Christian monasticism had its origin in the Egyptian deserts in the 3d–4th cent. with the anchorites, who sought perfection in the most extreme asceticism. Most famous of these hermits was St. Anthony, who is called the father of monasticism. From among loose associations of these hermits, the monk St. Pachomius organized (c.320) the first cenobitic community. Somewhat similar was the laura—cells arranged into a monastic village, sometimes of very great size.
Uniformity was gradually wrought in Eastern monasticism by the rules of St. Basil the Great. He favored the cenobitic style and stressed manual labor and obedience in opposition to the extravagances of much of early monasticism (see, e.g., Simeon Stylites, Saint). Monasticism in the East has changed little since the 4th cent.; the monks devote their day to lengthy liturgies and simple work. They do not usually become priests and do not value learning. In contrast to the development in the West, Eastern monks do not belong to different orders with specialized functions; the monasteries or lauras are basically alike in nature and autonomous in organization (see Basilian monks). Mount Athos is the great center of monasticism in the Eastern Church.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.