From the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict –
“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection. “
Welcome to the podcast! Nice to see that there are others who hold an interest in these fascinating figures from the early, Christian church. I am confident that as we together explore the wisdom left by the ancient monastic figures, we will grow in both insight and understanding. These monks were brave and fervent souls who threw caution to the wind and tested the limits of where devotion to God could go have many important lessons to teach us. The trick will be learning how to hear them speak.
We will begin in ancient Egypt around the 300 AD (or CE for the more secular). We will first encounter Anthony the Great. One does not get the title of “the Great” for being ordinary. No, much about Anthony was extraordinary. How he saw life – and how he lived it – amazed the people of his day. Many were inspired to imitate him and so began a movement which grew into what is today Christian monasticism.
From the Anthony we will meet other men and women who left all behind in pursuit of a heart so pure – that it only desired to know and experience God. They had obstacles in their way: The loneliness of being solitaries, the tedium of days spent in prayer and work, the fasts, and of course, the demons (we get to those creatures later). Some broke under the strain, but many did persevere and shared what they learned with others. The movement which started in Egypt soon spread throughout the Mediterranean world of Late Antiquity.
Even a few of the intellectuals of the day left their positions and places of power to joined these spiritual athletes. A cleric by the name of Evagrius left the majestic, royal courts of Constantinople and joined the rough and simple monks in the Egyptian desert. He worked out a psychology of the soul that would influence Christian spirituality and ethics in the centuries to come.
His pupil, John Cassian, would take what he learned and share it with the Christian West. Cassian’s works would influence Saint Benedict in his writing of a Rule for Monks that is still in use 1,500 years later. As a Benedictine monk, myself, I have made a vow to live by it.
Every project must have an end, of course. The podcast will close with another great man, Pope Gregory the Great. He was a monk himself and helped Western Christianity weather the storm of chaos that was descending down upon it as ancient civilization gave way to the so-called dark ages. So, the podcast will cover the approximate years 300 to 600 AD and will cover important monks of both the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. Saint Basil the Great will not go unmentioned.
Each episode will be centered on a story or saying of an ancient monk. I give you some context and then try to explain, as best as I can, the wisdom contained. Now I must confess, that I am no expert in Patristics or of the late ancient world. I am simply a monk who prays and meditates on what has been written. With each episode I will point out to you resources that can help you grow in your own understanding.
Episodes will be organized into seasons. I am planning on 16 episodes per season. The first season will focus on Anthony the Great as told to us by Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexander, in his Life of Anthony (by the way – if there were best sellers in late antiquity, this would have been one). Expect episodes to begin Sunday, August 30th and to be published weekly.
Let us pray – Almighty Father, you inspired brave men and women to embrace lives that to us seem extreme. Through their striving, though, we now can share the fruits of there labors. Bless this project that is beginning and all those involved. May we find that the wisdom gained by these first monks lead us to you, who are our ultimate goal. We pray this through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – Amen.