Matta El Maskeen: The Desert

“To Saint Antony, the desert represented leaving the world, including father, mother, brother, sister, wife, possessions, land, and money. This also means emptying a man of all the human factors which hamper the shift from a life after the flesh to a life after the Spirit. It means moving from what is human to what is divine. Characteristic of Saint Antony, it is a spontaneous simplicity, flinging oneself into God’s arms.
matta desert
The desert, as I have lived it out, has two faces: a hard, desolate, deadly face which appears when God’s face hides, and a face of paradise which is like the Garden of Eden with its joys that gratify the soul and comfort it. Man lifts his heart and eyes from earth to heaven and feels the presence of God. The awe of God overwhelms him, and he forgets himself, his existence, and the whole world.

Being alone and unarmed, when the night descends and darkness covers the whole surrounding sphere in awesome silence, the natural thought of the flesh is to imagine the wild beasts. Trembling fills the entire body, but just as soon, the sense of faith appears, faith upheld by grace and preserving power, and dispels any signs of darkness from within and from without. Nothing brings man through this inevitable and repeated conflict except resorting to the vigil of the night in prayer. In this, the nature of prayer differs greatly from every other kind of prayer performed within closed doors and under the safety of roofs. It begins in the spirit of crying to God for help. Then grace takes the soul in quiet confidence, assuring it that it is kept by the hand of the Almighty. Immediately, the soul breaks out in praise and gladness as it feels sustaining power, as if man is surrounded by an army of angels. In this prayer, the soul is greatly lifted up and continually soars as it gazes upon the gracious favors of God to all the saints who have preceded it in the way. Eventually, the soul loses all feeling of terror, fear and illusions, and enjoys the feeling of closeness to God, resting like a weaned child on its mother’s breast.
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The negative element decreases as the experience is repeated night after night. After a while, man moves from terror to the feeling of closeness to God as he spends all night, whether in fervent prayer, singing and rejoicing, contemplation or writing. Finally, all effort is spent, and the body reclines to take its share of rest.

If man ever comes back out of the desert, he comes out with a rich experience. He has experienced life with God, delved deeply into prayer, discovered the secrets of the gospel as he lived them in full spiritual awareness and tasted what it means to cling to God. The wilderness is the school of the spirit. Its pruning of the soul is tremendous, and the riches of its fruit are infinite.”

From Father Matta El Maskeen “The Divine Foundation upon which Coptic Monasticism was Built”: http://www.spiritualite-orthodoxe.net/vie-de-priere/index.php/matta-el-meskeen-orthodox-teachings/divine-foundation-monasticism-matta-el-meskeen
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The site http://www.spiritualite-orthodoxe.net/vie-de-priere/index.php/matta-el-meskeen-orthodox-teachings is an excellent resource for on-line access to the writings of Father Matta.

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