By the fourth century, you could become a Christian without risking your life. Church inevitably became entangled with private clubs, government posts and social networks. The urge to offer oneself wholly in martyrdom never diminished, however, and a movement was born. Men and women left civilization for an adventure of “living martyrdom” in the deserts of Egypt, Syria and Palestine.
So what did the abbas and ammas do once they made their big break and settled into their caves or huts? Despite occasional extraordinary encounters with animals and miracles of self-generating bread or oil or communion wine, they lived mundane lives. They wove baskets or reed mats to sell at market. They made sandals. They formed collectives for worship and for selling their crafts, for gathering food and water and fuel. They tended gardens, and they struggled to get along with each other.
Suzanne Guthrie, a writer and Episcopal priest, creates a weekly lectionary retreat on her website, At the Edge of the Enclosure. She lives with the sisters of the Community of the Holy Spirit on their farm in Brewster, New York.