Tag Archive: peace


Hell is ignorance, for both are dark; and perdition is forgetfulness, for both involve extinction.

~ St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law, 62

I confessed in my last entry that I do not think often about hell, despite the fathers’ commendation of the practice. One way to remedy that is to reflect more here. St. Mark the Ascetic offers a radically different view than the common adage, “Ignorance is bliss.” Rather, he warns, “Hell is ignorance.” Continue reading

Roots of Salvation

When Abba Arsenius was still at the palace, he prayed the Lord saying: “Lord, show me the way to salvation.” And a voice came to him: “Arsenius, run from men and you shall be saved.” He went to become a monk, and again prayed in the same words. And he heard a voice saying: “Arsenius, be solitary: be silent: be at rest. These are the roots of a life without sin.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 2.3

Abba Arsenius may not have been the Roman Emperor, but he worked “at the palace” and likely enjoyed a very high quality of life for his time. Yet he finds that material comforts are not enough, and he prays, “Lord, show me the way to salvation.” The answer: “run from men and you shall be saved,” for him this meant becoming a monk, a hermit even. However, solitude, silence, and rest are not the exclusive property of hermits, even if they have much more abundant supply. A “life without sin” may be hard to come by in the world, but its roots can still grow in that soil. Continue reading

At the Bank of This River

When You did awesome things for which we did not look,
You came down,
The mountains shook at Your presence.
For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him.

~ Isaiah 64:3-4

The saying from my previous post forms the context for the following poem. It is easy to forget sometimes that the Sayings of the Desert Fathers are not just wise proverbs but real stories of real people. Wondering what it must have been like for Abbess Sarah to live those sixty years at the bank of that river inspired me to write this: Continue reading

Beauty Unseen

They said of Abbess Sarah of blessed memory, that for sixty years she lived on the bank of a river, and never looked down to see the water.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 7.19

I have read this saying several times over the years, and it has always bothered me. Perhaps it is simply because I am a Celt (in addition to being German) and I have a strong, natural affinity for the beauty of nature, but such inner strength, such fortitude, that Abbess Sarah must have had is difficult for me to even imagine, let alone realize in my own life.

Until recently, I do not think I can even say that I understood the point of this saying. Many of the desert sayings are still a mystery to me, in fact; I only reflect on the ones about which I actually have a little understanding and a little something to say myself.

The problem that I have with this story is that, despite acknowledging that it must take great inner strength to live “for sixty years … on the bank of a river,” and yet “never [look] down to see the water,” I’ve always thought that such natural beauty was a good thing. After all, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1 [18:1 LXX]). But Great Lent has recently given me a little insight into what might be going on in this story. Continue reading

The Bondage of the Will

800px-Noe_fettersOn another occasion also St. Columba prophesied in the following manner of Cormac, grandson of Lethan, a truly pious man, who not less than three times went in search of a desert in the ocean, but did not find it. “In his desire to find a desert, Cormac is this day, for the second time, now embarking from that district which lies at the other side of the river Moda (the Moy, in Sligo), and is called Eirros, Domno (Erris, in Mayo); nor even this time shall he find what he seeks, and that for no other fault than that he has irregularly allowed to accompany him in the voyage a monk who is going away from his own proper abbot without obtaining his consent.”

~ St. Adamnan’s Life of St. Columba 6

While I know I’m supposed to be continuing my Lenten journey with St. Patrick, as the spiritual father of all the Irish, one cannot escape his spirit in the saints who rose up after him and continued his missionary efforts. In the case of this story, we have St. Columcille again (i.e. St. Columba) and St. Cormac. There are two themes in this story that caught my attention, both of which also reach back beyond St. Patrick to the desert fathers who figure so prominently on this blog: the desert and obedience. Continue reading

The World is Not Enough

“Great are you, O Lord, and worthy to be praised”; “great is your strength and your wisdom cannot be measured.” And man—some portion of your creation—wants to praise you, and yet man is surrounded by his mortality, surrounded by the testimony of his sin and the testimony that “you resist the proud”; and nevertheless man—some portion of your creation—wants to praise you. You excite him, in order that he delights to praise you, because you made us for yourself and our heart is restless, until it rests in you.

~ St. Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1

Today, August 28, was St. Augustine’s day. Thus, though the character of his writings can be significantly different and often more overtly philosophical than the desert fathers, I felt like I ought to give such a master of spiritual reflection his due today. He was himself, after all, inspired by the desert fathers, especially St. Antony. Despite the difference of style, however, I think—at least with regards to this passage—there is a unity of focus. Continue reading