Anba Epiphanius the Neo-Hieromartyr

Posted in Uncategorized on August 11, 2018 by citydesert

Anba Epiphanius the Neo-Hieromartyr (June 27, 1954 -July 29, 2018), Bishop and Abbot of the Monastery of St. Macarius the Great in Scetis, Egypt

“Anba Epiphanius was born on June 27, 1954, in Tanta, Egypt. He received a baccalaureate in medicine and surgery from the University of Tanta in 1978, having specialized in otorhinolaryngology. On February 17, 1984, Anba Epiphanius entered the Monastery of St. Macarius the Great, whose Spiritual Father was Hegoumen Mattá al-Miskīn (Matthew the Poor: 1919-2006), himself an affluent, well-educated pharmacist who imitated St. Anthony the Great, selling his possessions in response to the Lord’s call, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, give it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, and follow me!” (Mt 19:21). Anba Epiphanius received his monastic tonsure on April 21, 1984, and was ordained to the priesthood on October 17, 2002.


At the Monastery of St. Macarius, Fr. Mattá al-Miskīn had arranged for several specialists to come and educate the community in different subjects, particularly classical and foreign languages (e.g., Coptic, Greek, Hebrew, French, and English), in the hope that this would help the monks to return to the primary scriptural and patristic sources for their own benefit and the edification of the Church at large. This, in addition to overseeing the monastery’s library and archive, was integral to the Monk Epiphanius’ monastic formation. He transcribed the Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian. He studiously published fourfold (Greek LXX, Hebrew, Coptic LXX, and his translation into Arabic) critical editions of Genesis and Exodus, and translations into Arabic of the Coptic anaphoras of SS. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen from the Greek original, and Paradise of the Desert Fathers (Gerontikon). Fr. Epiphanius would excel in producing unique research papers on various topics pertaining to Coptology, liturgics, and monasticism, to the point that he would receive invitations to speak at academic conferences in Egypt and abroad.

Shortly after the ascension of the new Coptic prelate, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, to the patriarchal throne, and years after the repose of Fr. Mattá al-Miskīn, the monastery’s synaxis requested from the hierarch that they elect an abbot. The monks elected the pious and erudite Monk Epiphanius to be their new father by majority. On March 10, 2013—after years of a strained relationship between the former patriarch, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of blessed memory (1923-2012), and the monastery—Pope Tawadros ordained Fr. Epiphanius as the new bishop and abbot, making him the first bishop in decades to be ordained from among the monks at St. Macarius.

The episcopal ordination of Anba Epiphanius was perceived as a healing in the supposed rift between the Church’s hierarchy and the spiritual children of Fr. Mattá al-Miskīn. The new bishop was regarded as a so-called reformer, who would continue in the ressourcement (return to the sources) movement that was started by Fr. Mattá al-Miskīn. Tapping into Anba Epiphanius’ reputable monastic stillness and ecumenical ardor, Pope Tawadros asked the new bishop to accompany him on his first visit to the Vatican on May 10, 2013, and to Greece on December 8, 2016, in addition to representing the Coptic Church in events and dialogues with other Christian bodies…

As a bishop, Anba Epiphanius was invited to lecture and homilize on a variety of topics. Much like what other saintly monastic bishops had done before, such as SS. Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807-1867) and Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894), Anba Epiphanius continued to labor in translating and overseeing translations of patristic texts, and producing theological and spiritual tracts for the benefit of his own monastic and wider Church communities. Unfortunately, as was the case with the Roman Catholic theologians who were at the forefront of the nouvelle théologie movement, Anba Epiphanius was pejoratively labelled by the scholastic loyalists as a “modernist” at best, and, at worst, as a “heretic.”

On Sunday, July 29, 2018, on his way to the katholikon of the monastery to attend the Midnight Office with his fellow monks, Anba Epiphanius was murdered by an unidentified assailant. Two days later, amidst much sorrow and confusion, Pope Tawadros, alongside other bishops and the monastery’s synaxis, presided at the katholikon over the abbot’s funeral. The identity and motive of the murderer are unknown as of yet, despite the speculations of many. One thing that can be said for sure is that this man of God—who supposedly foretold the time of his departure, and commissioned his headstone to be brought over to the monastery in time for his burial—left quite a lasting, bright legacy.

It has been written and said about Fr. Mattá al-Miskīn that he “is by far the most discussed and most influential theologian in Arabic-speaking Christianity today,” due to the radical reform that he advocated, which comprises a return to the sources with a fresh reading that is in harmony with the new orientation that was taking place in the broader Orthodox Church (Samuel Rubenson, “Matta El-Meskeen,” in Key Theological Thinkers: From Modern to Postmodern [2013]: 415-426). Fr. Mattá’s reform, however, went beyond merely furnishing the Church with countless books and resources (he authored over one hundred books, and many articles, covering a broad spectrum of topics). He instilled in his spiritual children a duty to labor with their God-given talents, so that they may give of their abundance to all around them.

As a spiritual child of Fr. Mattá al-Miskīn, Anba Epiphanius was found to be an heir of his father’s legacy. For this reason, he was invited to lecture on diverse theological topics. In an irenic manner, he would speak on a number of topics that were inspired by the Holy Fathers, which ran contrary to the prevalent scholastic theology that had held the Coptic Church in its own “Babylonian captivity.” He would discuss openly such topics as Orthodox anthropology, and the doctrine of theosis (for which Fr. Mattá was harshly criticized, and which ran contrary to the prevailing doctrine of the atonement that strongly emphasizes the fall, guilt, forgiveness, and grace).

Fr. Mattá al-Miskīn was severely accused of altering the biblical text, solely for applying modern historical-critical exegesis combined with traditional Alexandrian hermeneutics in his scriptural commentaries. In an indirect response to these accusations, and with a desire to provide a reliable, critical translation, Anba Epiphanius worked on translating into Arabic from the Greek and Coptic Septuagint the first couple of books from the Pentateuch, using the linguistic education that he had received in the monastery during his novitiate and onward.

Like his spiritual father, who had published voluminous studies on the rites and theology of the Eucharist and other liturgical services, Anba Epiphanius authored several papers and lectured on the history, development, and theology of different feasts and offices, in addition to translating the texts of the Church’s anaphoras from their original languages, while calling for a revival of a liturgical consciousness.

There’s more that can be written about his advocacy for the importance of theological education, especially for clergy and monastics, his role as a spiritual father and monastic reformer, and much else. Suffice it to say that many looked to him as a symbol of long-desired change, which had been suppressed over the years for many reasons, including being immersed in an antagonistic Islamic milieu. Nevertheless, this shepherd, though now dead, yet still speaks (Heb 11:4), and his witness will remain for generations to come.”


Anba Epiphanius the Neo-Hieromartyr: Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal!

matta el maskine10a

For Fr. Mattá al-Miskīn, see:


The Cappadocian Mothers

Posted in Uncategorized on August 11, 2018 by citydesert

Carla D. Sunberg The Cappadocian Mothers : deification exemplified in the writings of Basil, Gregory, and Gregory Eugene, Oregon : Pickwick Publications, 2017

Cappadocian Mothers cover

“The Cappadocian Fathers had great influence on the church of the fourth century, having brought their passion for Christ and theological expertise to life in their ministry. Their work was not devoid of influence, including that of their immediate family members. Within their writings we uncover the lives of seven women, the Cappadocian Mothers, who may have had more influence on the theology of the church than previously believed. As the Cappadocians wrestle with the Christianization of the concept of deification, we find the women in their lives becoming models for their theological understanding. The lives of the women become points of intersection in the kenosis-theosis parabola. Not only are the Cappadocian Mothers uncovered in the texts, but they become models of an optimistic theology of restoration for all of humanity without constraint of gender.”

Table of Contents:


The Christianization of deification

Christocentric development

The development of monasticism and the role of virginity in the Cappadocian understanding of theosis

The Fallen Virgin

Married women as the new Eve: Nonna and Gorgonia

Macrina, the perfect virgin bride

Practical implications for life and ministry: Macrina the Elder, Emmelia, and Theosebia

The Mothers exemplify deification.



Christian Women in the Patristic World

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2018 by citydesert

Lynn H. Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes Christian Women in the Patristic World : their influence, authority, and legacy in the second through fifth centuries GrandRapids, MI : Baker Academic, 2017Christian Women cover

“From facing wild beasts in the arena to governing the Roman Empire, Christian women–as preachers and philosophers, martyrs and empresses, virgins and mothers — influenced the shape of the church in its formative centuries. This book provides in a single volume a nearly complete compendium of extant evidence about Christian women in the second through fifth centuries. It highlights the social and theological contributions they made to shaping early Christian beliefs and practices, integrating their influence into the history of the patristic church and showing how their achievements can be edifying for contemporary Christians.”

Table of Contents:

Thecla: Christian female protomartyr and virgin of the church

Perpetua and Felicitas: mothers and martyrs

Christian women in catacomb art

From pagan to Christian, martyr to ascetic

Helena Augusta, “mother of the empire”

Egeria’s Itinerary and Christian pilgrimage

Macrina the ascetic entrepreneur and the “unlearned” wisdom of Monica

Paula, Marcella, and the Melanias: ascetics, scholars, and compatriots in controversy

Aelia Pulcheria, “protectress of the empire”

Empress Eudocia, a theological poet

Conclusion: Responsibly remembering.

See also

Women in the world cover

Lynn Cohick Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life Baker Academic, 2009

“Lynn Cohick provides an accurate and fulsome picture of the earliest Christian women by examining a wide variety of first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman documents that illuminate their lives. She organizes the book around three major spheres of life: family, religious community, and society in general. Cohick shows that although women during this period were active at all levels within their religious communities, their influence was not always identified by leadership titles nor did their gender always determine their level of participation. The book corrects our understanding of early Christian women by offering an authentic and descriptive historical picture of their lives. Includes black-and-white illustrations from the ancient world.”

Band of angels cover

Kate Cooper Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women The Overlook Press, 2013

“Among the defining figures of early Christianity were many remarkable women – from the villagers of Galilee to the empresses Helena and Eudoxia – whose influence helped to spread the word of the new religion, one household at a time. This book offers a fresh assessment of familiar texts about the women of Christian history and legend, prompting the reader to re-examine assumptions about the role of women in Christian ministry.”

Lives of the Desert Fathers

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2018 by citydesert

A valuable and readily accessible resource for the lives of the Desert Fathers can be found at:

St Paul Hermit

It includes the texts of, for example, The Life of St Paul, The First Hermit by Jerome:


“There is a controversy among many people about who was the first person to take to living in the desert as a hermit. Some point back as far as the blessed Elijah and John the Baptist as being among the first. Yet Elijah seems to us to have been more of a prophet than a monk, and as for John, he began to prophesy even before he was born! (Luke 1.44). Others say that Antony was the first, an opinion that is commonly held by the mass of the people, but that is only partly true. For it is not so much that he was the first as that he was the one who did so much to encourage others to do so. Indeed, even the disciples of Antony, Amathas and Macarius, the former of whom buried Antony’s body, nowadays assert that Paul of Thebes was the pioneer of this kind of life. I incline to that opinion myself, although there are many who will repeat all sorts of stories as the whim takes them, such as that Paul was only a man covered in hair right down to his feet living in a hole in the ground, and other invented tales too tedious to trouble with. Such impudent lies need to be refuted.

So then, seeing that Antony is now being diligently publicised both in Latin and Greek, [Athanasius’ Life of Antony, written between 356 and 362, was widely circulated in the ancient world] I have decided to write something about the beginnings and end of Paul’s life, not because I have any great confidence in my own ability, but simply because so far it has not been dealt with. What happened during the greater part of his life, or what battles with Satan he endured, it is not given to any man to know.”


Lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2018 by citydesert

A valuable and readily accessible resource for the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers with an extensive collection of articles, can be found at:

desert fathers image

An alphabetical listing of all articles published on the site is included – for example:

Abba Anthony the Great

Abba Agathon of Egypt

Abba Ammonas the Bishop Part 1 and Part 2

Abba Amoun of Nitria

Abba Anoub of Sketis

Abba Arsenius the Great

Abba Barsanuphius

Abba Basil the Great Part 1 and Part 2

Abba Cassian the Ascetic Part 1 and Part 2

Abba Daniel of Sketis

Abba Ephraim the Syrian Part 1 and Part 2

Abba Euthymius the Great

Abba Evagrius the Solitary Part 1 and Part 2

Abba Gregory the Great Part 1 and Part 2

Abba Isaac the Syrian Part 1 and Part 2

Abba Isaiah the Solitary Part 1 and Part 2


Frà Ugo-Maria the Hermit Priest

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2018 by citydesert

“Welcome to the Blog-Site where occasionally I’m allowed to share my mind with others.  My Name is Fr. Ugo-Maria.  I’m a contemplative Catholic Priest and Hermit, originally from Italy.  I attended a Salesian minor seminary school in Castrofilippo Italy and Diocesan Seminary in Osnabrück Germany and Rome.  I spent several years with the Benedictines in Italy, Ireland and the UK, then with the Cistercians at Mellifont in Ireland in search of my “desert vocation” and eventually spend some time with the Carthusians at Serra San Bruno in Calabria.   In 1995 my bishop released me from diocesan duties and I commenced my life as a Priest and contemplative Hermit following the ancient Carthusian Customs (Consuetudines) or Rule written in 1128 (Guigo I, 5th Prior of Order) and continue to use their pre Vatican II liturgy with the consent of my bishop.


St. Mary’s Hermitage is located on the edge of a very tiny village in the Weald of Kent, surrounded by woodland and arable land, and very few people.

This is in fact the second St. Mary’s Hermitage, the first one having burnt to the ground by an arsonist attack a couple of years ago.  It has been a difficult as we lost absolutely everything.  Only the hermitage animals and I were spared.

Today, hermitic Catholics can live their monastic life as hermits belonging to a cenobitic religious order (eg Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappists) or in a religious order oriented to hermitism (eg the Carthusian or Camaldolese) But in both cases under obedience to his religious superior. Or as hermits consecrated under the canonical direction of their local bishops (Canon 603).

Idiorrhythmia was the original form of monastic life in Christianity, as exemplified by St. Anthony of Egypt and is the opposite of cenobitic monasticism in that instead of communal ownership, the monk lives alone, often in isolation.  Philosophically it consists of a total withdrawal from society, normally in the desert, and the constant practice of mental prayer. The word Idiorrhythmic comes from two Greek words idios, “particular” and ῥυθμός rhuthmós, “rule” meaning “following one’s own devices.”  It was first developed by St. Anthony of Egypt (c. 250–355) and today is mainly known to be practised in Mount Athos, Greece, but is beginning to expand to other parts of the world.

My monastic life in which I seek divine quietness (ἡσυχία hēsychia) through the contemplation of God in uninterrupted prayer.  Such prayer, involving the entire human being—soul, mind, and body—is often called “pure,” or “intellectual,” prayer or the Jesus prayer. St. John Climacus, one of the greatest writers of the Hesychast tradition, wrote, “Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath, and then you will know the value of the hēsychia.”   even in the life of this father of monasticism, the desert solitude was gradually modified by the appearance of disciples. I wanted to pursue the monastic life under the guidance of one who was already experienced.  A monk seeking a life of solitude would much rather be guided by an experienced hermit than an inexperienced one, no matter how educated the latter may be. So, there were struggles for many years as a solitary, but I initially received help from the people who lived near me and a small Amish community who provided some furniture, food and plants.

It has been a whole now and being nearly fully settled in I began to do some gardening, I learn from the Carthusians at Calabria how every single monk had his own small cell to live in and to worship God in quiet solitude; there are two gardens one at the front of the hermitage which at times I wished were smaller and one at rear of the hermitage which is attached to my cell.  I have planted a verity of medicinal herbs which I use, flowers which I enjoy especially the Jasmine, wisteria and quite a few fruit bearing trees and bushes, the favourites being all of them really, there are figs, cherries, plums, apples, pears, damsons, there are also blueberries and gooseberries, occasionally strawberries (they were damaged this spring when a lamb took a liking to them) also I brought back some Anguria seeds (Water Melon) from Sicily and they have done surprisingly well.

Next year I hope to start canning, drying and storing the fruits and herbs.  I do not to use any chemical pesticides at all and therefore have to be watchful of insects and slugs and snails, white fly, black things green things… its a great learning curb.  When I’m in a real panic about a plant I usually contact Buckfast Abbey in Devon and ask for advice.

The rest of my time is spend in lecturing, writing, editing and publishing… but all of these things need to fit in with my Horarium (schedule).”


Sister Mary Ann Burkhart

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2018 by citydesert

“A calling from the Lord to a life of solitude is what led Sister Mary Ann Burkhart to the vocation of eremitic life. Sister Mary Ann had been living in a community of religious sisters when she discerned that God was not calling her to community, but rather to solitude. After leaving her community, Sister Mary Ann approached Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades about becoming a hermit.

Mary Ann Burkhart photo

Hermits discern their vocation for three years before professing their final vows. Sister Mary Ann professed her final vows on Friday, July 6, at St. Mother Theodore Guerin Chapel in Fort Wayne, where Bishop Rhoades celebrated the Mass. The Church celebrates with solemnity the Rite of Perpetual Profession, by which religious bind themselves permanently to the service of God and the Church.

Bishop Rhoades began his homily by discussing the first reading Sister Mary Ann had selected. In this reading the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” The bishop explained that this passage reminds all of God’s tender love for all His children, and that “He loves us and is with us always.”

The bishop then spoke of how Sister Mary Ann became a hermit in response to God’s call “to devote her life to His praise.”

“Sister Mary Ann, like all consecrated hermits, is called to live a stricter separation from the world, to live ‘in the desert,’ so to speak, in order to live in communion with God,” he said.

This separation from society is a life of “profound communion with the whole Church.” Even though Sister Burkhart lives in solitude, he said she is “part of the praying community of the whole Church.” In addition, her life of prayer and penance is the “constant prayer of praise and petition which the Church offers to God.”

“As a hermit, Sister Mary Ann has embraced prayer and taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Her daily life consists of Mass, a Holy Hour, prayer and fasting. When in her home, she lives mostly in silence and does not usually interact with the outside world, except for viewing or listening to the news.

Her silence does not mean that Sister Mary Ann cannot speak to others, however. She is not to engage in group activities or gatherings, but is able to spend time with her family or talk with others at church.

Sister Mary Ann said that some people may find such a vocation boring, but she finds gratification in the eremitic life. She knows that this is the life meant for her, and that “just growing deeper with God” is her goal.”