Tag Archives: The Life of St. Paul the First Hermit

“The Desert Fathers” translated by Helen Waddell

51RLAFh5UuL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Translated by Helen Waddell, the book The Desert Fathers is collection of ancient manuscripts from the fourth and fifth century CE. It includes works by St. Jerome (The Life of St. Paul the First Hermit), Ambrose of Camaldolt (The Pratum Spirituale of John Moschus), James the Deacon (The Life of St. Pelagia the Herlot), and St. Ephraem of Edesa (The Life of St. Mary the Harlot). The bulk of the book, however, is filled with the sayings of the church fathers compiled by various, and often unknown, authors. It is in these “rough-hewn words of life” that the reader finds the best jewels and nuggets of spirituality.[1]

The desert fathers themselves were men (and a few women) who left the comforts of the cities to find solitude and spiritual peace within the harsh desert of Egypt. There among the desert “they led lives of uninterrupted prayer and great physical mortification.”[2] Slowly, as the years went by, various stories about their lives were recorded and shared for the edification of all believers. These “athletes of God” have a lot to teach us about humility, self-sacrifice, hospitality, patience and contemplation.[3]

For me personally, I was stuck by the kindness and generosity shown by the desert fathers. Rather than turning away visitors, theses solitary men would lay aside their own desires and care for the needs of their visitors. As the abbot Cassian discovered, the desert fathers would even break their fasting in order to spend time with those who came to their door.[4] This focused hospitality on others is something that I and others in the fast-paced, individualistic culture of 21st century United States can learn.

[1] Waddell, Helen, trans., The Desert Fathers (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), xix.
[2] Waddell, Helen, trans., The Desert Fathers, xxvii.
[3] Waddell, Helen, trans., The Desert Fathers, 13.
[4] Waddell, Helen, trans., The Desert Fathers, 118.