The word koinonia (community) is at the heart of the cenobitic form of monasticism developed by Saint PACHOMIUS in the fourth century. In Coptic as well as in Greek, it became, at a very early stage, the technical term to designate what L. T. Lefort called the Pachomian Congregation, that is, the large community formed by all the Pachomian monasteries. There were nine of them (plus two convents of women) at the time Pachomius died. At that time there were 5,000 monks, more or less, in the koinonia.
At the head of the koinonia were a father and a second. They were responsible for making the necessary appointments of local superiors—and most of all for visiting all the monasteries, comforting the brothers, and preaching the Word of God to them. Pachomius, who had gathered that koinonia, was its father until his death. He was succeeded in that office by PETRONIUS, who died a few months after him, then by HORSIESIOS, and finally by THEODORUS, who had been his assistant for many years but had been discharged. Horsiesius was father of the koinonia again for a number of years after the death of Theodorus. We know very little about the koinonia following Theodorus’ death. One of the most famous Pachomian monks in the next generation was SHENUTE, but he was the father of one of the Pachomian monasteries, not the father of the koinonia.
Also at the head of the koinonia was the great steward, who was responsible for the material organization of all the monasteries. The local superiors had to report their needs and the fruit of their work to him.
Every year two meetings assembled all the brothers at the central monastery of PBOW. The first was for the holy PASCHA, which they celebrated in fasting and in the Word of God, at the end of which they baptized all the catechumen monks. The other general meeting, in the month of Misra at the end of the Coptic year, originally probably had a practical purpose: to bring the accounts of the material administration to the great steward and to receive the various appointments. But at a later time it was also the occasion for a collective remission of sins and offenses.
Each monastery had its own father and its second as well. All the brothers of the monasteries were divided into houses or wards of about forty monks each, a specific service being assigned to each house (such as care of the sick, reception of visitors, or preparation of food). A monastery could have up to thirty or forty such houses, and each one had its master and his second.
The responsibility of all these various superiors was both material and spiritual. Apart from comforting the brothers in times of trials and difficulties, their pastoral role consisted mainly in the frequent instructions or catecheses they had to give on the Word of God.
The Word of God was at the heart of the life of the Pachomian monk. He learned it by heart as soon as he arrived at the monastery, in order to be able to recite it during all his various occupations throughout the day. He also must make every effort to understand it well, since it was his rule of life.
Twice a day, morning and evening, the monks of a monastery gathered for common prayer. But what they did then was what they did the rest of the day. They recited the scripture by heart or listened to a brother reciting it, in order to let it penetrate their hearts.
The whole life of the Pachomian monk was therefore centered on union with God in prayer, which was expressed by a constant recitation of His Word. But Pachomius, being an experienced man, knew very well that such a union with God could not be realized without renouncing everything that is not God: sin, the world, one’s family, and, most of all, self-will. All these forms of renunciation constitute the essence of monastic conversion.
The monk came to the monastery in order to realize a continuous conversion. The awareness of the need for personal conversion often gave the prayer of the Pachomian monks accents of intensity and of ardor that are surprising for the period. Although their prayer was rooted in the recitation of scripture, it had at times very personal and moving accents.
This life of prayer and conversion was lived within a community of brothers who considered themselves responsible for one another.
They also considered themselves collectively responsible for maintaining a lifestyle in which such a life of prayer and conversion could be realized, under the direction of superiors who were their shepherds after Christ, taking care of all their material and spiritual needs.
The community also expressed itself in an integral sharing of material goods; everything was held in common, and all received an equal share. Special needs were taken into consideration, and the sick in particular were the object of great attention and care.
Communion in prayer and in conversion, as well as in material possessions, the koinonia was also a communion in mutual forgiveness among men who were all limited human beings. And, finally, the Pachomian monks were firmly convinced that the bonds that had been established between them on earth would be maintained in heaven, where the great family of Pachomius would be reunited around him in glory.
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