Maher Ishak: Saint Pachomius

An active member of the Virgin Mary and Saint Pachomius Coptic Orthodox Church, Maher Ishak is the owner of the Woodbury Pharmacy in Highland Mills, New York.

The Coptic Orthodox Christian Church in Stony Point, New York is named for the Virgin Mary and Saint Pachomius, who is one of the church’s earliest saints and the founder of Christian cenobitic (communal) monasticism. He first encountered Christianity while a Roman soldier in Esna, Egypt, in the early fourth century AD. Impressed with their kindness and love, he determined to learn more about their faith when he left the army.

He was baptized a Christian in 314 AD and became a follower of Palamon, a Christian hermit, for many years, before deciding to become a hermit himself. Before he could do so, though, he heard a voice that told him to build a dwelling for the hermits. He built his first monastery in Tabbenisi, Egypt, and, guided by a vision of an angel, created a monastic organization where monks would live together under the leadership of an abbot (or abbess, in the case of female monastics). This was a significant departure from the eremitic, or solitary lifestyle, practiced by the hermits, but it proved to be very popular among the Christian hermits. Thereafter, they lived communal lives, eating and working together for the common good, but dwelling in solitude, each in his own cell.

Pachomius founded eight more monasteries, and established in them the tradition of serving their surrounding communities in different ways. Some taught the people, others provided medical attention, and others helped farm the land.

Pachomius’s life has been a strong inspiration to countless generations of Christians. He transformed his life, from involvement in the military to Christian sainthood, because of his love of the Christians he had met in Esna. The rest of his life was a reflection of that love and formed the foundation for the great Christian monastic tradition that has since spread around the known world. Pachomius is one of the few saints venerated by Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Catholicism as well as some Protestant traditions.

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