Cenobitic monasticism

Cenobitic (or coenobitic) monasticism is a monastic tradition that stresses community life. Often in the West the community belongs to a religious order, and the life of the cenobitic monk is regulated by a religious rule, a collection of precepts. The older style of monasticism, to live as a hermit, is called eremitic. A third form of monasticism, found primarily in Eastern Christianity, is the skete.

The English words "cenobite" and "cenobitic" are derived, via Latin, from the Greek words koinos (κοινός), "common", and bios (βίος), "life". The adjective can also be cenobiac (κοινοβιακός, koinobiakos). A group of monks living in community is often referred to as a cenobium.

Cenobitic monasticism exists in various religions, although Buddhist and Christian cenobitic monasticism are the most prominent.

Coptic icon of Pachomius the Great, the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism


The word Cenobites was initially applied to the followers of Pythagoras in Crotona, Italy, who founded a commune not just for philosophical study but also for the "amicable sharing of worldly goods."[1]

Judaic monasticism

In the 1st century AD, Philo of Alexandria (c. 25 BC – c. 50 AD) describes a Jewish ascetic community of men and women on the shores of Lake Mareotis in the vicinity of Alexandria, Egypt which he calls the Therapeutae.[2] Members of the community lived apart from one another during the six days of the week, studying the Hebrew Bible during the daytime and eating during the evening, whereafter they hoped to dream visions informed by their studies. Members of the community composed books of midrash, an allegorical method for interpreting scripture. Only on the sabbath would the Therapeutae meet, share their learning, eat a common, albeit simple, meal of bread and spring water, and listen to a lecture on the Torah given by one of the venerable members of the community. Every seventh sabbath was accorded a festival of learning and singing, which climaxed in an egalitarian dance.

The 3rd-century Christian writer Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263–339), in his Ecclesiastical History, identified Philo's Therapeutae as the first Christian monks, identifying their renunciation of property, chastity, fasting, and solitary lives with the cenobitic ideal of the Christian monks.[3]

Christian monasticism

The organized version of Christian cenobitic monasticism is commonly thought to have started in Egypt in the 4th century AD. Christian monks of previous centuries were usually hermits, especially in the Middle East; this continued to be very common until the decline of Aramean Christianity in the Late Middle Ages. This form of solitary living, however, did not suit everyone. Some monks found the eremitic style to be too lonely and difficult; and if one was not spiritually prepared, the life could lead to mental breakdowns.[4]

For this reason, organized monastic communities were established so that monks could have more support in their spiritual struggle. While eremitic monks did have an element of socializing, since they would meet once a week to pray together, cenobitic monks came together for common prayer on a more regular basis.[5] The cenobitic monks also practised more socializing because the monasteries where they lived were often located in or near inhabited villages. For example, the Bohairic version of Dionysius Exiguus' The Life of Saint Pachomius states that the monks of the monastery of Tabenna built a church for the villagers of the nearby town of the same name even "before they constructed one for themselves."[6] This means that cenobitic monks did find themselves in contact with other people, including lay people, whereas the eremitic monks tried their best to keep to themselves, only meeting for prayer occasionally.

Saint Pachomius

Cenobitic monks were also different from their eremitic predecessors and counterparts in their actual living arrangements. Whereas the eremitic monks ("hermits") lived alone in a monastery consisting of merely a hut or cave ("cell"), the cenobitic monks ("cenobites") lived together in monasteries comprising one or a complex of several buildings. In the latter case, each dwelling would house about twenty monks, and within the house there were separate rooms or cells that would be inhabited by two or three monks.[7] This structure of living for the cenobitic monks has been attributed to the same man that is usually hailed as the "father of cenobitic monasticism," St. Pachomius. Pachomius is thought to have got the idea for living quarters like these from the time he spent in the Roman army, as the style is very "reminiscent of army barracks."[8]

Though Pachomius is often credited as the "father of cenobitic monasticism," it is more accurate to think of him as the "father of organized cenobitic monasticism", as he was the first monk to take smaller communal groups that often already existed and bring them together into a larger federation of monasteries.[9]

The account of how Pachomius was given the idea to start a cenobitic monastery is found in Palladius of Galatia's "The Lausiac History", which says that an angel conveyed the idea to him.[10] Though this is an interesting explanation of why he decided to initiate the cenobitic tradition, there are sources that indicate there were already other communal monastic communities around at that time and possibly before him. In fact, three of the nine monasteries that joined Pachomius' cenobitic federation were not founded by him, meaning he actually was not the first to have such an idea since these three "clearly had an independent origin."[11]

Though he was not the first to implement communal monasticism, Pachomius is still an important part of cenobitic monastic history, since he was the first to bring separate monasteries together into a more organized structure. This is the reason why (as well as the fact that much hagiography and literature has been written about him) he has continued to be recognized as the father of the tradition.

Melitians and Manichaeans

Saint Gall planta
The groundplan of the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland, providing for all of the needs of the monks within the confines of the monastery walls

Aside from the monasteries that joined Pachomius' federation of cenobitic monasteries, there were also other cenobitic groups, both Christian and non-Christian, who decided not to join him. The Melitians and the Manichaeans are examples of these cenobitic groups.[12]

Even before Pachomius had started on his path toward monastic communities, the Melitians as a group were already recruiting members. The Melitians were a heretical Christian sect founded by Meletius of Lycopolis Moreover, they had "heard of Pachomius' monastic aspirations and tried to recruit him" to join their community.[13]

As for Manichaeans, members of a religion founded by a man named Mani, some scholars believe they were the "pioneers of communal asceticism in Egypt,"[14] and not Pachomius and the Pachomians as has become the common thought. Mani, himself, was actually influenced to begin cenobitic monasticism from other groups, including Buddhists and Jewish-Christian Elkasites[14] who were practising this tradition already.

The overall idea of cenobitic monasticism cannot be traced to a single source, however, but rather developed from the ideas and work of numerous groups, including the aforementioned Melitians, Manichaeans, Elkasites, Buddhists and Pachomians.

Later cenobitic communities

The cenobitic monastic idea did not end with these early groups, though, but rather inspired future groups and individuals:

In both the East and the West, cenobiticism established itself as the primary form of monasticism, with many foundations being richly endowed by rulers and nobles. The excessive acquisition of wealth and property led to several attempts at reform, such as Bernard of Clairvaux in the West and Nilus of Sora in the East.

See also


  1. ^ Bernard, R. W., Pythagoras, the Immortal Sage (Pomeroy, WA: Health Research Books, 1958), p. 25.
  2. ^ of Alexandria, Philo (circa 1st century CE). De vita contemplativa (On the Contemplative Life). Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ Constantine Scouteris, University of Athens Source "The semianchoritic character of the Therapeutae community, the renunciation of property, the solitude during the six days of the week and the gathering together on Saturday for the common prayer and the common meal, the severe fasting, the keeping alive of the memory of God, the continuous prayer, the meditation and study of Holy Scripture were also practices of the Christian anchorites of the Alexandrian desert." http://www.omhros.gr/kat/history/Txt/Rl/Therapeutae.htm Constantine Scouteris, "The Therapeutae of Philo and the Monks as Therapeutae according to Pseudo-Dionysius Scouteris, The Therapeutae of Philo and the Monks as Therapeutae according to Pseudo-Dionysius
  4. ^ C.H. Lawrence, “Chapter 1: The Call of the Desert” in Medieval Monasticism, 3rd edition, (Toronto: Pearson Education Limited, 2001), 7.
  5. ^ James E. Goehring, "Withdrawing from the Desert: Pachomius and the development of Village Monasticism in Upper Egypt," Harvard Theological Review 89(1996), 275.
  6. ^ Goehring, "Withdrawing from the Desert," 282.
  7. ^ Lawrence, 8; Marilyn Dunn, “Chapter 2: The Development of Communal Life” in The Emergence of Monasticism: From the Desert Fathers to the Early Middle Ages, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Incorporated, 2000), 30.
  8. ^ Dunn, 29.
  9. ^ Dunn, 26.
  10. ^ Paul Halsall, “Chapter XXXII: Pachomius and Tabennesiots” in Palladius: The Lausiac History, September 1998. Internet Medieval Sourcebook. 15 February 2007 <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/palladius-lausiac.html>.
  11. ^ Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, “The Origins of Monasticism” in Ascetics, Society, and the Desert : Studies in Egyptian monasticism, (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), 28.
  12. ^ Lundhaug, H., & Jenott, L., The Monastic Origins of the Nag Hammadi Codices (Heidelberg: Mohr Siebeck, 2015), pp. 234–262.
  13. ^ William, S.J. Harmless, "Chapter 5: Pachomius" in Desert Christians - An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 118.
  14. ^ a b Dunn, 25
  15. ^ Hannick, C., "Hymnographie et hymnographes sabaïtes," in Patrich, J., ed., The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox Church from the Fifth Century to the Present, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 98 (Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2001), pp. 217–228.


  • Attridge, Harold W. and Gohei Hata. “The Origins of Monasticism” in Ascetics, Society, and the Desert : Studies in Egyptian monasticism. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999.
  • Dunn, Marilyn. The Emergence of Monasticism: From the Desert Fathers to the Early Middle Ages. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.
  • Goehring, James E. "Withdrawing from the Desert: Pachomius and the development of Village Monasticism in Upper Egypt." Harvard Theological Review 89(1996): 267-285.
  • Halsall, Paul. “Chapter XXXII: Pachomius and Tabennesiots” in Palladius: The Lausiac History. September 1998. Internet Medieval Sourcebook. 30 March 2007 <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/palladius-lausiac.html>.
  • Harmless, William, S.J. “Chapter 5: Pachomius” in Desert Christians - An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Lawrence, C.H. “Chapter 1: The Call of the Desert” in Medieval Monasticism. 3rd edition. Toronto: Pearson Education Limited, 2001.

Year 348 (CCCXLVIII) was a leap year starting on Friday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Philippus and Salia (or, less frequently, year 1101 Ab urbe condita). The denomination 348 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

Abraham the Poor

Saint Abraham the Poor (also Saint Abraham the Child and Abraham the Simple) was a fourth-century Egyptian hermit and a saint.

Abuna Aregawi

Abuna Aregawi (also called Za-Mika'el 'Aragawi) was a sixth-century monk, whom tradition holds founded the monastery Debre Damo in Tigray, said to have been commissioned by Emperor Gebre Mesqel of Axum.


The Carthusian Order (Latin: Ordo Cartusiensis), also called the Order of Saint Bruno, is a Catholic religious order of enclosed monastics. The order was founded by Bruno of Cologne in 1084 and includes both monks and nuns. The order has its own Rule, called the Statutes, rather than the Rule of Saint Benedict, and combines eremitical and cenobitic monasticism.

The name Carthusian is derived from the Chartreuse Mountains; Saint Bruno built his first hermitage in the valley of these mountains in the French Alps. The word charterhouse, which is the English name for a Carthusian monastery, is derived from the same source. The same mountain range lends its name to the alcoholic cordial Chartreuse produced by the monks since 1737 which itself gives rise to the name of the colour. The motto of the Carthusians is Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, Latin for "The Cross is steady while the world is turning."

Christian monasticism

Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules (e.g. the Rule of Saint Augustine, Anthony the Great, St Pachomius, the Rule of St Basil, the Rule of St Benedict,) and, in modern times, the Canon law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek monachos "monk", itself from monos meaning "alone".Monks did not live in monasteries at first, rather, they began by living alone, as the word monos might suggest. As more people took on the lives of monks, living alone in the wilderness, they started to come together and model themselves after the original monks nearby. Quickly, the monks formed communities to further their ability to observe an ascetic life. According to Christianity historian Robert Louis Wilken, "By creating an alternate social structure within the Church they laid the foundations for one of the most enduring Christian institutions..." Monastics generally dwell in a monastery, whether they live there in community (cenobites), or in seclusion (recluses).


Coenobium or coenobia may refer to :

Cenobitic monasticism (Cenobium, Cenobite), a monastic community in a tradition stressing communal life, as opposite to eremitism

Coenobium (morphology), a colony of cells, notably in algae

Coenobia (moth)

Great Lavra

The Monastery of Great Lavra (Greek: Μονή Μεγίστης Λαύρας) is the first monastery built on Mount Athos. It is located on the southeastern foot of the Mount at an elevation of 160 metres (170 yd). The founding of the monastery in AD 963 by Athanasius the Athonite marks the beginning of the organized monastic life at Mount Athos. At the location of the monastery, there was one of the ancient cities of the Athos peninsula, perhaps Akrothooi, from which the sarcophagi of the monastery that are in the oil storage house come. The history of the monastery is the most complete compared to the history of the other monasteries, because its historical archives were preserved almost intact. It is possible that the study of these archives may contribute to the completion of the knowledge of the history of other monasteries, whose archives were partially or completely lost.

Idiorrhythmic monasticism

Idiorrhythmic monasticism is a form of monastic life in Christianity.It was the original form of monastic life in Christianity, as exemplified by St. Anthony of Egypt (c. 250–355) and is the opposite of cenobitic monasticism in that instead of communal ownership, the monk lives alone, often in isolation. Philosophically it consisted of a total withdrawal from society, normally in the desert, and the constant practice of mental prayer. The word Idiorrhythmic comes from two Greek words idios, “particular” and rhythmos, “rule” meaning “following one's own devices,”It was first developed by St. Anthony of Egypt (c. 250–355) and today is only known to be practised in Mount Athos, Greece.


A lavra or laura (Greek: Λαύρα; Cyrillic: Ла́вра) is a type of monastery consisting of a cluster of cells or caves for hermits, with a church and sometimes a refectory at the center. It is erected within the Orthodox and other Eastern Christian traditions. The term is also used by some Roman Catholic communities. The term in Greek initially meant a narrow lane or an alley in a city.

Lazaros of Mount Galesios

Saint Lazaros of Mount Galesios (Greek: Λάζαρος ὁ Γαλησιώτης, Lazaros ho Galēsiōtēs; c. 972/981 – 7 November 1053) was an 11th-century Byzantine monk and stylite, who founded a monastic community at Mount Galesios near Ephesus.


A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory.

Monasteries vary greatly in size, comprising a small dwelling accommodating only a hermit, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns, to vast complexes and estates housing tens or hundreds. A monastery complex typically comprises a number of buildings which include a church, dormitory, cloister, refectory, library, balneary and infirmary. Depending on the location, the monastic order and the occupation of its inhabitants, the complex may also include a wide range of buildings that facilitate self-sufficiency and service to the community. These may include a hospice, a school, and a range of agricultural and manufacturing buildings such as a barn, a forge, or a brewery.

In English usage, the term monastery is generally used to denote the buildings of a community of monks. In modern usage, convent tends to be applied only to institutions of female monastics (nuns), particularly communities of teaching or nursing religious sisters. Historically, a convent denoted a house of friars (reflecting the Latin), now more commonly called a friary. Various religions may apply these terms in more specific ways.

Pachomius (spider)

Pachomius is a spider genus of the Salticidae family (jumping spiders). Previously identified genus Uspachia was merged into genus Romitia in 2007; in 2015 all nine species within Romitia were merged into Pachomius.

Pachomius the Great

Saint Pachomius (Greek: Παχώμιος, Coptic: Ⲡⲁϩⲱⲙ ca. 292–348), also known as Pachome and Pakhomius (/pəˈkoʊmiəs/), is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism. Coptic churches celebrate his feast day on 9 May, and Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches mark his feast on 15 May or 28 May. In the Lutheran Church, the saint is remembered as a renewer of the church, along with his contemporary (and fellow desert saint), Anthony of Egypt on January 17.


Pashons (Coptic: Ⲡⲁϣⲟⲛⲥ, [paˈʃons]), also known as Pachon (Greek: Παχών, Pakhṓn) and Bachans (بشنس, Bashans), is the ninth month of the ancient Egyptian and Coptic calendars. It lasts between May 9 and June 7 of the Gregorian calendar. The month of Pashons is also the first month of the Season of Shemu (Harvest) in Ancient Egypt, when the Egyptians harvest their crops throughout the land.


St. Scuithin (fl. 6th/7th century) also known as Scolan, Scothin or Scuitin was a medieval Irish saint with strong Welsh connections.

Sometime in the 6th century Scuthin left Ireland to pursue a life of cenobitic monasticism at Tyddewi in Wales founded by St. David, whom at a later date he is reported to have saved from poisoning.According to the "Irish Ecclesiastical Record" St. Scuithin, having attained advanced ascetic virtues, returned to Ireland c. 540 to live the life of a hermit monk, building himself an austere and isolated cell.

This cell was located at Freynestown, on the Johnswell hills in the ancient barony of Slieve Margy, Kingdom of Ossory. This habitat would become known in Irish as tigh scuithin and evolve into Tiscoffin monastery as noted in the List of monastic houses in Ireland.

In the Irish language tigh scuithin means the house/abode of Scuithin. This has been anglicised as Tiscoffin and preserved as one of the Civil parishes in Ireland within the Kilkenny Barony of Gowran. The county Kilkenny town of Castlewarren in the Diocese of Ossory also preserves his name with the church of St. Scuithin. The townland of Freynestown is closely associated with St. Scuithin.

Theodosius of Kiev

Theodosius of Kiev or Theodosius of the Caves (Russian: Феодосий Печерский; Ukrainian: Феодосій Печерський) is an 11th-century saint who brought Cenobitic Monasticism to Kievan Rus' and, together with St Anthony of Kiev, founded the Kiev Caves Lavra (Monastery of the Caves). A hagiography of Theodosius was written in the twelfth century.

Saint Theodosius' greatest achievement has been the introducing of the monastic rule of Saint Theodore the Studite in the Monastery of the Caves whence it spread to all the monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the Primary Chronicle:

"...the monastery was completed during the abbacy of Barlaam...When Barlaam had departed the brethren...visited the aged Anthony [founder of the Monastery of the Caves, who was now living in deep seclusion] with the request that he should designate a new abbot for them. He inquired whom they desired. They replied that they required only the one designated by God and by his [Anthony's] own selection. Then he inquired of them: 'Who among you is more obedient, more modest, and more mild than Theodosius? Let him be your abbot.' The brethren rejoiced...and thus they appointed Theodosius to be their abbot."When Theodosius took over in the monastery, he began to practice abstinence, fasting, and tearful prayer.... He also interested himself in searching out monastic rules. There was in Kiev at the time a monk from the Studion Monastery named Michael, who had come from Greece.... Theodosius inquired of him the practices of the Studite monks. He obtained their rule from him, copied it out, and established it in his own monastery to govern the chanting of monastic hymns, in making reverences, reading of the lessons, behavior in church, the whole ritual, conduct at the table, proper food for special days, and to regulate all else according to prescription."After obtaining all this information, Theodosius thus transmitted it to his monastery, and from the latter all others adopted the same instruction. Whereas the Monastery of the Caves is honored among the oldest of them all."Theodosius has been glorified (canonized) as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. His main feast day is May 3, the date of his repose. His relics were discovered by St. Nestor the Chronicler, on August 14, 1091, and were found to be incorrupt. The relics were transferred to the main catholicon (cathedral) of the monastery, and a second annual feast day was established in commemoration of this event.


Typikon (or typicon, pl. typica; Greek: Τυπικόν, "that of the prescribed form"; Slavonic: Тvпико́нъ Typikonə or Оуставъ, ustavə) is a liturgical book which contains instructions about the order of the Byzantine Rite office and variable hymns of the Divine Liturgy.

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