The Desert Fathers (Favorite Passages)

HOS

Alongside the sayings of Ramakrishna and the monks of Zen Buddhism, the sayings of the Christian Desert Fathers are about all the wisdom I need, and below are my favorites from four separate collections.

It will not appeal to everyone, but what these hermits seem to speak of more often than not is that greatest of virtues: humility. It is humility, after all, that can eradicate the worst forms of nationalism, racism, bigotry, hatred, or just the most everyday arrogance. Certainly one might find here that unfortunate Christian exaggeration–that is, the condemnation of the human body and its impulses and basic processes, but celibate hermits can be forgiven that focus; and at least for them, it again seems less about self-hatred and more about humility, and reigning in the ego.

As with Ramakrishna and the Zen monks, the sayings of the Desert Fathers (as well as the occasional Mother) can easily be removed from the traditions to which they belonged, and stand as examples of virtue in the best and most general sense.

A Word document of my favorite passages from all three traditions can be downloaded here.

The Desert Fathers - Sayings of the Early Christian MonksSAYINGS OF THE EARLY CHRISTIAN MONKS (DE VITIS PATRUM, SIVE VERBA SENORIUM)
He [Evagrius] also said, ‘A monk was told that his father had died. He said to the messenger, “Do not blaspheme. My Father cannot die.”’ (3)


They used to say about Theodore of Pherme that he kept these three rules before all others: poverty, abstinence, and avoiding the company of other people. (4)

Antony said, “Fish die if they stay on dry land, and in the same way monks who stay outside their cell or remain with secular people fall away from their vow of quiet. As a fish must return to the sea, so we must to our cell, in case by staying outside, we forget to watch inside.” (8)

Antony said, “He who sits alone and is quiet has escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing: but there is one thing against which he must continually fight: that is, his own heart.” (8)

Moses said, ‘One who avoids others is like a ripe grape. One who stays in company is like a sour grape.’ (10)

Matrona said, ‘Many solitaries living in the desert have been lost because they lived like people in the world. It is better to live in a crowd and want to live a solitary life than to live in solitude and be longing all the time for company.’ (11)

Another time, he [Poemen] went with Anub to the country of Diolcos. Walking past the tombs they saw a woman beating her breast and weeping bitterly. They paused to see her. When they had gone a little further, they met a man and Poemen asked him, ‘What is the matter with the woman over there, that she weeps so bitterly?’ He said, ‘Her husband is dead, and her son, and her brother.’ Poemen said to Anub, ‘I tell you that unless a man mortifies all his self-will and has this kind of grief, he cannot be a monk. The whole life and attention of that woman is wrapped up in grief.’ (14)

A hermit saw someone laughing, and said to him, ‘We have to render an account of our whole life before heaven and earth, and you can laugh?’ (17)

He [Daniel] also said that when Arsenius heard that all the apples were ripe, he said, ‘Bring them to me.’ He took one small bite of each kind, giving thanks to God. (20)

They said of Agatho that for three years he kept a stone in his mouth in order to teach himself silence. (20)

They said of Helladius that he lived twenty years in his cell, and did not once raise his eyes to look at the roof. (22)

Macarius the Great said to the brothers in Scetis after a service in church, ‘Flee, my brothers.’ One of the brothers said to him, ‘Abba, where can we flee when we are already in the desert?’ He put his finger upon his lips and said: ‘I tell you, you must flee this.’ Then he went into his cell, shut the door, and remained alone. (24)

Sisois said, ‘Our form of pilgrimage is keeping the mouth closed.’ (27)

A brother felt hungry at dawn, and struggled not to eat till nine o’clock. When nine o’clock came, he made himself wait till noon. At noon he dipped his bread and sat down to eat, but then got up again, saying, ‘I will wait till three.’ At three o’clock he prayed, and saw the devil’s work going out of him like smoke; and his hunger ceased. (29)

A brother brought some new bread to Cellia and invited the monks to taste it. When they had each eaten two rolls of bread, they stopped. But the brother knew how austere was their abstinence, and humbly began to beg them, ‘For God’s sake eat today until you are filled.’ So they ate another two rolls each. See how these true and self-disciplined monks ate much more than they needed, for God’s sake. (30-1)

When Cyrus of Alexandria was asked about the temptation of lust, he said, ‘If you are not tempted, you have no hope; if you are not tempted, it is because you are sinning. The man who does not fight sin at the stage of temptation is sinning already in his body. The man who is sinning in his flesh has no trouble from temptation.’ (35)

We cannot make temptations vanish, but we can struggle against them. (38)

A brother was leaving the world, and though he gave his goods to the poor he kept some for his own use. He went to Antony, and when Antony knew what he had done, he said, ‘If you want to be a monk, go to the village over there, buy some meat, hang it on your naked body and come back here.’ The brother went, and dogs and birds tore at his body. He came back to Antony, who asked him if he had done what he was told. He showed him his torn body. Then Antony said, ‘Those who renounce the world but want to keep their money are attacked in that way by demons and torn in pieces.’ (53)

A great man came from a distance to Scetis carrying gold, and he asked the presbyter of the desert to distribute it among the brothers. But the presbyter said, ‘The brothers do not need it.’ But he was very pressing, and would not give way, and put a basket of money in the church porch. So the presbyter said, ‘Whoever is in need may take money from here.’ No one touched it, some did not even look at it. The presbyter said, ‘God has accepted your offering to him. Go away and give it to the poor.’ He went away very much edified. (58)

A hermit who was anxious went to Theodore of Pherme and told him all about it. Theodore said to him, ‘Humble yourself, put yourself in subjection, go live with others.’ So the hermit went to a mountain, and there lived with a community. Later, he returned to Theodore and said, ‘Not even when I lived with other men did I find rest.’ Theodore replied, ‘If you’re not at rest as a hermit, nor when you’re in a community, why did you want to be a monk? Wasn’t it in order to suffer? Tell me, how many years have you been a monk?’ He said, ‘Eight.’ Theodore said, ‘Believe me, I’ve been a monk for seventy years, and I’ve not been able to get a single day’s peace. Do you expect to have peace after only eight years?’ (60-1)

They said of Sarah of blessed memory that for sixty years she lived on the bank of a river, and never looked at the water. (65)

The brother got up, said goodbye to the brothers and followed the eagle, which flew a little way and then alighted; on his approach it flew a little further; this went on for three hours. Then the eagle flew off to the right of the pursuing monk, and did not reappear. Nevertheless the monk went in that direction, and saw three palm-trees, a spring, and a little cave. He said, ‘Here is the place God has made ready for me.’ He went into the cave and stayed there, eating the dates and drinking the water from the spring; for six years he lived there alone and saw no one. (67)

A hermit lived in the desert twelve miles from the nearest water. Once, on his way to draw water, he was tired out. So he said, ‘Why suffer this? I will come and live by the spring.’ As soon as he said this, he turned round and saw a man following him and counting his steps. He asked him, ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘I am an angel of the Lord, sent to count your steps and reward you.’ When the hermit heard this, his resolve was strengthened, and he moved his cell five miles further from the spring. (70) 

A hermit was fasting and not eating bread, and he went to visit another hermit. By chance some other pilgrims came there and the hermit made them a little vegetable soup. When they sat down to eat, the fasting hermit took a single pea which he dipped in the soup and chewed it. When they got up from the table, the hermit took him to one side and said, ‘Brother, if you visit someone, don’t make a display there of your way of life. If you want to keep your own rule, stay in your cell and never go out.’ The brother accepted the advice, and thenceforth behaved like other people and ate what was put before him. (82-3)

A hermit said, ‘If a man prepares for the next day, it cuts away the fruit of his spirit and leaves him dry.’ (83)

A hermit said, ‘When you flee from the company of other people, or when you despise the world and worldlings, take care to do so as if it were you who was being idiotic.’ (83)

A brother sinned and the presbyter ordered him to go out of church. But Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, ‘I, too, and a sinner.’ (84)

A hermit said, ‘Do not judge an adulterer if you are chaste or you will break the law of God just as much as he does. For he who said “Do not commit adultery” also said “Do not judge.”’ (86)

Mark asked Arsenius, ‘It is right, isn’t it, to have nothing unnecessary in one’s cell? I saw a brother who had a few cabbages, and he was rooting them out.’ Arsenius said, ‘It is right, but each should do what is right for his own way of life. If he is not strong enough to endure without the cabbages, he will plant them again.’ (89)

Agatho said, ‘If any angry man were to raise the dead, God would still be displeased with his anger.’ (91)

They said of one hermit that for fifty years he ate no bread and drank very little water. He said, ‘I have destroyed lust and greed and vanity.’ When Abraham heard that he had said this, he came to him and said, ‘Was it you who said this?’ He answered, ‘Yes.’ Abraham said to him, ‘Supposing you go into your cell and find a woman on your mat, could you think she was not a woman?’ He said, ‘No. But I would fight against my thoughts, so as not to touch her.’ Abraham said, ‘Then you have not killed lust, the passion is still alive; you have only imprisoned it. Suppose you were walking alone along a road and saw stones on one side and gold in jars on the other, could you think the gold and the stones were of the same value?’ He answered, ‘No, but I would resist my desire and not let myself pick it up.’ Abraham said to him, ‘Then the passion still lives, you have only imprisoned it.’ He went on, ‘If you heard that one brother loved you and spoke well of  you, and another brother hated you and slandered you, and they both came to visit you, would they both be equally welcome to you?’ He said, ‘No: but I would force myself to treat him who hates me just as well as him who loves me.’ So Abraham said to him, ‘Then your passions are alive, only in some measure holy men have got them chained.’ (91-2)

Ammon questioned Poemen on the subject of the impure thoughts within his heart, and on the subject of vain desire. Poemen said, ‘Can the axe do harm unless the woodman is using it? Do not reach out your hands to use those things, and they will do you no harm.’ (99)

He also said, ‘Suppose there are three men living together. One lives a good life in stillness, the second is ill but gives thanks to God, the third serves the needs of others with sincerity. These three men are alike, it is as if they were all doing the same work.’ (101)

A brother came to Poemen and said to him, ‘Many thoughts come into my mind and put me in danger.’ He sent him out into the open air, and said, ‘Open your lungs and do not breathe.’ He replied, ‘I can’t do that.’ Then he said to him: ‘Just as you can’t stop air coming into your lungs, so you can’t stop thoughts coming into your mind. Your part is to resist them.’ (101)

Palladius said, ‘The soul which is being trained according to the will of Christ should either be earnest in learning what is does not know, or should publicly teach what it does know. If it wants to do neither, though it could, it is mad. The first step on the road away from God is contempt for teaching, that is, not to want to give food to the soul that truly wants it.’ (104)

Everything which is extreme is destructive. (106)

Hyperichius said, ‘He who teaches others by his life and not his speech is truly wise.’ (106)

A brother asked some of the monks whether evil thoughts defiled a man. When they were asked this question, some said, ‘Yes,’ but some said, ‘No, for if that were so, we ordinary people could not be saved. If we think of vile actions but do not do them, it is this which brings salvation.’ The questioner was discontented with the monks’ diverse answers, and he went to an experienced hermit and asked him about it. He replied, ‘Everyone is required to act according to his capacity.’ Then the brother asked him, ‘For the Lord’s sake, explain this saying to me.’ So he said, ‘Look here, suppose there was a valuable jug and two monks came in, one of whom had a great capacity for a disciplined life, and the other a small capacity. Suppose that the mind of the more disciplined man is moved at the sight of the jug and says inwardly, “I’d like to have that jug,” but the idea leaves him at once, and he puts away any thought of it, then he would not be defiled. But if the less disciplined man covets the jug and is strongly moved by an impulse to take it, and yet after a struggle does not take it, he would not be defiled either.’ (108-9)

A hermit was asked by a brother, ‘How do I find God? With fasts, or labour, or vigils, or works of mercy?’ He replied, ‘You will find Him in all those, and also in discretion. I tell you many have been very stern with their bodies, but have gained nothing by it because they did it without discretion. Even if our mouths stink from fasting, and we have learnt all the Scriptures, and memorized the whole Psalter, we may still lack what God wants, humility and love.’ (111)

Three brothers once came to a hermit in Scetis. One of them said to him, ‘Abba, I have memorized the Old and New Testaments.’ But the hermit answered, ‘And you have filled the air with words.’ The second said to him, ‘I have written out the Old and New Testaments with my own hand.’ But the hermit said, ‘And you have filled the window-ledge with manuscripts.’ The third said, ‘The grass is growing up my chimney.’ But the hermit answered, ‘And you have driven away hospitality.’ (112)

A hermit said, ‘The prophets wrote books. Our predecessors came after them, and worked hard at them, and then their successors memorized them. But this generation copies tonto papyrus and parchment and leaves them unused on the window-ledge.’ (117)

Allois said, ‘Until you can say in your heart, “Only I and God are in the world,”  you will not be at peace.’ (119)

They said of this John that he once made enough rope for two baskets, and twisted it all into one basket, but he did not see what he was doing until he tried to hang it up, for his mind was occupied in the contemplation of God. (120)

He [Poemen] also said, ‘Do not stay with anyone who is always scornful when they speak.’ (123)

True wisdom is always sorrowful. (123)

Silvanus was one living on Mount Sinai. His disciple, who was about to go out on some necessary task, said to him, ‘Go and get some water, and water the garden.’ Silvanus went to draw the water and he covered his face with his cowl, so that he could see only his feet. By chance a visitor arrived to see him at that moment: and looked at him from a distance, was amazed at the sight. He went up to him and said, ‘Tell me, abba, why do you cover your face with your hood when you are watering the garden?’ He answered, ‘So that my eyes should not see the trees, lest my mind should be distracted by the sight.’ (123-4)

They told a story of a hermit who was dying in Scetis. The brothers stood round his bed, and clothed him, and began to weep. But he opened his eyes and began to laugh; this happened three times. So the brothers asked him, ‘Abba, why are you laughing when we are weeping?’ He told them, ‘I laughed the first time because you fear death; I laughed the second time because you are not ready for death; I laughed the third time because I am passing from labour to rest, and yet you weep.’ As he said this, he closed his eyes and died. (128)

All the other efforts in a religious life, whether they are made vehemently or gently, have room for a measure of rest. But we need to pray till our dying breath. That is the great struggle. (130)

Lot went to Joseph and said, ‘Abba, as far as I can, I keep a moderate rule, with a little fasting, and prayer, and meditation, and quiet: and as far as I can I try to cleanse my heart of evil thoughts. What else should I do?’ Then the hermit stood up and spread out his hands to heaven, and his fingers shone like ten flames of fire, and he said, ‘If you will, you an become all flame.’ (131)

Antony said to Poemen, ‘Our great work is to lay the blame for our sins upon ourselves before God, and to expect to be tempted to our last breath.’ (148)

[Arsenius] rebuked her but she said, ‘If you are a monk, go to the mountain.’ (150)

Evagrius said, ‘To go against self is the beginning of salvation.’ (153)

You thing of dust and ashes, they have done you a good turn. You are not a man, how dare you remain in the company of men? (157)

He also said, ‘A brother asked Alonius, “What is humility?” The hermit said, “To be lower than brute beasts and to know that they are not condemned.”’ (158)

Once Theophilus of holy memory, the archbishop of Alexandria, came to Scetis. The brothers gathered together and said to Pambo, ‘Speak to the bishop, that he may be edified.’ Pambo replied, ‘If he is not edified by my silence, my speech certainly will not edify him.’ (159)

Hyperichius said, ‘The tree of life is high, and humility climbs it.’ (161)

A hermit was asked, ‘What is humility?’ He said, ‘It is if you forgive a brother who has wronged you before he is sorry.’ (163)

An Egyptian monk was living in the suburbs of Constantinople: and when the Emperor Theodosius II passed that way he left his train of courtiers and came unattended to the cell. The monk opened the door to his knock, and at once recognized that he was the Emperor, but he received him as though he was only one of the imperial guards. When he had come in, they prayed together and sat down. The Emperor began to ask him, `How are the hermits in Egypt?’ He answered, ‘They are all praying for your salvation.’ The Emperor looked round the cell to see if he had any food, and saw nothing except a basket with a little bread, and a flagon of water. The monk said to him, ‘Will you take a little to eat?’ He put the bread in front of him, and mixed oil and salt, and gave him that to eat and drink. The Emperor said to him, ‘Do you know who I am?’ He said, ‘God knows who you are.’ The Emperor said, ‘I am the Emperor Theodosius.’ The monk at once fell down before him and did humble obeisance. The Emperor said, ‘Blessed are you, for you have an untroubled life, without thought of the world. I tell you truly, I was born an emperor and I have never enjoyed bread and water as I have today: I have eaten with real pleasure.’ He began to do honour to the monk, so the hermit went out, and fled back to Egypt. (164-5)

Paesius, the brother of Poemen, loved one of the monks and Poemen did not like it. So he went and visited Ammonas, and said to him, ‘My brother Paesius loves someone else and I don’t like it.’ Ammonas said to him, ‘Poemen, are you still alive? Go and sit in your cell, and think to yourself that you have been in your grave a year already.’ (173)

Hilarion once came from Palestine to Antony on the mountain: and Antony said to him, ‘Welcome, morning star, for you rise at break of day.’ Hilarion said, ‘Peace be to you, pillar of light, for you sustain the world.’ (176)

Two hermits lived together for many years without a quarrel. One said to the other, ‘Let’s have a quarrel with each other, as other men do.’ The other answered, I don’t know how a quarrel happens.’ The first said, ‘Look her, I put a brick between us, and I say, “That’s mine.” Then you say, “No, it’s mine.” That is how you begin a quarrel.’ So they put a brick between them, and one of them said, ‘That’s mine.’ The other said, ‘No; it’s mine.’ He answered, ‘Yes, it’s yours. Take it away.’ They were unable to argue with each other. (182)

In that place when Ephraim of holy memory was a boy, he saw in sleep, or by revelation, that a vine was planted on his tongue and it grew and filled the whole earth with very great fruitfulness and so all the birds of the air came and ate the fruits of that vine and spread the fruit further. (187)

There is no town or village in Egypt and the Thebaid which is not surrounded by hermitages as if by walls. (viii)

Somebody asked Antony, “What shall I do in order to please God?’ He replied, ‘Do what I tell you, which is this: wherever you go, keep God in mind; whatever you do, follow the example of holy Scripture; wherever you are, stay there and do not move away in a hurry. If you keep to these guide-lines, you will be saved.’ (3)

Pambo said to Antony, ‘What shall I do?’ Antony said, ‘Do not trust in your own righteousness. Do not go on sorrowing over a deed that is past. Keep your tongue and your belly under control.’ (3)

Macarius said to Zacharias, ‘Tell me, what makes a monk?’ He said, ‘Isn’t it wrong for you to be asking me?’ Macarius said to him, ‘I am sure I should ask you, Zacharias my son. There is something that urges me to ask you.’ Zacharias said to him, ‘As far as I can tell, abba, I think anyone who controls himself and makes himself content with just what he needs and no more, is indeed a monk.’ (3-4)

Joseph of Thebes said, ‘Three things are seen to be honorable by God. the first is when temptations come on someone who is weak, and are accepted thankfully. The second is when every action is pure before God, mixed with no human motive. The third is when a disciple remains obedient to a spiritual father, and gives up all his self-will.’ (4)

A brother asked him, ‘How ought we to live?’ Poemen replied, ‘We have seen the example of Daniel. They accused him of nothing except that he served God.’ (5)

Poemen said, ‘If a monk hates two things, he can be free of this world.’ A brother inquired, ‘What are they?’ He said, ‘Bodily comfort and conceit.’ (5)

John the Short said, “If a king wants to take a city filled with his enemies, he first captures their food and water, and when they are starving he subdues them. So it is with gluttony. If a man is sincere about fasting and is hungry, the enemies that trouble his soul will grow weak.” (22)

They said of Sarah that for thirteen years she was fiercely attacked by the demon of lust. She never prayed that the battle should leave her, but she used to say only, “Lord, give me strength.” (36)

Evagrius said that there was a brother who had no possessions except a Gospel book and he sold it in order to feed the poor. He said something worth remembering: “I have sold even the word that commands me to sell all and give to the poor.” (54)

But it is not good to have more than the body needs. (59)

A hermit said that for nine years a brother was goaded by his thoughts to despair of his salvation. He judged himself and said, “I have ruined myself, I have perished already, I will go back to the world.” On his journey he heard a voice saying, “Those temptations which you endured for nine years were your crowns. Go back to your cell, and I will take these evil thoughts from you.” So he realized that it is not right to despair of oneself because of the temptations that come. If we use these thoughts well they will give us a crown. (73)

Ammon (of the place called Raithu) brought this question to Sisois: “When I read Scripture, I am tempted to make elaborate commentaries and prepare myself to answer questions on it.” He replied, “You don’t need to do that. It is better to speak simply, with a good conscience and a pure mind.” (81)

Joseph asked Poemen, “Tell me how to become a monk.” He said, “If you want to find rest in this life and the next, say at every moment, ‘Who am I?’ and judge no one.” (85)

A brother asked Poemen, “What am I to do, for I become weak just sitting in my cell?” He said, “Despise no one, condemn no one, revile no one: and God will give you quietness, and you will sit at peace in your cell.” (86)

A brother said to Antony, “Pray for me.” He answered, “Neither I nor God will have mercy on you unless you do something about it yourself and ask God’s help.” (89)

Poemen once asked Joseph, “What am I to do when temptations attack me? Do I resist them, or let them come in?” He said, “Let them come in and then fight them.” So he went back to his cell in Scetis. By chance, a man from the Thebaid told the brothers in Scetis that he had asked Joseph the same question, “When temptations come, do I resist it, or do I let it in?” and that he said to him, “On no account let it in, but cut it off at once.” When Poemen heard that Joseph had said this to the man from the Thebaid, he went back to Joseph at Panephysis and said to him, “Abba, I entrusted my thoughts to your care: and you said one thing to me, and the opposite to a monk from the Thebaid.” Joseph said, “You know that I love you?” He answered, “Yes.” He said, “Didn’t you tell me to say what I thought as though I was talking for my own good? If temptations come, and you deal with them within yourself, they will strengthen you. I said this to you as I should say it to myself. But there are other men for whom it is bad that passions should enter, and they must cut them off at once.” (95)

Poemen said, “Do not live in a place where some are jealous of you; you will make no progress there.” (99)

Joseph asked Poemen, “How should we fast?” Poemen said, “I suggest that everyone should eat a little less than he wants, every day.” Joseph said to him, “When you were a young man, didn’t you fast for two days on end?” He said to him, “That’s right, I used to fast three days on end, even for a week. But the great hermits have tested all these things, and they found that it is good to eat something every day, but on some days a little less. They have show that this is the king’s highway, for it is easy and light.” (99)

A brother asked Poemen, “What is the meaning of the text, ‘Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause (Matt. 5:22)?’ He answered, “If you are angry with your brother for any kind of trouble that he gives you, that is anger without a cause, and it is better to pluck out your right eye and cast it from you. But if anyone wants to separate you from God, then you must be angry with him.” (100)

He also said, “If a man appears silent in speech but is condemning other people in his heart, his is really talking incessantly. Another man may seem to talk all day, but he is keeping silence since he always speaks in a way that is right with his heart.” (101)

She also said, “It is good not to be angry. If it happens, do not give way to it for as much as one day.” (105)

A hermit said, “Anyone who wants to live in the desert ought to be a teacher and not a learner. If he still needs teaching, he will come to harm.” (111)

A hermit said, “One man eats a lot and is still hungry. Another eats a little and has had enough. The man who eats a lot and is still hungry has more merit than the man who eats the little that satisfies him.” (114)

A hermit said, “A monk ought not to listen to disparagement; he ought not to be disparaging, and he ought not to be scornful.” (115)

They said that on Saturday evening Arsenius used to turn his back to the setting sun and stretch out his hands towards heaven and pray until, at dawn on Sunday, the rising sun lit up his face, and then he sat down again. (130)

They said of Ammon that some people asked him to arbitrate in their quarrel but the hermit took no notice of them. So a woman said to her neighbor, “What a fool this hermit is!” Ammon heard her; and called her, and said, “You can’t imagine how hard I have tried in different deserts to be thought of as a fool! But now that you have recognized that it is part of my nature to be foolish you have made all my efforts to pretend to folly pointless.” (152)

Moses said to brother Zacharias, “Tell me what to do.” At these words Zacharias threw himself at his feet, saying, “Why ask me, abba?” The hermit said, “I tell you, my son Zacharias, I saw the Holy Spirit coming upon you, and so I cannot avoid asking you.” Then Zacharias took his cowl from his head, and put it beneath his feet and stamped on it, and said, “Unless a man stamps upon self like that, he cannot be a monk.” (153)

A hermit said to a brother, “Do not measure yourself against your brother, saying that you are more serious or more chaste or more understanding than he is. But be obedient to the grace of God, in the spirit of poverty, and in love unfeigned. The efforts of a man swollen with vanity are futile. It is written, ‘Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.’ (1 Cor. 10:12); ‘let your speech be seasoned with salt’ (Col. 4:6) and so you will be dependent upon Christ.” (162)

The devil appeared to a monk disguised as an angel of light, and said to him, “I am the angel Gabriel, and I have been sent to you.” But the monk said, “Are you sure you weren’t sent to someone else? I am not worthy to have an angel sent to me.” At that the devil vanished. (165)

A hermit said, “Even if you have succeeded in the habit of keeping silent, you should not have that in you as though it was a kind of virtue, but say: ‘I am not worthy to speak.’” (167)

At a meeting of monks in Scetis, the hermits wanted to test Moses. So they poured scorn on him, saying, “Who is this black man who is here with us?” Moses heard them, but said nothing. When the meeting had dispersed, the monks who had insulted him asked him, “Weren’t you upset inside?” He replied, “I was upset, and I said nothing.” (173)

Poemen said, “Whatever hardship comes upon you, it can be overcome by silence.” (173)

Some brothers came to a holy hermit who lived in the desert and outside the hermitage they found a boy tending the sheep and using uncouth words. After they had told the hermit their thoughts and profited from his reply, they said, “Abba, why do you allow those boys to be here, and why don’t you order them to stop hurling abuse at each other?” He said, “Indeed, my brothers, there are days when I want to order them to stop it, but I hold myself back, saying, if I can’t put up with this little thing, how shall I put up with a serious temptation, if God ever lets me be so tempted? So I say nothing to them, and try to get into the habit of bearing whatever happens.” (175)

Antony said, “Now I no longer fear God, I love him, for love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).” (177)

Pambo once happened to be traveling in Egypt with some monks. He saw some men from the world sitting down, and said to them, “Get up, give a greeting, and kiss the monks that you may be blessed. For they often talk with God, and their mouths are holy.” (179)

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers - The Alphabetical CollectionTHE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS – THE ALPHABETICAL COLLECTION

Anthony

Someone asked Abba Anthony, “What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, “Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.” (2)

He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” He even added, “Without temptations no-one can be saved.” (2)

Abba Anthony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’ ” (2)

A brother said to Abba Anthony, “Pray for me.” The old man said to him, “I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God.” (4)

“what you need is prayers” (5)

Abba Anthony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’” (6)

Three Fathers used to go and visit blessed Anthony every year and two of them used to discuss their thoughts and the salvation of their souls with him, but the third always remained silent and did not ask him anything. After a long time, Abba Anthony said to him, “You often come here to see me, but you never ask me anything,” and the other replied, “It is enough for me to see you, Father.” (7)

He also said, “Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember him who gives death and life. Hate the world and all that is in it. Hate all peace that comes from the flesh. Renounce this life so that you may be alive to God. Remember what you have promised God, for it will be required of you on the day of judgment. Suffer hunger, thirst, nakedness, be watchful and sorrowful; weep and groan in your heart; test yourselves, to see if you are worthy of God; despise the flesh, so that you may preserve your souls.” (8)

Arsenius

While still living in the palace, Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words: “Lord, lead me in the way of salvation.” And a voice came saying to him, “Arsenius, flee from men and you will be saved.” (9)

“if you hear Arsenius is there, do not go there” (10)

Abba Mark asked Abba Arsenius, “Is it good to have nothing extra in the cell? I know a brother who had some vegetables and he has pulled them up.” Abba Arsenius replied, “Undoubtedly that is good but it must be done according to a man’s capacity. For if he does not have the strength for such a practice he will soon plant others.” (12)

Agathon

He also said, “I have never gone to sleep with a grievance against anyone, and, as far as I could, I have never let anyone go to sleep with a grievance against me.” (20)

Whenever his thoughts urged him to pass judgment on something which he saw, he would say to himself, “Agathon, it is not your business to do that.” Thus his spirit was always recollected. (23)

Abba Agathon said, “If I could meet a leper, give him my body and take his, I should be very happy.” That indeed is perfect charity. (24)

Ammonas

Abba Ammonas said, “I have spent fourteen years in Scetis asking God night and day to grant me the victory over anger.” (26)

Alonius

He also said, “If I had not destroyed myself completely, I should not have been able to rebuild and shape myself again.” (35)

Bessarion

A brother who had sinned was turned out of the church by the priest. Abba Bessarion got up and went with him, saying, “I, too, am a sinner.” (42)

A brother who shared a lodging with other brothers asked Abba Bessarion, “What should I do?” The old man replied, “Keep silence and do not compare yourself with others.” (42)

Benjamin

As he was dying, Abba Benjamin said to his sons, “If you observe the following, you can be saved, ‘Be joyful at all times, pray without ceasing and give thanks for all things.’” (44)

Gregory the Theologian

He also said, “The whole life of a man is but one single day for those who are working hard with longing.” (45)

Daniel

One day Abba Daniel and Abba Ammoes went on a journey together. Abba Ammoes said, “When shall we, too, settle down, in a cell, Father?” Abba Daniel replied, “Who shall separate us henceforth from God? God is in the cell, and, on the other hand, he is outside also.” (45)

Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus

He also said, “The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. For the mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.” (58)

He also said, “Reading the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin.” (58)

He also said, “God sells righteousness at a very low price to those who wish to buy it: a little piece of bread, a cloak of no value, a cup of cold water, a mite.” (59)

Euprepius

Abba Euprepius said, “Bodily things are compounded of matter. He who loves the world loves occasions of falling. Therefore if we happen to lose something, we must accept this with joy and gratitude, realizing that we have been set free from care.” (62)

Evagrius

He also said, “Take away temptations and no-one will be saved.” (64)

Zeno

Abba Zeno said, “If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.” (67)

Elias

Abba Elias, the minister, said, “What can sin do where there is penitence? And of what use is love where there is pride?” (71)

He also said, “Men turn their minds either to their sins, or to Jesus, or to men.” (71)

Theodore of Pherme

Abba Theodore of Pherme had acquired three good books. He came to Abba Macarius and said to him, “I have three excellent books from which I derive profit; the brethren also make us of them and derive profit from them. Tell me what I ought to do: keep them for my use and that of the brethren, or sell them and give the money to the poor?” The old man answered him in this way, “Your actions are good; but it is best of all to possess nothing.” Hearing that, he went and sold his books and gave the money for them to the poor. (73)

He also said, “There is no other virtue than that of not being scornful.” (75)

Theodora

She also said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. (84)

John the Dwarf

He also said, “Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues.” (90)

One of the Fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, “What is a monk?” He said, “He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is.” (93)

Abba Poemen said that Abba John said that the saints are like a group of trees, each bearing different fruit, but watered from the same source. The practices of one saint differ from those of another, but it is the same Spirit that works in all of them. (95)

Isidore of Pelusia

Abba Isidore of Pelusia said, “To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence but the latter does no good even when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole of philosophy.” (98)

Now the definition of virtue and of philosophy is: simplicity with prudence. (98)

He also said, “The desire for possessions is dangerous and terrible, knowing no satiety; it drives the soul which it controls to the heights of evil. Therefore let us drive it away vigorously from the beginning. For once it has become master it cannot be overcome.” (99)

Joseph of Panephysis

Abba Poemen said to Abba Joseph, “Tell me how to become a monk.” He said, “If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say, What am I? and do not judge anyone.” (102)

The same Abba asked Abba Joseph another question saying, “What should I do when the passions attack me? Should I resist them, or let them enter?” The old man said to him, “Let them enter and fight against them.” So he returned to Scetis where he remained. Now someone from Thebes came to Scetis and said to the brethren, “I asked Abba Joseph if I ought to resist the passions when they approach, or let them enter and he replied that I ought not to allow them the smallest entry but cut them off immediately.” When Abba Poemen learned that Abba Joseph had spoken to the brother from Thebes in this way, he got up and went to see him at Panephysis and said, “Abba, I consulted you about my thoughts and you have said one thing to me, and another to the Theban.” The old man said to him, “Do you not know that I love you?” He said, “Yes.” “And did you not say to me, speak to me as you speak to yourself?” “That is right.” Then the old man said, “Truly, if the passions enter you and you fight them you become stronger. I spoke to you as to myself. But there are others who cannot profit in this way if the passions approach them, and so they must cut them off immediately.” (102)

Hierax

A brother questioned Abba Hierax saying, “Give me a word. How can I be saved?” The old man said to him, “Sit in your cell, and if you are hungry, eat, if you are thirsty, drink; only do not speak evil of anyone, and you will be saved.” (104)

Isidore the Priest

He also said, “If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride, but if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and to glorify himself.” (107)

He also said, “If you desire salvation, do everything that leads you to it.” (107)

Longinus

If you have not first of all lived rightly with men, you will not be able to live rightly in solitude. (122)

Macarius the Great

Abba Macarius the Great said to the brothers at Scetis, when he dismissed the assembly, “Flee, my brothers.” One of the old men asked him, “Where could we flee to beyond this desert?” He put his finger on his lips and said, “Flee that,” and he went into his cell, shut the door and sat down. (131)

A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved.” So the old man said, “Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.” The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, “Didn’t they say anything to you?” He replied, “No.” The old man said, “Go back tomorrow and praise them.” So the brother went away and praised them, calling them, “Apostles, saints and righteous men.” He returned to the old man and said to him, “I have complimented them.” And the old man said to him, “Did they not answer you?” The brother said no. The old man said to him, “You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too if you wish to be saved must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved.” (132)

Abba Paphnutius, the disciple of Abba Macarius, said, “I asked my Father to say a word to me and he replied, ‘Do no evil to anyone, and do not judge anyone. Observe this and you will be saved.’” (133)

They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, as it is written, a god upon earth, because, just as God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he did not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not hear them.” (134)

Moses

The monk must die to his neighbour and never judge him at all, in any way whatever. (141)

The monk must die to everything before leaving the body, in order not to harm anyone. (141)

To die to one’s neighbour is this: To bear your own faults and not to pay attention to anyone else wondering whether they are good or bad. Do no harm to anyone, do not think anything bad in our heart towards anyone, do not scorn the man who does evil, do not put confidence in him who does wrong to his neighbour, do not rejoice with him who injures his neighbour. This is what dying to one’s neighbour means. Do not rail against anyone, but rather say, “God knowns each one.” Do not agree with him who slanders, do not rejoice at his slander and do not hate him who slanders his neighbour. This is what it means not to judge. Do not have hostile feelings towards anyone and do not let dislike dominate your heart; do not hate him who hates his neighbour. This is what peace is: Encourage yourself with this thought, “Affliction lasts but a short time, while peace is forever, by the grace of God the Word. Amen.’” (142-3)

Matoes

It is not through virtue that I live in solitude, but through weakness; those who live in the midst of men are the strong ones. (145)

Motius

For this is humility: to see yourself to be the same as the rest. (148)

Mius

A soldier asked Abba Mius if God accepted repentence. After the old man had taught him many things he said, “Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?” He replied, “No, I mend it and use it again.” The old man said to him, “If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God equally careful about his creature?” (150)

Nilus

He also said, “Prayer is the seed of gentleness and the absence of anger. “ (153)

He also said, “Prayer is a remedy against grief and depression.” (153)

He also said, “If you want to pray properly, do not let yourself be upset or you will run in vain.” (153)

He also said, “Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer.” (154)

He also said, “Happy is the monk who thinks he is the outcast of all.” (154)

Nisterus

A brother questioend an old man saying, “What good work should I do so that I may live?” The old man said, “God knows what is good. I have heard it said that one of the Fathers asked Abba Nisterus the Great, the friend of Abba Anthony, and said to him, ‘What good work is there that I could do?’ He said to him, ‘Are not all actions equal? Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him. David was humble, and God was with him. Elias loved interior peace and God was with him. So, do whatever you see your soul desires according to God and guard your heart.’” (154)

Poemen

A brother came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, “Abba, I have many thoughts and they put me in danger.” The old man led him outside and said to him, “Expand your chest and do not breathe in.” He said, “I cannot do that.” Then the old man said to him, “If you cannot do that, no more can you prevent thoughts from arising, but you can resist them.” (171)

Abba Poemen said, “If three men meet, of whom the first fully preserves interior peace, and the second gives thanks to God in illness, and the third serves with a pure mind, these three are doing the same work.” (171)

Abba Poemen said, “Vigilance, self-knowledge and discernment; these are the guides of the soul.” (172)

A brother asked Abba Poemen saying, “Can a man put his trust in one single work?” The old man said to him that Abba John the Dwarf said, “I would rather have a bit of all the virtues.” (173)

The old man said that a brother asked Abba Pambo if it is good to praise one’s neighbour and that the old man said to him, “It is better to be silent.” (173)

Abba Poemen said, “Even if a man were to make a new heaven and earth, he could not live free of care.” (173)

Abba Poemen said that a brother who lived with some other brothers asked Abba Bessarion, “What ought I to do?” The old man said to him, “Keep silence and do not always be comparing yourself with others.” (178)

He also said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” (178)

He also said, “If you take little account of yourself, you will have peace, wherever you live.” (178)

He also said, “If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live.” (178)

A brother asked Abba Poemen, “If a brother is involved in a sin and is converted, will God forgive him?” The old man said to him, “Will not God, who has commanded men to act thus, do as much himself and even more? For God commanded Peter to forgive till seventy times seven.” (179)

Abba Poemen said, “ A monk does not complain of his lot, a monk does not return evil for evil, a monk is not angry.” (179)

Some old men came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, “When we see brothers who are dozing at the synaxis, shall we rouse them so that they will be watchful?” He said to them, “For my part when I see a brother who is dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.” (179-80)

Abba Poemen said, “Because of our need to eat and to sleep, we do not see the simple things.” (186)

A brother asked Abba Poemen, “Is it better to speak or to be silent?” The old man said to him, “The man who speaks for God’s sake does well; but he who is silent for God’s sake also does well.” (188)

Abba Poemen said, “Teach your mouth to say what is in your heart.” (189)

He also said, “Wickedness does not do away with wickedness; but if someone does you wrong, do good to him, so that by your action you destroy his wickedness.” (191)

Pambo

He was greater than many others in that if he was asked to interpret part of the Scriptures or a spiritual saying, he would not reply immediately, but he would say he did not know that saying. If he was asked again, he would say no more. (197)

Abba Pambo said, “If you have a heart, you can be saved.” (197)

Sisoes

They said of Abba Sisoes the Theban that when the assembly was dismissed he used to flee to his cell and they used to say of him, “He is possessed by a devil.” But he was really doing the work of God. (219)

A brother asked Abba Sisoes, “What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen?” The old man said to him, “Get up again.” The brother said, “I have got up again, but I have fallen again.” The old man said, “Get up again and again.” (220)

Silvanus

Abba Moses asked Abba Silvanus, “Can a man lay a new foundation every day?” The old man said, “If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment.” (224)

Sarmatas

Abba Sarmatas said, “I prefer a sinful man who knows he has sinned and repents, to a man who has not sinned and considers himself to be righteous.” (225)

Sarah

It was related of Amma Sarah that for thirteen years she waged warfare against the demon of fornication. She never prayed that the warfare should cease but she said, “O God, give me strength.” (229)

Syncletica

She also said, “Just as it is impossible to be at the same moment both a plant and a seed, so it is impossible for us to be surrounded by worldly honour and at the same time to bear heavenly fruit.” (234)

Or

Abba Or said, “The crown of the monk is humility.” (247)

The Lives of the Desert FathersTHE LIVES OF THE DESERT FATHERS (HISTORIA MONACHORUM IN AEGYPTYO) 

For I have truly seen the treasure of God hidden in human vessels. (49)

The Saviour performs miracles through them in the same way. Indeed, it is clear to all who dwell there that through them the world is kept in being, and that through tem too human life is preserved and honored by God. […] For there is no town or village in Egypt and the Thebaid which is not surrounded by hermitages as if by walls. And the people depend on the prayers of these monks as if on God himself. (50)

And so, my children, first of all let us discipline ourselves to attain humility, since this is the essential foundation of all virtues. (59)

And so you too, my children, should cultivate stillness and ceaselessly  train yourselves for contemplation, that when you pray to God you may do so with a pure mind. For an ascetic is good if he is constantly training himself in the world, if he shows brotherly love and practices hospitality and charity, if he gives alms and is generous to visitors, if he helps the sick and does not give offence to anyone. He is good, he is exceedingly good, for he is a man who puts the commandments into practice and does them. But he is occupied with earthly things. Better and greater than he is the contemplative, who has risen from active works to the spiritual sphere and has left it to others to be anxious about earthly things. Since he has not only denied himself but even become forgetful of himself, he is concerned with the things of heaven. He stands unimpeded in the presence of God, without any anxiety holding him back. For such a man spends his life with God; he is occupied with God, and praises him with ceaseless hymnody. (62)

Many of them who die in their cells are often not found for four days, because they do not see each other except at the Synaxis. 106

The first work of a monk is to offer pure prayer to God with nothing reprehensible on his conscience. As the Lord says in his Gospel, “If you stand up to pray and remember that your brother has anything against you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive you.” (Matt. 6.15) Then if, as we said before, we stand before God with a pure heart and free from all the passions and vices we have mentioned, we can, insofar as this is possible, see even God, and as we pray the eyes of our heart are turned towards him and we see that which is invisible with the spirit not with the flesh: this is a learning of the mind, and not a part of the flesh. For no one can suppose that he can behold the being of God in itself, but he shapes for himself some kind of appearance or image in his heart of some corporeal likeness. No form can be known in God, no limitations, but the understanding and the mind which is able to have understanding, and touch the love of the mind, can describe or relate, though it cannot comprehend. And so it behoves us to go towards God with all reverence and fear and thus set free in him the intuitions of the mind that we may know him to be above whatever there is that the human mind can conceive that is splendid, clear, bright and majestic; and I say this, provided that there is purity of mind, totally freed of voluntary states of sin. (146)

Even water and bread if they are eaten with greed, that is, not as being necessary for the body but to satisfy the inner desires, even this abstinence leads to the vice of lust. (147)

One day someone gave Saint Macarius a bunch of grapes, and he, thinking not of himself but others sent them to another brother whom he thought was more delicate than himself. Then the recipient gave thanks to God for his brother’s gift, but he likewise did not think of himself but of others and sent them to someone else, and this one to the next, and thus they passed through all the cells which are scattered about in the desert far from each other, each recipient ignorant of the original sender; at last they were returned to him who had first sent them away, Saint Macarius marvelled to see in the brethren such self-control and such brotherly love and he continued with more vigour his own attempts at the life of the spirit. (153)

PalladiusPALLADIUS – THE LAUSIAC HISTORY

There are in Egypt men who, desirous of living a life like that of angels, have sequestered themselves from the tumult of cities to dwell in deserts, and who among these barren sands produce by their extraordinary virtues fruit pleasing to God…. (3)

For words and syllables do not construe teaching—sometimes those who possess these are disreputable in the extreme—but teaching consists of virtuous acts of conduct, of freedom from injuriousness, of dauntlessness, and of an even temper. To all these add an intrepidity which produces words like flames of fire. (21)

For the soul being trained to act in accord with God’s plan must either learn faithfully what it does not know, or teach clearly what it does know. But if it is unwilling to do either, even though it is able, then it suffers madness. (22)

Thus, O lover of divine learning, I followed this adage in part and met many of the saints. While I made no precise calculation, I would make journey of thirty days, or twice that, and covered on foot, God help me, the whole land of the Romans, and I accepted the hardship of travel gladly in order to meet a man full of the love of God and to gain what I lacked. (24-5)

Now drinking wine within reason is better by far than drinking water in arrogance. For my sake, please look at the holy men who drink wine within the bounds of reason, then look at the corrupt men who drink water without moderation. Do not blame or praise the material itself, but deem blessed or unhappy the intention of those who use the material well or badly. (26)

For, to be sure, neither eating nor abstinence is of any account, but it is faith which has extended itself to work done in charity that counts. (27)

Also there were Paesius and Isaias, sons of Spanish merchant. When their father died, they divided the estate they held, namely five thousand coins, clothes, and slaves. They deliberated and planned together: “Brother, what kind of life shall we lead? If we become merchants, such as our father was, we will still be entrusting our work to others.

“Then we would risk harm at the hands of pirates on the high seas. Come, let us take up the monastic life so that we may profit by our father’s goods and still not lose our souls.”

The prospect of monastic life pleased them, but they found themselves in disagreement. For when they had divided the property, they each had in mind to please God, but by taking different ways of life.

Now the one shared everything among the monasteries, churches, and prisons; he learned a trade so that he might provide bread for himself and he spent his time at ascetic practices and prayer. The other, however, made no distribution of his share, but built a monastery for himself and took in a few brethren. Then he took in every stranger, every invalid, every old man, and every poor one as well, setting up three or four tables every Saturday and Sunday. In this way he spent his money.

After they both were dead, various pronouncements were made about them as though they had both been perfect. Some preferred one, some the other. Then rivalry developed among the brethren in regard to the eulogies. They went to the blessed Pambo and entrusted the judgment to him, thinking to learn from him which was the better way of life. He told them: “Both were perfect. One showed the work of Abraham; the other, that of Elias.”

One faction said: “By your feet, we implore you, how can they be equal?” And this group considered the ascetic the greater, and insisted that he did what the Gospel commended, selling all and giving to the poor, and every hour both day and night carried the cross and followed the Saviour even in his prayers. But the others argued heatedly, saying that Isaias had shared everything with the needy and even used to sit on the highways and gather together the oppressed. Not only did he relieve his own soul, but many others as well by tending the sick and helping them.

Pambo told them: “Again I say to you, they are both equal. I firmly insist to each of you that the one, if he had not lived so ascetically, would not be worthy to be compared with the goodness of the other. As for the other, he refreshed strangers, and thereby himself as well, and even if he appeared to carry the load of toil, he had also its relief thereafter. Wait until I have a revelation from God, and then come back and learn it.”

They returned some days later and he told them: “I saw both of them standing in paradise in the presence of God.” (49-51)

For there are differences in natures, but not in substances. (105)

One day a brother was holding a piece of vine-cutting and he took it, sitting where he was on the slope of the mountain, and heaped dirt up over it as though planting it. Although it was not the right season, the cutting grew into a vine so large it covered the church. (131)

Mind divorced from the thought of God becomes either a demon or a brute. (139)

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20 Comments Add yours

  1. A heart so inclined to produce such clearly beautiful and encouraging words is one that needs space and time to be.

  2. Quite a collection! Escape from people may lead some to humility but is this not a source of selfish pride to avoid connection?

  3. Tim Miller says:

    Eric, it’s a tough call. I guess it depends on the monk, and on the day. One of the passages does say monks could get a little snobby, bragging out their learning or ascetic feats, or in imagining themselves preaching before adoring masses; and certainly later medieval monasticism in Europe believed monks were immensely superior & more pure than people “in the world,” and some of this must have existed here. But I get the sense from a lot of these passages that they felt more weak than strong in leaving the world. One of them says that those who can live a holy life in the world are stronger than them; but more importantly, many of them say you don’t have to leave the world to serve God–that’s just what they’ve chosen to do, but it’s not for everybody. We all know quiet people who don’t get on well in social or public life of any kind, and all things being equal, I don’t think such people are any more or less selfish than those who are extremely outgoing and sociable. The same here. Monasticism is a way, and for many of us an impossible one, & by & large I have admiration for those who at least tried, trading one set of difficulties for another.

  4. Jack Crispy says:

    Thanks for the follow! I hope you enjoy reading my blog.

  5. musrnow says:

    Thanks for giving some attention to these important Copts!

  6. Prem Lila says:

    This is fantastic!

    On keeping silent, please allow me to tell you what the bhakti (devotion) masters and scriptures say. Silence means chanting the holy name of Krishna always. It’s Sajalpa (highest talk = worldly silence). And Prajalpa would be to keep talking about worldly stuff.

  7. Sonnische says:

    Hi Tim, thanks for following my blog. I’m enjoying yours. I first learned about the Desert Fathers from the book, “The Spirituality of Imperfection,” by Ketcham and Kurtz. Hope to see you around the blogosphere again.

  8. Pazlo says:

    “They told a story of a hermit who was dying in Scetis. The brothers stood round his bed, and clothed him, and began to weep. But he opened his eyes and began to laugh; this happened three times. So the brothers asked him, ‘Abba, why are you laughing when we are weeping?’ He told them, ‘I laughed the first time because you fear death; I laughed the second time because you are not ready for death; I laughed the third time because I am passing from labour to rest, and yet you weep.’ As he said this, he closed his eyes and died.” (128)

    Pursuing the readings. At present, this one speaks to me.
    Thank you for this.

    Seek peace,

    Paz

  9. Great article! I visited The Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico this past summer and it was truly wonderful. I highly recommend a trip if you have the chance.

  10. David says:

    Thanks for the follow on Hanukah & the Angel. Love, David

  11. Rebecca says:

    Thank you first of all for the follow. I’ve read many of the Desert monks. I’ve come to the conclusion that while there are some “pithy” statements and some “inspirational” ones I really like, I’ve decided that we could all come up with some great thoughts if all we had to do is sit and contemplate our navels. I don’t mean that disrespectfully at all. I truly do appreciate much of what they write but I prefer to read the thoughts of those who are living life in the trenches. Those who have jobs, families, etc. Just saying. God bless.

  12. Hi Tim,
    Thanks for following my blog. I hope to spend time reading your posts, as well.

    Carol Flohr Giles

  13. Let us always bear in mind that at our baptism we became temples of the living God and that every time we turn our minds to worldly things, to the devil and the flesh which we renounced at baptism, we are profaning this sacred temple of God. -St. Padre Pio

    St. Padre Pio was not cloistered as he was in charge of a Parish. When I read this the other day I found it to be a difficult directive to follow unless one is a Monk.

  14. Tim Miller says:

    Your confusion about Pio is understandable. Although it sounds sloppy & modern, so much of religion really is just pick-and-choose, & always has been. As I hope my selection shows, even monks had various ways of living; I’m not sure that there’s ever just “one” way, so much as there is the sincere searching for meaning, which usually means some form of discipline, usually self-imposed but said to be from above. It’s just what many of us need to do.

  15. Perhaps there is a line certain vocations need to draw – it is literally impossible for those called into Marriage to apply this to their lives. But if he references falling into a state of sin – as worldly – then it can make some sense. But still I understood his desire to think only on God all day and to be in constant union with Him, which can be a challenging task.

  16. Tim Miller says:

    You may like the section on Living in the World, in my posts about Zen & Ramakrishna. Both of them seem to suggest that a religion, almost as a supreme fiction, *has* to pretend to huge & almost impossible standards, but that the real journey isn’t achieving it, but discovering how far we can realistically go, doing “the best we can” & allowing that to be enough. This about says it: “You do not have to abandon worldly activities in order to attain effortless unconcern. You should know that worldly activities and effortless unconcern are not two different things—but if you keep thinking about rejection and grasping, you make them into two.”

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