Friday, August 1, 2014

What Has Africa Given to the World?

Most people might think only of the ancient pyramids of Giza.  However, Africa has also given the world the priceless gift of organized Christian monasticism along with many great saints: monastics, theologians, and martyrs.

After the Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians in the 4th century after Christ (313), there was still a desire of men and women to leave all the things of the world for the sake of obtaining the Kingdom of Heaven, to endure sufferings for the sake of Christ.  Thus many fled to the inhospitable deserts round about Egypt, to escape man and crucify the flesh.  Through their humility, detachment from the world, severe ascetic labors, constant prayer, tears of repentance, and love for the poor and sick, they attained in their lives stillness of and watchfulness over their souls, purity, wonderworking, transfigured, Light-filled bodies, and grace-filled visions from God.

The two main founders of monasticism that arose in the Egyptian desert were St Anthony the Great and St Pachomius - St Anthony of solitary (anchoritic) monasticism, St Pachomius of communal (cenobitic) monasticism.

See this for more:

Because of the lives and disciples of these two angel-like men (and of others with them in the desert), monasticism has since spread wherever the Orthodox Church has gone, handed on to the West through Sts John Cassian, Martin of Tours, and Benedict of Nursia, and to the East through men like St Basil the Great.

Ireland’s famed monastic life itself shows close ties to the Egyptian desert.  See these sites for some ensamples:

Monasteries are an important part of the life of a nation as centers of spiritual guidance, education, care for the poor, and unceasing prayers for the nation and the world.  But they also are, as one writer has said, a way to measure the spiritual health of a people.  Since the monastic life is the most direct route to the Kingdom of Heaven, the number of monks and nuns among a people will reflect the state of a nation’s soul:  if many monastics, good spiritual health; if few, poor spiritual health.  A thought worth reflecting upon here in the South and the rest of the Western nations, where the active life, rather than the contemplative life, has come to dominate.

But one must not think of the monastic inheritance of Africa only in the abstract.  The saints who flourished in those harsh deserts, their lives and teachings, are likewise an invaluable part of that patrimony.  The lives of St Anthony (mentioned above),

St Mary of Egypt,

St Onuphrius,

St Pachomius (mentioned above),

and others should be treasured by all Christians.

The sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers are likewise precious jewels:

After the monastics, there are the pillars of theology that sprang up in Africa, among them St Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, whose On the Incarnation of the Word is a work of enduring value, and St Macarius the Great, one of the Desert Fathers, whose Fifty Spiritual Homilies also remains a touchstone for Christians.

On the Incarnation of the Word:

And of her beloved martyrs let us mention St Katherine,

St Menas,

and St Maurice,

During the 4th and 5th centuries after Christ, African Christianity flourished, bringing great light to the world.  We are still benefited by it today, West and East, whether we realize it or not.  However, due to heresies and Vandal and Muslim murder and conquest, this part of the Christian world was trampled down and remains in troubled circumstances.

But this does not excuse us from learning about these great saints and applying their wisdom to our own lives.  To dismiss them is to impoverish ourselves individually and the Church together as a Body.

Whether in the South, France, or India, the inheritance of these Christians of Africa remains an inexhaustible treasure.

Holy Saints of Africa, pray for us sinners!

(Icon from this web page:

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