Pachomius vs. Cyprian of Carthage

Welcome to the final battle of the first full week of Lent Madness XV. Today, it's Mediterranean Mayhem as Pachomius takes on Cyprian of Carthage. Early 4th century Egyptian monk vs. 3rd century martyred African bishop.

Yesterday, Joseph of Arimathea re-buried Lazarus (for the third time!) 72% to 28%.

We do hope you survive the weekend without us. But we'll be back bright and early Monday morning as the Round of 32 continues as Adomnan of Iona faces Joseph Vaz.

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Pachomius was born in the late third century in upper Egypt to pagan parents. When he was a young man, he was conscripted to serve in the Roman army. Conscripts were housed in prison-like conditions. While essentially imprisoned, Pachomius and his fellow conscripts were tended to by Christians (apparently they took Jesus’s exhortation in Matthew 25 to look after prisoners seriously).

The care provided by Christians grabbed Pachomius’s attention and he vowed to learn more about their strange faith when his military service ended.

After his release from the Roman army in 313 or 314, Pachomius converted to Christianity and was baptized. He spent seven years as an ascetic until he had a calling to establish a community of monks. He thus established cenobitic (from the Greek, koinos + bios = common life) monasticism, wherein a group of monks live in a community but in individual cells and are governed by an abbot (up to this point, Christian ascetics lived solitary lives in the desert).

His first monastery was established in 320 with his brother and about 100 monks. They shared common clothing and food and had tasks assigned according to ability. To help govern the community, Pachomius created a rule–the earliest extant–that established the rhythms and patterns of the community. That rule was later adapted to the Ascetica, which is still used in Orthodox communities (it is similar to the Western Rule of Saint Benedict). Pachomius was a gifted administrator.

Pachomius was never ordained and monastics in his communities were not priests. Pachomius wrote and spoke Coptic. He never learned Latin or Greek. Yet Pachomius served as an abbot for 30 years and founded 11 monasteries and communities for as many as 7,000 monks. He is the first Christian to use a prayer rope, originally conceived as an aid for uneducated monks to accomplish their prayers.

Pachomius died in 346 or 348 of the plague. His feast day is celebrated on May 15 in the West.

Collect for Pachomius

Set us free, O God, from all false desires, vain ambitions, and everything that would separate us from your love; that, like your servant Pachomius, we might give ourselves fully to a life of discipleship, seeking you alone and serving those whom you have given us to serve; through Jesus Christ, our only mediator and advocate. Amen. (LFF 2022)

David Creech

Cyprian of Carthage

Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, whom we know as St. Cyprian, was born in Carthage around the year 200. Although he faced persecution and torture, he persevered for his faith. A theologian and a bishop, Cyprian was the first bishop martyr of Africa.

During his lifetime, Carthage was an important city for trade, manufacturing, and agriculture. The port of Carthage saw trade with all parts of the known world–Asia, Africa, India, and the Mediterranean. This allowed Cyprian a global-knowledge and an understanding of others.

His parents were well-to-do pagans; his father was a senator. Cyprian was educated in the law. After a wild-boy phase, he practiced law and converted to Christianity in 246. Two years later, he was a bishop, and shortly thereafter, he faced persecution by Roman Emperor Decius, which forced him into hiding, although some refer to this as a retreat. Nevertheless, he returned to Carthage in 251, only to face more threats, this time from the new Emperor Gallus in 252.

He was no stranger to controversy in the early church. He was a strong believer in baptism and displayed his Christian beliefs in his daily living; for example, he organized medical assistance during a particularly nasty plague.

The ongoing persecutions greatly impacted him and his authority as a bishop. While he survived physical threats, he also found himself at odds over fundamental theology with the Bishop of Rome, Stephen. Pope Stephen’s death in 257 ended all those disputes, only to be followed shortly thereafter with more persecution, this time by Emperor Valerian.

Cyprian was a writer, orator, translator, teacher, and religious leader who displayed no fear. He was a prolific letter-writer, allowing him to connect with his far-flung flock throughout North Africa.

His expansive library of books, letters, and essays focus on ethics, history, and Christian thought; one that has been passed on through the ages is On the Unity of The Catholic Church.

Nonetheless, Cyprian did not survive Roman persecution. He was martyred on September 14, 258 in his hometown of Carthage. In the public square, he was tried and beheaded, so to make him an example to others. Legend says he gave 25 gold coins to his executioner.

His feast day is celebrated in the Anglican, Episcopal, Western and Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Catholic Churches. He is listed for September 13 in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2022. He is the patron saint of North Africa and the Berbers, a North African ethnic group, also known as Amazigh or Imazighen.

As for his remains, nearly 500 years after his death, Charlemagne sent his relics to France; parts of St. Cyprian are claimed in Lyons, Arles, Venice, Compiègne, and Flanders.

Collect for Cyprian of Carthage

Almighty God, who gave to your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (LFF 2022)

Neva Rae Fox


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100 comments on “Pachomius vs. Cyprian of Carthage”

  1. Cyprain was a strong, brave and learned Christian . BUT Pachomius changed the Christian world by establishing a new way for religious to live.

    1. Throughout history, it was common practice to pay the executioner so that the execution was quick and painless.

  2. Scrolling through some of the comments this morning, I am reminded of the immortal words of Norma Rae: "Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch!"

  3. Pachomius is, after all, the first monastic. However, what your biography failed to point out was that Cyprus took on the issue of what to do with those Christians who had given the emperor a bit of incense. Opinions varied from cast them into the outer darkness (with all that tooth gnashing), subject them to draconian torture and then let them back in, or forgive and forget (best robe and barbecue optional.) He carved out a moderate path and kept the church from yet another schism. So Cyprian.

  4. Pachomius vs. Cyprian of Carthage:
    Another difficult-to-choose match-up.
    Usually: a half-vote to each.
    Ultimately: Cyprian, because we're remarkably alike.

  5. I was unfamiliar with both of these saints, and find each one inspirational. I voted for Pachomius because I have always had a hankering to be part of a monastic community.

  6. Wasn't it Cyprian who said "Where Christ is, there is the universal church"? Sounds good to me. Another vote for Cyprian.

  7. Both Pachomius and Cyprian were great, but I was so amazed by Pachomius, whom I had never heard of, so I voted for him!

  8. I had to vote for Pachomius. Having been part of an intentional community, I have no doubt that anyone who can teach people to live together in harmony has to be a major saint!

  9. I appreciate monk and monastic life and acknowledge the hard work of founding so many monitaries. However, I need to vote for Cyprian who lived in the real world, boldly living a Christian life, even to his death. His is an example to aspire to.

    Thankfully, most of us are not being persecuted for living our faith.

  10. I'd never heard of Pachomius: genius administrator and beneficiary of Jesus's teaching. This is why Lent Madness is so terrific! On behalf of all vets seeking peace, I'm voting for him

  11. Pachomius has my vote because I love the rosary! I use both the Anglican and traditional rosary which would have been derived from his prayer knots.

  12. My criteria are often
    ---Martyrs over non-martyrs.
    ---Impact on the church.

    Plus I'm a (somewhat shallow) gay man, so sometimes a pic of a cute young guy clinches it for me.

    In this case, I found the criteria in conflict and went with Pachomius, who had more influence in that he founded an important institution: the monastery.

  13. I am a Lutheran and have enjoyed Lentmadness since 2016 when Dietrich Bonhoeffer won the Golden Halo. It is such fun and I look forward to Lent every year --- except that I am 83 and those ashes and that dust seem closer every year. I've created my own Lentmadness website so I can keep track of things. I am also a softy so I always vote for Martyrs. There have been some very entertaining ones -- like the beheaded Saint's head that kept preaching as it rolled down the street. I wonder if Albert Schweitzer will earn the Halo. He was a Polymath. Great Word!

  14. Cyprian is admirable but gets enough press. Pachomius is new to me, and I feel that his work anchoring monasticism in communal life was a needed corrective to the ascetism that was norm it replaced -- and a priceless reminder to the whole body of Christ that all of our lives in Christ are meant to be lived out amidst the mutual nurture and guidance of blessed community.

  15. Pachomius has captured my heart and imagination today. Cyprian was the well off kid who got the good press. I am more moved by the impressed prisoner who became a good administrator. His Rule predates Benedict's. He spoke Coptic. He made use of a prayer rope. He is the Egyptian answer to Moses. He like Polycarp is a seminal (ovarian?) transitional figure in Christianity from the raw charismatic era to an institutional era of the church. I find that fascinating. I would rather see him move forward; we have had quite enough of saints whose body parts are scattered all over Europe (or displayed whole in glass cases).

  16. I. Voted for Pachomius because he was inspired by the Christians who cared for him and his Army buddies and by my husband who was a Navy surgeon.

  17. I am a member of St Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Lufkin Tx, so naturally I voted for him. We celebrate his feast day in September. I look forward to learning more about him, so y’all vote for St. Cyprian!

  18. I figured Pachomius would be a lost cause vs. a martyr, especially one whose name is included in the RC Eucharistic Prayer Number 1. But I gave him my vote anyway.

  19. That's the advantage of living in California....all the bugs have been found out and fixed by the time comes for us to vote!!

  20. I found the account of Pachomius very moving. With little in the way of worldly advantages - conscription, limited educational opportunities, remaining a lay person, supporting practices for the uneducated - Pachomius faithfully served God and enabled others to participate in the monastic life. Pachomius gets my vote today.

  21. "Nevertheless, he returned to Carthage in 251, only to face more threats, this time from the new Emperor Gallus in 252."

    Alexei Navalny comes to mind.

    I am a writer -- mainly of sermons. These biographies are so very well written, on a daily basis.

  22. Husband cannot vote. He has a different email address and a different device. But of course we share the same wi-fI.

  23. Never before having heard of Pachomius, and impressed by his legacy to the church, I'm voting for him. It's great to learn new saints! There were a number whose achievements sound like Cyprians' but Pachomius is unique. I think.

  24. I absolutely love Lent Madness. It is always something my husband enjoy every Lent. Learning about holy men and women who help us on our pilgrimage. What I'm not enjoying this year are the unkind comments about how this fun event is being run. This is a Christian offering and yet people are being outright mean and rude. My apologies to those who oversee this "competition". I am loving this year's matchups, the themes, all of it!! And I am grateful for each of you and all the hard work that goes in to making this happen each year. Happy Lent!!

    1. I agree, some participants could use much more of the patience that Pachomius preached (according to the link by someone earlier in the comments)!
      I also agree a "big Thank you" to those who put together this competition - so fun to learn more about all these saints, and giving the match-ups themes is added interest.