Hermitage Conversation

Posted in Uncategorized on September 3, 2015 by citydesert

A small gathering of friends of The Hermitage recently – a most enjoyable evening with far ranging conversations: the history and modern development of the Hermit; the nature of the eremitical life; the Desert Mothers; the history and development of Coptic liturgical headwear; conflict resolution, including family conflicts, consumer disputes and environment conflict; the brilliant artist Florence Broadhurst (1899-1977) and her exotic wallpaper designs (the Refectory is papered in a Broadhurst design); Pope Kyrillos VI; Matta el-Meskeem; traditional Coptic rites for monastic burial; traditional Japanese robes, specifically the yukata (浴衣)(an antique yakata hangs on the Refectory wall); waterborne diseases (notable giardia) and especially their impact on Aboriginal communities; the history of punk music; the tuning of ukeles and guitars; the modern interest in weird occult ideas and why young people are attracted to them.
11903862_10154426139327316_4970256603180262360_n (2)
The traditional silence of The Hermitage was interrupted by some experimental music – possibly the beginning of a new musical group (Cedd’s Hermits?). This included Youssy on the Ethiopian systrum and Coptic cymbals, Marina on the Dungchen (the Tibetan trumpet – producing some wonderfully deep, resonant notes), Fr Edward on ukulele, and Daniel on guitar.
We enjoyed pizza and Youssy’s Swiss rolls (including a plate in memory of the late Griz cat, for whom it was an addictive favourite).

Although Hermits traditionally sought solitude, few of them pursued this is any sort of absolute. They were “found” by those who sought their advice or conversation, as the early Desert Fathers and Mothers attest. So, The Hermitage occasionally welcomes guests, and encourages them to explore Desert Spirituality – and anything else they wish to discuss – in a relaxed and informal style.

Alas, a drought

Posted in Uncategorized on September 3, 2015 by citydesert

My apologies for the recent “drought” on citydesert, and my thanks to the many people who contacted me to enquire as to my well-being.
The Hermitage computer suffered a major breakdown in health, and had to undergo life-saving “surgery” and repair – several times repeated.
The Hermit has also experienced a period of prolonged bad health – not improved by particularly (for Sydney) cold weather and some unpleasant variety of ‘flu sweeping the city.
I hope that “normal transmission” can be resumed….
droughtsy

Vanishing Christians of the Middle East

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2015 by citydesert

Linda Dorigo and Andrea Milluzzi “Rifugio: Christians of the Middle East” [Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam, 2015].
Rifugio
“These photographs from Linda Dorigo and Andrea Milluzzi, Italian journalists working in the Middle East, give faces to these living stones, away from touristic locations. Their new book – poignantly titled Rifugio (“refuge” or “shelter”) – is a visual record of those who have, through poverty or defiance, refused to become a part of the Christian diaspora and now struggle to live out their faith in an increasingly inhospitable land. “During New Year’s evening Mass in 2011, an explosion destroyed the Saints Church in Alexandria [in Egypt]. Twenty-one Christians died. The story appeared in western newspapers and on television, but, after a few days, the media’s attention faded. We felt the need to know more. So we left to discover stories, families and villages in their everyday lives. We were looking for the heirs of the evangelists and the first pilgrims,” they explain.

Ani, Turkey. Ani is the ancient capital of the Armenian empire, situated at the closed border between Armenia and Turkey. Nowadays Ani is a stack of churches' ruins, homes and the Cathedral. August 2013.

Ani, Turkey. Ani is the ancient capital of the Armenian empire, situated at the closed border between Armenia and Turkey. Nowadays Ani is a stack of churches’ ruins, homes and the Cathedral. August 2013.


When the US launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were 1.5 million Christians living in the country. Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, was a Christian – demonstrating the relative religious tolerance under that regime. But, by igniting sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias, the US invasion was a disaster for indigenous Christians, who Muslims associated with the hated crusaders. Now Christians are being slaughtered by Islamic State. Between 2003 and now, three quarters of Iraq’s Christians have been driven from their homes or killed. It’s a story that has repeated itself throughout the Middle East, although, to be fair, it long pre-dates the US invasion. When, a century ago, the Ottomans drove Armenian Christians from Turkey into the Syrian desert to die of starvation, there was a 13% Christian presence in Turkey. Now, they have been all but wiped out. In Egypt, some 600,000 Christians have left during the past 30 years.”
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/16/christians-middle-east-religion-islamic-state-linda-dorigo-andrea-milluzzi
Saint Taddeus monastery, Iran. The yearly Armenian pilgrimage. July 2011

Saint Taddeus monastery, Iran. The yearly Armenian pilgrimage. July 2011


“The birthplace of Christianity lies on the Iranian slopes from Mount Ararat to Mount Lebanon. Since those ancient times, the rugged valleys and gorges have served as a refuge for monastic communities and those in search of solitude. Nowadays, 12 million Christians are assumed to live in the Middle East, but only a few of them remain to live in the region because of radical Islam and persecutions; millions have relocated to North America, Europe and Australia. Linda Dorigo and Andrea Milluzzi travelled through Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Turkey and Syria. They were driven towards the small Christian communities that choose to not be part of the diaspora. While the Middle East was being turned upside-down by revolutions and by a fractured war inside Islam, Christians became a religious minority, disillusioned witnesses closed in their self-defence. The recent developments in the Middle East, including the horrific cruelties perpetrated predominantly against Christians by Islamic State, makes Rifugio an essential document for all those interested in world politics.”
http://www.amazon.com/Rifugio-Christians-Middle-Linda-Dorigo/dp/9053308431
Vanished christians

Hesychasm Before Hesychasm

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2015 by citydesert

Theodore Sabo, Dan Lioy, and Rikus Fick “A Hesychasm Before Hesychasm” “Journal of Early Christian History” Vol 4 Issue 1 2014 pp. 88-96
hesychast
“The thinkers from Basil the Great to Symeon the New Theologian were important largely for their role in forming the Hesychastic movement in the Eastern Church. This conclusion is reached in part by viewing the period from an Orthodox rather than a broadly Christian perspective. There were eight predominant characteristics common to both the Hesychasts and the Proto-Hesychasts: monasticism, dark and light mysticism, an emphasis on the heart, theōsis, the humanity of Christ, penthos, and unceasing prayer. The author finds himself in agreement with Alexander Schmemann for whom Hesychasm was not a novel departure but the completion of a basic tendency of the Orthodox Church. The Hesychasts did not teach a new doctrine but continued and perfected the tradition that immediately preceded them.”

Full text available on-line at: http://www.academia.edu/7972818/A_Hesychasm_Before_Hesychasm

The illustration is “Hesychast” (2007) by the Russian painter, Oleg Lorolev (b. 1968) – see http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/oleg-korolev.html

Reading like Monks

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2015 by citydesert

“The scholastic way of reading was not originally the dominant one in the Christian world. We could say that scholastic reading was a novelty, an innovation, and the way of reading called monastic reading was more fundamental. The traditions of monastic reading dating from Christian Late Antiquity were “forgotten” during the Age of Scholasticism.
Lectio 1
These traditions were hibernating in the monasteries and were revived by the mystics of the High Middle Ages. Jacqueline Hamesse provides a good characterisation of monastic reading, but the most extensive description and explanation can be found in the books by Jean Leclercq. He traces the ideals of monastic reading to the mystical views of St. Augustine and St. Gregory. St. Gregory seems to play an important role in the vocabulary that was later used to describe monastic reading. While scholastic “lectio” (reading) was typically oriented towards “quaestio” (inquiry) and “disputatio” (discussion), or knowledge and science, monastic reading aspired to “meditation” and “oratio” (prayer), or wisdom and appreciation. The relation of the monastic reader to the text was not detached and analytic, but close and rather physical, even muscular. It is often described with the word rumination: “It meant assimilating the content of a text by means of kind of mastication which releases its full flavour”.
Lectio 2
The reader is supposed to love what he is reading, taking the text into his heart and understanding its full meaning internally. It means, as St. Augustine, St. Gregory, John of Fécamp, and others say in an untranslatable expression, to taste it with the “palatum cordis” or in “ore cordis”. The literal translation of “palatum cordis” might be something like the palate or taste of the heart, and “ore cordis”, the ear of the heart. The monks’ reading (“lectio divina”) was divided into two categories: “lectio super mensam” and “lectio private”. Reading should never cease. That is why, when the monks gathered for a common meal, one of them stood at a pulpit and read aloud to the others. This is “lectio super mensam”.
Lectio 3
But the more typical, time-consuming reading (“lectio privat”), took place in the monks’ cells. It was a continuous activity. It was done silently, but more often in a low voice, by muttering or murmuring the text. It was reading with passion, feeling the text affectively, because, after all, one was reading the Bible or another important text. There was an emotional relationship with the text. It was not extensive reading, but rather slow, repetitive, and contemplative reading.”
Reading in changing society
Ilkka Mäkinen “Reading like Monks: The death or survival of the love of reading?” in “Reading in Changing Society” Edited by Marju Lauristin and Peeter Vihalemm. University of Tartu Press, 2014: 18-19
Text available on-line at: https://tampub.uta.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/95953/reading_like_monks_2014.pdf?sequence=1

Embodied Attention

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2015 by citydesert

“Throughout the life of the Church, certain habits have been cultivated to shape the identity of its community and deepen our communion with God. We see in the writings of the Desert Fathers that attentiveness is one habit that people of faith have taken care to cultivate to better connect with God. Contemporary of the Desert Fathers, Saint Augustine, also speaks to attentiveness and its relation to time. What both the Desert writers and Augustine understand is that our ability to connect with God depends on our ability to be attentive in the present moment.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC


This thesis will argue that an embodied, present attentiveness is foundational to a relationship with God; furthermore, given the patterns of attention developed around Wireless Mobile Devices (i.e. smartphones) and the strong pull on its users for their constant interaction, I argue that the practices created around these devices do in fact hinder one’s ability to connect with God, despite their other potential for good. The thesis employs qualitative research in the form of literature reviews. First, drawing from the practices of the Desert Fathers and Augustine’s understanding of the relationship between time, memory, and knowledge of God, I make a case for the discipline of embodied attentiveness to the present moment as foundational to our relationship with God. I then draw from current psychological, sociological and anthropological insights to model how the current technological landscape places particular pressures on an embodied present attentiveness, with specific focus on the Wireless Mobile Device (WMD), commonly known as the smartphone. Finally, I place in conversation the findings from these reviews; leading to an assessment on the patterns technology creates around attentiveness.
cell-phones
People are becoming increasingly aware and concerned that the Internet and Wireless Mobile Devices are not neutral mediums and consistent exposure (and use) of these mediums is affecting us. We will see in this thesis that not only are habits of communication shifting, but also we are literally being rewired as our neural pathways are firing into uncharted territory. While psychological, sociological, and philosophical assessments of communication technologies and the self are critical to understand various implications on attentiveness, the goal of this thesis is to articulate the practices that the use of Wireless Mobile Devices cultivates regarding attentiveness through a theological lens.

As we begin to understand the concerns of the Saints who have gone before us, combined with understanding the shifting landscape of technology as it pertains to attentiveness, we can imagine why it is that the Church ought to be concerned with the continued cultivation of the discipline of attentiveness. Rather than simply “sounding the alarm” that technology is detrimental to our spiritual formation, however, this thesis will attempt to help the Church have a more nuanced understanding of why social media inhibits our ability to be attentive, as it examines to what end (telos) our attention is being drawn. After developing a more robust understanding of why a present, embodied attentiveness is foundational to our relationship with God, we will be able to enter into conversations regarding social media that are nuanced beyond it having “positive” and “negative” effects.”

Kathryn Ann Davelaar “Embodied Attention: Learning from the Wisdom of the Desert and Saint Augustine in an Age of Distraction” Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Ministry in the Divinity School of Duke University 2014. The full text is available on-line at: http://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/handle/10161/9470

Women in Anchoritic and Semi-Anchoritic Monasticism in Egypt

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2015 by citydesert

Caroline T. Schroeder “Women in Anchoritic and Semi-Anchoritic Monasticism in Egypt: Rethinking the Landscape” “Church History” Volume 83 Issue 01 March 2014, pp 1-17
Church History cover
“Outside of hagiography, the evidence for female anchorites in early Christian Egypt remains scarce. House ascetics in cities survive for us in documentary and other sources, but women monks in non-coenobitic, nonurban environments are more difficult to locate, to the point at which some scholars have begun to question their very existence. This essay seeks to change the parameters of the scholarly debate over the nature of non-coenobitic female monastic experience. It examines hagiography, monastic rules and letters, and documentary papyri to reassess the state of the field and to produce a fuller portrait of anchoritic and semi-anchoritic female asceticism. Non-coenobitic women’s monasticism existed, and it crossed boundaries of geography and social status, as well as the traditional categories of lavra, eremitic, coenobitic, and house asceticism. This interdisciplinary approach provides insights not only into women ascetics’ physical locations but also into their class, education, and levels of autonomy. An intervention into the historiography of women’s asceticism in late antique Egypt, this study ultimately questions the advisability of using traditional categorizations of “anchoritic,” “lavra,” and “coenobitic” to classify female monasticism, because they obscure the particularities and diversity of female ascetic history.”
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9196292

“As the author pointedly notes, “Outside of hagiography, the evidence for female anchorites in early Christian Egypt remains scarce.” This fact has polarized scholarly opinion, ranging from some who maintain that there were no women hermits or anchorites and that literary references are projections of men’s concepts of how women hermits might be, to — on the other hand — others who accept the genuineness of tradition and the inevitability of women hermits who are simply unheralded.
Schroeder’s interdisciplinary approach identifies not only documentary sources but reveals the fuller social and historical context of the complexities of female asceticism in Christian antiquity. Her observations are constructive and realistic.
Other assessments of the “landscape of desert asceticism” variously viewed assert that women not named were hagiograpahical, or that women described as hermits were probably “house virgins.” Schroeder makes a key point. She identifies Shenoute’s Canons, which summarize regulations of his monastery’s hermits, probably monks advancing in status and now dwelling just outside monastic grounds, in the “desert.” Shenoute emphasizes that regulations apply specifically to both men and women hermits under his authority, thus confirming the existence of women hermits. Besides his stature as ecclesiastical authority and writer, Shenoute himself had spent years in a cave as a hermt, such that there can be no ambiguity about his awareness of what a hermit is. Another connotation to this example suggests the degree of autonomy of hermits about whom Schroeder will write versus those under a centralizing authority of a monastery such as Shenoute’s.
Material evidence from Thebes (Egypt) clearly points to the existence of female anchorites. As Schroeder demonstrates, women anchorites lived in different parts of Egypt, sometimes proximate to monasteries or villages, but not under specific authority. The author notes, “Shenoute’s Canons, combined with the documentary evidence, require us to expand our understanding of the possibilities of women’s ‘desert’ asceticism and solitary asceticism.” Among possible scenarios are “hermits affiliated with coenbitic communities, women living alone or in groups, and house ascetics in smaller villages instead of large cities.”
Schroeder’s section on “the economics and autonomy of women monastics” presents documentary evidence of committed renunciate women in urban areas. In one example, two women rent a portion of their house for income. In another, two women, apparently sisters, and in another case a woman called Amma Theodora, are named as purchasers of bulk foods in receipts, but not as affiliated with specific communities. Another woman ascetic specifically described as a monk is named in a lawsuit to recover familial funds. Another woman, described as a “virgin,” disputes transfer of books by estate heirs.
Correspondence is also revelatory documentation. A woman named Maria writes to a male anchorite, noting that she is his charge but referring to her house and to no other residents, suggesting only a symbolic authority — as well as property ownership on her part. Other women write to male monks soliciting their spiritual blessing but also reminding them of their responsibilities in other spiritual matters, thus suggesting from their tone an eremetic status they do not (or in some instance do) deprecate while not acknowledging a submissive status.
The urban monastic women appear to have owned their homes and lived in areas of Thebes, versus the wealthier women known by name in standard literary sources, who resided in Alexandria — and are better known, therefore, to Athanasius and his successors. The former do not fit the conventional definitions of anchoritic or coenobitic monasticism, nor that of the desert mother or amma. The house asceticism of urban monasticism is a more appropriate descriptor. These women’s income, wealth, and education vary as much as their anchoritic expression. The author concludes: “Bringing together hagiography, documentary sources, and monastic roles illuminates otherwise obscure female ascetic experiences.” It also forecasts the varied models of later centuries, and even the potentials for ascetically-minded women today.”
http://www.hermitary.com/articlereviews/schroeder.html
Faculty Portrait
Caroline Schroeder is also the author of a number of other significant studies of early Desert Monasticism, including:

“Monastic Bodies: Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe” Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
The first monograph on the asceticism practiced by both men and women at the important early Egyptian monastery led by Shenoute. It examines Shenoute’s letters, sermons, and rules.
Monastic bodies
“‘A Suitable Abode for Christ’: The Church Building as Symbol of Ascetic Renunciation in Early Monasticism,” “Church History” 73:3 (2004)
A handful of early ascetic authors wrote about the theological significance they found in the building of churches. These include the wealthy Latin patron Paulinus of Nola (Italy), two anonymous members of the Pachomian monasteries in Egypt, and the Egyptian archimandrite Shenoute. The churches built for each of these late antique communities held deep theological significance. They symbolized the ascetic endeavors undertaken at those communities. Since for each writer, the ascetic struggle was constituted in slightly different terms, with different goals, practices, and interpretations of those practices, so were the church buildings imbued with different meanings. Yet, in each case, the church held meaning beyond its mere walls. Each was constructed as much by a theology and a discourse of ascetic discipline as it was by wood, brick, and stone. Shenoute’s texts on the construction of the church at the monastery he directed are the most extensive treatment of this topic, and yet Shenoute is the least well known of the surviving authors. This essay explores the ascetic significance of Shenoute’s church building in the fifth century and concludes by comparing his church as a symbol of renunciation to other late antique authors.

“Queer Eye for the Ascetic Guy? Homoeroticism, Children, and the Making of Monks in Late Antique Egypt” “Journal of the American Academy of Religion” 77(2009)
A famous instruction about children in monasteries reads: “Do not bring young boys here. Four churches in Scetis are deserted because of boys.” Taken from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, this apophthegm exposes the presence of homoeroticism and anxieties about the homoerotic, especially erotic encounters with children, in early Christian ascetic communities. This essay examines the construction of male sexuality in early Egyptian monasticism, focusing on the Sayings and the rules of the monastic leader Shenoute of Atripe It argues that the masculine ascetic ideal builds upon certain classical ideals of masculinity, especially the control of the passions, but purports to eschew classical models of eroticism in which the adolescent male represents the ideal sexual partner. However, these sources are designed to be recited or retold as edifying texts; despite their overt disavowal of sexual contact between men and boys, their retelling and rereading keeps homoeroticism and the representation of boys as sexually desirable objects alive in the ascetic imagination.

“The Erotic Asceticism of the Passion of Andrew: the Apocryphal Acts of Andrew, the Greek Novel, and Platonic Philosophy,” in the New Testament Apocrypha volume of the Feminist Companion to the New Testament and Early Christian Literature Series, ed. Amy-Jill Levine (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield University Press; New York: Continuum)
The Apocryphal “Passion of Andrew” reworks generic elements from the Hellenistic novels using elements of Platonic philosophy to present a radically different consummation of love and desire. The erotic love of the novels is consummated in sexual passion, marriage, and procreation. Love in the Passion of Andrew culminates in union with the beloved, but the beloved is the figure of the divine, to whom the characters are introduced by their teacher Andrew. True love and properly oriented desire result in Platonic objectives: an understanding of the inner self, unification with the divine, and a sense of peace and rest. This text presents one of the earliest links between Platonism and strong, Christian asceticism outside of the Nag Hammadi writings and predates the Platonizing asceticism of Origenist monasticism in Egypt by centuries.

“Prophecy and Porneia in Shenoute’s Letters” “Journal of Near Eastern Studies”, 65 (2006): 81-97
In his letters to the men and women of his monastery, Shenoute frequently draws on prophetic rhetoric taken from the Christian Old Testament to enhance his authority as an ascetic leader. In these same letters, Shenoute uses gendered and sexualized language to discuss and condemn sins he believes are being committed in the monastery. This paper will examine the relationship between Shenoute’s use of prophetic discourse and his frequent condemnation of the sin of porneia in select texts. It will argue that Shenoute’s references to sexual sin should not be interpreted simply as an account of the activities of the monks under his supervision. Rather, Shenoute’s rhetoric reflects his vision of the monastery as a feminine space or figure comparable to Israel or Jerusalem in the Christian Old Testament, an entity whose sins are construed as faithlessness to God as the true object of Israel’s, and now the monastery’s, devotion.

“‘A Suitable Abode for Christ’: The Church Building as Symbol of Ascetic Renunciation in Early Monasticism,” “Church History” 73:3 (2004)
A handful of early ascetic authors wrote about the theological significance they found in the building of churches. These include the wealthy Latin patron Paulinus of Nola (Italy), two anonymous members of the Pachomian monasteries in Egypt, and the Egyptian archimandrite Shenoute. The churches built for each of these late antique communities held deep theological significance. They symbolized the ascetic endeavors undertaken at those communities. Since for each writer, the ascetic struggle was constituted in slightly different terms, with different goals, practices, and interpretations of those practices, so were the church buildings imbued with different meanings. Yet, in each case, the church held meaning beyond its mere walls. Each was constructed as much by a theology and a discourse of ascetic discipline as it was by wood, brick, and stone. Shenoute’s texts on the construction of the church at the monastery he directed are the most extensive treatment of this topic, and yet Shenoute is the least well known of the surviving authors. This essay explores the ascetic significance of Shenoute’s church building in the fifth century and concludes by comparing his church as a symbol of renunciation to other late antique authors.

“Purity and Pollution in the Asceticism of Shenute of Atripe,” in vol. 35 of “Studia Patristica”, eds. M. F. Wiles and E. J. Yarnold (Leuven: Peeters, 2001), 142-47
In his earliest letters, the fourth-century Egyptian monk Shenoute (or Shenute) of Atripe outlines a purity code in which the sins of any one monk can pollute the entire monastery, thus threatening the salvation of other members of the community. Shenoute uses this understanding of sin as pollution to critique the current leadership of the monastery.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 97 other followers