Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Desert Fathers

I'm finally breaking the ice on my blog for 2009. It's been real cold up here for a while and apparently my blogging system froze. I've thawed it.

This afternoon I attended a lecture hosted by the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding. Presumably it will eventually be available for listening there among their podcasts. The lecture was Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Christian Antiquity by Dr. Bradley Nassif from North Park University. The focus was on the scripture and holiness in the Egyptian Desert Fathers. I don't have time to do a full blog of my notes but here are some of the interesting thoughts and quotes.

The early Desert Fathers had an understanding of the desert based on Deuteronomy 8 and Matthew 4 where the desert is a place of testing and spiritual warfare but also a place of forgiveness, repentance, and new beginnings that came from the ritual of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. Because of the ideas of testing and warfare the move to the desert was not a flight from the challenges of living in the world but an advance and desire to follow the command of Christ to take up their cross and follow Him. Also the landscape of the desert offered a place of simplicity and silence where it was impossible to hide from God and one's own sin. The expansive open space helped them to see themselves in proper proportion to God's greatness.

The Desert Fathers believed that one learned scripture by living scripture. The scriptures were not something to be talked about and known but something to be done and practiced. Dr. Nassif pointed out that we often approach the Bible today to learn something new but our chief challenge with scripture is not to learn new things but to learn to obey the old ones.

The Fathers often used scripture in their fight against the "Noonday Demon". So they called the attack of despondency, regret, and boredom that strikes in the middle of the day and tempts one to abandon one's calling in life. The believed in overcoming the attacks of the enemy by fitting the proper scripture to the situation and reciting it to themselves.

Meditation for the Desert Fathers was an oral rather than mental exercise. The meditated on scripture by constantly reciting and practicing its words. It was said that the Desert Fathers were "living texts." Dr. Nassif pointed out in relation to this that it is vital for us to recover the practice of memorization of large swaths of scripture.

"What is the Christian life? I fall down and I get up." St. Antony of Egypt

"Someone asked Abba Anthony, saying, What must we keep in order to be pleasing to God? And the elder answered, saying, Keep what I tell you. Whoever you may be, always keep God before your eyes. And whatever you do, do it from the witness of the Holy Scriptures. And in whatever place you live, do not leave quickly. Keep these three things, and you will be saved."

"Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything." Abba Moses the Black


ann said...

looks like it has started to "de-thaw" (Or was it unthaw?)

Everett said...

Indeed. The word my friend used was "unthaw". Still. There will be a new post by the end of the month.