From the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Around the third century AD, a movement comprising thousands of people chose to live an austere and holy life in the deserts of Egypt as a precursor to modern Christian monasticism. Alone or in small groups, they pursued God. Some produced words of wisdom that resonate today.

On Comfort and Vanity
If a monk overcomes two things, he can be free from this world. And a brother asked: “What are they?” He replied: “Bodily ease and vainglory.”

— Abba Poemen

On Quieting the Soul
Just as it is impossible to see your face in troubled water, so also the soul, unless it is clear of alien thoughts, is not able to pray to God in contemplation.

— Unattributed Desert Father

On the Perceptions of Others
The time is coming when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane, they will attack that person saying—“You are insane because you are not like us.”

— Abba Anthony

On Frequent Prayer
Seven times a day have I praised you.

— St. Benedict

On Self-Criticism
How strange that we should refuse to take on a rather light burden: self-criticism, and choose instead the remarkably heavy burden—self-justification!

— Abba John Little

On Causing Hurt
When someone wishes to render evil for evil, he is able to hurt his brother with a single nod.

— Abba Isaiah

On Staying in Place
If you happen to live in a community, do not move to another place, for it will harm you greatly. If a bird leaves her eggs, they never hatch. So also the monk and the nun grow cold and dead in faith by going from place to place.

— Amma Syncletica

On Quarreling
There were two old men who had lived together for many years, and they never quarreled. Now one of them said: “Let us try to quarrel just once like other people do.” And the other replied: “I don’t know how quarrel happens.” Then the first said: “Look, I put a brick between us, and I say, ‘This is mine’ and you say: ‘No, it is mine,’ and after that, a quarrel begins.” So they placed a brick between them, and one of them said: “This is mine,” and the other said: “No—it is mine.” And he replied: “Indeed—it is all yours, so take it away with you.” And they went away unable to fight with each other.

— Abba Poemen

On Opening the Heart
The nature of water is yielding, and that of a stone is hard. Yet, if you hang a bottle filled with water above the stone so that the water drips drop by drop, it will wear a hole in the stone. In the same way, the word of God is tender, and our heart is hard. So when people hear the word of God frequently, their hearts are opened to the fear of God.

— Abba Poemen