These women from ancient Egypt continue to inspire us.
St. Anthony the Abbot was a highly influential hermit of the 4th century, who dedicated his life to prayer and asceticism in the Egyptian desert. Throngs of people flocked to learn at his feet and took his many teachings to heart, becoming hermits themselves.
Anthony, and the great spiritual masters who came after him, passed down a wealth of spiritual wisdom that was eventually compiled into a single volume called the Sayings of the Fathers. It also contained wisdom from many women who were spiritual heirs of Anthony’s work. Here is selection of five sayings from these Desert “Mothers” that will help revive your spiritual life.
Amma Theodora was asked about the conversations one hears; “If one is habitually listening to secular speech, how can one yet live for God alone, as you suggest?” She said, “Just as when you are sitting at table and there are many courses, you take some but without pleasure, so when secular conversations come your way, have your heart turned towards God, and thanks to this disposition, you will hear them without pleasure, and they will not do you any harm.”
Amma Syncletica said, “Do not let yourself be seduced by the delights of the riches of the world, as though they contained something useful on account of vain pleasure. Worldly people esteem the culinary art, but you, through fasting and thanks to cheap food, go beyond their abundance of food. It is written: ‘He who is sated loathes honey.’ (Prov. 27.7) Do not fill yourself with bread and you will not desire wine.”
Blessed Syncletica was asked if poverty is a perfect good. She said, “For those who are capable of it, it is a perfect good. Those who can sustain it receive suffering in the body but rest in the soul, for just as one washes coarse clothes by trampling them underfoot and turning them about in all directions, even so the strong soul becomes much more stable thanks to voluntary poverty.”
She also said, “When you have to fast, do not pretend illness. For those who do not fast often fall into real sicknesses. If you have begun to act well, do not turn back through constraint of the enemy, for through your endurance, the enemy is destroyed. Those who put out to sea at first sail with a favorable wind; then the sails spread, but later the winds become adverse. Then the ship is tossed by the waves and is no longer controlled by the rudder. But when in a little while there is a calm, and the tempest dies down, then the ship sails on again. So it is with us, when we are driven by the spirits who are against us; we hold to the cross as our sail and so we can set a safe course.”
Amma Sarah said,”Ί put out my foot to ascend the ladder, and I place death before my eyes before going up it.”