Saint Cedd

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2018 by citydesert

January 20 is the Commemoration of Saint Cedd in the Russian Orthodox Calendar. He is commemorated on different dates in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Calendars.

Cedd icon 1

Saint Cedd is the Saint to whom The Hermitage is dedicated, and a relic of him is held within The Hermitage.

Saint Cedd (Latin: Cedda, Ceddus; c. 620 – 26 October 664) was a missionary and bishop who spread the faith throughout England during the seventh century. St. Cedd, the eldest of four brothers, was born in 620 into a noble Northumbrian family at the beginning of the 7th century. With his siblings, Cynebil, Caelin and Chad, he entered the school at Lindisfarne Priory at an early age and learned the ways of the Irish Monks under Bishop Aidan. They were eventually sent to Ireland for further study, and all four subsequently became Priests.

Cedd icon 2

Aidan had come to Northumbria from Iona, bringing with him a set of practices that are known as the Celtic Rite. As well as superficial differences over the Compotes (calculation of the date of Easter), and the cut of the tonsure, these involved a pattern of Church organization fundamentally different from the diocesan structure that was evolving on the continent of Europe. Activity was based in monasteries, which supported peripatetic missionary bishops. There was a strong emphasis on personal asceticism, on Biblical exegesis, and on eschatology. Aidan was well known for his personal austerity and disregard for the trappings of wealth and power. Bede several times stresses that Cedd and Chad absorbed his example and traditions. Bede tells us that Chad and many other Northumbrians went to study with the Irish after the death of Aidan (651).

Bishop Finan of Lindisfarne subsequently sent Cedd out to evangelize the people of Essex, who were sorely in need of spiritual guidance. He baptised many of the locals and built several Churches. He is particularly noted for the foundation of Monasteries at Bradwell-on-Sea and East Tilbury.

Cedd icon 3

Having been consecrated Bishop of Essex by Bishop Finan, Cedd re-instated St. Paul’s in London as the main seat of his Diocese. He ordained Priests and Deacons to assist him in his work, and gathered together a large flock of servants of Christ in his two Monasteries.

Saint Cedd remained fond of his northern homeland and made regular visits there. On one such occasion in 658, he was approached by King Aethelwald of Deira who, finding Saint Cedd to be a good and wise man, pressed him to accept a parcel of land at Lastingham in Yorkshire on which to build a monastery. Saint Cedd eventually agreed, laying the foundation stones after the parcel had been cleansed through prayer and fasting. He became the first Abbot of Lastingham and remained so while still ministering to his flock in Essex.

Cedd icon 4

Saint Cedd died in Lastingham during a great plague that also claimed the life of his brother, Cynebil. Eventually, he was buried under the altar of a little stone church built at Lastingham in honor of the Mother of God. His relics were later transferred to the Litchfield Cathedral, which had been built by his brother Chad.

Cedd book

See: Diana Cave Saint Cedd: Seventh-Century Celtic Saint  PublishNation 2015

“This is a biography of St Cedd, a seventh-century Celtic monk who according to Bede began his ministry on the island of Lindisfarne. He later became the Bishop of the East Saxons and founded a monastery at Lastingham. He has largely been overshadowed by his brother, Chad, but research into the places he visited reveals more about this well-travelled and dedicated monk. Illustrations and photographs are included to assist the reader locate unfamiliar places, along with dynastic charts, a glossary and bibliography. The text begins with a search for his origins, then investigates nineteenth-century suggestions that he was involved with ministry in Scotland. Further examination is made of the places where Cedd had his mission: Essex, North Yorkshire and Northumbria. This book aims to discover more about Cedd, to challenge some of the assumptions made about his life, to correct dating errors and to stimulate more research into the seventh-century.”

Francis Hewitt “The Ancient Crypt Church of St Mary Lastingham: The Shrine of St Cedd” (1982). See:

See also:


Physical Aids to Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2018 by citydesert

Prayer should be, and for those truly holy women and women is, a spontaneous communication (even communion) with God – even a continual and continuous process: “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. For us less worthy human beings it is not always so spontaneous or so natural. Or even always easy.


Prayer, in the Desert Tradition, was not an abstract mental or verbal process. It involved the whole body, and made use of postures and gestures, words and signs, objects (like prayer-ropes and hand-crosses), “visual aids” (like Icons and lamps or candles) and even olfactory stimulation (like incense).

Some of the “aids to prayer” had their origins in Jewish tradition: see, for example, Uri Ehrlich The Nonverbal Language of Prayer: A New Approach to Jewish Liturgy [Mohr Siebeck, 2004]

The whole person was at prayer, not only in communal or liturgical contexts, but in private prayer as well. None of these aids to prayer should ever be seen as more than that: “aids to prayer”. They are not forms of “magic” to make prayer more efficacious! They are symbolically and psychologically significant actions intended to assist the body, the heart and the mind in preparation for prayer. They assist in focussing attention, and refocussing away from the worldly to the heavenly. We must not become dependent on the “aids”; they must not become “crutches” or “talismans” without which we cannot pray effectively. They are “aids”, no more, no less.

In the modern Western world we under-estimate, I think, the importance of what I refer to as “physical aids to prayer” (although there is good scientific research showing how important physical behaviour and environment are to mental state) – things like removing shoes, physical posture, the use of the Sign of the Cross, prostrations, hand gestures, lamps or candles, hand washing as a form of preparatory preparation…

I began a series on “Aids to Prayer” here, and began with ritual washing –  I hope to continue the series.

There is an interesting article by the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on “The Physicality of Prayer”, which includes the interesting conclusion: “I don’t think any one of us can begin to discover again what religion might mean unless we are prepared to expose ourselves to new ways of being in our bodies.” I posted his article on my blog:

Prayer rope 2

A series of postings will begin shortly looking at traditional “aids to prayer”, and considering:

  • Washing [if only the hands]
  • Posture [standing, bowing, kneeling, prostration, sitting]
  • Hand positions [including the Sign of the Cross]
  • Facing East
  • Removing shoes
  • Vestments [including head covering]
  • Using a Hand Cross
  • Using a Prayer Rope
  • Wearing a Pectoral cross
  • Icons
  • Candles or Lamps
  • Incense
  • Using a formula first [for example, The Lord’s Prayer, The Jesus Prayer]
  • Vocal and non-vocal Prayer
  • Breathing
  • Music
  • Praying in a special space
  • Praying at a special time

Numbers of recent psychological studies have shown that rituals can be powerful in changing and establishing both emotional, psychological and even physical states. This is not about “magic”! It is about inducing a psychological, emotional and physical state appropriate for the occasion (in this case, for prayer).

“Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work….. Despite the absence of a direct causal connection between the ritual and the desired outcome, performing rituals with the intention of producing a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true….” Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton “Why Rituals Work”, Scientific American, May 14, 2013

Prayer and our bodies

“In recent years, a number of fine books have been published in the popular press which explore the relationship between prayer and the body, and which advocate, in different ways, the worthiness–sometimes even the primacy–of the body as a place of revelation about and communion with the Divine. For anyone who has struggled with an ambivalent relationship to the body (and who hasn’t?); for anyone who has pondered our ambiguous Christian heritage, which on the one hand proclaims the goodness of God’s creation and the resurrection of the body, but on the other hand has too often promoted a disembodied, even body-hating notion of holiness; for anyone who has wondered how to listen to one’s body in prayer and how to find God in and through our bodily selves; books such as Flora Slosson Wuellner’s  Prayer and Our Bodies, Nancy Roth’s The Breath of God and A New Christian Yoga, Tilden Edwards’s newly reissued Living in the Presence, and Martin Smith’s The Word is Very Near You (with its marvelous section on “The Body at Prayer”) are valuable resources, indeed.

Embodied prayer

Celeste Snowber Schroeder’s Embodied Prayer: Harmonizing Body and Soul [Liguori, Missouri: Triumph Books (An Imprint of Liguori Publications), 1995] is a worthy contribution to this burgeoning literature, exploring in simple and straightforward language the ways in which we can enlarge the capacity of our bodies to become a sacred space for prayer. The book draws on the author’s experience as a liturgical dancer and educator who, according to the book’s end-notes, frequently leads workshops for various churches and conferences in the areas of embodied prayer, dance, and spirituality and the arts. A work of frank and impassioned advocacy, the book invites us to learn to listen to our bodies, rather than simply (as many of us were taught) either to ignore or to control and dominate them. A truly biblical spirituality, the author argues, is one which encompasses the body as well as the mind and the spirit, one which invites us to heal our estrangement from our bodies and to welcome them as friends, as places of encounter with God.”




Contemplative in a Very Busy World

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2018 by citydesert

“For over a decade I have sought to establish a life as a contemplative in a very busy world. The first inclination for anyone who strives to live a contemplative life is to withdraw. My study of the desert mothers and fathers reveals that the overwhelming majority of them were hermits. Does that mean that we have to become hermits to be contemplatives? Is it possible for us to become hermits? Is it really necessary to become hermits? Most importantly, is it right to become a hermit? How then can we become contemplatives in the world in which we live? Let unpack those ideas.

Do we have to become hermits to be contemplatives? The initial evidence would certainly point us in that direction. Not only the desert monastics, but Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross and many other well-known contemplatives were hermits. Many of the modern contemplatives we study like Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton and others have spent extended periods of time each year living as hermits. Almost to a person, these contemplatives would say that being a hermit is not a prerequisite for being a contemplative. Being a contemplative involves developing a lifestyle that allows us to be quiet and alone wherever we may find ourselves. The outer noise does not negate the inner silence. We can develop a contemplative state of mind regardless of our circumstances.

I would also venture to say that it is impossible for the overwhelming majority of people who read these words to even consider being a hermit. For most of us, it is impossible to spend 40 days living in the solitude of a hermitage. We have responsibilities and obligations that are very important that we must keep. God would not want us to abandon our families, jobs, and churches to live an isolated lifestyle. For many of us that would consider life as a hermit, it would not be a calling but an escape or maybe even an abandonment of our responsibilities. I cannot see any real evidence that God says that the only truly set apart contemplatives are living in a hermitage somewhere at the edge of the world. As a matter of fact, such a life would be the wrong thing for most of us to pursue.

I like the concept presented by Eckhart that contemplation is that soil that brings forth the harvest. As Christians, we are told by Jesus that we are the light of the world and we know that without light there is no life. Our Lord further tells us we are the salt of the earth and our presence both preserves and flavours the world. The harvest of the contemplative is to make a difference.


Let me make a few suggestions that might allow us to be contemplatives and people of action.

My contemplation journey has been greatly influenced by some key elements. They are:

  • Reading

My slow, attentive, mindful reading helped me make a profound connection with the words of the Desert Monks, Merton, Julian of Norwich and others. This mindful reading allows me to hear and cherish each word.

  • Writing

Several years ago I began to write my thoughts on this blog and other places. Since then, writing has become a practice that relaxes me and enables me to express those feeling that God has presented to me.

  • Solitude

I found solitude to be an essential prerequisite to any contemplative period. Time alone in silence, even in a not so quiet place, became a respite for me away from the busy life I am leading. Solitude for me is being able to shut out the noise that surrounds me and be at one with myself. I found it relaxing, calming, and most of all, healing.

  • Detoxing from the media

One thing I find necessary is that I must take some time each week when I don’t keep up with the 24/7 news. It may be a morning or evening when I read or write with no interference. These media fasts allow me to be more positive and responsive to the needs around me.

  • Retreats

To deepen the contemplative process I make it a practice to go on retreat at least once a year. This is a good opportunity to get away from everything and spend some time in surroundings that are more conducive to opening up richer thought processes. Even when it is just a long walk in the park, I have managed to mentally reach a better place.

  • Meditation practice

A time of pure silent meditation is a very important practice for the contemplative. The practice of Contemplative Prayer is a deep well of spiritual refreshment.

  • Work

The monks of the desert advocated the concept of work and prayer. I have found that physical labor and practicing creative arts are avenues to the contemplative life. Whether I am working on a woodcraft project or restoring a rusted old tool, I am in communication with God. My work practices are some of my richest times of contemplation.”

A Pastors thoughts

From: “A Pastor’s Thoughts | The Contemplative Harvest” January 10, 2018 By Irvin J. Boudreaux

Housework as a Spiritual Discipline

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11, 2018 by citydesert

One of the aspects of the life of the Hermit which seems to fascinate people relates to “domestic arrangements”. Questions like “Who does your shopping and cooking? Who does your laundry? Who does your housework and cleaning?” There often seems to be an assumption that Hermits are so unworldly, or ought to be, that the mundane tasks associated with day-to-day living are beyond them. Perhaps Hermits ought to have domestic staff? Indeed, those Hermits who lives as Anchorites did require “staff” for some domestic tasks since they could not physically leave their homes.

However, if the traditional characteristics of the life of the Hermit include simplicity and self-sufficiency, mundane tasks associated with day-to-day living are the responsibility of the Hermit. And, indeed, not only the responsibility, but part of the spiritual discipline of the life of the Hermit.

Two articles on the spiritual role of domestic work from the Japanese Buddhist tradition provide some valuable insights into Housework as a Spiritual Discipline, relevant not only to Hermits, but to all Christians.

Monks cleaning 2

Cleaning is good for you

“Mental health counsellors often recommend that clients clean their home environments every day. Dirt and squalor can be symptoms of unhappiness or illness. But cleanliness is not only about mental health. It is the most basic practice that all forms of Japanese Buddhism have in common.

In Japanese Buddhism, it is said that what you must do in the pursuit of your spirituality is clean, clean, clean. This is because the practice of cleaning is powerful.

Of course, as a monk who is dedicated to spiritual life, I recommend Buddhist concepts and practices. But you don’t have to convert to a new religion to learn from it. Many people’s associations with the word “religion” may include a set of rules to regulate people’s values and actions; the creation of an irrational transcendent entity; or the idea of a crutch for people who cannot think for themselves. In my view, though, a respectable religion does not exist to bind one’s values or actions. It is there to free people from the systems and standards that order society. In Japanese characters, the word “freedom” is written as “caused by oneself”.

Cleaning practice is not a tool but a purpose in itself. Cleaning practice, by which I mean the routines whereby we sweep, wipe, polish, wash and tidy, is one step on this path towards inner peace. In Japanese Buddhism, we don’t separate a self from its environment, and cleaning expresses our respect for and sense of wholeness with the world that surrounds us…

Buddhism says the notion that you have your own personality is an illusion that your ego creates – and cleaning is a means to let go of this. The characters for “human being” in Japanese mean “person” and “between”. Human being is “a person in between”. Thus, you as a human being only exist through your relations with others – people such as friends, colleagues and family. You as a person have some particular words, facial expressions and behaviours, but these arise only through your interaction and connections with other people. This is the Buddhist concept “en” or interdependence.

Buddhist cleaning practice provides each of us with an opportunity to understand this concept. You don’t have to acquire special techniques, hire a professional cleaning consultant, or perform the special rituals used by senior monks.

The basics are very simple. Sweep from the top to the bottom of your home, wipe along the stream of objects and handle everything with care. After you start cleaning your home, you can extend cleaning practice to other things, including your body. How you can apply cleaning practice to your mind is a question I want to leave unanswered, but if you practise cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning, you will eventually know that you have been cleaning your inner world along with the outer one.

Of course Japanese temples sometimes employ cleaners when they are short of hands. But Buddhist monks also clean by themselves. This is because the cleaning practice is not a tool but a purpose in itself. Would you outsource your meditation practice to others?

As with meditation practice, there is no endpoint of the cleaning practice. Right after I am satisfied with the cleanliness of the garden I have swept, fallen leaves and dust begin to accumulate. Similarly, right after I feel peaceful with my ego-less mindfulness, anger or anxiety begin once again to emerge in my mind. The ego endlessly arises in my mind, so I keep cleaning for my inner peace. No cleaning, no life.”

From: Shoukei Matsumoto “Take it from me, a Buddhist monk: cleaning is good for you”  Shoukei Matsumoto is a Buddhist monk at the Komyoji temple in Tokyo.

Monks cleaning

What The Buddhists Can Teach Us About Household Chores

“In many Zen temples, there’s an activity called soji, a period of about 20 minutes where the whole community participates in cleaning up the temple and its grounds. It usually happens right after a bowing and chanting service, marking the end of the morning meditation schedule.

The premise is simple. You are assigned a simple cleaning task (rake the path, dry the dishes, sweep the hallway), which you do silently and without ambition to finish. In other words, there’s no ownership of the task: Just pick up the broom and do the best job you possibly can sweeping the hall until it’s time to stop.

After about 20 minutes, the work leader walks around ringing a bell that signals the end of soji. When you hear the bell, you simply stop what you are doing. If the hallway is only half swept, if there are still dishes to be dried, if you only polished 12 of the 15 windowpanes—it doesn’t matter. Just put away your tools and move on to the next thing. (In the case with most temples, this would be breakfast!)

Soji is a spiritual practice, an extension of meditation, where the fluid, open sensibility that was cultivated on the meditation cushion is brought to the task at hand. If we’ve had an experience of softening or opening up or had some kind of realization while sitting on the cushion but we cannot experience or manifest it while we’re off the cushion, then that experience is not quite complete. We haven’t finished fully integrating it. Soji gives us a chance to do the work of bringing meditation to our whole self and to notice in a very real way how well that’s going.

So consider approaching some of the tasks in your life from the soji perspective. What would happen if it wasn’t so much about finishing but more about simply doing? What burdens can be put down when we redirect our energies not toward the goal but into the process itself, into each moment along the way? What treasures are waiting for us there?

Another thing that soji teaches us is how to get tasks done even when we don’t feel like doing them. The custom for soji is to receive and accept your work assignment without comment. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like drying the dishes or if you hate the smell of window cleaner or if you actually love turning the compost, for that matter. You just do what is assigned to you, in silence, and ideally with no preference. Or if you do have a preference, you learn to ignore it.

For this reason, I’ve found that “doing soji” is a great way to tackle unwelcome tasks in the home environment, too. Sometimes, a task is unwelcome because it is very big, or it involves something we’re not skilled at, or requires too many decisions. Sometimes, it’s just repetitive and boring and will need to be done again next week, or even later that day. Whatever it is, you can probably handle doing it for 20 minutes. 

So the next time you find yourself resisting a kitchen task that really needs to get done, take the soji approach. Set a timer and make a vow that you will stay with it until the bell rings, and when it does, simply stop what you are doing. If you finish before the bell has rung, see if there isn’t a smaller task you can pick up for a while—there is always something that needs tending, mending, prepping, or putting away in our lives.

If it’s a large task, find a smaller aspect of it that you can pick up and complete. Get some onions chopped for the big pot of soup you want to tackle later, measure out the ingredients and prep the pan for a cake, clean and sort one shelf in your pantry.

Or you can just build soji into your morning routine to stay on top of daily home maintenance or to do a little kitchen prep so that making dinner later that evening isn’t such a burden. I have a friend who does this with her whole family before they leave the house each weekday morning (it’s more like 5 minutes but five people doing soji for 5 minutes means a lot can get done!).

Framing your activity as soji, limiting the time, and then forgetting about the time as you plunge into the activity is not just a fantastic way to get things done, it’s also a way to be present for all the moments in your life.”

Adapted from: Dana Velden “Finding Yourself In the Kitchen, originally published on Rodale Wellness, September 4, 2015

Blessings of the Nativity

Posted in Uncategorized on January 6, 2018 by citydesert

May Christ our True God, Who was born in the flesh as at this time, by the prayers of His All Holy Mother, bestow upon you the blessing of His Incarnation.

“Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being, and the earth offers a cave to him whom no one can approach.

Angels with shepherds give glory, and Magi journey with a star, for to us there has been born a little Child, God before the ages.

Bethlehem has opened Eden, come, let us see; we have found delight in secret, come, let us receive the joys of Paradise within the cave.

There the unwatered root whose blossom is forgiveness has appeared.

There has been found the undug well from which David once longed to drink.

There a virgin has borne a babe and has quenched at once Adam’s and David’s thirst.

For this, let us hasten to this place where there has been born a little Child, God before the ages.”

From St. Romanos the Melodist “Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ”:


Another version of the Kontakion, beautifully chanted in English – “Today the Virgin cometh unto a cave to give birth to the Word Who was born before all ages, begotten in a manner that defies description. Rejoice, therefore, o universe if thou should hear and glorify with the angels and the shepherds. Glorify Him Who by His own will has become a newborn babe and Who is our God before all ages” –  can be heard at:

Ukranian nativity icon

The Icon of The Nativity by Lyuba Yatskiv.

Yatskiv was born on June 28, 1977 in Lviv, Ukraine), and educated 1991 – 1996 at the Lviv College of Decorative and Applied Art; and 1996 – 2002 at the Lviv National Academy of Arts, Department of Sacral Art. Since 2002 she has been a Lecturer at the Lviv National Academy of Arts, Department of Sacral Art. Her major creative works have included: A series of Icons for the St. Faith, Hope, Love, and Sophia Chapel in Kotsiubynske, Kyiv region; Icons of the Iconostasis for the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin of the Krekhiv Monastery of the Order of St. Basil the Great; Icons of the Sovereign tier for the St. John the Baptist Chapel in Lviv; and Icons of the Iconostasis for the St. Andrew Church in Dobromyl, Lviv region.


How to Handle the Quiet

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3, 2018 by citydesert

“The headline in the monthly Ward 5 newspaper described what sounded like an antidote to the nonstop iPhone-checking, list-making, ladder-climbing, goal-setting, Washington mind-set: “Refuge for the Metropolitan Hermit.”

Holy Land Hermitage 4

The article described a postage stamp of a cabin, urbanely designed and gloriously sunlit, standing alone amid four acres of maples and white oaks on a protected hilltop you’ve probably never seen, although it’s in the middle of the city. Dubbed “the hermitage” by the brothers of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Northeast Washington, the space has no WiFi, TV or radio, and its occupancy limit is one. It’s been booked nearly solid since it opened in October.

What do we complain about more these days than the tyranny of constant stimulation? Our attempts to tune out the outside world — the occasional radio-less drive to work, the concerted decision to leave the phone at home for a few hours — are often ineffectual. It has come to this: True solitude is such a rarity in our modern lives that we have to buy it — or, in this case, rent it for $70 a night.

But it turns out solitude isn’t that simple. Although participation in silent retreats is on the rise, many of those preparing to spend time at the hermitage said they were so unaccustomed to unstructured time alone that they made to-do lists — then feared they were doing “solitude” wrong and scrapped them. They agonized over what to bring and wear and eat, as if they were traveling to an exotic land…

Holy land hermitage 3

The Catholic University architecture students who designed the RV-size space worked to envision the needs and rhythms of tenants who were unplugged. They were asked to turn off all their own devices and spend an hour alone and silent. Of the 12, only three were able to do it. “Everyone tried, but it started to seem like a waste of time” to them, said William Jelen, the professor who oversaw the project. “It’s not easy to find silence.”

The biggest U.S. retreat centers, including the Insight Meditation Society in central Massachusetts and Spirit Rock in Northern California, anticipate the roadblocks to achieving an inner focus and discourage — in some cases, forbid — participants from bringing books or journals, even for weeks-long silent retreats. Retreat staffers say such rules are necessary to help participants focus on their interior lives, because many people would rather do just about anything else.

Yet the number of Americans going to silent retreats has been climbing, particularly in the past five years, as more data emerge on the value of meditation and meditation-derived practices such as mindfulness. Despite tough economic times, it seems, people are willing to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a few weeks or months of . . . what?

Even those heading for such retreats aren’t sure. What is silence? The absence of noise? Achieving inner peace? Knowing yourself? Being able to hover above your own thoughts and observe them without judgment? Halting the constant hunger for accomplishment in a society absorbed with getting ahead in measurable ways, with doing rather than being?

Silence isn’t the end; it’s the means, experts say. And its absence from our culture isn’t a small thing…

Hermitage holy land

The 350-square-foot hermitage was the idea of brothers whose order is named for Saint Francis, the legendary Catholic preacher who ditched his wealthy upbringing in pursuit of a material-free life of contemplation. Typically hermitages — the word means a place for someone who wants to live in seclusion, usually for spiritual reasons — are in remote areas, but the Franciscans wanted to create one in the middle of the city…

The hermitage itself looks like a structure that would be profiled in Dwell magazine: simple, sustainable modern materials and design with a clean, sparse interior. There is a Bible on the table, a cross on the wall and an intentional division of its “profane,” or everyday, space (kitchen, bath, bed) and “sacred” space, which is a deck with a chair on it…

The challenges posed by silence are well-known to those who study and teach it. Some retreats encourage people to train — to refrain from checking their BlackBerrys for a few hours at a time before coming, for example. Others ease people into silence over a couple of days instead of all at once…

Holy Land Hermitage

Silence is also subject to the burden of expectations. A typical first-day exercise at longer retreats is to discuss them, said Sharon Salzberg, a prominent writer on Buddhism who leads silent retreats. “People think in 48 hours they are going to float away and resolve all their problems. External silence doesn’t guarantee inner silence and usually is the opposite at first. You become aware of the nuances of every feeling.”

From: Michelle Boorstein “Silent retreats’ rising popularity poses a challenge: How to handle the quiet” The Washington Post Available on-line at:

For The Hermitage at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, see:

Timothy the Stylite

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3, 2018 by citydesert

January 4 is the Commemoration of Timothy the Stylite. A brief account of his life taken from a Georgian hagiography is found in Robert G. Hoyland Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam) Darwin Press, 1997.

Seeing Islam 

“In a survey of Greek literature in eighth-century Palestine, published posthumously, Blake remarked that there were a number of hagiographies which had been preserved only in Georgian translations. He gave as an example “the Life of St. Timothy the Stylite, in which the character and the adventures of this last representative of stylitism in Syria (VIIIth century) are described in a quite remarkable manner; the picture which this biography traces of religious life in Syria is without parallel.” Despite this glowing recommendation, the text has not attracted any studies. If it were only available in the rare Georgian edition of Kekelidze, this would be understandable, but there has also long been accessible in a Paris manuscript the original Arabic version.

Timothy’s life before his stylitehood is given fairly briefly. He was the youngest of four children, born in the town of Kakhshata in the province of Antioch. While still a baby, both his parents died and his sister took charge of his upbringing. At the age of seven he was beaten by his elder brother for failing in the task of guarding some sheep, and he ran away. He was taken in by some villagers who looked after him until his adulthood. Then he conceived the idea of renouncing the world and becoming a monk. A vision confirmed him in this plan and he travelled to Jerusalem to seek blessing from the holy places. With the help of an elderly ascetic, Timothy became an adept of the eremitic life, but after spending a number of years in the vicinity of Jerusalem decided to return to the village of his foster-parents. There he resided for some time in a cell built for him by the villagers. One day he was invited by some monks whom he knew to visit Antioch with them. On the way they passed by his birth place and were persuaded to stay for the celebration of the feast of S. George. Timothy soon became reunited with his family and spent his remaining years in their village as a stylite. The rest of the Life, 70 percent of the Arabic version, is dedicated to the numerous miracles he worked, which made him famous and attracted to him people from all the surrounding countryside as well as from the cities of Antioch, Homs and Aleppo.

The chronological parameters of Timothy’s life are difficult to determine. At the end of the Arabic text it is stated that he died at the age of 85 in the year AH 257/871. Yet, at a time when he could not have been less than 40, the saint met Theodoret, Melkite patriarch of

Antioch (ca. 794-811), and aided him when he appeared before the caliph Hariin al-Rashld (786-809) in Baghdad. 208 The death date is perhaps the more likely to be correct and the story of the patriarch at the caliphal court a later addition. 209 But though Blake may have wrongly assigned the Life to the eighth century and perhaps exaggerated its historical value, he was certainly right to draw attention to this overly neglected work and one hopes that it will soon receive more sympathetic treatment.

There are a number of small differences between the Georgian and Arabic versions (e.g. the Georgian states that Timothy left for Jerusalem because his foster-parents wanted him to marry their daughter, and specifies that he remained in the Judaean desert for 27 years; neither detail is in the Arabic), but they are substantially the same.”

From: Robert G. Hoyland Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam) Darwin Press, 1997

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