Archive for December, 2016

A World of Fugitives

Posted in Uncategorized on December 26, 2016 by citydesert


Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) The Fugitives (1868)

In a world of fugitives the one who is heading home will seem to be running away.

We live in a world of fugitives. The majority of people live shallow lives on purpose. They do not want to examine life. They do not want to ask the important questions. They want to be entertained. They want to blot out the world with the sedatives of drink, drugs, food, sex, possessions, power, prestige and pleasure.

If you feel like the urge to get away, to hunker down, to be still, to be alone is weird and you are some kind of an odd ball, then take heart.

In a world of fugitives, the one who is heading home will seem to be running away.

In other words dare to be different. Dare to be who God created you to be, and you will only find who that person is by spending time alone. The pilgrimage is always solitary, but the pilgrim is never alone.

You are never alone on the pilgrimage because God and all the other invisible pilgrims are with you. By “invisible pilgrims” I mean that “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. When you are alone you can connect with the saints and angels.

Fr Dwight Longenecker on The Suburban Hermit 31 August 2016 –


A Hermit’s Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized on December 25, 2016 by citydesert

“For many of us, Christmas is a time of hustle and bustle, bright lights, music and over-indulgence. But for Rachel Denton, this Yuletide will be a period of silence and contemplation. Not so different from her everyday life – Sister Rachel is a hermit.

Forget about the notions of unwashed bearded men living in caves. Her hermitage is a modest end-of-terrace house in rural north Lincolnshire, which she shares with her dog, a Chihuahua-cross called Mr Bingley. And although she lives a quiet, simple life, she does occasionally interact with others.


She has a Twitter account – the biography reads: “Hermit, scribe, printer – tweets are rare, but precious!” – and a website through which she sells her hand-illuminated greetings cards: “There is not much call for rush mats and rosaries these days – the traditional industries of the hermitage.”

She rises early, spends hours at prayer, goes to work, tends her garden, walks.

It’s a life of self-restraint many would find difficult, but Sister Rachel doesn’t conceal her delight at the way she lives.

“I get up, I go to sleep. I’m grateful for being alive. And that’s enough. I’m with God every day. I really do have a lovely life. It’s wonderful. I really do enjoy myself.”

Her weekly treat is a brief lie-in on Sunday mornings when she listens to Radio 4’s Something Understood – a music, prose and poetry programme with a spiritual theme, broadcast at 06:05. Every evening she listens to The Archers. Her face lights up as she discusses the machinations of the nefarious Rob, and she was delighted when Helen was found not guilty of his attempted murder.

When not animated by the goings-on in Ambridge, she exudes a sense of quietude and determination. Or as she puts its: “I’m reclusive and stubborn”. But she also laughs a lot.

The desire for solitude may have stemmed from childhood – she was deaf when she was young, before an operation restored her hearing, suddenly introducing noise into her life. One of six children, she was brought up in Stockport, where her father was a university lecturer.

She describes the life of hermitage as “one of becoming ever more sensitive to God-in-this-place. Which might involve appreciating the loveliness of a flower, or the dance of the light through a window, or the still-life of a mundane object suddenly striking in its random beauty. Or more likely, the meticulous job of recycling waste items, or weeding the raspberry canes.”

She’s keen to point out the practicalities – being a hermit is not a romantic lifestyle.

The most important thing for those wanting to embark on eremitical living is self-sufficiency, she says to people who email her asking for tips. “You need to be able to support yourself. So you need an income. I always say being a cleaner is a very good job for a hermit, because you generally go to homes when the householders are out. Part of me would love to live in a cave on a mountain and see nobody ever and not have a Facebook and Twitter account, but the reality is that if I’m to earn my own living, technology enables me to do that.”

Raised Catholic, she went to university where she “had boyfriends and all of that”, and then entered a convent for a year as a Carmelite nun – something her father thought “was a waste” of her academic potential. She enjoyed the silence and solitude – but found she couldn’t bear the communal living…

On leaving the convent, she didn’t embark on a solitary life straight away. She trained as a teacher, eventually becoming deputy head of a school in Cambridge where she taught maths and science.

Since taking the leap into her new life in 2001, she has been somewhat feeling her way. At first, she didn’t wear anything distinctive, but now she dresses in a scapular – a long garment suspended from the shoulders, a bit like a severe pinafore.

She admits, that although she is guided by her rules of life, there are times when she has to make it up as she goes along. As she embarked on her new path, she sought the blessing of the Most Rev Malcolm McMahon, then the Catholic Bishop of Nottingham. “He said: ‘We don’t do hermits.’ He didn’t know anything about it – although he did grow to like having a hermit in the diocese: it gave him kudos with the other bishops.”

For those first five years she was “incognito”, but following her Solemn Profession in 2006 – an official commitment to life-long hermitage at a special Mass – there has been interest.

Christmas has its own rituals for the hermit. “On Christmas Eve I always listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons on the radio, then a period of quiet after that. “The high point is midnight mass at the local church.” The day itself will be spent “quietly at the hermitage [her house]. Preparing Christmas dinner – although on a less epic scale than most people – reading, listening to carols, probably a walk, a DVD in the evening. “Very relaxed, no timetable.”…

So does she ever get lonely? “Never. My brother said he thought I’d not last two years as a hermit – but it’s been 15 years and I still love it.”…

At first she had to be quite firm about putting people off coming to visit her in her former council house near Market Rasen (a home she was able to afford to buy thanks to getting on the property ladder in Cambridge at an opportune time). They didn’t understand she wanted to be alone.

Over the past couple of years, she’s been forced to accept more company than she’s used to – as she needed treatment for cancer, something she found, she says, “fascinating”.

“All the scientific bits of the treatment, I was really interested in. What I found hard was not being on my own and having to accept help. And what I couldn’t bear is the pain. Pain is a terrible thing, and for some people there’s no escape from it.”…

How will she mark the end of the year and the beginning of the next? As might be expected – “quietly”. New Year’s Eve night is spent in prayer vigil, a practice common in many monasteries and convents. I like to think of folks partying the night away whilst I am praying for them,” she says. And she couldn’t be happier.

An extract from Bethan Bell “A hermit’s Christmas: Simplicity, solitude and silence”, BBC News, 23 December 2016. Whole article available on-line at:

See also:

The Hermit as Outlaw

Posted in Uncategorized on December 12, 2016 by citydesert

“Philoxenos in his ninth memra (on poverty) to dwellers in solitude, says that there is no explanation and no justification for the solitary life, since it is without a law. To be contemplative is therefore to be an outlaw. As was Christ. As was Paul.

One who is not “alone,” says Philoxenos, has not discovered his identity. He seems to be alone, perhaps, for he experiences himself as “individual.” But because he is willingly enclosed and limited by the laws and illusions of collective existence, he has no more identity than an unborn child in the womb. He is not yet conscious. He is alien to his own truth. He has senses, but he cannot use them. He has life, but not identity. To have an identity, he has to be awake, and aware. But to be awake, he has to accept vulnerability and death. Not for their own sake: not out of stoicism or despair-only for the sake of the invulnerable inner reality which we cannot recognize (which we can only be ) but to which we awaken only when we see the unreality of our vulnerable shell. The discovery of this inner self is an act and affirmation of solitude.


Now if we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily men dedicate themselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive, uncontrollable dynamic of fabrications designed to protect mere fictitious identities– “selves,” that is to say, regarded as objects. Selves that can stand back and see themselves having fun (an illusion which reassures them that they are real).

Such is the ignorance which is taken to be the axiomatic foundation of all knowledge in the human collectivity: in order to experience yourself as real, you have to suppress the awareness of your contingency, your unreality, your state of radical need. This you do by creating an awareness of yourself as one who has no needs that he cannot immediately fulfill. Basically, this is an illusion of omnipotence: an illusion which the collectivity arrogates to itself, and consents to share with its individual members in proportion as they submit to its more central and more rigid fabrications.

You have needs; but if you behave and conform you can participate in the collective power. You can then satisfy all your needs. Meanwhile, in order to increase its power over you, the collectivity increases your needs. It also tightens its demand for conformity. Thus you can become all the more committed to the collective illusion in proportion to becoming more hopelessly mortgaged to collective power.


How does this work? The collectivity informs and shapes your will to happiness (“have fun”) by presenting you with irresistible images of yourself as you would like to be: having fun that is so perfectly credible that it allows no interference of conscious doubt. In theory such a good time can be so convincing that you are no longer aware of even a remote possibility that it might change into something less satisfying. In practice, expensive fun always admits of a doubt, which blossoms out into another full-blown need, which then calls for a still more credible and more costly refinement of satisfaction, which again fails you. The end of the cycle is despair.

Because we live in a womb of collective illusion, our freedom remains abortive. Our capacities for joy, peace, and truth are never liberated. They can never be used. We are prisoners of a process, a dialectic of false promises and real deceptions ending in futility.

“The unborn child,” says Philoxenos, “is already perfect and fully constituted in his nature, with all his senses, and limbs, but he cannot make use of them in their natural functions, because, in the womb, he cannot strengthen or develop them for such use.”

Now, since all things have their season, there is a time to be unborn. We must begin, indeed, in the social womb. There is a time for warmth in the collective myth. But there is also a time to be born. He who is spiritually “born” as a mature identity is liberated from the enclosing womb of myth and prejudice. He learns to think for himself, guided no longer by the dictates of need and by the systems and processes designed to create artificial needs and then “satisfy” them.

This emancipation can take two forms: first that of the active life, which liberates itself from enslavement to necessity by considering and serving the needs of others, without thought of personal interest or return. And second, the contemplative life, which must not be construed as an escape from time and matter, from social responsibility and from the life of sense, but rather, as an advance into solitude and the desert, a confrontation with poverty and the void, a renunciation of the empirical self, in the presence of death, and nothingness, in order to overcome the ignorance and error that spring from the fear of “being nothing.” The man who dares to be alone can come to see that the “empitness” and “uselessness” which the collective mind fears and condemns are necessary conditions for the encounter with truth.


It is in the desert of loneliness and emptiness that the fear of death and the need for self-affirmation are seen to be illusory. When this is faced, then anguish is not necessarily overcome, but it can be accepted and understood. Thus, in the heart of anguish are found the gifts of peace and understanding: not simply in personal illumination and liberation, but by commitment and empathy, for the contemplative must assume the universal anguish and the inescapable condition of mortal man. The solitary, far from enclosing himself in himself, becomes every man. He dwells in the solitude, the poverty, the indigence of every man.

It is in this sense that the hermit, according to Philoxenos, imitates Christ. For in Christ, God takes to Himself the solitude and dereliction of man: every man. From the moment Christ went out into the desert to be tempted, the loneliness, the temptation and the hunger of every man became the loneliness, temptation and hunger of Christ. But in return, the gift of truth with which Christ dispelled the three kinds of illusion offered him in his temptation (security, reputation and power) can become also our own truth, if we can only accept it. It is offered to us also in temptation. “You too go out into the desert,” said Philoxenos, “having with you nothing of the world, and the Holy Spirit will go with you. See the freedom with which Jesus has gone forth, and go forth like Him-see where he has left the rule of men; leave the rule of the world where he has left the law, and go out with him to fight the power of error.”…


The love of solitude is sometimes condemned as “hatred of our fellow men.” But is this true? If we push our analysis of collective thinking a little further we will find that the dialectic of power and need, of submission and satisfaction, ends by being a dialectic of hate. Collectivity needs not only to absorb everyone it can, but also implicitly to hate and destroy whoever cannot be absorbed. Paradoxically, one of the needs of collectivity is to reject certain classes, or races, or groups, in order to strengthen its own self-awareness by hating them instead of absorbing them.

Thus the solitary cannot survive unless he is capable of loving everyone, without concern for the fact that he is likely to be regarded by all of them as a traitor. Only the man who has fully attained his own spiritual identity can live without the need to kill, and without the need of a doctrine that permits him to do so with a good conscience. There will always be a place, says Ionesco, ” for those isolated consciences who have stood up for the universal conscience ” as against the mass mind. But their place is solitude. They have no other. Hence it is the solitary person (whether in the city or in the desert) who does mankind the inestimable favor of reminding it of its true capacity for maturity, liberty and peace.

It sounds very much like Philoxenos to me.”


From Thomas Merton “Rain and the Rhinoceros” (1964) from Raids on the Unspeakable in 1966. Full text available on-line at:

For an account of the writing of “Rain and the Rhinoceros”, see:


Thomas Merton Raids on the Unspeakable New Directions, 8th printing edition, 1966)

For Philoxenus, see:

Philoxenus Ascetic Discourses. Discourse 9 – Second Discourse on Poverty: available on-line at:

“Now therefore it is meet for those who desire to be freed from the fetters of the world to release themselves completely, and to put off and to cast away their old clothes and to put on new, which is the rule and conduct of Christ. And this apparel is the apparel of the kingdom, and it is meet that all the ornaments of an excellent rule and conduct of life should be found therein. It is meet that whosoever wisheth to change his apparel should put off wholly [the old], and put on completely [the new], and these similitudes are placed for thee as an example concerning that about which I am giving thee counsel, and from things which relate to the body thou must gain understanding concerning those of the spirit For behold, whosoever wisheth to pour anything into a vessel, until he hath emptied it of what there is already in it cannot pour therein that which he wisheth to pour; now if that which is emptied from the vessel, and that which is poured therein [in its place] be not similar, although the vessel be washed and scoured, the sweetness of the taste of that which is newly poured therein [is not able] to change the former smell and taste. And again, when the husbandman wisheth to cast into his ground good seed, and he seeth that there are therein brambles and briars, he uprooteth and hoeth them up first of all, and then he casteth the good seed into his field. And again, whosoever wisheth to put on a new garment first of all casteth away the old one which is upon his body, and then he putteth on the new one. And thus also doth the physician, for he deviseth means and removeth skilfully the putrefaction which is upon the boil by means of acid and astringent medicines, and then he layeth on the bandage which buildeth up the new flesh. And like unto these many things are performed in nature, for except the old things be cut off and cast away, men cannot bring those which are new, especially if they are the opposites of each other, and thus, in this case also, the disciple of Christ—-if he wisheth to draw nigh to the perfect rule of the life of Christ—-is bound to cut off and to cast from him all the life and conduct of the old world, and then he must draw near to the new life, and cast off ignorance, and put on the knowledge of the spirit; for the fettering which is in the things which abide not ariseth from ignorance, and the unloosing of them cometh from knowledge. Whosoever casteth off the world, casteth off ignorance, and whoso putteth on the world putteth on folly, for true knowledge is that which forgetteth not that which is not and which thinketh of it as if it existed; and ignorance is known by being fettered, and it thinketh that which abideth not is something which is true and enduring. So therefore those who put on the world put it on as something which endureth, and it is justly said of those who are ignorant, “They have mistaken the shadow for the substance”, and rightly have been called “wise” those who have made themselves strangers to the world, and have cast off early the old rag before it hath cast them off. Whosoever the world casteth off hath no happiness therewith, for the world hath fled from him, and hath rejected him, and thrown him away as something which is superfluous; but those are worthy of blessing and praise who of their own good freewill make themselves strangers to the world, and who go out from it that it may not be an impediment to their course. For as is a covering before the sight, even so is the care of the world before the Divine vision, and as our sight is not able to pierce and to pass through any dense body which may be before it, whether it be a mountain, or a building, or some other such like thing, and until a man cometh to the top of the mountain, or walketh over it, he is unable to see the things which are thereupon, even so our thought is unable to consider the things which are outside the world so long as the wall of the world is built before our vision, and its heavy shadows and the mountains and hills of its cares and anxieties hem us in on every side. If then a man wisheth to see the spiritual rule which is outside the world, and to look closely at the heavenly things which are above it, let him go outside the world, or ascend above it, and behold two things will appear to him:—-the spiritual rule of life which is established by the motion of living thoughts, and the kingdom of heaven which is above the world; for when a man is freed from the passions of the world, his habitation is, as it were, in the kingdom of heaven.”

The first English translation of The Discourses of Philoxenos, Bishop of Mabbug by E.A. Wallis Budge (1894) is available in digital form on-line at:

Philoxenos of Mabbug The Discourses of Philoxenos of Mabbug. A New Translation and Introduction Translated by Robert A. Kitchen Cistercian Publications, 2014


“The thirteen Discourses of Philoxenos of Mabbug (445-523) were delivered to new monks at a monastery under his episcopal care. Written in elegant Syriac, the Discourses deal with the fundamentals of the monastic and ascetic life-faith, simplicity, fear of God, renunciation, and the struggle against the demons of gluttony and fornication. This is Philoxenos’s longest work and his most popular. It avoids the strident character of his letters and commentaries that were composed to advance the anti-Chalcedonian movement.

This is the first English translation of an important Syriac text since the 1894 translation, now difficult to find. The introduction to this translation of the Discourses takes into account the scholarly work done and the books and articles published about Philoxenos in the past half century. There are no other titles in English that deal with the Discourses in this depth.”

Hesychasm Encounters Lectio Divina

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11, 2016 by citydesert

“Two ancient Christian spiritual practices have emerged in their appropriate cultural contexts throughout the complex history of Christianity. Various cultural contexts in hesychasm and lectio divina enlighten us 1) to be balanced in religious culture and social culture between solitude and communal spiritual practices; 2) to notice the ways people achieve spiritual fulfillment in various cultures; 3) to propose a verbal practice in meditation to those who belong to oral culture and a silent and visual practice to those who belong to a more literate culture; or to practice both if the culture is mixed; and 4) to recognize the meaning of spirituality defined by people of Eastern and Western culture.”


“The holistic worldview of   spiritual experience can be learned from Sophrony (1896-1993), a hesychast, who lived in the desert of Athos as a hermit for seven years. He explicitly testifies to his spiritual experience, when he claims that: “I was living in two worlds. One I apprehend through sight, hearing and the rest of my physical faculties. In the other world I was spirit only—all listener, all expectation. I tried hard to see—but saw with other eyes.”

It would not be wrong to say that, when a person is deified, he or she will receive some kind of  divine wisdom with which he or she is able to discern all phenomena (in the past, present and future) in the secular world as well as the spiritual world and the universe. In actual fact, the post-modern search for holistic spiritual experience is available in our ancient Christian contemplative practices of hesychasm and lectio divina. Both practices offer experiential spirituality of interior tranquility.”

From: Moe Moe Nyunt “Hesychasm Encounters Lectio Divina: An Intercultural Analysis of Eastern and Western Christian Contemplative Practices” The Asbury Journal 70/1, 2015:76-94 Asbury Theological Seminary

Text available on-line at:

Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), also Elder Sophrony, was best known as the disciple and biographer of St Silouan the Athonite and compiler of St Silouan’s works, and as the founder of the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Maldon, Essex, England. See: 


Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov We Shall See Him As He Is: The Spiritual Autobiography of Elder SophronyRosemary Edmonds, Translator. St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2006

“”Now at the close of my life I have decided to talk to my brethren of things I would not have ventured to utter earlier, counting it unseemly….” Thus wrote Archimandrite Sophrony, then ninety-two years old, in We Shall See Him as He Is, his spiritual autobiography. In this book Fr. Sophrony, one of the most beloved orthodox Christian elders of our times, revealed to the world his own experience of union with God, and the path to that union. Drawing near to God with intense love and longing accompanied by struggle, self-emptying and searing repentance, Fr. Sophrony was granted to participate in the life of God Himself through His uncreated Energies. Like orthodox saints throughout the centuries, he experienced God’s grace as an ineffable, uncreated Light. It was in this Light that Christ was transfigured on Mount Tabor before His Apostles, and it is in this Light that we shall see Him as He is (I John 3:2). Born into a Russian orthodox family in Moscow in 1896, Archimandrite Sophrony embarked on a successful career as a painter in Paris. There he delved into Eastern religions for a time, before repenting bitterly of this and returning to the faith of his childhood. After a brief period of theological study in Paris, he left for the ancient orthodox monastic republic of Mount Athos in Greece, where he spent fifteen years in a monastery and a further seven as a hermit “in the desert.” on Mount Athos he became the spiritual son of a simple monk of holy life, Elder Silouan. It was under the guidance of Saint Silouan that Fr. Sophrony experienced divine illumination, knowing God intimately as Personal Absolute-as the one Who revealed Himself to the Prophet Moses as “I AM” and Who became incarnate as man in Jesus Christ. In 1959, Fr. Sophrony founded the Monastic Community of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England, which has since become a major orthodox spiritual center for all of Western Europe. Elder Sophrony reposed in 1993, at the age of 97.”

Why You Don’t Need What You Want

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11, 2016 by citydesert

“They’re not ascetic monomaniacs or highbrow designers obsessed with polished concrete and clean utilitarian lines.

They’re ordinary families and couples who became overwhelmed with modern hyper-consumerism and have embarked on a journey towards simplicity.

And they are not alone. With thousands worldwide on a similar journey, they form part of a community which not only defines itself by what they don’t have but also by what they have gained by subtraction…

Although the term “minimalism” was originally used to describe a branch modernist Western art, it was adapted to describe anything stripped back to its bare essentials.

Now, with that definition in mind, it’s become a reaction to a 21st century free market economy and the downward numbing pressure that it has placed on individual consumers. It’s created a lifestyle movement that is rapidly gaining acceptance and popularity in the Western world.

The are many buzzwords in the spectrum of minimalist lifestyles. There’s the “nomadic lifestyle” – adventurers who seek to have no-fixed-address on an endless journey. They tend to come from high-income, high stress careers (which might explain how they can fund their endless summers)…

There’s the “slow your home, “de-clutter your home” or “spring clean” communities who are stereotypically empty nesters or stay at home mums who have become overwhelmed with the junk of modern life.

“Zen Habits”, the wildly successful blog and books by San Francisco father of six, Leo Babauta, began the interest with his tips in “simplicity, health and fitness, motivation and inspiration, frugality, family life, happiness, goals, getting great things done, and living in the moment.”


Then there’s the “minimalists”, who sit somewhere in the middle of the continuum, who mostly begin with the “things” in their lives but discovering a philosophical approach beyond that lies beyond.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus call themselves “The Minimalists”. They run a successful website read by millions and have written books, perform speaking tours and have even made a documentary about minimalism culture. It’s sort of like a “how to” blog, written by two attractive young guys who push minimalism away from “mummy blogging” about household cleaning and into the realm of streamlined life.


“Quite often people will come up to us after our events and they will say it’s great to see a couple of guys out here spreading Jesus’ message or they’ll say it’s great to a couple of Buddhists out on the road sharing these Buddhist principles, or (the thinking of) stoic philosophers like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius,” says Joshua.

“Or these different people who really questioned the things they brought into their lives – but think it’s ultimately not about depriving ourselves the things that we have, it’s much more about attenuating the desire for owning more stuff as if those things are going to make us happy.”

One of their techniques is called a “packing party” where you box up every single item in your life and only remove the items you need as you need them. Eventually, most find that 80 per cent of their possessions stay that way after six months and can be donated to charity or sold.

“What we were seeing a lot of is people asking the same questions, people from Occupy Wall Street and CEOs from major corporations asking the same question of how do I live a more meaningful life,” Ryan says.”

From: Andy Park “Minimalism: Why you don’t need what you want” Full text available on-line at:

The SBS program on “The Feed”, originally shown on 9 October 2014, is current available on-line at:

For The Minimalists, see:

For, Joshua Fields Millburn, see:

For Zen Habits, see: and

Leo Babauta The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life Hachette Books, 2009

“According to Babauta (Zen to Done), employing the power of less will propel readers from chaos to blissful and productive minimalism. Learning to set limitations, such as penning a three-item Most Important Task list every day and restricting e-mails to five lines, is a cornerstone for the authors plan for increased simplicity and satisfaction. With new boundaries in place, readers can discover flow, become wholly absorbed in tasks and live the paradox of doing less and achieving more.”

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life Asymmetrical Press, 2011

“Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s most important things–which actually aren’t things at all.
At age 30, best friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus walked away from their six-figure corporate careers, jettisoned most of their material possessions, and started focusing on what’s truly important.
In their debut book, Joshua and Ryan, authors of the popular website, explore their troubled pasts and descent into depression. Though they had achieved the American Dream, they worked ridiculous hours, wastefully spent money, and lived paycheck to paycheck. Instead of discovering their passions, they pacified themselves with ephemeral indulgences–which only led to more debt, depression, and discontent.
After a pair of life-changing events, Joshua and Ryan discovered minimalism, allowing them to eliminate their excess material things so they could focus on life’s most important “things”: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.”


The Hermit as Non-Conformist Monk

Posted in Uncategorized on December 8, 2016 by citydesert

“In the 19th century, St. Seraphim of Sarov shines brightly, a true “seraph.” For him, the Spirit was warmth in a world grown cold. Looking back on him in historical context, despite the popular pictures of him feeding his black bear, hunchbacked, walking with an axe handle, and kneeling in prayer on the rock for a thousand days and nights, he refuses to be imprisoned by popular piety just as he refused to be captured by all the roles he filled in his life. He was a light in the midst of the forest, in a Church deeply in need of renewal, in a time of great cultural stirring, in a society of political questioning. Donald Nicholl recounts how a century after his death, around his feast day people would bring fir branches into the anti-religious museum set up in the Kazan Cathedral in Leningrad. They sensed his relics were there. When the end of the Soviet era finally came, those relics were rediscovered and returned to Sarov.


St. Seraphim seems to have embodied many traditional elements, not just of Church life and piety but of Russian culture. Yet Paul Evdokimov and other biographers observe that in his person, actions and words he steps out of the usual, expected forms, overturning stereotypes and myths that have accrued to “spirituality.” It is no surprise that he was so beloved to many of the leading Paris migrs. St. Seraphim surfaces in Sergius Bulgakov’s The Bride of the Lamb as an example of the divine humanity at work in a person. He plays a major role in Evdokimov’s Ages of the Spiritual Life, a study of holiness in the Eastern Church. Seraphim stands out by his willingness to follow the Spirit through regular cenobitic life to a hermit’s vocation, to years as a virtual recluse, to an intensely active ministry of healing the distressed and organizing the Diveyevo women’s communities.

There was persistent criticism of his character and activities by local bishops, by his abbot Niphon, and by other members of the Sarov monastic community. Metropolitan Filaret’s editing of Seraphim’s words, very likely the smoothing out of details of his life, suggest the unease with which Seraphim was regarded. Despite an overwhelming popular cult, many icons, pilgrimages to his tomb, healings and prayers, it took the pressure of the Romanovs, Nicholas and Alexandra, to push through the decision for Seraphim’s canonization in 1903.

Numerous events attest to his unusual personality and spiritual activity. His early invisibility in the Sarov community gave way to notoriety for his reclusive behavior, his unusual dress, his detailed instructions for the construction of churches, the mill and the Virgin’s walkway at Diveyevo, not to mention the healings of both Michael Manturov and Motovilov of clearly psychosomatic afflictions, and the subsequent relationship between him and these two associates. There is Seraphim’s warm – but to some, scandalous – relationship with the Diveyevo nuns, his direction of their physical and spiritual existence down to details of prayer, dress and work.


The famous incident, recorded by Motovilov, richly illustrates both Seraphim’s personality and position. On a snowy winter afternoon, in a field outside his hermitage in the Sarov forest, Seraphim allowed Motovilov not only to see the luminous results of being in the presence of God, in communion with Him, he also enabled Motovilov to share in this experience himself. Motovilov described an almost blinding light, the warmth he experienced despite the winter cold, the beautiful fragrance, and, above all, the indescribable joy and peace – exactly what the New Testament indicates the real presence of the Spirit to be.

The most unusual nature of this “encounter” and the even more radical content of what Seraphim had to say is often overlooked. Seraphim stressed the absolutely universal character of holiness. Everyone can acquire the Holy Spirit. This is not the result of saying many prayers, lighting candles, keeping the fasts, attending numerous services. All this activity has but one purpose – allowing the Spirit to make his dwelling in us. God deeply desires the holiness of every person. Whether one is a monastic, ordained, a lay person, rich or poor, single or married – none of this matters.

Healed miraculously by the Mother of God in his childhood as well as in later life after a brutal attack by robbers, the recipient of numerous visits by her and other saints who constantly said, “He is one of us,” the seer of visions of Christ at the Liturgy, Seraphim’s biography appears to be hagiography. To be sure, many details conform to the classical models of a monastic saint. But there are important differences.


Though a monk and priest, Seraphim chose to dress as the peasants of the surrounding area, in an unbleached smock, birch-bark sandals in summer, boots and coat in winter. To be sure, he would don the riassa, cowl, the stole and cuffs when going to communion at the Liturgy in the monastery church. He lit thousands of candles in his cell for those who came for healing, yet he also rubbed holy oil on their arms and legs, gave out bread, wine and water to everyone, an extension of the Eucharist, even an image of the feeding of the multitudes by Christ in the wilderness. He raised his own vegetables, cut wood, cleared the brush, just as local farmers and early monastics did. He kept a prayer rule, read the Hours, and almost literally lived in the pages of the Bible. Visitors – from small children to troubled young adults – were urged to read the Gospels along with him. Accounts tell of the monastic community’s resentment at the hundreds of visitors lined up daily to see him, crowding the corridor outside his cell. Memoirs report that all kinds of people came: not only Orthodox but Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and nonbelievers.

In the end, he does not conform neatly to the category of monastic saint. In St. Seraphim the categories of priest, monastic ascetic, even of staretz, are never rejected, yet he transcends them all. He flees even from routine monastic life to his hermitage, and both there and back in his monastery cell, the door is shut to all, even his confreres. But then the door is opened to all, and never closes again. After “fleeing the world,” he embraced the world. Through him, very reluctantly at first, the monastery too was opened to the world, a prefiguring of the wonderful openness of the elders of Optina, of St. Elizabeth and the Mary-Martha monastery, of St. Maria of Paris, and of Paul Evdokimov.


St. Seraphim extends the possibility of life in the Spirit to every person, in every situation in society. Any prestige due to status, ordained or monastic, is obliterated. Gone too are any stereotypes of what holiness looks like, of what ascetic practices are necessary. He keeps all the monastic rules and churchly traditions, yet his life and his words make it clear that these are but means to an end and never an end in themselves. When one has recognized the Holy Spirit, prayers cease, for the Spirit takes over, praying in one’s life, making all of one’s life prayer. “Acquiring the Holy Spirit,” he said, “is the whole point of the Christian life.” Still better known is this related saying: “My joy, acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.” Each person was his “joy,” every person, no matter how desperate, was being illumined by the Spirit. No wonder his greeting all year round was “Christ is risen.””

From: Fr. Michael Plekon “Becoming the Jesus Prayer” Source: In Communion: Website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship Full-text available at:

See further on St Seraphim:

Valentine Zander St Seraphim of Sarov St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975


“Orthodox spirituality has produced many holy and famous men, but none in recent centuries to compare with St Seraphim, starets of the monastery of Sarov, in Russia. After an initial period as a monk working within the community, he became a hermit, living deep in the forests in a world of solitude which was destroyed only when he was attacked by brigands, and returned to the community. In 1825, after fifteen years of living in silence, Seraphim began to receive visitors and to spend his energies for their spiritual direction. By means of his faith and asceticism he performed a number of miracles. His fame and humility brought to him for advice a steady stream of visitors, including religious and royalty. His humility and his concern for people made Sarov a center of pilgrimage until the events of the 1917 revolution.

Mme Zander has constructed his biography from the notebooks of people who knew him, the nuns whose spiritual director he became, the people whose lives he influenced, and the clergy who sought his advice. She adds to this information her own recollections of pilgrimages to Sarov before 1917. The life of the starets is told with a touching simplicity that allows his life and work to be their own witness.”

Ages of the Spiritual Life

Posted in Uncategorized on December 8, 2016 by citydesert

Paul Evdokimov Ages of the Spiritual Life St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press (March 10, 1998)


“Evdokimov draws from the great current of Christian spiritual life in the West and in particular the Eastern tradition, revealing how modern mankind may recover the voices of silence, prayer and contemplation. Ages of the Spiritual Life presents a different view of the spiritual life.

Paul Evdokimov’s spirituality is open to God, the world and to the neighbor. It is the spirituality of the Great Tradition of the Church, but refreshingly new, rooted in the Bible and liturgy but entwined with the everyday life of home, school and work, a spirituality that is truly “for the life of the world.” Models and teachers are the desert fathers and mothers and the monastics. Evdokimov’s gift is the idea of an “interiorized monasticism” for all. The true pattern of the spiritual life for us in our time means incorporating into our lives the basics of the monastics’ life: prayers, liturgy, scripture, work, love and care for the neighbor.

Our “fasting” then becomes fasting from obsessive acquiring, from addiction to work and productivity, from the frenetic pace of our lives. Our solitude is to be found in quiet, prayer, simplicity, and small acts of loving kindness. The spiritual life, we learn more, needs to find its particular shape in the demands and context of our time, our lives, not those of another century. Thus, Christ transforms us and our age. Evdokimov offers the spirituality of the whole Church, of the past and of the present, and the life of the saints, a gift from Orthodoxy to all truly seeking God.”


Paul Evdokimov (1902-1970) was a professor at St Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, Director of the Center of Orthodox Studies and served as the Director of the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Geneva. He has been appropriately called a theological bridge between East and West because he brings patristic insights to bear upon modern situations.

See further: Andrew Louth Modern Orthodox Thinkers: From the Philokalia to the Present InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 2015 – chapter 11

From the Philokalia to the Present

Posted in Uncategorized on December 8, 2016 by citydesert

Andrew Louth Modern Orthodox Thinkers: From the Philokalia to the Present InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 2015


“Andrew Louth, one of the most respected authorities on Orthodoxy, introduces us to twenty key thinkers from the last two centuries. He begins with the Philokalia, the influential Orthodox collection published in 1782 which marked so many subsequent writers.

The colorful characters, poets and thinkers who populate this book range from Romania, Serbia, Greece, England, France and also include exiles from Communist Russia. Louth offers historical and biographical sketches that help us understand the thought and impact of these men and women. Only some of them belong to the ranks of professional theologians. Many were neither priests nor bishops, but influential laymen. The book concludes with an illuminating chapter on Metropolitan Kallistos and the theological vision of the Philokalia.”

“Contemporary Orthodox theology is like a spring flower that has budded after a harsh winter’s thaw. This book signals the blossoming of Orthodox theology in the English-speaking world after centuries of inhospitable historical conditions under Islam and Communism. Previously confined to traditional Orthodox countries such as Russia, Romania, Greece and Serbia, Orthodox theology today is emerging with striking advances in Western Europe and North America. With vast erudition, this stunningly well-conceived book traces the influence of the spiritual classic, the Philokalia, on leading Orthodox thinkers, lay theologians and monastics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This original work provides an unparalleled resource for understanding the theological vision of Orthodox thinkers over the last two centuries. It is a landmark achievement that validates the thesis that the Orthodox Church is on the cusp of a major theological renaissance in the twenty-first century.” Bradley Nassif, professor of biblical and theological studies, North Park University, co-editor of The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality

“This is a brilliant introduction to the living theology of the Orthodox Church since the publication of the Philokalia in 1782, revealing the amazing diversity and fecundity of the Orthodox theological tradition. This is sure to become the standard handbook on the ways of Orthodox theology in the nineteenth and twentieth century inspired by, and inspiring, the love of the good and beautiful.” John Behr, Dean, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, New York

1.The Philokalia and its influence
2. Vladimir Solov´ev and Sophia
3. Fr Pavel Florensky and the nature of reason
4. Fr Sergii Bulgakov and the nature of theology
5. Nicolas Berdyaev—creativity, freedom and the person
6. Fr Georges Florovsky and the neo-patristic synthesis
7. Apophatic theology and deification: Myrrha Lot-Borodine and Vladimir Lossky
8. St Maria of Paris (Mother Maria Skobtsova) and Orthodoxy in the modern world
9. Modern Orthodox dogmatic theology: 1. Fr Dumitru Staniloae
10. Modern Orthodox dogmatic theology: 2. St Justin Popovic
11. Paul Evdokimov and the love and beauty of god
12. Neo-Palamism: Fr John Meyendorff and the Greek neo-Palamites
13. Liturgical Theology: Fr Alexander Schmemann and the Greeks, Ioannis Foundoulis and Fr Vasileios
14. Theology of patristic renewal: Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) and Fr John Romanides
15. Lay theologians: 1. Philip Sherrard
16. Lay theologians: 2. Dimitris Koutroubis, Christos Yannaras, Stelios Ramfos
17. Lay theologians: 3. Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Olivier Clément
18. Spiritual Elders: 1. Mother Thekla (Sharf) and the English acculturation of Orthodoxy
19. Spiritual Elders: 2. St Silouan and Fr Sophrony: seeing god as he is
20. Theology in Russia under communism: Fr Aleksandr Men´
21. Metropolitan Kallistos and the theological vision of the Philokalia

Tracing the Jesus Prayer Westward

Posted in Uncategorized on December 8, 2016 by citydesert

“Tracing the Jesus Prayer Westward: Reaffirming Egyptian Influence on Western Monasticism in Late Antiquity”

by Patricia Ann Eshagh, Ph.D., THE CLAREMONT GRADUATE UNIVERSITY, 2016, 138 pages; 10046738



“In the ancient world, Egyptian monasticism became the standard model for exemplary asceticism. Its influence continued on to Europe in late antiquity and informed the development of western monasticism. Spiritual seekers learned the ways of the Egyptian monk by either reading authoritative texts such as the Life of Antony (Vita Antonii) or by hearing stories from people who visited monasteries in Egypt. Monastic texts documented the oral tradition of Egyptian monasticism, the experiences of visitors to its monastic communities and the lives of its spiritual leaders. These valued texts transformed people’s lives and shaped the way in which later generations approached their commitment to monastic life.

In the nineteenth century, scholars initiated a line of inquiry into monastic origins that resulted in damaging allegations against the legacy of Egyptian monasticism and its foundational texts. That investigation sparked an international debate between scholars who accepted the established Egyptian monastic tradition and the nontraditionalists, who set out to redefine its historic truth—a circuitous debate that continues to the present day.

This dissertation engages the scholarly debate on behalf of the traditionalists by reaffirming the value of the monastic texts as credible transmitters of the spirituality of Egyptian monasticism. That spirituality consisted of a unique prayer culture that combined work with unceasing prayer. The Desert Fathers and Mothers of fourth-century Egypt utilized a short supplication of remorse as their unceasing prayer formula—known today as the Jesus Prayer. This dissertation discusses the origin of the Jesus Prayer within the prayer culture of early Egyptian monasticism. It then traces the transmission of the Egyptian monastic prayer culture through the Jesus Prayer from its origin in Egypt to the West in the fifth century through the facility of discipleship and the treatises of John Cassian. Finally, it demonstrates how the Jesus Prayer and the essence of the Egyptian monastic prayer culture were absorbed into the western monastic rules of Benedict and Caesarius as an essential element in the inner contemplative prayer life of western monasticism.”


A very interesting dissertation, accessible to those with access to electronic resources via, for example, University libraries.

Going It Alone

Posted in Uncategorized on December 7, 2016 by citydesert

“Go to any bookstore and you’ll find shelves of books written about living in a relationship — how to find a relationship, how to hold one together once it’s found, how to survive its falling apart, how to find one again. Churches offer classes, preachers preach, teachers teach, therapists counsel about how to get and stay coupled.

Then try looking for lessons in solitude. You will search for a long while, even though more and more of us are living alone, whether by choice or circumstance….

To define a solitary as someone who is not married — to define solitude as the absence of coupling — is like defining silence as the absence of noise. Solitude and silence are positive gestures. This is why Buddhists say that we can learn what we need to know by sitting on a cushion. This is why I say that you can learn what you need to know from the silent, solitary discipline of writing, the discipline of art. This is why I say that solitaries possess the key to saving us from ourselves…..

I am not interested in the possibility that solitaries might lead more carefree lives. My ideal solitary carries not less but more responsibility toward the self and the universe than those who couple. The solitary hasn’t the luxury of what Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times, recently called “deep familial selfishness.” Solitude imposes on its practitioners a choice between emotional atrophy and openness to the world, with all the reward and heartbreak that generosity implies.

But now we come to the nub of the question, the hub of the turning wheel of the teachings: What figure does the solitary cut in the human tapestry? What is the usefulness of sitting alone at one’s desk and writing, especially writing those vast seas of pages that will see only the recycling bin? What is the usefulness of meditation, or of prayer? What is the usefulness of the solitary?

Fate suggests submission to the circumstances of life; destiny suggests active engagement. The former implies some all-powerful force or figure to whose will we must submit. The latter implies that each of us is a manifestation of one of the infinite aspects of creation, whose fullest expression depends in some small but necessary way on our day-to-day, moment-to-moment decisions. We are caught — trapped, some might say — in the web of fate, but we are each just as surely among its multitude of spinners. In our spinning lies our hope; in our spinning lies our destiny. In this way, just as marriages or partnerships are not given but made, solitaries can consciously embrace and inhabit their solitude.

The solitaries who achieved destinies worthy of the name formed and cultivated special relationships with the great silence, the great Alone. I sense that relationship in their work. I read it in their poetry, in their stories, in their novels; I see it in their painting; I hear it in their music. Again and again the bachelor Giorgio Morandi painted vessels that float outside time and space in a world without surface or shadow, portraits of infinity. Erik Satie composed music in which the silences are as important as the notes.


Giorgio Morandi “Still Life” (1957)

I do not wish to say that being solitary is superior or inferior to being coupled, nor that the full experience of solitude requires living alone, though doing so may create a greater silence in which to hear an inner voice. Bachelorhood is a legitimate vocation. Spinsterhood is a calling, a destiny. I am seeking to understand more deeply this peculiar vocation, to which, evidently, I have been called, and which, evidently, more and more people are undertaking…..

The multiplication of our society’s demons has been accompanied by a ratcheting up of the sources and volume of its background noise. What is the point of the chatter and diversions of our lives, except to keep the demons at bay? Meanwhile, we are creating demons faster than we can create noise to drown them out — environmental devastation, global warming, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, uncontrolled population growth, uncontrolled consumption held up by the media as the glittering purpose of life.

The appropriate response is not more noise. The appropriate response is more silence.

To choose to be alone is to bait the trap, to create a space the demons cannot resist entering. And that’s the good news: The demons that enter can be named, written about, and tamed through the miracle of the healing word, the miracle of art, the miracle of silence….

Merton writes of solitaries that we are “a mute witness, a secret and even invisible expression of love which takes the form of [our] own option for solitude in preference to the acceptance of social fictions.” And what love are we solitaries mute witnesses to? The omnipresence of great aloneness, the infinite possibilities of no duality, no separation between you and me, between the speaker and the spoken to, the dancer and his dance, the writer and her reader, the people and our earth.”

From Fenton Johnson “Going It Alone. The dignity and challenge of solitude” Harper’s Magazine April 2015 Full text available on-line at:


John Fenton Johnson is an American writer. His work, Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004], draws on time spent living as a member of the monastic communities of the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and the San Francisco Zen Center as a means to examining what it means to a skeptic to have and keep faith. Keeping Faith weaves frank conversations with Trappist and Buddhist monks with a history of the contemplative life and meditations from Johnson’s experience of the virtue we call faith.

Fenton Johnson’s website is at: