When Abba Romanus was at the point of death, his disciples gathered round him and said, “How ought we to conduct ourselves?” The old man said to them, “I do not think I have ever told one of you to do something, without having first made the decision not to get angry, if what I said were not done; and so we have lived in peace all our days.”
During the third century, the monastic movement began. Abba after Abba, and Amma after Amma, would enter the solitude of the desert in order to flee what they saw as the corrupting nature of the city only to find that their resulting sanctity drew people from the city to populate the desert around them. This early movement was then perpetuated through the sayings of the Desert Fathers, including allegorical stories and almost koan-like sayings. Young aspiring hermits would go to their predecessors and say, “Abba, a word.”
This is the start of a new series. In it, we’ll stop a moment and listen to the thoughts of Abbas and Ammas amidst the changes of the late classical period. Like today, this was a time of transition. Hellenism was transitioning to Christianity, while Roman power was moving eastward and fading altogether.