The Third Desert

The first desert refers to the fourth century Athletes of Christ in Egypt and neighbouring lands. From the 4th century this desert became a dwelling place for thousands of Christian men and women who lived lives of prayer and discipline under vows. Some were organised, as in Pachomius’ monasteries, and others lived more freely, such as the hermits Antony and Paul. The Lausiac History of Palladius gives us the details of the ordinary lives and sayings of these Christians. They were so deeply schooled in God that they attracted people in the cities to God – the city people came out to them and asked them to be their soul friends. The Thebes area, known as the Thebaid, was a focus for this divine experiment.

The second desert: a thousand years later many thousands of Christians in vows, once again sought union with God, this time in the forests of northern Russia, creating what became known as the ‘Northern Thebaid’. In both Thebaids there was deep silence, ceaseless prayer, but also the transforming power that made them a seedbed of nurture for the church beyond their boundaries and their time. This second experiment is described in a book entitled 'The Northern Thebaid' compiled and translated by Fr Seraphim Rose and Abbot Hermon.

And the third desert? Last month in Ottawa I met Fabrice Blee, author of a book entitled 'The Third Desert'. He has been part of the dialogue between Christian, Buddhist and other monks from the time of Thomas Merton. He thinks that this dialogue requires such transparency and openness to move beyond boundaries that it creates a new space - a third desert - where God can do something new.

There are other possibilities. Recently I met Christians from a region of western Norway that is cut off by fjiords from 'mainland life'. They are so hungry for God that they take vows, explore models and spiritual disciplines. Could their area become the third desert of the third millennium?

Or could it be an area - or space - near you?

Posted at 23:19pm on 12th July 2013
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