Friday, February 24, 2012

"A Radical, Single Christianity" -- The Purpose of Asceticism

…[T]he Sayings of the Fathers have a great deal to teach us today. They should not be read, however, in an unrealistic or romantic way. It is not the desert that makes a desert father any more than it is the lion that makes the martyr. The desert is present everywhere and the spirituality of the desert can be found anywhere. We often make a mistake about the desert fathers and look for the wrong thing in their lives. It can sound as if the monks went around the desert trying to outdo each other in asceticism while their disciples sat around scoring points. But this is not at all what it is about. Man can derive his life either from God or from the earth and one way in which the lives of the desert saints can convey to us how much they depended on God, is to show us how little they depended upon earth. Ultimately, for the desert fathers it is not a question of more and more asceticism for its own sake, but they become more and more free because of it, until in the end they are like the mystical tree of China which grows with its roots heavenwards, uprooted here, rooted there.

   The true spirituality of the desert is radical. Its essence is absolute simplicity, that consciousness that a man stands before God, establishing a relatedness between the two which is all-embracing because there is nothing that is outside it. Then the whole desert blossoms with meaning, the whole cosmos is guarded around. This is the essence of these Sayings and this belongs to our times as much as to any. We must go to this single, basic, radical Christianity, which does not mean trying to copy what they did, but we must learn from them a crystal-like simplicity.

Forward by Anthony Bloom, Metropolitan of Sourozh, to
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Sr. Benedicta Ward, SLG

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