Archive for December, 2017


Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2017 by citydesert

The valuable resource, Hermitary: Resources and Reflections on Hermits and Solitude, celebrated its fifteenth anniversary this year. Congratulations and thanks to Meng-hu.In darkness

Solitude in Jewish Contemplative Practice

Posted in Uncategorized on December 22, 2017 by citydesert

“In the tractate of the Mishnah known as the “Ethics of the Fathers”, we are strongly advised “not to separate ourselves from the community” (Pirkei Avos 2:5). Anyone attempting to lead a Jewish solitary life has to come to terms with this directive, yet there have always been Jews who have felt inspired to make solitary lives of prayer and study their main spiritual discipline and a major part of their contribution to the life of the Community of Israel.


If you consult a modern Hebrew dictionary, you will discover that the word for solitude is “b’didut”. In Jewish mystical theology the related term “hitbodedut” (often transliterated as “hisbodedus”) has been used for centuries to denote interior and exterior seclusion for contemplative prayer and meditation. Despite this history, a non-Jewish observer might find it hard to see evidence of physical or spiritual solitude in Jewish practice—and many Jews might even declare that there is no place for it in Judaism at all. In this short essay I hope to shine a little positive light on that gloomy misconception.

The two main reasons for the apparent dearth of solitary practice in Judaism are its insistent focus on communal activity and its objections to life-long celibacy. Judaism does not generally encourage physical withdrawal from society, it encourages the pursuit of justice and mercy through social action. Judaism does not encourage monastic celibacy as a way of expressing devotion, dedication, or as a spiritual technique. Instead, Judaism regards procreation (Genesis 1:28) and the education of children by the family unit (Deuteronomy 6:7) to be positive mitzvos—commandments to be observed. It also insists that communal liturgical prayer is the ideal form of Jewish worship, and it makes the presence of a minyan (ten worshippers) the condition for many full liturgical usages in order to assert this directive somewhat forcefully.

Nevertheless, if we look at the lives of Jews with a leaning towards meditation, contemplation, and meticulous religious observance we may find surprising and highly significant anomalies in the practice of religious solitude. I am not merely referring to fringe pietist groups or minority eccentrics here, but towering figures like Moses our Teacher, Elijah the prophet, Rabbi Isaac Luria the eminent kabbalist, and the Baal Shem Tov, founder of “modern” chassidism. These are not Jews on the fringe. They are the generators and exemplars of quintessential Jewish spiritual practice.

What is even more remarkable—given the usually universally observed commandment to procreate—there are even Tzaddikim who have practiced celibacy as an exceptional form of Jewish spiritual dedication. Examples of lifelong celibates in Judaism include the prophets Elijah and Elisha (see Zohar Chadash 2,1; Midrash Mishlei 30; and Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 33), as well as the Talmudic sage Rabbi Simeon Ben Azzai (see the Bavli tractate Yevamot 63b and also the remarks on religious celibacy in the Shulchan Aruch, Even ha-Ezer 1:4).

Moses and Elijah were both advocates of religious solitude by example. Moses spent two very long retreats on top of Mount Sinai in deep solitude. He also left his wife and family behind and lived in celibacy for many years. Elijah appears to have been unmarried and childless yet, in a sense, his progeny are the contemplative Jews in each era. In every generation, each contemplative Jew follows Elijah into the cave of solitude to refine his/her spiritual attentiveness to the inner voice of the divine, and our tradition declares Elijah to be the archetypal mentor of those blessed to receive the gift of “his” mystical instruction. To be “under the mantle of Elijah” is to receive a profound contemplative awareness—a change in perspective— which is brought about by God’s inspiration.

When Moses went “into the Cloud” (Exodus 24:18), it was for a solitary retreat of forty days. Elijah’s encounter with the “still small voice” in the cave on Horeb (I Kings 19:9-18) was the climactic event which concluded a long solitary journey of forty days (I Kings 19:8). This was a biblical “zen walking meditation” par excellence. These experiences were not the biblical equivalent of a short “weekend retreat”. They were significantly long periods of isolated meditation intended, I would suggest, as models for future Jewish practice.

The giving of the Torah at Sinai was a unique religious event in that it was not an individual but a communal revelation. All of Israel experienced this event and yet, in a sense, the Torah was received by each individual in their own heart—in a spiritual solitude which is deeper than any mere physical solitude ever could be. It is “solitude within a crowd” and it is reflected each and every day in the traditional Jewish liturgy. Each communal service has periods where congregation members recite the central prayer of eighteen blessings (the Shemoneh Esreh) silently. At this and at other times during communal worship, they pray in secluded privacy under their tallisim (prayer shawls), often at their own pace while absorbed in a text on the pages of their own prayer-book. They are worshipping in community, yet praying alone in interior solitude.

Elijah was only able to hear the “still small voice” when he had ignored the hustle and bustle of normal existence. The earthquake, and the wind, and the fire of our frenetic business and social lives can sometimes obscure a call to experience a deeper level of daat (religious encounter) or a more profound revelation of God’s will (ratzon). The messages of the “still small voice” are often the very ones which we are trying to avoid confronting, receiving, or putting into practice ourselves. Perhaps it is in a combination of external and internal solitude that we can best be aware of this tiny and hidden spark of inspiration (ruach ha-kodesh). Elijah was a Jewish mover and shaker, for certain—but even he went on a retreat. His is a Jewish example of religious solitude which many Jews ignore.

 Guide to Serving God

In chapter thirteen of his manual for Jewish pietists (Sefer Ha Maspik, in Rabbi Wincelberg’s English translation, “The Guide to Serving God”), Rabbi Abraham Maimonides (1186-1237) considers the biblical use of solitary meditation and suggests that we might follow the examples of Isaac meditating in the field (Genesis 24:63); of Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:3) and in his “Tent of Meeting” outside the camp” (Exodus 33:7); and Joshua during his long retreat there ( Exodus 33:11). He also gives us one of the most comprehensive definitions of Jewish solitary practice in existence when he writes:

“Outward retreat (hisbodedus) might be total, such as to separate from the city to isolate oneself in deserts, mountains, or other uninhabited places. It might be partial, such as to isolate oneself in houses. It might be frequent, or occasional, for long periods, or for short periods. But it is impossible in this world for one to retreat for an entire lifetime.”

(from the “Sefer HaMaspik” Chapter 13 trans Rabbi Yaakov Wincelberg in “Guide to Serving God” p 495)

Rabbi Abraham’s definition holds good for every Jewish solitary from the biblical era to the present day.

It is worth noting that attempts to incorporate solitude into Jewish life have most often been a case of a single Jew practicing a temporary hermit lifestyle rather than the communal monastic one. Christian solitaries have usually chosen to live as anchorites (confined in a building); as hermits (living in physical solitude); or as communal but eremitical monks (sharing some aspects of religious life but spending the majority of time in isolation in a cell). Yet even these forms were not without some representation in Jewish practice. For example Rabbi Chaim Vital (1542-1620) writes when speaking of the “early saints” (chassidim rishonim) mentioned in the Talmud:

“These individuals would travel to rocky caves and deserts, secluded from the affairs of society. Some would seclude themselves in their homes, as isolated as those who went into the deserts. Day and night, they would continuously praise their Creator, repeating the words of the Torah, and chanting the Psalms, which gladden the heart.”

From “Sha’arey Kedushah” trans Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on p94 of “Meditation and Kabbalah.”

 Meditation and Kabbalah

There is, however, one notable example of a Jewish “communal eremitic monasticism”: the Order of the Therapeutae. The sole surviving historical source for knowledge of this Jewish religious order is Philo’s “De Vita Contemplativa” written early in the First Century C.E. (A.D.) Some scholars suggest that the community must have been formed of elderly “retired parents” and temporarily dedicated young pre-nuptual assistants. They were each secluded in a small hermitage with a private garden and prayer room with the cells grouped around a communal building, rather like the arrangement used by the Carthusian monks of the Christian religion. Each of the “communal hermits” of the Jewish monastic order of Therapeutae (both female and male) lived in solitude during the first six days of the week, but on the Sabbath, the entire community would gather for communal meals and services.

By combining Sabbath assembly with weekday solitude, perhaps the Therapeutae were attempting to reconcile the need for community observance with the countervailing impulse to lead solitary contemplative lives. It was this “Sabbath/weekday compromise” that was most often taken up by those later kabbalists and chassidim who felt particularly drawn to solitary practice— though almost exclusively in a solitary eremitical rather than a monastic form.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) writes:

“As a young man, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, the founder of the Lurianic Kabbalah, removed to the banks of the Nile. For seven years he secluded himself in meditation, visiting his family only on the Sabbath, speaking seldom and then only in Hebrew, which was not commonly spoken in his time. Chassidic lore tells us that as a young man the Baal Shem Tov spent many years alone in the Carpathian Mountains.

Solitude was a common practice among mystically inclined Jews. Even the non-mystical Jewish writers of the Middle Ages seemed to agree that solitary living was indispensable to the attainment of spiritual purity. This view may be found in the writings of Abraham Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Badarshi, Falaquera, Gersonides, Albo, Crescas, and Abravanel among others.” (from “A Passion for Truth” p 214, Rabbi A.J.Heschel)

The subject of that essay, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859), spent no less than nineteen years secluded in a single room adjacent to his shul, only venturing out when called to the reading of the Torah. Rabbi Joseph Horwitz of Novhardok (1848-1919) spent eighteen months as a “Jewish anchorite” in solitary retreat in a room with a bricked-up door and holes in the wall for delivering his food. He agreed to marry, but only on condition that he be allowed to spend all the weekdays in solitude in a forest hermitage. He lived like that permanently for twelve years. In the Breslov community, kabbalist-ascetic Reb Avraham ben Reb Nachman Chazan (1849-1917) also spent his weekdays in solitude in the woods outside Uman for many years, returning home each week only on the Sabbath.

But these, one must admit, are exceptional examples of an extreme practice of seclusion. In many ways, the more typically Jewish use of solitude as a religious discipline is one which is practiced in comparatively short retreats, or in regular periods of secluded meditation whose duration is measured in just hours, or even minutes. Rabbi Abraham Abulafia (1240-1291) writes:

“Choose a special place for yourself where your voice will not be heard. Meditate alone with no-one else present. If you engage in this by day do so in a darkened room. It is best if you do this at night.” (“Chayei Olam HaBah,” trans. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in “Meditation and Kabbalah,” p. 107)

The same practice is recommended by Rabbi Chayim Vital (1542-1620):

“You should be in a room by yourself…It should be a place where you will not be distracted by the sound of human voices or the chirping of birds. The best time to do this is shortly after midnight” (“Shaarei Kedushah,” trans. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in “Meditation and Kabbalah,” p. 197)

The practice of such solitary prayer is especially dear to the followers of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811) who used the word hisbodedus to denote a form of informal prayer in solitude to be practiced on a daily basis by Jews of every type and spiritual capability. Here are three short examples of his advice on this:

“It would be good if we could spend our entire day in hitbodedut. However, not everyone is capable of this. Therefore, we should spend at least one hour each day alone, meditating and speaking to God.

However, if a person’s heart is strong, and he wishes to accept upon himself the yoke of Divine service, in truth he should aspire to practice hitbodedut all day long. Thus, our Sages declared: “Would that a person could pray all day long!” (Berakhot 21a)” (Likutey Moharan 11, 96, trans. Rabbi David Sears in “The Tree that Stands beyond Space,” p. 78)

“It is also necessary that you should meditate in an isolated place. It should be outside the city, or on a lonely street, or some other place where other people are not found. (…) You must therefore be alone, at night, on an isolated path where people are not usually found. Go there and meditate.” (Likutey Moharan I, 52, trans. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in “Meditation and Kabbalah,” p. 310)

Hitbodedut meditation is the best and the highest level of worship. Set aside an hour or more each day to mediate, in the fields or in a room, pouring out your thoughts to God …. Every person can express his own thoughts, each according to his own level. You should be very careful with this practice, accustoming yourself to do it at a set time each day.” (Likutey Moharan II, 25, trans. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in “Meditation and Kabbalah,” p. 309)

In his Sefer HaMaspik, Rabbi Abraham Maimonides tells us that the “great sages” (gedolim) used to pronounce the following blessing:

“May God enable you to feel companionship in solitude and loneliness in a crowd”(op.cit. p 529)

This is perhaps the most perfect Jewish way to practice the spiritual discipline of solitude. Most contemplative Jews do not seek withdrawal from society for too long, yet  they all appreciate that physical solitude is often necessary for spiritual health and growth. A contemplative Jew is like Jacob in Genesis 35: He is one who wrestles with both God and Humanity in the privacy of his own heart. But in that solitary struggle he is not simply a “Jacob,” an individual in solitude. He is also “Israel,” – a spiritually generative and essential part of his greater religious community. As Rabbi Moses Cordovero (1522-1570) writes:

“All Israel is related one to the other, for their souls are united, and in each soul there is a portion of all the others.” (“Tomer Devorah” 4:6)

When Jews practice solitude as a spiritual discipline, they take the Community of Israel with them into their own personal “desert”—they have not withdrawn from Jewish or global society at all, but have chosen a particularly deep form of spiritual engagement with them. Their seclusion and solitude is not a form of self-regard or a method of character development because, above all else, they cleave to the Solitary One in order to become useful as conduits of His Light. Whether physically isolated or not, they have withdrawn into the cave of the heart—and from there they hope to draw down the compassion of the God of Israel on all creation.”

From: This website provides a fascinating and valuable range of material on Jewish contemplative practice.

Pope Kyrillos VI on Seclusion

Posted in Uncategorized on December 21, 2017 by citydesert

The following article is based on extracts of letters and correspondence of the late saintly Pope Kyrillos VI on the topic of “Seclusion”.


Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah the Prophet spoke about solitude and seclusion in simple but meaningful words. Pope Kyrollos VI chose some of these words and used them in a letter’s introduction he sent to a monk:

“I said, ‘O, that I had wings like a dove for then would I fly away and be at rest, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness’.”

“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion’, says my soul, ‘therefore I hope in Him’! The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him.” (Lamentations 3:21-28).

Pope Kyrollos VI explains solitude through the sayings of the holy fathers:

“St. Isaac the Great said, ‘In older times, our holy fathers encouraged everyone, men, women, children, the elderly and the simple minded, to live in peace. Whoever, among the brothers, the monks, wants to please our Lord Jesus Christ, should believe in the promises of our Lord. He should protect himself from the Lord’s wrath by maintaining silence, fearing nothing, depending on and hoping in His grace. The spirit of the Psalms will comfort and encourage him. Those who are in seclusion, maintaining silence, and trusting in the Lord, should fear nothing. As Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains, so Christ, our Lord surrounds us; and whoever puts his trust in the Lord, the grace of the Spirit will surround him. ‘The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them’. (Psalm 34:7). Each of us has a guardian angel that saves us, prays for us, enlightens our mind, and gives us spiritual insights. He, who lives in solitude and tranquillity, is surrounded by the grace of our Lord. An angel always guards him, comforts him, and guides him. Blessed be our Lord

Jesus Christ who gave us the gift of silence. Blessed is the hermit who loves the Lord and abides in Him, and accepts troubles with forbearance in order to gain eternal life’.”

“My beloved, through the grace of God, I shall continue writing to you of the glories of this path. To walk in this path, in conformity with the laws of the fathers, one will gain unspeakable joys. One’s heart will always be comforted. One will be free from sorrow and grief, enjoying happiness and joy. In comparison, all the worldly joys and pleasures are worth nothing. God is able to provide us with this gift through His grace and not through our works or righteousness.”

Pope Kyrollos VI related his personal experience to his sons, the monks, should they wish to follow in the path that he took:

“I have become accustomed to a life of solitude, and yearning for this life, I was driven towards it again. On my way to the monastery, our Lord Christ guided me to a cave in the mountain that was carved out by the late Hegomen Sarabamoun. I took one of the laborers with me and had it cleaned so that I may live in it. It is difficult for me to describe what happened during my first night there. I felt that the enemy had gathered all his forces to battle against a weak man like myself. I was filled with fear, for man’s nature is weak, as I heard terrible sounds’ and fearful quakes. But, with God’s care as an invisible power, I was encouraged, remembering, ‘Fear not, for they that are with you are more than they that are against you’. As the Prophet David said, ‘I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I will not be moved. Therefore, my heart is glad, and I rejoice at His glory’ .The next day, the monks came and wanted to bring me back to the monastery against my wishes, but they failed. They sent a telegram to the Patriarch, and another one to the President. After strong opposition from all, the Patriarch agreed that I could stay in the cave. I thank the Lord for His mercies.

“I walked, through God’s grace, along this path. I would go weekly to the monastery to partake of the divine mysteries, and obtain my ration. During my stay in the cave, I met with severe wars and opposition from the devil.”

His Holiness replied to one of the brothers who had written him regarding the dangers of seclusion, and the consequences of making such a rash decision without sufficient thought or guidance, “You asked, ‘Do you want to sit alone in a cave to seek fame, the praise of people, and high esteem’? How can you say this? If I wished this, I would have continued at the monastic ecclesiastical college to be famous in the sciences and other fields, thereby attaining high status. You said, ‘You are full of envy, and you cannot bear to see others in a higher status that you’. It is good for a man to escape far away so as not to envy his brother. You asked, ‘Is this a way to escape working in the monastery’? You made several other comments that I am unable to repeat. In conclusion, you said that you are worried about the troubles that will besiege me. God forbid! What are you so worried about? Am I better than any of my colleagues, or the sons of the kings who dwelt in caves, or our forefathers of whom I am not as worthy as the dust on their feet? No, a thousand times no! I am not worthy to compare myself to the least, the smallest, the most despised monk of all monasteries and, permit me to say, that I am not even worthy to be equal to a wild donkey. Do you know why I want to live in a cave? No, you do not. But you judge according to appearances, for what man knows the thoughts of another man save the Spirit that dwells within him? Do I want to dwell in the cave because I am holier than the other monks? No, but I desired this path, as one of the fathers said, because a monk who finds himself faced with wars and battles, should have tranquillity in his cave in order to conquer evil thoughts. If you experienced the wars that faced me, you would agree with what this father said of his own experiences. I have had the idea of dwelling in the cave for nearly three years now. Whenever I thought about it, my heart felt terror, and my whole body trembled with fear. These thoughts haunted me frequently, leading me to experience unbelievable dejection and concern. I lacked the courage to take such a step. Do you know the reason why I celebrated many Divine Liturgies? I was pleading with God, night and day, to guide me according to His will. Do you know why I travelled to Sohag? It was my intent to dwell in a cave not in the monastery. Do you know the reason I left school (of divinity) when our great Pope allowed me to choose between the monastery and the cave? It was for the same reason; I wanted to dwell in a cave. This information is for you so that you are no longer disturbed about this matter. ”

“I am going to stay in the monastery and pray and beseech Jesus Christ to look upon me with His mercy and to prepare the way for me. I sought the opinions of the faithful fathers, I revealed my thoughts to them, I searched the books of the saints and, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the monastery. I hope that God will facilitate this matter according to His will. Whatever may come from the enemy, may the Lord cause it to fail. Rest assured and do not reflect upon on this matter too much. Leave it in God’s hands, for man cannot prevent anything that the Lord has ordained to happen.”

“I do appreciate your love and kindness, but remember I am God’s servant. Am I a servant to a cruel and domineering master? No, I serve a merciful Master and a great God, and no power under the sun can challenge Him. He will help me complete my course in life well. ‘Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you’. ‘Blessed arethose who trust in God, fear not…'”


Pope Kyrollos VI experienced and walked in solitude. He understood the value of the heavenly comfort hermits received when they walked in the Lord’s path, followed the lead of the forefathers and accepted the counsel in the books of the saints. He was pleased with every monk who wanted to become a hermit. He helped them to fulfill this by supporting them with letters and guidance.

Hegomen Mina the Hermit (Pope Kyrollos VI) sent the following letter to Hegomen Mina of St. Samuel’s Monastery. In the letter, he was recommending a monk who had come to him seeking permission to become a hermit. “I introduce to you Father ___________, our beloved brother, who wishes seclusion. I am interested in having his request granted. I hope that you will approve his request and permit him to dwell in the cave that is near the monastery .God will reward you in heaven. I am confident that you will take care of our beloved brother, Father___________. Try your best to facilitate this matter. God guides everyone’s life in accordance with His good will. He enlightens our way so that we may not fall and reach our heavenly home safely.”

Pope Kyrollos encouraged the monks to walk the solitary path of seclusion. He wrote, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Saint Isaac, in wisdom said, ‘Love seclusion, even if you are incapable of experiencing its full benefits. One prayer that a man says in seclusion is better than a hundred prayers said with a crowd. Anyone who is aware of his sins knows that seclusion is better than benefiting the whole world with his appearance. He who cries over his sins in seclusion is better than the one who raises the dead by his prayer’. He also said, ‘To sleep one night in seclusion is better than working a hundred days among people’.

“Blessings, grace and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ our Redeemer and Savior, and the Holy Spirit our Guide and Comforter. My beloved sons, whom I truly love, I was very pleased to hear of your desire for seclusion. I greatly thanked our Lord forgiving you this great blessing. Truly, the most difficult struggle is patience and acceptance of God’s ordinances. It is true that our forefathers encouraged solitude. They gave these orders and strictly stressed them. St. Isaac said, ‘Those who left the world and went to the monastery should, after staying a while, serve in the community, learn the tradition of monasticism, and bear anything that befalls them. After that, God’s grace grants them the gift of solitary life, should they feel the calling to do so with God’s help. The monk should ensure that his motivation to lead the solitary life is pure and not the result of his lusts or aspirations. He must ascertain that God’s grace is guiding him. A condition of a hermit’s life is that his motivation is pure and not the coveting of gifts or praise by people, or worldly honor. He should be remorseful of his sins. He should humble himself, and remain in his cave, lest he become a stumbling-block to people. Seclusion is not for practicing virtues, for living within a community can also encourage the practice of virtues. Rather, seclusion is to allow the heart to remain silent and calm. There are three open doors, which if they become well secured, will allow us to see Christ: the door on a monk’s physical shelter, the door on thoughts and senses, and the door on the heart. Without the closing the first door, it is impossible to acquire the second; without the second, it is impossible to acquire the third. Being inside the cave helps guard the senses and thoughts resulting in a pure and quite heart. When purity of heart is attained, one can see God. There is so much more that I could say and write about the benefits of solitude, yet time will not allow me. The benefits of solitude far exceed those of living amongst people. Be strong and happy, trusting in God’s grace all you who lead the solitary life.”


Pope Kyrollos VI concludes his letter,

“Great is the gift you have received, that is, solitude. Yes, my son, the blessings of solitude are very great. But, we should never forget the difficult wars facing those who proceed in this path; fear at night, grief and sadness by day, persecution by the devils and their tricks. He offers wisdom from the Bible: ‘The Lord keeps you’. ‘The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night’. ‘Do not fear, I am with you’. ‘Have courage, and He shall strengthen your heart’. ‘Be strong and of a good courage; fear not’. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are against us’. ‘The Lord is my strength and my salvation, whom shall I fear’.”

“The first condition of a life of solitude is motivation that is pure; the second is prayer of the canonical hours, and the third is the support of a spiritual guide. These three conditions are essential. If the second and third conditions cannot be readily fulfilled, then adhering to the first condition becomes of greater importance.”

“My sons, walk in reliance upon the Lord’s blessings being very careful of every step we take. Study the books and the teachings of the saints, because they function as our guidance during these times. We should walk quietly step by step, not too rushed, or coveting the rewards of the hermits. The rewards that the hermits receive, certainly are the result of extensive struggles to the extent of shedding their blood. These rewards are not manifested immediately, rather through perseverance and long suffering. A youth once approached an elder and complained to him of his trials and tribulations. The elder beheld the youth and said, ‘My son you are young and God would not permit that you enter into temptation’. The youth said, ‘Yes, I am indeed a youth, but the trials and tribulations of strong men befall me’. The elder said to him, ‘Keep silent, the Lord loves you’. The youth said, ‘How can He love me, when I taste death every day’? The elder replied, ‘The Lord will grant you the gift of peace and joy. My son, I want you to know that during my thirty years of seclusion, not a single day passed without trials and tribulations. But, I tell you, after the first eighteen years, I began to feel rest with the Lord, and now, after thirty years, this feeling has grown. The peace and joy in God that one is granted, is boundless. Today, when I begin my service, my mind is in heaven with God. The struggle of few days can result in the acquisition of great blessing’. The youth was comforted by these words. He accepted his struggles and the Lord granted him peace. “

“I entreat you my sons, in the name of love, to walk quietly and in humility, for, ‘God grants grace unto the lowly’. May the Lord Almighty grant you the spirit of wisdom and understanding. May the Lord send the angel of peace to surround you and save you from the snares of the enemy. Finally, may He enlighten your path. I ask that you pray for us before the throne of His glory. I pray to see you so that together we may be comforted in faith. The grace of our Lord be with you. Accept my salutation.”


Coptic Monasticism

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20, 2017 by citydesert

Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom The Monastic Landscape of Late Antique Egypt Cambridge University Press, 23 Nov. 2017

Coptic Monastic landscapoe

“Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom offers a new history of the field of Egyptian monastic archaeology. It is the first study in English to trace how scholars identified a space or site as monastic within the Egyptian landscape and how such identifications impacted perceptions of monasticism. Brooks Hedstrom then provides an ecohistory of Egypt’s tripartite landscape to offer a reorientation of the perception of the physical landscape. She analyzes late-antique documentary evidence, early monastic literature, and ecclesiastical history before turning to the extensive archaeological evidence of Christian monastic settlements. In doing so, she illustrates the stark differences between idealized monastic landscape and the actual monastic landscape that was urbanized through monastic constructions. Drawing upon critical theories in landscape studies, materiality and phenomenology, Brooks Hedstrom looks at domestic settlements of non-monastic and monastic settlements to posit what features makes monastic settlements unique, thus offering a new history of monasticism in Egypt.”

Gawdat Gabra Coptic Monasteries. Egypt’s Monastic Art and Architecture American University in Cairo Press, 2002

Coptic monasteries
“Egypt, the birthplace of communal monasticism, has a rich store of monasteries and monastic art. Coptic Monasteries takes the reader on a tour of the best preserved and most significant of these ancient religious centers, documenting in exhaustive detail the richness and the glory of the Coptic heritage. An informative introduction by Tim Vivian brings to life the early Christian era, with background information on the origins of the Coptic Church as well as its rites and ceremonies, sketches of some of monasticism’s founding figures, and accounts of some of the difficulties they faced, from religious schism to nomadic attacks. Gawdat Gabra’s expert commentary, complemented by almost one hundred full-color photographs of newly restored wall paintings and architectural features, covers monasteries from Aswan to Wadi al-Natrun. Ranging across a thousand years of history, Gabra’s observations will make any reader an expert on the composition and content of some of Egypt’s most outstanding religious art, the salient architectural features of each monastery, as well as the ongoing process of restoration that has returned much of their original vibrancy to these works. A unique and invaluable historical record, Coptic Monasteries is equally an in-depth, on-the-spot guide to these living monuments or an armchair trip back in time to the roots of one of the world’s oldest Christian traditions.

Christianity and Monasticism in Aswan and Nubia Edited by Gawdat Gabra and Hany N. Takla.  American University in Cairo Press, 2013
“The legacies of the Coptic Christian presence in Aswan and Nubia from the fourth century to the present day. Christianity and monasticism have flourished along the Nile Valley in the Aswan region of Upper Egypt and in what was once Nubia, from as early as the fourth century until the present day. The contributors to this volume, international specialists in Coptology from around the world, examine various aspects of Coptic civilization in Aswan and Nubia over the past centuries. The complexity of Christian identity in Nubia, as distinct from Egypt, is examined in the context of church ritual and architecture. Many of the studies explore Coptic material culture: inscriptions, art, architecture, and archaeology; and language and literature. The archaeological and artistic heritage of monastic sites in Edfu, Aswan, Makuria, and Kom Ombo are highlighted, attesting to their important legacies in the region.”

Christianity and Monasticism in Middle Egypt. Minya and Asyut Edited by Gawdat Gabra  and Hany Takla  American University in Cairo Press, 2015

Middle egypt
“The legacies of the Coptic Christian presence in Middle Egypt from the fourth century to the present day. Christianity and monasticism have long flourished along the Nile in Middle Egypt, the region stretching from al-Bahnasa (Oxyrhynchus) to Dayr al-Ganadla. The contributors to this volume, international specialists in Coptology from around the world, examine various aspects of Coptic civilization in Middle Egypt over the past two millennia. The studies explore Coptic art and archaeology, architecture, language, and literature. The artistic heritage of monastic sites in the region is highlighted, attesting to their important legacies.”

Christianity and Monasticism in Northern Egypt. Beni Suef, Giza, Cairo, and the Nile Delta Edited by Gawdat Gabra and Hany N. Takla  American University in Cairo Press, 2017
Northern egypt
“The legacies of the Coptic Christian presence in northern Egypt from the fourth century to the present day. Christianity and monasticism have long flourished in the northern part of Upper Egypt and in the Nile Delta, from Beni Suef to the Mediterranean coast. The contributors to this volume, international specialists in Coptology from around the world, examine various aspects of Coptic civilization in northern Egypt over the past two millennia. The studies explore Coptic art and archaeology, architecture, language, and literature. The artistic heritage of monastic sites in the region is highlighted, attesting to their important legacies.”

Christianity and Monasticism in the Fayoum Oasis. Essays from the 2004 International Symposium of the Saint Mark Foundation and the Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society in Honor of Martin Krause. Edited by Gawdat Gabra. American University in Cairo Press, 2005
Fayoum 2
“Important contributions to the archaeology and history of Christianity in Egypt’s largest oasis. Christianity began in the large and fertile Fayoum oasis of Egypt’s Western Desert as early as the third century, and its presence has endured to the present day. This volume, which constitutes a tribute to the scholarly work of the father of modern Coptology, Martin Krause, contains contributions on various aspects of Coptic civilization in Egypt’s largest oasis over the past eighteen hundred years. The contributors are all international specialists in Coptology, from Australia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and the United States. A number of the studies included in this volume deal with recent archaeological discoveries at Deir al-Banat, the early Christian graves in the necropolis at the eastern edge of the Fayoum, and the monastic settlements and medieval Coptic cemetery at Naqlun. Others provide thorough examinations of archaeological sites at Karanis, Tebtunis, and Naqlun. Contributions cover the rich Christian literary heritage in Greek, Coptic, and Arabic, while art historians touch on the famous Fayoum portraits and their influence on the production of Coptic icons, as well as on the medieval wall paintings at Naqlun and in textiles, metal objects, and basketry from the region. This important volume provides for the first time an up-to-date, comprehensive treatment of Christianity and monasticism in the Fayoum Oasis.”

Christianity and Monasticism in Upper Egypt Volume 1: Akhmim and Sohag. Edited by Gawdat Gabra and Hany Takla. American University in Cairo Press, 2008
Upper egypt
“New studies in Christianity in the Sohag region. Christianity and monasticism have flourished along the Nile Valley in the Sohag region of Upper Egypt from as early as the fourth century until the present day. The contributors to this volume, international specialists in Coptology from around the world, examine various aspects of Coptic civilization in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Sohag over the past seventeen hundred years. Many of the studies center on the person and legacy of the great Coptic saint, Shenoute the Archimandrite (348–466 ce), looking at his preserved writings, his life, his place in Pachomian monasticism, his relations with the patriarchs in Alexandria, and the life in his monastic system. Other studies deal with the art, architecture, and archaeology of the two great monasteries that he founded and the archaeological and artistic heritage of the region.”

Christianity and Monasticism in Upper Egypt Volume 2: Nag Hammadi–Esna. Edited by Gawdat Gabra and Hany Takla.  American University in Cairo Press, 2010
upper egypt 2
New studies in Christianity in the Sohag region. Christianity and monasticism have flourished in Upper Egypt from as early as the fourth century until the present day. The contributors to this volume, international specialists in Coptology from around the world, examine various aspects of Coptic civilization along the Nile Valley from Nag Hammadi (associated with the famous discovery of Gnostic papyri) through Luxor and Coptos and south to Esna over the past seventeen hundred years, looking at Coptic religious history, tradition, language, heritage, and material culture in the region through texts, art, architecture and archaeology.”


Coptic Monastic Revival

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20, 2017 by citydesert

“The Coptic Church does not have to worry about the future of its monasteries. Many young Copts want to become monks or nuns. That was not always the case. In the late 1960s, monasticism in Egypt was close to extinction.

Abuna Nicola is in his early 30s. The young Egyptian could be married and a father of a family. Every morning he would go to work and would help his children to do their homework in the evening. Like many of his compatriots he would spend countless hours in traffic jams and would probably be worried about the rising cost of living. But Nicola made a decision six years ago. He entered the monastery of Bishoy in Wadi Natrun. First as a novice; and three years ago he became a monk. Till the end of his days he will get up every day at four o’clock in morning, spend many hours in prayer, read in the ancient scriptures and contribute to the work which has to be done to run a monastery. Today he is called because visitors came from abroad and want to know more about the monastery. Nicola speaks English very well.


The monastery of Anba Bishoy is one of the best-known of the remaining monasteries in Egypt. It’s situated in the Wadi Natrun, a desert depression halfway between Cairo and Alexandria. Founded in the fourth century, it is one of the oldest monasteries of Christianity. Actually, it should come right after the Pyramids of Giza on each tourist route. Egypt is not only the land of the pharaohs, but also the land of origin of Christian monasticism. Here, much can be learned about the very beginning and the spread of the Christian religion, about the meaning of asceticism, the beauty of God’s presence and also about the Copts in the 21st century.

Abuna Nicola belongs to the young generation of monks. “I’m actually only three years old,” he says, laughing. Becoming a monk, a new life begun for him. For this reason, at least three dates will be noted on his tombstone: the day of his birth, the day when he became a monk and his last day. And if he becomes a bishop, there will be a fourth date engraved. In the Coptic Church, only monks can become bishops or patriarchs. The pastors, however, may marry.

In the new cemetery between the church and the old wall, 42 grave niches are closed with a marble plate. These are the tombs of the monks buried here in recent years. “In 1971, only seven old monks lived in Anba Bishoy – and one donkey,” says Nicola. “The monastery began to deteriorate, like all the other monasteries in Egypt as well. At that time the donkey was the most important person because he was the only means of transport for the old men and could power the mill.”

Today 200 monks and 20 novices live in the monastery of Anba Bishoy. Also in the other monasteries in the country, worship is again celebrated in a large community. Altogether, according to information from the Patriarchate in Cairo, there are between 5,000 and 6,000 monks and nuns in the 50 monasteries all over Egypt. There are various reasons for this renaissance of Coptic monasticism. Anyone who asks the monks always gets two names: Abuna Matta El-Meskin (1919-2006) and Pope Kyrillos VI (1902-1971). The first is considered the spiritual father of the Coptic Church in modern times. Born in 1919 as Yussuf Iskander, Matta El-Meskin decided to become a monk at the age of 29. He sold his pharmacy, gave all his possessions to the poor and entered the monastery. Again and again he spent long periods in the loneliness of the desert, where he lived in a cave and led a strict ascetic life. Other young Copts were impressed by him and followed him into the desert. In 1968, Pope Kyrillos VI commissioned that group of 11 monks around Abuna Matta El-Meskin to join the few old monks in the Makarios Monastery in Wadi Natrun helping them to reconstruct the buildings. This was the beginning of the renaissance of Coptic monasticism.


But there are also secular reasons which have contributed to the new interest in monastic life. With the modern transport facilities, the monasteries were suddenly easy to reach for everyone. Anyone could go there and see for him- or herself how monks are living. In addition, deeper wells for clean drinking water had been drilled, which greatly improved the living conditions in the monastery.

But it’s not for the easy life, that one decides to become a monk. Among the 200 monks of the Anba Bishoy Monastery there are 25 hermits. From the roof of the ancient fortress, in which the monks in earlier centuries took shelter from the attacks of hostile desert tribes, Nicola points towards the horizon. “Far away, near to the outer wall, there are the man-made caves in which the hermits are living. Once a week someone of the community brings them food and water. Sometimes they come to church with us,” Nicola says.

“Compared to the fifth century it’s not a big thing,” he says. “At that time, 7,000 monks belonged to Anba Bishoy and 70,000 lived throughout the Wadi Natrun. For a monastery found it only needed three things: a church, around which the monks could settle in huts or caves, a well for water supplies and a mill to grind corn to flour”, he explains. In the Anba Bishoy Monastery, this mill from the fifth century can still be seen.

From the roof of the old fortress, the view goes far into the desert. An invigorating breeze brings fresh air into the lungs. The afternoon sun bathes everything in a soft light. The peace is soothing. What a contrast to the everyday chaos, stress and smog, which usually characterize the life of Egyptians. No wonder young people find it increasingly attractive to trade it for a life in peace and friendly fellowship. No, it was not escapism which led him become a monk, states Nicola. Rather, it was the desire to be as close as possible to God.

“Those who opt for the life as a monk or nun, must first get to know the worldly life, must have studied and worked in a profession,” says Nicola. “And the young men must finish their obligatory military service. It would be extremely problematic if the state would recruit a monk for the armed combat. Before becoming a monk, all issues with the world outside of the monastery must be settled.””

From: Katja Dorothea BuckNew life behind high walls: Egypt’s monasteries bursting at the seams” 12 December 2017

Russian Orthodox Western Rite Hermitage

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2017 by citydesert

“Saint Bride Hermitage is directly under the care of Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and Ruling Bishop of Great Britain and Ireland. We are blessed to use the ancient, pre-schism Liturgy of Saint John the Divine (Stowe Missal) the liturgy that would have been used in Ireland, Iona,  Northumbria and the rest of the British Isles in the ‘golden age’ of the Celtic/British Church up until the Norman invasion. We also celebrate the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and all of our services are entirely in English.

St Brides

After several years of seeking the right place for a skete we were brought by a little known Irish saint, Fintán Munnu (St Munn) to Kilmun on the Holy Loch in the west of Scotland, to lands once belonging to his monastery where, with Metropolitan Hilarion’s blessing, we purchased a small property.  We have a burn (creek) running through it from one of the many waterfalls in the Argyll Forest Park behind our land and red squirrels are frequent visitors in our garden. For us it is the most blessed place on earth, a place of prayer and, we hope, a place of refuge for those who need it.”


“The Hermitage consists of the cells (cabins) Saint Baithan Cell, Saint Oda Cell, Saint Adamnan Cell, Saint Aidan Cell and the Chapel of Saint Mary the Virgin – on around an acre of land with its own burn and waterfall inside the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. We are pretty well surrounded by forest, on land that we believe was part of the Orthodox Monastery founded by Saint Munn in AD600, of which a few stone remnants remain. In other words, we are set up somewhat reminiscently of the ancient Irish-Scottish monasteries of the first millennium. The overall rule of the Hermitage is the Rule of Saint Columcille of Iona. Being an Hermitage in the old Celtic tradition – not a modern coenobitic monastery, this means each member lives in a separate cell, keeps their own Cell Rule and does their own work. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, we may not necessarily see each other for several days on end.

Our major joint undertaking is Kellbride Press which produces and markets books written by members of the Hermitage:

St Colman


Following the Holy Fathers

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2017 by citydesert

Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis  Following the Holy Fathers: Timeless Guides of Authentic Christianity Columbia: NewRome Press, 2017

Following the Holy Fathers CD

“It must be clearly established in our minds that the Fathers of the Church, those wise and holy teachers of the Orthodox faith, are not the product of some by-gone age; they are not a thing of the past. This is greatly important since many contemporary Orthodox theologians, having fallen under the influence of non-Orthodox scholars, believe and teach that the mark of antiquity renders an ecclesiastical writer a Father of the Church; in other words, in order to be a Father one must have lived in some ancient era. Consequently, this view divides the Church’s indivisible history according to quality and spiritual depth; it treats the Church as if it were not Christ Himself extended unto the ages of ages, as if during particular eras – such as our own – it had ceased to be guided by the Holy Spirit and to produce saints, teachers and theologians. On the contrary, the Church continues on its course through history ever undiminished in quality, sanctifying through Christ its holy head and through the All-Holy Spirit, who remains eternally and continually within it…
—Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis “
“From the Translator’s Introduction…
This book, then, represents a collection of valuable scholarship covering both a broad range of Patristic figures dating from apostolic times to the present day, as well as a wide variety of themes. Moreover, it paints a roughly representative picture of one of Greece’s most important modern Patristic scholars and effectively introduces him to the English-speaking world. Most importantly, though, this volume offers to show readers how an authentic Orthodox Patrologist relates to the lives, text, and teachings of the Holy Fathers.
—Rev. Dr. Fr. John Palmer”