A brother said to me: “Abba Isaac of Harashu said to me: ‘I visited Abba Sisoes of Petra, the disciple of Abba Anthony, and I asked him saying: “Tell me a word by which I might live.” He said to me: “Go, guard these three works and you will live: endure insults as glory, misery as riches, love your neighbor as yourself. And the Lord will be with you; he will make you strong against your enemies.”‘” (Harmless 249)
An appropriate word to have stuck in my head on a Sunday morning, The Apophtegmata Patrum (Sayings of the Fathers) is the Latin title given to the collection of various sayings attributed to the early desert fathers.
The sayings of the desert fathers cover a range of christian and early monastic topics and typically reflect the thoughts of apotaktikoi (“renouncers”) who “renounced career, status, property, marriage, and family” for the sake of Christ (232). They tell us of the daily struggles of the early desert monks.
Monasticism today is very different from the early days in which monks often lived in total solitude – their only interactions with other people being during various synaxis (liturgies) either the Divine Office or the Eucharistic Celebration. However the core of the monastic message found in the Sayings of the Fathers is echoed still today in modern monastic thought even though their ascetic practice is no longer as rigorous as it once was.
Yesterday was the Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, considered to be the father of modern monasticism. His wisdom regarding living a life of simplicity, discipline, and moderation, even today, can be adapted easily to all states of christian life whether married, single, monastic, or clerical.
Let them fear God and love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection; let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may He lead us all together to life everlasting. (RB 72.9 -72.12)
I leave you with a saying of Abba Anthony: “Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalise our brother, we have sinned against Christ.” (Ward, 3)
Benedict of Nursia. The Rule of St. Benedict in English. Trans. from RB1980. Ed. Timothy Fry, O.S.B. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1982.
Harmless, William, S.J. Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 249. Print. Quoted from: Collectio Monastica 14.64
St. Thomas, Andrew. “Art in the Margins: The Theodore Psalter.” Medieval Manuscripts Blog. N.p., 27 June 2015. Web. 12 July 2015.
Ward, Benedicta. “Alpha: Anthony the Great.” The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. London: Mowbray, 1981. 1-38. Print.