15 May

It is well known that monasticism split into two branches quite early.  The cenobitic, or community-orientated branch was founded by Pachomius, partly as an alternative and partly as a corrective to the anchoritic variety.  The informing philosophy behind cenobitism was that “to save your souls, you must bring them together.”  Cenobitic monasteries emphasized communal work and participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church. This emphasis on communal activities reflected Pachomius’s fear that the lone anchorite ascetic might fall too easily to the devil’s temptation.

Cenobitic monks, like anchorites, strove to attain “perfection.”  To some extent this goal was synonymous with attaining the vision of God, but the methods Pachomius’s monks adopted to achieve this vision were very different from the anchorites’.

The goal of all asceticism is union with God; but while cenobitism takes a defensive position, essentially avoiding mistakes, eremitism goes on the offensive, seeking to embody and exercise supernatural power . . .*

* Harpham, The Ascetic Imperative p. 22

Marcia A Morris, Saints and Revolutionaries The Ascetic Hero in Russian Literature (Studies of the Harriman Institute State University of New York Press, Albany 1993) p.21


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