Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: In the Heart of The Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers by John Chryssavgis

Synopsis: Father John's inspiring introduction to the spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers brings their words to life for the modern reader. These key figures of the early church chose lives of hardship and solitude, where they could point their hearts away from the outward world and toward an introspective path of God's calling in a deliberate and individual way. Contains a Foreword by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the second highest ranking Orthodox Bishop in England (from the online description)

Review: I purchased this thinking it was an exploration of the theology and practices of the desert Fathers and Mothers. It wasn't quite that. It was less hardcore theology and practices and more a fluffy expose on the sayings. From the beginning the author made it clear that while this was based entirely on early Christian monks, the teachings are intended for anyone seeking spirituality, Christian or not. This is probably because it is part of the Treasures of World Religions Series and is intended for a wider audience that just those of the Judeo-Christian Traditions. Because of this, the prose often felt less based on Christ and more like nebulous hippie advice. Additional, Chryssavgis's prose felt loosely organized and disconnect – more esoteric verbal vomit than concise study.  It read like a companion to the actual Sayings of the Desert Fathers, almost a study guide of sorts. Having never read the Sayings, I felt occasionally lost as to the point.
That being said, Chryssavgis made some important points, particular his section on passion. He explained that some say we are to kill passions, but Chryssavgis said the desert fathers taught passion was good as long as it was directed in the right direction (p. 58). While I am uncertain as to the theological veracity of this teaching, it’s unique and worth further studying. The other idea he spoke about was this concept of Detachment (Ch. 10) and that it isn’t removing oneself from the world, but rather the ability to live in the world without being affected by the desire for its offerings (p. 69). And while I thought his words on prayer were mostly fluff’n’nonsense, I liked the following, “Prayer is the acceptance of frailty and failure – in ourselves and then in the world around us” (p.98). Again, not sure this is true, but it’s worth further investigation.
The supplemental information adds to the book. Along with Chryssavgis’s words, he included a translation of Abba Zosimas’ Reflections, a map of where these venerated monks lived, pictures of icons and monasteries, and an extensive bibliography for further study.
In conclusion, while this is not what I’d hope for and is much more esoteric and nebulous for my taste, if used as a companion to the Sayings of the Desert Fathers or as an introduction to the basic feelings of their teaching, then it is worth reading.
Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-941532-51-8
Year Published: 2003
Date Finished: 1-10-2016
Pages: 163

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