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If You Build It They Will Come (The Original)

Pachomius (290-346) was a man with a mission. He believed God wanted him to try something unique to Christianity, and, if he did, Christians would come. And come they did. But they soon became upset with Pachomius requirements. So Pachomius started over with a different and bizarre strategy and amazing results ensued.

Pachomius lived in Egypt during a time when living alone in the desert in order to totally focus on God was popular. Believing that living in society, either in a city or village, meant inviting distractions, thousands of people traveled into the desert. They built small structures or lived in caves, and focused on to God. Although Pachomius ended up in the desert, his early life gave no indication of it.

At age 20, Pachomius was forced to join the Roman army and was shipped on the Nile to a Roman army base. While there he was befriended by Christians who fed and cared for him; this experience of kindness changed his life and he became a Christian. After a time he was released and was baptized soon afterward around the year 313.

He decided to follow the example of so many others during this time, and so moved into the desert to focus on God. He met an older monk named Palamon and lived close to him for several years. One day Pachomius traveled deeper into the desert to meditate on God, and while there believed that an angel told him, "Stay here and build a monastery and many will come to you to be monks."

Pachomius, along with his brother John, built a small building and began to meditate on God. Eventually others wanted to join them. In an attempt to accommodate to the solitary life these men were used to, Pachomius decided that each one could keep his own possessions. Everyone was expected to contribute to the good of the whole community.

Eventually, though, grumbling started, as many complained about the way Pachomius was running the community. He decided to abandon this idea. He disbanded the community and decided to use a new strategy. Since so many had complained of the way he handled the community and the rules he had established, he decided to try a strategy which more people would like. He decided to use the bizarre strategy of making the rules even stricter.

Whereas before he had allowed newcomers to retain their possessions and money, now he required for each person to give up all property and renounce their families. He decided that if people were going to focus on God, it would be at the cost of everything in their physical world. Plus, any newcomer had to memorize twenty Psalms and two letters of Paul.

This new stricter community was phenomenally successful. At the time of his death, Pachomius was in charge of nine communities for men and two for women (run by his sister). Estimates range as high as 10,000 men and women who lived in these communities.

So, whereas Pachomius had first tried to respond with simple rules and little requirements with those who wanted to join his community, he discovered that this bred complaining and disunity. Yet when he required more of people, when he demanded that they have a higher dedication for God, when he raised the bar, he found that many Christians would respond enthusiastically.

2004 Mark Nickens

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