Apophthegmata Patrum

sayings of the Desert Fathers

Apophthegmata Patrum is the name given to various collections popularly known as Sayings of the Desert Fathers, consisting of stories and sayings attributed to the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers from approximately the 5th century AD.

If a man does not say in his heart, in the world there is only myself and God, he will not gain peace. ~ Abba Alonius


Sayings of the Desert Fathers, as translated by Benedicta Ward, SLG (Cistercian Publications: 1975)

  • Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace. So like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside, we will lose our interior watchfulness.

  • Μισήσατε τὸν κόσμον καὶ πάντα τὰ ἐν αὐτῷ. Μισήσατε πᾶσαν σαρκικὴν ἀνάπαυσιν. Ἀποτάξασθε τῇ ζωῇ ταύτῃ, ἵνα ζήσητε τῷ Θεῷ.
    • Hate the world and all that is in it. Hate all peace that comes from the flesh. Renounce this life, so that you may be alive to God.

  • Ὁ τύπτων τὸ μαζὶν τοῦ σιδήρου, πρῶτον σκοπεῖ τὸν λογισμὸν τί μέλλει ποιεῖν, δρέπανον, μάχαιραν, πέλυκα. Οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς ὀφείλομεν λογίζεσθαι ποίαν ἀρετὴν μετερχόμεθα, ἵνα μὴ εἰς κενὸν κοπιάσωμεν.
    • Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labor in vain.

  • Ὁ ἀββᾶς Ἀρσένιος, ἔτι ὢν ἐν τῷ παλατίῳ, εὔξατο τῷ Θεῷ λέγων· Κύριε, ὁδήγησόν με πῶς σωθῶ. Καὶ ἦλθεν αὐτῷ φωνὴ λέγουσα· Ἀρσένιε, φεῦγε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, καὶ σώζῃ.
    • While still living in the palace, Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words, "Lord, lead me in the way of salvation." And a voice came saying to him, "Arsenius, flee from men and you will be saved."

  • I cannot live with God and with men. The thousands and ten thousands of the heavenly hosts have but one will, while men have many. So I cannot leave God to be with men.

  • Ὅση δύναμίς σοί ἐστιν, ἀγώνισαι, ἵνα ἡ ἔνδον σου ἐργασία κατὰ Θεὸν ᾗ, καὶ νικήσῃ τὰ ἔξω πάθη.
    • Strive with all your might to bring your interior activity into accord with God, and you will overcome exterior passions.

  • Someone asked Abba Agathon, "Which is better, bodily asceticism or interior vigilance?" The old man replied, "Man is like a tree, bodily asceticism is the foliage, interior vigilance the fruit. According to that which is written, 'Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire' (Matt 3:10) it is clear that all our care should be directed towards the fruit, that is to say, guarding of the spirit; but it needs the protection and the embellishment of the foliage, which is bodily asceticism.
    • Abba Agathon, Saying 8, Page 21

  • Ἐὰν μὴ εἴπῃ ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ ἄνθρωπος, ὅτι Ἐγὼ μόνος καὶ ὁ Θεὸς ἐσμὲν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, οὐχ ἕξει ἀνάπαυσιν.
    • If a man does not say in his heart, in the world there is only myself and God, he will not gain peace.
      • Abba Alonius, Saying 1, page 35

  • Εἰ μὴ τὸ ὅλον κατέστρεψα, οὐκ ἂν ἠδυνήθην ἐμαυτὸν οἰκοδομῆσαι.
    • If I had not destroyed myself completely, I should not have been able to rebuild and shape myself again.
      • Abba Alonius, Saying 2, page 35

  • Πρέπει τῷ μοναχῷ τὰ τρία ταῦτα· ἡ ξενιτεία, ἡ πτωχεία, καὶ ἡ σιωπὴ ἐν ὑπομονῇ.
    • These three things are appropriate for a monk: exile, poverty, and endurance in silence.
      • Abba Andrew, Saying 1, Page 37

  • Στέφανός ἐστι μοναχοῦ ἡ ταπεινοφροσύνη.
    • The crown of the monk is humility.
      • Abba Or, Saying 9, Page 247

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