1902 Encyclopedia > Abbey > Coenobian Monasteries in Egypt, Syria and Greece.

Abbey
(Part 2)




(A) Introduction. Early Christian Monasticism. (cont.)

Coenobian [i.e. "communal living"] Monasteries in Egypt, Syria and Greece.

The real founder of coenobian monasteries in the modern sense was Pachomius an, Egyptian of the beginning of the 4th century. The first community established by him was at Tabennae, an island of the Nile in Upper Egypt. Eight others were founded in his lifetime, numbering 3000 monks. Within 50 years from his death his societies could reckon 50,000 members. These coenobia resembled villages, peopled by a hard-working religious community, all of one sex. The buildings were detached, small, and of the humblest character. Each cell or hut, according to Sozomen (H.E. iii. 14), contained three monks. They took their chief meal in a common refectory at 3 P.M., up to which hour they usually fasted. They are in silence, with hoods so drawn over their faces that they could see nothing but what was on the table before them. The monks spent all the time, not devoted to religious services or study, in manual labour. Palladius, who visited the Egyptian monasteries about the close of the 4th century, found among the 300 member of the Coenobium of Panopolis, under the Pachomian rule, 15 tailors, 7 smiths, 4 carpenters, 12 camel-drivers, and 15 tanners. Each separate community had its own oeconomus, or steward, who was subject to a chief oeconomus stationed at the head establishment. All the produce of the monks' labour was committed to him, and by him shipped to Alexandria. The money raised by the sale was expended in the purchase of stores for the support of the communities, and what was over was devoted to charity. Twice in the year the superiors of the several coenobia met at the chief monastery, under the presidency of an Archimandrite ("the chief of the fold," from mandra [Gk.], a fold), and at the last meeting gave in reports of their administration for the year.

The coenobia of Syria belonged to the Pachomian institution. We learn many details concerning those in the vicinity of Antioch from Chrysostom's writings. The monks lived in separate huts, kalubai [Gk.] forming a religious hamlet on the mountain side. They were subject to an abbot, and observed a common rule. (They had no refectory, but ate their common meal, of bread and water only, when the day's labour was over, reclining on strewn grass, sometimes out of doors.) Four times in the day they joined in prayers and psalms.

The necessity for defence from hostile attacks, economy of space, and convenience of access from one part of the community to another, by degrees dictated a more compact and orderly arrangement of the buildings of a monastic coenobium. Large piles of building were erected, with strong outside walls, capable of resisting the assaults of an enemy, within which all the necessary edifices were ranged round one or more open courts, usually surrounded with cloisters.





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