Tag Archive: desert fathers


Piety and Propriety

When Abba Theodore was supping with the brothers, they received the cups with silent reverence, and did not follow the usual custom of receiving the cup with a “Pardon me.” And Abba Theodore said: “The monks have lost their manners and do not say ‘Pardon me.'”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 15.20

Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, was actually a moral philosopher. While his Wealth of Nations is better known today, he actually published another book seventeen years earlier: The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

This book is fascinating and bizarre. It is like no other book on ethics or morality that I’ve read. Indeed, one might even think of it more as a work of moral psychology, or maybe, in a uniquely anthropological and natural-philosophical way, a book of meta-ethics.

He does not begin by delineating a fundamental, normative principle or principles for moral action. Instead, he tries to answer the question: How do we become moral? He wants to be descriptive before being prescriptive. Continue reading

Sowing Seeds and Singing Psalms

[Saint Syncletice] said: “There is a useful sorrow, and a destructive sorrow. Sorrow is useful when we weep for sin, and for our neighbour’s ignorance, and so that we may not relax our purpose to attain to true goodness: these are the true kinds of sorrow. Our enemy adds something to this. For he sends sorrow without reason, which is something called accidie. We ought always to drive out a spirit like this with prayer and psalmody.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 10.71

There is a lot that could be gleaned from this saying. It do not think it is controversial to say that “sorrow without reason” is a fairly common phenomenon today. What is interesting about this saying from Saint Sycletice is her perspective on sorrow in general: some sorrow is good, and “sorrow without reason” has a source (“[o]ur enemy”) and a solution: “prayer and psalmody.” Continue reading

An Apologia for Martha

A brother came to Abba Silvanus on Mount Sinai. And when he saw the brothers working, he said to the old man: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth”: and “Mary hath chosen the best part.” [John 6:27; Luke 10:42] And the old man said to his disciple: “Call Zacharias, and put this brother in a cell where there is nothing.” And when three o’clock came, he kept looking at the door, to see when they would send someone and summon him to eat. But no one spoke to him. So he rose and went to the old man and said: “Abba, do not the brethren eat today?” And the old man said: “Yes, they have eaten already.” And the brother said: “Why did you not call me?” And the old man answered: “You are a spiritual person and do not need food. We are earthy, and since we want to eat, we work with our hands. But you have chosen the good part, reading all day, and not wanting to take earthly food.” When the brother heard this he prostrated himself in penitence and said: “Forgive me, Abba.” And the old man said: “I think Mary always needs Martha, and by Martha’s help Mary is praised.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 10.69

Mary Magdalene and Martha, the sisters of Lazaras, whom Christ raised from the dead according to the Gospel of John (see John 11), are often used as symbols of the famous dictum attributed to St. Benedict: ora et labora or “pray and work,” respectively. Continue reading

“Our Father”

[Abba Evagrius] said: “A certain monk was told that his father had died. He said to the messenger[,] ‘Stop blaspheming. My father cannot die.'”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 1.5

Family is a wonderful thing. Yesterday Kelly and Brendan and I attended a family reunion in southern Indiana. It was a five and half hour drive. We left Friday. We got back this evening. It was a long trip but a good one. Brendan (our six month old) was a real trooper. He is such a good baby. If seeing family and having such a patient baby weren’t enough of a blessing, this weekend Brendan quite clearly started saying, “Dada” (and “Mama”). It even seems intentional about 75% of the time. “Dada”—my son knows my name, and he can say it. And it’s possibly the cutest thing ever. Continue reading

New Beginnings

Abba Moses asked Abba Silvanus: “Can a man live every day as though it were the first day of his religious life?” Abba Silvanus answered: “If a man is a labourer, he can live every day, nay every hour, as though it were the first day or hour of his religious life.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 11.29

Everyone knows the cliche, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I’m not sure how old it is, but I think that there are a few desert fathers who would caution us not to roll our eyes at it. Importantly, though, rather than using it to try to offer seemingly baseless hope, Abba Silvanus offers a challenging qualifier: “If a man is a labourer….” Indeed, the very fact that Abba Moses questions the possibility of actualizing such an idea indicates that the desert fathers took it on a much deeper level. Continue reading

Introduction: A is for Affirmation

Once a brother came to Abba Theodore of Pherme, and spent three days asking him for a word. But the Abba did not answer, and he went away sadly. So Abba Theodore’s disciple asked him: “Abba, why did you not speak to him? Look he has gone away sad.” And the old man said: “Believe me, I said nothing to him because his business is getting credit by retailing what others have said to him.”

Sayings of the Desert Fathers 8.6

This seems to me like a good place to begin—a reminder that nothing ought to be done for show. I hope that this blog never degenerates into that. However, I am keenly aware that such a temptation lies in any publishing, even (and perhaps especially) self-publishing. But what, after all, is wrong with doing things for show? Continue reading