The desert fathers wanted to get away from a church co-opted by empire and a Christian faith grown cold and listless. They retreated to the desert to do battle against demons and against their own worst desires. They had no intention of being famous; yet ironically their Sayings have inspired millions of imitators over the centuries. This guide is meant to accompany a reading of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, in hopes that readers with lives quite different than those third- and fourth-century dwellers of the Egyptian desert might nevertheless come to imitate their lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience; and more importantly, that readers might grow more imaginative and passionate in their following of the same Lord.
Contrary to the Protestant caricature, the Egyptian monks of the fourth century went to the desert not to escape reality, but to confront it. They fled the disorienting distractions of city life so that in the quiet of their cells and their chapels they might overcome the self-will of sin and reorient their thoughts, affections, and actions wholly toward God. Jason Byassee’s An Introduction to the Desert Fathers is an excellent companion to all who seek to glean wisdom from the monks’ encounters with the realities of God and of their sin. By drawing together the world of fourth-century monasticism with our consumerist culture of the twenty-first century, Byassee helps us discern the call of the desert today.
—J. Warren Smith, associate professor of historical theology, Duke Divinity School
In this beautiful, informative, probing, and wise introduction to the spirituality of the desert, Byassee both immerses us in, and invites us to embrace, an older, sometimes alien, way of inhabiting our relationship with the triune God.
—Lauren F. Winner, assistant professor of Christian spirituality, Duke Divinity School
Jason Byassee has established himself as the master of explaining complex subjects and helping us understand why they matter. He has done it again with the desert fathers.
—James C. Howell, pastor, Myers Park United Methodist Church, Charlotte, NC
Making the desert accessible might seem a paradoxical goal. Nevertheless, just as the sick and not the healthy need doctors, so do we affluent and self-indulgent moderns need the desert fathers. Jason Byassee is the perfect guide—an intrepid all-terrain interpreter in the heart of the desert. He always knows what we are thinking and never forgets that the severity of the fathers is disconcerting to us. Yet he thinks with these ancient monks as well—with their profundity and difficulty—and never lets us get away with dismissing a single saying cavalierly. If you have ever struggled with self-control, lust, materialism, prayer, humility, obedience, patience, or any of the other vices and virtues addressed in these chapters, An Introduction to the Desert Fathers is for you.
—Timothy Larsen, McManis Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College
Jason Byassee’s Introduction to the Desert Fathers is presented in a spirit of humility that befits the subject. He offers simple yet rich engagements with the Sayings that use humor, insight, and life experience to prompt readers to reflect with the same tools. Readers who are looking for a place to begin their interaction with the often paradoxical teachings of the desert fathers would do well to begin here.
—Amy Frykholm, associate editor, The Christian Century
. . . What sets this little book apart from others on desert spirituality is Byassee’s ability to help modern readers understand and practice the wisdom the desert monks offer.
—Evangelical Review of Theology
Jason Byassee received his PhD in theology from Duke University and is currently serving as a fellow in theology and leadership there. He also serves as senior pastor of Boone United Methodist Church in the Western North Carolina Conference. Byassee is author of Praise Seeking Understanding: Reading the Psalms with Augustine.