The importance of striving for salvation by Saint Pachomius

Pachomius is one of the greatest of the Egyptian desert fathers. After his conversion to Christianity while serving in the army of the Emperor Constantine, Pachomius lived in asceticism in the desert of Tabennisi (near modern-day Sohag in Upper Egypt) under the direction of the famous ascetic, Palamon. An angel appeared to Pachomius wearing the Great Habit and gave him a tablet on which was written the rule of a cenobitic monastery. The angel commanded Pachomius to establish a monastery in that place and prophesied that many monks would come there seeking salvation for their souls. Pachomius obediently followed this command and began building cells even though there was no one there except him and his brother John. Before long, moved by the Spirit of God, many men began to arrive there and to live the ascetic life according to Pachomius’s rule. When the number of monks became too large, Pachomius founded six more monasteries until the total number of monks was over 7000. As St. Anthony the Great is considered the founder of the eremitic life, so is St. Pachomius considered the founder of the cenobitic, or communal, life. St. Pachomius went to his reward in 346 at the age of 60.

+Brothers, as long as you have breath in your bodies, strive for your salvation. Before the hour comes in which we shall weep for ourselves, let us practise virtue eagerly. For I tell you that if you knew what good things are in heaven, what promise is laid up for the saints and how those who have fallen away from God are punished and also what torments are laid up for those who have been negligent – especially those who have known the truth and have not led a way of life worthy of it so as to inherit that blessedness which is reserved for the saints and to flee the punishments of these torments – then you would endure every pain in order to be made perfect in the virtue which is according to Christ.

Go to the tombs and see that the assurance of men is nothing. Why then does man who is dust indulge in vainglory? Why does he who is all stench exalt himself? Let us therefore weep for ourselves while we have time, lest, at the hour of our departure, we be found asking God for extra time to repent.

Truly wretched and three times miserable is the soul that has left the world and dedicated itself to God but has not lived in a manner worthy of its promise. Then, brothers, let us not allow this age, which is short and contemptible and passes like a shadow, to steal that blessed and immortal life away from us.

Truly, I fear that our fathers according to the flesh, who live in the world and are absorbed in cares and vexations and who think of us (who are, of course, men dedicated to God and already in possession of a pledge of entering into the blessed life!) expecting to receive succour from us in the age to come, will be found to condemn us and to quote the words of Scripture, “How have you become wretched, greatly put to shame? Great is your affliction; a fire is kindled upon you; your branches have become useless. For this cause they have become a prey. The lions have roared at it and have given out their voice against it.” For this reason, “the beloved are like the abhorred” and “the crown of your head is taken away. Cities that face the south, how are you shut off? There is nobody to give access to you. Let indeed the wicked be removed, that you may not see the glory of the Lord.” You have heard.

Therefore, brothers, let us strive with all our heart, bearing death before our eyes every hour, and every moment imagining the fearful punishment. But these things the mind comes to perception and the soul is weighed down weeping, but it is also made contemplative and prepared to be turned toward God, undistracted by earthly things. And not only this, but once humility is worked out by these, the soul is persuaded to become compassionate and without vainglory, lowly and made a stranger to all worldly mentality.

Let the soul then, brothers, teach wisdom to this thick body every day when we come to our bed at evening, and say to each member of the body, “O feet, while you have power to stand and to move before you are laid out and become motionless, stand eagerly for your Lord.” To the hands, let it say, “The hour comes when you will be loosened and motionless, bound to each other and having no motion whatever; then, before you fall into that hour, do not cease stretching yourselves out to the Lord.” And to the whole body let the soul say, “O body, before we are separated and removed far away from each other, and before I am taken down to Hades to receive everlasting fetters under darkness, and you are changed into primal matter and dissolved into the earth, consumed in stench and corruption, stand boldly, worship the Lord. Make my perception made known by tears; make known to the Master your good service. Bear me as I eagerly confess God, before you are borne by others; do not condemn me to eternal punishment in your desire to sleep and to take your rest. For there will be a time when that most heavy sleep is going to overtake you. If you listen to me, we shall together enjoy the blessed inheritance. If you do not listen to me, then woe to me that you have been bound to me; because of you I also, wretched as I am, am condemned.”

If you train yourselves daily in this manner, truly you will be a true temple of God. And since God is dwelling in you, what satanic wile is able to deceive you? For instead of having a myriad of teachers, the word of God is dwelling in you, teaching you more and making you yet wiser by his own knowledge. And whatever human speech cannot say, the all-holy Spirit teaches. For as it is said, we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself expresses our plea for us with groanings that cannot be put into words.

There are many other profitable things that we could say to you by God’s grace. But so we do not stay too long on the same subject, let us direct our word to something else.

from Armand Veilleux, trans., “Pachomian Koinonia — Volume II,” (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1981), pp. 41 – 44.