The Origins and History of Monstacism | Church History

During waves of persecution many of those who knew their weakness before the sword escaped to deserts where they dedicated their lives to God. When persecution ended, the martyric witness was superseded  by the offering of oneself through monastic vocation. Organized monasticism first appeared in Egypt under the leadership of Anthony the Great (251-356) who lived in seclusion in the mount of the Red Sea for approximately twenty years during which he attained spiritual maturity. Later, he would disciple many ascetics, some of whom would later become monastic leaders themselves such as Macarius of Egypt. Macarius of Egypt (300-391) retreated to the western desert of Egypt where he founded a monastic community remaining to this very day. Like Anthony, his disciples lived a reclusive life of contemplation. Unlike Anthony, Macarius required his disciples to meet once a week on Sunday to partake of the Eucharist and possibly hold a spiritual meeting or share a common meal. Pachomius of Egypt (292-348) was a pagan soldier who was so captivated by the hospitality of Christians in Upper Egypt that he decided to consecrate himself to their God. Pachomius would establish a number of coenobitic monastic settlements where monks would live in communal love under a single roof. He commissioned his sister to lead a similar life in convents for women who desired the monastic vocation. Monasticism was taken westward through Athanasius who shared the monasticism with the people of Ireland in one of his exiles. The formal transmission of monastic wisdom to the west came about at the hands of John Cassian (360 – 435). John went through the Eastern deserts garnering wisdom and customs of monastic fathers which he recorded in his books The Conferences and The Institutions. In the fifth century, Benedict (480-546) would launch a revival of western monasticism that would found numerous monasteries dedicated for the service of the masses.