Who were the Desert Fathers?

The meeting of Anthony the great and father Paul

St. Anthony the Great, also known as St. Anthony of Egypt, was a monk who died around the year 356 A.D. He is one of the desert fathers and a lot has been written about his life by his student, Athanasius the Great, who many may know from the Athanasian Creed used by Roman Catholics, Lutherans an Anglicans.

There are many anecdotes known from the desert fathers and mothers, the believers of the first centuries of Christianity. These are simple stories from a bygone era that surprisingly often prove to be super relevant today. Such as the following anecdote in which St. Paul of Thebes (who died in 342 A.D.) comes to visit him.

Father Paul visits father Anthony

Father Paul once visited Anthony when he was teaching three monks about a very difficult matter of faith. Paul withdrew into a corner and waited silently until Father Antonius was ready.

Antonius asked the youngest of the three monks how he thought about the matter. The young man responded immediately; what he lacked in knowledge, he supplemented with his fire and enthusiasm. When he was finished, Father Antonius remained silent for a while, then said, “You haven’t found the right answer yet.

Then the second one got the floor. He was a little older, read some books and gained experience. He chose learned words and formulated them more carefully. When he was finished, Father Antonius said: “You too have not found the right answer yet.

Finally, the oldest of the three was allowed to give an answer. He dropped long silences, spoke thoughtfully, and you could tell he had read many books and had a long prayer experience. When he was finished, Father Antonius remarked: “You haven’t found the right answer yet.

The moment he opened his mouth to say something about the very difficult issue of faith himself, he thought Father Paul was still in his corner. He turned to the old abbot and asked, “Father Paul, could you possibly say something about it?” Now it remained silent for some time. Finally, Paul said: “I don’t know …

Father Anthony turned to his three disciples and with a raised finger, he said: “Father Paul has found the right answer.

The old stories indeed proves to be relevant for today. “I don’t know” as the correct answer to complex theological issues. How beautiful is that? It’s good to remember the next time you end up in a discussion about faith.


Who was Anthony the Great?

Anthony the Great, called ‘The Father of Monks’ was born in central Egypt about 251 AD as the son of peasant farmers who were Christian.

In 269 AD, he heard the Gospel read in church and applied to himself the words. ‘Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and come…’ He devoted himself to a life of asceticism under the guidance of a recluse near his village.

In 285 AD, he went into the desert alone to live in complete solitude. His reputation attracted followers, who settled near him, and in 305 AD, he came out of his hermitage in order to act as their spiritual father. Five years later, he again retired into solitude. He visited Alexandria at least twice: once during the persecution of Christians and again to support Bishop Athanasius against heresy.

He died at the age of one hundred and five. His life was written by Saint Athanasius and was very influential in spreading the ideals of monasticism throughout the Christian World.

Who were the Desert Fathers?

The Desert Fathers (and let’s not forget the Desert Mothers) were early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD.

We still have a collection of the wisdom of some of these early desert monks and nuns, also in print as Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Often these writings contain anecdotes and short pieces of wisdom. And because they’re often very basic, they’re almost universal wisdom and applicable for every believer today.

It’s a great reminder every believer today is standing on the shoulders of generations of believers who already finished their journey here.

Do you want to know more about the Desert Fathers?

Many of the sayings of the ancient followers of Christ, known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, are collected in a book ‘Sayings of the Desert Fathers‘, which you still can buy!

Online many of this ancient wisdom is found, like this website »

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