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Interesting video on one of the few desert anchorites remaining February 10, 2014

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Christendom, Ecumenism, General Catholic, Glory, Interior Life, manhood, martyrdom, religious, sanctity.

1800 years ago, the deserts of Upper Egypt, then known as the Upper Thebaid, began to fill with hundreds of solitary and semi-solitary monks living in caves and hollows.  They sought escape from the world, its enticements and errors, and the practice of true sanctification and wholehearted devotion.  Among the most famous of these is St. Anthony of the Desert.  Out of these solitary monks grew the first  monasteries, when groups of novice monks would attach themselves to some wise old desert father.  This trend towards religious life was transplanted to the West by the great St. Benedict, and the monastic life that would sustain and preserve western civilization after the collapse of the Roman Empire was born.

There are still numerous Eastern Orthodox and Coptic monasteries scattered around the deserts that line the eastern Levant. But solitary practice of religious life has greatly diminished.  There are only a few – it is thought – monks living alone in caves or old mud huts in the desert.  But a documentary film crew found one of these, a Father Lazarus El Anthony, who was once an atheist and university professor who explicitly rejected religious belief (especially Christianity).  However, he was later to have a conversion experience and take up his solitary existence.

Below are two videos – totaling nearly 3 hours – on his life and the wisdom he has gained from decades of prayer and meditation.  Unfortunately, Fr. Lazarus is a Copt, and thus most likely accepts the Monophysite heresy that Christ has only a divine nature, and not the correct understanding that Christ was both fully human and fully divine.   I have not watched all the videos, and I tend to doubt this subtle theological point gets discussed, but since I can’t assure you he doesn’t go into that territory I thought I’d forewarn you.  Having said that, there is much to be gained here, and much to reflect on, in a life of such total commitment as to abandon the world and live a most rustic life full of hardship.

Part 1:

Is that a Rosary around the statue of Our Lady that is adjacent to Father while being interviewed?

Part 2:

If you wonder why Fr. Lazarus speaks good English, he is originally from Tasmania in Australia.

One note, Father Lazarus speaks of how the British persecuted hindu religious practices in India.  He can only be referring to Thugee (a demonic cult) and Sati, the practice of forcibly murdering the widows of those who had died by throwing them upon their husband’s funeral pyres.  I have no problem with that brand of “cultural imperialism,” for as  General Sir Charles Napier said “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property.”

I would also say that the Eastern Orthodox have probably rightly “persecuted” the Copts for holding heretical ideas, ideas which undermined Christianity in its most ancient home (Egypt), and paved the way for the successful muslim invasion.

So maybe this guy holds some kooky ideas.  I’m still putting it up because it is at least a fascinating window onto a historically important Christian practice.

Reader TB who kindly sent me the videos above, also had a number of quotes from early desert fathers.  I almost bought a book containing such quotes a couple of weeks ago but the book was very short and very expensive, so I skipped it.  But you can find compilations of such quotes online.  Nevertheless, TB sent some pretty good ones:

‘When self-will and ease become habitual, they overthrow a man.’ [And thus the collapse of faith in modern times, when we are so very, very comfortable.  That is why self-imposed penance is crucial, and also why the destruction of the ancient practice of Friday fast/abstinence instituted by Paul VI in the 60s was so devastating.  Nothing has taken its place.]

Abba Poimen said: “When David wrestled with the lion, he grabbed it by the throat and immediately slew it. If we, then, grab our throats and our stomachs — that is, if we flee from hedonism and gluttony — then we will overcome the invisible lion, with God’s help.”

Abba Ammonas said: “Without great vigilance, man does not advance in even a single virtue.”

Abba John the Short said: “If a king wants to capture an enemy city, first of all he deprives it of water and food (by laying siege to it), and in this way his enemies, perishing from hunger, are subjugated to him. So it is with the carnal passions: if a man spends his life in fasting and virtual starvation, the passions and the demons flee, enfeebled, from his soul.”

‘The desire for possessions is dangerous and terrible, knowing no satiety; it drives the soul which it controls to the heights of evil. Therefore let us drive it away vigorously from the beginning. For once it has become master it cannot be overcome.’

An Elder said: When you sit down to eat, vanquish the demon of gluttony by delaying; restrain him and tell him “Just hold on, you will starve.” Eat with decorum, and the more the demon of gluttony urges you on, be certain to eat all the more calmly. For, this is how he puts force on a man and goads him on, by making him eat everything at once.  [Try to delay your meals a little every day.  If you want a snack, put it off for half an hour. Little mortifications can over time become big ones]

[This one is great…..] From Gregory the Dialogist: A nun from the convent of which Equitius the Great was Abbot went to the garden, and seeing a head of lettuce, desired it. And without even making the sign of the Cross, she voraciously ate it. Immediately an unclean spirit entered into her and cast her to the ground. Those who were thereabouts, on seeing this occurrence, quickly called for Father Equitius to come to the aid of the endangered nun.  Now the Father having come immediately to the garden, the devil that was thrashing the nun began to cry out and say in his defense, “What did I do? I was just sitting on top of the lettuce when she came and bit into me.” [So these desert monks are not humorless rigorists!  They have a sense of humor!]

Hence the soul, deprived of suitable spiritual ideas, loses the strength to struggle against thoughts and babbles with anyone it encounters. Since in this way (through loquacity) the soul drives out the Holy Spirit, it cannot keep the intellect free from harmful fantasies; for the Good Spirit always flees from loquacity, which is the cause of every upset and fantasy. Timely silence is good, since it is nothing other than the mother of the wisest thoughts.

From Antiochos: Poverty indicates that the monk who applies it in his life is sincere. The monk who has no possessions resembles an eagle, who flies high above the earth. The monk who has not a single possession shows himself to be only temporarily on earth. Since he has acquired none of the temporary goods of this world, by this indifference to them it is obvious that he desires things eternal.

“We and our brother are two images; when a man is watchful about himself, and has to reproach himself, in his heart he thinks his brother better than he; but when he appears to himself to be good, then he thinks his brother evil compared to himself.”

“When your brother attacks you, whatever the insults are, if you get angry at him, you are getting angry without cause. Even if he were to pull out your right eye, and to cut off your right hand, if you get angry at him, you are getting angry without cause. Yet if he were to try to take you away from God, then be angry.”

Abba Isidore of Pelusia said, ‘To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence but the latter does no good even when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole of philosophy.’


1. TG - February 10, 2014

“destruction of the ancient practice of Friday fast/abstinence instituted by Paul VI in the 60s was so devastating. Nothing has taken its place.]” – I thought you are supposed to practice some type of fast. My Human Life International pamphlet on examining your conscience before Confession states – have you failed to do any type of fast on Fridays – something like that. Right the bishops conference is asking that we refrain from meat on Fridays for life, matrimony and religious liberty. Our bulletin had a statement about that. I’ve been fasting from meat on Fridays for a while now. It’s really hard cause after work I’d love to go get a hamburger. I’m getting tired of beans burritos.

2. Lynne - February 10, 2014

I’ve abstained from meat on Fridays for a few years now but do very little fasting. NO ONE ever talks about gluttony.

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