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The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom

Posted in Uncategorized on December 14, 2017 by citydesert

Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom (The American University in Cairo Press, 2017) features 800 superb photographs of 66 of Ethiopia’s ancient churches. The most comprehensive publication yet of Ethiopia’s Christian Orthodox heritage, it unveils the secrets of the churches’ murals, their colourful medieval history and the rich panopoly of their religious festivals.


“The ancient Axumite Kingdom, now a part of Ethiopia, was possibly the first nation in the world to convert to Christianity. In AD 340 King Ezana commissioned the construction of the imposing basilica of St. Mary of Tsion. It was here, the Ethiopians say, that Menelik, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, brought the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. By the fifth century, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church had spread beyond Axum into the countryside, aided by nine saints from Byzantium, and over the next ten centuries a series of spectacular churches were either built or excavated out of solid rock in the region, all of them in regular use to this day. Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has the best known cluster, but the northern state of Tigray, less famous and more remote, has many churches that are masterpieces of design.
Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom traces the broad sweep of ecclesiastical history, legend, art, and faith in this sub-Saharan African kingdom and describes some seventy of the most breathtaking churches, with their astounding architecture, colorful decoration, and important religious festivals, all illustrated by more than eight hundred superb color photographs by some of the most celebrated international photographers of traditional cultures. This magnificent, large-format, full-color volume is the most comprehensive celebration yet published of the extraordinary Christian architectural and cultural heritage of Ethiopia.”

“The ancient Aksumite kingdom was among the first in the world to adopt Christianity as the official state religion. In 340 AD King Ezana commissioned the construction of the imposing basilica of St. Mary of Tsion. It was here, the Ethiopians say, that Menelik, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. By the 6th century, nine saints from Byzantium were spreading the faith south deep into the remote parts of Tigray. Many of them were deliberately inaccessible, sited atop ambas  and sheer-sided mountains or carved into cliff faces. Here the monks and hermits led a meditative existence suspended between the worldly life on the plains below and the celestial panorama above that held the promise of the kingdom of heaven.

 Lake tana

Over the next ten centuries a series of spectacular churches were either built or excavated out of solid rock and decorated with a cornucopia of murals between soaring pillars, arches and cupolas. All of these churches are still in regular use to this day. In Lalibela, 800-year-old rock-hewn churches attract tourists and tens of thousands of pilgrims every year. In the 1630s, Emperor Fasilidas moved the capital to Gondar near Lake Tana and the clergy followed. Monks established monasteries on islands in the lake, looking for a secluded place to retreat from the world and pursue a life of prayer. Monks living on the islands of Lake Tana are considered to have achieved such spirituality that they are omitted from the national population census as they are already halfway to heaven.”


An Introduction to the Desert Fathers

Posted in Uncategorized on December 14, 2017 by citydesert

Jason Byassee An Introduction to the Desert Fathers (Cascade Companions) Wipf & Stock   2007

Intro Desert Fathers

“The desert fathers wanted to get away from a church co-opted by empire and a Christian faith grown cold and listless. They retreated to the desert to do battle against demons and against their own worst desires. They had no intention of being famous; yet ironically their Sayings have inspired millions of imitators over the centuries. This guide is meant to accompany a reading of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, in hopes that readers with lives quite different than those third- and fourth-century dwellers of the Egyptian desert might nevertheless come to imitate their lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience; and more importantly, that readers might grow more imaginative and passionate in their following of the same Lord.”

“Contrary to the Protestant caricature, the Egyptian monks of the fourth century went to the desert not to escape reality, but to confront it. They fled the disorienting distractions of city life so that in the quiet of their cells and their chapels they might overcome the self-will of sin and reorient their thoughts, affections, and actions wholly toward God. Jason Byassee’s An Introduction to the Desert Fathers is an excellent companion to all who seek to glean wisdom from the monks’ encounters with the realities of God and of their sin. By drawing together the world of fourth-century monasticism with our consumerist culture of the twenty-first century, Byassee helps us discern the call of the desert today.”
J. Warren Smith, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology, Duke Divinity School

Beata Solitudo

Posted in Uncategorized on December 14, 2017 by citydesert

“Beata Solitudo is the shelter of the contemporary hermit – technological, dynamic and primitive – a small house with everything you need to live on your own.The Contemporary Man no longer works to accumulate for future use, but to live in the present. This transitory condition leads some individuals to take refuge in the search of intimacy with themselves and nature.

Beata Solitudo 1
After a deep anthropological analysis of contemporary hermits, the research has been narrowed down to a few main themes: the relationship man/nature and vernacular architecture, the figure of the craftsman, the “contemporary primitive” designer and the shelter.
The ultimate aim was the design of a housing module for “the Technological , Dynamic and Primitive Hermit”.

Beata Solitudo 2“O beata solitudo, o sola beatitudo” – Only by isolating himself from the world and from the others, one can find the pleasure of the quietness of the soul.
Beata Solitudo is the shelter of the contemporary hermit – technological, dynamic and primitive – a small house with everything you need to live on your own: a place where to cook, a place where to eat, a place where to bathe, a place where to sleep and an attic for storing food and looking at the stars; there are also spaces to breed animals and all the tools one might need to exploit renewable energy sources.Beata Solitudo 3This shelter has been designed as a product rather than as definitive architecture; with his rigid, self-supporting structure it can be placed anywhere in the world. The wooden walls, conceived as frames, allow to weave a different coverage every time, depending on where the refuge is assembled: it can turn into a house made of carpets if settled down in Mongolia or in the desert, of palm trees in Thailand or in equatorial countries, of sealskin in Antarctica …

Beata Solitude is not just a physical space, it also aims to represent the lifestyle of the technological dynamic and primitive hermit.”



The designer is Giuseppe Arezzi: and In 2016 Giuseppe graduated with honors from Politecnico di Milano, Faculty of Design, with “Beata Solitudo, The Contemporary Hermit’s Shelter”. His own research is focused on anthropological topics and cultural traditions: the heart of his work.

Daniel Bourguet

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2017 by citydesert

“You hear it said that places where people pray become places of beauty — or is it perhaps that the beauty of some places calls us to prayer? We’re going to find out! The path which leads to the cabin of hermit Daniel Bourguet in this gateway to the Cevennes is such a place; walking here is in itself an invitation to introspection. This October morning the hermit shows the way. He stops at the sheepfold to leave some mulberry leaves for the sheep; then he leads on to the edge of the forest where we see, a little further on, his log cabin, the other side of a patch of grass bordered by large chestnuts. He has lived here for 17 years now, in this one room hut, with its outlook into the surrounding forest.

Bourget hermitage

The generous beard, a smile in the eyes, he doesn’t particularly care to prepare for an interview and above all does not seek publicity since there are already plenty of people who seek him out. “It becomes more and more difficult; I live as far as possible from people but they come here. I often long for the solitude I need, which does me so much good.” For all this, Daniel Bourguet does not welcome his neighbour with any less compassion “. . . They don’t come here for no reason.” And because a hermit is not a recluse. “A recluse keeps his door permanently shut, unlike a hermit who could do with losing the key.” He laughs. “You have to understand that a hermit welcomes people as though each time he was welcoming Christ in the person who comes. Thus, the welcome is warm and attentive.”

No electricity in his cabin. No television, no radio, no newspaper. The news of the world does make its way in through the words of those who come to see him. “I don’t know who won the World Cup, but I do know that children are mistreated, women violated, there are couples who break up, people who plan on suicide. I am up to date with all that because people tell me themselves; I get it straight!” Some come with deep wounds. Daniel listens; then he entrusts what he has heard to God. “Welcoming also means opening up to someone who opens up to me. There is therefore a profound dialogue. I realize that in our media filled world, so full of information, paradoxically few people are open to listening. That’s where the ermite comes in. To listen. And then to bear the world up in prayer. One day, deep in the Carpathians, I had the opportunity to meet a Romanian hermit, who told me this: ‘Remember that you are not a hermit on behalf of the protestants but of the whole world!


First a pastor in the French Reformed church some forty years ago, Daniel begins and finishes his days with prayer. He follows a regular and repetitive rhythm of life, marked by the three offices he celebrates at the Fraternité des Abeillères, the Cevennes retreat centre of the Veilleurs; by reading; and by his tapestry work, murals, the biblical motifs for which were designed by the pastor and painter Henri Lindegaard, whom he knows.

Spiritual deserts? Yes, these have to be traversed, and in one respect there is beauty there, he muses. “It’s painful, but you can’t just stop, because just as if you were in a physical desert, you can die! You have to keep going and understand that the deserts are there to measure the extent of your trust in God. Do you find yourself to be weak? God does not abandon us. It is good for us to know our weakness; it strengthens our bonds with God.”

The sheep rejoin us, coming to eat the chestnuts at our feet. The spot is bathed in sunlight this morning and breathes quietness. At the end of any discussion, the hermit suggests that his visitors stay and enjoy the natural terrace before they go back down to their numerous concerns . . .

Bourguet book

His editor, Henri Fischer, from Éditions Olivétan, confirms this: “It is in the silence that the word is born. Daniel Bourguet’s preaching is the fruit of silent rumination on the Word of God. And it becomes richer in contact with the words of others.”

The day begins at 4, in the silence of the night. It follows a rhythm of seven offices, Bible study, meditation, writing. Ora et labora: he gains his living doing tapestries in wool following the designs of the painter Henri Lindegaard. A great part of his time is also consecrated to receiving visitors.

The paradox of the hermit is that in the retirement of his Cevennes solitude, he doesn’t spend two days without a visitor. They come from all over France to confide in this protestant starets who knows so well the human soul.

“Often (he writes), in prayer I run unhappily into the silence of God. This silence is at times so heavy that I am seized by anguish; I know nothing of tenderness in this silence and I am pained by its harshness. This is not the sweetness but the rawness of silence; no longer the joyous light but the intense obscurity of God’s silence.”


See also:

Shining Face and White Body

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2017 by citydesert

Daniel Lemeni ““Shining Face and White Body”: Holy Flesh and Holiness in the Spirituality of the Desert” International Journal of Orthodox Theology 7:4 (2016)

saint halo

This paper explores the nature of the holiness as it appears in the spirituality of the desert. The desire to scrutinize the ascetic body, and particularly the face, is a recurrent theme in the early Egyptian monasticism. First of all, the holy face of the monk is a sign of the holiness, and Desert Fathers become icons for it. The distinctive ascetic face was an external manifestation of the spiritual life of the monk, a proof of the holy life. This topos appears in the sentences that describes the visages of the elders as “full of light”, and shining like stars.

The ascetic physiognomy was seen as a mirroring of the divine light, so that holy faces are means to seeing this uncreated light.

Available on-line at:

The Solitary Explorer

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2017 by citydesert

Elena Malits The Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton’s Transforming Journey Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014

 Solitary explorer cover

The Solitary Explorer responsibly and critically explores Thomas Merton’s lifelong spiritual development as reflected in his religious and secular writings and delineates the meaning of his life and work for contemporary readers. It provides an interpretive chronology of Merton’s writings and unravels the intertwining threads of self-realization and widening intellectual interests evidenced in the material he produced between his early autobiography and the controversial work of his later years. Elena Malits shows Merton as writer, as monk, as social critic, as seeker of wisdom in the East, as man of prayer, and as one continually on a journey into the unknown. Merton always held that the quest for God is a continuing one: The Solitary Explorer traces the progress of this quest in Merton’s life and literary works to reveal a multifaceted spiritual guide who offers an approach to the divine at once reassuringly traditional and refreshingly contemporary.

The First Orthodox Hermit in Australia

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2017 by citydesert

The first Orthodox Hermit in Australia was Father Guri (Demidov)(1894-1992).


“Born in 1894, Fr Guri was a [Russian Orthodox] monastic in Harbin, China. Due to the cultural revolution, however, he moved to Australia, arriving on October 5, 1960, as a refugee. On arrival, he took up residence at St John the Baptist Skete, having been vacated the previous year. Living in a small, one room tin hut surrounded by thick bush he became its first, and only, monastic inhabitant. Fr Guri was devoted to prayer and craved solitude, and found both in the 18 hectare grounds of the skete, often attending daily services at the nearby Convent of Our Lady of Kazan.
In his search for silence, and in imitation of the monastic hermits of the Egyptian and Judean deserts, Mount Athos and the vast forests of Russia, Father Guri cleared out a natural cleft in a nearby sandstone rock face, making a small, cramped cave in which he would spend many hours reading prayers and using his prayer rope. This was his favourite retreat after communing at the Divine Liturgy. Only God and the holy Angels were witnesses to his prayerful vigils and struggles.
Father Guri was reputed to have had an extensive library on the ascetic life and hesychastic prayer (the use of the Jesus Prayer – the foundation of Orthodox Christian ascetic prayer). He would often laboriously copy excerpts from the writings of the Holy Fathers on the ascetic and spiritual life in small school exercise books. These anthologies, the fruit of his prayerful reading and spiritual struggles, he would give away as a blessing to those whom he felt would benefit from the wisdom of the Holy Fathers.”

A few years ago, I was taken on a pilgrimage to visit Father Guri’s essentially hidden cave by a member of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia [ROCOR]. My guide and I walked along a dirt road and down a very steep and rocky path to the cave. The air was filled with the “incense” of pine (from the trees in the grounds of the nearby Convent) and eucalyptus (from the gum trees in the surrounding thick bushland) – an entirely appropriately fragrant mixture for a Russian Hermit living in Australia. In overwhelming silence, punctuated only by the calls of native birds, we venerated the memory of the man who was Australia’s first Orthodox Hermit.


For me it was an inspiring time, and an opportunity to reflect on the great lineage of Hermits whose path those of us who aspire to be their modern equivalents seek to walk, however unworthily.

“Father Guri’s small cave, scene of his many hidden vigils and spiritual struggles, has been cleaned of the dirt and rubbish accumulated since his departure. A floor has been laid, overhanging rock walls strengthened, and icons and a burning lampada [oil lamp] installed. Sanctified by Father Guri’s prayers and tears, this sandstone cleft, the Skete’s first ‘church’, has become a place of pilgrimage and quiet prayer for growing numbers of visitors to the Skete.”,_New_South_Wales%29

See also:

Father Guri, Orthodox Hermit of Sydney: Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal!