St Pambo of Nitria, Abbot
A.D. 385
St. Pambo betook himself in his youth to the great St. Antony in the desert, and
desiring to be admitted among his disciples, begged he would give him some
lessons for his conduct. The great patriarch of the ancient monks told him, he must
perfectly divest himself of all self-conceit, and never place the least confidence in
himself, or in his own righteousness, must watch continually over himself, and study
to act in everything in such a manner as to have no occasion afterward to repent of
what he had done, and that he must labor to put a restraint upon his tongue, and
his appetite. The disciple set himself earnestly to learn the practice of all these
lessons. The mortification of gluttony was usually laid down by the fathers as one of
the first steps towards bringing the senses and the passions into subjection; this
consisting in something that is exterior and sensible, its practice is more obvious,
yet of great importance towards the reduction of all the sensual appetites of the
mind, whose revolt was begun by the intemperance and disobedience of our first
parents. Fasting is also, by the divine appointment, a duty of the exterior part of our
penance. What a reproach are the austere lives which so many saints have fed to
those slothful and sensual Christians whose God is their belly, and who walk
enemies to the cross of Christ, or who have not courage at least by frequent self-
denials to curb this appetite; No man can govern himself who is a slave to this base
gratification of sense. St. Pambo exceled most other ancient monks in the austerity
of his continual fasts. The government of his tongue was no less an object of his
watchfulness than that of his appetite. A certain religious brother, to whom he had
applied for advice began to recite to him the thirty-eighth psalm . I said I will take
heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue. Which words Pambo had no sooner
heard, but without waiting for the second verse, he returned to his cell, saying, that
was enough for one lesson, and that he would go and study to put it in practice. This
he did by keeping almost perpetual silence, and by weighing well, when it was
necessary to speak, every word before he gave any answer. He often took several
days to recommend consultations to God, and to consider what answer he should
give to those who addressed themselves to him.
By his perpetual attention not to offend in his words, he arrived at so great a
perfection in this particular, that he was thought to have equalled, if not to have
excelled, Saint Antony himself; and his answers were seasoned with so much
wisdom and spiritual prudence, that they were received by all as if they had been
oracles dictated by heaven Abbot Poeman said of our saint: Three exterior practices
are remarkable in abbot Pambo; his fasting every day till evening, his silence, and
his great diligence in manual labor. St. Antony inculcated to all his disciples the
obligation of assiduity in constant manual labor in a solitary life both as a part of
penance, and a necessary means to expel sloth, and entertain the vigor of the mind
in spiritual exercises. This lesson was confirmed to him by his own experience, and
by a heavenly vision related in the lives of the fathers, as follows: "Abbot Antony, as
he was sitting in the wilderness, a grievous temptation of spiritual sadness,
importunate thoughts and interior darkness; and he said to God: Lord, I desire to be
saved; but my thoughts are a hinderance to me. What shall I do in my present
affliction? How shall I be saved? Soon after, he rose up, and going out of his cell,
saw a man sitting and working; then rising from his work to pray; afterward sitting
down again and twisting his cord: after this, rising to prayer. He understood this to
be an angel sent by God to teach him what he was to do, and he heard the angel
say to him; "Do so, and thou shalt be saved." Hereat the abbot was filled with joy
and confidence, and by this means he cheerfully persevered to the end.  St. Pambo
most rigorously observed this rule, and feared to lose one moment of his precious
time. Out of love of humiliations, and a fear of the danger of vain-glory and pride, he
made it his earnest prayer for three years that God would not give him glory before
men, but rather contempt. Nevertheless God glorified him in this life, but made him
by his grace to learn more perfectly to humble himself amidst applause. The eminent
grace which replenished his soul showed itself in his exterior by a certain air of
majesty, and a kind of light which shone on his countenance like what we read of
Moses, so that a person could not look steadfastly on his face. St. Antony, who
admired the purity of his soul, and his mastery over his passions, used to say, that
his fear of God had moved the divine Spirit to take up his resting-place in him.
St. Pambo, after he left St. Antony, settled in the desert of Nitria on a mountain,
where he had a monastery. But he lived some time in the wilderness of the Cells,
where Rufinus says he went to receive his blessing in the year 374. St. Melania the
Wilder, in the visit she made to the holy solitaries who inhabited the deserts of
Egypt, coming to St. Pambo's monastery on mount Nitria, found the holy abbot
sitting at his work, making mats. She gave him three hundred pounds weight of
silver, desiring him to accept that part of her store for the necessities of the poor
among the brethren. St. Pambo, without interrupting his work, or looking at her or
her present, said to her that God would reward her charity. Then turning to his
disciple, he bade him take the silver, and distribute it among all the brethren in
Lybia and the isles who were most needy, but charged him to give nothing to those
of Egypt, that country being rich and plentiful. Melania continued some time
standing, and at length said: "Father, do you know that here is three hundred
pounds weight of silver?" The abbot, without casting his eye upon the chest of
silver, replied: "Daughter, he to whom you made this offering, very well knows how
much it weighs without being told. If you give it to God who did not despise the
widow's two mites, and even preferred them to the great presents of the rich, say no
more about it." This Melania herself related to Palladius. St. Athanasius once desired
St. Pambo to come out of the desert to Alexandria, to confound the Arians by giving
testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ. Our saint seeing in that city an actress
dressed up for the stage, wept bitterly; and being asked the reason of his tears,
said he wept for the sinful condition of that unhappy woman, and also for his own
sloth in the divine service; because he did not take so much pains to please God as
she did to ensnare men. When abbot Theodore begged of St. Pambo some words of
instruction: "Go," said he, "and exercise mercy and charity toward all men. Mercy
finds confidence before God." To the priest of Nitria who asked him how the brethren
ought to live, he said: "They must live in constant labor and the exercise of all
virtues, watching to preserve their conscience free from stain, especially from giving
scandal or offence to any neighbor." St. Pambo said, a little before his death: "From
the time that I came into this desert, and built myself a cell in it, I do not remember
that I have ever ate any bread but what I had earned by my own labor, nor that I
ever spoke any word of which I afterward repented. Nevertheless, I go to God as one
who has not yet begun to serve him." He died seventy years old, without any
sickness, pain, or agony, as he was making a basket, which he bequeathed to
Palladius, who was at that time his disciple, the holy man having nothing else to
give him. Melania took care of his burial, and having obtained this basket, kept it to
her dying day. St. Pambo is commemorated by the Greeks on several days. It was an
usual saying of this great director of souls in the rules of Christian perfection: "If you
have a heart, you may be saved."
The extraordinary austerities and solitude of a St.Antony or a St. Pambo, are not
suitable to persons engaged in the world; they are even inconsistent with their
obligations; but all are capable of disengaging their affections from inordinate
passions and attachment to creatures, and of attaining to a pure and holy love of
God, which may be made the principle of their thoughts and ordinary actions, and
sanctify the whole circle of their lives. Of this all who have a heart, are, through the
divine grace, capable. In whatever circumstances we are placed, we have
opportunities of subduing our passions, and subjecting our senses by frequent
denials; of watching over our hearts by self-examinetion, of purifying our affections
by assiduous recollection and prayer, and of uniting our souls to God by continual
exterior and interior acts of holy love. Thus may the gentlemen, the husbandman, or
the shop-keeper, become an eminent saint, and make even the employments of his
state an exercise of all heroic virtues, and so many steps to perfection and eternal
From Palladius in Lausiac., Rufin. Hist. Patr. Sozemen; Cotelier, Apoth. Patr. p 637,
64l, and 628. See Tillemont, t. 8, p. 445. A. D. 385.        

-- There was a monk named Pambo and they said of him that he spent three years
saying to God, “Do not glorify me on earth.” But God glorified him so that one could
not gaze steadfastly at him because of the glory of his countenance.
-- Two brethren came to see Abba Pambo one day and the first asked him, “Abba, I
fast for two days, then I eat two loaves; am I saving my soul, or am I going the
wrong way?” The second said, “Abba, every day I get two pence from my manual
work, and I keep a little for my food and give the rest in alms; shall I be saved or
shall I be lost?” They remained a long time questioning him and still the old man
gave them no reply. After four days they had to leave and the priests comforted
them saying, “Do not be troubled, brothers. God gives the reward. It is the old man’s
custom not to speak readily till God inspires him.” So they went to see the old man
and said to him, “Abba, pray for us.” He said to them, “Do you want to go away?”
They said, “Yes.” Then, giving his mind to their works and writing on the ground he
said, “If Pambo fasted for two days together and ate two loaves, would he become a
monk that way? No. And if Pambo works to get two pence and gives them in alms,
would he become a monk that way? No, not that way either.” He said to them, “The
works are good, but if you guard your conscience towards your neighbor, then you
will be saved.” They were satisfied and went away joyfully.

-- Four monks of Scetis, clothed in skins, came one day to see the great Pambo.
Each one revealed the virtue of his neighbor. The first fasted a great deal; the
second was poor; the third had acquired great charity; and they said of the fourth
that he had lived for twenty-two years in obedience to an old man. Abba Pambo said
to them, “I tell you, the virtue of this last one is the greatest. Each of the others
has obtained the virtue he wished to acquire; but the last one, restraining his own
will, does the will of another. Now it is of such men that the martyrs are made, if
they persevere to the end.”

-- Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, of holy memory, begged Abba Pambo to
come down from the desert to Alexandria. He went down, and seeing an actress he
began to weep. Those who were present asked him the reason for his tears, and he
said, “Two things make me weep: one, the loss of this woman; and the other, that I
am not so concerned to please God as she is to please wicked men.”
-- Abba Pambo said, “By the grace of God, since I left the world, I have not said one
word of which I repented afterwards.”
-- He also said, “The monk should wear a garment of such a kind that he could throw
it out of his cell and no-one would steal it from him for three days.”
-- They said of Abba Pambo that as he was dying, at the very hour of his death, he
said to the holy men who were standing near him, “Since I came to this place of the
desert and built my cell and dwelt here, I do not remember having eaten bread which
was not the fruit of my hands and I have not repented of a word I have said up to
the present time; and yet I am going to God as one who has not yet begun to serve
-- He was greater than many others in that if he was asked to interpret part of the
Scriptures or a spiritual saying, he would not reply immediately, but he would say he
did not know that saying. If he was asked again, he would say no more.  
-- Abba Pambo said, “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”
-- The priest of Nitria asked him how the brethren ought to live. He replied, “With
much labor, guarding their consciences towards their neighbor.”
-- They said of Abba Pambo that he was like Moses, who received the image of the
glory of Adam when his face shone. His face shone like lightning and he was like a
king sitting on his throne. It was the same with Abba Silvanus and Abba Sisoes.
-- The said of Abba Pambo that his face never smiled. So one day, wishing to make
him laugh, the demons stuck wing feathers on to a lump of wood and brought it in
making an uproar and saying, “Go, go!” When he saw them, Abba Pambo began to
laugh and the demons started to say in chorus, “Ha! Ha! Pambo has laughed!” But in
reply he said to them, “I have not laughed, but I made fun of your powerlessness,
because it takes so many of you to carry a wing.”
-- Abba Theodore of Pherme asked Abba Pambo, “Give me a word.” With much
difficulty he said to him, “Theodore, go and have pity on all, for through pity, one
finds freedom of speech before God.”  
NOTE: Two other holy fathers, Paisius and Isaiah, are commemorated on the same
day as Abba Pambo. Two Egyptian brothers, their parents died leaving them with a
great inheritance. They sold everything and each took half the money. One of them
immediately gave his share to the poor and, becoming a monk, he withdrew to the
asceticism of the desert so that, by endurance, fasting and prayer and the purifying
of his mind from all evil thoughts, he might save his soul. The other brother also
became a monk, but did not go into the desert. He built a small monastery near the
town, and also a hospital for the sick, a refectory for those in want and a resthouse
for the weary. In this way, he gave himself utterly to the service of others. When
both brothers died, a dispute arose among the monks in Egypt as to which fulfilled
the Law of Christ. Being unable to reach agreement, they went to Abba Pambo and
asked him about this. Abba Pambo replied: “They are both perfect before God; the
receiver of guests is like hospitable Abram and the hermit is like Elias the prophet,
who were both equally pleasing to God.” But they were not all satisfied with this
answer. Then Abba Pambo prayed to God to reveal the truth to him. After several
days of prayer, St. Pambo said to the monks: “As God is my witness, I say to you, I
have seen both brothers, Paisius and Isaiah, together in Paradise.” And thus the
dispute was settled and they were all content.
Abba Pambo To His Disciple
From The Gerondikon[3]
And I'll tell you this, my child, that the days will come when the Christians will add
to and will take away from, and will alter the books of the Holy Divine Prophets, and
of the Holy Fathers. They'll tone down the Holy Scriptures and will compose troparia,
hymns, and writings technologically. Their nous will be spilled out among them, and
will become alienated from its Heavenly Prototype. For this reason the Holy Fathers
had previously encouraged the monks of the desert to write down the lives of the
Fathers not onto parchment, but onto paper, because the coming generation will
change them to suit their own personal tastes. So you see, the evil that comes will
be horrible. Then the disciple said: So then, Geronda,[4] the traditions are going to
be changed and the practices of the Christians? Maybe there won't exist enough
priests in the Church when these unfortunate times come? And the Holy Father
continued: In these times the love for God in most souls will grow cold and a great
sadness will fall onto the world. One nation shall face-off against another. Peoples
will move away from their own places. Rulers will be confused. The clergy will be
thrown into anarchy, and the monks will be inclined more to negligence. The church
leaders will consider useless anything concerned with salvation, as much for their
own souls as for the souls of their flocks, and they will despise any such concern. All
will show eagerness and energy for every matter regarding their dining table and
their appetites. They'll be lazy in their prayers and casual in their criticisms. As for
the lives and teachings of the Holy Fathers, they'll not have any interest to imitate
them, nor even to hear them. But rather they will complain and say that "if we had
lived in those times, then we'd have behaved like that." And the Bishops shall give
way to the powerful of the world, giving answers on different matters only after
taking gifts from everywhere and consulting the rights will not be defended; they'll
afflict widows and harass orphans. Debauchery will permeate these people. Most
won't believe in God; they'll hate each other and devour one another like beasts. The
one will steal from the other; they'll be drunk and will walk about as blind. The
disciple again asked: What can we do in such a state? And Elder Pambo answered:
My child, in these times whoever will save his soul and prompt others to be saved
will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.[5]
[1] Butler's lives of the Saints.
[2] Abba Pambo’s “Teachings” are from Sr. Benedicta Ward, “The Desert Christian,”
(New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1975), pp. 195 - 198.
[3] Gerondikon (pronounced yeh-ron-dee-KOHN). The Gerondikon is a very famous
book of sayings of the Gerondes (i.e. Elders...... Spiritual Fathers), known to every
pious (Greek) Orthodox Christian.
[4] Geronda (YEH-ron-dah), means Elder (Starets, in Russian) who is a spiritual
father/elder of a Christian.
[5] While this is an acient prophecy of Elder Pambo, stated many hundreds of years
ago...... it is very telling of current times in many Orthodox churches, of many
bishops, clergy, monastic and lay people....... It should also be taken as a reminder
to reform our lives, and return to a True, Christian, Orthodox way of life!
Lives of the Saints