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The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection

(Cistercian Studies Series #59)

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  2,963 ratings  ·  106 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 Liturgical Press
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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
I don't come from a religious background, and I stumbled upon this book rather by accident; but I found parts of it sagacious and insightful. As a collection of aphorisms from many different authors, it is often repetitive or contradictory. Yet I can't help but think that if contemporary Christians acted—in any small degree—like the desert fathers (and mothers), the world would be changed for the better.

In our present times, there is a baffling overlap between Christianity and capitalism. Maybe
Pontus Alexander
A fascinating view on early Christian asceticism, containing much wisdom and some humour (due to our modern perspective on things).

" Theodore . . . had three good books. He went to Macarius, and said, 'I have three good books, and I am helped by reading them. Other monks also want to read them, and they are helped by them. Tell me what to do.' Macarius replied, 'Reading books is good, but possessing nothing is more than anything.' When he heard this, he went and sold the books, and gave the mon
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Who knew there were Christian mystics way-back-when? I don't think this is widely shared today, and that is sad. I recently went on a silent Christian retreat and I couldn't think of a better book to take along than this one. The book is composed of hundreds of tiny little stories about the sayings and actions of the very early Christian monks who lived off-life, often in mostly silent retreat, in caves or small huts, mostly in the desert. Here they confront demons and heretics and nay-sayers an ...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
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
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was book Number 3 in “25 Books Every Christian Should Read”.

I gave this a 4 instead of a 5 because some of the sayings are repeated verbatim in multiple sections. I can see how it applies to different topics, still another saying could have been used instead of repeating the same one over.

I am bookending this with “Early Christian Lives” edited by Carolinne White. That will lead me into book Number 4 which is by St. Benedict
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.
Jacob McConville
I started Lent off right this year
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
This is a book of collected sayings from monks and nuns living communally or hermits living separately, mostly in Egypt, during the early days of Christianity.

I read it, looking for wisdom. What I found was mostly...not that, really.

These people removed themselves from the distractions and/or corruption of human society and pretty much regarded social interaction as evil. They were after God, through isolation, fasting and prayer, in a way Jesus never did. He didn't fast or retreat from the worl
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. ...more
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. ...more
Jul 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommended for those who would take encouragement for the regular practice of spiritual principles. For anyone who has ever wrestled with demons, tried to sever an attachment or change a habit.
Russell Fox
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
While I didn't love every saying in this collection, I loved more than enough of them to consider it one of the more profound works on Christian spirituality that I've ever read. Probably what struck me the most was that these ancient mystics and monks, having embraced lives of solitude and suffering in the desert, were in many ways living out my own personal interpretation of our standing before God to a much greater degree than I ever have, thus showing me what the implications of my own persp ...more
Maria Lotfi
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian, i-own
That book changed my life. Loved it!! It helps you understand the scriptures better and learn how to apply theses words into our daily lives. I will read this book every year and use it as a devotional: every day, I’ll read a saying.
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. ...more
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
"The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks," translated and with an introduction by Benedicta Ward, not only provides insight into the life and thought of early Christian monasticism, but is a source of inspiriation for anyone who wishes to take seriously the disciplines of the Christian faith today.

As I read through most of these thought-provoking quotes and anecdotes, I was amazed at how much the spiritual struggles of these holy men and women are similar to my own. Granted, the
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
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Jun 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spirituality
Benedicta Ward is the nun scholar who wrote all kinds of medieval studies that often point to Jesus our Lord as the exalted King of Heaven. This book of hers is a real classic that you would want to read over and over again, and you might end up memorizing some of the sayings in it. This book shows you how there are people who sought the Lord's face for His own sake and enjoyed him enternally, regardless of what might come out of that. I think this book should be read at least once a year. I hav ...more
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
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Cistercian Studies Series (1 - 10 of 50 books)
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  • Nicolas Cotheret's Annals of Citeaux, Outlined from the Original French (Cistercian Studies Series)
  • Thomas Merton's Shared Contemplation: A Protestant Perspective (Cistercian Studies Series, No. 62)
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These twelve books are so consistently adored, they have become regulars month after month in our data of most popular and most read books on...
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“Evagrius said, ‘A wandering mind is strengthened by reading, and prayer. Passion is dampened down by hunger and work and solitude. Anger is repressed by psalmody and long-suffering and mercy. But all these should be at the proper times and in due measure.” 10 likes
“It is dangerous for a man to try teaching before he is trained in the good life. A man whose house is about to fall down may invite travellers inside to refresh them, but instead they will be hurt in the collapse of the house. It is the same with teachers who have not carefully trained themselves in the good life; they destroy their hearers as well as themselves. Their mouth invites to salvation, their way of life leads to ruin.” 10 likes
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