Assigning Blame

Envy – from the British Museum

Note: This topic may be considered mature.

Talking about others is something that has been going since humanity first developed speech. Our attention often turns towards what other people are doing and how it annoys us. Next comes the compulsion to share that annoyance with others hoping we can form a large enough block to pressure ‘those people’ to conform to ‘our’ expectations. The ancient monks knew all about this. Gossip and shaming were just as active in their world as in ours. This is why they promoted the practice of silence. Better to stay silent than speak destructive words. Here is a saying that addresses this problem.

A brother, tempted by a demon, went to an old man and said, “Those two brothers are always together.”

But the old man understood that the brother was being mocked by demons and he sent and called the two to him. When evening came, he laid out a rush mat for those two brothers and covered them with a single blanket, saying, “These sons of God are saints.” Conversely, he said to his disciple, “Shut that other brother up in a cell nearby, for he has in himself the very passion which he accused the others of having.

from Becoming Fire Edited by Tim Vivian

Where to begin? Why not with the one who is the real ‘bad guy’, the demon. Now let’s be honest, we want to condemn this tattling brother. The old man, who has seen and experienced much in his desert sojourn, sees the situation differently. He sees the evil that is at work in this tattling brother. The demon’s oppressing the brother has one goal, to sow chaos. By sowing chaos it is able to undermine the good at work in him and in those around him.

There is indeed good at work even in a tattling brother who tries to condemn two of his brothers. He is a brother after all. He answered God’s call to go out to the desert and join the monastics in seeking purity of heart. He sees what he thinks is wrong, two brothers involved in what earlier generations called a ‘particular friendship’. So, he refrains from handling the situation himself and instead seeks an elder monk. He may believe that he is doing what is right. Yet, it is all wrong. How can this be?

When we are not careful in examining our inner motives we quickly become blind to why we do the things we do. The tattling brother grew lax in his examination of conscience for reasons we do not know. The demons that lurk in the murky background of all our thoughts saw an opening and took advantage of it.

The demon found within the brother an unmet yearning for intimacy. He wanted to feel loved by another, in this case by another brother. The need was legitimate. Of course, what was forgotten was that he was already loved by God and his fellow monastics. The demon perceived this desire and pointed out the two other brothers who were apparently enjoying what he did not have, mutual love. Envy soon set in and brought chaos to the brothers mind and soul. A chaos that he could not contain within himself.

The demon’s plan was to destroy this brother from within and the rest of the monks from without. The primary target may well have been to two brothers who are described in this saying as saintly. Demons find the saintly particularly annoying because they too are envious of the love they enjoy. It would seem that the two saintly brothers shared a mutual love for God. They saw this love within each other and so were drawn towards each other in true friendship. A true friendship is one where each friend seeks what is best for the other. When it is found it should be honored and reverenced, just as the old man does in this saying.

Demons hate this kind of friendship which is based on love. So the demon tries to use the weak, tattling brother to destroy it. If successful, the demon can then throw a cloud of suspicion over all other friendships that monks would form. “They are not friends, but depraved lovers! Punish them, cast them out!” Monks would be afraid to get close to one another and begin to isolate themselves. Once isolated that would become easier targets for the other demons.

Of course, improper relationships between monastics was a problem and sadly continued to be so. The demons that afflict our souls are relentless. Those who set out seeking a pure love for God alone despair and settle for a love-like experience that is at hand. The tattling brother’s weakness is revealed to the wise old man. So, the tattling brother is treated as a sick person, confined to bed (a nearby cell) in order to be nursed back to spiritual health. The old man, I suspect, will have the sick brother acknowledge his yearnings for love and then help him direct those yearnings correctly toward God. This will be a tricky operation, no doubt.

So what does this saying say to us? Without a doubt, it is telling us many things. It calls us to confront our own daily battle against envy. We are reminded to acknowledge what are true yearnings for even if we know they are not, as yet, correctly directed. The challenge is to be willing to discover what is dark within us and be willing to seek healing even when that means revealing the darkness to another. This saying invites to consider how today’s demons may be at work sowing chaos in ourselves and in our societies. Our racism, classism, sexism, and self-righteousness all stem from a deep and hardly acknowledged hatred for that which is not ourselves. It challenges us, ultimately, to love God alone and to share that love with others. The simplest and hardest thing we mortals must do.

Episode 102: Anthony’s Calling

Monastery of St. Anthony, Eastern Desert of Egypt, from Wikimedia Commons

Note: This is a condensed script for the Wisdom of the Ancient Monks Podcast.

If you have been to a sporting event you have an idea of the power of words. At sporting events we simply think of this as cheering but it is an important part of the game. In Seattle, the city my monastery is closest to, the fans of their football team (American Rules) consider themselves the ‘Twelfth Man’. The fans of the soccer team (International Football) are the “Emerald City Supporters’. They see their role of chanting, singing, stomping, and yelling as an important factor in their team’s performance. The players and coaches agree with them, too. At the time of the recording of this podcast, sports teams are being required to play in empty stadiums. The lack of fans and their vocal support is having an effect on the players who find that they receive much of their drive from hearing the fans. Great voices have great power.

Of course, it doesn’t take the combined voices of thousands to make words have power. The classic example from Scripture is the prophet Elijah’s experience at Mount Horeb. He found the Word of God not in the great noises of wind, earthquake, or fire, but in a light, nearly silent sound. Most of our experiences with the power of words come from the latter type like Elijah’s , I expect. Yet, it is safe to say we all have some experience with words that stopped us, made us reconsider, gave confidence, or provided new direction. Let us hear about a young Anthony’s experience of words that gave his life a new direction.

[Once] when Antony entered a church and heard the Lord saying in the Gospel ‘Do not be concerned about tomorrow’, he could not bear to remain there, so he left and distributed his remaining things among those less well off. His sister he entrusted to well-known and faithful virgins, giving her to them to be raised in virginity, while from that time on he devoted himself to ascetic discipline in front of his home, watching over himself spiritually and practicing patient endurance.

There were not yet monasteries in Egypt neighboring on one another, and no monk at all knew the remote desert; each one who wished to watch over himself spiritually would practice ascetic discipline by himself not far from his own village.

Now there was at that time an old man in the neighboring village. From his youth he had practiced the solitary life of an ascetic. When Antony saw him, he emulated him in goodness. So, like him, Antony began his ascetic practice by staying in places outside that village. While there, if he heard about someone who was seriously practicing ascetic discipline somewhere, he would go like the wise honeybee and search out that person, and he would not return again to his own village unless he had seen him. Thus, he was like someone who received provisions from that person for travelling the road to virtue.

This was the way he initially occupied himself in that place. He resolved not to think about his parents, nor was he mindful of his relatives. All his desire and all his energies he directed toward the great effort of ascetic discipline. So, he worked with his hands, having heard ‘Let the lazy person not eat’. He would spend part of what he earned on bread and part of it he would give to those who were begging. He prayed all the time, having learned that it is necessary to pray by oneself without ceasing. Indeed, he paid such close attention to the reading of Scripture that nothing in the Scriptures was wasted. He remembered everything, with the result that for him memory took the place of books.

A casual reading of the Bible will reveal that when one encounters God, big changes are about to take place. Abraham migrated into a new land and learned what it means to have faith. Moses changed from being a man hiding from the law into the bringer of God’s Law. Isaiah and Jeremiah encountered the Lord and discovered they had no choice but to speak out against the abuses of their times despite the troubles it brought upon them. The fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John encountered God Incarnate and left behind their nets. And Saul the Pharisee encountered the Risen Christ and became Paul the Apostle. Encountering God does that.

Anthony, like all Christians today, encounters God through the proclamation of the Gospel. Unlike most Christians, however, he listens intently to what is being proclaimed in his local church. Monks like to call this ‘listening with the ears of heart.’ That is, hearing the Word, believing that is from God, and taking to heart what is being asked. In Greek of the New Testament this is called metanoia, a changing of one’s life in response to a new reality.

The bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, the author of The Life of Anthony, uses Anthony as a model for how all Christians can allow God to call them into further conversion. When reading the Life, it is helpful to keep this in mind. Athanasius is not just providing us with information about an interesting character who lived in the Egyptian desert. No, he is preaching as any bishop would and his text is Anthony’s and the Scriptures.

Now earlier in the Life, Athanasius wrote how Anthony was inclined from a young age to become the man he would later be. You see, Anthony is not self-made or self-defined. We Americans like to imagine ourselves like that, but that is not how Athanasius and the ancient monks saw it. God prepared Anthony from the beginning to take on his special calling. God always acts first. Thus, Anthony was born into a Christian family, he preferred not to be around noisy people (even to the point of not attending school), and he took Scripture seriously. He was already putting into practice the poverty which the first Christians lived as shown in the second chapter of Acts. God readied Anthony to hear his Word and receive it in his heart, Anthony part was to have faith in the God who was acting through him.

For ourselves who live in a different time and place than did Anthony and Athanasius, what can we take from this? I would say that we would be wise to ponder over what gifts and abilities we have been given in life so far. God readies us, too, just like he did Anthony. Then we should consider where our passions lie. We may be good at math, for example, but not called to be mathematicians. Maybe the math points to a kind of mind that is good at unwinding problems. What problems may we be called to solve for the sake of God of Kingdom God. Then we can take what we have learned from our pondering and allow the Word of God to communicate to us what our next steps should be. Instead of making life choices through economic and social considerations, maybe it is time to make those choices through faith.

Athanasius not only uses Anthony’s life to speak about the proper Christian response to the Word of God, but also to show that what was happening in the desert of Egypt was indeed a valid response to God’s Word. Monasticism has had its critics from its beginnings up to today. Some Christians will say it is simply ‘works righteousness’ with monks trying to prove themselves to God. Some saw it as establishing an elite who were somehow more Christian-than-most-Christians. Then we have today’s critique that it is life-denying and abusive to those who enter into it. Athanasius, who had personal experience with the monks, wants to show the readers of his Life that monastic life flowed from scripture. The monk’s aim is to demonstrate to the world that living the Scripture without compromise is in fact possible. To understand the ancient monks we need to understand this.

After Anthony accepts his calling notice what he does next. He does not immediately go out in the desert. He does not make the mistake which other saints like Francis of Assisi or Ignatius of Loyola will make by trying too much too soon. Francis and Ignatius would wreck their bodies and die prematurely because they embraced asceticism without moderation. Instead he allowed himself to be taught by others who had come before him. In a sense, he was keeping the commandment to honor his parents by looking to those ascetics who came before him for guidance.

We should keep this in mind. For Christians it is not meant to be ‘me-and-Jesus’ or ‘God-and-I”. Reading the New Testament we find that we are called into a community, the Church. While every human has its faults (even the communities the ancient monks will form) it is better for every Christian that we all gather for mutual support and shared prayer. I was taught in seminary that there is no such thing as a single Christian, we are all members of the Body of Christ.

The chapter reading closes with Anthony continuing to put the Scripture to practice in his own life. He worked for his food, following 2 Thessalonians 3. Yet, he gave away freely what he had in excess. His work was not simply performed for himself, but it enabled him to be generous towards those who may not actually deserve the bread he worked for. That does not matter, God forgives us our sins when we do not deserve it either. This shows that nothing Anthony heard in Scripture went to waste, he heard it and took it heart.

There is much to learn from Anthony. This is why a very busy bishop like Athanasius, who had a whole host of other problems that demanded his attention, took the time to formulate and write the Life of Anthony. It shows us how we Christians can put our trust in Scripture and try to live it out in our lives. We each have a calling, we have other Christians to guide us, and have ancient monks like Anthony who show us it can be done. What are we waiting for?

The Problem with Judging

Icon from St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Redford, MI by Archpriest Theodore Jurewicz

Why bother with these biographies, stories, and sayings of monastic men and women from centuries ago? What can these extreme ascetics have to say to us who live in more sophisticated and modern times? They may have had something to say to people of their own times but hasn’t the world evolved since? Have we not found that science delivers what we truly desire? Is not the pursuit of freedom and inclusion shown to be the true aims in life?

To these and other questions of the same ilk, I probably cannot give answers that will satisfy everyone. I have already admitted that these men and women appear strange to us. They simply refuse to act normal. Besides, how can I not see the wonderful advances brought about through science and the modern state. And yet, when I spend time reflecting on these early monastics, I find in them a new way of seeing what is happening in my own life. Let me give you a recent example.

A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, “What is this, Father?” The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

From Becoming Fire edited by Tim Vivian

We may say to ourselves, “Yes, I get it! I can open my bible to Matthew 7 and read, ‘Stop judging, and you will not be judged.’ So why the story about the old man and the leaking jug? He should have just quoted the bible when they asked him to come to the council.” Yet there is something about what Abba Moses did that really drives the point home. He doesn’t just tell the others that they were not acting according to the Gospel, he shows them. He introduces the notion of each person’s brokenness through the leaky jug. He reminds them that all of us are unaware of our own waywardness. When we think we are moving in the direction of righteousness we could very well be leaving behind a trail of sin. And finally he implies that he has been forgiven of his faults so he should do the same towards others.

At the university where I work one of our students recently committed a fault. On his Facebook page he posted an image that was racist. He thought it was funny, the community members did not. This young has sinned, that is without doubt. Being as we are in quarantine and this happening in the summer as it did, the following council was virtual for the most part. Some, I do not know how many, of our students, staff, faculty, and alumni called for the student’s expulsion from our University. Expulsion is the most severe penalty the university can impose on a student. Once expelled from a university it is unlikely that another university would accept that student into their institution. In effect, it locks the person out of getting a college degree. An action that will affect him for the rest of his life.

Now I imagine I could have increased my esteem among these members of our community if I would have added my opinion to theirs that this student should be expelled. I would have demonstrated that I stood on the right side of the issue, that I too abhorred racism in all its forms. Instead, I stayed in my cell so to speak. After some prayer, I wrote to our university president my opinion as the institution’s chaplain.

In the letter I stated that as a Catholic and Benedictine university we should always tend towards reconciling rather than expelling our wayward members. In the Catholic Church reconciliation is considered to be sacrament, a way that God touches us within our inner lives. As Benedictine we look back at the example set by these early monastics and try to follow in their footsteps. We see what Abba Moses did as a reflection on ourselves and how we are often not the best ones to judge. For who among us is truly free from racism? It is called our nation’s original sin for good reason. We are all stained by it.

The student will not be coming back in the fall. That saddens me. We had an opportunity for true reconciliation and conversation over racism to take place. The young man could have grown to understand how hurtful his sin is towards others. The community could have understood the context from which he was coming out of and why he saw what he was doing as funny. Instead we will have a young who will simply go on to another institution (we did not go as far as to expel him) and we will have several frustrated members of our community thinking that we are indifferent and unjust.

Does writing this make me a hero or a saint? No, it definitely does not. I am simply passing on what has been handed onto me through the grace of God. I am still a sinner with my own leaking jug on my shoulder as I walk through life. With the help of Scripture and the example set for me by these early monastics, I hope to become more humble in words and actions so as to allow God to act through me to bring reconciliation into a world that is sin sick.

Episode 101: Antony the Great

The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, “Speak a word; how are we to be saved?” The old man said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.” But they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.” Then the old man said to them, “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” (Mt 5:39) They said, “We cannot do that.” the old man said, “If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.” “We cannot do that either,” they said. So he said, “If you cannot do that, do not return evil for evil.” And they said, “We cannot do that either.” Then the old man said to his disciple, “Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.”

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward, SLG
St. Anthony, Fethiye Museum, – Wikimedia Commons

Note: This is a condensed script for the podcast episode to be published at the end of this summer.

Anthony was probably the most famous Christian holy man in Late Antiquity (300 – 600 AD). The Emperor residing in Constantinople (The New Rome of the late Empire) even invited him to his court. Anthony never went, though. So people traveled great distances to see him in the Egyptian desert. This would have been a hardship, but there was something about Anthony that drew people to him.

Some even began to imitate him. They too ventured out into the Egyptian desert. Men and women, both, left the security of family and community and formed new communities out in the wilderness. Some started as hermits like Anthony. Though in time they started networks of support to aid themselves in their desert lives. Others chose to live in groups that would pray and work together as a new kind of family. This movement which found its inspiration in a simple Egyptian hermit would become the model for Christian holiness for the next eight centuries to follow. Today, there are still men and women who choose to continue in the way pioneered by Anthony the Great.

It would seem that all Christian religious life begins with Anthony, but does it? From what we know about Anthony and his times, he was not entirely unique in his life as Christian. As hinted at in the saying above, Anthony believed that all he was doing was living out what the Gospel required of him. Had this not been true from the beginning of Christianity? Do Christians not try to put on the person of Jesus Christ as Saint Paul preached for them to do?

Besides, Christian widows had lived in community long before, from New Testament times in fact. As time went on, young Christian women would voluntarily join these women in their lives of prayer community, and service. Antony’s own younger sister would be one such woman to do this.

In Egypt, Christian men, too, chose to live a life of asceticism and prayer years before Antony did. They were inspired by the Christian scholars who lived in the great, ancient city of Alexandria. Men like Clement and his disciple Origen taught that Christians should strive to free themselves from harmful passions and thoughts that led to sin. They needed to detach themselves from worldly cares as they dedicate themselves solely to Christ. Christ was to be discovered in scripture, so the Word should be heard, remembered, and pondered upon slowly. This led some to forgo marriage and others to live outside of their towns or villages so as not to be distracted. As we will hear, Anthony had ascetic men such as these to mentor him in how to live a life dedicated to Christ alone.

So what made Anthony stand out? I would say it was his strangeness.

He is strange to us no doubt. He lived in a time and place quite foreign to us. His Egypt was not the Egypt of the pharaohs. The last pharaoh ruled 600 years previous. Nor was Anthony’s Egypt that of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, they were over 300 years previous. And it was not the Egypt of the sultans. That was not to come for another 300 years in the future. Instead, it was a time when ancient civilization was failing and many knew it.

The Emperor Constantine ended Christian persecution and instead promoted it with the hope that it would revitalize society. Conversions to Christianity began to increase now that it was safe and approved. Many pagans held on to their beliefs for generations, however. In Anthony’s time one could find people holding to all sorts of religious beliefs with Christianity only being the most energetic.

Christianity itself had to face questions about exactly what was correct belief. An Egyptian priest by the name of Arius, for example, believed that Jesus Christ was not equal with God the Father. He persuaded many to his views using philosophy and scripture. Another Egyptian, Athanasius (who will write Anthony’s biography), took the other position that all Persons in the Trinity are equally God. He did this by also employing philosophy and scripture. Their theological battle turned political as Christians took sides. Anthony found himself caught up in this debate and sided with Athanasius. This was only one of the many debates that kept Christians divided in these times when they could have transforming their culture.

Anthony would have also been strange to those of his own time, too. As I mentioned, there were already ascetics, both Christian and pagan, living in Anthony’s Egypt. It was to the extent that Anthony was willing to go that startled people. His going out beyond the reach of support was like walking a tightrope without a net, one slip and it is over. It spoke volumes about Anthony’s trust in God to support him in his quest. He was the living embodiment of anachoresis, fleeing from the desires of the world.

What mostly astonished Anthony’s peers was his wisdom. He was illiterate, yet all who met him found him to possess incredible composure, be able to judge the character of a person, and tell what lay at the root of question. Pagan philosophers thought they could easily show up this wise peasant with the advantage of their years of study. So they went to challenge him and came out the worse. Because of his wisdom civic leaders had him judge criminal cases and religious leaders sought his advise. Soon people from all over the ancient Mediterranean world sought out Anthony so he could give them a ‘word’.

Which brings us to the Saying from the beginning. Sayings were anecdotes of wisdom that were often paradoxical like Zen koans. They were not meant to clear the mind, however. Instead, they are to aid disciples to see beyond the first layer of interpretation and come to see what lies behind their own and others words and actions.

As we heard some ‘brethren’ came to Anthony seeking a word. I am going to assume that these were Christians and so brothers in Christ. They came wanting to hear Anthony give them a wise saying for them to ponder over. This word would help them as Christians to better embrace the Word, who is Christ, the Word Incarnate, so as to be saved. Now then, this all seems normal and routine. Just like those cartoons showing a person climbing a mountain to speak to the wise hermit. Anthony, however, appears to discern that something is amiss in these brethren’s hearts. So he tests them.

Anthony replies, “You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.” Why answer this way? Because for Christians Scripture is the primary means of encountering God. Of course, as a Catholic priest I also hold that the Sacraments are also an encounter, though the Word should never be neglected. Sacraments apart from Scripture are impoverished. Anyway, what Anthony wants to discover is whether these brethren have laid down the groundwork of becoming good Christians by trying to conform their lives to Scripture.

“We want to hear from you too, Father.” is their reply. So they are implying that they have heard the Scriptures, but there is a telling lack of a definite ‘yes’ in their answer. Why is this? Are they finding Scripture to be insufficient? That cannot be, since for Anthony all his wisdom flowed out of Scripture. They appear to be wanting to hear something other than Scripture.

So Anthony tests further by quoting Scripture., “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” Now the truth comes out, “We cannot do that.” These brethren came to Anthony because they heard Scripture and found it too hard to accept. They came to Anthony hoping that he, a holy man, would tell them something else. Maybe something that was easier and more realistic to the way of the world. Of course, there have always been and sadly will always be, religious men and women who out of the weakness of vanity (wanting to be liked) will preach something other than the Word. Anthony was no such man. He had struggled with his own temptations to vanity and subdued them. He lived solely for Christ and his Word.

Anthony goes on to discover with further questioning that their rejection of Scripture goes deep. They cannot forgive and are willing to take up what is evil to justify themselves. Christians in the west would likely give these brethren an admonishment. If they do not change their ways then they are probably on the road to perdition. Good riddance!

Anthony, on the other hand, sees what is wrong as a sickness. He then goes on to treat them as though they were sick by giving them physical nourishment in the form of boiled grain and promises to prayer for them. This attitude that sin is disease in more common in eastern Christianity than in western. We in the west would do well to consider if it is not a better approach to aiding those who fail to live up to their baptism. As we continue in this series we will come across this approach again and again.

Now that we have had a sampling from this strange hermit who lived so long ago it is time to move into the major source on Anthony, The Life written by Athanasius. We will spend a couple months with this Life before returning to some of the Sayings about Anthony. In doing so I hope your will discover an extraordinary saint who indeed deserved his title of ‘the Great’. Anthony has much to teach us still, so let us sit in his presence, listen and ponder.

Episode 000: About Wisdom of the Ancient Monks Podcast

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.