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The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks

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The Desert Fathers were the first Christian monks, living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In contrast to the formalised and official theology of the "founding fathers" of the church, the Desert Fathers were ordinary Christians who chose to renounce the world and live lives of celibacy, fasting, vigil, prayer and poverty in direct and simple respo The Desert Fathers were the first Christian monks, living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In contrast to the formalised and official theology of the "founding fathers" of the church, the Desert Fathers were ordinary Christians who chose to renounce the world and live lives of celibacy, fasting, vigil, prayer and poverty in direct and simple response to the gospel. Their sayings were first recorded in the 4th century and consist of spiritual advice, anecdotes and parables. The Desert Fathers' teachings and lives have inspired poetry, opera and art, as well as providing spiritual nourishment and a template for monastic life.


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The Desert Fathers were the first Christian monks, living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In contrast to the formalised and official theology of the "founding fathers" of the church, the Desert Fathers were ordinary Christians who chose to renounce the world and live lives of celibacy, fasting, vigil, prayer and poverty in direct and simple respo The Desert Fathers were the first Christian monks, living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In contrast to the formalised and official theology of the "founding fathers" of the church, the Desert Fathers were ordinary Christians who chose to renounce the world and live lives of celibacy, fasting, vigil, prayer and poverty in direct and simple response to the gospel. Their sayings were first recorded in the 4th century and consist of spiritual advice, anecdotes and parables. The Desert Fathers' teachings and lives have inspired poetry, opera and art, as well as providing spiritual nourishment and a template for monastic life.

30 review for The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael O'Brien

    This is one of those books that pulled me in different directions --- from blessing by wisdom to astonishment at the seeming indifference, occasional perversity, or even cruelty of some of its subjects. This book was definitely not quite what I expected. I do not think that the way to approach this work is the way one might approach a self-help book or Bible study from some Christian book stores, but to see it as an overall whole. That may seem fuzzy or inexact, but I do think that to see this b This is one of those books that pulled me in different directions --- from blessing by wisdom to astonishment at the seeming indifference, occasional perversity, or even cruelty of some of its subjects. This book was definitely not quite what I expected. I do not think that the way to approach this work is the way one might approach a self-help book or Bible study from some Christian book stores, but to see it as an overall whole. That may seem fuzzy or inexact, but I do think that to see this book holistically will make it of greater benefit to the reader than to focus excessively on some of the more disturbing things in it. I think that one must read each of these sections on their own, and evaluate from them what principles are most beneficial and applicable to their own spiritual journey in Christ. In other words, we're all different, and God deals with us all in different ways in accordance with how we are, how we think, and are own gifts and weaknesses. I would go so far to say that, in my opinion, this is not a book for non-Christians or for new or immature Christians, but one for those mature in their faith seeking general principles or ideas for which to take that faith to a higher level in growing yet even closer to God. For one thing, it is not just a compendium of sayings, aphorisms, and proverbs of early Christian saints. It does have these in abundance, but it also is a series of anecdotes about them, or their comments on the sayings or acts of other contemporary prominent church fathers and ascetics in the times in which they lived. In general, this book is a compilation of wisdom and knowledge gained over centuries by Christian ascetics and monks on their efforts to gain a closer relationship to God. This was seen by them all as a primary mission to all that they did and how they thought; however, even within this book, while in unison on this goal, one can find variances in how they went about it. In general, notwithstanding their own individual differences in how they went about it, it's safe to say that all of them sought the following: 1) Abnegation: The complete denial of all earthly needs, ambitions, and desires, and bringing all such energies into complete subjection to the will of God and the pursuit of an ever growing, closer relationship to Him 2) Asceticism: putting away money and personal possessions, and pursuit of a daily life of prayer, fasting, and meditation. 3) Humility: Presuming all others better than oneself. 4) Avoiding sanctimony and being judgmental --- judging oneself by God's standards before judging others by the standards of one's own life. 5) Prayer: Intense, fervent worship, intercession, and praise to God for extended periods of time. 6) Fasting: the denial of basic bodily appetites such as hunger and comfort --- which seemed, for most of them, to have the added benefit ironically of strengthening them against stronger, more fleshly temptations. For example, some were hospitable to visitors and those seeking knowledge or spiritual guidance. Others in here were not --- some being so isolated and unapproachable that, for some --- such as St. Arsenius -- I almost wondered, at times, if they were hiding an antisocial personality disorder beneath a cloak of piety. Some willingly gave out there wisdom and spiritual observations, some only reluctantly did so. Some having reached a very high plain in their commune with God received the gifts --- apparently when it served God's needs at a specific point in time --- of being able to perform miracles or see into the future, yet even these did so with reluctance --- so fearing that the attention of the public or the praise of men might build up their own pride and arrogance, thereby, breaking their link with the grace of God. As I related earlier, there are shocking things in this book. If you are expecting this book to be a hagiography, then get ready to be disappointed. Yet, one shouldn't be --- these Desert Fathers, in their own words, are frank about their own weaknesses and deficiencies. That they relentlessly sought closer fellowship with God is not to say that they were always perfect or saintly every step of the way in this regard. In one story, a man abandons his wife and children to go to the desert and live as a hermit --- presumably leaving them destitute --- only taking in his own son when a great famine hits. In others, some of these fathers seem excessively misogynistic or unwilling to be with children even to give them a blessing ---- as if, having achieved some stable spiritual level, having these enter their hermetically sealed environment could destroy it. In still some more, the fathers or their disciples seem to have been especially troubled by frequent battles with sexual desires --- including some that may have been deviant --- such as homosexual or pedophilic. Astonishing, surprising --- yet it should not be ---- as they were as much products of the societies in which lived as anyone else was back then --- yet, to their credit, to gain the upper hand over them, these men removed themselves from the rest of society, and devoted the rest of their lives to service to God and to the destruction not just of these, but of all the fleshly desires and appetites. For the standards of these desert fathers did not go by the standards of the Greco-Roman-Egyptian societies in which they lived, but, by one much higher. If the guard rails of their society permitted people to go even as far as such things as gluttony, fornication, and even pederasty, these men separated themselves from that society, and resolved to bring all appetites --- hunger, thirst, entertainment, sexual, rest, comfort -- into complete subjection to God, and this book relates via their sayings and anecdotes about them how they went about this -- as well as the challenges they faced in doing so. In the modern society of today, it would be highly difficult to do exactly as these men --- and a few women --- did; however, I do think it does provide food for thought. The consumer Christianity of today, often lax, flabby, and sluggish, often trying to conform as much to secular society as possible, while still going through the motions of seeking Christ, can only take one so far. If the goal is something better, something of a more close, deeper relationship to God, the principles of denial of the flesh, of more prayer, of taking more time to spend alone in communion with God, of fasting, related in this work, may provide some with a means of taking their Christian walk to a higher level.

  2. 4 out of 5

    kaelan

    I don't come from a religious background, and I stumbled upon this book rather by accident; but I found parts of it sagacious and insightful. As a collection of aphorisms from many different authors, it is often repetitive or contradictory. Yet I can't help but think that if contemporary Christians acted—in any small degree—like the desert fathers (and mothers), the world would be changed for the better. In our present times, there is a baffling overlap between Christianity and capitalism. Maybe I don't come from a religious background, and I stumbled upon this book rather by accident; but I found parts of it sagacious and insightful. As a collection of aphorisms from many different authors, it is often repetitive or contradictory. Yet I can't help but think that if contemporary Christians acted—in any small degree—like the desert fathers (and mothers), the world would be changed for the better. In our present times, there is a baffling overlap between Christianity and capitalism. Maybe all the covetous Catholics and the pleonectic Protestants should take the words of the hermit Syncletica to heart: Merchants toil in search of riches and are in danger of their lives from shipwreck; the more wealth they win, the more they want; and they think what they have already is of no worth but bend their whole mind to what they have not yet got. But we have nothing, not even that which we ought to seek; we do not even want to possess what we need, because we fear God. This passage is representative of the book as a whole: while not particularly original (I've read something similar in a book of Sufi proverbs), you can't ignore the fact that precepts such as this one formed the basis for an actual way of life. The desert fathers and the desert mothers were real people, isloated from the rest of society, for whom religion was no weekend trip—it was hard, gritty, dirty and socially peripheralized. That's something you don't need to be a Christian to respect. A brief word on my rating: I would rate the "sagacious and insightful" parts higher, but these comprise only a fraction of the entire work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Who knew there were Christian mystics way-back-when? I don't think this is widely shared today, and that is sad. I recently went on a silent Christian retreat and I couldn't think of a better book to take along than this one. The book is composed of hundreds of tiny little stories about the sayings and actions of the very early Christian monks who lived off-life, often in mostly silent retreat, in caves or small huts, mostly in the desert. Here they confront demons and heretics and nay-sayers an Who knew there were Christian mystics way-back-when? I don't think this is widely shared today, and that is sad. I recently went on a silent Christian retreat and I couldn't think of a better book to take along than this one. The book is composed of hundreds of tiny little stories about the sayings and actions of the very early Christian monks who lived off-life, often in mostly silent retreat, in caves or small huts, mostly in the desert. Here they confront demons and heretics and nay-sayers and followers with odd reactions and Zen-like wisdom. The stories are organized by category, and just the categories are revealing: quiet, compunction, possessing nothing, fortitude, nothing done for show, non-judgment, discretion, sober living, unceasing prayer, hospitality, obedience, humility, patience, charity. It's the kind of book that one could spend her entire life reading and rereading, although don't expect contradiction between the sayings, but it is there, of course, as all true wisdom is paradoxical, and don't be surprised to read some wackiness here and there.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pontus Alexander

    A fascinating view on early Christian asceticism, containing much wisdom and some humour (due to our modern perspective on things). " Theodore . . . had three good books. He went to Macarius, and said, 'I have three good books, and I am helped by reading them. Other monks also want to read them, and they are helped by them. Tell me what to do.' Macarius replied, 'Reading books is good, but possessing nothing is more than anything.' When he heard this, he went and sold the books, and gave the mon A fascinating view on early Christian asceticism, containing much wisdom and some humour (due to our modern perspective on things). " Theodore . . . had three good books. He went to Macarius, and said, 'I have three good books, and I am helped by reading them. Other monks also want to read them, and they are helped by them. Tell me what to do.' Macarius replied, 'Reading books is good, but possessing nothing is more than anything.' When he heard this, he went and sold the books, and gave the money to the poor. " " 'The prophets wrote books. Our predecessors came after them, and worked hard at them, and then their successors memorized them. But this generation copies them onto papyrus and parchment and leaves them unused on the window-ledge.' " " 'He should always be singing psalms in his heart.' " " They said of one hermit that he sometimes longed to eat a cucumber . . . He was not overcome by his longing, and did not eat it, but tamed himself, and repented that he had wanted it at all.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    Reading a book about the impacts of loneliness got me to thinking about this fascinating text, which I last read close to twenty years ago. These sayings come to us from a period of semi-solitary desert monasticism, as human beings pursuing God inflicted not just hunger and privation upon themselves, but also and often a deeply sustained isolation. So I re-read it, and it was...hmm. I still find these little snippets of their lives and teachings simultaneously wise and spiritually potent and more Reading a book about the impacts of loneliness got me to thinking about this fascinating text, which I last read close to twenty years ago. These sayings come to us from a period of semi-solitary desert monasticism, as human beings pursuing God inflicted not just hunger and privation upon themselves, but also and often a deeply sustained isolation. So I re-read it, and it was...hmm. I still find these little snippets of their lives and teachings simultaneously wise and spiritually potent and more than a little bit insane. All at the same time. Not that those three things don't work together. In fact, I'd say they kind of have to. Interesting and peculiarly helpful to the soul.

  6. 4 out of 5

    James

    Wonderful collection of the sayings of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers). The 'Sayings' are arranged topically. The material included in this volume include parables, stories, legends, wise sayings, dialogues and visions. The diversity of the material is matched only by the diversity of the desert monks themselves. Some of them are cranky and legalistic people. Others are graceful but strange, and some are friendly and hospitable. There is a lot in this volume that is thought provoking about the Wonderful collection of the sayings of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers). The 'Sayings' are arranged topically. The material included in this volume include parables, stories, legends, wise sayings, dialogues and visions. The diversity of the material is matched only by the diversity of the desert monks themselves. Some of them are cranky and legalistic people. Others are graceful but strange, and some are friendly and hospitable. There is a lot in this volume that is thought provoking about the life of prayer. I think if you read it, you would definitely find something to enjoy about these strange saints.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Quirkyreader

    This was book Number 3 in “25 Books Every Christian Should Read”. I gave this a 4 instead of a 5 because some of the sayings are repeated verbatim in multiple sections. I can see how it applies to different topics, still another saying could have been used instead of repeating the same one over. I am bookending this with “Early Christian Lives” edited by Carolinne White. That will lead me into book Number 4 which is by St. Benedict

  8. 4 out of 5

    Forest

    Interesting account of ancient Hellenic-Egyptian monks attempting to live in strict accordance with the Gospel. While reading it, one can have the curious feeling of being alternately (or often simultaneously) damned and comforted.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Withun

    -

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Heiner

    The book is a tough read in many ways. The Desert Fathers lived a very ascetic form of Christianity virtually unknown in any part of the world today. They did so in the very early centuries of Christianity. The book will challenge even the most serious believer on how seriously he/she takes the Faith. Very much worth a read, because it is tough to hear the hard sayings. (quoting St. Anthony the Great) "'The kingdom of God is within you.' All that is needed for goodness is that which is within, th The book is a tough read in many ways. The Desert Fathers lived a very ascetic form of Christianity virtually unknown in any part of the world today. They did so in the very early centuries of Christianity. The book will challenge even the most serious believer on how seriously he/she takes the Faith. Very much worth a read, because it is tough to hear the hard sayings. (quoting St. Anthony the Great) "'The kingdom of God is within you.' All that is needed for goodness is that which is within, the human heart." (xxii) "'So whatever you find you are drawn to in following God's will, do it and let your heart be at peace.'" (p. 5) "Always look at your own sins, and do not judge another's." (p. 7) "If he speaks well, say, 'Yes.' If he speaks ill, say, 'I don't know anything about that.'" (p. 7) "'Cut the desire for many things out of your heart and so prevent your mind being dispersed and your stillness lost.'" (p. 10) "'Alas, how shall I stand before the judgement seat of Christ? How shall I give an account of my actions?' If you always meditate like this, you will be saved.'" (p. 12) "Say also to your soul, 'What do I want with people?'" (p. 17) "'The human body is like a coat. If you treat it carefully, it will last a long time. If you neglect it, it will fall to pieces.'" (p. 49) "'The character of the genuine monk only appears when he is tempted.'" (p. 63) "'We do not make progress because we do not realize how much we can do. We lose interest in the work we have begun, and we want to be good without even trying.'" (p. 66) "God can bestow crowns upon us even for resisting little temptations." (p. 75) "'An open treasury is quickly spent; any virtue will be lost if it is published abroad and is known about everywhere.'" (p. 82) "'If you want to keep your own rule, stay in your cell and never go out.'" (p. 83) "'When we cover our brother's sin, God covers our sin. When we tell people about our brother's guilt, God does the same with ours.'" (p. 85) "'If the body is strong, the soul weakens. If the body weakens, the soul is strong...If the body is prosperous, the soul grows lean; if the body is lean, the soul grows prosperous.'" (p. 92) "'If you shut a snake or a scorpion in a box it will die. Wicked thoughts, which the demons scatter, slowly lose their power if the victim has endurance.'" (p. 99) "'I think Mary always needs Martha, and by Martha's help Mary is praised.'" (p. 105) "'All chatter is unnecessary. Nowadays everyone talks but what is needed is action. That is what God wants, not useless talking.'" (p. 108) "'We are not condemned if bad thoughts enter our minds, but only if we use them badly. Because of our thoughts we may suffer shipwreck, but because of our thoughts we may also earn a crown.'" (p. 110) "'The devil is like a hostile neighbor and you are like a house. The enemy continually throws all the dirt that he can find into your house. It is your business to throw out whatever he throws in. If you neglect to do this, your house will be so full of mud that you will not be able to get inside. From the moment he begins to throw it in, put it out again, bit by bit: and so with Christ's help your house will remain clean.'" (p. 127) "'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.'" (p. 130) "'It is not wooden doors we are taught to shut; the door we need to keep shut is the mouth.'" (p. 135) "'Lord, do not leave me, though I have done nothing good in your sight.'" (p. 149) "'I have often been sorry that I have spoken, never that I have been silent.'" (p. 150) "'To go against self is the beginning of salvation.'" (p. 153) "'The goats are people like myself; who the sheep are, God alone knows.'" (p. 164) "'Do not teach too early, or you will have less understanding during the rest of your life.'" (p. 167) "'Blessed is he who always sees his own sins.'" (p. 168) "'Whatever hardship comes upon you, it can be overcome by silence.'" (p. 173)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Janelle

    The Desert Fathers are an interesting bunch. They go to great lengths not to have to talk to people even other monks, some of them only sleep an hour every night, they eat about once a week, and are looking for demons around every corner. One of them actually questions transubstantiation but fortunately for his soul an angel comes down and sets him straight. The book actually deals with racism a bit. One of the desert fathers is black and several times other monks decide to test him by hurling r The Desert Fathers are an interesting bunch. They go to great lengths not to have to talk to people even other monks, some of them only sleep an hour every night, they eat about once a week, and are looking for demons around every corner. One of them actually questions transubstantiation but fortunately for his soul an angel comes down and sets him straight. The book actually deals with racism a bit. One of the desert fathers is black and several times other monks decide to test him by hurling racist insults. He apparently passes the test by bearing it quietly. This is my favorite selection: "Blessed Archbishop Theophilus, accompanied by a magistrate, came one day to find Abba Arsenius. He questioned the old man, to hear a word from him. After a short silence the old man answered him ‘Will you put into practice what I say to you?' They promised him this. 'If you hear Arsenius is anywhere, do not go there.'"

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Highly recommended for those who would take encouragement for the regular practice of spiritual principles. For anyone who has ever wrestled with demons, tried to sever an attachment or change a habit.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This is the best collection of the sayings of the early church writers from the desert. I commend it highly as a way to get to the sources quickly.

  14. 5 out of 5

    J

    I started Lent off right this year

  15. 4 out of 5

    Conor

    Proof God has a sense of humor

  16. 5 out of 5

    Russell Fox

    While I didn't love every saying in this collection, I loved more than enough of them to consider it one of the more profound works on Christian spirituality that I've ever read. Probably what struck me the most was that these ancient mystics and monks, having embraced lives of solitude and suffering in the desert, were in many ways living out my own personal interpretation of our standing before God to a much greater degree than I ever have, thus showing me what the implications of my own persp While I didn't love every saying in this collection, I loved more than enough of them to consider it one of the more profound works on Christian spirituality that I've ever read. Probably what struck me the most was that these ancient mystics and monks, having embraced lives of solitude and suffering in the desert, were in many ways living out my own personal interpretation of our standing before God to a much greater degree than I ever have, thus showing me what the implications of my own perspective arguably necessitate. Specifically, I've always thought it makes proper sense to self-deprecate, to see oneself primarily as a sinner worthy of God's judgment, to abase oneself--given that we are all sinners, all beings who have fallen short of His glory, why have any pride in one's own accomplishments at all? But it is one thing to say as an otherwise accomplished and privileged member of an advanced, secular society; these people said it in the midst of genuine primitive deprivation, and they said it over and over again, with a seriousness unlike anything I've ever honestly complicated. They would insult themselves, tear themselves down, consider themselves exiles from everyone and everything, refuse any kind of engagement or judgment, all for the sake of reminding themselves of the ignorance, worthlessness, and dependence upon God. To a quasi-Lutheran poser like myself, their determination really showed me up...and showed me, perhaps, the limitations of that perspective. If that was all I got out of these writings, that would be one thing, but the fact is, in the midst of all the self-humilitation, there are also stories which exemplify pastor care, responsible reflections on moderation, and contemplative insights worth treasuring. Whatever your personal encounter with this book it is an encounter worth having, I think. (More thoughts of mine about the book can be found here.)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

    This is a book of collected sayings from monks and nuns living communally or hermits living separately, mostly in Egypt, during the early days of Christianity. I read it, looking for wisdom. What I found was mostly...not that, really. These people removed themselves from the distractions and/or corruption of human society and pretty much regarded social interaction as evil. They were after God, through isolation, fasting and prayer, in a way Jesus never did. He didn't fast or retreat from the worl This is a book of collected sayings from monks and nuns living communally or hermits living separately, mostly in Egypt, during the early days of Christianity. I read it, looking for wisdom. What I found was mostly...not that, really. These people removed themselves from the distractions and/or corruption of human society and pretty much regarded social interaction as evil. They were after God, through isolation, fasting and prayer, in a way Jesus never did. He didn't fast or retreat from the world for the lengths of time these people did. It changed the way they regarded life. Since I haven't done anything approaching their extremes, I doubt I am able to fully understand their thinking. Still, it seemed they were introspective to a psychologically unhealthy degree. Some of their sayings seem spiritual and positive from a Christian standpoint. Some seems so 'spiritual' that it goes off the deep end... To illustrate: A brother was asked if he wanted to see Christ and he said no. He wanted to see Christ in the next life, not this one. Okay- what?? It kind of sounds spiritual, but just seems off. Wouldn't seeing Christ in both be better? His view doesn't seem to allow for that. Additionally, there are contradictions when you look at the sayings of one sage, then read those of another. Then again, some of the accounts are just strange. One story has a guy using a corpse as a pillow. It's just too weird. This is perhaps what an extreme lifestyle/fanaticism will do to a person. The scholar that put this together explained that the sayings were very influential in the Middle Ages. I think their appeal has diminished since then.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Casey

    This collection of the Sayings is a wonderful view into the life and rule of the Desert Fathers/Mothers. From their most famous words to little-known maxims and stories, this book is certainly a spiritually-challenging read. Although their austere spirituality is at times off-putting or intimidating, I think it is best to remember that these men and women were fleeing what they saw as the watering down of the faith by the infiltration of the empire's political influence. They developed a way of This collection of the Sayings is a wonderful view into the life and rule of the Desert Fathers/Mothers. From their most famous words to little-known maxims and stories, this book is certainly a spiritually-challenging read. Although their austere spirituality is at times off-putting or intimidating, I think it is best to remember that these men and women were fleeing what they saw as the watering down of the faith by the infiltration of the empire's political influence. They developed a way of life that matched the conditions of their environment, but also was built on love and mercy. While some sayings seem hard as stone, there are more that seem to promote a love of neighbor that few modern Christians could match. Nearly every father stressed that if a monk saw themselves as being above anyone in life, practice, or piety, they had already lost. Indeed, the Fathers seem to vindicate that which their spiritual ancestors affirm: a monk's true purpose in fleeing to solitude is not to hide from the world, but to be in contention for it; they lose everything in order to pray for those who cannot accept such a life. They weep over their own sins and consistently remind us that the world is with us wherever we go... but so is God, and He has overcome the world. We have the Desert Fathers and Mothers to thank for developing Christian monasticism, which saw the Faith through incredibly difficult times, and indeed kept it afloat in the so-called Dark Ages. The fact that we have a Faith to continue practicing is due largely to these remarkable people. Thank God for them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    Brilliant. Staggering. Nothing I read in Pastoral Care class was half a useful as knowing the right story from the desert fathers. This book captures (with some historical redaction) the experiences and teachings of the first Christian monks in the Egyptian desert in the 4th century. The extremity of their devotion, and the wisdom it produced, is an endless marvel. I keep a stock of this book on hand to give as gifts, especially to ministers. It certainly repays re-reading.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elijah Meeks

    This is an amazing look at desert monastic tradition in the early Christian empire. There's not only a wealth of strangeness, from holy dwarfs to questionable miracles, there's a real sense of the proto-Islamic culture that springs up from this region, taking the Hellenization and applying it in a harsh environment on Rome's Eastern reaches. This is an amazing look at desert monastic tradition in the early Christian empire. There's not only a wealth of strangeness, from holy dwarfs to questionable miracles, there's a real sense of the proto-Islamic culture that springs up from this region, taking the Hellenization and applying it in a harsh environment on Rome's Eastern reaches.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Gannon

    Amazing book full of inspirational figures whose sayings, short but powerful, really develop them all into distinctive characters. Spiritually fulfilling and deeply humbling. Recommend to anyone and everyone, especially if your mind is troubled or your heart has been worn down by the world. Arsenius is the man!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I don't consider this a "beginner" book. Unless you are a monk, clergy or scholar I would not start with this. This read to me the way I get poetry: Some are really clear and make sense and others are generate more questions than answers. I don't consider this a "beginner" book. Unless you are a monk, clergy or scholar I would not start with this. This read to me the way I get poetry: Some are really clear and make sense and others are generate more questions than answers.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    As a non-Christian, it isn't always an easy or common occurrence, to come across devotional,, patristic, or other theologically-themed books, which resonance with a more plural audience than mere Christians like myself. Not to say I think this is a bad thing, of it's own, but at times it is unfortunate. On the other hand, the appeal of the so-called Apophthegmata Patrum, or, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, has for a while. Other than the Bible itself, it's the only other Christian text I've regula As a non-Christian, it isn't always an easy or common occurrence, to come across devotional,, patristic, or other theologically-themed books, which resonance with a more plural audience than mere Christians like myself. Not to say I think this is a bad thing, of it's own, but at times it is unfortunate. On the other hand, the appeal of the so-called Apophthegmata Patrum, or, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, has for a while. Other than the Bible itself, it's the only other Christian text I've regularly gone back to for reading. I wouldn't quite say it's a devotional practice, in the strictest sense, but it's along those lines. In any case, I've found for a while now, many of the sayings, anecdotes, and maxims; to be intriguing, inspirational, or at the very least thought-provoking. Even before I returned to theism some months ago, it always left an impression after every reading. It's not to say the book is perfect, however, despite my rather open fondness for it. A good number of the sayings can be repetitive in content, and others simply lack anything of interest in them. And some, of course, I find myself disagreeing with. But in the end, these are relatively few and far between. The fair majority of them are, as said, at the very least thought-provoking. Now as for the book itself, to what it says - I think it would be better here if I let it speak for itself, and I've selected a few of my favourites for the task. A book like this is best when shown in the pure, rather than spoken-of separately. I think a clearer picture is formed this way, or at least one more close to the original. If anything, it'll serve as a selection of some of my favoured maxims from a favoured collection. "Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, 'This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.'" "He [Agathon] 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.'" "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.'" "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.'" "The same abba [Xanthias] said, 'A dog is better than I am, for he has love and he does not judge.'" "The same abba [John the Dwarf] was very fervent. Now someone who came to see him praised his work, and he remained silent, for he was weaving a rope. Once again the visitor began to speak and once again he kept silence. The third time he said to the visitor, 'Since you came here, you have driven away God from me.'" "He [Poemen] also said, 'If a man understands something and does not practise it, how can he teach it to his neighbour?'" "Abba Macarius said, 'If we keep remembering the wrongs which men have done us, we destroy the power of the remembrance of God. But if we remind ourselves of the evil deeds of the demons, we shall be invulnerable.'" "He [Isidore the Priest] also said, 'It is impossible for you to live according to God if you love pleasures and money.'" "The same abba [Isidore of Pelusia] said, 'Prize the virtues and do not be the slave of glory; for the former are immortal, while the latter soon fades."

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maria Lotfi

    That book changed my life. Loved it!! It helps you understand the scriptures better and learn how to apply theses words into our daily lives. I will read this book every year and use it as a devotional: every day, I’ll read a saying.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    The asceticism is often extreme, but it's a fascinating insight into early Christian spirituality in the East. It's full of short anecdotes and sayings, which make it very readable. The reader should glean a fair number of precious spiritual insights. The asceticism is often extreme, but it's a fascinating insight into early Christian spirituality in the East. It's full of short anecdotes and sayings, which make it very readable. The reader should glean a fair number of precious spiritual insights.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    A book like this is like coming to a ball of thread that serves as the base of a great many intriguing but troubling elements within the practice of Christianity.  Once I committed myself to reading 25 books that every Christian supposedly needs to read, I found that this book was deeply connected with some of the other works in that series [1].  For example, although one cannot trace the ascetic life of these mostly Egyptian mostly men (although there are some women as well) to anything praised A book like this is like coming to a ball of thread that serves as the base of a great many intriguing but troubling elements within the practice of Christianity.  Once I committed myself to reading 25 books that every Christian supposedly needs to read, I found that this book was deeply connected with some of the other works in that series [1].  For example, although one cannot trace the ascetic life of these mostly Egyptian mostly men (although there are some women as well) to anything praised in the Bible, there appears to have been a desire on the part of some Hellenistic believers to separate themselves from the world and its pressures and difficulties, and as these people were among the first to do it and their thoughts and stories were written down, the resulting text has served as an inspiration to the transplanted monastic principles and ways of Orthodox and Catholic spirituality.  Given that, one would expect a striking mixture of good and evil in these pages and if you read this book that is precisely what you will find, a collection of ancient Hellenistic texts that encourage those who wish to escape from the hustle and bustle of contemporary life. This book is organized alphabetically in Greek from Alpha to Omega, and the inclusions range from single short sayings from some abbas (fathers) and the occasional amma (mother) to large collections that extend for dozens of saying over dozens of pages.  There is a certain sameness to many of the sayings, and they demonstrate a coherent worldview, one that has strong ambivalence about involvement with other people and society as a whole and has strong dualistic tendencies coming from Gnostic views of the flesh and spirit that influenced Alexandrine Christianity pretty heavily.  There are some tensions here over the feelings of people towards Origen and a high degree of interest in matters of slander, fornication, and demon possession.  By and large the people written about here seek not only to discuss matters of their ascetic practice and desires to overcome even the pull towards sin but also strive to develop the practical insight in dealing with people to give the sort of answers that will spur others on to greater spiritual growth, at least as these authors understand it.  The book as a whole also has the melancholy edge of the fragility of the monastic life and the tendency for centers of that life to be destroyed by barbarian invasion, as happened repeatedly from the fourth century and beyond. Is this a good book?  Much depends on what you are looking for.  If you want a set of alphabetically organized sayings that show the struggle of ascetics for managing the practical details of organizing people who live simply and who have little want to be around others but who seem to find others wanting to be around them because of their reputation for piety and holiness.  There is a great irony in that many of the Desert Fathers (and mothers) were tormented by their guilt for their mistakes previously in life and sought a way to earn enough merit to good with God, and in their desire to isolate themselves from the world they found that their good reputation led others to want to be around them, thus making it impossible for them to fully escape from the pressures of leadership and setting a godly example and dealing with the temptations and frustrations and difficulties of the world.  And once martyrdom became less common--although some martyrs are found here--this way of attempting to earn merit with God spread to other areas where people had similar worldviews and a similar approach in Hellenistic Christianity, which makes this book noteworthy and of historical interest but not really the sort of example that a believer in the Bible should follow. [1] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Volkert

    "The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks," translated and with an introduction by Benedicta Ward, not only provides insight into the life and thought of early Christian monasticism, but is a source of inspiriation for anyone who wishes to take seriously the disciplines of the Christian faith today. As I read through most of these thought-provoking quotes and anecdotes, I was amazed at how much the spiritual struggles of these holy men and women are similar to my own. Granted, the "The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks," translated and with an introduction by Benedicta Ward, not only provides insight into the life and thought of early Christian monasticism, but is a source of inspiriation for anyone who wishes to take seriously the disciplines of the Christian faith today. As I read through most of these thought-provoking quotes and anecdotes, I was amazed at how much the spiritual struggles of these holy men and women are similar to my own. Granted, these were written about and for the monastic setting in the desert over 1,500 years ago, but it doesn't take much to translate the principles provided here into our secular contemporary lives. This priceless volume served as my bedtime reading for many months, and it will be in the rotation so that I can return to it again and again. There are so many treasures here. Below are a few samples: "Chastity is born of tranquility, and silence, and inner prayer." "If you are not tempted, you have no hope; if you are not tempted, it is because you are sinning." "The passions work in four stages: first in the heart, then in the face, third in words, fourth in deeds -- and it is in deeds that it is essential not to render evil for evil. If you purify your heart, passion will not show in your expression, but if it does, take care not to speak about it; if you do speak, cut the conversation short in case you render evil for evil." Highly recommended reading for anyone seeking spiritual discipline. (July 11, 2006.)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Denson

    The Apophthegmata Patrum, or Sayings of the Fathers, is a text believed to originate around the 5th century AD, which contains a large collection of quotes attributed to the Desert Fathers, frequently those who lived in Scetis. This includes folkwisdom, theological and Christological statements, moral advice, and intriguing folktales. However, one should keep in mind that it’s highly doubtful that any of these statements can be proven to have come from a certain individual. Even the identities o The Apophthegmata Patrum, or Sayings of the Fathers, is a text believed to originate around the 5th century AD, which contains a large collection of quotes attributed to the Desert Fathers, frequently those who lived in Scetis. This includes folkwisdom, theological and Christological statements, moral advice, and intriguing folktales. However, one should keep in mind that it’s highly doubtful that any of these statements can be proven to have come from a certain individual. Even the identities of some Desert Fathers in this text are uncertain, though Ward often helpfully sums up the lives for some of the more famous ones. The fact that this version derives from a 12th century manuscript only makes the sources of these statements even more dubious as it would be easy with this type of text for later copyists to simply add to or edit them. Nevertheless, it is perhaps most useful to historians and classicists for ascertaining a general perspective on the mindset of ascetics. It certainly does not reflect a consistent ideology, but the common thread of striving for an austere lifestyle is persistent throughout. It is also a fantastic source for folkloric elements, many of which can also be found in other ancient texts. While reading this can get somewhat tiring due to its repetitivenes, it is still an overall entertaining and insightful read, which certainly highlights a fascinating lifestyle.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    This is a collection of, as the title suggestions, of sayings by early Christian monks, mostly from Egypt. This particular collection was transmitted in Latin and remained as part of the monastic toolbox in the West through the influence of figures like John Cassian. The sayings themselves are classic Desert Fathers: frequently cryptic, sometimes deeply insightful, but sometimes completely opaque or outrageous. Like any literature of 'wise' people, the insights are very culturally bound, so ther This is a collection of, as the title suggestions, of sayings by early Christian monks, mostly from Egypt. This particular collection was transmitted in Latin and remained as part of the monastic toolbox in the West through the influence of figures like John Cassian. The sayings themselves are classic Desert Fathers: frequently cryptic, sometimes deeply insightful, but sometimes completely opaque or outrageous. Like any literature of 'wise' people, the insights are very culturally bound, so there are times that there are severe cultural dissonances but, if one works patiently through them, these sayings can be deeply enriching. In particular, the most useful discussions for me have been around regulating one's thoughts and, thus, one's will. Those insights which warn about the tempation to take something good in God's creation and substitute it in the place of God are become important for me as I continue to try to develop spiritually. It might have been me or my general state of fatigue, but Benedicta Ward's introduction lost me. I eventually just skipped it and got on with the reading of the sayings, but perhaps I should go back to it and see if it makes better sense later.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sara J. (kefuwa)

    “This edition makes freshly accessible the most influential Latin collection of sayings. The new English translations follow the original Latin organisation around themes important to the monks, such as charity, fortitude, lust, patience, prayer, self-control and visions.” What a phenomenal read that was. Wow. Yes it’s just only a list of sayings grouped by different virtues but it paints a rather compelling and undeniably otherworldly portrait of the lives of the early Christian monks - the aptl “This edition makes freshly accessible the most influential Latin collection of sayings. The new English translations follow the original Latin organisation around themes important to the monks, such as charity, fortitude, lust, patience, prayer, self-control and visions.” What a phenomenal read that was. Wow. Yes it’s just only a list of sayings grouped by different virtues but it paints a rather compelling and undeniably otherworldly portrait of the lives of the early Christian monks - the aptly named Desert Fathers - whose inner and outer lives strove to be as merciless to themselves in this world as the desert is and can be. Ascetic living is thought by some as an extreme way of life - but even when you take everything away the battle still yet remains - the only battleground that is really yours to conquer - your body, mind and soul. Even back then, they were already referring to “this generation” being too weak and too soft. I guess the battle is the same now as it was then - no matter how much anything or everything has changed - the constant battle between man and his own self remains the most prevalent one there is. First finished: 19apr2020 Source: Can’t recall anymore 🙃

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