Friday, May 28, 2010

Pachomius and the Day of Remission

I am currently reading a wonderful book by Fr. William Harmless, S.J. called Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism which focuses on Egyptian anchoritic (hermits) and cenobitic (communities) forms of monasticism. The person often credited being the father of cenobitic monasticism is Pachomius, who lived in the 4th century. Pachomius founded a series of monasteries in the upper Nile region of Egypt (southern Egypt). One of the practices of Pachomius' monasteries was the Day of Remission, when annually his monks all gathered at the main monastery in Pbow (in the month of August) to reconcile with each other. Here is how Pachomius describes the Day of Remission in a letter:

The time is coming near for us to assemble together, according to the custom of remission, following the early prescriptions to convene together in order to carry out the remission and pardon. Let then everyone pardon his brother according to the commandment of God and in conformity with the laws which were written for us by God. Let everyone totally open his heart to his brother. Let the brothers share their judgments with one another. Let their souls be cleansed in sanctification and fear of God. Let there not be any enmity in their hearts. Let them rather know how to act in truth with one another, for it is a commandment of the law of God to seek peace and to walk in it before God and men. (Pachomius, Epistle 7, quoted in Harmless, Desert Christians, p. 130)

Reconciliation is central to the Christian life. Christ's death on the cross reconciled human beings to God. The sacrament of Reconciliation is a complementary sacrament to the Eucharist. I have been praying through the Gospel of Matthew, and it is clear that that gospel is insistent on reconciliation, especially early on:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (5:7).

But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool! shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (5:22-24)

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (5:44-45)

And forgive us our trespasses,
As we also forgive those who trespass against us (6:12)

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. (7:1-2)

Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." (9:13)

Inspiring words that are very, very difficult to live. Even if you were one of Pachomius' monks who had "renounced the world" and come to live an austere life of prayer and work in the Egyptian desert, you took the world of fallen human nature with you inside the monastery walls. Pachomius understood how central reconciliation is to the Christian life, and his Day of Remission was a wonderful way to remind his monks of that centrality, since it was only one of two days each year that all the monks gathered together. The other day was Easter.

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