I have always been fascinated by the early Church. Easily the most interesting area for me is the birth of Monasticism in Egypt. The romantic stories of the Abbas in Egypt- Antony, Pachomius, Pambo and the great mothers like Mary of the Desert.
The Desert Fathers and Mothers are totally anathema to our current world which is based on things. When the Fathers said go to your cell and you will find what you are looking for he was challenging us to look to the gifts already recieved not to what dwells outside us. When the Desert Fathers looked as simplicity as the only way a Christian should live they were creating a paradigm that exists to this day- do you think God's will is served by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day or Desmond Tutu? Or by Creflo Dollar, Pope Julius or EWTN.
The monastics of Egypt- the first Christian monks. The Monks of Egypt and Syria were influenced profoundly by many forces- the Jewish Therapeautae, the Persian Manichees whose faith is a fusion the Zoroastrian and Christian via their prophet Mani and a profound passage from St Luke. The monks of the Desert and their monastaries were radically "other" they chose to leave the world as they saw it for something better. So much of today's "christians" are not prophetic- no they are weak and vacillating. They are concerned with 'self help' instead of depth and in the end their religion is a parody.
St Luke 12 22 New Jerusalem Bible
Then he said to his disciples, 'That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it.23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.24 Think of the ravens. They do not sow or reap; they have no storehouses and no barns; yet God feeds them. And how much more you are worth than the birds!25 Can any of you, however much you worry, add a single cubit to your span of life?26 If a very small thing is beyond your powers, why worry about the rest?27 Think how the flowers grow; they never have to spin or weave; yet, I assure you, not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of them.28 Now if that is how God clothes a flower which is growing wild today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will he look after you, who have so little faith!29 But you must not set your hearts on things to eat and things to drink; nor must you worry.30 It is the gentiles of this world who set their hearts on all these things. Your Father well knows you need them.31 No; set your hearts on his kingdom, and these other things will be given you as well.32 'There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. On almsgiving 33 'Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it.34 For wherever your treasure is, that is where your heart will be too.
I have always been enamoured of asceticism. But unlike Francis of Assisi who was also moved to change by this passage from Luke I am unable to be more than enamoured. The truth is that Asceticism is not easy in our world and so the irony that I am sitting poolside in Las Vegas after producing a trade show for dental industry suppliers is profound. The fact that I am reading Origen the great proto-monk of Egypt illustrates how profoundly twisted things are . I am here in the land of excess, a place modeled not on asceticism but on hedonism, and the irony continues.
I often wonder if all the hourding into barns and alike means anything? So you have money and comfort but the simple monks life would not destroy the planet.
I wonder if a lack of trial and hardship means one is lucky or one is weak because we do not face trials?
I think of the great renouncers- Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Origen, Paul, St Francis, and the lives they led and wonder why we continue to value what can be stolen from us. Wherever your treasure is that is where your heart is as well....