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Spiritual Wisdom of the Desert Fathers

.. and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, "We are Nazarites" (Followers of Jesus of Nazareth): because amongst these are men devoted to spiritual knowledge and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.

- The Quran, Chapter of Table Spread, 5:82

The Desert Fathers were Hermits, Ascetics and Monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt, beginning around the third century and also in Syria and Palestine. They were the first Christian hermits, who abandoned the cities of the pagan world to live in solitude. The solitude of these places attracted them because the privations of the desert were a means of learning stoic self-discipline. Such self-discipline was modelled after the examples of Jesus' fasting in the desert and of his cousin John the Baptist (himself a desert hermit). These individuals believed that desert life would teach them to eschew the things of this world and allow them to follow God's call in a more deliberate and individual way. From the 4th Century onwards, along with biographies and full-length treatises, their reflections were brought together and widely circulated. The Desert Fathers provided the inspiration for Christian spirituality throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

The Sagacious Desert Fathers, like the Sufs are People of Love (Ahl-e-Ishk). For them there was insistence on the primacy of love over everything else in spiritual life, over knowledge, gnosis, asceticism, contemplation, solitude ir prayer. For them without love the exercises of the spirit lose all meaning. Like what sufis call Futtuwah, their idea of love was not sentiment but spiritual identification with one's brother; taking one's neighbor as one's self. The full difficulty and magnitude of the task of loving others is recognized everywhere and never minimized. They understood that it is very hard to love others in the full sense of the word and that it involved a kind of death of their own being, of their ego. Thus the Desert Fathers embodied what Sufis call 'Die before You Die'.

Purity of Heart, exactly like the Sufis was one of the central goal for the Desert Fathers. The basic principle of the Desert Life was that God is the Authority and that apart from His manifest will there are few or no principles. St. Anthony said,. "therefore whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe." For them the purging of anything that makes one unmindful of God allowed for the emergence of the true secret self in which the believer and Christ were "one spirit." The end of all striving was purity of heart which culminated in a clear unobstructed vision of the true state of affairs and an intuitive grasp of one's inner reality anchored in God.

The survived teachings and discourses of the Desert Fathers, may God accept their service and illuminate their noble souls, offer great spiritual wisdom which is common heritage of humanity. Through their devoted life, what was passed down to their inspired heart - have the capacity to inspire many generations to come. Here are selection of Spiritual Wisdom from the Desert Fathers with further resources.

God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. Hence, if we feel in our hearts the cold which comes from the devil - for the devil is cold - let us call on the Lord. He will come to warm our hearts with perfect love, not only for Him but also for our neighbor, and the cold of him who hates the good will flee before the heat of His countenance. - St. Seraphim of Sarov

This is the truth, if a monk regards contempt as praise, poverty as riches, and hunger as a feast, he will never die. - Blessed Macarius

The roof of any house stands upon the foundations and the rest of the structure. The foundations themselves are laid in order to carry the roof. This is both useful and necessary, for the roof cannot stand without the foundations and the foundations are absolutely useless without the roof - no help to any living creature. In the same way the grace of God is preserved by the practice of the commandments, and the observance of these commandments is laid down like foundations through the gift of God. The grace of the Spirit cannot remain with us without the practice of the commandments, but the practice of the commandments is of no help or advantage to us without the grace of God. - St. Symeon

A man who keeps death before his eyes will at all times overcome his cowardliness. - Desert Elders

If the soul is vigilant and withdraws from all distraction and abandons its own will, then the spirit of God invades it and it can conceive because it is free to do so. - Abba Cronius

In the matter of piety, poverty serves us better than wealth, and work better than idleness, especially since wealth becomes an obstacle even for those who do not devote themselves to it. Yet, when we must put aside our wrath, quench our envy, soften our anger, offer our prayers, and show a disposition which is reasonable, mild, kindly, and loving, how could poverty stand in our way? For we accomplish these things not by spending money but by making the correct choice. Almsgiving above all else requires money, but even this shines with a brighter luster when the alms are given from our poverty. The widow who paid in the two mites was poorer than any human, but she outdid them all. - St. John Chrysostom

O monk, take thou the greatest possible care that thou sin not, lest thou disgrace God Who dwelleth in thee, and thou drive Him out of thy soul. - Abba Epiphanius

Why do you trouble yourself in a house that is not your own? Let the sight of a dead man be a teacher for you concerning your departure from hence. - St. Isaac the Syrian

Humility is the only thing we need; one can still fall having virtues other than humility -- but with humility one does not fall. - Elder Herman of Mt. Athos

Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved. - Abba Anthony

God descends to the humble as waters flow down from the hills into the valleys. - St. Tikhon of Voronezh

Have unfeigned love among yourselves, keep the tradition, and may the God of peace be with you and confirm you in love. - St. Paul of Obnora

If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy! - St. Feofil, the Fool for Christ

# Credit and Further:
. One Hundred & Twenty Wise Sayings from The Holy Fathers
. Teachings of Early Egyptian Desert Fathers
. Sayings of the Desert Fathers
. Selections from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (PDF)
. In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers by John Chryssavgis
. The Desert Fathers: sayings of the early Christian monks by Benedicta Ward
. Eternal Wisdom from the Desert: Writings from the Desert Fathers


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Technology of the Heart: Spiritual Wisdom of the Desert Fathers
Spiritual Wisdom of the Desert Fathers
Technology of the Heart
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