The religious life, accompanied by renunciation and mortification, has always appealed to those especially devout souls who feel that religion demands a total dedication, and of course the ascetic life is not an exclusively Christian practice. But the fourth century witnessed an efflorescence of religious ascetism, no doubt partly because toleration removed the necessity of heroic sacrifice. Large numbers sought this kind of life in its secluded or solitary form as hermits, especially in the Egyptian desert near Alexandria. Most famous was St. Anthony, whose life became a model for others. But not all were successful, and the coenobitical or community form came to have greater appeal. The first rule for a community or monastic establishment was presumably that of Pachomius (d.c. 346), and the rule of life which won widest acceptance in the East was that of St. Basil the Great of Caesarea (329–379).
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