Archive for May, 2014

Three New Books

Posted in Uncategorized on May 31, 2014 by citydesert

Three new books for The Hermitage Library:
coptic christian heritage
Lois M. Farag (Ed) “The Coptic Christian Heritage. History Faith and Culture” (Routledge, 2013)
“This book offers a comprehensive introduction to the heritage of Coptic Christians. The contributors combine academic expertise with intimate and practical knowledge of the Coptic Orthodox Church and Coptic heritage. The chapters explore historical, cultural, literary and material aspects, including: the history of Christianity in Egypt, from the pre-Christian era to the modern day Coptic religious culture: theology, monasticism, spirituality, liturgy and music the Coptic language, linguistic expressions of the Coptic heritage and literary production in Greek, Coptic and Arabic . material culture and artistic expression of the Copts: from icons, mosaics and frescos to manuscript illuminations, woodwork and textiles. Students will find The Coptic Christian Heritage an invaluable introduction, whilst scholars will find its breadth provides a helpful context for specialised research.”
churches of egypt 3
Gawdat Gabra and Gertrud van Loon “The Churches of Egypt. From the Journey of the Holy Family to the Present Day” (The American University in Cairo Press, 2012)
“A stunning visual tour of Egypt’s churches. With over 300 full-color photographs, this is the first fully illustrated book devoted to Christian houses of worship in Egypt. The text incorporates the latest research to complement the broad geographic scope covering nearly all significant Coptic sites throughout the country, from the ancient Coptic churches in Old Cairo to the churches in the monasteries of Wadi al-Natrun, the Red Sea, and Upper Egypt. Churches associated with the Holy Family’s sojourn in Egypt, including Gabal al-Tayr and Dayr al-Muharraq, enrich the volume. Churches of all other Christian denominations in Egypt are also described and beautifully illustrated here. A number of Greek Orthodox churches, Evangelical Coptic, Catholic, Armenian, and Anglican churches are included. Introductory chapters on the history of Christianity in Egypt, the architecture of the Coptic Church, and Coptic wall paintings help readers to appreciate fully the great cultural, artistic, and architectural heritage of Egypt’s Christians.”
coptic civilization
Gawdat Gabra (Ed) “Coptic Civilization. Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Egypt” (The American University in Cairo Press, 2014)
“A comprehensive cultural history of the Copts and their rich contributions of literature, art and architecture, material arts, and music. Egypt’s Copts make up one of the oldest and largest Christian communities in the Middle East. Yet despite the availability of a large number of books on aspects of Coptic culture, including art and architecture, monasticism, theology, and music, there is to date no single volume that provides a comprehensive cultural history of the Copts and their achievements. Coptic Civilization aims to fill this gap, by introducing the general reader, the interested non-specialist, to Coptic culture in all its variety and multi-faceted richness. With contributions by twenty scholars, Coptic Civilization includes chapters on monasticism, the Coptic language, Coptic literature, Christian Arabic literature, the objects and documents of daily life, magic, art and architecture, and textiles, as well as the history of the Coptic Church, its liturgy, theology, and music. Contributors: Dominique Bénazeth, Lois Farag, Cäcilia Fluck , Peter Grossmann, Gisele Helmecke, Magdalena Kuhn, Marvin Meyer, Samuel Moawad, Elisabeth R. O’Connell, Monica René , Tonio Sebastian Richter, Saad Michael Saad, Mark Sheridan, Mark N. Swanson, Hany N. Takla , Jacques van der Vliet, Nelly van Doorn-Harder, Gertrud J.M. van Loon, Youhanna Nessim Youssef, Ewa D. Zakrzewska Includes chapters on Coptic Historiography • Church History • Monasticism • Alexandrian Theology • Liturgy • Music • The Coptic Language • Gnosticism and Manichaeism • The Coptic Bible • Coptic Literature • Documentary Evidence of Daily Life • Magic • Copto-Arabic Literature • Archaeology • Architecture • Church Decoration • Objects of Daily Life • Post-pharaonic Textiles • The Coptic Church Today • Contemporary Coptic Art • Coptic Civilization in the Diaspora.”


Desert Liturgy Delayed!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2014 by citydesert

Some time ago I announced my intention to begin a new blog – DesertLiturgy – intended to encourage and facilitate the study and appreciation of the Christian Liturgies of the Desert, specifically those of Egypt and the Middle East. It would seek to provide:

• Notices and reviews of publications (both new and old) in the field;
• References to on-line resources;
• References to and commentaries on liturgical and ritual texts;
• Unpublished or out-of-copyright scholarly material;
• Notices of conferences, seminars and other opportunities for scholarly discussion;
• Photographs relating to liturgy (especially old and otherwise unpublished material);
• References to audio and video recordings of liturgies and liturgical music;
• Discussion of liturgical questions and topics.

Alas, pressure of other commitments has delayed this project. I hope to begin again in the middle of the year. Any suggestions/contributions will be gratefully received.

Meanwhile, two of my own liturgical writings are currently available:
Coptic Cross Bread Stamp
“The Fraction in The Coptic Orthodox Liturgy”
“The Glastonbury Review” No. 101 (December 1999)
Morning incense
“The Offering of The Morning and Evening Incense”, 3rd edition, with an introductory essay by Father Gregory Tillett. British Orthodox Press, 2014. Available at
ISBN 978-1-291-82911-2 The introductory essay is not, alas, available on line as yet.

On the Feast of The Ascension

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2014 by citydesert

“For heaven was then utterly inaccessible to mortal man, and no flesh as yet had ever trodden that pure and all-holy realm of the angels; but Christ was the first Who consecrated for us the means of access to Himself, and granted to flesh a way of entrance into heaven; presenting Himself as an offering to God the Father, as it were the firstfruits of them that are asleep and are lying in the tomb, and the first of mankind that ever appeared in heaven.
ascension 2
Therefore also it was that the angels in heaven, knowing nothing of the august and stupendous mystery of the Incarnation, were astonished in wonder at His coming, and exclaim almost in perplexity at the strange and unusual event: Who is this that cometh from Edom? that is, from the earth. But the Spirit did not leave the host above uninstructed in the marvellous wisdom of God the Father, but bade them rather open the heavenly gates in honour to the King and Master of all, proclaiming: Lift up the gates, O ye princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. Therefore our Lord Jesus the Christ consecrated for us a new and living way, as Paul says; not having entered into a holy place made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us. For it is not that He may present Himself before the presence of God the Father that Christ has ascended up on high: for He ever was and is and will be continually in the Father, in the sight of Him Who begat Him, for He it is in Whom the Father ever takes delight: but now He Who of old was the Word with no part or lot in human nature, has ascended in human form that He may appear in heaven in a strange and unwonted manner.
Ascension 3
And this He has done on our account and for our sakes, in order that He, though found as a man, may still in His absolute power as Son, while yet in human form, obey the command: Sit Thou on My right hand, and so may transfer the glory of adoption through Himself to all the race. For in that He has appeared in human form He is still one of us as He sits at the right hand of God the Father, even though He is far above all creation; and He is also Consubstantial with His Father, in that He has come forth from Him as truly God of God and Light of Light. He has presented Himself therefore as Man to the Father on our behalf, that so He may restore us, who had been removed from the Father’s presence by the ancient transgression, again as it were to behold the Father’s face. He sits there in His position as Son, that so also we through Him may be called sons and children of God.”

St. Cyril: “Commentary on the Gospel of St. John” Book 9:236-237

Everyday Asceticism

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2014 by citydesert

“Asceticism, contrary to common misconception, does not require viewing the body as evil. Quite the opposite, in fact. Though ancient Christian ascetics have many negative things to say about the life of the body, the true meaning of asceticism is about exercise. It is about how we use our bodies to train our souls. In this sense, the ascetic perspective views the body with the highest dignity. Even the body ought not to be merely carnal; it was made to be spiritualized. In this way both soul and body are transformed through Christian asceticism, being ever conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ.
desert foundation
The ascetic life is about learning to say no to ourselves and yes to God. Popular culture tends to advocate the opposite: “you’ve earned it”; “have it your way”—our world is full of pressure to live for ourselves and for the fleeting things in this life. However, one of the things that is most human about us is our ability to transcend our passions (emotional habits) and live beyond our own self-centered concerns. In order to do that, however, we need to cultivate an entirely different way of life. And for those of us living “in the world,” that means an everyday asceticism. We are capable, by God’s grace, of living intentionally righteous lives, and in so doing we find all that is truly fulfilling. Or, to put it better: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).”

From a very interesting blog with the excellent name:
Everyday Asceticism. Living in the world. Longing for the desert.
sayings of
“The goal of this site is to translate ancient Christian reflections on the spiritual life, usually from the “Sayings of the Desert Fathers”, into our modern, 21st century context. In a word, to bring the desert to the world.

Ancient Christian spiritual texts are generally written by monks for monks. There is nothing wrong with this, but translating it from their context to our own can be difficult. This blog is as much my own effort to reflect and process this ancient wisdom as it is to help others relate to it as well. It does not claim to reflect the teaching of any church in particular, though the author writes from the perspective of his own tradition.”

The Decline of Religion

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2014 by citydesert

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.”

Abraham Herschel
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 –1972) was a Polish-born American Rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century.

Necessity and Simplicity: The Hermit at Sea

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2014 by citydesert

Green Renaissance – – categorised this under “Necessity and Simplicity”
“A short documentary about David Welsford, who has given up the luxuries of land in search for happiness and adventure on a 50 year old wooden boat he restored from a scrap heap. David’s ability to live just with what he needs is an inspiring disposition. In some aspects of our lives, we can all apply necessity and simplicity. Sometimes we’re surprised by how much we need it.”
28 feet
“In today’s culture, success is intrinsically linked with busyness. Stress is equated with status, material objects a sign of purpose. Yet, when I get caught up in my own personal neuroses, biting my fingernails to nubs over all the stuff I have to do, I often harbor a secret little fantasy: what if I just stopped? What if I quit…ditched all my stuff and jetted off to the Caribbean. It’d be just sand, cerulean waters, and my wife by my side. Wouldn’t that be easier? Wouldn’t my life be better?
Well, director Kevin A. Fraser has captured my impulsive, Kerouacian wish in documentary form with Twenty Eight Feet—a profile of David Welsford, a young man who exited the grind in search of paradise. He found it in the form of an old sailboat.
This is a simple film, with a simple message: go out and live life…do what makes you happy. Yeah, it’s a maxim we’ve heard time and time again, but how often do we see people actually do it? It’s one thing to like a generic motivational post on facebook, quite another to abandon comfort and convention and live on the sea. To use a cliché, over the film’s entrancing 8 minutes, we watch as Welsford “lives the dream.” Essentially, Twenty Eight Feet is adult wish fulfillment—proof that “crazy” is possible (and potentially life-affirming).”
For David’s website:

For the film:

The Contemplative and Normal Life

Posted in Uncategorized on May 27, 2014 by citydesert

“The true contemplative is not less interested than others in normal life, not less concerned with what goes on in the world, but more interested, more concerned. The fact that he or she is a contemplative makes them capable of a greater interest and a deeper concern. The contemplative has the inestimable gift of appreciating at their real worth values that are permanent, authentically deep, human. truly spiritual and even divine. Their mission is to be a complete and whole person, with an instinctive and generous need to further the same wholeness in others, and in all humanity. They arrive at this, however, not by superior gifts and talents, but by the simplicity and poverty which are essential to their state because these alone keep one traveling in the way that is spiritual, divine and beyond understanding.”
sign of jonas
Thomas Merton “The Sign of Jonas”, Harcourt, Bruce & Co., N.Y., 1953, p. 69 – quoted at