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Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers Paperback – October 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Orbis Books (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570754330
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570754333
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,037,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As a young monk and anthropology student, Gruber impulsively selected his dissertation topic contemporary Coptic monasteries after leafing through a National Geographic article on the Nile. The Copts, whose ancestors go back to the time of the Pharaohs, today comprise about 10% of Egypt's population; most practice an ancient form of Christianity that is distinct from Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Coptic monasteries in the Sahara desert became the topic of Gruber's year-long field study and a lifelong focus of personal and professional interest. More than a decade after his year in the desert, he began consulting his notes, letters, interviews and memories in order to create this memoir, whose form is part spiritual journal, part travelogue. It does not entirely succeed in either category. As a spiritual journal, it is distressingly exterior: Gruber reproduces long theological conversations with fellow monks, supplies interesting facts about liturgy and monastic daily life and composes formal prayers, but gives little sense of the interior struggles he must have endured if the year was as transformational as he claims. As a travelogue, his account needs updating; the events depicted took place in 1986-1987, and Gruber nowhere ties them to current Middle Eastern realities. Nevertheless, he tells good stories, like the one about the miracle he inadvertently performed while waiting for a Marian apparition. And who could forget the singing octogenarian who hiked up a mountain with him the week the mercury hit 130 and the thermometers exploded?
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Mark Gruber, O.S.B., is a Benedictine monk and an associate professor of anthropology at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

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Customer Reviews

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If I didn't have to, I think I would have read it straight through.
Mark
As a student of Father Mark Gruber O.S.B. at Saint Vincent College, I heard much about how he studied in Egypt for his doctoral dissertation.
Matthew K. Minerd
This book is great if you enjoy stories regarding exotic lands and peoples, and an honest telling of their journey.
Mr. Albert Osseily

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Peg Waldmann on November 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Father Mark Gruber, a Benedictine monk of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, came to Stony Brook University in the early 80s to study for his doctor of philosophy in anthropology.In his second year of study at Stony Brook, Father Gruber enrolled in a dissertation methodology class in order to hasten his degree program. Much to his astonishment, on the first day of class the professor announced that if students did not have dissertation topics, a compiled bibliography and completed research, they should not be in the class. When asked for his topic, Gruber responded, without thinking and knowing almost nothing about the topic, "Egypt. I shall investigate the Coptic people of Egypt." And thus, he began his study of the desert monasteries of the Coptic monks in Egypt, which would culminate in a year-long ethnographic fieldwork in Egypt.
Now, many years since his doctoral work was completed at Stony Brook University, Gruber has written a journal of his experiences as a student of anthropology and a Benedictine monk in a world in which the secular and spiritual are deeply intertwined. The book, Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times among the Desert Fathers (Orbis: New York, 2002), offers readers an insight into the daily lives of the Coptic monks, Coptic Christians and the world in which they live, a world which is largely Arab and Islamic. It is an affectionate portrait, full of profound respect for the Coptic church.
Father Gruber's journal of his year with the Copts cannot be called a travelogue of the trials and tribulations of a young American student in Egypt. Throughout his day-to-day activities and frustrations lies a deeper insight into the people of a world in which all things are influenced by the spiritual.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Matthew K. Minerd on November 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
As a student of Father Mark Gruber O.S.B. at Saint Vincent College, I heard much about how he studied in Egypt for his doctoral dissertation. In due time, while browsing the shelves in the gift shop for the Basillica at the College, I found this book on the shelf. Having heard many good reviews of it from others, I decided to purchase it. Indeed, it was by far a most excellent purchase.
This narrative details the events of his life while he lived among the Coptic monks ov Egypt for a year doing research for his doctoral dissertation in Anthropology. However, this is by far more than a story of just his life. It is a story of grace, faith, and coming to know God more through our world. Through all of his experiences in Egypt, Father Gruber's faith was strengthened. The Copts, contemplating God and loving him whole-heartedly, taught Father Gruber not only about their customs and theology but also showed him a living example of true faith in God.
Father Gruber stresses at end of the work how important his time in Egypt was to him. What he gained is not only visible in his personal life. Indeed, as I said above, I have experienced him as a professor. After reading this book, I have realized that many of his lectures in my Biblical Archaeology (Anthropology) class come from lessons he learned from the Copts in Egypt.
In the end, this "spiritual journal" brings to Americans the rich spirituality of the Coptic monks in Egypt. This is by far an excellent book for anyone who wishes to view our Christian faith from a wise, monastic perspective and to be challenged to live out our faith in God more fully.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Strong Poet on June 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
I don't know which was more interesting, the author's anthropological observations or his spiritual journey. Both fascinating and enlightening. Originally, Br. Gruber sets out to study the fathers of monasticism with a scholar's eye (albeit a fellow Monk-scholar), but the desert and those who live there transform him eternally.

This book is a fresh drink of water! Here are my favorite passages:

"In all of this," Abuna Elia said, "the desert was a teacher for Abraham. The desert teaches us how helpless we are, how much we depend upon one another for survival. It is with a complete sense of dependence, a complete sense of helplessness that we must approach God, and that we must approach one another in terms of possessiveness and control."

"By complete openness and availability to one another, we are obedient to each other in matters of charity. We are at each other's service.... But at the same time... our relationships must be ordered by a surrender, a letting go, a sacrifice. We own no one; we possess no one."

"Abuna Elia assured me that the sacrifices we make in our lives as Monks, as Christians, will always be enfolded in layer upon layer of the sacrifices that went before us."

"Abuna Elia said, 'When God asks us to make heroic sacrifices, it is not because he is heedless of what we are giving up; he is profoundly aware of it. When we are offering gifts to God, we are not really offering much, unless, at the same time, we are also submitting all those things that are valuable to us. We must submit to God's will everything which is dearest to us, that which is our only one of something, that which we love, that which is even beyond our ordinary capacity to imagine losing.
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