Solitary in one’s mind: St Syncletica of Alexandria

“It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.” St Syncletica (Συγκλητική) of Alexandria (Syncletica 19; Benedicta Ward, trans., “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection”, rev. ed. [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1984], p. 234).
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“St Syncletica (Συγκλητική) of Alexandria (c. 400-84) is one of three ammas found in the Gerontikon (the alphabetical “Sayings of the Desert Fathers”), the other two being Theodora and Sarah. According to William Harmless, twenty-six sayings of St Syncletica have been preserved in various Desert Fathers compilations, but their original source is a Greek “Life and Regimen of the Holy and Blessed Teacher Syncletica” (English trans. in Elizabeth Bryson Bongie, trans., “The Life of Blessed Syncletica, by Pseudo-Athanasius” [Toronto: Peregrina, 1996]), traditionally attributed to St Athanasios the Great (“Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism” [Oxford: Oxford U, 2004], p. 441-2).

St Syncletica was born in Alexandria, into a Macedonian Christian family. She was beautiful and well-off, and consequently had many suitors, but—

She had already bestowed her heart and mind solely upon the heavenly Bridegroom, Christ, and not upon an earthly one. . . . Setting her sights and her thoughts solely upon the desired One, Christ, she closed her senses to bodily pleasures and conversed with her noetic Bridegroom. (“The Lives of the Spiritual Mothers: An Orthodox Materikon of Women Monastics and Ascetics” [Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1993], p. 2)

In this way, St Syncletica was a wonderful exemplar of her own teaching: ‘It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts’ (Syncletica 19; Benedicta Ward, trans., “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection”, rev. ed. [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1984], p. 234).
St Syncletica
After the death of her parents, St Syncletica gave all of her wealth to the poor and retired with her blind sister to any empty sepulchre on a relative’s estate. She was soon tonsured a nun and became a strict recluse, not speaking to men or women ‘in her quest for virtue and silence’ (“Lives”, p. 4). Eventually, however, her virtues and achievements grew so great that the Lord revealed her to others. Other nuns prevailed upon her against her will to give them guidance in the spiritual life, and it is thanks to them that the teachings of this great Amma were recorded in the first place. Here are two excerpts that I find particularly interesting, the first from the “Evergetinos”:

We should laud remiss and indolent souls who are easily exhausted in the struggle for good, as well as those souls who are easily discouraged and fall to despair. Indeed if such souls display even the smallest good deed, we must praise it and marvel at it, giving them encouragement in their struggle for the good. Contrarily, the most serious and greatest of their faults we must characterize, in front of them, as the least and unworthy of note. For the Devil, who wishes to destroy all things, or rather to succeed at our spiritual destruction, resorts to the following ruse. On the one hand, with accomplished and ascetic monks, he tries to cover their sins and to make them forget them, so as to create pride in these men. On the other hand, he constantly exposes the sins of neophytes whose souls have not yet been strengthened in the ascetic life, before them and exaggerates these sins, so as to drive such neophytes to despair, until they abandon their ascetic efforts.

For this reason, then, these still irresolute souls we must care for with tenderness and remind them continually of the boundless compassion and kindness of God. Among other things, we must emphasize that our Lord is merciful and long-enduring and that he annuls his righteous judgments against wrong-doers, as long as they surely repent. (“The Evergetinos: A Complete Text”, Vol. I of the First Book, trans. and ed. Bishop Chrysostomos, et al. [Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1988], pp. 19-20)
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The second excerpt comes from the Great Synaxaristes:

When the Lord made the world He placed two ranks of beings to dwell therein: Those who wisely conduct their lives within the boundaries of marriage and childbearing, and those who enter pure into life and are commanded to remain virgin, so as to be equal to the angels. To the married, He gave laws, instructions, and vengeance against the unrighteousness. However, to virgins, He says, ‘Vengeance is mine, I shall repay’ (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19). To the married He says, ‘Work the earth’ (Gen. 3:24), but to the monastics He says, ‘Take no thought for the morrow’ (Mt. 6:34). Moreover, to the married He gave laws, but to nuns and monks He revealed His commandments through grace….

We are honored with a greater position than those of the world. Just as a lord or lady in the world has servants for various ministrations, that is, some to manage their property, while others work their grounds, they keep in the house that are superior. It is the same with the Lord of all: those that are married, He appoints to live in the world; yet those that excel, possessing pure and good intentions, He places before Him to serve. Those of the latter group are strangers to all that is of the earth; for they have been vouchsafed to eat at the Master’s table. They do not take care for raiment, for they are clothed with Christ. Nevertheless, the Lord is the Master of both these positions. (Lives, pp. 36-7)
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St Syncletica spent her last four years on this earth in terrible suffering due to various maladies and infirmities, which the Lord permitted the evil one to bring upon her in order further to refine her soul (“Lives”, pp. 48-52). At last, however, she beheld ‘the finish line of her contest’: a vision of angels and virgin saints shining with uncreated light in Heaven (“Lives”, p. 52). Telling the nuns with her about her vision, she foretold that in 3 days she would fall asleep in the Lord. She was taken to her heavenly Bridegroom ‘enveloped by a heavenly light and overjoyed by consoling visions’ at the age of 84 (“Lives”, p. 52).
http://logismoitouaaron.blogspot.com.au/2009/01/blessed-amma-syncletica.html

“The Life and Regimen of the Blessed and Holy Syncletica by Pseudo-Athanasius, Part One: The Translation” Translated by Elizabeth Bryson Bongie [Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2005]
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“The Life and Regimen of the Blessed and Holy Syncletica by Pseudo-Athanasius, Part Two: A Study of the Life”. Translated by Elizabeth Bryson Bongie
[Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2005]

“This primary source was useful in discerning the language and image that Pseudo-Athanasius gave Amma Syncletica in this work. Although only using parts dealing with her life and how she speaks about herself, this text is a vital piece in understanding the Desert Mothers. As one of the more prominent Desert Mothers, Amma Syncletica’s life supplements the sayings that are included within the collection of sayings from the Desert Fathers and Mothers.” From: http://uo-sexgender.weebly.com/desert-mothers.html

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