desert fathers

PRAYER: Prayers Of Antony Of Egypt

August 21, 2017

When the holy Abba Antony lived in the desert he was beset by despair, and attacked by many sinful thoughts.  He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction?  How can I be saved?”  A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Antony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray.  It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him.  He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.”  At these words, Antony was filled with joy and courage.  He did this, and he was saved. When the same Abba Antony thought about [...]

A CLOUD OF WITNESSES: Prayer And The Christian Way Of Life (Part One) by Claire E. Wolfteich

October 25, 2016

From Lord, Have Mercy: Praying for Justice with Conviction and Humility One of the fourth-century desert fathers, Abba Macarius, was asked, How should one pray?  The old man said, There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, “Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.” Macarius was among the early monks and nuns who led solitary lives in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria.  They left cities and towns to live a stark, ascetic life of prayer, confronting the demons within and without, seeking to grow in discernment and purity of heart.  People often came to them and asked for a “word” – for spiritual counsel.  The elders would respond [...]

MYSTICISM: Discourse On Abba Philimon

January 22, 2016

From The Philokalia It is said that Abba Philimon, the anchorite, lived for a long time enclosed in a certain cave not far from the Lavra of the Romans.  There he engaged in the life of ascetic struggle, always asking himself the question which, it is reported, the great Arsenios used to put to himself: “Philimon, why did you come here?”  He used to plait ropes and make baskets, giving them to the steward of the Lavra in exchange for a small ration of bread.  He ate only bread and salt, and even that not every day.  In this way he took no thought for the flesh, but, initiated into ineffable mysteries through the pursuit of contemplation, he was enveloped by divine light and established in a state of joyfulness.  When he [...]

WISDOM: How Will I Know Truth When I See It? by Joan Chittister

July 6, 2015

From Welcome to the Wisdom of the World Monasteries are curious places.  To the occasional monastery-watcher, they can seem so uniform, so boringly organized.  Monastics, for the most part, live a common schedule, say a common set of prayers, live under a common Rule of life.  They eat together, live together, work together day after day for years and are formed together all their lives.  The inclination is to assume that monastic communities are one-dimensional places that spawn one-dimensional people.  Maybe, but not in any monastery I know, regardless of the tradition, however undifferentiated the group.  Not in my monastery for sure. In fact, I sat with a group of Eastern and Western monastics at an international meeting [...]

PRAYER: God As Prayer (part one) by Bishop Kallistos Ware

June 29, 2015

From The Orthodox Way Not I, but Christ in me. (Galatians 2:20) ∗ There is no life without prayer.  Without prayer there is only madness and horror.  The soul of Orthodoxy consists in the gift of prayer. (Vasilii Rozanov, Solitaria) ∗ The brethren asked Abba Agathon: “Amongst all our different activities, father, which is the virtue that requires the greatest effort?:  He answered: “Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than praying to God.  For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, try to prevent him; for they know that nothing obstructs them so much as prayer to God.  In everything else that a man undertakes, if he perseveres, he will attain rest.  But in order to pray a man must [...]

HOLY SPIRIT: On Divine Gifts by Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel

June 8, 2015

From The Crown of Monks By the secret regulation of an inner judgment Almighty God grants to one the word of wisdom, to another full faith, to another gifts of healing, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues, (see 1 Corinthians 12:9-10). Our Creator and Mover arranges all things in such a way that those who could be lifted up because of the gift they have are humbled because of the virtue they do not have.  And so it comes about that when he lifts someone up through a grace bestowed, he also subjects one person to another by bestowing a different gift. The Almighty Lord so arranges all things that every [...]

DESERT FATHERS: Dealing With The Devil by Michael Patella

October 7, 2014

From Angels and Demons Desert Monasticism The apocalyptic battles dramatically described in the Pseudepigrpha should not and cannot be interpreted literally, and no group knew this point better than the monastic women and men, who did so much in shaping Christian theology in the early days of the church.  The monks and nuns dwelling in the remote deserts were never far from daily confrontation with demons, as well as appearances of angels, and the stories of their battles with the diabolical world provide us with some of the best thought and practice of living in a world redeemed from sin and death.  From this desert literature, we can learn a great deal about how to approach the supernatural in our day. The monks and nuns moved to the [...]

DESERT FATHERS: Evagrius Debates Three Demons

October 6, 2014

From The Life of the Holy Evagrius, Written by Palladius Three demons in the form of clergy met him during the middle of the day. Their idea (to disguise themselves) was so good that he had no idea they were demons.  Indeed, his door to the courtyard was always kept barred; when he found it shut, he knew immediately that his visitors were demons. Each, therefore, asked him his own question, and they said to him, “Since we have heard that you speak articulately concerning the faith, we have come so you might persuade us.” He said to them, “Say what you wish.” The first said, “I am a Eunomian; I came in order for you to tell me: Is the Father unbegotten or begotten?”  He said to him, “I will not [...]

PRAYER: A Quiet Witness In The Desert by Holly Bridges

February 10, 2014

From A Circle of Prayer No power is greater than the power of people who meet in love together. In 1957 a small group of people, mostly Quakers, walked out into the Nevada desert and formed a circle.  The vast silence of the place, its stark but intricate beauty – rocks, yucca, sagebrush – masked the destruction churning and poisoning the land.  The group’s presence in the nuclear bomb test zone was both prayer and protest.  It occurred at the height of Cold War hostilities.  The nation was infatuated with tools of annihilation, which were hailed as the key to the country’s strength and global ascendancy. This tiny group in the desert, by contrast, believed that such a course was a terrible evil against humanity – [...]

SATURDAY READING: The God of the Desert by Richard Rodriguez

June 29, 2013

From Harper’s Magazine On the flight from London I sit opposite a rumble seat where the stewardess places herself during takeoff.  The stewardess is an Asian woman with a faraway look.  I ask how often she makes this flight.  Once or twice a month.  Does she enjoy Israel?  Not much.  She stays in a hotel in Tel Aviv.  She goes to the beach.  She flies back.  What about Jerusalem?  She has not been there.  What is in Jerusalem? The illustrated guidebook shows a medieval map of the world.  The map is round.  The sun has a beard of fire.  All the rivers of the world spew from the mouth of the moon.  At the center of the world is Jerusalem. Just inside the main doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, tourists seem unsure [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Good Friday

March 29, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  I wish I could weep like that Abba Joseph related that Abba Isaac said, “I was sitting with Abba Poeman one day and I saw him in ecstasy.  I was on terms of great freedom of speech with him so I prostrated myself before him and begged him, saying, ‘Tell me where you were.’ “He was forced to answer and he said, ‘My thought was with Saint Mary, the mother of God, as she wept by the cross of the savior.  I wish I could always weep like that.'” Carrying Christ’s cross Pachomius went with his brother to an island to cut rushes for mats.  And as he was keeping vigil alone, praying to be taught the whole will of God, (Romans [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Thursday Of Holy Week

March 28, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Washing the feet of evildoers It was said of Abba John the Persian that when some evildoers came to him, he took a basin and wanted to wash their feet.  But they were filled with confusion, and began to do penance. Washing Christ’s feet One time, while Abba Bishoy was praying in his cave, the savior visited him with two angels, as he had the patriarch Abraham, (Genesis 18), and said, “Greetings Bishoy!  Today we will be enjoying your hospitality if you oblige and welcome us.” Bishoy eagerly welcomed them, emulating the hospitality of that patriarch.  He did not busy himself with food and drink, however, but rather possessed a pure disposition. [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Wednesday Of Holy Week

March 27, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Taking up the cross Abba Nilus said, “Go, sell all that belongs to you and give it to the poor, (Mark 10:21), and, taking up the cross, (Luke 14:27), deny yourself; in this way you will be able to pray without distraction.” The dog and the hare An old man was asked how the zealous monk should not have his feelings hurt if he sees others turning back to the world and he said, “It’s profitable to observe dogs as they chase after hares: when one of them sees the hare he gives chase; the others see only the dog giving chase and run after him for a while but finally turn back to where they were.  Only the dog that saw the hare keeps up the [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Tuesday Of Holy Week

March 26, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  As for me A brother went to Abba Matoës and said to him, “How is it that the monks of Scetis did more than the Scriptures required in loving their enemies more than themselves?” Abba Matoës said to him, “As for me, I have not yet managed to love those who love me as much as I love myself.” A torn cloak A soldier asked Abba Mius if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things, he said to the soldier, “Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn do you throw in away?” The soldier replied, “No.  I mend it and use it again.” The old man said to him, “If you are so careful about your cloak, [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Monday Of Holy Week

March 25, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Even if I were ashes thrown to the wind Abba Poemen used to say this about Abba Isidore: “Every night he plaited a bundle of palms and the brothers pleaded with him, saying, ‘Rest a little, for you are getting old.’ “But he said to them, ‘Even if Isidore were burned, and his ashes thrown to the winds, I would not allow myself any relaxation because the son of God came here for our sake.'” Macarius, the thief, and the recalcitrant camel They said of Abba Macarius that a thief went into his cell when he was away.  Macarius went back to his cell and found the thief loading his things onto a camel.  So Macarius went into the cell, [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Friday Of The Fifth Week Of Lent

March 24, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Short and simple Abba Paul said, “Keep close to Jesus.” Bread and cheese One time a magistrate came to visit Abba Simon.  The clergy went on ahead and said to the old man, “Abba, get ready.  The magistrate has heard of you and is coming for your blessing.” So he said, “Yes, I will prepare myself.”  Then he put on a rough habit and taking some bread and cheese in his hands, went and sat in the doorway to eat it. When the magistrate arrived with his retinue and saw him, he despised him and said, “Is this the anchorite of whom we have heard so much?”  And they went away at [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Thursday Of The Fifth Week Of Lent

March 22, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  I died before he did Abba Daniel told this story about Abba Arsenius: A magistrate came one time, bringing Abba Arsenius the will of a certain senator, a member of abba’s family who had left him a very large inheritance. Taking it, Arsenius wanted to tear it up, but the magistrate threw himself at Arsenius’s feet, saying, “Do not tear it up!   If you do, they will cut off my head!” Abba Arsenius said to him, “I died before my relative,” and he gave the will back without accepting anything. Just starting out Antony, knowing the people’s practice of embalming and mummifying and afraid that they would do the same with his [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Wednesday Of The Fifth Week Of Lent

March 21, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Abba Macarius welcomes rebuke It was said about Abba Macarius that if a brother came to him fearfully as though to a saint and great old man, he would say nothing to him.  But if one of the brothers heaped scorn on him, saying, “My father, when you were a camel-driver and stole nitre and sold it, didn’t the guards beat you?”  If someone said these words to him, he would speak with him with joy about whatever he asked him. Imitate the dead A brother paid a visit to Abba Macarius and said to him, “Tell me a word: How can I be saved?” The old man said to him, “Go to the tombs.  Curse the dead.  Throw rocks at them.” The [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Tuesday Of The Fifth Week Of Lent

March 20, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Angels and unclean spirits One of Abba Longinus’s disciples had done some inappropriate things.  When Abba Theodore of Enaton found out, he came to Abba Longinus with another elder.  They implored him to expel the disciple.  But Abba Longinus did not listen to them, thinking that perhaps his disciple would repent and God would forgive him; he did not desire the death of the sinner but hoped he would repent and live. (Ezekiel 33:11; James 5:20)  He said to them just these words: “Woe to us because we renounce the world and have entered into the monastic life saying, ‘We are like angels,’ but in reality we are more evil than unclean [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Monday Of The Fifth Week Of Lent

March 19, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Sailors fighting a surging sea Amma Syncletica said, “In the world, those who sin, even involuntarily, are thrown into prison; as for us, on account of our sins let us imprison ourselves so that such voluntary judgment may drive off future punishment.  Are you fasting?  Do not pretend to be ill, for those who do not fast fall into real illnesses.  Have you begun to do what is good?  Do not fall back when the Enemy cuts off your advance, for through your patient endurance he is rendered impotent.  Indeed, those who begin a voyage first unfold the sails and go before a favorable wind but later the wind becomes adverse and impedes them.  The sailors, [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Fifth Sunday Of Lent

March 18, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Enduring temptation A brother asked Abba Poemen, “Why is it that my heart despairs if a little suffering gets hold of me?” The old man said to him, “Do we not admire how Joseph, just a little boy in Egypt, the land of idolaters, endured temptation? (Genesis 39-41)  And God glorified him in the end.  We also see that Job did not stop holding fast to God to the end and the Enemy was unable to shake his faith.” A golden cistern and a leper A priest visited an anchorite, celebrating for him the sacrifice of the holy mysteries.  But another person came to the anchorite and made slanderous accusations to him that the priest was a sinner. [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Saturday Of The Fourth Week Of Lent

March 17, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Torn to pieces A brother who had renounced the world and distributed what he owned among the poor, but who kept a few things for his own purposes, went to see Abba Antony, and when the old man learned what the brother had done, he said to him, “If you want to become a monk, go to the village, buy some meat, cover your naked body with it, and come here like that.” When the brother did what Antony had commanded, the dogs and the birds cut his body to pieces.  When he went to meet the old man, Antony inquired if the brother had done as he had advised.  When that brother showed him his lacerated body, Abba Antony said, “Those who renounce the world [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Friday Of The Fourth Week Of Lent

March 16, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  See the sin but not the repentance An old man said, “Even if someone sins in some way in your presence, do not judge him but consider yourself more of a sinner than he is, for you have seen the sin but you have not seen the repentance.” Abba Macarius learns about true work It was said about Abba Macarius the Great that, passing through Egypt one time, he came upon a threshing floor.  He saw a heap of grain that had been threshed, its owner using it to pay wages to the workers.  When the old man wished to test the grower, wanting him to talk about the nature of his work, he said to him, “Please do me the kindness, my father, of giving me a little [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Thursday Of The Fourth Week Of Lent

March 15, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  The reason we do not make progress An old man said, “The reason we do not make progress is because we do not know our own capacities and do not have patient endurance for the work we have undertaken.  No, we want to acquire virtue painlessly.” A sinner, a pillar of fire It was said of Abba Mark of Egypt that he lived thirty years without leaving his cell: the priest would regularly come and celebrate Holy Communion for him.  When the Devil saw the man’s virtuous endurance, he hatched a plot to tempt him and got a demoniac to go to the old man under the pretext of asking for his prayers.  Before the old man could say anything, the possessed [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Wednesday Of The Fourth Week Of Lent

March 14, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Dress like the tax collector Abba Evagrius said: “I visited Abba Macarius and said to him, ‘Tell me a word so I may live.’ He said to me, ‘If I speak to you, will you listen and do it?’ I said to him, ‘My faith and my love are not hidden from you.’ Abba Macarius said to me, ‘Truly I lack the adornment of virtue; you, however are good.  But if you cast of the pridefulness of this world’s rhetoric and clothe yourself in the humility of the tax collector, (Luke 18:9-14), you will live.'” Friends indeed A brother in a monastery was falsely accused of fornication and he arose and went to Abba Antony.  The [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Tuesday Of The Fourth Week Of Lent

March 13, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Every breath we take Abba Macarius said, “Let us not slacken our resolve nor be without hope, for with every breath we take our Lord Jesus Christ gives us opportunity for repentance.” Salty water, sweet water He also said, “Let us not cause that fountain to bubble up which is salty because of its single source, that is, the well of the heart, but let bubble up without ceasing that which is sweet  all the time, that is, our Lord Jesus Christ.” (James 3:11) Close the one door, not the other A brother came to see Abba Poemen in the second week of Lent and told him about his thoughts; he obtained peace, and said to him, “I nearly did [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Monday Of The Fourth Week Of Lent

March 12, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Do what you can A brother in Scetis fell one time due to temptation and went to Abba Macarius the Alexandrian and told him about the temptation.  After the old man punished him with the bonds of asceticism so he would repent and not open his door for a time, the brother left; he was troubled, however, because of the temptation and was in danger and was not able to carry out the order that Abba Macarius had bound him with.  Distressed by battle, he went to the other Abba Macarius, the Egyptian.  He told him about the transgression and about his inability to carry out the order that Abba Macarius had bound him with. The old man calmed the brother’s spirit and [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Fourth Sunday Of Lent

March 11, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  Being a witness for God Question: I want to be a witness for God. Answer: If someone bears with his neighbor during a fit of temper, it is equal to the furnace at the time of the three youth. (Daniel 3) The tunic and the patch A brother asked Abba Macarius, “My father, how can a person be free from the passions and be renewed in the Spirit?” The old man said to him, “I will give you an analogy. (1 Corinthians 13:12)  It is like a tunic: if it is torn, a patch is put on it until it is made new once again.  The tunic can be compared to the body, torn by sin and pleasure.  the patch is the repentance that our Lord Jesus Christ gives to [...]

LENT: Fourth Sunday in Lent, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

March 10, 2013

From Show Me The Way God does not see as human beings see; they look at appearances but Yahweh looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) Secularity is a way of being dependent on the responses of our milieu.  The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated, as Thomas Merton says, by social compulsions.  “Compulsive” is indeed the best adjective for the false self.  It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation.  Who am I?  I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated, or despised.  The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of falling and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same – more work, more money, more friends. These very compulsions are at the [...]