I’m really pleased to announce that Paradise of the Fathers, translated by Wallis Budge, is now available for purchase. I received the print run yesterday and the book looks really nice.
It is in my mind a really exciting book. Few people realise just how important the desert solitaries of 3rd & 4th century Egypt were in transmitting the wisdom teachings of the ancient world into the new world order. Indeed, their story has never been fully told and consequently they now exist in the fabulous land of myth and legend. Yet their story is undoubtedly fabulous and interesting and we in the 21st century will never understand the emergence of Christianity without knowing something about them.
In the early years of the fourth century, which are generally accepted as the embryonic years of Christian monasticism, individual Christian ascetics migrated into the desert wilderness of Egypt to engage in a solitary life of spiritual discipline. Their extraordinary way of life became an inspiration to great numbers of Christians who, following their example, withdrew from the secular world and entered the desert wilderness. Why this migration took place, how such Christians were perceived and why so many over so many years followed the way of the solitary ascetic are issues too complex to be studied here. Nevertheless, we should reflect upon how in the preceding centuries the persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire had become ever more frequent and violent, culminating in the ‘Great Persecution’ instituted by the Emperor Diocletian in the year 303. It was to last for more than eight years, during which time thousands of Christians were killed and many more abused in the most terrible of ways, and it is reasonable to assume that during those years many Christians fled into the wilderness to lead a spiritual way of life free from oppression. The ‘Great Persecution’ finally came to an end when Constantine became emperor in the year 312.
The word monk was not then a commonplace name as it is today. Initially, the term monk (monakhos) was used specifically to describe a man living a spiritual life in solitude. Other terms were also used to describe these solitary ascetics, such as the word hermit or eremite (from the Greek eremos, denoting an inhabitant of a desert). They were also called anchorites (from anachoréo, I withdraw). Eremites or anchorites were predominantly men who withdrew from the company of other people to dwell alone in isolation, but as the fourth century progressed many inspired Christians of both sexes began forming religious communities in the Egyptian desert. These communities were called coenobia, a term derived from the Greek word koinobion indicating a shared or common life. Their members were known as coenobites, but as time passed they were also called monks.
My next publication is probably going to be the second volume of Tales of Brother Marcus. It is proving to be an interesting journey, an allegorical tale of significance, perhaps. I’ll keep you posted on that.