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Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained


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The desert fathers and mothers—ordinary Christians living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Arabia—chose to renounce the world in order to deliberately and individually follow God’s call. They embraced lives of celibacy, labor, fasting, prayer and poverty, believing that by denouncing material goods and practicing stoic self-discipline, they would find unity with the Divine. Their spiritual practice formed the basis of Western monasticism and greatly influenced both Western and Eastern Christianity.

Their writings, first recorded in the fourth century, consist of spiritual advice, parables, and anecdotes emphasizing the primacy of love and the purity of heart. Focusing on key themes of charity, fortitude, lust, patience, prayer, and self-control, their works influenced the rule of St. Benedict and have inspired centuries of opera, poetry, and art.

This edition opens up their wisdom for readers with no previous knowledge of Western monasticism and early Christianity. It provides insightful yet unobtrusive commentary that describes historical background, explains the practice of asceticism, and illustrates how to apply their wisdom.

Resource Experts

Key Features

  • Presents a classic view of Orthodox spirituality
  • Provides commentary designed for those with little or no prior knowledge of the texts or tradition
  • Features a modern, annotated translation to aid in understanding


  • Give Me a Word
  • Your Cell Will Teach You Everything
  • Heart-Centered Spirituality
  • Thoughts, Desires, and Passions
  • Humility, Simplicity, and the Beginner’s Heart
  • Spiritual Elders and Soul Friends
  • Tears of Compunction
  • The Necessity of Practice
  • Virtues, Charity, and the Service of Love
  • Solitude, Silence, and Hesychia
  • Three Essential Things
  • Prayer and Differing Gifts
  • Conclusion: How to Become a Monk

Praise for the Print Edition

Provides not only a wonderful introduction to a fascinating world (the opening chapter alone is worth the price of the book), but an invitation to seek our own ‘word’ from the abbas and ammas of Christian antiquity . . . . Offers one of the best guidebooks I’ve seen for those who’ve been called to the contemplative life.

—Paula Huston, author, The Holy Way

Offers the reader a good drink from the clear stream of desert wisdom. She honors the tradition while making it entirely relevant to our times.

Mary C. Earle, author, The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness

A splendid introduction to one of the most essential periods of the Western contemplative tradition . . . . Offers insight into the austere and wondrous spirituality of the desert . . . and why their pithy teachings remain so essential for the study and practice of Christian spirituality today. [The] commentary makes the wisdom of the desert come alive.

—Carl McColman, author, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism

  • Title: Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings—Annotated & Explained
  • Author: Christine Valters Paintner
  • Series: SkyLight Illuminations Series
  • Publisher: SkyLight Paths
  • Print Publication Date: 2012
  • Logos Release Date: 2015
  • Pages: 192
  • Language: English
  • Resources: 1
  • Format: Digital › Logos Research Edition
  • Subjects: Desert Fathers; Desert Fathers › Quotations; Spiritual life › Christianity--Quotations, maxims, etc; Christian life › Quotations, maxims, etc
  • ISBNs: 9781594733734, 1594733732
  • Resource Type: Monograph
  • Metadata Last Updated: 2022-09-29T23:24:18Z

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Scripture citations link directly to English translations, and important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

Christine Valters Paintner holds a PhD in Christian spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union and is an adjunct faculty member at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. She is also a registered expressive arts consultant and educator, art editor for Presence Journal, and author of Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements and Lectio Divina: Contemplative Awakening and Awareness.


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    Digital list price: $13.99
    Save $3.00 (21%)