvation. As it should be since God calls us to individual responsibility in the prophesy of Ezekiel.

Good words for today.

And perhaps you can supply a comment concerning "Benedictine Daily Prayer." What is the strengths and weaknesses of that breviary over the Roman Office?


Phil B. said...

Master Samwise:

Thanks. I'll save the breviary comparison for a post- hopefully soon- comparing LOTH with BDP.