Who are the Desert Fathers?

In the fourth century appear in Egypt these solitary ones who will be called Fathers of the desert. Who were they?

These men – Tradition has also transmitted the names of three women – lived in the desert to be alone with God. The reputation of a solitary attracted disciples to him who were formed by him in the monastic life. “Monastic villages” could be formed around water points and, later, around a church where the hermits celebrated mass together. This proximity also made it possible to help each other, for example in caring for the sick.

How did they live?

Alongside the cultivation of a small garden, they wove baskets or mats with rushes picked at the watering hole. Often, one of them was in charge of selling the products of everyone’s labor in town. Some were able to make a living by copying manuscripts. Apart from the recitation of psalms during the daily office, their prayer consisted of “meditation”, that is to say reciting long passages from the Bible known by heart. They met for a common celebration on Saturday evening, and for mass on Sunday.

What is called apothegm?

The apophthegms relate the “words” of the Fathers, often in the form of short stories. The oldest certainly date back to the 4th century, but the collections of apothegms as they have come down to us were put together in the desert of Judah, south of Jerusalem, probably in the first half of the 6th century. The disciples repeated to themselves the words heard from their masters, before they were fixed in writing and collections made up.

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Why are they arousing interest today?

A good French translation of apophthegms has existed since the 1970s, and their flavor can reach a wide audience. These words, brief dialogues or small stories, easy to read, deliver a fine knowledge of the human heart, all the more relevant as their authors seek to live the love of God and fraternal love. Much like parents know their children and strive to help them grow into adults, these masters do their best to help their disciples grow spiritually. They only teach what they themselves put into practice. Often, moreover, rather than giving instructions, the teacher is content to set an example.

What can we learn from the teaching of the Desert Fathers for spiritual practice today?

Desert monks show the way to authenticity. They teach us the essential “listening to silence” in order to know ourselves. Solitary, they are however experts in the art of living together, through the practice of mercy, restraint in the word that judges.

My Lent with the Desert Fathers

For Lent, we invite you to discover the rich teaching of these ascetics imbued with the Gospel and to walk in their footsteps, thanks to practical exercises.

Who are the Desert Fathers?