“The concept of anachoresis is one of the most significant spiritual themes in the history of Eastern and Western Christianity, particularly within the tradition of monasticism. The realization of anachoresis, withdrawal of individuals or group of people from the world in order to live rigorous ascetical and spiritual purity, did not emerge overnight…. The term
Anachoresis is derived from the Greek word anachōreō, ‘to go backward’, ‘to depart,’ ‘to go away,’ ‘to withdraw,’ ‘to retire,’ ‘to retreat’. Anachoresis literally means flight or withdrawal (e.g. from battle, public life, world). Anachoresis was the official legal term for illegal absence from civic duties and for tax evasion. It is not clear that those evading their responsibilities actually fled. Hence, anachoresis in its original sense means giving up one’s rights and duties, which
human persons possess as a member of society, and taking up a special position toward the world.
Functionally, anachoresis began to designate departure of individuals or groups of individuals from public life to an environment more suited to the practice of asceticism, askēsis.
Gradually it became a technical expression to indicate the forms of monastic life of the time.
Thus, monastic life is a withdrawal (anachoresis) from the world.
Anachoresis as equivalent to monasticism, began as a reference to the material fact of withdrawal, but gradually became more spiritual than material, involving a certain separation from secular interests in order to belong to God alone…
The anachoresis advocated by the desert elders was an outcome of personal choice, unlike refugees, deportees, exiles and the abandoned who become the victims of an involuntary
Anachoresis by reason of war or famine. The desert fathers (and mothers) began their speculation by withdrawing and ended by becoming spiritual guides and masters of others. Here, for a convincing conclusion, we shall ask: Was it not because first they withdrew into seclusion that they became renowned spiritual guides and masters? However, can we conclude that they withdrew into seclusion in order to become spiritual guides and masters to next generation and to their times? Did not there exist only one intention behind their
anachoresis, that is, just to be alone with the Alone? But at the end, did not their voluntary
anachoresis make them be light for future generations? Can we assert that the theology of
anachoresis is equally accommodating to the needs of every generation? If we regurgitate the term anachoresis, we will find methodically that anachoresis will control and supervise our conduct and as a result, we will be able to remodel the world. In that case, do we not find that anachoresis has a moral, social, political and above all a spiritual potency and influence?
The anachoresis taught by the desert fathers (and mothers) was a technique, a skill, an exercise and above all an art of living (techne tou biou). Even today, where religious life is facing a big existential crisis in the cross-cultural changing paradigms of the 21st century, anachoresis can be an all-embracing exercise as envisioned by the Gospels. Because, at the centre of the activity of
anachoresis there is a self who, through behavioural changes, seeks to become a different person, a new self, in view of establishing a new relationship, and thus to become a different person in a new society that forms a new culture. This construction of the self in reference to oneself, to others, to society and to the world, how can we qualify as selfish, escapist (fuga mundi), antisocial, unbiblical? The anachoresis that we have treated in this study is a multifaceted reality, which demands a set of external and internal exercises, the basis of an end goal whatever it may be.”
From: James Manthra “Anachoresis. The Legacy of “Withdrawal” in the Desert Fathers” – full text available at: https://www.academia.edu/15485263/Desert_Spirituality This is an excellent scholarly paper, citing and providing references to, a large range of sources.
“ANACHORESIS, the step by which an ascetic, following the example of Saint ANTONY, leaves his village “to withdraw” (Greek, anachorein) to the desert and thus becomes an ANCHORITE (anachoretes). But the oldest attestations of the word in Egypt relate to a phenomenon of a social character. Crushed by excessive fiscal burdens, peasants fled from their villages to the desert or some other place. This phenomenon, already noted in pharaonic Egypt (Posener, 1975) and again under Arab domination, is particularly well known, thanks to papyri from the Greco-Roman period (Martin, 1934; Henne, 1956; Braunert, 1964). Several historians, such as A. Piganiol (1947, p. 376), have thought that there is a close relationship between this anachoresis of the peasants and the monastic anachoresis. In 373 and 377 the emperor Valens adopted measures against those among the monks who sought to escape their civil and military obligations (Piganiol, 1947, pp. 380-81). The monasteries sometimes served as refuges for crowds of people who fled before the exactions of the civil officials, as is apparent in the fifth century from the testimony of Isidorus of Pelusium (letter 191 PG 78, cols. 305A and B). The Pachomian Rules (see PACHOMIUS OF TABENNESE), in prescribing the conduct to be adopted with regard to candidates for the monastic life, call attention to the case—which must therefore have occurred—of those who presented themselves in order to escape judicial proceedings. Such candidates were naturally to be rejected. The monastic anachoresis, in fact, must be made, as it is said in the Life of Saint Antony (Athanasius, 1857, col. 853A), “out of virtue.” It is thus of a quite different nature from the anachoresis of peasants fleeing from their fiscal obligations. In accomplishing it, the monk separates himself from “the world,” that is, from all the objects (people and things) and occupations that excite the passions and distract the spirit, thus preventing him from being mindful of God alone. In this the monastic anachoresis is rather in the tradition of the philosophers and sages of Hellenism who withdrew from public life to devote themselves solely to philosophy (Festugière, 1960). Like them, the monk, by his anachoresis, sought what was called hesychia, the solitude and the leisure that allow one to devote oneself exclusively, without distraction, to what is considered the supreme good. But, more than that of the sages and philosophers, the anachoresis of the monks is a step of an essentially religious character and, as such, belongs to a phenomenon widely represented in the history of religions, particularly in Judaism and early Christianity. Before the appearance of monasticism, there had been faithful souls who, following the example of Jesus (cf. M. 1:35; Lk. 5:16), withdrew to the desert or into solitude to pray. The anchoritic life took diverse forms, from the absolute anchoritism of a Saint Antony or a PAUL OF THEBES, who spent the greater part of their lives in complete solitude, to more moderate forms like the semi-anchoritism of the monks of NITRIA and SCETIS, where a judicious balance had been established between the solitary and the communal life. Complete and lasting solitude was not without its own dangers. If the monk in the desert was far removed from the passions and the occupations of the world, he still had to face up to his own thoughts and the assaults of demons; the desert was in fact considered the home of the demons (Guillaumont, 1975). The demons warred against the monk either directly, according to the hagiographers, or indirectly, as is shown by the profound analyses of EVAGRIUS PONTICUS, by suggesting to him evil thoughts, which maintained the passions in him in an even more lively manner than the actual objects in the world. Thus, complete anachoresis was not advised for beginners and was recommended only for those who already had a long experience of cenobitic, or community, life (cf. Cassian, 1959, 18.4). Reserved for the perfect, it appeared as the highest form of monastic life, as an ideal practically inaccessible to the majority of monks. The hagiographic literature has embellished with marvelous features the life of the anchorites in the desert. It shows them dwelling in the company of wild animals, without any clothing, and subsisting on the desert plants. They are also said to have been miraculously fed by the angels, receiving from them, or sometimes from Christ himself, the Eucharist, of which the anchorites found themselves deprived by reason of their isolation. Completely ignored by humans, the anchorite is only discovered at the moment of his death, in order that a decent burial may be assured him and, above all, that his extraordinary life may be known and serve for the edification of all. A fine specimen of this marvelous literature concerning the anchorites is the story of the journey of the monk PAPHNUTIUS into the desert (Amélineau, 1885).”
Antoine Guillaumont “Anachoresis” in “Coptic Encyclopedia” at: