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The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection (Cistercian studies 59)

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  2,269 ratings  ·  56 reviews
`Give me a word, Father', visitors to early desert monks asked. The responses of these pioneer ascetics were remembered and in the fourth century written down in Coptic, Syriac, Greek, and later Latin. Their Sayings were collected, in this case in the alphabetical order of the monks and nuns who uttered them, and read by generations of Christians as life-giving words that ...more
Paperback, 269 pages
Published February 1st 1975 by Cistercian Publications (first published January 1st 1975)
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Michael O'Brien
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that pulled me in different directions --- from blessing by wisdom to astonishment at the seeming indifference, occasional perversity, or even cruelty of some of its subjects. This book was definitely not quite what I expected. I do not think that the way to approach this work is the way one might approach a self-help book or Bible study from some Christian book stores, but to see it as an overall whole. That may seem fuzzy or inexact, but I do think that to see this b ...more
Jan 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful collection of the sayings of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers). The 'Sayings' are arranged topically. The material included in this volume include parables, stories, legends, wise sayings, dialogues and visions. The diversity of the material is matched only by the diversity of the desert monks themselves. Some of them are cranky and legalistic people. Others are graceful but strange, and some are friendly and hospitable. There is a lot in this volume that is thought provoking about the ...more
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reading a book about the impacts of loneliness got me to thinking about this fascinating text, which I last read close to twenty years ago. These sayings come to us from a period of semi-solitary desert monasticism, as human beings pursuing God inflicted not just hunger and privation upon themselves, but also and often a deeply sustained isolation.

So I re-read it, and it was...hmm.

I still find these little snippets of their lives and teachings simultaneously wise and spiritually potent and more
I own this book and return to it frequently.
Apr 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting account of ancient Hellenic-Egyptian monks attempting to live in strict accordance with the Gospel. While reading it, one can have the curious feeling of being alternately (or often simultaneously) damned and comforted.
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Desert Fathers are an interesting bunch. They go to great lengths not to have to talk to people even other monks, some of them only sleep an hour every night, they eat about once a week, and are looking for demons around every corner. One of them actually questions transubstantiation but fortunately for his soul an angel comes down and sets him straight. The book actually deals with racism a bit. One of the desert fathers is black and several times other monks decide to test him by hurling r ...more
Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is the best collection of the sayings of the early church writers from the desert. I commend it highly as a way to get to the sources quickly.
Joshua Casey
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
This collection of the Sayings is a wonderful view into the life and rule of the Desert Fathers/Mothers. From their most famous words to little-known maxims and stories, this book is certainly a spiritually-challenging read. Although their austere spirituality is at times off-putting or intimidating, I think it is best to remember that these men and women were fleeing what they saw as the watering down of the faith by the infiltration of the empire's political influence. They developed a way of ...more
Jul 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. Staggering. Nothing I read in Pastoral Care class was half a useful as knowing the right story from the desert fathers. This book captures (with some historical redaction) the experiences and teachings of the first Christian monks in the Egyptian desert in the 4th century. The extremity of their devotion, and the wisdom it produced, is an endless marvel. I keep a stock of this book on hand to give as gifts, especially to ministers. It certainly repays re-reading.
Elijah Meeks
Feb 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing look at desert monastic tradition in the early Christian empire. There's not only a wealth of strangeness, from holy dwarfs to questionable miracles, there's a real sense of the proto-Islamic culture that springs up from this region, taking the Hellenization and applying it in a harsh environment on Rome's Eastern reaches.
Michael Gannon
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book full of inspirational figures whose sayings, short but powerful, really develop them all into distinctive characters. Spiritually fulfilling and deeply humbling. Recommend to anyone and everyone, especially if your mind is troubled or your heart has been worn down by the world. Arsenius is the man!
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Jul 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: seekers after the spiritual life
"A holy man who had seen someone in the act of committing a sin wept bitterly and said, 'He today, and I tomorrow. In truth, even if someone commits sin in your presence, do not judge him, but consider yourself a worse sinner than he.'"

From the Desert Fathers.
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: orthodoxy
I don't consider this a "beginner" book. Unless you are a monk, clergy or scholar I would not start with this. This read to me the way I get poetry: Some are really clear and make sense and others are generate more questions than answers.
Oct 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
The asceticism is often extreme, but it's a fascinating insight into early Christian spirituality in the East. It's full of short anecdotes and sayings, which make it very readable. The reader should glean a fair number of precious spiritual insights.
Nathan Albright
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2018
A book like this is like coming to a ball of thread that serves as the base of a great many intriguing but troubling elements within the practice of Christianity.  Once I committed myself to reading 25 books that every Christian supposedly needs to read, I found that this book was deeply connected with some of the other works in that series [1].  For example, although one cannot trace the ascetic life of these mostly Egyptian mostly men (although there are some women as well) to anything praised ...more
Ryan Denson
The Apophthegmata Patrum, or Sayings of the Fathers, is a text believed to originate around the 5th century AD, which contains a large collection of quotes attributed to the Desert Fathers, frequently those who lived in Scetis. This includes folkwisdom, theological and Christological statements, moral advice, and intriguing folktales. However, one should keep in mind that it’s highly doubtful that any of these statements can be proven to have come from a certain individual. Even the identities o ...more
Oct 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection
by Ward, Benedicta

This is a marvelous collection. I’ve read smaller collections from the desert, “best-of” compilations compared to this. I wanted to see what else they said and I got it in this book.

I appreciated the breadth of voice in this book. That’s what I was after — to read as much as I could find from the desert voices. After reading, I noticed that my favorite parts of this book were the sections I was already familiar with
Apr 29, 2009 is currently reading it
This comprehensive collection of the Apothegmata (sayings) of the early Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers was translated and edited by Benedicta Ward, an Anglican nun who lives in Oxford (and reads there occasionally in Christian spirituality and the history of Christianity). She is a well-recognized giant in the field of the study and exploration of early Christian monasticism and its texts, and this book reveals why: it is easily readable and accessible, all while retaining the dense, chall ...more
Pamela Fernandes
Aug 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read this book through a time of mourning. I just wanted to read a piece that would edify me. This book is a collection of sayings by this group of priests in the desert who practice solitude. Its a difficult way of life, but much easier than living 'in the world.'
Many of these sayings are simple, soul stirring and challenging. The incidences and examples are so vivid and practical. The two that arrest me, are the need for prayer, Jesus's flesh and blood in the chalice, the dead corpse made t
Chas Bayfield
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Amazingly hardcore! These guys were either incredibly holy or borderline mentally ill/obsessive - or both. Regardless, this book is packed full of fantastic Christian insight gleaned by people living in a hostile wilderness and meditating for pretty much their whole lives. I love the nun who ives by the river yet never looks at it and the monk who won't look up at the roof of the church 'lest their mind be distracted from God'! A brilliant read.
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
A Kirkland Costco array of very savory samplings of desert-fostered wisdom from Early Christian monastics. Provides insight into the inception and progression of Christian Monasticism from the beginning. These recorded sayings explore various rules and practices of the desert fathers that are diverse in application yet equal in achievement. These readings provide immense benefit to one's personal growth in both a secular and spiritual sense.
J Rife
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: seminary
Thought provoking and memorable. I find myself returning to this book again and again.
Sally Rhett
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Adeline gave this to me. I began to grow up spiritually
David Brown
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
True to form translation of the oft-forgotten legacy of ascetic monasticism and the writings that came from them.
Melody Schwarting
Sep 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: r-2019, r-nf-history
A great collection of sayings of the desert fathers (and desert mothers). While some things are grating to the contemporary soul (unabated misogyny, a general sense of misanthropy, rejection of community, equating temptation to sin), there’s a lot to learn. Humility, utter concentration on God, and an intimate knowledge of oneself are common themes. I think a lot of the oversights spring from a rejection of learning (texts, writings, Scripture), which would temper some of the extremes. Scripture ...more
Phillip Stoffregen
Aug 09, 2019 rated it liked it
This book gives a lot of primary source text for anyone wanting to learn about desert monasticism. As is the case for Christians and theologians today, there is a great deal of variety. Desert monasticism was not a monolithic movement, and as such, each Abba has different emphases. There are some general contours that they all share (they all value deep humility, love, forgiveness, not giving into "judgmentalism," etc), but beyond these things we see different personalities emerge. Some are hosp ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it liked it
The below review is what I wrote in 2015. The book is cherished deeply within my soul despite the fact that I abhor the Christian ascetic life. However, it would be ridiculous to shame anything and not embark on meditating upon personally contradicting content. How else will we shape ourselves and learn to be critical of that which we do not necessarily support? Thank you Ward for this book. It was a great stepping stone for me 4 years ago.

One of the few books that I can always go back to read o
Paul Wichert
Dec 12, 2016 rated it did not like it
Very sad to see how far he church of the 4th and 5th century in Africa had fallen into asceticism and other folly. These 250 pages of sayings are organized alphabetically (Greek) by the abba or amma which didn't provide much sense of development over time or by region. The preface, forward, prologue, and chronology are helpful for understanding the historical setting of this aberrant chapter in church history, but to use the sayings themselves as any sort of guide to theology or Christian living ...more
Nov 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Man, this is good........

Tons of wisdom, some funky stories, and some things that I'm not sure about.

These sayings have to be read as parables and teaching points. It's not worth it or necessary to figure out what happened or didn't. It's just a compilation of real-world wisdom and lessons that have helped people, primarily monks and nuns, live a Christ-centered life for the past seventeen centuries.

Kristofer Carlson
Mar 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: orthodoxy
I greatly enjoy this book. I some ways it is like the Philokalia, in that the sayings are meant for specific individuals and specific situations. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers are not generally applicable, which makes it a bit tricky to apply the sayings to a specific situation. That is why is is always useful to consult with a spiritual elder before putting into practice the things spoken of by the Desert Fathers. Not for everyone is the white martyrdom of the monastic.

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