Day 34 4th April The Desert Fathers and Mothers
I am cheating slightly here because I am picking a group of saints rather than an individual one, but it is a group that I think deserve to be in this booklet. The Desert Fathers and Mothers are those who, in the 3rd and 4th centuries, left the hustle and bustle of life in the growing larger cities and towns and headed off to the deserts of Egypt. They felt that life in general, and the church as part of it, was becoming too materialistic and too concerned with success and power. So they gave away everything and sought a life of simplicity, solitude and prayer. The men became known as Abba and the women as Amma. Among the most famous were Abbas Anthony, Poemen, Macarius, Athanasius, and Cassian. Also Ammas Syncletica, Alexandria, Sarah, and Melania.
Soon after they arrived and began their simple lives, others began to follow their example and join them; soon small communities were set up which became the beginning of the monasticism that we know today. Others would visit for times of respite and for spiritual guidance. All in all, those who made the break and committed themselves to a life of simplicity and prayer, made an enormous impact upon our world. They have taught us a great deal about taking a step back from the pressures of life, even if just for a short time, and giving God the opportunity to commune with us in the stillness of our hearts.
Monks and nuns, in monasteries and convents today, often get accused of opting out of life and spending time naval gazing, rather than ministering to others in the heart of life; and I am sure the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 3rd Century were accused of the same. The simple truth is they often provide for this world places of refuge and solitude that many others turn to when life becomes too much, or when we need a place to renew. Even those who go into extreme silence and solitude, seemingly cut off from the world, contribute greatly to its health and renewal. They pray on our behalf, on the world’s behalf, and sustain us in our lives. They do not leave the world behind, they take it with them and place it in a new dimension which is desperately needed.
What they teach us is that our own spiritual practice is important, not only for ourselves but for others as well. When we take time to pray, to worship in church, to spend time in solitude or silence, we give something to our world. We do it also on behalf of others, and they benefit in unseen ways.
Some sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers
Prayer is hard work, and a great struggle till one’s last breath – Abba Agatho
My rule is to refresh you and to send you on your way in peace – Anon
Restrain the belly, the tongue, and anger, my dear brethren
And your feet shall not stumble over a rock – Amma Theodora
When asked what it meant to be humble one of the Mothers replied:
It is when you forgive someone who has wronged you,
even before they have asked for forgiveness.
Whatever you find in your heart to do in following God, that do,
and remain within yourself in Him – Abba Anthony
Teach your heart to guard, that which the tongue recites – Abba Poemen
Make your heart a chapel. Stay there and let it teach you.
For there God is next to you – Anon
Be solitary. Be silent. And you will be at peace – Abba Arsenius
Breathe humility just as ceaselessly as you breathe the air – Abba Pastor