One of the more interesting aspects of early Christianity are the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers, men and women who were called to live a life of self-discipline, who separated themselves from worldly pleasures and devoted themselves to following God.
Scetis, Nitria, and Kellia are three distinct areas of two deserts, three places where ancient Christians could go to to get away from it all. Today we know them as Wadi El Natrun and the Nitrian Deserts.
This was not a life of ease. It was a life of danger – the desert was known to take many lives. It was a life of harshness – there were few creature comforts to be found. It was a life of fasting, of abstaining, of prayer, of following the Scriptures as completely as possible. A great many of the monks and hermits gave away or sold their possessions and donated their wealth to charity to begin this journey. They lived in small cells, usually isolated, but would walk a few miles to meet each other to hold church services. This lifestyle proved attractive and was considered to be quite holy. With the end of persecution against Christians and the acceptance of Christianity as a religion, this lifestyle was seen as an alternative to martyrdom. However, it was not for everybody – being alone for extended periods of time was more difficult for some than others. Ultimately though, the dangers of this lifestyle proved to be it’s undoing.
Cenobitic monasticism was organized on the basis of community life. “Safety in numbers.” Would be a good saying to describe them. Ultimately, the community-based way of practicing Christianity survived and it is what we know today. Very few are familiar with the ways of the ancient Christian ascetics. Considering that record numbers are ‘Spiritual but not Religious’, we could see a new modern unfolding of ascetic theology and life-style. Perhaps now is the time to teach the sayings of the desert fathers and desert mothers.
Somebody asked Anthony, ‘What shall I do in order to please God?’ He replied, ‘Do what I tell you, which is this: wherever you go, keep God in mind; whatever you do, follow the example of Holy Scripture; wherever you are, stay there and do not move away in a hurry. If you keep to these guide-lines, you will be saved.'”