The Prerequisite for Love

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2014 by citydesert

“What does it take to love?
First and foremost, argues Roberta C. Bondi in her book, “To Love as God Loves”, it requires humility. But this is perhaps one of the most misunderstood virtues, and so she provides some thoughts on the subject for us from the teachings of the fourth century saints who took to the desert to seek from God hearts of genuine love.
The cultures of the world are, by and large, loveless. This was the case when men and women fled to the wilderness to try and break the hold of various love-destroying externals on their lives. They recognized that lack of love is more than an external problem. But as Bondi writes, “Those who chose the monastic life, however, believed that for themselves only radical renunciation of the external as well as the internal patterns of their culture could put them in a position where they would be able to begin to love.”
We might criticize their choices and view the lives they chose as needlessly separate from the daily challenges to love that a majority of believers must face in their ordinary callings. Yet their extraordinary quests yielded insights into the human heart and relationships that have stood the test of time. In the laboratory of the desert they made discoveries we are still benefiting from today.
When Abba Macarius was returning from the marsh to his cell one day carrying some palm-leaves, he met the devil on the road with a scythe. The [devil] struck at him as much as he pleased, but in vain, and he said to him, “What is your power, Macarius, that makes me powerless against you? All that you do, I do, too; you fast, so do I; you keep vigil, and I do not sleep at all; in one thing only do you beat me.” Abba Macarius asked what that was. He said, “Your humility. Because of that I can do nothing against you.” (from “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers”, Ward)
Anyone disciplined enough can practice renunciation and participate in rigorous devotional exercises. According to this saying, even the evil one can imitate such asceticism. What the devil cannot achieve is humility, the attitude of heart that frees us up to show genuine love to others.
At its root, humility is the mindset of acknowledging my humanity, my common standing with all other people as a limited, weak, imperfect, and sinful person. Under God. I need God’s grace just as do all my brothers and sisters. I need others as well. “We are all vulnerable, all limited, and we each have a different struggle only God is in a position to judge,” Bondi affirms. I am no better than anyone else, nor do I take on a false humility, imagining that I am lower than others. I also have gifts which God has bestowed upon me that I may share with others. My neighbor also has much to offer me.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3, NRSV)
We are all in this together. We can look at each other, eye to eye, and know that we are free to both give and receive in a relationship of mutual benefit.
However, warped ideas of humility abound. Bondi notes that these false understandings have been especially hurtful to women, minorities, and others deemed to be on the lower rungs of society. People in these positions may hear a call to humility as a further call to submit to oppression and another blow to whatever self-esteem they’ve fought to maintain. The exhortations they have heard to humbly submit, serve, and obey have often meant “accept an inferior position,” “give up your self and all your personal desires to serve others,” or “accept injustice and cruelty as your lot in life and don’t try to change things.” Genuine love that grows out of humility is not “selfless” in this way; in fact, it requires someone with a strong sense of self and appreciation for God’s grace and gifting. As Bondi says: “One reason the monastics left ordinary life in their own culture was that they were trying to establish a new model where everyone was on the same footing, where loving service was the model for everybody.”
We must also beware of other kinds of false humility. Sometimes we feign a humble demeanor in order to manipulate others. Bondi calls this the “you take the good chair” approach. Or, we may think that being humble involves going around feeling guilty all the time. That’s not humility, that’s self-punishment. Instead of acknowledging our guilt, repenting, and moving on, we cling to a self-absorbed penance that paralyzes us and keeps us from being sensitive to the needs of others. On the other hand — and this was a particular temptation for novice monks and nuns — we sometimes feel responsible to be heroes and to take on heroic tasks. In fact, this may paralyze us just as much a feeling guilty. Daydreaming about all the great things we can do to save the world easily becomes a mind game that keeps us from washing our neighbor’s feet.
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Beginners in the desert had to learn to be humble, that is, to abandon the heroic image of the self and learn to believe that all human beings, themselves included, were weak and vulnerable. They needed to learn instead to take up appropriate tasks, and appropriate tasks for weak and vulnerable human beings are ones that can actually be performed. They had to learn to accept it as true that all tasks contribute to the final goal, and the small ones are often of infinite significance.
Christians who are especially scrupulous may also avoid the humility that leads to genuine love by focusing so much on their own holiness that they confuse ends with means. The goal is always love. If my pursuit of “discipleship,” “Christian growth,” or personal purity does not contribute to that end, in Paul’s words, it is nothing. This gets especially dangerous when, in my quest to be “above reproach,” I start thinking more and more about my reputation, what other people think of me. It can be a subtle transition but soon my need to look good takes priority over truly giving myself to serve others.
It is a short step from there to the attitude that is most devastating to humility: the spirit of judging others. Bondi cites a saying of Dorotheos:
“That Pharisee who was praying and giving thanks to God for [his own] good works was not lying but speaking the truth, and he was not condemned for that. For we must give thanks to God when we are worthy to do something good, as he is then working with us and helping us. Because of this he was not condemned, as I said, not even because he said, “I am not like other men,” but … because he said, “I am not like this tax-collector.” It was then that he made a judgment. He condemned a person and the disposition of his soul-to put it shortly, his whole life. Therefore the tax-collector, rather than the Pharisee went away justified.”
Roberta Bondi encourages us to remember that, “To be humble is to identify with the sinner, and rather than take secret pleasure in another person’s downfall, when you hear of it, say, ‘Oh Lord, him today, me tomorrow!’ recognizing your kinship with the sinner.”
On the positive, what can we say humility is and what does it act like? Here are some statements (and paraphrases) from “To Love as God Loves”:
• “It calls for the renunciation of all deep attachments to what the world holds dear: goods, social advancement, the satisfaction of appetites at the expense of others, the right to dominate others in any personal relationship.”
• “Humility has to do with taking and accepting radical responsibility for the things that happen in life.”
• Humility involves “letting go of the need to look good in the eyes of ourselves or of others.”
• Humility involves a radical realism. It is realistic about the world, about the ineffective nature of force to truly change the world, about my own limitations and weaknesses and the common humanity I share with others, and about the kind of unflagging commitment it takes to practice love in a world like ours…
A much later saint with the spirit of the Desert Fathers said it well: “Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough…. Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together”).

Roberta C. Bondi “To Love as God Loves” [Fortress Press, 1987]
To love as God loves
“Being a Christian means learning to love with God’s love. But God’s love is not a warm feeling in the pit of the stomach. It has definite characteristics we learn in the course of our life, in the behavior and teaching of the early monastics, as we ponder over what we can say about God as God deals with us, and finally, as we model our own lives on what we have learned.”

See also:
Roberta C. Bondi “To Pray and to Love” [Fortress Press, 1991
To pray and to love
“Bondi offers a beautifully simple and profound account of prayer as the desert fathers saw it: integrally connected to love of God and neighbor, but also leading to introspection which facilitates spiritual growth. She begins with the teaching of the desert fathers about St. Paul’s injunction “pray without ceasing,” and discusses monastic prayer and life. Next she discusses how prayer can help develop the image of God within the individual. Bondi then addresses current concerns about prayer, how to approach it, the need for self-development, and the need for deeper human relationship through prayer. She concludes by discussing the desire for God as fostered and fulfilled through prayer by God’s grace.”
Roberta Bondi
Dr. Roberta C. Bondi is Professor Emeritus of Church History in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

Desert Fathers and Mothers: True Evangelicals

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2014 by citydesert

Ancient Faith Radio is providing a five-part lecture series on the Desert Fathers
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Lecture 1: The Desert Fathers as Paradigms of Christian Living
September 18, 2014 Length: 59:07
“The Desert Fathers hold a foundational place in the Church’s understanding of the authentic Christian life. The Desert Fathers and Mothers are the world’s “true evangelicals”…those whose lives were completely formed by the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. The contours of their lives demonstrate the freedom that Jesus Christ gives to His followers who take Him at His word and submit all to His cause. In the recesses of the Egyptian desert these saints possessed life, and that abundantly.
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From the Gospel explosion, which was St. Antony’s life written by St. Athanasios the Great, through several hundred years of Saints populating the deserts of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and even Persia, Gaul, Britain and Ireland the Desert Fathers have provided a touchstone by which all future generations are able to measure Christian virtue. The principles of spiritual life expressed in their lives and sayings continue to inspire devotion to the Holy Trinity today. These five lectures are offered as an introduction to the lives and teachings of the Desert Saints, and with the hope that they will inspire further study in the Evergetinos.”

For Ancient Faith Radio see:
Desrt Fathers and Mothers:

Brueghel’s Hermits

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2014 by citydesert

Brugel hermit
Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) “Rocky Landscape with Hermit” (1595)
See further:

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Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) “Mountain Landscape with a Hermit Reading in front of Ruins” (1596)
See further:
Brugel hermit 3
Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) “Landscape With Ruins And Hermit” (1596)
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Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) “Forest Landscape With Hermit” (1600)

The Sacred Art of Fasting

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2014 by citydesert

Thomas Ryan “The Sacred Art of Fasting” (Preparing to Practice)[SkyLight Paths, 2005]
This is the third in a series of paperbacks in the Skylight Paths series “Preparing to Practice” following “The Sacred Art of Bowing” by Andi Young and “The Sacred Art of Chant” by Ana Hernandez.
Thomas Ryan
Author Thomas Ryan is a Catholic priest and as a member of the Paulist Fathers coordinates the order’s ecumenical and interreligious relations in the United States and Canada. He points out that nowadays many people are seeing the value of fasting as a kind of body-ecology, a sane and salutary way of taking care of ourselves. Health care workers and others advocate fasting to calm us down, help us think more clearly, sleep better, clean out the body, and give the whole system a rest. But the world’s religious traditions also have a wealth of insights on this practice. Fasting is a choice to abstain from food and drink at certain times in order to draw closer to God, to care for our enspirited bodies, and to connect with those who are less fortunate than we are.
Ryan does a commendable job laying out how the religions use fasting and mine its many meanings. In Judaism, it is seen as a devotional path to purification, mourning, and atonement; in Christianity, it leads to mystical longing, liberation through discipline, and the work of justice; in Islam, it encourages Allah-consciousness, self-restraint, and social solidarity; in Hinduism, it involves purity, respect, and penance; in Buddhism, its aim is purity of body, clarity of mind, and moderation; and among Latter-Day Saints, its purpose encompasses offerings for those in want and strengthening the faith. Ryan, who fasts once a week, hopes that Christians will be able to bring back this valuable spiritual practice. He makes a good case for linking it with hunger and other social issues.
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Ryan wants people to know that fasting is not just for particular periods of religious observance, such as Lent and Ramadan, but instead can be a valuable part of everyday life. He ends the book with creative suggestions for fasts for your eyes, ears; from judging others, anger, resentment and bitterness; and more (see excerpt). He sums things up this way:
“Fasting as a religious act increases our sensitivity to that mystery always and everywhere present to us. It is a passageway into the world of spirit to explore its territory and bring back a wisdom necessary for living a fulfilled life. It is an invitation to awareness, a call to compassion for the needy, a cry of distress, and a song of joy. It is a discipline of self-restraint, a ritual of purification, and a sanctuary for offerings of atonement. It is a wellspring for the spiritually dry, a compass for the spiritually lost, and inner nourishment for the spiritually hungry.”

“Written by a Catholic priest and author of eight other books, this is an accessible, thoughtful treatment of the common spiritual practice of fasting. For an era characterized by obesity and overindulgence, this study offers a refreshing reminder that religion invites us to temperance; as Ryan puts it, “the body tolerates a fast for better than a feast.” Ryan explores both the physical and spiritual benefits of fasting with an emphasis on the religious grounds for fasting, including purification, repentance, mourning, rejoicing, self-discipline, remembering and prioritizing God, almsgiving, social solidarity and more. One of the book’s strengths is its even-handed introduction to each of the six religions it covers (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Mormonism) and the inclusion in each chapter of a “living voice from the tradition.” These narratives allow adherents from each religion to speak form their own belief and experience, and they range in style from simple exposition to personal essay and interview format. The chapter on Christianity is slightly partial toward the author’s own Catholicism, but the principles it explores are broadly inclusive. Another gem is the chapter with suggestions for keeping the spirit of a fast even if actual abstention is not physically possible for health reasons. This is a much-needed treatise that will attract believers from all faiths.”

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An Excerpt from “The Sacred Art of Fasting: Preparing to Practice”:
Thomas Ryan explores the uses of fasting for health and as a spiritual practice. In this excerpt on devotion, he suggests ways to fast for those who because of health, age, or life circumstances cannot fast in the traditional sense of abstaining from food and drink. He notes that even for those who are able to fast, these alternate forms can supplement a regular, traditional fast day or replace a day of fast.

“Fast with Your Eyes
• Watch less TV and video; reflect more on your life through keeping a journal.
• Become informed about the causes of hunger in the world.”
“Fast with Your Ears
• Listen less to the radio, CDs, cassettes; listen more to your own inner heart and spirit.
• Be attentive to the words of others.
• Listen to and let yourself be challenged by the words expressed in the scriptures.”
“Fast with Your Mouth
• Take just one helping of the food that is served.
• Eat fewer sweets and processed foods, but appreciate more simple food and drink like water and good bread.
“Fast with Your Hands
• Back off from things that agitate you.
• Take time to just sit and reflect, to rest and observe.
• Make time in your schedule to put your hands together in prayer.
• Share from your own goods with those who have less.”
“Fast with Your Feet
• Become more attuned to the modern compulsion to be always on the go; resist the impulse.
• Offer yourself a daily quiet half-hour of reading that nourishes your spirit.
• Learn quiet sitting in meditation.
• Make more time to welcome others to your home.”
“Fast with Your Body
• Attach less importance to external fashion and makeup.
• Reclaim your natural hair and skin color.
• When eating, practice stopping when you’ve had enough, rather than continuing to eat until you feel full.”
“Fast from Anger, Resentment, Bitterness
• Get to the bottom of why you’re angry or resentful: What’s the hidden demand underneath?
• Do the hard work of talking it through with the other, of expressing clearly what it is you are asking for.
• Pray for the grace of forgiving those who have hurt you.”
“Fast from Judging Others
• Unhook from conversations in which others are being disparaged, or contribute something positive to balance the negative things that are being said.”
“Fast from Complaining
• When you’re feeling inclined to complain, stop and look at all you are blessed with and give thanks instead.”
“Fast from the Presence of Your Children
• When you feel their absence, find some meaning in the emptiness and the silence.
• Choose life for them by supporting them graciously as they strike out to make their own marks in the world.
• Choose life for yourself by turning to and embracing new possibilities for living, growing, and loving.”
“Fast from Glossing Over Your Losses Too Quickly
• Allow yourself to feel the emptiness, the ache, the absence.
• Take the time to do the inner work of grieving.
• Resist the quick but superficial emotional fix, the easy fill-in.
• Risk listening in the silence to the soft voice of inner wisdom.”
“Fast from the Intimacy of a Spouse or Friend during a Temporary Absence
• Leave the heart space vacant and let your longing turn you toward God.
• Refresh your realization in the time of absence that relationship is life’s blue-ribbon experience, that of this ‘food’ we are meant to eat, and that without it we die.
• Let your desire for the presence of the other teach you that we were made for communion, and ‘our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in Thee.’ “

See also:
Thomas Ryan “Reap the rewards of fasting” at
Christian Fasting
Sr Mary Totah OSB “Christian Fasting. Disciplining the Body and Awakening the Spirit” [Catholic Truth Society UK, 2012]
“Fasting is an indispensable part of the Christian life, a purification of our habits of eating and drinking, which allows us to rein in our physical appetites.
This informative new booklet explores the Catholic understanding of fasting using Scripture and the teachings of Christ and his Church. The true meaning and value of fasting aligned with almsgiving and prayer is beautifully explained – and complemented by quotations and a question-and-answer section. The Friday Penance, recently given new emphasis, is also discussed in relation to a rediscovering of our Catholic identity.
‘Just as Adam was driven out of paradise for having eaten, refusing to trust, so it is by fasting and faith that they who wish to enter paradise do so.’ – St Athanasius”

Lynne M. Baab “Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites” [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2006]
Fasting book
“The ancient practice of fasting is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the spiritual disciplines. Our culture’s contradictory obsessions with dieting and consumption lead to all the more confusion about the appropriate place for fasting in contemporary lives. Won’t it contribute to eating disorders? Doesn’t it denigrate the body and deny God’s good gifts of food and abundance? Questions like these are at the forefront of Lynne Baab’s thoughts in “Fasting”.
Baab deals with the controversy around fasting by first broadening its definition. “Christian fasting is the voluntary denial of something for a specific time for a spiritual purpose, by an individual, family, community, or nation” (p. 16). By doing so, she defines fasting as more about our spiritual appetites, that is, our deepest desires for intimacy with God, than about our physical appetites. Offering examples of different kinds of fasting: fasting from television, shopping, information technology, and even social engagements or acts of service that have become routine rather than grace-filled, the author reframes fasting not as self-deprivation but as spiritually enriching. By deciding to give up activities and habits for a time that have become distracting to the most important things in our lives, we intentionally create space to experience God in new and fresh ways.
By then applying this broader and deeper understanding of fasting to the traditional definition of abstaining from food, Baab brings balance and correction to a practice that has been misused and abused throughout history. Moreover, by presenting a variety of partial food fasts, such as the “Daniel fast,” she offers alternatives to those for whom full fasts are not practical. The author is also very careful to emphasize who should never fast from food, including those who have a history of eating disorders, those with certain medical conditions, as well as children, pregnant women, and others.
Using stories from scripture, church history, mystics, and Christians from different traditions around the world, the author compiles a wide range of experiences with fasting. She also includes a wealth of insightful quotes from contemporaries who have experimented with fasting both individually and in community, as well as a helpful bibliography organized by subject matter. Spiritual directors will find this book an invaluable resource as each chapter ends with questions for reflection, journaling, and discussion along with suggestions for prayer.
Considering our over-saturated culture, “Fasting” is a prophetic voice calling us to remember that we do not live by bread alone. It is an invitation to create space for prayer in a world hungry for Spirit and a challenge to be in solidarity with those in our world who are often hungry for food. It should be noted that Fasting follows Baab’s previous book, “Sabbath Keeping”. The two books together provide a complementary spiritual rhythm of feast and fast. After reading both books, I am convinced like Baab that “in the Western world we need fasting today more than ever” (p. 140).

Romara Dean Chatham “Fasting: A Biblical Historical Study” [Bridge-Logos Publisher, 1987]
Fasting Chatham
“Is it an act of discipline, or perhaps a sign of repentance Is it a cure-all? What exactly is fasting? Author Romara Dean Chatham in Fasting: A Biblical Historical Study, examines biblical accounts of fasting, as well as many other sources and testimonies regarding its practice, in order to search out God’s true intent for believers today. By examining accounts from the Old Testament time period onward through the modern age, Chatham highlights methods, motives, and theological dimensions of fasting, providing a clear and thorough understanding of this Christian discipline.”

Kent D. Berghuis “Christian Fasting: A Theological Approach” [Biblical Studies Press, 2008]
Christian Fasting 2
Also available on-line at:

• Introduction: Contribution and Methodology
• Chapter 1: Fasting In The Old Testament And Ancient Judaism: Mourning, Repentance, And Prayer In Hope For God’s Presence
• Chapter 2: Fasting In The New Testament: Remembrance And Anticipation In The Messianic Age
• Chapter 3: Fasting Through The Patristic Era
• Chapter 4: The Development Of Fasting From Monasticism Through The Reformation To The Modern Era
• Chapter 5: Toward A Contemporary Christian Theology Of Fasting
• Appendix 1: Basil’s Sermons About Fasting
• Appendix 2: Fasting In Scripture
Fasting Jesus
For the Orthodox tradition of fasting, see:

The Eastern Desert

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18, 2014 by citydesert

Hans Barnard and Kim Duistermaat (eds) “The History of the Peoples of the Eastern Desert” [Los Angeles, CA : Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, 2012.]
“The last quarter century has seen extensive research on the ports of the Red Sea coast of Egypt, the road systems connecting them to the Nile, and the mines and quarries in the region. Missing has been a systematic study of the peoples of the Eastern Desert—the area between the Red Sea and the Nile Valley—in whose territories these ports, roads, mines, and quarries were located. The historical overview of the Eastern Desert in the shape of a roughly chronological narrative presented in this book fills that gap.
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The multidisciplinary perspective focuses on the long-term history of the region. The extensive range of topics addressed includes specific historical periods, natural resources, nomadic survival strategies, ancient textual data, and the interaction between Christian hermits and their neighbors. The breadth of perspective does not sacrifice depth, for all authors deal in some detail with the specifics of their subject matter. As a whole, this collection provides an outline of the history and sociology of the Eastern Desert unparalleled in any language for its comprehensiveness. As such, it will be the essential starting point for future research on the Eastern Desert.”

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Chapters of direct relevance to Christian religious life in the Eastern Desert are:
Chapter 21 – “Invisible Monks, Human Eyes and the Egyptian Desert in Late Antique Hagiography” by K.M. Klein
Available for download at:
Chapter 22 – “Desert Imagery: Bedouin, Monks, Demons and Hermits around Saint Anthony’s Monastery” by J.C.M. Starkey
Chapter 23 – “Nomadism and the Monastic Life in the Eastern Desert of Egypt” by M. Jones

Agafia, Hermit of the Siberian Taiga

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18, 2014 by citydesert

RT has published another interesting account of the Russian Hermit, Agafia:
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“Russian babushka Agafia, whose family fled civilization nearly a century ago, was born in the wilderness of the deep Siberian taiga. RT visited Agafia, who is the only living person of a family of the ‘Old Believers’ denomination of the Orthodox church.
In the mid-17th century, the leader of Russia’s Orthodox church, Patriarch Nikon, introduced radical reforms in Russia. Many couldn’t accept the changes and became known as ‘Old Believers.’ To avoid religious persecution first from the Orthodox Church and then from the Soviets, many families fled to some of the most remote corners of the country.
In 1978, one such family was discovered by a group of geologists in the remote Russian Republic of Khakassia, Siberia. The Lykovs, a family with four children, hadn’t seen other human beings for decades.
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Agafia – who is now almost 70 years old – was born in the wilderness, and the geologists were the first outsiders she had ever met. This came as no surprise to the geologists, as the family in the forest looked as though they belonged to the previous century, dressed in homespun clothes and using primitive instruments in their everyday lives.
They were completely self-sufficient and still highly religious. Only three years after they were discovered, three of the children fell ill and died. Agafia, whose father also passed away, is now the only remaining surviver of the now famous family of hermits.
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Working hard and praying all day, Agafia now lives on her own in the taiga, with bears trying to reach her humble abode regularly. The only person living nearby is a former drilling geologist, Yerofey Sedov, who was among those who discovered the Lykovs and told the world about them. Now relations between the only neighbors within some 200 miles are somewhat complicated.
Local authorities have tried to help Agafia, but reaching her remote home is quite a challenge. She is in desperate need of a helper, but no one seems willing to be cut off from the rest of the world.”
RT September 18, 2014

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An RTD film crew – including director Pavel Baydikov, a winner of the New York Festivals World’s Best TV and Films – traveled deep into the taiga, through floods, fallen trees, and a treacherous river, to meet the famous Old Believer. Their documentary “Agafia” will be shown on RT and RTD, premiering September 22.

See further:

Early Christian Studies

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18, 2014 by citydesert

Susan Ashbrook Harvey and David G. Hunter (eds) “The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies” [OUP, 2008]
“”The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies” responds to and celebrates the explosion of research in this inter-disciplinary field over recent decades. As a one-volume reference work, it provides an introduction to the academic study of early Christianity (c. 100–600 AD) and examines the vast geographical area impacted by the early church, in western and eastern late antiquity. The book is thematically arranged to encompass history, literature, thought, practices, and material culture. It contains authoritative and up-to-date surveys of current thinking and research in the various sub-specialties of early Christian studies, written by leading figures in the discipline. The articles orientate readers to a given topic, as well as to the trajectory of research developments over the past 30–50 years within the scholarship itself. Guidance for future research is also given. Each article points the reader towards relevant forms of extant evidence (texts, documents, or examples of material culture), as well as to the appropriate research tools available for the area.”

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Table of contents
Introduction ; PART ONE: PROLEGOMENA ; 1. From Patristics to Early Christian Studies ; 2. Literature, Patristics, Early Christian Writing ; 3. Which Early Christianity? ; PART TWO: EVIDENCE: MATERIAL AND TEXTUAL ; 4. Material Evidence (1): Archaeology ; 5. Material Evidence (2): Visual Culture ; 6. Epigraphy ; 7. Paleography and Codicology ; PART THREE: IDENTITIES ; 8. Jews and Christians ; 9. Pagans and Christians ; 10. ‘Gnosticism’ ; 11. Manichaeism ; 12. Arius and Arians ; 13. Pelagius and Pelagians ; PART FOUR: REGIONS ; 14. The West (1): Italy, Gaul, and Spain ; 15. The West (2): North Africa ; 16. The East (1): Greece and Asia Minor ; 17. The East (2): Egypt and Palestine ; 18. The East (3): Syria and Mesopotamia ; PART FIVE: STRUCTURES AND AUTHORITIES ; 19. Clergy and Laity ; 20. The Biblical Canon ; 21. Creeds, Councils, and Canons ; 22. Church and Empire ; 23. Women and Gender ; 24. Monastic Life ; PART SIX: EXPRESSIONS OF CHRISTIAN CULTURE ; 25. Early Christian Apocryphal Literature ; 26. Apologetics ; 27. Homiletics ; 28. Early Christian Historiography ; 29. Martyr Passions and Hagiography ; 30. Poetry and Hymnography (1): Christian Latin Poetry ; 31. Poetry and Hymnography (2): The Greek World ; 32. Poetry and Hymnography (3): Syriac ; 33. Christian Philosophy ; PART SEVEN: RITUAL, PIETY, AND PRACTICE ; 34. Christian Initiation ; 35. Eucharistic Liturgy ; 36. Prayer ; 37. Asceticism ; 38. Penance ; 39. Martyrdom and the Cult of the Saints ; 40. Pilgrimage ; PART EIGHT: THEOLOGICAL THEMES ; 41. Interpretation of Scripture ; 42. Doctrine of God ; 43. Christ and Christologies ; 44. Doctrine of Creation ; 45. Early Christian Ethics ; 46. Instrumenta Studiorum: Tools of the Trade ; Index of Biblical Citations ; Index of General Subjects ; Index of Persons (Ancient and Modern)
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“In books of this kind, two features count for the most: coverage and structure. The structure here, clearly, has been the object of great care. After three chapters headed “Prolegomena” and a splendidly practical section on material and textual evidence (archaeology, epigraphy, codicology, and so on), there are six sections devoted to (1) identities; (2) regions; (3) structure and authority; (4) cultural expressions; (5) rituals, piety, and practice; and (6) theological themes. However, it is not a handbook about early Christianity, with “cogent summary introductions” as the editors put it (p. 2), but about the study of early Christianity. The content of each section consists for the most part in an account of how the modern view of early Christianity has been determined by the methods and preoccupations of those who have studied it: “Contributors were asked to reflect on the main questions or issues that have animated research, to provide an introduction to the relevant primary sources, and to offer some guidance on the directions in which future research might be profitably pursued” (p. 2).
The tone is inevitably set, therefore, by Elizabeth Clark’s introductory chapter “From Patristics to Early Christian Studies” (pp. 8–41, including a 13- page bibliography). The story is of a dissolving of disciplinary boundaries. As in the case of “Late Antiquity,” the centuries that are covered no longer disclose their integral meaning to the specialized scrutiny of theologians or classicists, the hands-on expositors of material culture, or even of historians. Most of the more than forty contributors to the volume have led much of their academic lives within exactly those enclaves. Yet, each chapter here echoes with the industry of its neighbors. Indeed, one may argue, early Christian “studies” are governed as much by loyalty to ancestors and associates as by adherence to the structural principles of a newly defined discipline.
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Clark’s account of multiplicity is matched by the accompanying chapters on textuality (by Mark Vessey, pp. 42–65) and on the complex variety of belief and practice that “early Christianity” represents (by Karen King, pp. 66–84). For Vessey, the range of genres and the relational fabric of “textual communities” now familiar to the student of the period are very much in the eyes of the modern beholders, themselves the masters of differing genres and enrolled in textual communities of their own. We are now students of form. How one presented the Christian position—to what audience, through what medium, in what venue—mattered as much as the thought deployed. The result was an increasingly unfettered engagement with the litterati of the age. The voice on the page was a Christian voice, but it was “part of a history unconfined by the Church” (p. 51). The mark of purpose in a text was its desire to renegotiate the boundary between those who spoke and those who listened—always with a sense of precarious and conditional encroachment or withdrawal. King’s argument follows from that. Inquiry governed by academic ecumenism lays bare a fluidity of circumstance that precisely made necessary (or at least useful) a corresponding rigidity of discourse. The articulation of “orthodoxy” was a formal reaction to obscure or shifting boundaries, not their outcome or nemesis. Early Christianity was not, in other words, a single entity, nor indeed a static one. “Negotiation” was conducted by early Christians as much with one another as with those who did not share their beliefs. That is not to suggest mere chaos or raw competition, nor did it mean defeat for the multiple and victory for the hegemonic. Early Christians justly laid claim to a single arena, but they constantly moved within it according to a complex choreography of argument and historical appeal.”
Philip Rousseau “The Catholic Historical Review” Volume 95, Number 3, July 2009


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