Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

When Modernity and Ancient Monasticism meet

I read an interesting article on the Monestary of St. Anthony in the Egyptian desert, considered to be the oldest, continuous Christian Monestary in existence. The crux being that the Monks considered to be the most ascetic in lifestyle, who still rise before dawn to chant and who still live retreat to the caves of the surrounding Red Sea Mountains to pray - now use cell phones, and operate a website, stanthonymonastery.org. One monk is quoted as saying:

"There is nothing wrong with microwaves or mobile phones -- they save time," Egyptian monk Ruwais el-Anthony, who has lived at the monastery for more than 30 years, said through a bushy white beard. "But God will ask you what you have done with the time that was saved."

The monks follow the rule of St Anthony who according to New Advent "...at the age of thirty-five, Anthony determined to withdraw from the habitations of men and retire in absolute solitude. He crossed the Nile, and on a mountain near the east bank, then called Pispir, now Der el Memum, he found an old fort into which he shut himself, and lived there for twenty years without seeing the face of man, food being thrown to him over the wall. He was at times visited by pilgrims, whom he refused to see; but gradually a number of would-be disciples established themselves in caves and in huts around the mountain, Thus a colony of ascetics was formed, who begged Anthony to come forth and be their guide in the spiritual life. At length, about the year 305, he yielded to their importunities an emerged from his retreat, and, to the surprise of all, he appeared to be as when he had gone in, not emaciated, but vigorous in body and mind..."

The monastery is under the Jurisdiction of the ancient Coptic Church whos Holy See is in the city of Alexandria purportedly founded by St. Mark the Evangelist. They are not currently in communion with Rome or Constantinople after the Council of Chalcedon over a Christilogical Dispute. Beyond having an interesting history and theology though is another tidbit from the article that I found amazing and wonderful.

The monastery, about 155 km (100 miles) southeast of Cairo, is now attracting so many prospective monks that it plans to turn everyone down for now, in part to ensure that only the most dedicated actually join.

Only about five new monks a year are accepted, out of dozens who express interest,
Ruwais says.

"Not having a job, not finding a wife, escaping family problems -- these are not reasons we accept," he says. "We put our novices under the microscope for three years, to make sure they are obedient."

Who says that vocations to the religious life are over, and what a rigorous test of faith and obedience these postulates are willing to bear, incredible!

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ulrich said...

very pleasant piece on monasticism, thanks


our interdenominational yahoo listof 400 members for monastic subjects, spirituality, vocations, contemplation etc at


Gashwin said...

No one says that religious life is over ... and it's certainly far from over in the rest of the world outside the West! :)