Although Saint Anthony of Egypt (251 – 356 AD) is sometimes called the first Christian monk, this is obviously not correct.
After Anthony was converted to Christ and moved out to the deserts of Egypt to follow God, he wrote that there were already hundreds of others there, living the monastic life. All of this was taking place around 200-350 AD.
It is unknown know how much earlier the movement of prayerful Christians to the desert may have actually begun. This "first wave" of monks, and was distinguished by asceticism and physical solitude.
In fact, the word, monk, comes from the Greek word monachus, meaning "alone."
These first Christian monks in the desert could be called "religious hermits."
Eremitic monasticism refers to monks who dwell alone ("eremites" or "hermits"). This was the original Christian monasticism, and was exemplified in the life of Anthony.
It was a monk named Pachomius (c. 292 – 346 AD), a contemporary of Anthony, who then formed a second style of monastic life.
Pachomius gathered monks into a monastic community – still in a desert place, as it happened.
Monks who lived in communities were no longer isolated eremites (hermits), but were called "cenobites".
The members of the community of Pachomius were still monks, i.e., "alone", in the sense that they withdrew to life in their small community, and still geographically quite separate from the everyday world.
Even if no longer absolutely physically "alone" because of their life in a community in the desert, the monks nevertheless were intentionally still "apart" from the average daily existence around them.
(Continued on the next page.)