Category: Simplicity


What to Do

A story for a future collection of sayings:

I heard once from another parishioner that Fr. Jim, the priest who chrismated me and received me into the Orthodox Church, was approached years ago by a Protestant couple who wanted to become Orthodox. (Note: the point of this story is not polemical.) They came to him and met with him over the next months for catechesis. Continue reading

Salvation for the City

It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

It is easy to become discouraged in the spiritual life. It is easy to think, “I am no St. Anthony. How can I hope for blessedness? How can I even be saved?” Attempting to answer this concern is, in part, the reason for this blog. I love the wisdom of the Christian ascetic tradition, but nearly all of it is written primarily by and for monastics. Is perfection only possible in the desert? Or might there be hope for the city as well? Continue reading

It is through the Holy Spirit that there will be a universal resurrection. I do not mean the resurrection of the bodies at the end (Heb. 9:26), for then the angel will blow the trumpet and the dead bodies will rise (1 Cor. 15:52), but I mean the spiritual regeneration and resurrection of the dead souls that takes place in a spiritual manner every day. This [resurrection] He gives who has died once [for all] and risen (Rom. 6:9f.), and through all and for all those who live in a worthy manner He causes the souls to rise who have died with Him in will and faith and raises them up. This He grants through His all-holy Spirit as He even now bestows on them from henceforth the kingdom of heaven.

~ St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious

Christ is risen! For Orthodox Christians like myself, Pascha (Easter) is more than just a day, it is also a forty day season. For the first week (this past one) we don’t even fast at all! Having just finished with this Renewal Week (or Bright Week), I have been reflecting on a common motif of the Christian spiritual life and how perfectly it describes Christian asceticism: dying and rising with Christ. Continue reading

Except for All the Castles

Saint Syncletice said: … If a hen stops sitting on the eggs she will hatch no chickens: and the monk or nun who moves from place to place will grow cold and dead in faith.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 7.15

I had the opportunity these last two days to visit Princeton for an academic conference. It is a beautiful place, but in many ways it does not feel much different than home in the Midwest … except for all the castles, that is. Continue reading

Journeying With St. Patrick

Then, having received the benedictions, and all things having been accomplished according to custom (moreover with a special appropriateness to Patrick, this verse of the Psalmist was sung, “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek “), the venerable traveller [St. Patrick] got on board, in the name of the Blessed Trinity, a ship prepared for him, and arrived in Britain; and dispensing with everything that could delay his journey [on foot], except what the requirements of ordinary life demand (for no one seeks the Lord by sloth), with all speed and with a favouring wind, he crossed our sea.

Muirchu’s Life of Patrick 9

St. Patrick’s biographer, Muirchu, highlights two interesting things in this little excerpt. First, St. Patrick does not simply get on board a ship; he boards the ship “in the name of the Blessed Trinity.” Second, Patrick rids himself of all that is unnecessary for his journey “for no one seeks the Lord by sloth.” Continue reading

[Abba Arsenius] said: “If we seek God, he will appear to us: if we hold him, he will stay with us.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 11.1

Taking a short break from my series on the four forms of prayer, I wanted to reflect on this simple and striking saying of Abba Arsenius. It is a wonderful reminder of the power of persistence. Continue reading

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17Proof of [St. Antony’s] virtue and that his soul was loved by God is found in the fact that he is famous everywhere and is marveled at by everyone, and is dearly missed by people who never saw him. Neither from writings, nor from pagan wisdom, nor from some craft was Antony acclaimed, but on account of religion alone. That this was something given by God no one would deny. For how is it that he was heard of, though concealed and sitting in a mountain, in Spain and Gaul, and in Rome and Africa, unless if it was the God who everywhere makes his men known who also promised this to Antony in the beginning? For even though they themselves act in secret, and may want to be forgotten, nevertheless the Lord shows them like lamps to everyone, so that those who hear may know that the commandments have power for amendment of life, and may gain zeal for the way of virtue.

~ St. Athanasius, Life of Antony, 93

In a time before Facebook, according to St. Athanasius, St. Antony (also “Anthony”) was “famous everywhere and [was] marveled at by everyone,” even “in Spain and Gaul, and in Rome and Africa.” He wasn’t tweeting instagrams of the bread and salt he ate once a day (if that) either. No, people knew about this man who lived “concealed and sitting in a mountain” because “his soul was loved by God” and “on account of religion alone.” St. Athanasius is furthermore convinced that this is a sign of God’s grace, “so that those who hear may know that the commandments have power for amendment of life, and may gain zeal for the way of virtue.” Continue reading

The Gift of Poverty

Abba Evagrius said that there was a brother who had no possessions but a Gospel, and sold it to feed the poor. And he said a word which is worth remembering: “I have even sold the word which commands me to sell all and give to the poor.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 6.5

Poverty is one of three particularly monastic disciplines, though I think in a more moderate form they can apply to everyone. The three are poverty, as I said, and virginity and obedience. These may quite possibly be the three least favorite things of our society. Continue reading

Abba Arsenius was once asking an old Egyptian for advice about his temptations. And another, who saw this, said: “Abba Arsenius, how is it that you, who are so learned in the Greek and Latin languages, come to be asking that uneducated countryman about your temptations?” He answered: “I have acquired the world’s knowledge of Greek and Latin: but I have not yet been able to learn the alphabet of this uneducated man.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 15.7

A, B, C … learning the alphabet of a language (or system of symbols, as the case may be), is the first step toward literacy in that language. One cannot read a single word if one does not know the letters of the language. One must simply memorized them; their names and sounds cannot be deduced from their shapes. Alphabetic languages often have memorable songs to help, but the task is still large and requires discipline and memory. Nevertheless, as this story teaches, there is a language whose alphabet is far more important to learn and which surpasses the value and achievement of learning any other. Continue reading

What Makes a Monk?

Abba Macarius said to Abba Zacharias: “Tell me, what makes a monk?” He said: “Is it not wrong that you should be asking me?” And Abba Macarius said to him: “I am sure I ought to ask of you, my son, Zacharias. I have one who urges me on to ask you.” Zacharias said to him: “As far as I can tell, Father, I think that whoever controls and forces himself to be content with necessities and nothing more, that man is a monk.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 1.6

The word monk (Gk. monachos) means solitary. One might think that the answer to Abba Macarius’s question would be quite simple then: a monk is anyone who willingly lives alone, presumably for spiritual discipline. Furthermore, one would presume that Abba Macarius, whose name is Greek (meaning “blessed” or “happy”) and who presumably spoke Greek, knew precisely what this Greek word meant. But it was not and is not a simple question. As happens in all languages, the semantic range of words broadens, narrows, and shifts. The same was true for the word “monk” at the time. What can we learn from this saying, and how is it relevant for those who live in the world and are by no means monks, in the traditional sense, today? Continue reading