Archive for January, 2015


Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 by citydesert

Roy R. Robson “Solovki: The Story of Russia Told Through Its Most Remarkable Islands” [Yale University Press, 2004]
Solovki book
“Located in the northernmost reaches of Russia, the islands of Solovki are among the most remote in the world. And yet from the Bronze Age through the twentieth century, the islands have attracted an astonishing cast of saints and scoundrels, soldiers and politicians.
solovki 5
The site of a beautiful medieval monastery—once home to one of the greatest libraries of eastern Europe—Solovki became in the twentieth century a notorious labor camp. Roy Robson recounts the history of Solovki from its first settlers through the present day, as the history of Russia plays out on this miniature stage. In the 1600s, the piety and prosperity of Solovki turned to religious rebellion, siege, and massacre. Peter the Great then used it as a prison. But Solovki’s glory was renewed in the nineteenth century as it became a major pilgrimage site—only to descend again into horror when the islands became, in the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the “mother of the Gulag” system.
From its first intrepid visitors through the blood-soaked twentieth century, Solovki—like Russia itself—has been a site of both glorious achievement and profound misery.”
solovki 3
“If there is one thread that runs through the history of the Solovki, a frigid archipelago in the White Sea that has played a surprisingly large role in Russian history, given its small size and remote location, it is suffering. Beginning in the 15th century, when the first Orthodox monks arrived to escape the temptations of society, the islands became a place where the most fervent of the faithful led lives of great austerity. But it didn’t take long for politics to heap on more suffering. In 1676, tsarist soldiers massacred almost 500 monks who refused to give up their Old Believer practices. Even this tragedy, however, was trumped by the harrowing events of the 20th century. In the 1920s, the freshly minted Soviet regime set up its first prison on the islands. The camp, which Alexander Solzhenitsyn later called “the mother of the Gulag,” distinguished itself for its extreme cruelty.
Solovki 1
Roy R. Robson, an associate professor of history at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, vividly recounts all this suffering in his new book, “Solovki: The Story of Russia Told Through Its Most Remarkable Islands”. But he also paints a nuanced picture of day-to-day life across the centuries. He includes details like the daily menu served in the monastic cafeteria, the expenditures of the monks’ budget (broken down ruble-by-ruble) and even the sexual habits of the brethren, which are hinted at through stern injunctions from their superiors. Finally, against the horrific backdrop of the Gulag era, there are the odd tidbits that go against the grain. For example, there was the camp theater that operated in the 1920s, providing both guards and inmates with a respite from their everyday chores. To dwell on the suffering, it turns out, does not tell the whole story.”
solovki 4
Roy R. Robson is the author of “Solovki: The Story of Russia Told Through Its Most Remarkable Islands” (2004), which the “New Yorker” called “an epic drama of spiritualism and savagery” while the “Times” (London) described it as “hauntingly beautiful” and “Condé Nast Traveler” claimed it was the “the only book you absolutely must take.” Roy has studied Russian history for 25 years and has traveled extensively in Russia as a Fulbright scholar. He currently teaches history at the University of the Sciences in Pennsylvania. His latest book, “Think World Religions”, was published in 2010.


Saint Peter the Hermit of Galatia

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 by citydesert

February 1 is the Commemoration of Saint Peter the Hermit of Galatia

“Saint Peter the Hermit of Galatia near Antioch, in Syria, lived in the early fifth century AD.
Peter’s life is recorded by Theodoret of Cyrrhus whose own family was touched by the saint’s gifts of healing.
Saint Peter the Hermit left his home at a very early age and lived as a wandering monk for many years travelling extensively throughout the Middle-East. Eventually he settled near Antioch where he lived a very strict asceticism and became known for his holiness.
Peter the Hermit of Galatia near Antioch is commemorated 1 February by the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches.”
Ruins of Ancyra Galatia
“There was at that time in Antioch a holy solitary named Peter, a Galatian by race. By the sign of the Cross he had cured the eyes of a great personage, wife of the Prefect of the East. To him accordingly went the mother of Theodoret, but without reflecting that silks and jewels and the other accessories of fashion were as unsuitable in a suppliant as the horses and chariots of Naaman. What the holy recluse first saw in her was the ailment of her soul; not the malady of her eyes, but the paint upon her cheeks, and he addressed himself at once to what was her chief misery. “God made you what you are,” he said, “and you {310} think to improve upon His work. He has given to your countenance a natural red and white, and you proceed to daub with pigments the lineaments and tints traced and spread by a Divine Master. Do you think a human artist would be pleased if some rude sign painter took on him to restore and furbish up his masterpiece; yet you profane God’s handywork, nay, His very image, by adding to it an adulterous beauty,—I say adulterous, for why do you paint your face, except to draw upon you the eyes of men?”—Philoth., p. 1189 (ed. Schulze).
She received the rebuke, as a religious woman was sure to do. Then he made the sign of the Cross over her, and she returned home healed in body and soul, and, either at once, or as time went on, gave herself up to an ascetic life.”

Disert Ullaigh

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 by citydesert

“The Coptic Orthodox Church has long known of the historic links between the British Isles and Christian Egypt, but documentation and solid evidence is thin on the ground for these early centuries of church history. There are learned articles by Monique Blanc-Ortolan of the Musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris, and Pierre du Bourguet of the Louvre on ‘Coptic and Irish Art’ and by Joseph F.T. Kelly of John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio, on ‘Coptic Influences in the British Isles’ in the “Coptic Encyclopedia” which are worth consulting. Other works, like Shirley Toulson’s “The Celtic Year”, which asserts that “rather than adhere to the ruling of the Council [of Chalcedon], some of the most dedicated adherents of Monophysitism fled from Egypt, and some of them most surely travelled west and north to Ireland”, in their enthusiasm to establish a link, make up what is lacking in hard evidence with sheer conjecture and fantasy.
The late Archdale King noted the links between Celtic Ireland and Coptic Egypt. He suggests that much of the contact took place before the Muslim Conquest of 640. There exists evidence of a Mediterranean trade in a single passage in the life of St. John the Almsgiver (Ioannes III Eleemon), Greek Patriarch of Alexandria between 610-621, in which reference is made to a vessel sailing to Alexandria from Britain with a cargo of tin, doubtless come from Cornwall or Somerset.
King observes that the kind of asceticism associated with the Desert Fathers was especially congenial to the Irish but refers to Dom Henri Leclercq’s suggestion that Celtic monasticism was directly derived from Egypt, as an “unsubstantiated hypothesis”. No serious historian, however, would deny that first-hand knowledge of the Desert Fathers was brought directly to the South of Gaul by St. John Cassian and that the links between the British and Gallican churches were especially strong at this period. King nevertheless admits that the grouping together of several small churches within a cashel or fortified enclosure seems to support Leclercq’s view…
King also notes that one of the commonest names for townlands or parishes is Disert or ‘Desert’: a solitary place in which anchorites were established. Presumably the same etymology gives us the Scottish Dysart, just north of Kirkcaldy, and the Welsh Dyserth, to the south of Prestatyn?
This would then present a consistent picture common to Celtic Christianity. The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee, an early ninth century monastic bishop of Clonenagh (Co. Offaly) and later of Tallaght, has a litany invoking ‘Seven monks of Egypt in Disert Uilaig, I invoke unto my aid, through Jesus Christ.’ [Morfesseor do manchaib Egipr(e) in disiurt Uilaig].
Litany Irish Saints
The Antiphonary of Bangor (dating from between 680-691) also contains the text:
” … Domus deliciis plena Super petram constructa Necnon vinea vera Ex Aegypto transducta …”
which is translated as:
” … House full of delight Built on the rock And indeed true vine Translanted from Egypt …”…
Dr. Cahal Dallat, Genealogist and Historical Consultant, of Ballycastle, County Antrim, identified Disert Ilidh or Uilaigh with Dundesert, near Crumlin, county Antrim, which is to the north-west of Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, between Belfast International Airport and Templepatrick.”
Dundesert 2
From Metropolitan Seraphim “On the Trail of the Seven Coptic Monks in Ireland” – full text available at:

“Egypt and its holy men were to attract visitors from all around the Christian world, indeed it attained a status as a centre for Christian worship that was greater than that of the Holy Land, for the high regard and vast number of inspired teachers in these coenobia. Amongst the visitors to these communities included St. Jerome, who wrote an account in one of his Epistles telling of such a visit he made.

The Egyptian monasteries tended to be found in isolated, remote locations, and were built in the desert for its seclusion. Another reason for the selection of Ireland must have been its isolation, being effectively separated from the rest of the Roman Empire. However, in Ireland, as in the rest of Western Europe, no deserts are to be found. It appears that, prior to monastic settlements being established in Ireland that the Egyptian church, a different entity from the Roman church, set up and built centres of learning in parts of mainland Europe; these included a centre at Lérins in Gaul, where St. Patrick is supposed to have been educated and would have doubtless learnt the tenets and doctrine of the Egyptian Church. The monastery at Lérins appears to have been based upon an Egyptian model and ideology, and which might explain how some of the motifs, ideas and approach to Christianity that was prevalent in the Celtic church for many years, if not centuries. However, owing to the absence of physical deserts in the British Isles, it became fashionable to name the locations in which the monasteries were established with being in a “desert.” Therefore, the term “Desert”, “Disert”, and “dysert” can be found in a significant number of the place names where these ecclesiastical settlements were built; names such as Disertmartin, Dysert O’Dea, and Killadysert. This influence equally seems to have spread into Scotland, again with similar sounding place names. Certainly most of these monasteries seemed to have a “disert” in close proximity. An eighth century Irish litany exists, the Litany of Pilgrim Saints, includes an invocation to the ‘Seven monks of Egypt in Diseart Uiliag’…
There seems to have been a direct exchange between Egypt and Ireland, with mention of monks from Egypt being in Ireland and vice versa. A guidebook written for Irish monks travelling to Egypt, detailing the Pyramids, and for visiting the desert fathers, was written, and a copy survives to this day, located in the Bibliotheque Nationale, in Paris. Egypt became a centre for pilgrimage by the Irish monks, with one of the latest records we have of such a “pilgrimage” having been made in the thirteenth century.”

“A growing body of evidence suggests that contact between the Mediterranean and early Christian Britain was surprisingly frequent. Egyptian pottery—perhaps originally containing wine or olive oil—has been found during excavations at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, the supposed birthplace of King Arthur, while the Irish Litany of Saints remembers “the seven monks of Egypt [who lived] in Disert Uilaig” on the west coast of Ireland. Travel guides in circulation in early Christian Britain gave accounts of the Egyptian monasteries. Indeed so common did pilgrimages around the Mediterranean become that Saint Boniface wrote to the archbishop of Canterbury asking that he “forbid matrons and nuns from making” such journeys as “a great part of them perish and few keep their virtue. There are many towns in Lombardy and Gaul where there is not a courtesan or harlot but is of English stock.” There was also traffic in the opposite direction: one of the earliest leaders of the Anglo-Saxon church was the Byzantine Theodore of Tarsus, sent to be archbishop of Canterbury from his home in what is now southern Turkey.
Contrary to the impression given by earlier generations of scholars such as Henri Pirenne, the Islamic conquest of the Near East does not seem to have brought an end to this contact. The Anglo-Saxon Saint Willibald left an account of his visit in the 720s to the monastery of Mar Saba in Palestine where Saint John Damascene was then writing his refutation of heresies entitled “The Fount of Knowledge”. This contains a detailed critique of Islam, the first ever written by a Christian, in which Damascene regarded Islam essentially as Christian heresy related to Arianism and Monothelitism, which the Ruthwell sculptor was so concerned to avoid.”
The Irish Desert
Fr Gregory Telepneff in “The Egyptian Desert in the Irish Bogs. The Byzantine Character of Early Celtic Monasticism” (Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, Etna CA, 2001) explores these links further. Basing his arguments on monastic rules, lives of Saints, manuscript illuminations, ecclesiastical architecture, and liturgical texts, Father Gregory presents a convincing case for the Eastern origins of the distinctively Celtic form of monastic life. He uncovers many striking similarities between the world of the Desert Fathers and the now lost world of Irish Orthodox Christianity, which was so deeply permeated by the monastic ideal.”
For a sample chapter, see:
Dundesert 3
See: Robert K Ritner “Egyptians in Ireland: A Question of Coptic Peregrinations” “Rice University Studies” – on-line at:

See also:

The Cornish Thebaid

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 by citydesert

“Cornwall, the peninsula in the south-west of England and now one of 48 ceremonial English counties, was in ancient times a part of the kingdom of Dumnonia, which comprised territories of the present-day counties of Cornwall, Devon and part of Somerset and Dorset.
Cornwall map
The Gospel was brought to Cornwall in the fifth century or even earlier, and monastic life began there in 475. At that time Cornwall became known as “the land of saints” or “the Thebaid of saints”. Indeed, between the fifth and seventh centuries Cornwall produced so many saints, ascetics, hermits, abbots, missionaries, holy bishops and kings, that nearly each town and village in the region has its own patron-saint.
Christian life and the monastic tradition of Cornwall were similar to those of Wales and Brittany and many ascetic customs were indeed derived from the desert fathers of Egypt, the “Thebaid”, and Syria. Unfortunately, the lives of many ancient Cornish saints were lost at the Norman Conquest or else after the Reformation. And today, though veneration for them continues and many churches and holy wells are dedicated to them, we can say very little about most of these saints. The most venerated saint in Cornwall, who is considered to be one of the main enlighteners of Dumnonia, is St. Petroc (Petrock/Peter), who together with the Archangel Michael and St. Piran, has for many years been the patron-saint of Cornwall. Though two later medieval versions of his life are not very reliable, they are mainly based on ancient traditions, so we can outline the major events and activities of his life.
St. Petroc was probably born in the second half of the fifth century in south Wales and was a son of king Glywys of Glywysing (now Glamorgan). After the death of his father, St. Petroc firmly refused to share power with his brothers and decided to dedicate all his life to the service of God. The saint went to study in Ireland together with several companions, where, according to some sources, he spent about 20 years. In Ireland St. Petroc became so experienced that he himself instructed the future saint Kevin of Glendalough. From Ireland St. Petroc then sailed to Cornwall where he was very active as a missionary. He first settled at the mouth of the River Camel at a place called Trebetherick and soon founded nearby the monastery of Padstow which was to become the most famous in Cornwall.
The original name of Padstow is Lanwethinoc, because an ascetic named Wethinoc had lived there before Petroc. After St. Petroc’s death the place was for a long time known as Petrocstowe, i.e. “St. Petroc’s place”. With the help of local people Petroc developed this originally modest church into a large monastery with a school, infirmary, library, a farm and many cells for brethren. After 30 years of unceasing labours for the glory of God in Padstow, St. Petroc founded another monastic centre with a chapel and mill at Little Petherick just a few miles south of his first monastery, originally amid dense woods. More and more local residents came to love Petroc and on listening to his sermons numerous pagans embraced Christianity. Such was the zeal of the venerable father that he even converted King Constantine of Cornwall to Christ. The latter, who had an unholy life before then, himself became a zealous preacher and, according to tradition, later abdicated and undertook missionary work in Scotland, where he eventually became a martyr.
After some time at Little Petherick, it is said that St. Petroc made a pilgrimage to Rome, then to the Holy Land, and, according to many sources, even spent seven years on an island in the Indian Ocean! There is strong evidence that St. Petroc visited Brittany more than once; there he preached, and dozens of places bear his name and numerous churches are dedicated to him there to this day.
petroc 2
After returning to Cornwall, Petroc lived for a long while as a hermit on the granite moorland of Bodmin Moor, devoting all his time to prayer.
Bodmin Moor C
Once another ascetic, St. Goran, visited him there. Petroc built a cell on the river bank for himself and on the top of the hill nearby he later built a monastery for his 12 disciples (it should be said that the site was chosen very wisely, with running water, a pool, streams, fertile land and a valley nearby). With time the number of disciples increased; they followed their spiritual father everywhere and tried to follow his example in monastic life.
Bodmin too was destined to grow into a very large monastery, as famous as Padstow. St. Petroc also laboured energetically in many parts of Devon (where seventeen churches are dedicated to him, in comparison with only five in Cornwall) as well as on Bardsey Island in Wales, where he founded many churches. According to tradition, he also travelled to Somerset in England and to Cardigan and Pembrokeshire in Wales and preached there. Throughout his life the saint had a deep love for the Holy Scriptures; wherever he went, he always healed the sick and worked many miracles. The solitary life in seclusion was also dear to his heart; thus, in his youth he lived as a hermit with St. Samson, another great Celtic saint of the age. Like many other saints of the British Isles, St. Petroc had a very close connection with nature, especially with wild animals. All versions of his life claim that Petroc had tame wolves among his companions. On stained glass windows St. Petroc is often depicted with a deer, because according to tradition, he particularly loved and protected these animals, more than once saving them from hunters.
St Petroc 002
An early manuscript describes Petroc as “handsome, courteous in speech, prudent, modest, burning with unceasing love, always ready for all good works for the Church.” St. Petroc often visited the monasteries and churches that he had founded, being an exemplary and tireless pastor despite his extremely old age. The holy Abbot Petroc reposed during one such journey at a place called Treravel. This took place either in c. 564 or in c. 594. The venerable abbot was buried at Padstow, which became the main centre for his veneration. Due to the activity of his disciples veneration for Petroc grew. St. Petroc’s church, dating back to the thirteenth – fourteenth centuries, stands on the site of his monastery in Padstow to this day.”
Petroc Reliquary
After the translation of the relics of St. Petroc together with his staff and bell (a feature common to many Celtic saints) to Bodmin, they were greatly venerated by countless pilgrims until the Reformation. In 1177 a priest named Martin suddenly stole the relics and brought them to the monastery of Saint-Meen in Brittany. The Bishop of Exeter immediately reported the theft to King Henry II. The King intervened and the relics were solemnly returned to Bodmin, though one of the saint’s ribs remained in Brittany. Walter of Coutances, the future Bishop of Rouen, donated a beautiful and splendid ivory reliquary to Bodmin for keeping the relics of St. Petroc. At the Reformation the relics of St. Petroc disappeared (they were probably buried in a safe place) while his reliquary was for a while lost. But in the nineteenth century this unique shrine was discovered absolutely safe near Bodmin church, and it has been displayed inside this church as a great symbol of Cornwall to this day.

The Northern Thebaid or Northern Athos

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 by citydesert

“The Solovki archipelago, known through the ages as the Northern Thebaid or Northern Athos, is a group of islands located at the mouth of Onega Bay in the southeastern part of the White Sea—the only inland sea of the Arctic Ocean. The White Sea is one of the most interesting geographical areas in Russia due to its unique origin, flora, and fauna.
Russian Thebaid
It is covered for nearly one half of the year with drifting ice, but when the ice recedes one can enjoy the daily sight of incoming and outgoing tides, watch the seals and white whales, and even spy mysterious mirages that turn reality into a fantasyland. The main point of interest and spiritual center of the islands is the Solovki Stavropegic Monastery, founded in 1436—the year that St. Zosima arrived on the islands from the Monastery of St. Cyril of White Lake.
Zosimas Russian
In the early Soviet era it was the site of the first concentration camp, where hundreds of Orthodox clergymen suffered and died for their faith. Opened in 1921 at the orders of Vladimir Lenin, it was closed in 1939 on the eve of World War II. A Naval academy was instituted there at the beginning of the war, and in 1974 the islands were designated a historical and architectural museum, and nature reserve.
Russian Thebaid 2
Monastic life was renewed on Solovki in 1990. In 1992 the museum complex was entered into the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.”

For the World Heritage Site, see:

The Northern Thebaid

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 by citydesert

“The Northern Thebaid: Monastic Saints of the Russian North” [St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 3rd edition, 2004]
Northern Thebaid book
Compiled and translated by Fr. Seraphim Rose and Abbot Herman Podmoshensky
“From the fourth century A.D., the desert Thebaid of Egypt was the home of thousands of monks and nuns who made the desert a city peopled with Christians striving toward heaven in the angelic way of life. A thousand years later, no fewer thousands of monks and nuns, likewise seeking union with God, went to live in the forests of northern Russia, creating what has become known as the “Northern Thebaid.”
Just as the sultry African nature with its clear blue sky, lush colors, its burning sun, and its incomparable moonlit nights, is distinct from the aquarelle soft tones of Russia’s northern nature with the blue surface of its lakes and the soft shades of its leafy forests—in the same way the sanctity of the Saints of the Egyptian desert, elemental and mighty, is distinct from the sanctity of Russia, which is quiet, lofty, and as crystal-clear as the radiant and quiet evening of the Russian spring. But both in Russia and in Egypt there is the same noetic prayer, the same interior silence.
Illustrated with rare pictures from old Russian books and magazines, The Northern Thebaid chronicles the lives of a number of holy men and women of the Russian forests, presenting the Orthodox monastic tradition which inspired them and which is still alive today for those who would follow in their footsteps.”
Northern Thebaid book 2
“”The Northern Thebaid: Monastic Saints of the Russian North” is a collection of Saints’ lives edited by Fathers Seraphim Rose and Herman Podmoshensky of Platina, California and first published in 1975. Most of the source material in this book derives from old Russian texts of the Lives of Saints from the 19th century preserved after the Russian Revolution in America’s émigré community. This book refers to the period between the fourteenth and early eighteenth centuries until Peter I and Catherine I closed down many monasteries during their “enlightened” reforms of the 1700s. The “Northern Thebaid” derives from the early Egyptian Thebaid, the desert to where hermits and monks would flee in order to live with Christ alone and be free of worldly pressures. Russia’s conversion to Orthodox Christianity began during 988 AD under the reign of St. Vladimir. In the subsequent centuries, a repeat of the phenomenon of desert monasticism that had occurred during the Roman Empire beginning with St. Anthony the Great of Egypt in the fourth century AD. A monk would venture into the desert by himself, separate from the world, and would later attract followers. These disciples would collaborate and establish an official monastery. The next generation of hermits would leave monastic settlements and venture into the woods and later attract his own following, thereby repeating the process. In this way monasticism spread through the vast forests and wilderness of northern Russia and Siberia. The Russian Orthodox ascetic struggle involved fasting, labor, chastity, humility, obedience and prayer. The first Orthodox missionaries to America in the 18th century were monks; the most noted of whom is St. Herman of Alaska. The first Saint discussed in this volume is Sergius of Radonezh who lived as a hermit and monk during the 1300s, founding monasteries and was renowned as a spiritual teacher. St. Sabbatius of Solovki founded a monastery on an island in the Arctic Sea, which was later headed by St. Zosimas, and developed into a noteworthy center of Orthodox piety in the far north. Unfortunately, Solovki was dismantled and used as a Communist prison after the Revolution. The lives of most of these Saints, notes the authors, follow a similar pattern. They look for solitude and prayer in the wilderness and face a variety of temptations, both physical from the demanding environment and supernatural evil powers. After their deaths, many miracles and healings were attributed to these Saints, some even appearing in person after death to guide future ascetic saints in the Orthodox faith. A few chapters address the Lives of female saints. The authors note that there is much less material on female Saints because of the humility of Russia’s holy women. However, many of the Saints’ Lives and Church records of similar type were written by women. “The Northern Thebaid” is almost a first volume of a two volume series. It does not continue in depth with the history of Blessed Paisius Velichovsky and the Hesychast revival after Russian monasticism’s nadir under Peter I and Catherine I. Fr. Seraphim, in his epilogue, notes that by the time of Blessed Paisius, Russia had developed its own tradition of Orthodox sanctity equal to that of old Byzantium.”
Northern Thebaid Book 3
Preface by Fr Seraphim:
“What Orthodox Christian is not exalted in heart and mind at the thought of the Egyptian Thebaid — the place of struggle of the great St. Anthony, first among monastic Fathers and model of the anchoretic life; of St. Pachomius, the coenobiarch, who received the monastic rule of the common life from an Angel; and of the thousands of monks and nuns who followed them and made the desert a city peopled with Christians striving towards the heavens in the Angelic way of life?
Few, however, are those who know of Orthodox Northern Thebaid — the Russian “desert” of the forested, marshy North — where no fewer thousands of monks and nuns sought out their salvation in the footsteps of the great monastic Fathers of more recent times: St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Cyril of White Lake, St. Nilus of Sora, and hundreds of others whose names have been entered in the Calendar of Orthodox Saints.
Little has been published in English about these saints, and most of what has appeared thus far is of little value. No work in English has even been attempted to present the Orthodox monastic tradition which inspired and formed the great Russian Fathers. Indeed, the Russian religious intelligentsia of the Diaspora has been largely at fault for spreading false ideas about these Saints and their tradition. The most accessible works on Russian Saints in English [those of Fedotov and de Grunwald] are so filled with inaccuracies and distortions, with a Roman Catholic terminology totally foreign to Orthodoxy, and with an astonishingly fanciful notion of Orthodoxy, sanctity, and monasticism — as to be more a hindrance than a help to the serious student of the Russian monastic tradition.
One Orthodox scholar of the Russian Diaspora — Ivan Michailovich Kontzevich [†1965] — devoted his life to a serious study of the Orthodox spiritual tradition. Unlike the Westernized Russian intelligencia, he was not an “academic” scholar, but proceeded rather from the living Orthodox tradition. Even while living in the Diaspora in the 1920’s, he continued to receive spiritual guidance from Elder Nectarius of Optina, and to mold his life and thought , not on the heterodox “wisdom” of the West, but on the age-old tradition of Holy Russia. Having acquired a theological education, he planned to write [in Russian] a trilogy of works on this tradition.: the first, on the spiritual tradition of ancient Russia, before Peter I [“The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia”, Paris 1952]; the second on Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky [which was never completed]; and the third, on the Optina Elders [Optina Monastery and It’s Epoch, published posthumously by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, N.Y., 1973].
Acquisition of the Holy Spirit
The present work, which was inspired by Professor Kontzevitch, is a kind of “source book” in English for the first volume of his trilogy in Russian on ancient Russia, and utilizes above all two of his key ideas regarding the Orthodox spiritual tradition: [1] that the Lives of the Saints are the chief source of our knowledge of the Russian spiritual tradition of this period,and a careful examination of them will give a clear idea of this tradition to one who is well versed in the phenomena and the vocabulary of true Orthodox spirituality; and [2] that it is evident — as a result of such an examination — that the Russian spiritual tradition is not at all something “uniquely Russian,” or something novel in Orthodox history, but is identical in essence with the whole Byzantine tradition of spirituality, which in its monastic formulation comes down to us from the Fathers of the Egyptian desert. Indeed, the Orthodox reader of these Lives — which have been taken from sources in Russian and Slavonic as close to the original Lives as possible — will find that they breathe the same spiritual fragrance as the Lives of the great Fathers of the Egyptian desert, and have the same signs of true Orthodox monastic life: the “mental activity” of the Jesus Prayer, spiritual guidance by Elders, “revelation of thoughts” to the Elder, spiritual labors joined with love of neighbor. The Introduction by Professor Kontzevitch consists of excerpts from his book, “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia”, referring to the period of the “Northern Thebaid” — the great spiritual current which proceeds from St. Sergius of Radonezh in the 14th century [and behind him, from Byzantine Hesychasm] to the end of the 17th century, when Russia, although outwardly in spiritual decline, was preparing its forces for a spiritual current which has come down to our own times — that of Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky and the great Elders of the 18th century to the 20th centuries.
It was in the mid-19th century that a pious Orthodox Russian, Andrew Muraviev, undertook a pilgrimage to the almost-forgotten monasteries of the North and brought them back to olive for the readers of his book, giving the whole region the name by which we now know it. At that time most of these monasteries still existed.
Thebaid monastery
Today, however, these monasteries have been closed and destroyed, and most of them removed from the face of the earth. Why speak of them any more, and give the Lives of their founders and the history of their monastic tradition, as we attempt to do in these pages — and that not merely as an example of dead history, but of living tradition, as is our definite intention? While these Lives were being printed separately in “The Orthodox Word”, one of the leading modernists “Orthodox theologians” chastised in print “those who call to non-existent deserts,” evidently regarding such Lives as an appeal to a religious “romanticism” and idealism totally out of step with contemporary conditions of life. Why, indeed, should we inspire today’s Orthodox youth with the call of the “Northern Thebaid,” which has in it something more attractive and somehow more accessible for a 20th-century zealot than the barren desert of Egypt?
First of all, the monastic life here described has not entirely disappeared from the earth; it is still possible to find Orthodox monastic communities which teach the spiritual doctrine of the Holy Fathers, and to lead the Orthodox monastic life even in the 20th century — with constant self-reproach over how far one falls short of the Lives of the ancient Fathers in these times. True Orthodox Christians have preserved the living monastic tradition of Holy Russia and are linked directly to Optina, Valaam, St. Seraphim’s Diveyevo, St. Job’s Pochaev, Lesna, and of course to the monastic citadels of the Holy Land and the Holy Mountian of Athos. The wise seeker can find his “desert” even in our barren 20th century.”
Northern Thebaid book 4
Andrei Muravyev’s book on the Northern Thebaid [“Russian Thebaid in the North” (1855)](in Russian) is available on-line at:

The Ancient Path

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 by citydesert

John Michael Talbot “The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today” [Image, 2015]
Ancient Path
“People often imagine that the Church Fathers looked like their icons and smelled of incense, heroic figures wrapped in fine liturgical vestments of silk and lace, engulfed in billows of smoke from their golden censers. Yet, truth be told, even in their writings they resemble more the tattered cloak of Jesus or the dusty sweat-soaked habits of the early Desert Fathers and Mothers. Theirs is an utterly incarnational spirituality. It is heaven-sent, but it moves forward with both feet on the ground of the earth.

In this powerful work, John Michael Talbot tells the story of how these men deeply influenced his spiritual, professional and personal life. Coming to the Christian faith as a young man during the turbulent 1960s, he soon grew a fond of the Church Fathers, including St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine and Gregory the Great and found guidance, reassurance and wisdom on his path to Jesus.

“The First Epistle of Saint Peter,” writes Talbot, “tells us that we are ‘a spiritual temple built of living stones.’ The early Church Fathers represent the first rows built upon the foundation of the Apostles. And that sacred building project continues throughout history to our time today. But it rests on the Fathers. It depends on them.””

John Michael Talbot is an award-winning Christian musician, writer, television presenter, motivational speaker and itinerant minister to churches and parishes around the world. An early pioneer of contemporary Christian music, Talbot grew up performing in a country-rock band with his brother Terry before embarking on a spiritual journey that led him through Native American religion and Buddhism to Christianity. At this point he and Terry joined the Jesus Movement, recording the album “Reborn” on the Sparrow record label. He is now recognized as Catholic music’s most popular artist with over fifty albums and four million copies sold. His songs are published in hymnals throughout the world. A member of the Jesus Movement in the early 1970s, Talbot converted to Roman Catholicism in 1978 after immersing himself in the life and teaching of St. Francis of Assisi. He then founded his own community, the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, at Little Portion Hermitage as an “integrated monastic community” with celibate brothers and sisters, singles, and families. Talbot is also the author of numerous books bringing the Christian monastic tradition to contemporary life.
See also
John Michael Talbot “The Jesus Prayer: A Cry for Mercy, a Path of Renewal” [IVP Books, 2013]
Jesus Prayer Talbot
“An ancient prayer for every day: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” These words have strengthened and comforted believers for centuries. The Jesus Prayer comes to us from the Eastern Christian tradition. In these pages, John Michael Talbot explores more of the roots of the prayer along with the theological and practical meaning of each word in the lives of believers today. Readers are invited to meditate on the twelve simple words that lie at the heart of the Christian East. Complete with historical context and exercises for self-reflection, this book shows how a single prayer could sustain the spiritual life of a civilization. Each chapter ends with a brief practice using the prayer.”
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