The Desert Fathers Speak on Joy, Love and the Mercy of God

If we keep remembering the wrongs which men have done us, we destroy the power of the remembrance of God… —Abba Macarius the Great

On Joy

Abba Syncletica said, “In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and, afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire. At first they are choked with smoke and cry, until they obtain what they seek. As it is written, ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:24); so we also must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.”

Abba Hyperichius said, “Praise God continually with spiritual hymns and always remain in meditation, and in this way you will be able to bear the burden of the temptations that come upon you. A traveller who is carrying a heavy load pauses from time to time and draws in deep breaths; it makes the journey easier and the burden lighter.”

When Abba Apollo heard the sound of singing from the monks who welcomed us, he greeted us according to the custom which all monks follow… One could see his monks were filled with joy and a bodily contentment such as one cannot see on earth. For nobody among them was gloomy or downcast… He used to say, “Those who are going to inherit the Kingdom of heaven must not be despondent about their salvation… We who have been considered worthy of so great a hope, how shall we not rejoice without ceasing, since the Apostle urges us always, ‘Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks’?”

__St Antonio and St Paolo di Tebe

Saint Paul of Thebes (right) being visited in the desert by Saint Anthony. Notice the raven and the desert lions

On Love

Abba Poemen said, “There is no greater love than that a man lays down his life for his neighbor. When you hear someone complaining and you struggle with yourself and do not answer him back with complaints; when you are hurt and bear it patiently, not looking for revenge; then you are laying down your life for your neighbor.” One of the beloved of Christ who had the gift of mercy used to say, “The one who is filled with mercy ought to offer it in the same manner in which he has received it, for such is the mercy of God.”

Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, I love him; for love casts out fear.”

Abba Agathon said, “If I could meet a leper, give him my body and take his, I should be very happy.”

That is perfect charity.

It was also said of him that when he came into the town one day to sell his goods, he met a sick traveller lying in the public place with no one to care for him. The old man rented a room and lived with him there, working with his hands to pay the rent and spending the rest on the sick man’s needs. He stayed there four months until the sick man was well again. Then he went back to his cell in peace.

A soldier asked Abba Mios if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things, he said, “Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?” He replied, “No, I mend it and use it again.” The old man said to him, “If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?”


Dr. Benedicta Ward

The preceding are excerpts from what is widely known in the Coptic Orthodox Church as “bustan al-rohbaan” (“The Monks’ Garden”), also referred to in English as the Paradise of the Desert Fathers. Bustan al-rohbann is not a single book; rather it is a collection of sayings and accounts written by and about the Desert Fathers of Egypt. The excerpts presented here are adopted from an abbreviated book edited by Dr. Benedicta Ward.


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