Desert Fathers for Today

I’d like to start a discussion about the Desert Fathers. We in the East (especially us Maronites) like to talk about the Desert Fathers and their role in shaping our approach to the Faith and to the spiritual life, but I often feel like we fail to make a connection between the teachings of the Desert Fathers and how they’re relevant for us today.

So here are a few questions just to stimulate discussion:

  1. Do you read the Desert Fathers?
  2. Do you find their teachings relevant? If so, how? If not, why not?
  3. What are some of your favorite quotes from the Desert Fathers?
  4. What do you think are the main themes of their teachings
  5. Can we apply or adapt their teachings for a 21st Century lay audience?

Having read them fairly extensively, I have my own opinions. But I’d really like to see what other people are thinking and to discuss the topic further.


I am putting a bookmark on this thread. Looking forward to answering these questions.

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Who can forget the Legendary…


Indeed. St. Moses the Black’s story is truly inspiring. I like to share his story as a source of hope for men struggling with porn addiction. He struggled against the “spirit of fornication” for years (at least seven) before he was delivered. At one point the struggle was so bad that he resolved to leave his monastery, go back to the city, and indulge his lusts. And his deliverance wasn’t a miraculous one-time experience. It came through humbly serving the brothers.


I’ll start by answering a few of my own questions.

  1. I do read the Desert Fathers. Right now I’m reading The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, which is a collection and translation of the Syriac editions of several texts, including The Life of St. Antony, The Lausiac History (both parts), the Rules of St. Pachomius, and a substantial collection of Sayings.

I’ve also read all four volumes of The Evergetinos. I gave the collection to a dear friend, but am now considering repurchasing it.

Additionally, I’ve ready everything by St. Isaac of Nineveh that’s been translated into English. He’s one of my favorites as his writings are so joyful and full of love for God.

  1. I do find the writings of the Desert Fathers very relevant. They lived in times of great ecclesiastical controversy, where a worldly mentality had deeply penetrated the attitudes of many in the laity and clergy. They struggled with the same deadly sins we struggle with today, especially vainglory, gluttony, and lust. Not only that, but they were true scientists of the spiritual life and documented in great detail the path to overcoming vice and acquiring virtue. And they were very insistent on the why behind everything they did.

  2. My favorite quote comes from St. Isaac. “This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not squander it in vain pursuits.” I think this quote encapsulates the core of Desert spirituality.

  3. I believe the main themes are: a love for God that is given life by a love for neighbor that expresses itself in action. Humility, obedience, and repentance are central (three virtues which I believe are the foundation for happiness even in the married life). Moderation. A strong reliance on the Sacraments, and especially participating in the liturgical life of the Church. The list goes on and on.

  4. Personally I think their teachings are very adaptable, provided one exercises a little discernment and recognizes the duties of one’s own vocation without trying to apply everything that they teach.


I think the writings of the Desert Father’s will be next on my reading. They are a group of holy men (and some women?) whom I have not yet tapped into but have wanted to and really should.

Thanks for bringing this up.


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I studied Cassian for a little while. Thought you might like this chant


Thank you! I love this chant.

I’ve yet to study Cassian. I’m debating on who I want to read next. I have Cassian’s Conferences, so maybe that should be next.

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What were some of Cassian’s points that jumped out at you?

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It was Cassian’s Conferences 10 or 11 would have to go back on my notes. One was on prayer and the other was on the importance of a religious habit. I grew up where most of the sisters no longer wore a habit. They had many reasons for why they no longer felt the need to wear a habit. Cassian had many reasons as to why one should wear a habit and what it stood for in regards to a monks life.

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Fascinating! I’ll have to check it out. I have an old (and slightly abridged) version of his Conferences. Will look it up. on prayer conference 9 New Advent has him on line
and this might be the one I had studied for a time -

and on the dress of a monk,_Cassianus,_Institutes_Of_The_Coenobia_And_The_Remedies_Vol_3,_EN.pdf

Check out this video [58:58] of an Anglican priest who visits the Monastery of St. Anthony and lives there for a few weeks, and compare his face & demeanor at the beginning of his stay and at the end. Also the Abba (Fr. Lazarus) in the video is a man with an interesting background.


Thanks. Looking forward to watching this and finishing it. Must admit I have always wanted to go to Egypt as well as Turkey where the Ephesus House is of Mary
the you-tube where he meets Fr Lazarus is 22:14

I noticed reading the 8 beatitudes in the sermon on the mount an ascending order of holiness to them. Thought I was pretty insightful till later reading turned up Augustine, Aquinas, Chrysostom…well, you get the idea…already knew this.

BUT, what’s awesome is to reflect that these folks were just like us…and imagine if they had this platform and forum!

It’s humbling. And isn’t that something we could all use…and they’d have recommended and sought.


There are also a series of videos featuring Abba Lazarus himself.


Yes, the lives of the Desert Fathers have long held great appeal for me. I first came to know about them through contemporary Benedictine and Cistercian teachers like John Main and Thomas Merton, and over the years I’ve gathered this little collection of books.


I’ll focus on one thing here that applies in my life now: how they tempered the rigorous asceticism for which they were renowned with mercy in consideration of human weakness. There are many examples, but one that stands out is the story of Abba Anthony and the hunter, who was scandalized when he saw the monks enjoying themselves at leisure. Instructed by Anthony to shoot arrows over and over, the hunter feared his bow would break. Anthony replied that the monks would also break if they never relaxed. Stories like this help me to avoid needless guilt and scrupulosity.


I have read the desert Fathers. I find their teachings relevant. I recommend them as reading for young people today.
One saying I like is "The same God who said, “thou shalt not fornicate.” also said, “thou shalt not judge.”
There are many others but I do not have either the time or space.

In what ways do you find the teachings of the Desert Fathers/Mothers relevant for today?

Personally, I think their teachings on the struggle against temptations and the passions are particularly relevant in our indulgent age (and for myself who am an indulgent person…).

Totally relevant, but only if we do as they did…

We are all in the desert, except that ours is one of temptations…

Demons work through temptations…

When one goes to the desert…

The temptations are removed…

And we deal with the demons themselves…

No small matter…

The problem with running away to the desert…
Is that wherever one runs to…
There one is…

So that emulating the Desert Fathers…
Is for those wanting to engage demons directly…
And not through the intermediaries…
Of worldly temptations…

So there is something to be said…
In favor of, you see…
Worldly temptations…
Mind you! :slight_smile:

But self knowledge through self denial in one’s quest for God is a great prize…
And the Way of it is constrained and afflicted…
And leads to Salvation…
And few are they who find it…

For the rest of us schlubs…
We have spouses, children and grand-children…
And Services and prayer and the Fasts…
And we have in our weakness the Mother of our Lord…


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