The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection
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The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection [Paperback]

Benedicta Ward , Metropolitan Anthony
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The fourth-century ascetic flight to the desert indelibly marked Christianity. The faithful who did not embrace the austerity of the desert admired those who did and sought them out for counsel and consolation. The 'words' the monks gave were collected and passed around among those too far away or too feeble to make the trek themselves - or lived generations later. Previously available only in fragments, these Sayings of the Desert Fathers are now accessible in its entirety in English for the first time. We have a great deal to learn from their integrity and their unrelenting courage, from their vision of Cod - so Holy, so great, possessed of such a love, that nothing less than one's whole being could respond to it. These were men and women who had reached a humility of which we have no idea, because it is not rooted in an hypocritical or contrived depreciation of self, but in the vision of God, and a humbling experience of being so loved. They were ascetics, ruthless to themselves, yet so human, so immensely compassionate not only to the needs of men but also to their frailty and their sins; men and women wrapped in a depth of inner silence of which we have no idea and who taught by 'Being', not by speech: 'If a man cannot understand my silence, he will never understand my words.' If we wish to understand the sayings of the Fathers, let us approach them with veneration, silencing our judgments and our own thoughts in order to meet them on their own ground and perhaps to partake ultimately - if we prove able to emulate their earnestness in the search, their ruthless determination, their infinite compassion—in their own silent communion with God.

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Editorial Reviews


. . . the only English translation of the most complete version of the Apophthegmata Patrum, a compilation of sayings from the desert monks of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine in the fourth to sixth century, likely to be widely read and enjoyed for their own sake.

A delightful insight into the lives of ascetics who left all to follow Christ . . . a very readable translation of an important collection of sayings.
Sisters Today

. . . should be on the shelf of every library concentrating in spirituality.

About the Author

Benedicta Ward is Reader in the History of Christian Spirituality in the University of Oxford. Her most recent book is Anselm of Canterbury: His Life and Legacy (SPCK 2009). She is a member of the Anglican monastic community of the Sisters of the Love of God.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 269 pages
  • Publisher: Liturgical Press; Revised edition (1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879079592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879079598
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
126 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars few better places to start on desert monasticism January 17, 2007
For thirty years now Sister Benedicta Ward's translation of the sayings of 131 of the earliest monastics has served as an indispensable text for English speakers. In addition to her brief foreword and short biographical introductions (when they are known), the book includes simple maps on the inside front and back covers, a short glossary of terms, a chronological table of key events in the development of desert monasticism, a bibliography that is all too short and badly dated, and then two indices of key concepts, people and places. The sayings themselves stand alone without commentary. For contemporary extrapolations one can turn to the fine books by Archbishop Rowan Williams (Where God Happens, 2005) and John Chryssavgis (In the Heart of the Desert, 2003). For more complete primary resources, see the two works by John Cassian (360-435), Institutes and Conferences (900-plus pages), in which Cassian relates what he learned from and about the earliest monastics.

Beginning in the third century, three monastic experiments emerged in Egypt. St. Anthony (251-356), an uneducated Copt, is generally hailed as the father of the hermit monasticism centered in lower Egypt. Thanks to The Life of Saint Anthony by Athanasius, we know as much or more about Anthony than any other of the early ascetics. Other monks cooperated and collaborated in "cenobitic" monasticism. Pachomius (290-347) is generally credited with instigating this communal form of flight to the desert. Finally, in Nitria and Scetis small groups of monks lived near one another under the direction of an elder or "abba." In addition to Egypt, desert monasticism flourished in Syria, Asia Minor and in Palestine.

It's easy to dismiss the eccentricities of a Simon the Stylite (d.
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93 of 96 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Collection Of Early Christian Wisdom December 27, 2003
I first became interested in the writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers after reading some of the writings of Kathleen Norris. As a Benedictine Oblate, she discovered this rich and varied writing and incorporated parts of their wisdom into her own writings. When I came across THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, translated by an Anglican nun, Sr. Benedicta Ward, I read it and saw why the writings intrigued people such as Norris and others such as Thomas Merton. The writings included in this work were written by people who fled to the desert to become examples of holiness. Some of their writings were recorded and reveal much about the human condition. Their joys and struggles in such an austere life are the foundation of this book. Other writings can be somewhat difficult to understand in our day and age, but these writings still prove interesting.
The book is organized by individual "Abbas" in alphabetical order (Greek alphabetical order, that is). The sayings are numbered and readers should probably read the sayings individually rather than as a biography. I have found that reading them in conjunction with prayer is helpful. I will usually read the various passages until one sticks with me and leads to reflection. The words can have a certain power to them that can both challenge and encourage a reader. Some sayings may say nothing to a reader, but eventually one will stumble upon something that captures one's attention.
Modern readers will find the wisdom of these ancient Christians thought provoking. Readers get little tidbits about early Christianity and see how many of the challenges to the spiritual life are anything but new. Readers will want to keep certain things in mind when reading this volume. The writers were not writing for a twenty-first century audience.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible, Succint, Sublime September 26, 2002
By A Customer
If you enjoy religious mysticism but don't feel a great need to sweat in order to understand it, if you are looking for a piece of beauty and simplicity in this world, if you wnat to know in a straightforward manner, how to rise above: this is the book for you. Accessible, succint, sublime.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent spiritual reading April 4, 2001
By A Customer
Having read this book when it was first published, I find I continue to return to it over and over again for my own prayer and reading and as a book I suggest to others. The simple stories and sayings have a wonderful depth and we can see these ancients committed to simplicity, prayer, and a life of being non-judgmental, hospitable and loving. Excellent.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection, Translated, with a foreword by Benedicta Ward, SLG, Preface by Metropolitan Anthony (Kalamazoo, Cistercian Publications, 1975)
The monks we hear in this book are the first exemplars of what would become monastic life. They are also the model for innumerable parodies of `wise old men on the mountain', most familiar from the recurring character in the Ziggy© cartoons in our daily and Sunday comic sections. The original motivation for these hermits, living primarily in the semi-desert climates of Egypt and Syria, was to escape the intermittent persecutions of Christians by Rome and the local populations, up to the Emperor Constantine's proclamation of religious tolerance throughout the empire in 313 CE. In this book, we discover several things which run against the modern stereotype.
There were at least three different types of 'solitary monks' in the Egyptian desert. The most famous prototype of the hermit life in lower Egypt was St. Anthony the Great, a Copt (in antiquity, a word meaning Egyptian. In modern usage, and Egyptian Christian) and an unlettered layman. He began his hermit life about 269 CE, and had many disciples and imitators.
The second style of desert monk was the cenobite, the same term St. Benedict uses to describe followers of his rule. These lived in a less remote part of Egypt, where groups of monks gathered around a spiritual father and performed communal work and prayer. The leader of this group, and the monk generally credited with founding coenobitic monasticism was St. Pachomius, who lived ca. 290-347 CE. The early style had no formal rule and no spiritual father. It may have been similar to 1960s counter-cultural communities. Both rebelled against established values and `persecution'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it! Give this book a try if you ...
I love it! Give this book a try if you always wanted to read about the Desert Fathers.
Published 1 day ago by suikojay
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is the finest work available on this subject
This book is the finest work available on this subject. Benedicta Ward goes right to the heart of the lives and extraordinarily simple revelations of these ancient holy teachers.
Published 1 month ago by dianne benedict
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It will be a plus to my furthering education.
Published 1 month ago by Snafu
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Another gem from the desert!
Published 2 months ago by Pilar Deblinger
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A good self-study/meditation source during Great Lent.
Published 2 months ago by Brad
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by David Rueppel
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Really enjoyed the book. The Desert Fathers are not what you expect...nuff' said.
Published 3 months ago by Robert H.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Interesting book. Can be read per section of Father described.
Published 4 months ago by J. Breckenridge
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 5 months ago by John Gallagher
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Wisdom of Neat, Old Ascetic Monks
Easy to read since the book is broken up into over 100 sections, one for each of the fathers (a few mothers also). I plan to enjoy many of these elders for a long time. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Angela Miller
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