Desert Fathers

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The Desert Fathers were early monastic founders in the deserts of Egypt, fleeing the cities and making their lives in the wilderness, living in asceticism and solitude.

Glossary Definition

The phrase "desert fathers" encompasses an influential fourth century group of hermits and cenobites who settled in the Egyptian desert. The origins of Western monasticism lie in these primitive hermitages and religious communities. Paul of Thebes is the first hermit recorded to set the tradition of monastic asceticism and contemplation, and Pachomius of Thebaid is considered the founder of cenobitism, or early monasticism. At the end of the third century, however, the revered Anthony of Egypt oversaw colonies of hermits in the middle region. He soon became the archetypal recluse and relgious hero for the Western church--a fame due in no small part to the vast encomiums displayed in Athanasius' biography of him (Vita St. Antoni). These early monastics drew a sizeable following to their austere retreats through the influence of their simple, individualistic, rugged, and concentrated search for salvation and unity with God. The desert fathers were often appealed to for spiritual guidance and counsel by their disciples. Their responses were recorded and collected in a work called Paradise or Apophthegms of the Fathers [Definition by Emily K. C. Strand].


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