HOW ONE BECOMES A HERMIT, RECLUSE OR ANCHORITE?

“Now is the time to answer your summons and live your vocation! It is now that you must donate yourself to God and to God alone! You have to become patient as God has no concept of time; You must listen carefully to the guidance of the Holy Spirit;You must love! You must forgive, you must fast and you must praise and thank God for your opportunity to love and pray without ceasing!  No one said it would be easy, the best things in life never are.”


Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; 
for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave.  Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. Song of Solomon 8:6-7

  1. Your profession is what you prepared for, but your vocation and what you were born for.
  2. Your profession is your career, but your vocation and mission are tasks for your whole life.
  3. Your profession is your skill, but your vocation is a gift.
  4. Your profession does not only depend on you, yet your vocation does not depend on men.
  5. Your profession can be linked to a business, your vocation is not tied to business, homes or offices.
  6. You can be dismissed and lose your appointment, yet you can never be dismissed from your vocation.
  7. You can withdraw from your employment and retire, yet you can never withdraw and retire from your vocation.
  8. A profession is temporary. Your vocation is permanent.
  9. Open your heart to Christ and follow his call. Live your vocation!
  10. Donated yourself to the sacred and united hearts of Jesus and Mary Most Holy.

eremo nel deserto

When St. Basil wanted to confirm the monastic ideal in his friend Gregory, he refers to the fact that “He who loves God abandons everything and retires into solitude with God.” (basilio, Ep. 2, 4; teodoreto, Φιλοΰεος ιστορια (PG 82), cfr. u. ranke-heinemann, op. cit. 18-25)

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide for the way is wide and easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14) is a difficult recommendation within the Scriptures, it becomes our project for life!

Jesus says that narrow gate leads to a “hard” road, one that will take us through hardships and difficult decisions. Following Jesus requires the crucifixion of our flesh (Galatians 2:20; 5:24; Romans 6:2), living by faith (Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 10:38), enduring trials with Christlike patience (James 1:2–3, 12; 1 Peter 1:6), and living a lifestyle separate from the world (James 1:27; Romans 12:1–2). When faced with the choice between a narrow, bumpy road and a wide, paved highway, most of us choose the easier road. Human nature gravitates toward comfort and pleasure. When faced with the reality of denying themselves to follow Jesus, most people turn away (John 6:66). Jesus never sweetened the truth, and the truth is that not many people are willing to pay the price to follow Him.

“First and foremost, the monk should own nothing in this world, but he should have as his possessions solitude of the body, modesty of bearing, a modulated tone of voice, and a well-ordered manner of speech. He should be without anxiety as to his food and drink, and should eat in silence.” St. Basil.

We therefore have to persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, “who bore our sins in His own body on the tree,” “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” yet He endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. That being the case, we must be emulators of His patience; and if we suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example Himself, and we believe that such is the case.

WHY GO INTO THE DESERT?

Charles de FoucouldWe must go through the desert and dwell there, to receive the grace of God; it is there that one empties oneself, that one drives away from us all that is not God and that this little house of our soul is completely emptied so as to leave all the space to God alone … The Israelites passed through the desert; Moses lived there before receiving his mission; St. Paul, who came out of Damascus, went to spend three years in Arabia; Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom were prepared in the desert … It is indispensable. And a time of grace. It is a period through which every soul that wants to bear fruit must necessarily pass. You need this silence, this recollection, this oblivion of all creation in the midst of which God puts in it his kingdom and forms in it the inner spirit … The intimate life with God … The conversation of the soul with God in faith, in hope and in charity … Later, the soul will produce fruits exactly to the extent that the inner man will be formed in it. [Thoughts taken from an anthology of the writings of Bl. Fr. Charles Eugène de Foucauld o.c.s.o.]

Sometimes a man of the century offended by and weary of society, which is ordinarily unfaithful, will long for loneliness, and imagines the hermitage as a panacea for his embittered heart, pretending that the desert is a land for the pursuit of leisure for his mind which has been downtrodden by societal expectations. Yet such convictions do not compare with the authentic conditions of solitude, in which the divine anchorites enclosed themselves, nor did these convictions lead them into the desert. [Rho, F.G., 1821. Su costumi degli anacoreti egiziani e siriaci: operetta, Brescia: Foresti e Cristiani.]

There are different situations and experiences that can lead one to embrace an eremitic or anchoritic life. There are priests, monks, nuns and even lay people, who, not finding the right community of spirit, prayer and penance, or not wanting to compromise their faith, and with a desire to serve God in solitude, have gone to the desert and did Father Charles de Foucould and Bro. Carlo Carretto, who wanted to answer the call to fight their imperfections and do penance, it took God three times to call Bro. Carlo who nearly got married. There are others who retired from the world in old age. People who at a young age had not thought about consecrating themselves to God but in old age, remembered His call and the desire within their soul, that the world and its distractions, with all its sin, buried under so much ash and dust. It is never too late to embrace the anchoritic and eremitic life, it is never too late to become a bride of Jesus Christ. It is never too late to better yourself not only physically but spiritually.  God never withdraws His call! Even when man betrays God, God will always remain faithful!

Hasten, dear soul, you still have time, it is not too late to give God’s call a generous YES, and to give yourself completely over to Jesus!

THE CALL

Is Christ calling you?

Is it the desire to stay away from people or is it the simplicity of lifestyle that attracts you? Do you think it may be a passing phase or is it something you’ve been reflecting on for years? Is it a symptom of some problem? Or is it the only possible solution?

It is important to discern and to find out why you would like to withdraw and live as a hermit or an anchorite, which is called living in the desert. In this vocation, it is not aEremita nel deserto matter of going to the desert of a hermitage to escape from problems and painful situations or to live alone without being disturbed and without rules, because without faith in Christ and without prayer you will not succeed.

It is also essential that you have a spiritual guide with whom to observe and advise you on the aspiration that you feel in your heart.  Even if your vocation is a personal thing, you are well advised to consult a good spiritual guide who knows the value of a life of prayer, penance, solitude, silence and adoration. God calls his beloved souls into the desert, and if he does and wants you to be a hermit, he places the longing in your heart to withdraw from the crowd, from the world and all of its noises. Do not withdraw so as to escape, nor because you are afraid of the world, not to abandon the world (its souls) but to help the world (the souls) through prayer, recollection, penance, fasting, giving oneself to God as a sacrifice, as spouses of Christ, and a soul of prayer. This is a method of being of service to the world, of serving our Lord and the Church. The life of a person who embraces this form of life becomes in itself a praise to God. It becomes a psalm that is sung before his throne!

But it does not mean that you remain immobile and kneeling all day just to pray. Day and  night become prayer, especially by performing penance, mortification and completing your daily work. Ora et labora means to pray and work. You will have hear many religious orders using the motto Ora et labora (“Pray and work”), daily life in a Benedictine monastery consists of three elements: liturgical prayer, manual labor and Lectio Divina, a quiet prayerful reading of the Bible.  St. Benedict said: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore the brethren should have specified periods of manual labor as well as for prayerful reading [lectio divina].”

The Anchorite and Hermit has times where they devote themselves to work, not only for spiritual reading (formation) but also to manual work such as in the vegetable garden, cleaning the hermitage, the cell, sewing etc. Then there is intellectual work: no physical effort is made in intellectual work, it focuses on our use of reasoning. Correspondence and administration is completed; or you accompany souls on their journey, or translate books and spiritual writings so as to guide others in their discernment or spiritual journeys.

THE SENSE OF LIVING IN THE DESERT IS IN MORTIFYING ONESELF, IN DOING PENANCE ...

“The sense of living in the desert lies in mortifying oneself, in doing penance, in humility, in the whole detachment from material goods, from honours, resisting pleasures, in forgiveness of your enemies, in the sincere love of your neighbours.  This is admired in the solitary Saints; The miser, the arrogant, the shameless, the greedy, the negligent and the vindictive will clearly discover the deformity of their own condition, which by continuing with the thinking of current societal praxis are extremely difficult to detect in oneself.  Sometimes the man of our times offended and weary of Society, ordinarily unfaithful, longs for loneliness, and imagines the hermitage as a balm for his embittered heart, pretending the desert is a distraction to his mind oppressed by social ideals. But the circumstance of solitude are not in harmony with such delusions, in which the divine anchorites were enclosed, nor did such circumstances conduct them to the desert.  They did not hide in the hermitages because they were tired of worldly pleasures, but to deprive themselves of all mundane and useless pleasures!  The solitudes, which welcomed the anchoritic saints into its womb, were already great tracts in a land abandoned by men as too unsustainable for the survival of humankind, in many places the desert is considered more effective as a destroyer of its inhabitants than in sustaining them.” 

“Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth” [1 Samuel 3:9]

“Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth” is a declaration of complete availability, of surrendering to his will, it is the decision to abandon oneself into the arms of God, promising Him not only that you will  always listen and be attentive to his direction, but also of  your absolute obedience to Him.

… God calls us because he loves us, because his invitation is in view of a duty to be carried out, a mission to be undertaken for the salvation and joy of many.

Consider where God calls you, if he calls you to be active or more contemplative, a pilgrim hermit (who is always on pilgrimage, thus giving the whole world a testimony that on earth we are pilgrims and we are only passing through), a hermit with a permanent home “stabilitas” (who lives in a place, in a field, an actual hermitage or with a community), a hermit with a special apostolate, or one who remains alone in recollection and solitude with Christ. Being a hermit does not necessarily mean staying locked up indoors. You can maintain contact with the outside world, if God so wishes it for you. Over half of the hermits live in urban areas. There are a wide variety of eremitic orders, to which do you feel drawn to? What is your heart telling you? What do you feel you are called to?

Or do you feel called to live a completely solitary life, out of sight from cities and people, not communicating with people outside of your hermitage, yet live an austere contemplative life? Do you want to live in a cell? By what means are you able to undertake this kind of life? With vocation and by the will and support of God. What matters is to remain in His intention, to listen to Him and do His will. To be guided by God and by His holy providence, which is our blessing. Feel what God tells you and what your spiritual advisor guides you towards. If you do not want to live alone and separated from your spiritual brothers and sisters, from other Hermits and Anchorites, you could see if God wants you to live close to others and therefore live within a monastic community, although each of you remains faithful to your individual and unique vocation. You could live attached to an Order, which gives you the solitary life you seek, the silence and the solitude necessary, to follow the rule for which you have decided or made a vow to live by doing penance. Some want to live in a Charterhouse, be withdrawn and always in silence, yet in communities like the Carthusians. But most important is what God wants from you. If you do not feel called to live in a Charterhouse, and you do not know where to go, stay where you are until God shows you, it may be subtle or very obvious. Increase your prayer and know that what matters is to remain in the divine will, which also means: remaining in a state of grace and then listening to what Jesus tells you in your heart. This is what matters most and it is the only way to become saints.

If you have not yet found the right place where you can serve God and where you can become a saint, live daily in the union with God through the Sacraments, through prayer, penance and the mortification. You must mortify yourself, you must do penance and ask God for His graces and blessings. Every day we must work toward our sanctification. This work cannot and must not be postponed, it requires: mortification, penances, prayers, vigils and fasting cannot without ceasing. You cannot delay using the excuse of hot yet having found the hermitage in the desert which is the right place “for you”, so get to work. God calls you, so do not make him wait. Give God your FIAT [an authoritative command or order to do something; an effectual decree] with words and deeds! Now we have to work for the kingdom of God, we must work toward our own sanctification now. If you wait for another occasion, another circumstance, another hermitage or another day to become saints, you will never achieve your vocation and become one. 

“Now is the time to answer your summons and live your vocation! It is now that you must donate yourself to God and to God alone! You have to become patient as God has no concept of time; You must listen carefully to the guidance of the Holy Spirit;You must love! You must forgive, you must fast and you must praise and thank God for your opportunity to love and pray without ceasing!  No one said it would be easy, the best things in life never are.”

Do you really feel you have to work for God? Not only to pray (to pray is to work: it is to serve God for the salvation of souls) yet also to be engaged for the greater glory of God? [Ad maiorem Dei gloriam] You could collaborate with the founding of a hermitage, in the village where you will live with God, this is how St. Mary’s Hermitage was founded. It would be a place where hermits and solitaries live withdrawn from each other yet are united spiritually. Initially the cells of the solitaries and hermits were never far from each other. When the desert Fathers built a hermitage never far from a well where they would draw0 the water needed to live. This water well is necessary as the water of life and for us in the same manner that the Sacraments and Daily Mass are necessary for us to live in the full grace of God. Ideal for a Hermit of our times, the hermitage would not be far from a church, in order to attend Mass. But those who have no possibility of attending Mass do not be discouraged. Faith helps you. Many fathers and mothers of the desert had to endure long periods without the Sacraments. We remember that St. Benedict, as a hermit in his cave, did not have Mass daily. We recall St. Francis of Assisi and his brothers received Holy Communion only once a year. Think of the Venerable Mary of Egypt patron of penitents, who endured more than twenty years without attending Mass. Of course, it is not ideal and can be dangerous, it is also a very heavy and painful cross to bare. As monastics we must ensure that we attend Mass daily or as often as possible.

The teachings of the Church tell us that if the next Church where Mass is held is more than one hour away (even on foot, if one does not have the car to get there), one does not sin if Sunday does not you can get there. If we have the opportunity to have Holy Mass often in our desert, in our hermitage, we rejoice, consider it, appreciate it and thank God! But if it does not, we rejoice all the same, and we offer everything. God trusts us, and since Bothe the sweet and the bitter comes from Him, it means, if He were to send it to us, that we are able to endure this Cross too. We have to sacrifice everything! Those who have an Internet connection can follow Holy Mass at Glenstal Benedictine Abbey, in Murrow County Limerick, Éire, online (click here) and make spiritual communion see below, you may also worship God in Eucharistic adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the altar in a live broadcast from The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Kraków  (click here).

St Thomas Aquinas defined Spiritual Communion is an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and in lovingly embracing Him as if we had actually received Him”  but circumstances have impeded them from receiving actual Holy Communion. The impeding circumstances might be a number of things: the person could already have received holy Communion twice that day; or the person could be in detention and unable to attend Mass; or the person might be elderly and housebound watching Mass on the television or listening to it on the radio; whatever the circumstance your intention must be that you wish to be more deeply united to Jesus Christ at that moment.  One of the prayer said at Spiritual Communion is “ At Thy feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself and I offer Thee repentance of my contrite heart, which is humbled in its nothingness and in Thy holy presence. I adore Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, the ineffable Eucharist. I desire to receive Thee into the poor dwelling that my heart offers Thee. While waiting for the happiness of sacramental communion, I wish to possess Thee in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, since I, for my part, am coming to Thee! May Thy love embrace my whole being in life and in death. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee. Amen.

God loves us so much and appreciates all of our sacrifices. It is He who gives us the gift of suffering with love. We offer all our suffering to save souls. And we offer to God with the suffrages, the most precious Blood of Jesus Christ, in expiation of our sins, in suffrage of the Holy Souls of purgatory, for the priests and needs of the holy Church.

OR DO YOU FEEL CALLED TO LIVE AS A RECLUSE?

A monk or nun are defined as a recluse when they adopt an extreme form of penitential life, which consists in locking himself up in solitude within a restricted space, either for a limited period of their life or forever (immured). These cells are normally found in a monastery or church, which is why this form of life should not be confused with that of a  monaca carmelitanahermit. Having the “desire” to withdraw and immure oneself as a recluse does not mean vocation. One should be very prudent and carefully discern whether this form of life is the will of God for you. I would strongly recommend, initially discussing the matter with your parish priest or to find a religious order that can help you discern and realise your call, but it will not be easy, because it is an extremely radical life, equally because a call to such a form of life, should be observed for years, and only accepted after a mature age, time of trial and true discernment. To decide to be immured we need a good Spiritual Father to accompany you with great prudence and possibly a Bishop who supports and blesses you to take this step.

WHAT FORM OF EREMITICAL LIFE DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE CALLED TO LIVE?

Choose a holy rule endorsed by the Catholic Church, which will guide you and you will not be alone! The holy rules that have already been approved by the Catholic Church guarantee us of a sure way to reach heaven. You already have a father with you, the Saint who wrote the holy Rule. This Rule can be adapted together with your spiritual guide and approved by your bishop, if he finds that it conforms, you will adapt your rule or your own customs for everyday life in your desert.

If today you took the decision to obey God’s call for you to a life in the desert, one that calls you to an eremitic or anchoritic life, you will begin to live this celestial life now. You can begin to live it now and where you are. God will then guide you to a hermitage suitable for you. Most importantly and what matters most is that you leave everything behind, to shed off your past life and give everything to God. St. Luke the Evangelist tells us that we must decide if we can follow God “Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them,“If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life! Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them when they follow me cannot be my follower.” Luke 14:25-27  So my advice would be not to procrastinate – get on with it. You will therefore begin to live your celestial vocation today, which is important and will prepare you for the road ahead. What’s more, if you follow God it actually becomes a great adventure. And if you have to move often? Take as an example St. Benedict and his life or even of St. Romuald the founder of the Camaldolese Order, although both had to move often and had not received the full plan that God had in mind for them, they lived humbly every day and with every single breath they lived FIAT (from Latin, ‘Thy will be done’) given to God.

DE CONTEMPTU MUNDI

Disciple: Master, how can man completely detach himself from the world?

OFM EremitaMaster: The soul that loves God [finds] its rest in God only. First detach from thyself the outward bonds, then strive to bind thy heart to God. To be detached from matter is prior to being bound to God.  When a child has been weaned, bread is given him as food. And a man who wishes to become excellent in God, has first to wean himself from the world, as a child is weaned from his mother’s breasts. Bodily labours are prior to psychic service, as the creation of the body takes place before that of the soul. For he who does not perform bodily labour, does not perform physical labours either. For the latter are born out of the former as the ears from mere grains. And he who does not perform physical service, is also devoid of spiritual gifts.

Temporary suffering for the sake of the truth is not to be compared with the delight preserved for those who perform labours of excellence. As the weeping of the time of sowing is followed by the joys of harvest followed by joy.  So are the labours for the sake of God, the bread earned with sweat, delights the workman; labours for the sake of righteousness, the heart that has received the knowledge of Christ.  Suffer contempt and humiliation in the thought of excellence, for the: sake of the heart’s familiarity of speech with God. Every time a man suffers a hard word with discernment, save only when it is caused by his own fault, he receives a crown of thorns on his head for the sake of Christ; blessed is he! At other times he is crowned and knows it not.

He who flees from the fame [that rests] on knowledge, will perceive in himself the hope of the world to come.  He who promises to leave the world, yet quarrels with men concerning [worldly things because he is not willing to give up anything of what is agreeable unto him, he is perfectly blind, because he has given up the whole world voluntarily, yet quarrels about a part of it. If anyone flees from what is agreeable [unto him] in this world, his mind will behold the world to come.  He who is master of possessions, is the slave of passions. Do not estimate gold and silver only as possessions, but all things thou possessest for the sake of the desire of thy will.  He who cuts off impediments from fear of affections, he is a wise man indeed.  Without the constant service of excellence true knowledge cannot be found. Not by bodily works alone is the knowledge of life acquired, but by directing our efforts to the cutting off of mental affections.

He who labours without discernment will easily become the victim of the causes of sin when they present themselves to him. Never praise him who labours with his body, but concerning his senses is lax and without constraint, to put it another way, whose ears and mouth are open and whose eyes are prone to wander.  (St. Isaac of Nineveh)

HOW CAN I LIVE THIS FORM OF CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE ON MY OWN?

In today’s world, it is difficult to be completely self-sufficient, but with the grace of God one has all the help that is needed to survive, without having to work in the world.

If God wants otherwise, then it is He who wants and allows us to do some work outside of the hermitage. Hermits and Anchorites are in the sure hands of God. Living by God’s providence, and if one embraces the Benedictine Rule, as a necessity to maintain oneself, even by the work of their own hands.

Do you want to be a hermit in your home, cultivate your own food, and manage your life yourself?  Or do you feel you have to stay in a rented apartment in the city and go to work to support yourself? Both can be modern hermit lifestyles, but this form of life: living in the city and working in the world is not as ideal as it may seem and can cause difficulties for the Hermit.

Personally I would advise people to search for a desert far from urban areas and cities,Fra Carlo  after having tried eremitic life in London, the distractions were constant, the noise, advertising, fights in the streets, drunk people, traffic and on one or two occasions people being lewd in view of everyone.  I also endured an unprovoked attack which hospitalised me for a couple of weeks.  Yet God may as it happens call some soul to live in the desert of the city, as he did with Brother Carlo Carretto of the Little Brothers of the Gospel (link).

In prayer, try to discern what God puts in your heart and what you feel is the right thing to do, always remaining faithful to Jesus. Listen to Jesus who speaks to you in your heart and calls you to live a life that is totally surrendered to him.

The ideal form of life for an anchorite is to live alone. To have his refuge, his cell, his cave. This is the blessed hermitage: the house in the desert is the embrace of Christ. Being away from the noise of the city and of the world with all of its distractions and vanities.

With your spiritual guide see if it would be better to live this call with private vows or if it is not appropriate to make your vows  under an Abbot or a Bishop.  It would be exceptional to find a Bishop who guides you according to your vocation and who consecrates you to God!  Keep in mid though that there are Bishops who do not accept vocations to the eremitic life and some even look upon them with an element of suspicion.  Do your research, has the diocese admitted other hermits, solitaries or anchorites?

Occasionally it occurs that the soul who want to follow the call of God yet they cannot find an amenable bishop, or a hermitage or a suitable convent, and it will make them wonder why God is calling them if there is no established opportunity to live out this call. It took me three years before I found the correct combination of diocese and location for my vocation.  One person informed me that he had heard that in this day and age God does not call anyone, since there are no tangible prospect for realising this vocation and mission. Recalling the past of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which took place in England between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII the Tudor King of England using his First Act of Supremacy in 1534 allowing the crown to confiscate and disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England and Wales and Ireland, misappropriating their income, dispose of their assets. The policy was made to increase the regular income of the Crown, former monastic property were sold off to fund Henry’s military campaigns. For hundreds of years men and women in consecrated life underwent severe persecutions, torture and martyrdom. England was not alone in this form or persecution In the countries of the Habsburg monarchy, under the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and self proclaimed guardian of Catholicism, struck viciously at the Church and attempted to make the Church a tool of the state, independent of Rome. Religious were deprived of the tithes, ordered to study in government seminaries, bishops had to make a formal oath of loyalty to the crown. He considered himself a man of the Enlightenment and ridiculed the contemplative monastic orders, which he considered useless, frivolous and unproductive. He therefore suppressed over 700 monasteries and reduced the number of monks and nuns from 65,000 to 27,000. He completely prohibited and eliminated eremitic life within his kingdoms.

It did not mean that God stopped calling anyone to to a vocation! It did not mean that Certosinithere were no souls being called to serve him in adoration and prayer or as brides of Christ. On the contrary, it was exactly during these times of persecution that God gave so many penitent souls, hermits, anchorites, and solitaries. Whenever there are attacks against faith, against vocations, against consecrated life, against the adoration of the One Triune God, many vocations are awakened.  Before you were born, God had already chosen you in the womb, and called you by name. He gives one a specific and unique mission. The Holy Spirit breathed into the hearts of many souls the desire to consecrate their lives to God. These souls, precisely because they could not find a faithful or fervent community, because the convents had been closed or destroyed, or because they wanted to live a completely solitary life, they never gave up, the persevered and had already began to live their vocation daily, without waiting for the day “that they would be given their own cell, or hermitage, or the  appurtenant silence”. They naturally continued to search for a suitable place where they could live out their vocation in tranquility. They went to the desert. They withdrew. In times of great persecution there were so many souls who ran into the desert to worship God, in peace and quiet. Yet even during times of no persecutions, when the Catholic religion was accepted and left in peace, as it had been from the time of Constantine the Great, many souls fled to the desert, to do penance because knowing themselves as Christians too much appreciated by the world, they knew that this was not a good portent, since Christ tells us that those who follow him will be despised and persecuted! For sins and the worldliness of many, Christians began to ask God for forgiveness. Instead they chose what we call the “white martyrdom” for Christ, which is penance, solitary and ascetic life in the desert, a life as a hermit or an anchorite.

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SOUL OF ADORATION

When society forgets about God and they stop praising Him, let us gather around God present in the cell of our heart and in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar to adore Him. Our donation, prayer and adoration, are the incense on the altar of God and the hymns of Praise.  You can live the call of a hermit or an anchor, spending several hours a day in front of Jesus in adoration of the Eucharist. If you cannot physically place yourself in front of the most holy, worship Him wherever you are, in Spirit and Truth. Some are blessed with having a little chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed or they live near a church that they can  enter at any time to adore the most Holy Trinity in the Blessed Sacrament at the altar, ever present in the tabernacle of a Catholic Church. This would be the idyll. 

Watch the Holy Hour at Gethsemane (here)!

Gethsemane

Those who cannot go before the Blessed Sacrament, can do so spiritually and remain heart to heart with our Lord in front of the Eucharist.  Jesus loves you and is happy to see you before Him in the Blessed Sacrament and since He knows that many souls are unable to attend Church for various reasons, He has inspired people to film Him perpetually exposed in a chapel that you can visit online.  Believe me, Christ sees you and hears your adoration. You are locked heart to heart with Him the King of hearts!

Know that we pray for your vocational discernment daily.  May our Lord walk at your side always.  Pax

 

A Testimony to Eremitical Life

His simple way of speaking did not remember the charismatic fire of the Old Testament prophets or the one that one imagines would have existed in some great saints of history. No, none of that; I had met a man in whom

Translated from Spanish to English CuadMon 10 (1969) pp. 129-140.  

There are some unusual references that seem to be out of place such as the saying by the hermit “Yo soy un Pedro de Alcántara – I’m a Peter of Alcantara” to which we can attribute no reason.  Translations can be difficult at times and on this occasion it was decided to leave the comment unaltered in the hope that someone could shed light on it.  The article was originally entitled “Un testimonio de vida eremítica” in CuadMon 10 (1969) pp. 129-140.

 

CHRONICLE

Dolomiti

I took a path on the edge of a ravine that led to an abyss in the hill. The sun had recently appeared in the mountains and sometimes shone my way. As I climbed I left behind the sounds of civilisation and only heard the birds singing and the beating of my heart when I stopped. There were natural forests, rocks and sometimes some poplars that indicated a source of water. As I climbed, I said, I hope I finds him in his hermitage before he has gone to work on the fences. When I reached the summit, I saw a little house on the distance slope. It was built on the undulating landscape, overgrown with thorns as though to protect it from intruders, completely distant, solitary and silent. Suddenly I heard the bark of a dog. I said to myself: “I hope I do not get bitten by the hermit’s dog.” But at that moment there was a human ululation that silenced the dog. It was a local muleteer, from the manner of his idiolect, who was leading some animals. At that very moment, I made out another hut, somewhat further away. Leaving me in doubt as to which of the two would be the hermitage; I went to the first one I had seen. When I got there I understood that this was what I had been looking for. It was locked with an old style padlock, a small cross on the roof, painted green, a fireplace, I could smell of recent smoke from burnt logs, it was all in all a very small square house, some dry wood was stacked by the door: and that, was all. After some time, I made my way to the other house I had seen, which was in front of me, 800 meters away I could make out voices, probably from some muleteers. What did they think, who lived no less as little hermits themselves, about their professional neighbour? I wanted to ask them. When I arrived, another dog barked at me.

Arriero

There were two men rigging mules; One was striking one of them. I greeted and introduced myself. We talked about their work: they sold firewood in the village: six hours of travel each day round trip. The sale of firewood was not very profitable at the moment because it was not cold yet and people did not buy much. What they earned was barely enough to live on, even more so with the cost of things nowadays. “Have you lived here for a long time?” I asked. “About five years, we arrived three years before the father who lives at the hermitage. And we like to live here.”  “You are hermits too,” I told them. But they did not respond, “And what do you think of the father’s life?” “It’s his choice!” = Replied one immediately. “He himself built his hut and works mending fences; He built a very long stone cairn that climbs up there on the hill. Since the owner of the other farm did not want to set the boundary, he did it. Hard work!”  I told him that the drought seemed like God’s punishment “Of course!” He replied. “because now people do no believe in anything! The father has to go around mending fences; Maybe he’ll come to his hut later. If you want, continue on this path and you will find him on the way, if not, wait for him by his hut. Yesterday I saw him with a pole on his shoulder and today I saw his fresh footsteps near the water springhead. I hope the water does not dry out with this drought,” he added. When I said goodbye I asked the name. “Ah!” He answered me. “And you?” I asked the other. But the first one replied: “It’s my brother, P.A.” He immediately asked me: “You. know the player P.A., on the first team of the U? It’s his son!” He finished with a certain amount of pride. I then started to look for the Father. No signs of him. I even lost the orientation of his hermitage. In the distance, the sound of an airplane could be heard. On top of a post I saw the remains of fresh meat and a number of feathers on the ground: perhaps a bird of prey had satiated its previous night’s hunger a few moments ago. Great silence and loneliness. Finally I spotted the hermitage again. I went there and sat down to wait. It was close to noon. Some advancing clouds where rolling down the mountain range which could be the first rain of this year. The drought had cracked the land in some places.  Eremo San PacomioAt about midday of the day, I heard noise behind me; A door was opened. I turned and saw a man I was looking for, he was as thin as a rake and tall his deportment was one of serenity and irreproachability which radiated from his very person.  He wore a blue shirt and trousers; on his face a white sideburns with several days of growth. He looked at me curiously. He left some tools on the floor. I greeted him and identified myself. He invited me to his hermitage and offered me lunch.  “I have rice! want some?”

“The other meal would take about two hours,” he said, showing me some beans that he took out of a package. “ I have a good stomach and I can eat anything,” I replied. “I will make rice then” he concluded. With elongated gestures he began to move and look for what he needed for the meal. From a rock that was part of the interior of the hermitage, he removed a cover that hid a crack in the rock and that was used to store things to eat. “I spend eight dollars a month,” he said, beginning to pull things out of the hole in the rock. “An apple for everyone” he said loudly. “Bread, this bread must be older than a week, because I brought it from the monastery last Sunday and who knows when it was bought to the monastery”. (My visit to the hermit took place on a Friday). “But, if you want, we’ll toast it; so it is better.” “Good”. I answered. I forgot to mention that the upper part of the rock served as an altar. He also took some oil and pepper. I, noted to myself, while I was taking notes — I had told him beforehand why I was doing this — he was not so poorly provisioned; there was not an abundance, but at least he had the essentials; It was a sign, that gave me the impression, that this hermit did not despise his own life, but with all simplicity put himself at the service of God in solitude. He built a fire, always with prolonged movements. Water from a demijohn to a pot, rice and other ingredients. Everything prepared quietly. Then he put some water in a jar for tea. “There are two tea bags here,” he said, putting them on a small table by his wooden pallet bed. He removed another cover in the stone recess and the silverware appeared. There were several books on the table. A copy of the Old Testament in Hebrew.

While the food was being prepared and washed, we started talking. I would like to stay here until the end of my life, unless something particular comes along like communism and I have to leave. Before arriving here, I met with your neighbours, I said. Yes, the A., he answered; Did you know, he continued, that P.A. Is the son of one of the player? When I arrived here, they lived near the water fountain. Every time I went for water, their dogs would bark at me. I did not like their presence, and since the farm did not need them and I needed silence and solitude, I asked them to leave. They moved house, to where they are now. I would definitely like them to leave. So they are not very close friends of yours? I asked. No, he said smiling. At that moment he got up and took the pot out of the fire: Brother X told me that it was necessary to leave the rice ten minutes out of the fire before eating it, he said. The conversation continued. He had been in monastic life for 23 years and a year and a half as a hermit here. I came to this country to be a hermit. In the monastery of my country of origin, there was too much noise and upheaval because they were rebuilding the monastery. But do not think that my reasons for becoming a hermit was because of the noise. I had set my heart on becoming a hermit many years ago. I believe that I am better suited to the eremitic life than to community life. I think my inherent qualities are hermitic by nature. Suddenly he exclaimed, rice is ready! He offered me the pot to serve me on my plate; I took some rice out and I was struck by the wonderful smell of rice. Nice aroma! I said.  Yes, yes, he replied, I am a competent cook.

Unknown
St. Peter of Alcantara

I’m a Peter of Alcantara; It is enough penance having to eat pure rice almost every day, he concluded calmly. Then he poured hot water into the tea pot. Here is the sugar, he said, passing me a jar. We continued talking after he blessed the food. I celebrate Mass every day and concelebrate every Sunday at the monastery. Visitors? No! You are the first this year, last year I was visited by a Spanish priest. I have asked the monks of the monastery not to mention me to their guests. But as you came, let us give thanks to God. I chose this place because it is very quiet and there is a water supply nearby. There is a lot of work to do here, and I can do it perfectly and better than a salaried worker; You know how it is when you have no one to watch over you! Here I spend my life and there are weeks when I do not see anyone. In the morning I work fences and in the afternoon I read, I pray, I contemplate, I study. My Superior comes every week to see me and has lunch with me. He spends one hour here. It’s up to him. Usually when he makes his weekly retreat day he come here to do a spiritual conference

with me. But lately since he returned from Europe he has not come. Do I like the animals that walk around here? Yes. I think a rabbit used to eat all food scraps that I used leave outside every night. I’ve never seen the rabbit. But one day  because of a hunter, he must have taken flight, as he never came back. On another day I was by the water fountain when suddenly a fox approached me only about two meters away, but then fled hastily. If I had owned a rifle I would have had several foxes hanging from the roof of my house.  – He spoke with total tranquility – But more than animals I like geology and poetry. I like the Jesuit poet Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ more than Gabriela Mistral. I have tried to read Pablo Neruda, but my Spanish does not enable it. I read “Condorito” [little condor] but I thought it was another comic magazine, and he pointed out one that was on the table … it is far better because the author reveals a great knowledge of the psychology of contemporary man. But of course more than poetry I am interested in Sacred Scripture. I studied it for three years at the Biblical Institute and one year at the Angelicum in Rome. I taught it for four years at the monastery of my country of origin, until I decided to become a hermit. Then, I came, to this country, because my monastery had made a monastic foundation here.

I believe that the eremitical life has great prospects in the future. I think, also, that, relatively, there are many people in monasteries who feel the desire to live as hermits. Sometimes you cannot pray, think and live without some tensions in a monasteries. When one wishes to become a hermit, he often has to ignore the unpropitious opinions of some of the brothers regarding it; As for me, I think they are happy with my choice now. – Are you asking me about the conditions to be a hermit? Good. A great desire to live with God with a greater intensity than in ordinary life. With prayers that are not only implicit but explicit. I would say that it is a specialisation in prayer. For this I believe that the methods of prayer used by the oriental religions can be of use. And, of course, a very healthy psychological life. Look, mankind usually works and sees the fruits of his labours, but the hermit arrives before God with empty hands. It is a life of faith and love. Regarding what most attracts me to the Gospel, I will tell you that it is the Sermon of the Last Supper by Saint John. Where Jesus calls his disciples his friends. Then, smiling, he added: The Council speaks of servants, but Jesus speaks of friends. At that moment of the conversation, he bent down and took a broom from a corner and began to sweep the ashes off the fire. It is necessary that in the Church there are men who apparently do not do anything useful, he continued. Men who are not involved in the activities that the Church runs. You ask me about prayer! I have no secrets in prayer, I pray like every Christian. I really like the book “Spiritual Letters” by Dom John Chapman, an English Benedictine.

monaci_02

It seems to me that the difference in my prayer compared to that of other Christians is that with objectivity I commit more time to prayer, although subjectively a Christian in the world can pray just as I do. – The changes in the Church? The eremitical life is separate from the changes in the Church. It is essentially the same as in the Middle Ages or at its beginnings. I receive a magazines that informs me what is happening in the Church and in the world. There is a great change and many people are confused. I pray that people have light in the midst of current problems. Now, I consider it necessary for every Christian to know what is happening in the Church and in the world; I also consider it a necessity for the hermit, although I do not think it is necessary for him to dedicate himself to finding solutions to the problems. In my prayer I am very aware of the priests, because I know of the problems the current priesthood has and I have also known some difficult cases first hand. It is true that there is a tradition in the Church that considers monastic life as an angelic life, but today it seems necessary for monks to know all about these problems. As for the most important thing in the renewal of religious life, it seems to me, that it has to rediscover the evangelical spirit that encouraged the founder and for that spirit to adapt to the 20th century … of course this is a little vague! I believe that the eremitical life has the possibility of joining God almost in the same manner of angels, without the noises of monasteries and their distractions. Saying this, he got up, took a crude fly swatter that had a piece of rubber tied at the end, homemade, of course, and killed some flies that were on the glass. Who knows from where they entered, since the door and the window were closed. As he sat down again he told me: Flies are the only animals that distract me.

I thought it was time to end the visit and I told him so. Then he apologised if he had been unable to say more. Excuse me, too, if I did not say many things, he added. And finishing his apology, he told me, almost softly: There are other more intelligent hermits, like Father X, and Father Z., who can say things far more profound than I can.

He opened the door of the hermitage, took the pot and we went outside. After a few meters he bent down and began to clean it with water and ash. In Spring this place is very beautiful! It’s all green and parturient cows come here. Every day new calves appear that the cows are giving birth to. When I say goodbye to him, he tells me that he will pray for me and asks me to pray for him. He turned his back on me and returned quietly to his hermitage, as if nothing had happened. I started the return. It was 3 in the afternoon. The clouds had passed by. The sun filled everything again.

ritorna al lavoro

While walking I began to reflect. Evidently he was a very simple man, who loved and liked life; a normal man; neither shy nor extroverted; that loved and sought loneliness. He was not a thinker, he was not an intellectual light, but he was a man who prayed and a man of great common sense and discretion; I remembered that phrase he had told me: I do not have solutions for current problems, nor am I sufficiently informed to issue a categorical answer on problems such as the Vietnam War, the Humanae Vitae, etc. Do your people have an authoritative opinion about Humanae Vitae? I wonder. To make a judgment you must inform yourself first. I know the problems, but before them, I prefer to pray.

His simple way of speaking did not remember the charismatic fire of the Old Testament prophets or the one that one imagines would have existed in some great saints of history. No, none of that; I had met a man in whom the spectacular was not glimpsed. With a man of flesh and bone, with limitations just like every man. With a man whom the Spirit had led to solitude to live peacefully with God praying for his brothers men. The life of faith and love in him was a simple life. To penetrate his life, in the life of the Spirit of Jesus, it had to be done in faith and in love.

A pilgrim.

Seventeen Centuries Of Monastic life.

In 269 a young Egyptian takes the advice that Jesus gives a rich man in the Gospel: “If you want to be perfect, sell everything you have … Then come and follow me” (Matthew 19: 21-22). Antony distributes all his goods to the poor and will live as a hermit in the desert of Thebaid, on the eastern bank of the Nile.

St. Antony retreats into the desert.

In 269 a young Egyptian takes the advice that Jesus gives a rich man in the Gospel: “If you want to be perfect, sell everything you have … Then come and follow me” (Matthew 19: 21-22). Antony distributes all his goods to the poor and will live as a hermit in the desert of Thebaid, on the eastern bank of the Nile.

Athanasius, a bishop of Alexandria, will tell us of his life some time later. It traces the portrait of a solitary recluse, a prayerful prodigy who self-inflicts trials to enable him to resist the temptations of the devil.

St. Anthony incarnates the emergent figure of the hermit in the history of Christianity. He is considered the “father” of the anchorites (from the Greek anakhôrein, “to retire”).

In the partially evangelised East of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there were already men and women who had chosen to live the radical teachings of the Gospel message, as was the case with “consecrated virgins”, who vowed celibacy and poverty. But these faithful did not leave their communities of origin.

The hermits, on the other hand, are expatriated to dedicate themselves only to God, in isolation and in their despotism. They spread during the second half of the fourth century in Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia and above all in Egypt.

This phenomenon is contemporaneous with the change of status of the Christian in the Roman Empire: persecuted during the first three centuries of our era, they are suddenly tolerated in 313, due to the recognition of the religious freedom granted them by the edict of Milan; and in 337 is legitimised through the conversion of the emperor Constantine.

With the end of the persecutions, the spirituality of martyrdom (from the Greek martus, “witness”) no longer means the apogee of Christian witness. He is replaced by a monastic spirituality which presents the monk’s solitary experience as a martyrdom, no longer of blood but spiritual: a battle against evil and a path of evangelical perfection, that is, based on the gospels.

The legitimisation of the Christian religion has two other consequences: on the one hand, the influence of the imperial hierarchical model on the local Churches, which concentrate power in the hands of the bishops; on the other hand, the relaxation of the piety of the faithful, who cease to feel threatened.

Many Christians fond of their inner freedom and taken by the absolute refusal of this lukewarmness they were forced to lived. Therefore they retire to the desert to live continually in prayer and penance. Saint Anthony would be our role model. His charism will attract pilgrims and disciples until his death, at the age of 105.

Pictorial inspiration

The temptations to which St. Anthony was subjected inspired many artists. One of the most remarkable representations is that of the surrealist Salvador Dali (1904-1989). Held in 1946, after World War II, it reflects the mystical period of the author.

“His” Anthony, naked, wields a cross against a gigantic, a horse standing on its hind legs, symbolising a power that has become insane. Behind, in a scene of nuclear apocalypse, elephants with spider legs carry on the backs the temptations of lust and greed.

The Catholic Church memorialises the abbot and Father of all Monks Saint Anthony on January 17.

CENOBITIC BEGINNINGS: THE PACHOMIAN MONASTIC EXPERIENCE

Taken from the study notes prepared for the Novices by the Ven. Fr. Dom Ugo Ginex ESB in March 1989 and edited by Brother Pablo di San Martin.

God be Praised.

Christian monasticism began in the Egyptian deserts. In Lower Egypt a semi – eremitical monasticism flourished while Upper Egypt saw the growth of a more cenobitic form under the leadership of Pachomius. It is my experience that the literature that witnesses to these forms of monastic life deserves our attention today. In this paper I hope to share something I have tasted or glimpsed. It is not the product of a thorough and organised study; I am in no way an expert. But I do believe that their tradition is ours, and to meet them is to know ourselves better.

Taken from the study notes prepared for the Novices by the Ven. Fr. Dom Ugo Ginex ESB in March 1989 and edited by Brother Pablo di San Martin.

God be Praised.

Christian monasticism began in the Egyptian deserts. In Lower Egypt a semi-eremitical monasticism flourished while Upper Egypt saw the growth of a more cenobitic form under the leadership of Pachomius. It is my experience that the literature that witnesses to these forms of monastic life deserves our attention today. In this paper I hope to share something I have tasted or glimpsed. It is not the product of a thorough and organised study; I am in no way an expert.[1] But I do believe that their tradition is ours, and to meet them is to know ourselves better.

The literature of Pachomian monasticism[2] is quite primitive, by our standards of literary sophistication, and in some ways it is similar to the style of the New Testament, particularly the Synoptic Gospels. This is true not only of the literary style which tends to be associative in its construction, but of its purpose as well, which is to invite the next generation into the experience of those who are writing, the experience of being transformed by the Spirit, by the Gospel. The purpose of the writings is not information but formation and transformation. When we go to these records of the past we go to enter into their experience of the Spirit so we can discover and live more consciously our own experience, for there is but one Spirit.

Pachomian monasticism presents us with perhaps the earliest model, of which we have record, of monks coming together, not around the abba for spiritual formation, but together to seek God in community. In this Pachomius gave concrete expression to a form of monastic life which had gradually been evolving, an expression of the evangelical value of community, where the primary relationships of the monks are with one another. These two models, on the one hand, the monks gathered about the spiritual father and on the other, the monks who have come together to form a community,[3] at this early stage in monastic history had this essential difference: the young monks who grouped themselves about the spiritual father came to learn to be monks, so that having been formed by the abba they could leave him to live as monks on their own. This eventually gave rise to a cenobitic form of monasticism, but one in which each monk’s relationship with the spiritual father was primary. Pachomius, however, took the Jerusalem community of Acts 2 and 4 as the model for community. Those who came to him came not for a time, but they gave the whole of their lives and all that they had to seek God in common, and to love and serve one another, as they saw that these are inextricably bound together for those who seek to live the Gospel.[4] The essential aspect of Pachomian life was κοινωνία [koinonia], unity in love. In this especially, Carthusian monasticism can look to Pachomian monasticism, for we, as they, have come together to seek God in community, and to love and serve one another. The opening chapter of the Rule of St. Augustine emphasizes the goal of unity in love.

  1.  Before all else, beloved, love God and then your neighbor, for these are the chief commandments given to us. (cf. Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34)
  2. The following are the precepts we order you living in the monastery to observe.
  3. The main purpose for your having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God, with one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32).[5]

Pachomius’ great charism was to be the center of a community, to teach monks to love and serve one another; but like most of us he learned through trial and error.

The Coptic Lives[6] report that when his first group of followers joined him, he understood that the will of God for him was to serve the others. So he took the burden of all the practical necessities upon himself and freed the others to study the Scriptures. Pachomius, through the whole of his life, was one to be very patient with the newcomer and there are many examples of how he would not demand something of a young monk, even though it was something quite important, until he could see the monk was ready to meet the demand. His patience in this initial venture lasted something like five years. When he saw that his monks were not maturing as monks he, after a night in prayer, drew up three rules: common prayer, common meals and common work. They refused and he expelled them. The second time young monks joined him, he was more conscious of their spiritual formation and made these demands at once.

From the beginning of their lives together, Pachomius consciously set about teaching the monks to love and serve one another, arid established a community wherein each monk had the responsibility of serving the rest in a specific capacity.[7]  The first member of the Pachomian community, however, was always God. This is everywhere in the writings, and on his deathbed the Life has Pachomius say, “I am going to the Lord who has created us and brought us together.”[8]

The Pachomian monks understood well that their lives were part of a continuing history.  This history began when God first spoke to the human race and one of its members responded; since that moment the dialogue has never stopped. Just as the Word of God was the source of Abraham’s life of faith, the Word of God was the source of their own lives and faith. They express this clearly when, in the Prologue to The Life of Pachomius, they locate monastic life within the whole of salvation history. It is a response to the creative Word of God and results from the fervor of the Church, especially of the martyrs.

True is the Word of God, who made all things, the Word that came to our father Abraham, in order to show him his favour, concerning the sacrifice of God’s only son.  The Lord said, “Truly I will bless you and multiply you as the stars of heaven in multitude;” and again “Because in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”  For this Word, speaking after Moses his servant and the other prophets, appeared as man and as Abraham’s seed, and fulfilled the promise of blessing to all the nations, saying to his disciples, “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And, as the gospel spread throughout the earth by divine assent and with proof of his faithfulness, pagan kings stirred up a great persecution against the Christians everywhere.  Because many martyrs along with Peter, the archbishop of Alexandria, through many and sundry tortures were crowned with a victorious death, the Christian faith gained much ground and was strengthened in every land and every island throughout all the churches.  As a result monasteries started coming into being and places for ascetics who prided themselves in their chastity and the renunciation of their possessions. When monks who were former pagans saw the struggles and the patience of the martyrs, they started a new life.  Of them it was said, “Destitute, afflicted, ill treated, wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”  Thus they found retreats with proper piety and a harder regimen, holding before their eyes day and night not only the crucified Christ, but also the martyrs whom they had seen struggle so much.[9]

The Life also presents Pachomius himself, and therefore the monks who joined him, as part of an ongoing tradition, begun in the Old Testament and continued in the New.

The life of our truly virtuous and most ascetic father Anthony was like that of the great Elijah and Elisha and of John the Baptist.  The most holy archbishop Athanasius gives as much written evidence about him after his death, and at the same time states that the behaviour of our holy father Amoun, the chief abbot of the brothers on Mount Nitria, and of Theodore, his companion, was the same. And we know that, since grace poured from the lips of the Blessed one who blesses all – for he visited the earth, and instead of filling it with grief and sighs, he infused it with an intoxicating spirit – throughout the country from among those who took to monastic life many became admirable fathers, as has already been said, and their names are in the book of the living. In Egypt and in the Thebaid not many had turned to the monastic life up to the time of the persecutions by Diocletian and Maximian, but after that, the bishops led people to God according to the teachings of the apostles and the repentance of the nations yielded a rich harvest. There was a man name Pachomius, born of pagan parents in the Thebaid, who, having received great mercy, became a Christian. He made progress and achieved perfection as a monk. It is necessary to recount his life from childhood on to the glory of God, who calls everyone from everywhere to his wondrous light.[10] 

Because of the primitive style of the Pachomian Literature and its fairly unsystematic development, much of the wisdom it contains is perhaps less accessible to us than it would be if it were arranged in accord with the patterns of our Western logic. Of course, the price of this logic would be the beautiful simplicity that is everywhere in the writings.  When I first read The Life of Pachomius , though I was quite taken with the charm of the work, I wasn’t sure anything relevant or unified would emerge. For this reason I would like to suggest an approach which I believe can be quite helpful in getting closer to the heart of Pachomian monastic life.  If we choose a specific topic, such as common life, ascesis, prayer, leadership, obedience or poverty and read through the Pachomian works in search of what each has to say about, or how it presents or understands whatever is being considered, and do the same for another topic on the above list, very soon we can see how all aspects of their monastic life are complementary and support its single aim solidly and practically.  Also by noticing how the Rules are lived out in incidents related in the Life, we see how the strict or even harsh sounding rules actually were applied in genuinely human and loving ways.[11]  In the remaining section of this paper, in a modified way, I hope to illustrate this method with examples from the Pachomian sources.

In the Life , it says of Pachomius, “When he started reading or reciting God’s words by heart, he did not do it in the fashion of many other people, but he strove to comprehend inside himself each and every thing through humility and gentleness and truth, according to the Lord’s word, ‘Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart.'”[12]  This paragraph can be taken as a paradigm of the Pachomian approach to the Scriptures and to prayer.

Pachomius and his monks shared the dynamic concept of the Word of God of the ancient Hebrew.  They believed that it effected what it asserted, and they desired to be transformed by this living Word.  The Word of God, they understood, had been planted in their hearts at baptism; when they read the Scriptures, they read to uncover the Word which had been hidden there.[13]  Pachomius’ way, as shown above, is also the way given in the Scriptures. If the Lord said, “Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart,” then Pachomius, even in his approach to the Scriptures and to the Lord, will make every effort to be humble and gentle and true.  Lastly, the paragraph refers to reciting the Scriptures.  Meditation for the Pachomian monk was reciting the Scriptures he had memorised.  The incoming novice committed to memory at least the Psalter and the New Testament.[14]  Pachomius taught the unlettered Copts to read precisely so they could read and memorise the Scriptures.[15]

It is hard to separate the Pachomian concept of Scripture from their concept of prayer, for there was little or no difference.  The one was the other.  Meditation on Scripture actually meant reciting memorised passages not just with the lips and mind, “but with attention of the heart as well.  The monks memorised the Scriptures in pericopes which they called “by hearts.”  (This phrase, “by hearts,” eventually became a technical term so that they will describe their night office as consisting of “six by hearts.”)[16]  Prayer to the Pachomian monk was the continual recitation of Scripture.  His way of fulfilling the New Testament mandate, “Pray always,” was very simply to recite or meditate Scripture all day and all night, if possible.

So when the monk was at work or on his way to the assembly or to his cell at night, he was to meditate on some text from Scripture which, because of his memory, he had always at hand.  There are many precepts in the Rules which explain this. Here are some examples:

When he hears the sound of the trumpet summoning him to the assembly he is to leave his cell immediately, meditating on something from scripture to the very door of the assembly hall. (3)

The one who hands out sweets to the brothers should meditate on something from the Scripture as he does so. (37)

When the assembly is dismissed, all leaving for their cells or for the refectory shall meditate on something from Scripture. (28)

(On leaving the monastery for work) . . . they shall not speak together, but each one shall meditate on something from Scripture. (59)

Perhaps the most developed expression of this is found in The Book of Our Father Horsiesi who is exhorting a community which had lost its fervor to return to the way Pachomius had given them:

Let us cultivate the reading and the learning of the Scripture, and let us always be employed in pondering on them, knowing that it is written: From the fruit of his mouth a man will be filled, and the wages of his labour is returned.  These are the things that lead us to eternal life, which our father Pachomius handed down to us and commanded to be meditated upon perpetually in order that what is written may be completed in us:  These will be the words which I give you today into your hearts and into your minds. . . . Consider with how many testimonies the word of the Lord exhorts us to meditate on the sacred scriptures, that by faith, we may possess what we say. . . . Timothy too, while still a boy was learned in sacred letters so that he arrived at faith of the Lord and Saviour by way of them. . . . (51)

The Word of God in the Scriptures is given so that we may uncover the Word God has spoken in our hearts in baptism. Prayer or reciting the words of Sacred Scriptures is the way to the Word in our heart. Likewise, ascesis was seen in its relation to what God has already done in baptism, for all the fruits of the Spirit are given to us in this sacrament.[17].  Ascesis is the cultivation of these fruits; ascesis is a means to uncovering the Word in our hearts.  In his Catechesis Concerning a Spiteful Monk, Pachomius writes:

My son, flee concupiscence.  It beclouds the Spirit and prevents it from getting to know the secrets of God.  It makes you foreign to the language of the Spirit and prevents you from carrying the cross of Christ.  It does not permit the heart to be attentive to honouring God.

It is precisely in the fight against concupiscence, or anything which distracts the attention of the heart from God, that ascesis has its place.  Thus ascesis is always an act of love which has its source in God’s love.

Perhaps here we can examine a few of the Pachomian statements on the asceticism of silence.  In speaking of prayer we already mentioned one (see rule 59 above).  There are others:

Those at work shall speak of nothing secular; they shall either meditate on holy things, or for that matter, keep silence. (60)

As for the bakery: no one may speak during the evening kneading, nor in the morning, those who are busy with the baking or with the boards; but they shall recite together until they have finished.  If they need anything they shall not speak, but shall rap sensibly. (ll6)

While they are sitting at home they are not permitted to engage in secular talk; but if the housemaster has taught something from Scripture they ought, on the other hand, to ruminate on it among themselves, relating what they have heard, or what they can remember. (122)

It is true that not every rule that mentions silence explicitly orients the silence to the Word of God, but most do; it is quite evident that in Pachomian life the ascesis of silence was seen as a main support for meditation on the Scriptures.

The Pachomian understanding of leadership was, in part, that the leader was the one whose responsibility it was to be watchful or vigilant for the spiritual wellbeing of all. Horsiesus addresses the superiors:

All those to whom the care of the brothers has been entrusted will prepare themselves for the coming of the Saviour and his dreadful tribune.  For if to give a report for one’s self is full of danger and fear, how much more painful it will be to answer for the fault of another and to fall into the hands of the living God.

We also have a God given responsibility, the training of the brothers. (10, passim)

Or, looking at it the other way round, Pachomius’ understanding of the superior’s role can also be seen in his advice to the Spiteful Monk:

If you cannot get along alone, join another who is working according to the Gospel of Christ, and you will make progress with him.  Either listen [i.e., to the Word of God], or submit to one who listens, or be strong and be called Elias, or obey the strong and be called Eliseus: for obeying Elias Eliseus received a double portion of Elias’ spirit.

In short the advice is, if you can’t hear the Word of the Lord spoken in the Scripture yourself, go and find a man who can, and then listen to him. The other side of the coin, then, is that one who is a leader has the responsibility of hearing the Word of God for those who have submitted themselves to him.

There is a story by which I hope to tie these elements together.  It is rendered in different translations dating from different periods.  Each edition reflects the viewpoint of its own time, as they altered texts freely in those days to assert what they wanted to say.  Taken together these texts are quite interesting because they show how the aspects of monastic life I have already mentioned, scripture, prayer, ascesis and leadership, serve one another and form a whole.  They also vividly depict evolving concepts of the rule and obedience, and show how it is part of human nature to become alienated in the course of time from its original inspiration.  The original understanding was that obeying the rule was an act of love and that God dwells in the heart of one who loves.  This concept was so pure that it was rapidly lost.[18]

The monks are making bread and chatting as they work, instead of reciting the Scriptures.  Pachomius learns of it and blames Theodore, the monk in charge at the time, severely reprimanding him.  If the monks chat and do not recite the Scriptures, Theodore is responsible and Theodore must do penance.  This is the earliest account.  In the second version, Pachomius still “blames Theodore but asks him why he did not see that the “brothers respect the rule, since the rule is given them for the good of their souls.  The idea of serving the rule usurps the primary place that reciting the Scriptures had held.  In the third account, Pachomius does not “blame Theodore (by the time of this account he has to respect the authority of his assistant) but tells him to teach the brothers that the rule has been given for the good of their souls and they should obey it.[19]  In the latest version, Pachomius asks Theodore whether the brothers realise that when he (Pachomius) gives them a rule, it is God speaking to them through him.  The rule of silence gradually becomes identified with the will of God and its original purpose, to recite the Scriptures, is no longer mentioned.  On paper, at least, their silence has grown empty.

There are many lessons we can draw from this incident and the differing historic interpretations. There is only one, however, that I want to focus on here. It is the understanding and practical insight that is inherent in the earliest account. In it all the elements, the common work, the ascesis of silence, the role of the leader or superior, Theodore, and his responsibility of watchfulness for all, the recitation of the Scriptures, all of these are seen in their relationship to the end of monastic life, the transformation of the monk, by the Word of God, in Christ. In my judgement, it is this evident comprehension of the unity of our life, which they were able to effectively portray and hand down that makes the legacy of Pachomius valid for us today.

Notes

  1. My introduction to Pachomian monasticism came through the tapes of a seminar Father Armand Veilleux, OCSO, gave at Gethsemani Abbey.  The seminar contained three evening lectures to the whole community and six morning lectures given to the seminar participants only.  My notes then will read “tape 1 evening” or “tape 6 morning” according to when the lecture was given.
  2. There are four basic texts in the Pachomian corpus that I refer to.  Unfortunately only one has been published in English to my knowledge.  It is: The life of Pachomius: (vita prima Graeca).  Author:  Apostolos N Athanassakis; Society of Biblical Literature.  Editor:  Missoula, Mont: Published by Scholars Press for the Society of Biblical Literature, ©1975.  There are many extant Lives, from both Coptic and Greek sources.  This first Greek Life or G1, is the only Life available in English.  References to the Coptic Lives in this paper are taken from information that Father Armand Veilleux gives in the seminar and will be noted accordingly. Each paragraph in the Life is numbered and all references to it will be identified in the note or the text by this paragraph number, not the page number.

  3. The other texts of the Pachomian corpus to which I refer, I have seen only in translations that have been made and circulated privately.  There is, however, an edition being prepared by Father Veilleux which I’m currently unable to source, I have though added a link to Father Veilleux’s web page. The texts I cite are:
  4. The Book of Our Father Horsiesi, Sister Mary Charles Walsh, OSB, trans. Horsiesus was a successor to Pachomius after the latter’ s death, and this work is a call to communal conversion during a period of strife and decadence.  Like the Life it is subdivided into numbered sections and my references are to those numbers.

  5. The Rules of St. Pachomius, Dom Amand Boon, ed., Pachomiona latina, Louvain Bureau de la Revue, 1932.  Jerome translated a Greek translation of the Coptic original of the Pachomian Rules into Latin.  The text I use is an English translation of Jerome’s text.  Also extant are fragments of the Coptic Rules. Like the two preceding works each rule is numbered and I cite Jerome’s numeration.

  6. Catechesis Concerning a Spiteful Monk (from Oevres de S. Pachȏme et de ses disciples, Louvain: CSCO l60, Coptic Series No. 24, L. Th. Lefort, translator and editor, 1956).  Written by Pachomius himself, this catechesis was composed not for his own monks but for a monk from outside the community.  The monk was brought to Pachomius because he bore a grudge toward one who “darted a word” at him (tape 6 morning)

  7. 3.  Keating, Thomas, “The Two Streams of Cenobitic Tradition in RSB,” Cistercian Studies XI, 1976:4, pp. 257-68. This article cites the evolution of both forms, complete with appropriate diagrams and mention of Pachomius.

  8. 4.  An example of how much the monks were for one another what the abba was in the semi-eremitical tradition is found in this item from the Rules:  In the morning, in the individual houses, once the prayers have been finished, they shall not return to their own cells, but they shall share among themselves what they have heard the Masters giving out; then they shall go to their cubicles. (19)

  9. 5.  Constitutions of the Nuns of the Sacred Order of Preachers (Polygot Vatican Press, 1930), p. 1.

  10. 6. Tape 2 evening. An altered account of this is in the Life, para. 24-5, 37.

  11. 7. Life, para. 28.

  12. 8. Tape 3 evening.

  13. 9. Para. 1.

  14. 10. Para. 2.

  15. 11. The monks did not eat meat.  Note, however, the following incident from the Life:  There was another brother who was mortally ill and bedridden in a nearby cell.  He requested from the father of the monastery to be fed a small portion of meat — the length of his illness had reduced his body to skin and bones —, and because the meat was not given him, he told one of the brothers, “Support me and take me to our father Pachomius.” When he approached Pachomius, he fell on his face and told him the reason.  Pachomius realised that the man deserved the request, and he sighed.  At meal time Pachomius was served his portion, as were all the other brothers.  He did not eat, but said, “You are respecters of persons.  What has happened to the scripture, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’?  Do you not see that this man is practically dead?  Why did you not take good care of him at all before he made his request?  And you will say, ‘We neglected him, because that sort of food is not customary among us.  ‘But does the disease not make a difference?  Are not all things pure to those who are pure?  And if you were unable to see without my advice that this would be good, why did you not tell me?” Tears came to his eyes, as he was saying these things. For tears are a mark of sensitivity. And even if tears do not come to a man who is sensitive while something is happening, there is such a thing as inner weeping. When they heard these things they hastened to buy the meat in order to feed the enfeebled man. Then Pachomius himself ate the customary boiled vegetable. (53)

  16. 12.  Para. 9.

  17. 13.  Tape 2 morning.  Horsiesi , para. 49, “… Let us follow the odour of wisdom always hiding her words in our hearts.”

  18. 14.  From the Rules:

  19. No one whosoever shall be in the monastery who . . .does not retain something from Scripture: the minimum is the New Testament and the Psalter. (l40)
    If someone comes to the gate of the monastery wishing to renounce the world and be added to the number of the brothers … he shall remain outside for a few days, at the door, and be taught the Lord’s prayer and as many psalms as he can learn. (49)

  20. 15.  Whoever has come into the monastery uninstructed shall first be taught what he must observe, and when so [in]formed, he has agreed to it all, they shall give him twenty psalms, or two of the Apostle’s epistles, or some other part of scripture.  And if he is illiterate he shall, at the first, third and ninth hours go to the teacher so delegated and stand before him; and shall learn with the greatest of eagerness and gratitude.  Afterwards the fundamentals of syllable, verb, and noun shall be written out for him, and even if unwilling he shall be compelled to read. (139)
  21. No one whosoever shall be in the monastery who does not learn to read. . . . (l40)

  22. 16.  Tape 2 morning.

  23. 17.  Tape 2 evening.
  24. 18.  Father Veilleux makes this statement joining obedience, love and God’s indwelling presence on tape 3, evening.   The bread making incident is related in this connection on the same tape.

19.  Life, para. 89