Archive for January, 2014

The Search for 21st-century Swiss Hermits

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2014 by citydesert

“You don’t see them often – and for a reason: in Switzerland, they live in forests or up mountains. The photographer Nelly Rodriguez went in search of modern-day hermits and their way of life, a life of silence and solitude.
Swiss hermit 1
“Isole” – islands in Italian – is the name Rodriguez has given to the project. Since 2010, she has photographed people and the places, manmade and natural, in which they live.
swiss hermit 2
“I’m interested in their journey and the reasons that pushed them to choose this isolation. Many issues are raised: the lifestyle choice, interaction with other people or relationships with society and nature,” she explained at the first showing of the series at the 2013 Biel/Bienne Festival of Photography.
Born in Locarno in 1981, Rodriguez now lives and works in Zurich. A former student at the School of Applied Arts in Vevey, she has taken part in several collective and individual exhibitions since 2005, as well as contributing to many publications. In 2008, she was named Artist of the Year by the Bally Cultural Foundation, which rewards talented visual artists in Italian-speaking Switzerland. (Photos: Nelly Rodriguez, text:”
swiss hermit 3
“This long-term project consists of seeking out hermits and getting close to them and to their way of life. Nelly Rodriguez often finds them in remote areas of the Swiss countryside.
swiss hermit 5
The images that she brings back depict a reality that is little known, while also addressing various issues such as solitude, one’s choice of lifestyle, the encounter with others, and the relationship between society and nature. This series in progress alternates between portraits of people and the spaces, both built and natural, in which they live their lives.”
swiss hermit 4
See also:
swiss hermit 6

The Danger of Cats to Hermit Scholars….

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2014 by citydesert

“A Deventer scribe, writing around 1420, found his manuscript ruined by a urine stain left there by a cat the night before. He was forced to leave the rest of the page empty, drew a picture of a cat and cursed the creature with the following words:
cat mss
“Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.”

[Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.]”

From via

Three Questions

Posted in Uncategorized on January 29, 2014 by citydesert

“The Three Questions” is a short story by Russian author Leo Tolstoy first published in 1885 as part of the collection “What Men Live By, and other tales”.
what men live by
The story takes the form of a parable, and it concerns a king who wants to find the answers to what he considers the three most important questions in life.
three questions 1
The thought came to a certain king that he would never fail if he knew three things. These three things were:
When is the best time to do each thing?
Who are the most important people to work with?
What is the most important thing to do at all time?

Many educated men attempted to answer the king’s questions, but they all came up with different answers. The king decided that he needed to ask a wise hermit in a nearby village. The hermit would only see common folk, however, so the king disguised himself as a peasant, left his guards behind, and went to see the hermit. The hermit was digging flower beds when the king arrived. The king asked his questions, but the hermit went on digging rather laboriously. The king offered to dig for him for a while. After digging for some time, the king again asked his questions. Before the hermit could answer, a man emerged from the woods. He was bleeding from a terrible stomach wound. The king tended to him, and they stayed the night in the hermit’s hut. By the next day the wounded man was doing better, but was incredulous at the help he had received. The man confessed that he knew who the king was, and that the king had executed his brother and seized his property. He had come to kill the king, but the king’s guards had wounded him. The man pledged allegiance to the king, and he went on his way.
three questions 2
The king asked the hermit again for his answers, and the hermit responded that he had just had his questions answered.
The most important time is now. The present is the only time over which we have power.
The most important person is whoever you are with.
The most important thing is to do good to the person you are with.
tolstoy 1
“Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Никола́евич Толсто́й, pronounced [lʲef nʲɪkɐˈlaɪvʲɪt͡ɕ tɐlˈstoj] 9 September [O.S. 28 August] 1828 – 20 November [O.S. 7 November] 1910), also known as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Tolstoy was a master of realistic fiction and is widely considered one of the world’s greatest novelists. He is best known for two long novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). Tolstoy first achieved literary acclaim in his 20s for his Sevastopol Sketches (1855), based on his experiences in the Crimean War, followed by the publication of a semi-autobiographical trilogy of novels, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth (1855-1858). His fiction output also includes two additional novels, dozens of short stories, and several famous novellas, including The Death of Ivan Ilych, Family Happiness, and Hadji Murad. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. Tolstoy is equally known for his complicated and paradoxical persona and for his extreme moralistic and ascetic views, which he adopted after a moral crisis and spiritual awakening in the 1870s, after which he also became noted as a moral thinker and social reformer.
His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him in later life to become a fervent Christian anarchist and anarcho-pacifist. His ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were to have a profound impact on such pivotal twentieth-century figures as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
tolstoy 2
Extracts from the story:

“It once occurred to a certain king that if he always knew just when to undertake everything he did, and which were the right and which the wrong people to deal with, and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything.
Having thus thought, the king proclaimed throughout his realm that he would bestow a large reward on anyone who would teach him how to know the proper moment for every deed, how to know which were the most essential people, and how not to err in deciding which pursuits were of the greatest importance. Learned men began coming to the king, but they all gave different answers to his questions.

In reply to the first question some said that in order to know the right time for every action one must draw up a schedule of days, months, and years, and strictly adhere to it.
Only in this way, they said, could everything be done at the proper time.
Others said it was not possible to decide in advance what to do and when to do it; that one must not allow himself to be distracted by vain amusements, but must be attentive to everything that happens and do whatever is required.

A third group said that no matter how attentive the king might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man rightly to decide the time for every action, and that he ought to have a council of wise men, and act according to their advice.

A fourth group said that there were certain matters which required immediate decision, leaving no time to determine by means of consultation whether or not it was the right time to undertake them. In order to know this, one would have to know in advance what was going to happen, which is something that only a magician can know; therefore, in order to know the right time for every action, one must consult the magicians.

The answers to the second question also varied. Some said that the people the king most needed were his administrators; some said the priests, and some the physicians, while others said the warriors were the most essential.

The answers to the third question, as to what was the most important pursuit, were equally diverse. Some said that science was the most important thing in the world, some said military skill, and others religious worship. The answers were all different, therefore the king agreed with none of them and rewarded no one.

In order to find the true answer to the questions, he decided to consult a hermit who was famous for his wisdom. The hermit never left the forest where he lived, and there he received none but simple folk. The king therefore dressed himself as one of the people, and dismounting before he reached the hermit’s dwelling, he left his knights behind and went on alone….
“The Hermit”, by Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov (Russian: Михаи́л Васи́льевич Не́стеров; 31 May [O.S. 19 May] 1862 in Ufa – 18 October 1942 in Moscow)

The king found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut. When he saw the king, the hermit greeted him and immediately returned to his digging…….
“The Habitation of a Hermit”(1901)Apollinary Vasnetsov (Аполлинарий Михайлович Васнецов)(1856-1933)

Before leaving him he wished for the last time to ask him to answer his questions. The hermit was on his knees in the yard sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before.

The king approached him and said: “For the last time, wise man, I ask you to answer my questions.”

“But you have already been answered,” said the hermit, squatting on his thin calves and looking up at the king who stood before him. “How have I been answered?” asked the king.

“How?” repeated the hermit. “Had you not taken pity on my weakness yesterday an dug these beds for me, instead of turning back alone, that fellow would have assaulted you, and you would have regretted not staying with me. Therefore, the most important time was when you were digging the beds; I was the most important man; and the most important pursuit was to do good to me. And later, when that man came running to us, the most important time was when you were taking care of him, for if you had not bound up his wounds, he would have died without having made peace with you; therefore he was the most important man, and what you did for him was the most important deed.
Remember then: there is only one important time – Now. And it is important because it is the only time we have dominion over ourselves; and the most important man is he with whom you are, for no one can know whether or not he will ever have dealings with any other man; and the most important pursuit is to do good to him, since it is for that purpose alone that man was sent into this life.”
tolstoy 4
The story is available on-line at:

Petre Tutea (1902-1991): the Urban Hermit of Romanian Spirituality

Posted in Uncategorized on January 29, 2014 by citydesert

Petre Țuțea (Romanian: [ˈpetre ˈt͡sut͡se̯a]; October 6, 1902 – December 3, 1991) was a Romanian philosopher, journalist and economist.
tutea 3
Alexander Popescu, Petre Tutea: Between Sacrifice and Suicide (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2004), 325 pp.
tutea book
“Petre Tutea (1902–91), a Romanian intellectual and Orthodox Christian, was imprisoned in Romania for most of his adult life. He spent thirteen years as a prisoner of conscience and twenty-eight years under house arrest. In a second phase of “reeducation”—the aim of which was to annihilate the personality and the national identity of those who had opposed communism (the first phase was physical torture)—Tutea was asked to collaborate with his torturers by teaching a course on Marxism to the other prisoners. Tutea replied that to understand Marxism, one would have to begin with antiquity, with Aristotle, and that such a preparation might take a few years: “So it was that he found himself as a political prisoner inside a Communist prison teaching pre-Socratic philosophy.” In another subversion of communist reeducation, Tutea, placed in solitary confinement, used the pipes in his cell to tap out prayers and messages in Morse code to his fellow prisoners. However, submitting to the lessons of a divine reeducation—which Tutea counterpointed to the reeducation of the torturers—exacted severities: “In prison I enabled my comrades in suffering to see” that “only by faith could they be saved from the huge temptation of the political prison where at every step you have an opportunity to betray faith and principles for a bowl of food.” Tutea called himself a “monk without a monastery.” (He had been trained as a lawyer; he had worked as an economist; and, after his release from Aiud prison, when he was unemployed, he was known as the “street philosopher of Bucharest.”) Tutea added: “My vocation has been that of legislator, not preacher, nevertheless I have spread faith as the wind scatters microbes.” Tutea’s epigrammatic style—and his ideal of redemptive suffering—have affinities with Simone Weil’s writing, although Weil held fast to her outsider status, while for Tutea “the Real” was lodged within the institutional, in what Mircea Eliade called “the sacred space of the Church and the sacred time of the religious festivals which enable humans to escape the emptiness of the infinite.”
Written by Alexandru Popescu, a psychiatrist—and Tutea’s former pupil and scribe—this cross between a biography, an intellectual history, and an homage is vexed by its reiterative Christian ideology. Yet one must forgive Popescu much, including vestiges of dissertation detail and the expression of his own pieties, because he makes the monumental figure of Tutea (and Tutea’s astonishing writing) available to a Western audience.”
tutea 4
“Petre Tutea (1902-91) was one of the outstanding Christian dissident intellectuals of the Communist era in Eastern Europe. Revered as a saint by some, he spent thirteen years as a prisoner of conscience and twenty-eight years under house arrest at the hands of the Securitate. This book explores his unique response to the horrors of torture and ‘re-education’ and reveals the experience of a whole generation detained in the political prisons. Tutea’s understanding of human needs and how they can be fulfilled even amidst extreme adversity not only reflects huge learning and great brilliance of mind, but also offers a spiritual vision grounded in personal experience of the Romanian Gulag. Following the fall of the Ceausescus, he has begun to emerge as a significant contributor to ecumenical Christian discourse and to understanding of wider issues of truth and reconciliation in the contemporary world.

As Tutea’s pupil and scribe for twelve years, as a psychiatrist, and as a theologian, Alexandru Popescu is uniquely placed to present the work of this twentieth-century Confessor of the faith. Drawing on bibliographical sources which include unpublished or censored manuscripts and personal conversations with Tutea and with other prisoners of conscience in Romania, Popescu presents extensive translations of Tutea, which make his thought accessible to the English-speaking reader for the first time.

Through his stature as a human being and his authority as a thinker, Petre Tutea challenges us to question many of our assumptions. The choice he presents between ‘sacrifice’ and ‘moral suicide’ focuses us on the very essence of religion and human personhood. Resisting any ultimate separation of theology and spirituality, his work affirms hope and love as the sole ground upon which truth can be based. At the same time, hope and love are not mere ideal emotions, but are known and lived in engagement with the real world – in politics, economics, science, ecology, and the arts, and in participation in the Divine Liturgy that is at once the traditional offering of the Church and the cosmic drama of the incarnate Word.”
tutea 2
“This remarkable study of the philosopher Petre Tutea describes matters fundamental to Eastern Orthodox theology through the medium of an enthralling (often appalling) story of a man’s resistance to totalitarian brutality and oppression. Tutea found that the renewal of his Christian faith saved his identity, even as dark forces were attempting to rob it from him. Never has there been a more pressing need to find a capacious and religiously grounded philosophy of freedom for an emerging ‘new europe’ squeezed between the Scylla of redundant totalitarianisms in the East, and the equally oppressive Charybdis of the global consumerisms of the West. Alex Popescu leads the reader through harrowing pages, to an underlying sense that Orthodoxy, a message re-pristinated in Tutea, speaks to the human soul in its existential needs, by constantly offering the challenge to rise into freedom; to become the divinely graced self’.” Revd Dr John A. McGuckin, Professor of Early Church History, Union Theological Seminary, and Professor of Byzantine Christianity, Columbia University, USA
“Secular history has not been kind to the subject of this unique book, Petre Tutea (1902-1991), neither during his life nor in the larger annals of philosophical history. In life, he spent decades oppressed by communist authorities, spending years in Stalinist jails in his native Romania; in history, he has often been dismissed as a Socratic gadfly, known mainly as a minor member of philosopher Emil Cioran’s early cosmopolitan circle. Although sympathetic to Marxism in his early days, by 1980 Tutea was saying, “As things are now, Socialism is nothing but systematic organisation of all that is inconvenient. . . . What we seek we do not find, what we find we do not need” (p. 87). In his mind, “Sacred and profane history co-exist, the truth of the former being unaffected by the dialectical illusions of the latter,” with his concept of “supra-history” being defined as the intervention of God’s grace into human history, that is, through Christ (p. 150).
For holding such suspect views, Tutea had been first imprisoned (from 1949 to 1953 and then again from 1956 to 1964), and then unemployed and closely watched as the “secret philosopher” of Bucharest until the Revolution of December 1989, after which he was rediscovered and embraced by intellectuals until his death two years later. He used the infamous “re-education clubs” in Romania’s prisons to teach his fellow prisoners the interconnections between “classical philosophy” (the official course) and the gospel (the unofficial course). His “Creed” was defined thus: “Theology is knowledge of the Real, of divinity manifest in theophany [God the Father], theandry [the Incarnate Christ], and trinity [definition abridged on purpose to avoid static idol making] transmitted through sacred history and sacred tradition” (p. 145). Deification consists of the sacred and profane being ultimately linked in an “ontic triangle” via supra-history, a unified God-creation-humanity realm, despite human attempts to separate the spheres in the modern age. When such artificial compartmentalizations are transcended, sainthood can result; hence, Popescu’s subtitle for his study. “The saint is the one who is rooted in eternity, who sacrifices himself and becomes a martyr through his sacrifice. He is distinct from the genius, from the talented and from the ordinary human being, all of whom are dominated by time. . . . Lack of vocation in the natural realm-where equality between individuals does not exist-is irrelevant to our truth before Christ” (p. 101).”

See also Alexandru Popescu “Petre Tutea (1902-1991): the Urban Hermit of Romanian Spirituality” “Religion, State & Society”, Vol. 23, No. 4, 1995
tutea quote

The Way of the Ascetics

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2014 by citydesert

Tito Colliander “Way of the Ascetics: The Ancient Tradition of Discipline and Inner Growth”(St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1985)
way of the ascetics
From the publisher: “Way of the Ascetics is a rich, compact introduction for modern readers to the Eastern Christian spiritual tradition that has been an inspiration to millions for centuries. These compassionate and insightful reflections on self-control and inner peace are meant to lead the readers to fuller union with God. The author makes a generous selection of succinct yet profound extracts from the spiritual Fathers and provides an illuminating commentary and practical applications for daily devotion. He tempers austerity with common sense, warmth, and even humor, as he urges us on our journey toward God. Written for laypersons living fully in the world as much as for clergy, Way of the Ascetics is an excellent resource for daily meditation, authentic spiritual guidance, and a revitalized religious life.”

From the author: “The “Way of the Ascetics” is an introduction to the narrow way that leads to life. It is a simple yet profound exposition of the spiritual life taught by the Orthodox Church for two thousand years. It is a portal to the vast spiritual experience of the desert fathers, and an insight into the spiritual lives of the saints. Reminiscent of the Ladder of St. John Climacus, “Way of the Ascetics” compells us to again begin the struggle to climb away from the world to the Kingdom of Heaven
In our era of new-age spirituality and homemade religion, the simple patristic style of this work is consoling. In our age of spiritual naivete, the simple and understandable instructions offered herein are enlightening and inspiring. We offer this text here on the internet for the first time, so that all spiritual neophytes in need of simple and easy to follow instructions may once again set out on the time-tested way that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven.”
way of the ascetics 2
Chapter Twelve: ON OBEDIENCE
Chapter Thirteen: ON PROGRESS IN DEPTH
Chapter Fifteen: ON PRAYER
Chapter Sixteen: ON PRAYER
Chapter Seventeen: ON PRAYER
Chapter Eighteen: ON PRAYER
Chapter Twenty: ON FASTING
Chapter Twenty-Three: ON TIMES OF DARKNESS
Chapter Twenty-Five: ON THE JESUS PRAYER

“Once again, be silent! Let no one notice what you are about. You are working for the Invisible One; let your work be invisible. If you scatter crumbs around you they are willingly picked up by birds sent by the devil, the saints explain. Beware of self-satisfaction: in one mouthful it can devour the fruit of much toil.
Therefore the Fathers counsel: act with discernment. Of two evils one chooses the lesser. If you are in private, take the poorest morsel, but if anyone is looking, you should take the middle way that arouses the least notice. Keep hidden and as inconspicuous as possible; in all circumstances let this be your rule. Do not talk about yourself, of how you slept, what you dreamed and what happened to you, do not state your views unasked, do not touch upon your own wants and concerns. All such talk only nourishes your self-preoccupation.
Do not change your work, your residence, and the like. Remember: there is no place, no community, no external circumstance that is not serviceable for the battle you have chosen. The exception is only such work as directly serves your vices.
Do not seek higher posts and higher titles: the lower the position of service you have, the freer you are. Be satisfied with the living conditions you now have. And do not be prompt to show your learning. Hold back your remarks. . . . Contradict nobody and do not get into arguments; let the other person always be right. Never set your own will above that of your neighbor. This teaches you the difficult art of submission, and along with it, humility. Humility is indispensable.
Take remarks without grumbling: be thankful when you are scorned, disregarded, ignored. But do not create humbling situations; they are provided in the course of the day as richly as you need. . . . [T]he truly humble person escapes notice: the world does not know him (I John 3:1); for the world he is mostly a “zero.””
Extract from Tito Colliander, “Way of the Ascetics”, pp. 25-26

The text is available on-line at: and and
“Tito Fritiof Colliander (February 10, 1904 in St. Petersburg – May 21, 1989) was a Finnish Orthodox Christian writer. Colliander was born in the family of Colonel Sigfried Joakim Colliander and his wife Dagmar Ilmatar, nee von Schoultz and received his artistic education. His wife, Ina Behrsen was also an artist and painter, and his son Sergius – an orthodox priest.
Beginning with the 1930s Colliander publishes a number of novels and short stories that brought him name. In his books, written under the strong influence of Dostoyevsky’s frequent themes of guilt, searching for faith in the modern world. Novels Crusade (Korståget), Mercy (Förbarma dig) and others were translated into foreign languages .
Colliander and his wife Ina went to Orthodoxy, and in the years 1949–1953 the writer graduated from the Orthodox seminary. His most famous book The Way of the ascetic (Asketernas väg) was first published in Swedish. The English book (The Way of the Ascetics) went through several editions.
Died May 21, 1989 and is buried at the Orthodox cemetery in Helsinki near Lapinlahti.”
colliander memoirs
See further

A Hermit in New York

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2014 by citydesert

anthony rock
“My rock, my sacred place,
absorbs my prayer – my gift to life.
Rock too, as all creation does,
gifts back – opens, breaks –
and yielding itself broken and inwardly exposed,
offers its hidden treasure
as prayerful gift of beauty.”

Words and Image by Brother Anthony-Francis, Hermit

“Brother Anthony-Francis does not live under a rock, he just prays on one in Central Park.
He is a hermit, practicing a solitary life of prayer in the bustle of New York. His home is the Hermitage of St. John of the Cross, also known as Apartment 1C of a building on Haven Avenue in Washington Heights.

While most Christians were tuning in to the spirit of togetherness that blossoms around Christmas, Brother Anthony-Francis was making a promise to stand apart. Two weeks ago, he took final vows before the Episcopal bishop of New York, Mark S. Sisk, to be a celibate, solitary monk for the rest of his life. It was, he said, a ”complete holocaust of self, body and soul,” the transformation of his life into one long prayer. ”The Holy Spirit was absolutely pouring out of me,” he said.

To talk to Brother Anthony-Francis is to enter an unusual world. It is a world of mysticism, of the laying on of hands (he has a healing ministry), of communion with nature, but also of daily work at a Midtown office, of Jewish roots in New Jersey, of a turbulent relationship with institutional religion. ”A hermit doesn’t mean isolating yourself from the world,” he said in an interview in his hermitage, which evokes the cliff-dwelling hermits of old. His building is on a bluff overlooking ramps for the George Washington Bridge.

”I’m apart,” he said. ”I live here with nobody but God. It’s a bit like the Desert Fathers.” But like his forefathers in the early days of Christianity, Brother Anthony-Francis said, he does not shun all of human society. ”People would go to the Desert Fathers and stay there,” he said. ”I don’t want to hide under a rock. I am not called to do that. What makes you a hermit is how you relate to the world.”

He feels no alienation from the spirit of people coming together for Christmas. ”The ironic part is that in my solitude I have the ability to be with those people,” he said. ”It’s through prayer.”

An important part of this hermit’s life is a rocky outcrop in the southern part of Central Park. Every morning, weather permitting, Brother Anthony-Francis sits on the rock and prays. He contemplates, communes with the surroundings and draws inspiration for spiritual writings. He once built a meditation entirely from a piece of broken glass on the rock.

He attends Eucharistic service daily, often stops in a church for evening prayers, and prays at home in the evening. He holds evening prayers for others in the hermitage once a week and a healing service once a month at Holyrood Episcopal Church in Washington Heights.
Outside of his prayer life, Brother Anthony-Francis manages a publications database for a recruitment advertising agency, the Bernard Hodes Group.

He dresses in civilian clothes at work. He sees a movie and goes out to dinner perhaps once a month. He has few friends; most have fallen away over the years.

Then there is the past. Brother Anthony-Francis was born Jewish 65 years ago, grew up in Irvington, N.J., and Newark, and was known in the secular world as Don Davis. His parents divorced when he was 8, and he lived with his aunt for a while. As an adult, he studied how to make false teeth, took acting classes, sang in cafes and took restaurant orders in exchange for dinner. He has a daughter in Florida from a brief and early marriage, and three grandchildren. His first religious experience dates to when he was 7. He was flipping through a book called ”Heroes of the Bible.” He asked his mother who this Jesus was. She said, ”Never mind, just some illegitimate child,” Brother Anthony-Francis recounts. So he blocked out the name with a pencil. ”Suddenly I began feeling really funny inside,” he said. A silent voice told him to look at the title. ”I went back and erased all those block-outs. That was very powerful for me back then. Now as an adult, it is awesome,” he said. At the ceremony two weeks ago, he signed his final vow on top of the book.

Brother Anthony-Francis recounts another mystical experience, in 1962. He describes waking up and seeing a hooded figure seated on his bed. They spoke somehow. He saw himself sleeping, felt a hand pushing his head back on the pillow. ”If you put this out there, it sounds like this guy is wacko,” he says. So he usually does not talk about the vision. But now, ”I do feel the need to share this,” he said. People out there need to know that ”God is alive and well in the world.”

Brother Anthony-Francis took first vows as a monk in 1992. Conflicts among the members caused problems in his order, which eventually dissolved. He said he had to live down a certain amount of mistrust from the hierarchy for being in the middle of a nasty situation.
He now has the support of Bishop Sisk, who is his direct superior.
Bishop Sisk said there are several dozen Episcopal hermits in the country and acknowledged that plotting a hermit’s life amid the bustling modern world can be a work in progress.
”People living a solitary life within a city have to use the discipline of their prayer to see the world around them as populated by the spirit, if you will,” the bishop said. As Brother Anthony-Francis put it: ”My spiritual life filtrates into the secular. In doing that, you act as a magnet for people in need.””

“Hermit Finds Life of Quiet Prayer Amid City’s Roar”
By Daniel J. Wakin
Published: December 25, 2002 “The New York Times”
The Cross of Ubuntu – Digital Image
Ubuntu appears as a wonderful word, but I feel a bit cheated because I wasn’t raised from childhood hearing that word. Only in that wise can we really come to know the vast spiritual and physical complexity that is Ubuntu; I believe it has its root in Nature.
If, while driving down a country road, we see a field of various types of flowers in full bloom, we might stop the car, get out, and take a picture and marvel in its beauty. But when those flowers are people, we become crippled in our appreciation of them—we seem to separate ourselves from Nature—as if Nature is not a part of us.
In the context of prayer, I see Ubuntu as a communicative essence, forming itself into an angular and cross-cut structure coming into us invisibly and flowing out from us visibly in all directions at once, to spread itself out as Love enmeshed and inscribed upon the face of Creation. And when we yell our agony to God from our prayerful place, Heaven and Nature rush to embrace and comfort us, and we hear it and feel it and it is unbearably beautiful.
It is in this “embracing” that the spiritual weds with the physical, and we can then ask and “feel” in a more “full” way: “dear Lord, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose …”

Paraphrased from: “Between a Rock and a Beautiful Place” (by Br. Anthony-Francis) and “A Collect for Grace” (Book of Common Prayer, page 100)

Two Episcopal Women Hermits

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2014 by citydesert

“A hermit with a Web page may seem an absurdity, but for writer-singer Cynthia Bourgeault it makes infinite sense. For Judith Schenck, a hermit monk in remote Montana, e-mail helps keep life simple and silent. The two Episcopal priests have walked away from the busy-ness of the culture but not the needs of the church. Schenck, from Marion, Mont., and Bourgeault from British Columbia by way of Maine and Colorado, offer themselves, their prayer, their gifts as writers, retreat leaders and spiritual directors to those who seek a deeper connection to God. They both believe such vocations are on the increase.

Bishop Charles “Ci” Jones of the Diocese of Montana finds that welcome news. He just received Schenck’s vows as “a solitary” Oct. 3 at diocesan convention. “This gives us a live and different expression of Christian spirituality than we are used to,” he says. “It also brings to the present a significant part of our heritage. The monastic movement is one of three major, forming concepts within Christianity. … I think it is an important movement within our church to sort of hold up before us.”

What does a solitary do?

Schenck, 56, has served as a priest in the diocese for seven years, first as rector of a parish, more recently as retreat leader. Now she writes a monthly column about the monastic life for the diocesan newspaper in addition to offering spiritual direction.

Like Bourgeault, Schenck prays the “divine office” each day using the Benedictine schedule of lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, compline and the night office. She allows time for extended prayer and study as well. She is able to devote the time apart because a small widow’s pension provides for her needs.
Bourgeault, 51, a priest for nearly two decades, must earn her living. She divides her life between times when she won’t accept any work at all — “I try to keep Lent and Advent for very deep solitude” — and times when she offers seminars and retreats, writes, records tapes and does “things that allow me to work minimally.” She recently completed a set of tapes teaching how to sing the psalms, which is available from TrueSounds of Boulder, Colo.

Bourgeault believes the hermit’s vocation is given by God to help others “listen more intently during times the church is in danger of drowning in a cacophony of voices.” A former seminary professor who has a doctorate in medieval studies, she compares the present age to that of the 12th century, “the last time there was a real revival of hermits.” In both periods, she says, there was extensive “ferment in the church, a breaking up of long-established, organized power structures … a lot of political ferment.”

During such periods, she says, people start being called to live in solitude, in more intense communion with the eternal truth and the communion of saints. She and Schenck say they know of a dozen or more Episcopalians, men and women, who have turned to this vocation.

Schenck felt her call to contemplative life deepen over the past few years. Last year, after “monastery hopping” along the East Coast, she made a pilgrimage to England, Scotland and Wales in search of Celtic spirituality. On that trip, she encountered spiritual guide and author Esther de Waal, who encouraged her to “Just do it … and the means will follow Schenck accepted that as “the prophetic word from my pilgrimage” and returned to announce her intentions to her parish. The response in the diocese has been positive. “I’ve heard from people that it gives them encouragement for their own spirituality, to be faithful. It gives them strength to know somebody is praying.”

Not an easy decision

“There is risk in this choice: no salary, no church insurance,” Schenck points out. “But then Jesus did not seem to think highly of the safe and cautious life or else there would have been no cross and Resurrection for all of us.”

Bourgeault points out that once Christian hermits could take themselves to the deserts or claim a bit of land and subsist. “It doesn’t happen like that anymore. All land is owned by someone” and unless the would-be hermit intends to become a burden to others, he or she will need money — for fuel, for health insurance, for “a working chainsaw.” How to assure such income can become a struggle for those wanting to remain apart. Some join what Bourgeault calls “the teaching, writing and workshop circuit” and let it subsidize their solitude. Others subsist on periodic manual labor. “A couple of hermits in Maine have banded together to form a skete,” an ancient word for a loose gathering of hermits, says Bourgeault, “and are supporting themselves by weaving and growing vegetables and taking them around to farmer’s markets.”

An Anglican tradition

“Eremitic life” has become for Schenck “a rich, deep and profound heritage and gift.” (The word eremitic comes from a 13th-century word, eremite or hermit.) “I had not realized when I started how ancient or how much a part of Anglican tradition it is … It is even in the old stone crosses,” she says. “The story of St. Anthony and St. Paul being fed by the raven [is] recorded in the ancient monastic tradition of our own tradition on stone. It is very much a part of the Anglican tradition.”
tec hermit vows
Both Bourgeault and Schenck believe that a commissioning from the church, as was traditional, is vital. “Anybody can go off and be a recluse. I am not a recluse,” says Schenck. “I am a vocation within the church. And it is terribly important that it be a vocation as clear and strong and distinct as my priesthood has been.”

“For me, it was incredibly important to do it in the hands of the bishop. … When I held the bishop’s hands and made my vow … I was profoundly aware of both his hands and the hands of God.””

By Nan Cobbey “Episcopal Life “

Judith Schenck has written on the issues facing both modern Hermits and the Church in responding to the eremetical vocation:
“The eremitic vocation is terribly important to the church and also fraught with danger. There are unique requirements for this vocation …. stability of economics and a means of providing that does not require activity and work. It needs to be very ecclesiastically rooted in the hands of the bishop, under their authority and accountability. The solitary vocation belongs to the bishop and serves the whole church through that authority and protection.
It is not for folks who want to do their own thing. In fact no vocation requires greater authority, discipline and obedience. There are several people who call themselves solitaries but have no authority over them, no accountability, no bishop to “hold their vows.”
It is also a vocation that can attract people with weird concepts of church, often medieval and unstable. It is terribly costly and also the heart of prayer for a diocese and the church.”

See and

For Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault, see also the site of The Contemplative Society:

“The Contemplative Society is an inclusive non-profit association that encourages a deepening of contemplative prayer based in the Christian Wisdom tradition while also welcoming and being supportive of other meditation traditions. We offer a consistent and balanced path for spiritual growth and transformation rooted in prayer, silence, mindful work, and in the 1500-year-old wisdom of our Benedictine contemplative heritage.

The Society supports the work of Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault in her role of Principal Teacher and Advisor for The Contemplative Society and her vocation as a hermit and writer. We do so by sponsoring retreats, wisdom schools, and workshops led by Cynthia and other distinguished teachers of the Christian contemplative path, and through the sales of instructional and inspiration materials, in both textual and audio format, supportive of the contemplative life.

The Contemplative Society actively nurtures local teachers of the contemplative way and maintains an office to communicate with members and to provide a regular and balanced schedule of retreat, teaching, and workshop opportunities.”