Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Rouphos

“Again, Abba Rouphos says that greater glory awaits the monk who is obedient to an elder than the hermit who lives by his own will in the solitude of the desert.”

While aware that the popular view of the Desert Christians is that they were all of them hermits who never saw another human being, it is incorrect. While there were exceptions, they lived together in communities. That is self-evident from the title “Sayings of the Desert Fathers” because in order for there to be a saying, there has to be someone to say it and someone to hear it.

Actually, they lived in communities such as Scetis. Helen Waddell offers a detailed explanation of how they lived. They would spend six days a week alone in their cell, as they called their huts, praying the entire Psalter every day, and weaving baskets or mats that eventually were sold or food. Once a week they came together for the synaxis, which included an agape meal, prayers til sunrise and spiritual mentors “speaking a word” to their protegees. Which is what we have in today’s Saying above.

A monk living alone as a hermit in solitude is not someone who can perform a reality check. How easy it is to be deluded into thinking one’s personal desires are God’s desire for us. I know I’ve fallen into that trap. Have you?

The Desert Christians prized two virtues above all others: humility and obedience. There can be no obedience with humility and it takes humility to obey one’s spiritual mentor.