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(anchoritism), rejection of communication with other people for religious reasons; an eremite retreats to a desert. In antiquity, eremitism was a sporadic phenomenon in Judaism (among the Essenes) and among the followers of the philosophical schools of the late classical era (the Neoplatonists). It is a more widespread phenomenon in the religions of India, China, Japan, and other Oriental countries (such as Buddhism and Taoism).
Eremitism attained particular development among the Christians. It originated in Christianity in the third century in the Egyptian deserts as an escape from the persecution of the Roman emperors. The first of the well-known Christian eremites was Paul of Thebes, who retreated to the desert to escape the persecution of the Christians by the emperor Decius. In the early fourth century, Christian eremites, following the example of Anthony the Great, Pachomius, and other ascetics, retreated to the Egyptian desert of Thebes. In the same century, eremitism spread to Palestine, Cappadocia, and Armenia and then to Gaul, Spain, and Italy.
During the Middle Ages, eremitism was gradually supplanted by monasticism. The church aided the process by striving to replace eremitism, which was inaccessible to church control, with the organized forms of monasticism.