In the previous posting, we looked at a warrior saint popular among Coptic Christians. Today we will look at a monk saint who was an Egyptian, and whose icons are found not only there but also in Greece, the Balkans, and Russia. His name in Coptic is Pakhom, meaning “eagle”; in Greek it is Pakhomios, and in Russia Pakhomiy.
He is often found with the Greek title Όσιος Παχώμιος ο Μέγας — Hosios Pakhomios ho Megas, Hosios is a title used for monastics, corresponding to the Russian use of Prepodobnuiy, very loosely rendered into English as “Venerable.” Pakhomios of course is his name, and ho Megas means “the Great.” We have the same word borrowed into English as a prefix signifying “very big” for all kinds of things, from “mega-mall” to “mega-pizza,” so its meaning in Greek should be easy to remember.
The standard type of Pakhomios (or Pachomius latinized) depicts him standing, robed as an abbot. But a more interesting type commonly associated with monasteries shows an angel appearing to him. Here’s an example from a wall in Meteora:
Pakhomios, at left, is shown in the stylized “look of surprise” posture used in Greek iconography, leaning slightly away, with both hands raised, palms out, before him. The angel points at the monastic hood. Now let’s consider the Greek inscriptions:
By now, if you have been reading regularly here, that abbreviation should be easy to translate as HO HAGIOS — “[the] HOLY”
Next comes the saint’s name:
That is easy too — “PAKHOMIOS.”
The inscription on the angel at right is what one might expect:
ΑΓΓΕΛΟς ΚΥ — abbreviating ΑΓΓΕΛΟC ΚΥΡΙΟΥ —ANGELOS KYRIOU
Angelos Kyriou means “Angel of the Lord.” You will recall that kyrios/kurios is “Lord,” but when it has the -ou ending, it means “of the Lord.”
Τhe double gamma (ΓΓ) in Greek is prounced like “ng” in English. You probably noticed that the last letter in Angelos is the combined double letter we have encountered before, –os. Here it is written rather like a question mark.
Those inscriptions should have given you little trouble. But I do not expect you to translate the scroll inscription without help. But once I tell you what it is, you will be able to read it in multiple examples of this icon type, because in Greek icons the same inscription tends to be repeated again and again:
ΕΝ ΤΟΥΤΟ ΤѠ CΧΗΜΑΤΙ CѠΘΗCΕΤΑΙ ΠΑCΑ CΑΡΞ Ѡ ΠΑΧΟΜΙΕ
EN TOUTO TO SKHIMATI SOTHESETAI PASA SARX O PAKHOMIE
In this the skhima shall-be-saved all flesh O Pakhomios
Or in normal English,
“In this skhima shall all flesh be saved, O Pakhomios.”
What I have transliterated as sothesetai is actually written sothesete on this scroll. And skhima here, often written as “schema” in English, has a double meaning. It means not only the form, shape, and appearance of something, but it is also the name for the monastic habit, the clothing Eastern Orthodox monks wear.
Now who exactly is Pachomios, and what is being shown here?
He is said to have lived in Egypt between about 292 and 346. There was already a tradition of going into the desert to live as a hermit or “anchorite.” But eventually some hermits began to site their dwellings near one or another noted ascetic, and such a grouping was known in Greek as a laura or in Slavic as a lavra. Pachomius began as a hermit, but founded a community of monks living together on an island in the Nile called Tabennae (also written as Tabennisi). It grew into a community of some 1400 monks living the so-called coenobitic life, meaning that of monks living together and practicing under the same rules. The name for such a community in Latin is a coenobium. It comes from the Greek words κοινός/koinos meaning “common,” and βίος/bios, meaning “life.” You may already know the word κοινός/koinos from the term “Koine Greek,” used to describe the kind of “common” Hellenistic Greek in which the New Testament was written.
As for the icon type, it is the traditional explanation for why Pakhomios founded a monastic community on Tabennae. The story is that an angel dressed in a monastic habit and hood appeared to Pachomius one day while he was praying at the island. The angel told him to found a community of monks there, and showed him by example not only the garment his monks were to wear, but also gave him a tablet bearing the list of rules by which they were to live.
Here is a Russian pattern for the type “The Vision of Pachomius,” one of the transfers taken from old icons by Guryanov:
In this rendering, the angel is identified by the IC XC inscription as “Jesus Christ.”