by Father Gregory Hallam
Christian monasticism was born in the deserts of Egypt at a time when the way of Christ was consolidating its position in the cities. The apparent success in the gospel’s appropriation of the Empire was a blessing not unmixed with danger. The early monastics flew into the desert not to escape the city and its newly respectable churches but rather to seek salvation at a time when increasing wealth and prestige might have been the undoing of the Church through a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle!) compromise with worldliness. In this manner the Church’s integrity in both desert and city was preserved. The monastic stood for the gospel’s untameable power, in short for God and the possibilities of an entirely unheard of life in Him beyond the city gate. In the desert wastes new lives were transformed and the gospel returned in power to the cities.
Beyond the limits of ancient maps it was sometimes written:- “Here be dragons.” Indeed this was the truth that the first monks encountered in the desert, a place of combat with adversary powers, with Satan himself. Like a trained athlete the monk entered the arena and faced the ancient foe, for all mankind. The abbas and ammas (fathers and mothers) of the desert pioneered the old ways of sacrifice and martyrdom but in a new setting and circumstance.