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  What can we learn from the Desert Fathers & Mothers? Back to the List of Slideshows
Abba Arsenius the Great,
"the humble noble"

Icon from the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston
slide 11 of 15

The author asks us a question that one can hear often today when we consider the life of even modern monks, nuns or hermits: “Is it selfishto withdraw into the desert when there appears to be so much suffering in the world? Are the Desert Fathers and Mothers anti-social figures of fourth-century Egypt?” He explains to us that these holy people served and gave to each other, and to those who came to visit them. As they progressed spiritually, their love for their neighbors also progressed. And Rev. Chryssavgis challenges us with another spiritual position, namely that “We must never use love and service as excuses to avoid the inner work of transformation. All of us—especially those in the caring professions—should take time out for ourselves in retreat.” He continues:
Yet, there is another perspective from which to consider this question about selfishness. It may be that we are in fact called to be more selfish in the spiritual life. This may sound strange, but perhaps we ought to set aside a time and a place where we do nothing else at all but address the passions of the soul and meditate on God. It may be that we should take time out for ourselves and for God in the same way as we do—quite naturally, and without ever considering that this is in any way selfish—to eat and rest and be entertained. The truth is that we are no good to others or to ourselves if we avoid or miss this stage of the desert. The Desert Fathers and Mothers emphasize the need for an integrated self. Remember the words of Abba Alonius: we must, he claimed, be totally alone with God and with ourselves in order to rebuild and reshape ourselves.
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