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In the 3rd and 4th Centuries, and even to some extent today, the popular image of holiness was solitude, silence and severity. The really (quote) "holy people" back then were those who lived like hermits, wandering in the desert alone -- fasting, praying and having visions. Some of them went to extremes: eating nothing but grass, living in trees, or refusing to wash.

Then Pachomius, an Egyptian soldier, came to faith in Christ through the witness of some Christians in Thebes. After his release from the military, around A.D. 315, he was baptized. Now, Pachomius was serious about his new faith and determined to grow, so he attached himself as a disciple of Palamon, an ascetic who taught him the self-denial and solitary life of a religious hermit.

But Pachomius began to question the methods and lifestyle of his mentors. How can you learn to love if no one else is around? How can you learn humility living alone? How can you learn kindness or gentleness or goodness in isolation? How can you learn patience unless someone puts yours to the test? In short, he concluded, developing spiritual fruit requires being around people -- ordinary, ornery people. "To save souls," he said, "you must bring them together."

So Pachomius began to gather people together in communities where holiness was developed not in isolation, but in rubbing shoulders with flawed, demanding, and...

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