June 19 – Paisios the Great; Romuald

Paisios the Great (320–417) (aka Bishoy) was the youngest and sickliest of a large and pious Egyptian family. When an angel in a vision told his mother to dedicate one of her children to God, and indicated that by “one of her children” he meant Paisios, the mother tried to put forward one of the healthier children, but the angel wouldn’t hear of it. So at the age of twenty, Paisios went into the desert to live under the rule of (St.) Pambo, whose name is easier and funner to say. Paisios was always careful to do all his master told him. He especially took to fasting, and worked up to fasting for 70 days at a time. Pambo rejoiced at his obedience, and at the money the monastery saved not feeding him.

When Pambo died, Paisios was led by the Holy Spirit to a location in the Nitrian desert (now the site of the Coptic Saint Bishoy monastery), and dug a cave with his own hands (one hopes he had a shovel, or at last a rock, to scrape with). There he lived in solitude until the place was overrun with monk wannabes, and he was forced to create a monastery. His monastic rule was that all monks must obey the will of their elders, which seems so obvious it makes one wonder how slipshod monasteries were before then.

Paisios saw our Lord Jesus many times. Once he carried an old monk up a mountain, only to find it was Jesus. Another time, word spread that Jesus was coming to visit, and all the monks went out to see him, but none would stop for an old stranger who asked for help. Paisios helped him back to his cell and washed his feet, and the stranger revealed himself as the Lord. He also saw the prophet Jeremiah, whom he particularly loved. He was a prodigious faster (as noted), but when asked what the greatest works of virtue are, he said, “Those that are done in secret.” His incorrupt relics rest at the aforementioned St. Bishoy Monastery.

Romuald (ca. 952–1025/27) was born in Ravenna, and misspent his youth in the typical sinful pastimes of spoiled and indulgent tenth-century aristocratic brats. (No, I don’t have an itemized list, and it’s naughty of you to ask.) At the age of twenty, he served as second in a duel in which his father killed another man. Devastated, Romuald fled to the nearby monastery of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, one of eight Ravenna sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List, although obviously not yet at that time. After some dithering he made his profession.

The next thing you know, he had talked the Doge of Venice, (St.) Peter Orseolus (Jan 10), into resigning his office and running off with him and a certain Marinus (who has no Wikipedia page, poor soul) to the monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa (what is it with the French and their hyphens?) in southern France. Drawing from his experiences with the Benedictines of Sant’Apollinaire, the eremiticism of Marinus, and the Iberian rule of Saint-Michel, Romuald created his own order, the Camaldolese. His rule was “Empty yourself completely and sit waiting.” We will not make any jokes about the Paris Metro.

His holiness, placidity, and so forth came to the attention of Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, who bade Romuald take over an ancient (and let’s face it pretty slovenly) monastery, hoping he could whip it into shape. The monks there were so recalcitrant, however, that Romuald threw in the towel, threw his staff to the ground at Otto’s feet, and went off to become a hermit. He founded many a hermitage and monastery up and down the Italian peninsula. One monastery was on a site donated by a certain Maldolus, who had seen a vision of monks in white linen[1] ascending into heaven. Romuald died alone in his cell. His relics were moved to Fabriano in 1481, and his feast to June 19 in 1969.

[1] Never reaching the end…