PREFACE TO THE RULE OF ST. PACHOMIUS
Translated by Esmeralda Ramirez de Jennings
Edited By Rev. Daniel R. Jennings
No matter how sharp or sparkling a sword can be, it will end up covered by rust and will lose the splendor of its
beauty if it stays for a long time in its scabbard. This is why, when I was afflicted by the death of the saint and
venerable Paula (I was not working opposing the precept of the Apostle (1Th 4:13-18), but rather I was aspiring
eagerly to see comforted the great number of those whose his death had deprived them of support), I accepted to
receive the books that the man of God used to send me, the priest Silvan. He himself had received them from
Alexandria with the purpose of giving them to me to be translated. Since he told me that at the monasteries of
Tebaida and at the monastery of Metanoia (this is the monastery of Canope, whose name has been happily replaced
by a term that means “conversion”), many latins live that ignore Coptic and Greek, languages in which the Rule of
Pachomius, Theodore and Orosius have been written. These men are the ones who established the foundation of
the “Cenobia” in the Tebaida region and in Egypt, according to the order of God and of an angel sent by Him with
After having been silent during a time in which I was crunching my pain, I was urged to start working by the priest
Leoncio and other brothers were sent to me for that. So after they sent a secretary to me I dictated in our language
the rules that had been translated from Coptic to Greek. I did this to obey, I will not say to the pleas, but rather the
orders of those great men, as well as for breaking my prolonged silence, under favorable auspices; like they used to
say: I had come back to my old works and I also attempted a satisfaction for the soul of that holy woman that had not
ceased to burn in the love for the monastic life and of meditating about the earth what I was going to contemplate in
heaven; besides, the venerable virgin of Christ, her daughter Eustoquia, would have a place to provide rules of
conduct to her sisters, and our brothers would follow the examples of the Egyptian monks, I mean from Tabennesis.
These monks have priests, financial accountants, people who rotate weekly to be in charge of the choir and the altar,
subaltern officers, and family chiefs, who are the chairmen. Each house gathers around forty brothers that have to
obey their chairmen. According to the number of brothers, a monastery has thirty or forty houses that are united in
tribes or groups of three or four. Those who live in these groups go to work together and succeed each other by
rotating during weekly service.
Whoever had joined the monastery first, has also the first place while sitting, walking, chanting, eating and
receiving communion at the church. It is not the age of the brothers that determines their position but the date of
their entering the profession.
In their cells they do not have more than a door mat and the following objects: two tunics (a kind of an Egyptian
sleeveless dress) and a third used tunic that they use to sleep or work, and a linen mantle, a goat skin which they call
melota, two cowls, a small belt of linen, shoes and a cane as a walking companion.
The sick are recovered thanks to the admirable cares and copious meals. The ones who are healthy are
benefited by a more severe abstinence; they fast twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, except during the time
from Easter to Pentecost. The rest of the days, the ones who desire to eat after six and in the evening they set the
table for those who work, the elders, the children and they do this after six because of the intense heat. Some eat a
little the second time, some are satisfied with just one meal: breakfast or dinner. Some take just a little bit of bread
and leave the room where the food is served. Everybody eats at the same time. When someone does not want to go
to the table, he receives in his cell only bread, water and salt, once a day or twice a day depending on what he
The brothers who practice the same art congregate in a house under the authority of a chairman. For example:
the ones that knit linen get together in a group, the ones that make the door mats constitute just one family. The
same thing happens with the tailors, the ones that manufacture small carts, the workers, the shoemakers; these
groups are governed each by their chairman, and each week they settle accounts to the priest of the monastery.
The priests of all of the monasteries have just one boss that dwells in the monastery of Pbow. At Easter,
everybody, except those whose presence is indispensable in their monasteries, get together around him, so that
almost fifty thousand men celebrate together the celebration of the Passion of the Lord.
In the month of Mesori, namely, August, as an example of the jubilee year (Lev. 25) there are days in which
everybody is forgiven for their sins and the ones that have had an altercation also reconcile. Then they designate
the chiefs, the financial accountants, the chairmen, and the subaltern officers of the different monasteries according
to their needs. The ones from the Tebaida still say that Pachomius, Cornelius and Syrus (this last one is still alive
and they say that he is more than 110 years old), learned from the mouth of an angel a mysterious language that
allows them to write and to communicate with the help of a spiritual alphabet, insinuating under certain signs and
symbols, hidden sentiments. We have translated these letters into our language, which have also been read among
the Coptic and Greek monks, and when we found those same signs (from the mystic alphabet) we have copied them.
We have imitated the simplicity of the Coptic language moved by the cares of giving a faithful interpretation, not
wanting to produce one using fancy words that the laity would not understand because doing so would create a false
idea about the character of those apostolic men who were completely impregnated by the grace of the Spirit.
Regarding the other things that are in the contents of their treatises, I have not wanted to write about them. I did this
for those who are delighted by the love of the holy “Koinonia” so that they will learn directly from the original authors
and drink from the source itself instead of doing it in the brooks that are born from it.