Archive for September, 2013

In the Desert of Snow

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2013 by citydesert

Sister Laurel draws attention to Agafia Lykov, a Hermit in the Desert of Snow in Siberia:
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“Agafia Lykov (born 1943) is a Russian Old Believer who has survived alone in the Taiga for most of her life. Lykov became a national phenomenon in the early 1980s when Vasily Peskov published articles about her family and their extreme isolation from the rest of society. Lykov is the sole surviving member of the clan and has been mostly self-sufficient since 1988, when her father died.

Agafia Lykov was born in a pine trough in 1943 to Karp Osipovich Lykov and Akulina Lykov. She was their fourth child, and the second to be born in the Taiga.
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Lykov lives 500 feet up a remote mountainside in the Abakan Range, 150 miles away from the nearest town. For the first 35 years of her life, Lykov did not have contact with anyone outside of her immediate family. Information about the outside world came from her father’s stories and the family’s Russian Orthodox bible.
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In the summer of 1978, a group of four geologists discovered the family by chance, while circling the area in a helicopter. The scientists reported that Lykov spoke a language “distorted by a lifetime of isolation” that sounded akin to a “slow, blurred cooing.” This unusual speech led to the misconception that Lykov possessed little intelligence. Later, after observing her skill in hunting, cooking, sewing, reading and construction, this original misconception was revised.

In 70 years, Lykov has ventured out of the family settlement six times. The first time was in the 1980s, shortly after Vasily Peskov’s articles about the family’s isolation turned them into a national phenomenon. The Russian Government paid for her to tour Russia for a month, during which time she saw planes, horses, cars and money for the first time. Since then, she has only left to seek medical treatment, visit distant relatives and to meet other Old Believers.

By and large, Lykov prefers her life in the Taiga to life in the larger towns or cities. She claims that the air and water outside of the Taiga makes her sick. She also said that she finds the busy roads frightening.”
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A detailed account of Agafia’s life is found at with additional material at , and

One person who interviewed Agafia was later asked:

“What were some things you learned from Agafia?

I learned, or perhaps it was reinforced in my mind, that people can live off-grid and mostly alone with minimal intrusion and help from the ‘outside.’ It’s not an impossible lifestyle, and, especially in the case of the former, it’s how all our ancestors lived. It blew my mind that there was a 70-year-old woman doing it in the middle of the mountains of Siberia, of all places. She projects this grandmotherly warmth, and almost frailty, but then will just march up a steep-ass snow-covered hill and start sawing logs while the young crew of soft New Yorkers are all winded from just walking there. It also made me sure that all hermits are running from something — in the case of Agafia, well, her father’s case, it was Communists. I just like the idea that most of the world is so in touch with modern amenities, and then there’s this isolated old lady in Siberia who has almost none of them, and she’s seemingly happier than anyone else I’ve met.

Is there anything you wish you’d asked her but didn’t?

I’m really interested in the survival aspect of it, because she’s so anathema to the stereotype of a mountain man hermit, I wanted her to teach me her secrets. I wanted to know more about her day to day and the skills she learned growing up. We tried asking her, but she has this circular way of answering questions that made interviewing her rather challenging. If we would ask her if her way of life is difficult, for instance, she’d answer with a “difficult? this is just how I live.” Also the fact that I don’t speak Russian wasn’t helping, and everyone on the crew was a Godless heathen, so Agafia’s Biblical allusions were lost on us for the most part. The one thing that we didn’t get to explore, which we would have liked to, was the living situation when her family was still alive. Due to inclement weather, our time with her was cut short by a day, which was when we were supposed to put on skin skis and go six miles or so to a cabin that her brothers lived in, away from the father and daughters. While there’s no explanation for why they lived there, there is some speculation that it was the father wanting to keep the genders separate.”
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A beautiful and inspiring documentary on her life,” Surviving in the Siberian Wilderness for 70 Years” is at : “In 1936, a family of Russian Old Believers journeyed deep into Siberia’s vast taiga to escape persecution and protect their way of life. The Lykovs eventually settled in the Sayan Mountains, 160 miles from any other sign of civilization. In 1944, Agafia Lykov was born into this wilderness. Today, she is the last surviving Lykov, remaining steadfast in her seclusion. In this episode of Far Out, the VICE crew travels to Agafia to learn about her taiga lifestyle and the encroaching influence of the outside world.”

A Russian documentary, “Lost in the Taiga”, on the Lykovs is found at
lost in the taiga
“Lost in the Taiga: One Russian Family’s Fifty-Year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness” by Vasily Peskov is a Russian journalists account of the Lykovs.

The Diet of Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2013 by citydesert

The diet of Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih has been discussed for more than half a century. It seems clear from most sources – Ethiopian, Eritrean and Coptic-Egyptian – that he was not simply a vegetarian, who abstains from animal food, particularly that from slaughtered animals, but that he was a vegan who will not use or eat any other animal products like milk and cheese. He also ate no fish. He liked to affirm short phrases from St. Isaac the Syrian: “There can be no knowledge of the mysteries of God on a full stomach.” “There can be no weapon more powerful to the heart than hunger endured for Christ’s sake.” After more than three decades in the Wadi el-Natroun, Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih usually ate and drank alone.
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In common with other monks by the Red Sea, in the Fayoum Basin and in Upper Egypt, Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih’s favorite dish was Mulukhiyyah, a leafy summer vegetable that is extremely popular throughout the Middle East. Only the leaves are edible. They are usually available fresh, dry or frozen, though in the Wadi el-Natroun it is most likely that they were simply dry – there were no refrigerators in desert caves, at least not in the time of the Ethiopian mystic! These tasty leaves were the most important ingredients in the stable diet of Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih.

He also ate lentils (lens culinaris). He cooked alone in his desert cave, lighting a fire at night for cooking and maintaining the flames in the desert winter so that he could be sufficiently warm. Although he liked to drink tea, it is sometimes reported that he used salt rather than sugar in his drink. But bread was more important, and was supplied freely by the kitchen of the Monastery of the Romans. We may see that the bread that he ate was not simply mundane but mysterious: “God sends bread to me every day.”

He obviously remained in the desert cave close to Deir el-Bârâmûsi for a very long time, and, apart from one brief period of sickness in the 1950s when he was taken to Alexandria, he only left his cave for Jerusalem in 1970s. He was certain that he needed to fulfill the classical Ethiopian monastic injunction to “stand in the Holy City of God”. A monk who leaves the silence of the desert dies, but Ethiopian Orthodoxy speaks of a hermit who must travel “to find the City of God, coming down from God out of heaven”. Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih was not alone in his conviction that he should travel beyond the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly revelation of that city.

Alone, at home in Ethiopia, bidden in the monastic wasteland of Egypt and finally on pilgrimage to Israel-Palestine, the desert father Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih el-Habasbi did not welcome earthly companions but frequently affirmed the presence of “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” who joined him daily in their hymns of praise.

From the article by John Watson reprinted, with permission, from Coptic Church Review: A Quarterly of Contemporary Patristic Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer 2006) at

(i) Mulukhiyyah
“Mulukhiyah, mloukhiya, molokhia, molohiya, mulukhiyya, malukhiyah, or moroheiya (Arabic: ملوخية‎) is the leaves of Corchorus species used as a vegetable in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Mulukhiyyah is rather bitter, and when boiled, the resulting liquid is a thick, highly mucilaginous broth; it is often described as “slimy,” rather like cooked okra. Mulukhiyyah is generally eaten cooked, not raw, and is most frequently turned into a kind of soup or stew, typically bearing the same name as the vegetable in the local language.”

(ii) Lentils
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For traditional Egyptian lentil recipes see including the traditional monastic dish;

“Kushari, also koshary, kosheri or koshari (Egyptian Arabic: كشرى, [ˈkoʃæɾi]), is an Egyptian dish of rice and lentils cooked together, topped with pasta—some add spaghetti—a garlic tomato sauce, and garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions, with a sprinkling of garlic juice.”

(iii) Tea

Egyptian tea comes in two varieties: Koshary and Saiidi. Koshary tea, popular in Lower (Northern) Egypt, is prepared using the traditional method of steeping black tea in boiled water and letting it set for a few minutes. It is almost always sweetened with cane sugar and is often flavored with fresh mint leaves. Adding milk is also common. Koshary tea is usually light, with less than a half teaspoonful per cup considered to be near the high end.
Saiidi tea is common in Upper (Southern) Egypt. It is prepared by boiling black tea with water for as long as 5 minutes over a strong flame. Saiidi tea is extremely heavy, with 2 teaspoonfuls per cup being the norm. It is sweetened with copious amounts of cane sugar (a necessity since the formula and method yield a very bitter tea). Saiidi tea is often black even in liquid form.
egyptian tea
Egyptian Red Tea is an infusion beverage made from the calyces of the Hibiscus Sabdariffa flower (crushed). It is a caffeine-free, (certified organic) tea that possesses a number of therapeutic benefits. Egyptian Red is considered to be an all-purpose medicinal plant that can be used to remedy various diseases and health conditions.

(iv) Bread

“Bread made from a simple recipe forms the backbone of Egyptian cuisine. It is consumed at almost all Egyptian meals; a working-class or rural Egyptian meal might consist of little more than bread and beans.

The local bread is a form of hearty, thick, glutenous pita bread called Eish Masri or Relish Salad (Egyptian Arabic: عيش [ʕeːʃ]; Modern Standard Arabic: ʿayš) rather than the Arabic خبز ḫubz. The word “[ʕeːʃ]” comes from the Semitic root ع-ي-ش ʕ-Ī-Š with the meaning “to live, be alive.” The word ʿayš itself has the meaning of “life, way of living…; livelihood, subsistence” in Modern Standard and Classical Arabic; folklore holds that this synonymity indicates the centrality of bread to Egyptian life.”
egyptian bread
“The ancient Egyptians had a varied diet, but most importantly their food was bread and beer. Each meal was accompanied by them, and meals were considered incomplete without them. Wheat and barley were the main crops cultivated wheat was used to bake bread and barley for making beer.

The bread was the staple food of the Egyptians. Much of our knowledge about ancient Egyptian bread comes from archaeological digs have found bread dried in the tombs. The bread was placed as a funerary offering to feed the dead in their journey to the afterlife.
The process of baking bread is known from sources such as statues of the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom models, tombs of Beni Hassan etc.

Egyptian bread was made almost exclusively from emmer wheat, which was more difficult to process into flour from most other wheat varieties. Emmer needed a complete treatment, which was usually done by women in large families.

Egyptian bread was very different from bread we eat today. The gritty and hard bread was very dangerous for your teeth. Many Egyptian mummies show severe abrasion of the teeth to eat bread with sand and particles from the wheels. Even Amenhotep III suffered a lot of these problems.

The ball is in spikelet which needed to be removed by moistening and pounding with a pestle to avoid crushing the beans inside. It is then dried in the sun, winnowed and sifted bleached and finally on a wheel seat, which operated by moving the wheel back and forth.
Grinding was hard work, taking hours of hard work. Grit stone grinding wheel was released in flour and was baked in bread. Cooking techniques varies over time.

Flavorings used for bread included coriander seeds and dates. There were other flavors such as honey, butter, eggs, oil and herbs, and fruit that were added to the occasion. Yeast could also be added to some recipes. But whether they were used by the poor.
The most common type of pita bread is a type made either with refined white flour called aysh Shami, or with coarse, whole wheat, aysh belly. There were over thirty different types of bread.

More than forty varieties of bread and cakes were made in the New Kingdom. There are many types of breads, including those shaped like animals. Breads also the form of human figures, fish, all of varying the texture of dough.”

The Poustinikki

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2013 by citydesert

“In another world, in another culture, perhaps even for the greater part, at another time, in sharp contrast to our scrambled existence are some who march to the beat of a different drum. In secluded woods on the outskirts of villages in Russia, live “holy” men known as “Poustinikki” (pou – pronounced as in you; poustinikki – plural for poustinik). With deep roots in the tsarist era, they have survived the scourge of communism and are reportedly still in existence even today.

In this far removed context there are those who, from all levels of the social spectrum, have responded literally to the compelling challenge that Jesus extended to the rich young man in Matthew 19:21: “…go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

Even Tsar Alexander I is thought by many to have entered a poustinia (home of the poustinik). Great mystery surrounds his many years of absence.
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Answering the call, a poustinik distributes his earthly wealth to the poor and leaves friends and family to embark on a life of solitude, service and prayer. A simple ankle-length robe tied with a cord at the waist is his usual summertime attire, and he takes only a linen bag containing a loaf of bread, some salt, one book, a Bible, and a gourd of water.
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The poustinik usually occupies a deserted hut on the edge of a village, or one built with the help of villagers who always welcome his presence. He usually plants a vegetable garden, fishes in a river or stream, cuts wood for his stove to keep warm in winter and tries to earn a living. He also does such things as weaving baskets to give to those in need. His door is latched only against the wind. Anyone is welcomed day or night for whatever reason. What food he has is offered to his guests even though it may be only a piece of bread. Those needing help come to the poustinia for prayer, or counseling, or physical assistance, for any contribution he can make to their lives. So metimes a poustinik spends weeks helping to gather in crops or whatever the need of the villagers might be, realizing that to serve his God is to serve his fellow man. The only book in the poustinia is a Bible which the poustinik reads on his knees. Academic questions or profound analysis are of little interest to him. He often reads only a few sentences or a single page in a whole day and in long meditation permits the truth of the Word to take root in his heart.
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Those who have known them say that poustinikki always radiate the quiet joy of the Lord. They maintain that a sad poustinik is not a true poustinik but is a hypocrite and a liar. To them, eyes tell the story. Even though the face may be that of an old man (or woman) they say the eyes of a true poustinik are those of a child.
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In her book, “Poustinia”, Catherine de Hueck Doherty tells about her father’s experience with a close friend. Peter was a member of the nobility, the oldest son of an old Russian family, a millionaire by today’s standards. One day he announced to Catherine’s father, “Theodore, I have been reading the gospels and I have decided, as so many before me, to accept them literally.” He turned over his real estate to his family and proceeded to withdraw his bank accounts in coins of gold and silver. These he stuffed in sacks which he piled into a heavy horse drawn cart about the size of a l to l½ ton truck. In the slums of Petrograd, the two of them distributed his wealth, family by family, house by house. When all was disbursed, Peter said, “And now I must go.”

Mrs. Doherty writes: So they returned to his house where on his bed, there was laid out a linen tunic. He took a linen bag, a loaf of bread and in another little linen bag, he took some salt. He also had a gourd of water and a staff. On foot, my father walking with him, he went through the streets of Petrograd. My father accompanied him to the outskirts of the city and into the country roads. The last he saw of him was just a silhouette against the setting sun, a man in a long garment with a staff in his hand. He had no cash in his pockets (he had no pockets), nor in his bag. He had only some bread, water, salt and a staff. Not even shoes. That was all.

Such complete abandonment of all the things we couldn’t live without is hard for us to fathom. In our culture, such actions would be considered unnecessary, unwise and irrational.

One thing, however, is very clear: the poustinik put his money where his mouth was. What he had of this world’s goods he held loosely. He kept nothing back. He was ready at any time to relinquish anything and everything if he perceived this to be the Lord’s will for him.

It’s true, such a pristine existence does not lend itself to our culture, but is there just a little tug at your heart strings to experience a quiet place to meet with your Lord alone in your own private poustinia? Could it be that in order for us to survive the persistent surge of activity, the increasing wickedness and sensuous materialism, it is becoming ever more urgent for us to make room in our lives for such a place? Is our Lord running after you, longing for the moment when you will slow down long enough to meet with Him in a quiet place?

He has said to us: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Perhaps you’ve tried, but your schedule is so crowded you can’t ever fit it in. Or maybe you’ve experienced erratic success, but haven’t been able to establish a pattern in your life. “ Just how does one establish a ‘calm oasis’ in the midst of a chaotic existence?” you may ask.

Radical change in perspective and lifestyle does not spring tra la from mere desire. Desire is the beginning, but change must grow. And perhaps 21st Century change requires 21st Century perspective.”


“Originally a Russian Orthodox tradition, the poustinia was introduced to Roman Catholic spirituality by the Catholic social activist Catherine Doherty in her best-selling book “Poustinia: Christian Spirituality of the East for Western Man” (ISBN 0-87793-084-8), first published in 1975.
Although originating with ancient startsy (wise Russian elders, sg. starets), Catherine’s popular book made the concept of poustinia accessible to modern Western men and women. In it, she describes the poustinia as “an entry into the desert, a lonely place, a silent place, where one can lift the two arms of prayer and penance to God in antonement, intercession, reparation for one’s sins and those of one’s brothers…. To go into the poustinia means to listen to God. It means entering into kenosis — the emptying of oneself.” She promotes the poustinia as a place where anyone — in any walk of life — can go for 24 hours of silence, solitude and prayer. Ultimately, however, the poustinik’s call is to the desert of one’s one’s own heart wherein he dwells with God alone, whether in the workplace or in a solitary locale.”

Down to Earth

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2013 by citydesert

Rhonda Hetzel uses the phrase “sustainability via house and yard work” for her blog and her book; it might well be a motto for the Urban Hermit.
“I was pulled into simple living before I knew what it was. It crept up on me using the smallest of steps and didn’t reveal its true beauty and real power until I was totally hooked. I was searching for a way to live well while spending very little money. What I found was a way of life that also gave me independence, opportunity and freedom.”

The interesting blog offers information on a range of topics:
“If you haven’t already discovered the power of your own home you are in for a delightful and beautiful shock. Come closer and let me whisper in your ear, because if everyone knows this, it will cause a revolution. The work you do in your own home, by creating a warm and secure place for yourself and your family to live in, will enrich you and make you a different person. It saved me from a life of ridiculous spending and mindless acquisition and slowed me down enough to allow me to see the beauty here. When I took the time to change my attitude towards my home, it not only gave me the energy to do housework and the strength to make the physical changes so our home better suited how we live, it changed me in the process. It is a beautiful change that I am grateful for every day.”

“I cannot stress enough that simple living is not about a particular geographical location; it is not something that happens only in the countryside, nor is it confined to a certain city, or to the suburbs. You do not have to live on a farm or a homestead or in a cave. A simple life can flourish anywhere.

Simple living is more about a powerful change in attitude and how you apply that change to the way you live. You could be living in a tent on the top of a mountain, an apartment block in New York City or a beach house in Australia. Your home could be the suburbs of London or Paris, the wild open spaces of Alaska or any crowded city in the world; a simple life is possible anywhere.

It’s not about where your home is, it’s about where your head is.

The vision of packing up and leaving the city to live a simple life in the country is a common one, but it is not a realistic vision for many people. It’s often a romantic, idealised dream to live a life uncomplicated by traffic, pollution, crowds, violence and uncertainty. Sometimes people move to a location that looks perfect, but when they get there they can’t find a job, the schools are too far away and the idyllic simple life they dream of is still out of reach. Their life is still complicated, just by different things.

One of my favourite aspects of simple living is that you make do with what you have, and that includes your location. It’s an old-fashioned notion and the opposite of what’s currently in favour: instant gratification and having what you want at any price. Simple living is not about buying a lifestyle, it’s about building a life – using what you already have. And just like making a meal using basic ingredients, what you end up with is something suited exactly to you, not someone else’s idea of what you should want. So no matter where you’re living, you can make it better by altering your attitude, making a few simple changes and making the best of what you have.”

Extract from “Down to Earth”:
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For an interview with the author: and an ABC radio program about her:

Fr Abdel Messih el Habashi: The Ethiopian Hermit

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2013 by citydesert

One the truly great Ethiopian Hermits of the twentieth century was Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih al-Habashi (c. 1898 to c. 1973). A detailed account of his life is now available at This article by John Watson was reprinted, with permission, from Coptic Church Review: A Quarterly of Contemporary Patristic Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer 2006). The paper includes fascinating details about his spiritual life, his worship, his Eucharistic practice and even his diet. May the blessed Hermit Abba Gabra Krestos remember us in his prayers.
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Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih al-Habashi was born in Ethiopia in 1898. ln English he is known as Father, the Servant of Christ, the Ethiopian. Orthodox Christians of Ethiopia knew him as Abba Gabra Krestos. The titles in Ethiopian Orthodoxy (identical in Amharic and Ge’ez script) are equally close to Arabic and English. Abba Gabra Krestos eventually left his farm work with his family without parental permission and travelled into central Ethiopia. It was in that region that he studied liturgical music and poetry, possibly at Debra Damo, a monastery built as early as the seventh century. One source claims that he also studied in Addis Ababa. It has been affirmed that he visited major Ethiopian Christian sites at Lake Tana. The legendary island monasteries out on the lake were a tremendous attraction to him and to most other candidates to monasticism. Local Ethiopian sources have affirmed his teenage visit to the 12th century site at Lalibela, with its historic rock-hewn churches, which are regarded as being amongst the finest examples of ecclesiastical architecture in the history of Christianity and comparable to the rock-hewn temples of Abu Simbel in Nubia, of Petra in Jordan, or of Ellora in Hyderabad, India. Abba Gabra Krestos was certainly perceived as a pilgrim within classical Ethiopian monasticism. Sadly, primary sources concerning his visits to Tana and Lalibela have not yet been positively confirmed though a substantial range of secondary and tertiary sources do claim that he was there.
The reality is that Abd el-Mesih was perhaps the least known and least advertised of all hermits and solitaries. In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and in Egyptian (Coptic) Orthodoxy, which were both intimately related for centuries, Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih al-Habashi was often portrayed as a man with one sense of direction only: his eyes were opened to eternity….

He had certainly lived – possibly from 1912 to 1934 – as an ordained solitary or a hermit (bahetawy) in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is equally clear that Abd el-Mesih lived on – from about 1935-7 to approximately 1970-74 as a solitary (muttawahad) in the Wadi Natroun. This inimitable Desert Father lived in the physical and spiritual wastelands of both countries for at least half a century. But even in the long history of desert monasticism, the monastic institutions too often rejected the life of solitude, which was loved by the Ethiopian father. Many ancient sources have affirmed that if an athlete does not practice with other athletes then he cannot learn how to be victorious and learn to compete alone with his opponent. This is the monk’s life: If he cannot be trained in a monastery with other monks and learn to control his own thoughts then he cannot live in solitude and fight an inward battle. For Abd el-Mesih nothing could be further from the truth. He must fight alone. The greatest way forward is not the institutional way but the individual way. The Ethiopian Father identified with Elijah the prophet and St John’ the Baptist: the desert path was the only path…
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It is certain that Abûnâ Abd el-Mesih initially felt himself to be a prisoner in the monasteries of the Wadi el-Natroun, but he eventually walked free. One of his much-quoted foundational texts was: “We have been buried with Jesus through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6.4). He liked to insist that he was a free man who could walk out of the ecclesial prison and into the liberating deep space of the solitary. It was perhaps around 1935-7, before the Second World War, that he went to live in a cave not far from Deir al-Barâmûsi. The cave was about four and a half kilometers from the monastery. The large open cleft in the rock has been identified as pentagonal. It was an area hewn out of sand stone and approximately three-by-six meters in size, but a deeper and lower eremitic section had definitely been established. Below the pentagonal cave the subterranean space was his secluded eucharistic sanctuary.

A film, “Fr Abdel Messih el Habashi: The Ethiopian Monk”, (with English sub-titles) about the life of can be found at

For information on the Ethiopian monastic life, see and for the tradition of the Bahitawi (meaning in the ancient Ethiopian language Ge’ez, ‘one who lives in the wilderness’) see .
ethiopian monk
For a brief interview with and fascinating photographs of a 101 year old Ethiopian monk:

Going Solo

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2013 by citydesert

From the ever-inspiring Hermitary (again!), a review of an interesting book on solitary living in the modern world: Eric Klinenberg: “Going Solo, the Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone”, New York: Penguin Press, 2012:
Going solo
“The appeal of Going Solo is the modern non-fiction book mix of statistics and factoids, case studies, interviews, and breezy narrative. Living alone today in the United States and the developed countries revolves around a heady mix of sociological movements: mores, labor, deprecation of marriage, reemergence of urban life, and the atomization of society, for better or worse.

During the past half century, our species has embarked on a remarkable social experiment. For the first time in human history, great numbers of people — at all ages, in all places, of every political persuasion — have begun settling down as singletons.

By “singleton,” author Klinenberg means not unmarried people but people living alone. In the U.S., 28 percent do, clustered in large cities where easy access to 24/7 social life revolving around restaurants, cafes, shops, entertainment centers, and especially job sources for younger people and social services for older people are more accessible than in suburbia or smaller cities and towns. Ease of living quarters, human contact, employment, and transportation have highlighted a trend away from institutional commitments, having children, and maintaining life-long relationships, whether to partners or employers. The trend fulfills American individualism originating in Emerson, Thoreau, the encounter with the frontier, and material culture, such that, as the author puts it, “it would be easy to conclude that the contemporary urban singleton is just the latest variation on this theme.”…..

The social changes driving the shift towards living alone are here to stay, and policy-makers and cultural critics need to realize that living alone is “a valid individual choice” that has not accelerated a decline in collective life or social commitments but transformed them, such that things “are unlikely to be reversed.” That said, however, people today

can easily forget that it’s vital to learn how to be alone. … [I]instead of leading to loneliness or isolation, having a place of one’s own gives us time and space for a productive retreat. Solitude, once we learn how to use it, does more than restore our personal energy. It also sparks new ideas about how we might better live together.

Klinenberg’s book addresses many of the popularized excoriations of living alone, while realistically analyzing the causes of the singleton movement. The book usefully supersedes the plethora of recent books on contemporary aloneness to offer constructive facts and insights.”

“During the past half century, our species has embarked on a remarkable social experiment. For the first time in human history, great numbers of people—at all ages, in all places, of every political persuasion—have begun settling down as singletons. Until recently, most of us married young and parted only at death. If death came early, we remarried quickly; if late, we moved in with family, or they with us. Now we marry later. (The Pew Research Center reports that the average age of first marriage for men and women is “the highest ever recorded, having risen by roughly five years in the past half century.”) We divorce, and stay single for years or decades. We survive our spouses, and do whatever we can to avoid moving in with others—even, perhaps especially, our children. We cycle in and out of different living arrangements: alone, together, together, alone.

Not long ago, it might have made sense to treat living on our own as a transitional stage between more durable arrangements, whether coupling up with a partner or moving into an institutional home. This is no longer appropriate, because today, for the first time in centuries, the majority of all American adults are single. The typical American will spend more of his or her adult life unmarried than married, and for much of this time he or she will live alone. Naturally, we are adapting. We are learning to go solo, and crafting new ways of living in the process.”
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An interview with the author can be found at
A review from the “New York Observer” is at

Modern Stylite Hermit

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2013 by citydesert

From the always valuable Hermitary, references to a modern stylite, Maxime Qavtaradze, a 59-year-old monk, who has lived a life of virtual solitude on top of a pillar high above his Georgian monastery for 20 years: and a documentary on his life, “Upon this Rock”: See also
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A lengthy article on Maxime is found in the “Daily Mail” (UK): A further article with spectacular photographs is found in the “Huffington Post”: together with a trailer for “The Stylite,” an independent film directed by Stephen Riehl. A short video (commentary not in English) is also found at
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The Katskhi Pillar on which Maxime lives was used by stylites, Christians who lived on top of pillars to avoid worldly temptation until the 15th century when the practice was stopped following the Ottoman invasion of Georgia: , For centuries the 40 metres (130ft) high pillar lay abandoned and locals could only look up at the mysterious ruins at its summit.
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Finally, in 1944 a group led by the mountaineer Alexander Japaridze made the first documented ascent of the pillar and discovered the remains of a chapel and the skeleton of a stylite who had perished there.

Shortly after the collapse of communism, and the subsequent resurgence of religion in Georgia, Maxime decided to live atop the pillar in the way of the old stylites. In 1993 Maxime took monastic vows and climbed the pillar to begin his new life. “For the first two years there was nothing up here so I slept in an old fridge to protect me from the weather.”
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Since then Maxime and the Christian community in the area have constructed a ladder to the top, rebuilt the church, and built a cottage where Maxime spends his days praying, reading, and “preparing to meet God”. As a result of the interest in the site there is now a religious community at the base of the pillar.
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Maxime follows in the – long essentially lost and forgotten – tradition of Stylites (from Greek stylos, “pillar”, Classical Syriac: ܐܣܛܘܢܐ ʼasṯonáyé) or Pillar-Saints are a type of Christian ascetic who in the early days of the Byzantine Empire stood on pillars preaching, fasting and praying. They believed that the mortification of their bodies would help ensure the salvation of their souls. The first stylite was probably Simeon Stylites the Elder who climbed on a pillar in Syria in 423 and remained there until his death 37 years later:

Emma Orbach, Welsh Hermit

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12, 2013 by citydesert

The ever-invaluable blog, Hermitary, offers details of a Welsh Hermit, Emma Orbach, 58, “who lives in a hobbit-like off-the-grid house in the Welsh mountains. Says Orbach: “I don’t miss anything at all about what is normally called reality. The quality of life, in my view, is decreasing and everything is speeding up and becoming more stressful”” and provides a link to a short TV documentary about her:
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She was also the subject of an extensive article in the (UK) “Daily Mail”: “So Mrs Bilbo, why DO you live like a Hobbit?: The Oxford graduate who’s lived for 13 years in a mud hut – and she really is away with the fairies”:–The-Oxford-graduate-whos-lived-13-years-mud-hut–really-away-fairies.html#ixzz2ef7RY6nV which includes some fascinating photographs.
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“People don’t come a great deal grander than Emma Orbach. The daughter of a wealthy musician, she grew up in what she describes as ‘a rundown castle’.
Her parents sent her to one of the most expensive boarding schools in the country, where she was taught alongside the daughters of two foreign presidents.
Then it was off to Oxford to finish her education with a degree in Chinese. After such an auspicious start, Emma could have done virtually anything she’d wanted with her life.
So why choose this? For the past 13 years, Emma, a 58-year-old mother of three, has lived in a round mud hut at the bottom of a scrappy field in rural west Wales, a 15-minute walk from the nearest road…
It’s hard to know what to make of Emma. She is charming and well-meaning, certainly. But she’s also, occasionally, a little disingenuous.
When I asked her which Oxford college she attended, she affected not to remember, before hesitantly telling me it was St Hilda’s.
She also seemed not to know that the school she attended (St Mary’s, Ascot) was, and still is, very posh. But no matter.
The world is a better place for having people like Emma who challenge the views of the majority – even if she is also, quite literally, away with the fairies.
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For a further article in the “Daily Mail” see

Emma, and her former husband, the art historian Julian Orbach, had originally established an alternative, self-sufficient community, Brithdir Mawr, in 1993 two or so miles from the Pembrokeshire coastal village of Newport. The community was split in 2001, and Emma took that part known as Tir Ysbrydol, also an alternative self-sufficient community.
For Brithdir Mawr, see, and

For Tir Ysbrydol, see

Emma subsequently moved to a solitary eremitical life.

Whole Larder Love

Posted in Uncategorized on September 6, 2013 by citydesert

“Since I decided to live simply, I’ve left a steady source of income. It took me a many years to get the courage to leave my job, but finally late last year I decided that earning money was not part of what I wanted to be. Here in lies the problem. The irony is that without a steady income I cannot afford to purchase the land to build my cabin and lifestyle. The irony is that I need money to live with nothing or very little…. My rainbow is bright. But there is no pot of gold at the end, no philanthropic saviour eager to hand over money to make dreams happen. There is just me with an impractical dream that has stuck with me since childhood. I guess for now, until I figure something out, I’m just going to focus on simplifying even more. To rid myself of unnecessary things in life. Focus on practical, useful and nourishing.”
whole larder love
Whole Larder Love is an interesting blog – – by Rohan Anderson about simple, sustainable living in a rural area of Australia. Anderson wrote a book of the same title:
whole larder love book
“Primarily concerned with how to live off the land and provide himself and his family with fresh, local food, Anderson has become and expert hunter, fisher, forager, gardener, pickler and sometimes barterer. He now shares his healthy and sustainable secrets and experiences.

In Whole Larder Love, Anderson gives us delectable recipes, easy-to-follow gardening, foraging and hunting tips, and guidance on the proper tools, gear and resources to use.
‘Fans of Rohan Anderson’s blog Whole Larder Love will take a shine to his first book, which is
alive with evocative images of rural life.’ The Age

‘For anyone wanting a greater connection to the land, it is a must for the bookshelf.’ Weekly Times

‘The book takes you into Rohan’s world, and his own beautiful photos – not only of meals but also of kit for growing, gathering and hunting – complement the simple recipes that are easy and full of flavour.’ Good Reading”
whole larder love bio
He offers workshops on simple living: for a review, see

He also occasionally write on the subject for “The Guardian” (UK): for example,