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Desert Fathers

Desert Fathers (251 AD - 500)

Read freely text sermons and articles by the speaker Desert Fathers in text and pdf format. The Desert Fathers (along with Desert Mothers) were early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. The Apophthegmata Patrum is a collection of the wisdom of some of the early desert monks and nuns, still in print as Sayings of the Desert Fathers. The most well known was Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in 270–271 AD and became known as both the father and founder of desert monasticism. By the time Anthony died in 356 AD, thousands of monks and nuns had been drawn to living in the desert following Anthony's example — his biographer, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote that "the desert had become a city." The Desert Fathers had a major influence on the development of Christianity.

The desert monastic communities that grew out of the informal gathering of hermit monks became the model for Christian monasticism. The eastern monastic tradition at Mt. Athos and the western Rule of St. Benedict both were strongly influenced by the traditions that began in the desert. All of the monastic revivals of the Middle Ages looked to the desert for inspiration and guidance. Much of Eastern Christian spirituality, including the Hesychast movement, had its roots in the practices of the Desert Fathers. Even religious renewals such as the German evangelicals and Pietists in Pennsylvania, the Devotio Moderna movement, and the Methodist Revival in England are seen by modern scholars as being influenced by the Desert Fathers.

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(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 10: On slander or calumny
      1. No sensible person, I think, will dispute that slander is born of hatred and malice. Therefore it comes next in order after its forebears. 2. Slander is an offspring of hatred, a subtle yet coarse disease, a leech lurking unfelt, wasting a ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 11: On talkativeness and silence
      1. In the preceding chapter we spoke briefly of how extremely dangerous it is to judge others and of how this vice steals into even the most apparently spiritual people; and how it is better to subject oneself to condemnation and punishment by the to ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 12: On lying
      1. The offspring of flint and steel is fire; and the offspring of chatter and joking is lying. 2. A lie is the destruction of love, and perjury is a denial of God. 3. Let no one with right principles suppose that the sin of lying is a ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 13: On despondency
      1. As we have already frequently said, this—we mean despondency—is very often one of the branches of talkativeness, and its first child. And so we have given it its appropriate place in this chain of vices. 2. Despondency is a slackness o ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 14: On the clamorous , yet wicked master—the stomach
      1. We have been attacking ourselves in everything that we have said, but this is specially so when we speak about the stomach. For I wonder if anyone has got free of this master before settling in the grave. 2. Gluttony is hypocrisy of the st ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 15: On incorruptible purity and chastity
      We have heard from that raving mistress gluttony who has just spoken, that her offspring is war against bodily chastity. And this is not surprising since our ancient forefather Adam teaches us this too. For if he had not been overcome by his stomach he wo ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 16: On love of money or avarice
      1. Many learned teachers treat next, after the tyrant just described, the thousand-headed demon of avarice. We, unlearned as we are, did not wish to change the order of the learned, and we have therefore followed the same convention and rule. So let ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 17: On poverty (that hastens heavenwards)
      1. Poverty is the resignation of cares, life without anxiety, an unencumbered traveller, alienation from sorrow, fidelity to the commandments. 2. A poor monk is lord of the world. He has entrusted his cares to God and by faith has obtained al ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 18: On insensibility
      On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body. 1. Insensibility both in the body and in the spirit is deadened feeling, which from long sickness and negligence lapses into loss of feeling. ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 19: On sleep, prayer, and psalm-singing
      On sleep, prayer, and psalm-singing in chapel. 1. Sleep is a particular state of nature, an image of death, inactivity of the senses. Sleep is one, but, like desire, its sources and occasions are many: that is to say, it comes from nature, from fo ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 1: On renunciation of the world
      1. Our God and King is good, ultra-good and all-good (it is best to begin with God in writing to the servants of God). Of the rational beings created by Him and honoured with the dignity of free-will, some are His friends, others are His true servant ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 20: On bodily vigil
      On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil and how to practise it. 1. Some stand before earthly kings without weapons and without armour, others hold staffs of office, and some have shields, and some swords. The former are vastly ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 21: On unmanly and puerile cowardice
      1. If you pursue virtue in a monastery or community, you are not likely to be attacked much by fear. But the man who spends his time in more solitary places should make every effort to avoid being overcome by that offspring of vainglory, that daughte ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 22: On the many forms of vainglory
      1. Some like to distinguish vainglory from pride and to give it a special place and chapter. And so they say that there are eight capital and deadly sins[253]. But Gregory the Theologian and other teachers have given out that there are seven; and I a ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 23: On mad pride
      On mad[266] pride, and, in the same Step, on unclean blasphemous thoughts. 1. Pride is denial of God, an invention of the devil, the despising of men, the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of sterility, flight from divine ass ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 24: On meekness, simplicity, guilelessness
      On meekness, simplicity, guilelessness which come not from nature but from habit, and about malice. 1. The morning light precedes the sun, and the precursor of all humility is meekness. Therefore let us hear in what order the Light arranges these ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 25: On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility
      On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual feeling. 1. He who thinks that it is possible to use the visible word in order to describe the sensation and effect of the love of the Lord exactly, holy humilit ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 26: On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues
      1. Discernment in beginners is true knowledge of themselves; in intermediate souls it is a spiritual sense that faultlessly distinguishes what is truly good from what is of nature and opposed to it; and in the perfect it is the knowledge which they p ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 26a: Brief summary of all the previous steps
      1. Firm faith is the mother of renunciation. The opposite of this is self-evident. 2. Unwavering hope is the door to detachment. The opposite of this is self-evident. 3. Love of God is the foundation of exile. The opposite is self-evi ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 27: On holy solitude of body and soul
      1. We are like bought serfs under contract to unholy passions; we therefore know to some extent the whims, ways, will and wiles of the spirits that rule over our poor souls. But there are others who through the action of the Holy Spirit, and by reaso ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 28: On holy and blessed prayer
      On holy and blessed prayer, mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer. 1. Prayer by reason of its nature is the converse and union of man with God, and by reason of its action upholds the world and brings about reconciliati ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 29: Concerning heaven on earth, or godlike dispassion and perfection
      Concerning heaven on earth, or godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection. 1. Here are we who lie in the deepest pit of ignorance, in the dark passions of this body and in the shadow of deat ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 2: On detachment
      1. The man who really loves the Lord, who has made a real effort to find the coming Kingdom, who has really begun to be troubled by his sins, who is really mindful of eternal torment and judgment, who really lives in fear of his own departure, will n ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 30: Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues
      Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues.[513] 1. And now, finally, after all that we have said, there remain these three that bind and secure the union of all, faith, hope, love; and the greatest of these is love,[ ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 3: On exile or pilgrimage
      1. Exile means that we leave forever everything in our own country that prevents us from reaching the goal of the religious life. Exile means modest manners, wisdom which remains unknown, prudence not recognized as such by most, a hidden life, an inv ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 4: On blessed and ever-memorable obedience
      1. Our treatise now appropriately touches upon warriors[49] and athletes of Christ. As the flower precedes the fruit, so exiles[50] either of body or will always precedes obedience. For with the help of these two virtues, the holy soul steadily ascen ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 5: On painstaking and true repentance
      On painstaking and true repentance which constitute the life of the holy convicts; and about the prison. Once John outran Peter;[102] and now obedience precedes repentance. For the one who came first is a symbol of obedience, and the other of repentanc ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 6: On remembrance of death
      1. Every word is preceded by thought. And the remembrance of death and sins precedes weeping and mourning. Therefore, this subject comes in its proper place in this chapter. 2. The remembrance of death is a daily death; and the remembrance of ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 7: On mourning which causes joy
      1. Mourning, according to God, is sadness of soul, and the disposition of a sorrowing heart, which ever madly seeks that for which it thirsts; and when it fails in its quest, it painfully pursues it, and follows in its wake grievously lamenting. Or t ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 8: On freedom from anger and on meekness
      1. As the gradual pouring of water on a fire completely extinguishes the flame, so the tears of true mourning are able to quench every flame of anger and irritability. Therefore we place this next in order. 2. Freedom from anger, or placidity ... read more

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent) Step 9: On remembrance of wrongs
      1. The holy virtues are like Jacob’s ladder, and the unholy vices are like the chains that fell from the chief Apostle Peter. For the virtues, leading from one to another, bear him who chooses them up to Heaven; but the vices by their nature beget ... read more

Desert Father Quotes
       Before anything else we need humility. Dorotheos Humility protects the soul from all the passions and also from every temptation. Dorotheos Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if you are chaste, or you will break the law like him. For He ... read more

Stories from the Desert Fathers
       Abba Agathon Abba Peter, the disciple of Abba Lot, said, One day when I was in Abba Agathon’s cell a brother came in and said to him, “I want to live with the brethren; tell me how to dwell with them.” The old man answered him, “All the days of ... read more

The Ancient Fathers of the Desert: Section 1
      SECTION 1 Abba Antonios said: "The time is coming when people will be seized by manias and will behave like madmen. And if they see anyone acting reasonably, they will rise up against him saying: 'You are insane.' And they will have accurately said thi ... read more

The Ancient Fathers of the Desert: Section 2
       V. Rev. Chrysostomos, trans. SECTION 2 A highly respected elder of our own days was visited by a young man tempted with lustful desires. Questioning the man about the sincerity of his intent to overcome such temptation, the elder asked him if he ... read more

The Ancient Fathers of the Desert: Section 3
       SECTION 3 A woman of sin once made up her mind, and wagered with her friends, that she could, without fail, succeed in leading into her nets a hermit, who lived on a mountain far from the city and about whom it was said by all that he was a holy ma ... read more

The Ancient Fathers of the Desert: Section 4
       SECTION 4 "When people honor you, humble yourself all the more at that moment, and say in your mind: 'If they truly knew who I were, they would show me no regard at all.' In this way, you will not cause injury to your soul," a wise elder said. ... read more

The Ancient Fathers of the Desert: Section 5
       SECTION 5 "A certain youth," Abba John of Likopoulos relates to us, "swept away by the pleasures of the world, had sunk into the mud of dissoluteness. It happened, however, that he came to his senses, like the prodigal son, and sought the way of re ... read more

The Ancient Fathers of the Desert: Section 6
       SECTION 6 In an age when political considerations and supposed historical determinants mark so much the study of the history of God's people, we people of the modern times seldom understand the dedication of the Orthodox forefathers, whether Gree ... read more

The Ancient Fathers of the Desert: Section 7
       SECTION 7 A certain elder, who was asked by the brothers what condemnation is and what it means to speak ill of another, gave the following explanation: "In the case of speaking ill of someone, one reveals the hidden faults of his brother. In th ... read more

The Philokali Volume 2
       St Theodoros the Great Ascetic (? 9"' century) (J'olume 2, pp. 13-47) Introductory Note The two works that follow, A Century of Spiritual Texts and Theoretikon,^ are ascribed in the Greek Philokalia to St Theodoros t ... read more

The Philokali Volume 3
       St Philotheos of Sinai (?9th-10th century) (Volume 3, pp. 15-31) Introductory Note 'It is not clear', states St Nikodimos, 'at what date our holy father Philotheos flourished and died.' He is known to us solely as the ... read more

The Philokalia Volume 1
       Introduction to the Philokalia Volume 1 The Philokalia is a collection of texts written between the fourth and the fifteenth centuries by spiritual masters of the Orthodox Christian tradition. It was compiled in the eighteenth ce ... read more

The Philokalia Volume 4a
       One Hundred and Fifty -three Practical and Theological Texts 25 Attributed to St Symeon the New Theologian: The Three Methods of Prayer 67 [V4] 12, [V4] 13, [V4]14, [V4] 15 [V4] 16 St Symeon the New Theologia ... read more

The Philokalia Volume 4B
       On Spiritual Knowledge, Love and the Perfection of Living: One Hundred Texts 126:5) If you search out the Lord and patiently wait for Him until the firstlings of His righteousness grow in you, you will reap a rich crop of divine kn ... read more

The way of the Pilgrim and The pilgrim continues his Way - Part 1
      By the grace of God I am a Christian man, by my actions a great sinner, and by calling a homeless wanderer of the humblest birth who roams from place to place. My worldly goods are a knapsack with some dried bread in it on my back, and in my breast poc ... read more

The way of the Pilgrim and The pilgrim continues his Way - Part 2
      The weather was fine and dry and I had no wish to spend the night in a village. So when I came upon two fenced-in haystacks as I went through the forest that evening, I lay down beneath them for a night's lodging. I fell asleep and dreamed that I was w ... read more

The way of the Pilgrim and The pilgrim continues his Way - Part 3
      spend so much labor? It is that that I spoke of, and that leads to either sense or stupidity in people.' " 'Forgive me, dear brother, I asked not just out of mere curiosity, but from friendliness and Christian sympathy, and even more because about tw ... read more

The way of the Pilgrim and The pilgrim continues his Way - Part 4
      with three small children, was in such distress that she wept all the time and several times a day would collapse in grief. Her sorrow was so great that it seemed as though she too would not live long. All the same, in the midst of all this, she met me ... read more

The way of the Pilgrim and The pilgrim continues his Way - Part 5
      neighbors, that I have no religious belief, and that I am filled with pride and sensuality. All this I actually find in myself as a result of detailed examination of my feelings and conduct, thus: 1. I do not love God. For if I loved God I should be ... read more

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