Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.

* The Hermit Fathers by Fr. Samaan El Souriany

The Hermit Fathers; The Spirit Born by Fr. Samaan El Souriany

With all the strife in the Middle East today, it’s hard to remember that this was once the land of hermits and the founding centre of monasticism in the West.

Upper Egypt (ie. southern) had cenobitic or communal monastics; lower Egypt had hermits such as St. Anthony, considered to be the founding father of Western monasticism. He died in 356 AD at the age of 105. Syria, Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) and Palestine all had monasteries or hermits in the 5th century AD.

What makes their story, and this book, particularly fascinating is that they were developing their spiritual practice as they lived from day to day – in most cases they were not following the rules laid down by others.  “The essence of the spirituality of the desert is that it was not taught but caught; it was a whole way of life,” according to the Foreword.

These extraordinary men (and occasionally women) were the pioneers of the great tradition of monasticism that was later to develop right across Europe.  Perhaps this makes their stories and their words even more relevant to men and women in the West who today often find any kind of appointed spiritual authority (such as a church) hard to bear.

To the modern temperament, these monks, nuns, hermits and solitaires (hermits who stayed in one location and could be visited) are mad.  Today, the Three Cs rule – comfort, convenient and celebrity. Anyone not pursuing this triple crown is usually considered a “loser” or out of touch with “reality” or having “opted out”. The suggestion that the pursuit of material abundance as an end in itself  (sometimes called affluenza) is what is truly bizarre is dismissed at the very least as eccentric, if not downright dangerous and anti-social.

True, these desert fathers and mothers took things to extreme:

“Abba Arsenius prayed on Saturday evening with his hands stretched out to the setting sun, and he stayed there until the sun shone on his face on Sunday. The usual pattern was to say the psalms, one after another during the week, and to intersperse this with weaving ropes or palms, sometimes saying, “My Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me.” The aim was ‘hersychia’, quiet, the calm through the whole man that is like a still pool of water, capable of reflecting the sun. To be in true relationship with God, standing before Him in every situation – that was the angelic life, the spiritual life, the monastic life, the aim and the way of a monk. It was life oriented towards God.”

Free PDF:  The Hermit Fathers


2 comments on “* The Hermit Fathers by Fr. Samaan El Souriany

  1. phoenixoftexas
    January 6, 2010

    Looks interesting. I will add it to my extensive reading list. I love to read and feel compelled to obtain and add to my list almost any book that appears to be worth the time and mental effort.

    Your boat is beautiful.


    • dennisonberwick
      January 6, 2010

      Thanks – yes I share your bibliophilic mania; though with only 14 feet of book shelves on the boat I’ve learnt not to take aboard something new until I’m ready to pass along another title. Actually, what it’s meant is recognizing that an awful lot of books that were on my shelf would never get read and to let them go.

      Thanks for the comment about “Kuan Yin” – I’ll be posting some more photos of her soon.


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This entry was posted on January 6, 2010 by in Book Reviews, Hermits, Hermits & Solitude and tagged , , , , , , , .
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