Lives of the Desert Fathers

The Desert Shall Blossom as the Rose -- Isaiah

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The First Christian Revival

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"Early African Christianity produced a revival movement, the first Christian revival movement we know about.
Large numbers of men and women, seeking radical discipleship, came to the desert.
The desert became a city." [from talk given by Dr. Andrew Walls, 2003, Dallas Theological Seminary] • Translate this page

 Desert Fathers Tracts ---Tracts 1 to 9. -- Tracts 10 to 16.

The Desert Fathers (there were also Desert Mothers) were Christian men and women who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. The Apophthegmata Patrum is a collection of the wisdom of some of the early desert Christians, still in print as Sayings of the Desert Fathers. The most well known was Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in 270–271 and became known as the founder of desert Christianity. By the time Anthony died in 356, many Christians had been drawn to living in the desert following Anthony's example. His biographer, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote that "the desert had become a city." The Desert Fathers had a major influence on the development of Christianity.


The desert communities that grew out of informal gatherings, became the model for Christian training and schools. All of the great revivals of Christianity looked to the desert for inspiration and guidance. Even religious renewals such as the German evangelicals and Pietists in Pennsylvania, and the Methodist Revival in England, have been influenced by the Desert Fathers.

 Right: Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.
Author of life of Anthony, the first desert father.

Over two thousand years ago, a young Virgin and her Child found refuge in Africa from threatening forces. Since that time, Christianity has developed extensive roots in Africa. Anthony and the Desert Fathers kept the Church from worldliness, and preserved spiritual teaching. Athanasius taught the Bible and helped write the Creed. Bishop Cyril kept the Church from dishonoring Christ and His ambassadors. The African Martyrs gave the Church courage. The African Mothers gave the Church teachers like Katherine. The hermitesses like Mary of Egypt and Sarah of the Nile showed the path of contrition, redemptive suffering and repentance.

Rejoice, O Desert

In the desert Christians was fulfilled the Scripture: The wilderness shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; they shall see the glory of our Lord, and the excellency of our God. (Isaiah 35:1).That eloquent prophecy has indeed been fulfilled by the existence of the church, gathered up out of all the nations, but shown up to perfection in this Egyptian desert, where more children of God can be seen, than in the inhabited places. This abundance is also a fulfillment of what the Apostle said, Where sin abounded, there grace abounded more abundantly. (Rom. 5:20). For in Egypt there used to be a great deal of idolatrous worship. But now they have turned from idols unto the worship of the living God.    -- Palladius, Lausiac History. ----- • Desert Fathers at Reddit * Resources for African Christianity *


Lives of the Desert Fathers: --- Download PDF 

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This is a large book, 893 pages, and is a collection of many writings:
the biography of Anthony, by Athanasius, biographies of Desert Fathers and Mothers,
sayings of the Fathers, "Spiritual Meadow" by John Moschus,
"Lausiac History" by Palladius, and more.

.........

Free E-Books

Paradise of the Desert Fathers -- Download TXT

Sayings of the Desert Fathers -- Download PDF

Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers -- Download PDF 

Life of Onuphrius, by Paphnutius (12 pages) -- Download PDF

Conferences of John Cassian -- Download PDF --

Writings of Evagrius Ponticus: Website --

Palladius. The Lausiac History. Complete text.
A work about the Desert Fathers, written in 419-420 by Palladius of Galatia, at the request of Lausus, chamberlain at the court of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II.

Lausiac History (Palladius). Another Text *

John Moschus: The Spiritual Meadow (Pratum Spirituale) ---  Another text

John Moschus (Wiki)

Sentencias de los Padres del Desierto -- Descargar PDF -- (text in Spanish)

Notes about your extended family in heaven
Book of Saints -- Antony -- January 17. The cloud of witnesses, Heb. 12:1.

Butler's Lives of the Saints. Saint Antony, Abbot, Patriarch of monks. A.D. 356.

Desert Mothers

The Desert Mothers and Fathers on Humility ---

Therese of Lisieux: Story of a Soul -- Download PDF -----

I KNOW that He loves the Prodigal Son, I have heard His words to St. Mary Magdalen, to the woman taken in adultery, and to the woman of Samaria. No one could frighten me, for I know what to believe concerning His Mercy and His Love. And I know that all that multitude of sins would disappear in an instant, even as a drop of water cast into a flaming furnace.

It is told in the Lives of the Fathers of the Desert how one of them converted a public sinner, whose evil deeds were the scandal of the whole country. This wicked woman, touched by grace, followed the Saint into the desert, there to perform rigorous penance. But on the first night of the journey, before even reaching the place of her retirement, the bonds that bound her to earth were broken by the vehemence of her loving sorrow. The holy man, at the same instant, saw her soul borne by Angels to the Bosom of God. This is a striking example of what I want to say, but these things cannot be expressed.

[Story of a Soul, Chapter 11, page 96.] -- for more details, see Tract # 8: "Joy in Heaven."


Zosimus and Mary of Egypt

 In the reign of Theodosius the Younger, there lived in Palestine a holy Christian named Zosimus who, having served God with great fervor in the same house for 53 years, was divinely directed to leave his community for one near the river Jordan, where he might learn how to advance still further on the path of holiness. He found that the members of this community on the first Sunday in Lent used to disperse in the desert to pass in solitude and penance the time until Palm Sunday.

    It was at that season, about the year 430, that Zosimus found himself a 20 days' distance from his community, and sat down one day at noon to say his psalms and to rest. Perceiving suddenly what appeared to be a human form, he made the sign of the cross and finished his psalms. Then, looking up, he saw a white-haired, sun-tanned naked figure, which he took to be a hermit, but which ran away as he went towards it. He had nearly overtaken it and was near enough to crave its blessing, when it exclaimed, "Father Zosimus, I am a woman: throw your mantle to cover me, that you may come near me."

    Surprised that she should know his name, he complied, and they entered into conversation. In reply to his inquiries the woman told her strange story with many expressions of shame and penitence.

    "My country," she said, "is Egypt. At the age of 12, while my father and mother were still living, I went without their consent to Alexandria. I cannot think without trembling of the first steps by which I fell into sin, or of the excesses which followed."

    She then described how she had lived as a public prostitute for 17 years, not for money, but to gratify her lust. At the age of about 28, curiosity led her to join a band of people who were going to celebrate at Jerusalem the feast of the Holy Cross—and even on the journey she continued her evil courses, corrupting some of the pilgrims. Upon their arrival in Jerusalem, she tried to enter the church with the rest of the congregation, but an invisible force held her back. After two or three ineffectual attempts, she withdrew into a corner of the outer court, and for the first time a full realization of her sinfulness swept over her.

    Raising her eyes to an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she besought with tears the help of the Mother of Jesus, vowing herself to a life of penance. With a lightened heart she was now able without any difficulty to enter the church to venerate the cross, and as she returned to give thanks to the mother of the Lord, she heard a voice which said, "Go over the Jordan, and thou shalt find peace."
zozimus
    At a baker's where she bought loaves she inquired the way to the Jordan, and started off forthwith, arriving that same night at the church of St. John the Baptist on the bank of the river. Here she made her communion and crossed the Jordan into the wilderness, where she had remained ever since—about 47 years, as far as she could judge.

    She had seen no human being, and had lived on edible plants and on dates. The winter cold and the summer heat had sorely afflicted her unprotected body, and she had often been tortured by thirst. At such times she had been tempted to regret the luxuries and the wines of Egypt in which she had formerly indulged. These and other assaults beset her night and day almost unremittingly for 17 years, but she had implored the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, and the divine assistance had never failed her.

    She could not read, and had never had any human instruction in holy things, but God Himself had taught her the mysteries of faith. At her request, Zosimus undertook not to divulge what she had said until after her death, and promised to meet her again beside the Jordan on Holy Thursday of the following year, to give her holy communion.

    The next Lent, Zosimus made his way to the selected meeting-place, bearing the Blessed Sacrament, and that same holy Thursday evening beheld Mary standing on the opposite bank of the Jordan. After she had made the sign of the cross, she proceeded to walk upon the water until she reached dry ground beside the astonished priest. She received communion with deep devotion, following it by the recitation of the opening words of the Nunc dimittis. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." (Luke 2:29). From a basket of dates, figs and lentils which Zosimus offered, she would accept only three lentils; and she thanked him for all he had done and commended herself to his prayers. Then, with a final entreaty that he would return a year later to the spot where they had first met, she departed over the river as she had come.

    Next year, when Zosimus went back into the desert to keep this second appointment, he found Mary's dead body stretched out upon the ground, while beside her on the sand were traced these words: "Father Zosimus, bury the body of lowly Mary. Render earth to earth and pray for me. I died the night of the Lord's Passion, after receiving the divine and mystic Banquet."

    Zosimus had no spade, but a lion from the desert came to his assistance and with its claws helped him to dig her grave. Zosimus resumed his mantle, which he treasured henceforth as a holy relic, and returned to tell his brethren all his experiences.

    He continued for many years to serve God in his community, until a happy death released him in the hundredth year of his age.

    Note: The history of Mary of Egypt was popular in the Middle Ages, and is illustrated on the old glass windows of the cathedrals of Bourges, Auxerre and elsewhere. (Lives of the Desert Fathers, pp. 335 354)

Icon of Mary of Egypt, surrounded by scenes from her life (17th century, Moscow).  • St. Mary of Egypt, An Example of Repentance

Blessed John Columbini was converted by reading a life of Mary of Egypt.

John Columbini, Confessor (July 31).

[Founder of the Order of the Jesuati.]  HE was descended of one of the most ancient and noble families of Sienna; and being chosen first magistrate of that commonwealth, acquitted himself of all the duties of that charge with integrity and honour, and to the great satisfaction of his countrymen; but he was passionate, and his heart was strongly wedded to the world, and buried under the weight and hurry of its business, vanity, and ambition, so that he scarcely seemed able to find leisure to breathe, or to think of eternity. One day, after being taken up the whole morning in deciding causes in his court, he came home, much fatigued, and not finding dinner ready, flew into a violent passion. His wife put a book of the Saints’ Lives into his hands; but he threw it on the ground. The next moment, being ashamed of his passion, he took it up again, and sitting down to read, fell on the life of St. Mary of Egypt. He read it with so much pleasure that he thought no more of his dinner; and insensibly found his heart pierced with compunction and remorse for his past sins and unthinking conduct, and entirely weaned from the world.
  From that moment he resolved to begin a new life; and, to expiate his offences, he embraced the most austere practices of penance. Resigning his public employs, he consecrated the greater part of his estates to alms-deeds; and being sensible that the first sacrifice which God requires of a sinner is that of a contrite and humble heart, without which no other can be acceptable to him, he spent his time chiefly in prayers and tears. He sold his rich clothes and furniture, giving the money to the poor, that they might be intercessors in his behalf at the throne of mercy; he lay on two boards, watching great part of the night in prayer, and his house seemed converted into an hospital, so great was the number of the poor and sick that he caused to be brought thither, and attended. The whole country was astonished at so great a change, and so exemplary a penance. Francis Vincent joined him in this manner of life. They both ran the same course, and with equal paces. One day, seeing a leper lying at the door of the great church, covered with blotches and ulcers, the saint carried him on his back through the public market-place; attending him both as his servant and physician, tenderly kissing his running sores one after another, till he had perfectly overcome the abhorrence which nature inspires in such actions, and continued his care of this patient till he was perfectly cured.  
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ESPAÑOL: .. Padres del Desierto • • • Quienes son los padres del desierto? • • • Apogtemas de los padres del desierto ♦ ♦ Vida de San Antonio Abad, por San Atanasio



The desert fathers lived "in caves and holes in the ground." (Hebrews 11:38). --- "(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." -- Heb. 11:38

Tears in the Desert
The desert fathers faced themselves in humility, i.e., their helplessness, their failures and sins, in order to be “perfected in weakness” (2 Cor: 12:9). This is  “the role of tears.” This is the willingness to face our pain, to be broken and to grieve; to admit our dependency on God:

    The silence of tears reflects our surrender to God and to new patterns of learning and living. Through weeping, we learn by suffering and undergoing, not just by speculating and understanding.…Tears signify an opening of new life, a softening of the soul, a clarity of the mind. They bring us to rebirth and the world to healing. They signify a true homecoming. Through tears we are able to enter the treasury of the heart.

Is it selfish to withdraw into the desert?
One can hear a question that is asked today, when we consider the life of even modern monks, nuns or hermits: “Is it selfish…to withdraw into the desert when there appears to be so much suffering in the world? Are the Desert Fathers and Mothers anti-social figures of fourth-century Egypt?” These holy people served and gave to each other, and to those who came to visit them. As they progressed spiritually, their love for their neighbors also progressed. “We must never use love and service as excuses to avoid the inner work of transformation. All of us—especially those in the caring professions—should take time out for ourselves in retreat.”

    There is another perspective from which to consider this question about selfishness. It may be that we are in fact called to be more selfish in the spiritual life. This may sound strange, but perhaps we ought to set aside a time and a place where we do nothing else at all but address the passions of the soul and meditate on God. It may be that we should take time out for ourselves and for God in the same way as we do—quite naturally, and without ever considering that this is in any way selfish—to eat and rest and be entertained. The truth is that we are no good to others or to ourselves, if we avoid or miss this stage of the desert. The Desert Fathers and Mothers emphasize the need for an integrated self. Remember the words of Abba Alonius: we must, he claimed, be totally alone with God and with ourselves in order to rebuild and reshape ourselves.

The miracles of living in the desert environment
Anyone who visits a desert for the first time is often struck with its special kind of stark beauty. The Desert Dwellers also came to love the special beauty of the surrounding desert environment, so that as they lived out their lives there, they became one with the environment and its creatures. They viewed their world as a creation of God, a place to be admired but not adored. “Worship was due to God alone as author and creator of the world.”  In the same way the Desert Fathers and Mothers developed a special relationship with the animals of the desert:

    Abba Antony also said: “Obedience with abstinence gives people authority even over wild beasts.” Antony knew the truth of this statement. He had persuaded the animals in his region to live at peace with him and no longer to disturb him. In fact, the notion of being like Adam, before he fell from the graceful condition he enjoyed in paradise, is the ideal to which the desert elders aspired.

Further development of a special relationship with God’s creation was evidenced by the signs and miracles the desert elders were reported to have exhibited:

    Another time, when Abba Bessarion had occasion to do so, he said a prayer and crossed the river Chrysoroas on foot, and then continued on his way. Filled with wonder, I asked his pardon and said: “How did your feet feel when you were walking in the water?” He replied: “I felt the water just to my heels, but the rest was dry.”

    On another day, while we were going to see an old man, the sun was setting. So Abba Bessarion said this prayer: “I pray you, Lord, that the sun may stand still until we reach your servant,” and this is exactly what happened.…

    For the Desert Fathers and Mothers, creation is a miracle. The world, too, is a miracle. In fact, it is not the desert dwellers that make miracles happen; they themselves comprise miracles of God. As vessels of another grace, they remind us of the miracle of human existence.

 

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...he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. -- John 11:52

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. -- Isaiah 11:12

He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. -- Jeremiah 31:10

 The Lion and the Lamb


About a mile away from the Jordan river there is a monastery known as abba Gerasimus' monastery. When we visited it, the old men living there told us about abba Gerasimus. One day as he was walking by the banks of the Jordan he met a lion in the way, roaring loudly. He was holding in the air one swollen paw covered in bloody matter, caused by a sharp sliver of reed embedded in it. When the lion saw the old man he stood still and held out the wounded paw with the reed in it, as if weeping and asking to be cured. When the old man realised the plight the lion was in he took the lion's paw, probed the wound and drew out the reed along with a quantity of pus, carefully cleaned the wound and bandaged it and sent the lion on his way. But when the lion realised he had been cured, he refused to desert the old man but followed him everywhere like a disciple following a master. The old man was amazed at the gratitude which a wild beast was capable of, and looked after it from then on, feeding it on bread and soaked vegetables.

Now this monastery had a donkey, which they used for carrying water from the Jordan to supply the brothers' needs. And it became the old man's custom to let the lion guard the donkey while it was grazing. The lion would go with the donkey down to the banks of the Jordan and watch it while it grazed. One day, however, the lion wandered off for quite a distance, just when a camel driver from Arabia came along, saw the donkey, caught it and took it away with him. Finding the donkey missing, the lion returned to the monastery and hung his head, obviously grief-stricken, before abba Gerasimus, who thought that the lion must have eaten the donkey.
 Gerasimus and lion

"Where is the donkey?" he said. But the lion, just as human beings might do, looked away and said nothing.
 

"Well, the Lord be blessed if you haven't eaten it!" said the abba. "So everything that the donkey used to do, you will have to do from now on."
 

So the lion henceforth had to carry a harness containing four amphorae in which he carried water for the monastery.
One day a soldier came to the old man to ask his blessing. When he saw the lion carrying water and learned the reason for it, he took pity on the lion, and offered the old men three numismas to buy another donkey for this task, so that there would be no need for the lion to do it. Soon after this transaction was completed and the lion relieved of his burden, the camel driver who had stolen the donkey came back carrying wheat for sale in the holy city and he still had the donkey with him. As he was crossing the Jordan he met the lion, and as soon as he had seen it he let the camels go and fled. But the lion recognised the donkey, ran up to it and took the donkey's halter in his mouth just as he used to do. He joyfully led the donkey and three camels back to the old man, roaring loudly, because he had found the donkey which was lost. So the old man who had thought that the lion had swallowed the donkey now learned that the lion had suffered a great injustice. He called the lion "Jordan", and he never left the old man but continued to live in the monastery with the brothers for more than five years.
 

In the providence of God the lion was not in the monastery when the old man passed to the Lord and was buried. But a little while after the lion came into the monastery and abba Sabbatius, Gerasimus' disciple, noticed the lion looking for the old man. "Jordan," said Sabbatius, "Gerasimus has left us both orphans and he has passed to the Lord. Try and get used to it, and come and take some food." But the lion would not eat, and kept on looking about this way and that way, searching for the old man, roaring loudly, unable to bear the old man's absence.
Abba Sabbatius and the other old men stroked his neck and told him over and over again that the old man had passed to the Lord and had left us, but whatever they said they were unable to lessen his grief or his roaring. The more they tried to cherish and console him by their words, the greater his grief, the louder he roared and lamented, showing in his voice, his face and his eyes his distress at not seeing the old man.
 

"Come with me, seeing that you don't believe us," said abba Sabbatius to him at last, "and I will show you where our old man has been laid." So he led the lion to where the old man was buried, about five paces outside the church.

 

"This is where our old man is buried," said abba Sabbatius to the lion, as he stood above abba Gerasimus' grave. And Abba Sabbatius prostrated himself over the old man's grave. The lion understood what was said to him, and when he saw abba Sabbatius prostrate on the grave, weeping, he too lay down, striking his head forcefully on the ground and roaring. And suddenly, there he died, on the old man's grave.

Now all this happened, not that a lion should be thought to have a rational soul, but because God wishes those who glorify him to do so, not only in this life but also after death, and to show us what kind of dependence the beasts had upon the first man, before he was disobedient to the command and was expelled from the paradise of delights.       -- [Lives of the Desert Fathers, p. 1006.]

The Lion and the Lambs
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. -- Isaiah 11: 6-9



Desert Fathers: article in Wikipedia


St. Moses the Black (A. D. 405)

    Moses was an Ethiopian and the most picturesque figure among those remarkable men who are known as the Fathers of the Desert. At first he was a servant, or slave, in the house of an Egyptian official. The general immorality of his life, but particularly his continual thefts, caused his dismissal--in those days he was lucky to have got off with his life--and he took to brigandage. He was a man of huge stature, with corresponding strength and ferocity, and he soon gathered a gang about him that was a terror to the district. Once some contemplated villainy was spoiled by the barking of a sheep-dog giving the alarm, and Moses swore to kill the shepherd. To get at him he had to swim across the Nile with his sword in his teeth, but the shepherd had hidden himself by furrowing into the sand; Moses could not find him, so he made up for it by killing four rams, tying them together and towing them back across the river. Then he flayed the rams, cooked and ate the best parts, sold the skins for wine, and walked fifty miles to join his fellows. That was the sort of man Moses was.Moses the Black    Unfortunately the circumstances of his conversion are not known; it is possible that he hid himself among the solitaries to avoid the law and was touched and conquered by their example, for when next heard of he was at the monastery of Petra in the desert of Skete. Here he was attacked in his cell by four robbers. Moses fought and overpowered them, then tied them together, slung them across his back, and went to the church, where he dumped them on the floor, saying to the astonished monks, "I am not allowed to hurt anybody, so what do you want me to do with these?" They are said to have reformed their ways and become monks themselves. But Moses did not become well-behaved in a day and, despairing of overcoming his violent passions, he consulted St. Isidore. The abbot took him up to the roof of the house at dawn: "See!" he said, "the light only gradually drives away the darkness. So it is with the soul." Eventually by hard physical labor, especially in waiting on his brethren, hard physical mortification, and persevering prayer, he so conquered himself that Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria, heard of his virtues and ordained him priest. Afterwards as he stood in the basilica, anointed and vested in white, the archbishop said, "Now, Father Moses, the black man is made white." St. Moses smiled ruefully. "Only outside! God knows that inwardly I am yet dark," he replied.

    When a raid on the monastery by Berbers was threatened, Moses refused to allow his monks to defend themselves, but made them run away before it was too late: "All that take the sword shall perish with the sword." He remained, and seven with him, and all save one were murdered by the infidels. St. Moses was then 75 years old, and he was buried at the monastery called Dair al-Baramus, which still exists.

Moses the Black: article in Wikipedia

Online Version of Lives of Desert Fathers

Life of Anthony, first desert father.

Notes about your extended family in heaven
Book of Saints -- Antony -- January 17. The cloud of witnesses, Heb. 12:1.

Meeting of Anthony [first desert father] with Paul [first hermit], with centaur in background.
The Temptation of St. Anthony
More facts about Anthony the Great

Velazquez: Painting of Antony and Paul, with raven and two lions. --Velasquez
Saint Anthony Abbot and St. Paul the Hermit
c. 1642
Oil on canvas, 257 x 188 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Anthony is on the left in the black habit of the Hospitallers of St. Anthony. The raven above him is carrying a double loaf of bread to feed the two saints. In the lower left corner is the next episode in the story: Anthony returns and finds Paul dead; then two lions (here we see only part of the head of the second one) dig a grave for the saint. Behind Paul is the cave that is his shelter.

Gallery of Antony

Marriage and Celibacy
Therefore marriage and fornication are not two evils, whereof the second is worse: but marriage and continence are two goods, whereof the second is better, even as this temporal health and sickness are not two evils, whereof the second is worse; but that health and immortality are two goods, whereof the second is better. Also knowledge and vanity are not two evils, whereof vanity is the worse: but knowledge and charity are two goods, whereof charity is the better. For "knowledge shall be destroyed," says the Apostle: and yet it is necessary for this time: but "charity shall never fail." Thus also this mortal begetting, on account of which marriage takes place, shall be destroyed: but freedom from all sexual intercourse is both angelic exercise here, and continues for ever. But as the repasts of the Just are better than the fasts of the sacrilegious, so the marriage of the faithful is to be set before the virginity of the impious. However neither in that case is repast preferred to fasting, but righteousness to sacrilege; nor in this, marriage to virginity, but faith to impiety. For for this end the righteous, when need is, take their repast, that, as good masters,

Read More Here

Wisdom from the Desert. Sayings of Desert Fathers and Mothers.

Jonah Augustin's Homepage -- Ethiopian Christianity * * * * Christianity in Ethiopia (7 min. video)

Desert Fathers in Egypt. 2 minute video

2,000 years in African Christian history. -- 38 min. talk by university professor in Edinburgh, Scotland, Dr. Andrew Walls.
The first Christian revival movement. Radical discipleship. Mobilizing Christian energy. African Christianity today; rural, vernacular, lived in community.

The Life-Changing "Life of Antony" -- Athanasius' biography was not only a bestseller in its day, but a book that made people stop and think--and act. --article by David Wright. 1999.

News of Antony of Egypt, especially his sacrificial solitude, spread widely long before he died. At Rome, Marcella, a wealthy noblewoman already widowed at age 17, heard about him around 340, and in response, turned her mansion into an ascetic community devoted to prayer and Bible study. Other Roman matrons followed her pioneering example.

But when Athanasius, who had been one of those who told Marcella about Antony, put Antony's story down in writing, Antony's influence became greater still. As Athanasius told his readers at the beginning of his Life of Antony, "I feel that, once you have heard the story, you will not merely admire the man but will wish to emulate his commitment as well." ---- Read More Here.

15 articles from Christian History.net about Desert Fathers

Sayings of the Desert Fathers (webpage)

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (book in PDF format) * * * * * * * * * * * * * Videos about Desert Fathers

Learn about the Catholic Faith
Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Gregorian Chant: Music to find inner peace. 72 min. (Gloria.tv)


Athanasius: Canon of 27 Books of New Testament
Athanasius is the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today. Up until then, various similar lists of works to be read in churches were in use. A milestone in the evolution of the canon of New Testament books is his Easter letter from Alexandria, written in 367, usually referred to as his 39th Festal Letter. Pope Damasus I, the Bishop of Rome in 382, promulgated a list of books which contained a New Testament canon identical to that of Athanasius. A synod in Hippo [North Africa] in 393 repeated Athanasius' and Damasus' New Testament list (without the Epistle to the Hebrews), and a synod in Carthage in 397 repeated Athanasius' and Damasus' complete New Testament list.

Scholars debate whether Athanasius' list in 367 was the basis for the later lists. Because Athanasius' canon is the closest canon of any of the Church Fathers to the canon used by Protestant churches today, many Protestants point to Athanasius as the father of the canon. They are identical except that Athanasius includes the Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah and places the Book of Esther among the "7 books not in the canon but to be read" along with the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Judith, Tobit, the Didache, and the Shepherd of Hermas. See the article, Biblical canon, for more details.

 


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But he enjoyed the unmeasured delights of an unlimited banquet in the shape of singing the psalms of David, and having constant converse with God. He made use of them constantly, he could never get enough of them, he was always full of them, he was forever crying, 'How sweet are your words to my tongue, more than honey and honeycomb to my mouth' (Psalms 119.103). And again he heard these words of the blessed David, 'The judgments of the Lord are true, justified in themselves, more to be desired than gold and many precious stones, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb' (Psalms 19.10-11). And again, 'Delight in the Lord and he will give you your heart's desire.' And again, 'Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.'And 'Let my heart rejoice that it might fear your name'. And, 'Taste and see how gracious the Lord is.' And, 'My soul thirsts for the living God.' And 'My soul longs after you' And he grafted into himself the love which inspired the writer of all these words.

This is how the great David by his songs taught him that he would build up many companions who would rival him in the love they showed for God. His hope for this was not in vain. For not this man only but countless others were thus pierced by the love of God. He was consumed by such a great fire of love, he was so intoxicated by desire, that he ceased to have any care for anything of this earth. He dreamed only of his beloved by night and sought only the sight of him by day. And many people heard about his exceptional quest for wisdom [philosophia], and came to him from far and near. As his fame spread everywhere abroad, so they ran to him begging to benefit from his training. The came to him as to a master trainer, to be a family of children who would live on after him. Just as singing birds are used in hunting to call others of the same breed in order to catch them in nets, so do human beings chase after other human beings, sometimes for the purpose of destroying them, but sometimes in order to be saved. So very soon there were ten others with him.----- Palladius, Lausiac History, Lives of Desert Fathers, p. 856

 

Heirs of the Kingdom

"It does not do to be gloomy about your prospects of salvation," he would say, "for we are heirs of the kingdom of heaven. The heathen may be sad, the Jews may weep, sinners may be fearful, but the righteous can only rejoice. Those who are worried about earthly matters have only got earthly things in which it is possible for them to rejoice. But we who have been found worthy of being given such great hope, how can we fail to rejoice perpetually? Indeed it is the Apostle who urges us to rejoice always and give thanks in all things." (1Thessalonians 5.16,18). We cannot adequately describe the gracefulness of his speech, or the rest of his virtues, which we observed for ourselves and which others told us about. They are so miraculous they strike us dumb.

Palladius, Lausiac History, Lives of the Desert Fathers, p. 784.

 

Rejoice, O Desert

Through his teaching and way of life, a great number totally renounced the world, so that a community of up to five hundred Christians came into being, living a common life, eating at a common table, all clothed in white. In them was fulfilled the Scripture, 'Rejoice, O desert without water, break forth and shout you have not given birth, for many are the children of the desert, more than the children of men (Isaiah 54.1). That eloquent prophecy has indeed been fulfilled by the existence of the church gathered up out of all the nations, but shown up to perfection in this Egyptian desert, where more children of God can be seen than in the inhabited places. Where in the cities can you find as many flocks on the road to salvation as you can find in the deserts of Egypt? There are as many Christians in the desert as there are ordinary people in the cities, and it seems to me that this also is a fulfilment of what the Apostle said, 'Where sin abounded, there grace abounded more abundantly' (Romans 5.20). For in Egypt there used to be a great deal of idolatrous worship, more than in any other.

Palladius, Lausiac History, Lives of the Desert Fathers, p. 781

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Gerard of Cologne

A long time after William [Lydwina's brother] had passed away, Gerard, a young man of the diocese of Cologne who was burning with the desire to live like the ancient hermits, visited her [Lydwina of Schiedam] to make quite sure that this craving, which he could not succeed in mastering, was not a madness or a tempting of Providence, since it required that he should be miraculously fed in a desert solitude.

Lydwine removed his doubts regarding his vocation as an anchorite, and said to him prophetically: "The first three days after your arrival in the desert you will suffer hunger; but do not be downcast, for the third day, before sunset, the Lord will provide you with food."

Confident in this promise, he set out with two companions; but as soon as they reached the plains of Egypt, these friends, frightened by the sea of sand which stretched before them to the horizon, turned tail and went back to their own homes.

Gerard, more intrepid, plunged into the desolate regions of the Nile and discovered in the centre of the desert a great tree, in the branches of which was perched a cell, like a nest, made of palms and mats, so high above the ground that wolves and other wild beasts could not reach it. He installed himself in this cell, and, after lacking food for two days, he was, according to the prediction of the Saint, provided for by the Creator, who sent him flakes of manna as formerly to the Hebrews.

In this airy cell he lived lost in GOD, and he had reached the topmost heights of contemplation, when an English bishop, who was returning from a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai, where he had been to venerate the relics of S. Catherine of Alexandria, virgin and martyr, ventured to cross these deserts with his followers.
 
Surprised to see a tree in a country denuded of all vegetation, he approached it, and discerning the hut lodged in the branches, he cried: "If a servant of Christ is living here, I pray him, for the love of Jesus, to answer me."

At this appeal to the name of Jesus, an enormously fat being dressed in rags and horribly dirty emerged from the network of matting.

The bishop was disconcerted when he saw this mass, which, rather than the body and face of a man, resembled a colossal demi-john, whose neck was surmounted with a bladder of lard instead of a cork. He began to be frightened when this round face was irradiated by the luminous smile of an angel.

"Tell me, father abbot," said the Prelate, reassured by this smile, " how long have you lived in this tree?"

"For seventeen years," replied the hermit.

"How old were you when you fled from the world?"

"Nineteen years."

"And what do you live on? " continued the Englishman. " I can discover no trace of roots or vegetation round your lair, and yet your obesity is unrivalled."

"He who fed the children of Israel in the wilderness sees to it that I want nothing," replied Gerard.

The bishop thought he was speaking of spiritual food, and asked him if he knew any other human creature who lived without eating.
 
"Yes, in Holland, in a little town called Schiedam, a virgin has lived fasting for years, and has raised herself to such a high state of perfection that she is far in advance of me. We converse, however, and have done so for a long time, in the uncreated light; but one thing does astonish me at this moment: for some days now she has not left the earth and I do not perceive her spirit in ecstasy; and yet she is not dead !"

"I think I can divine, nevertheless," pursued Gerard, after a pause, "that she has afflicted herself more than is justified over the loss of one near and dear to her, and that GOD has allowed her to do this, in order to humiliate her. I think it is because of the intemperance of her tears that the Saviour deprives her for the moment of His grace. When you return to Europe, if you go by the Low Countries, go and see her, and put these three questions to her from me.

"How long has your friend Gerard been withdrawn in the desert?

"What age was he, when he adopted his present mode of hfe?

"Why does he no longer meet you as he used to do?"

That was enough to determine the bishop to go to Holland before he went back to England. The instant he arrived, he hurried to Schiedam and was taken by his hotel-keeper to Lydwine's house.

He related his conversation with Gerard, and begged her to answer the three questions.

She hesitated at first, saying humbly: "How can I know? It is God who knows."

But the prelate insisted, and was almost angry, so she at length avowed that Gerard had lived seventeen years in his tree; that when he had first conceived the idea of living the life of the fathers of the desert, he was seventeen, but that he had not been able to realise his design till two years after, that is to say, at the age of nineteen.

Then she was silent.

"You do not reply to the third question? " insisted the bishop.

Then she sighed: " Alas! Monseigneur, I am obliged to live amongst secular people, and cannot avoid being mixed up in the affairs of the world. I am polluted by that dust which springs up round the people of the age, and I advance very slowly in the ways of GOD. My brother Gerard is not, happily for him, in the same case. He exists alone with the angels, no earthly being disturbs him, and he can abandon himself in all liberty to the thoughts of Heaven. It is very natural then that he should pass me in the sublime ways of contemplation, and that I cannot always follow him in them.

"I would add also that if I have dropped behind and am slow in rejoining him, it is my own fault. I have wept too much over the death of my brother William, and God has put me back many paces."

After he had thus verified the exactitude of the details with which the hermit had furnished him, the bishop blessed Lydwine and recommended himself to her prayers.

When he had gone she talked to her intimates of Gerard. She told them that his stoutness, which was due to the nutritive qualities of the manna, was such that rolls of flesh dropped from his neck and ran in cascades down his back, so that he could neither sit nor lie down, but was forced to remain constantly kneeling or standing in his tree. When he died, in the year of the Incarnation 1426, on the 2nd October, she was warned of his decease by her angel, who took her to render the last duties to the dead.

She then saw his soul separated from his body and carried by the celestial spirits into Paradise, where they bathed it in a fountain whose water was so pure, that one could see the bottom to a depth of at least a mile.
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Taken from "Saint Lydwine of Schiedam," by J.K. Huysmans. Ch. XI. --- Saint Lydwine of Schiedam. By J.K. Huysmans. • Lydwina of SchiedamLidwina (Wiki)


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Prophecy of Isaiah: The Desert Shall Blossom

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad;
and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing:
the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, and the excellency of Carmel and Sharon;
they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God. -- Isaiah 35:1-2



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