Revealing unexpected truths about early desert spirituality, this volume argues that the lives of Barsanuphius and John relate closely to contemporary urban communities and how clergy tackle social challenges. The early Desert Fathers and Mothers have exercised a particular charm and appeal in recent years, but they have often been portrayed as inaccessible and eccentric figures in the history of monastic spirituality.
John Chryssavgis argues that the elders have an unusual capacity to reach into the depths of the heart to reveal the extraordinary in the very ordinary, and that the correspondence between Barsanuphius and John offers an unparalleled glimpse into the sixth-century religious, political, and secular world. It opens with an exploration into the historical context of Palestinian monasticism, followed by an evaluation of the fundamental principles and practices of Barsanuphius and John.
It is a significant contribution to the study of the early monasticism of the Palestinian desert. Chryssavgis succeeds in offering what the book's subtitle promises; desert wisdom for everyday life. * Sobornost: Eastern Churches Review * The spiritual letters of Barsanuphius and John, two sixth century ascetics from the Gaza Strip, are extraordinary documents. They open a window into the heart of Early Christian monasticism. The exchange of question and answer touches on the hopes, fears and temptations of all kinds (even the most banal), experienced by every kind of persons-monks and laity alike. Here are the rugged rocks in which the honey drops of Desert Wisdom were distilled. John Chryssavgis does full justice to these unique letters of advice. Two wise and loving Christians speak from his pages. And as they do, the icy modern image of the monk as an exalted authority figure melts away to reveal a tenderness and a skill in one-to-one spiritual counsel that lifts the heart, even at distance of fifteen hundred years. -- Peter Brown, Emeritus Professor of History Princeton University, USA John Chryssavgis has translated into English the vast correspondence of Barsanuphius and John, and so he writes in this book from an exact knowledge of their teaching. He is in deep sympathy with their spiritual outlook. While placing the two Old Men in their historical context, he shows also the timeless quality of their answers. As Chryssavgis rightly points out, their counsel is not "scripted or prescriptive," but consistently situational, involved, and full of loving tenderness. I am particularly moved by the way he associates solitary contemplation with social consciousness. The message of these elders, as the author presents it, is both simple and yet full of hope -- Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia Emeritus Professor of Theology, University of Oxford, UK An insightful, encouraging, and challenging book! Dare one call a book these days "inspiring?" Indeed, yes. In this volume the Spirit is alive and well. Monasticism, early, medieval, modern, still has plenty to say to us today, but not only say-show rather than tell, live out in love rather than prescribe, teach embodied rather than lecture from a distant podium or pulpit. There is so much here! Barsanuphius and John guide us in the ways of true community, communion that offers transformation. -- Tim Vivian, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies California State University (Bakersfield), USA