[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—20 April, Monday in the Second Week of Eastertide
[The photo is from the chapel of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in Catonsville, Maryland. Their motto is Nihil habentes, Omnia possidentes (“As having nothing, yet possessing all things”) from II Cor. 6:10.]
Acts of the Apostles 4:32-5:16
The First Christian Community; Ananias and Sapphira
Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the Apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the Apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need. Thus Joseph who was surnamed by the Apostles Barnabas (which means, Son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet.
But a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds and brought only a part and laid it at the Apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole Church, and upon all who heard of these things.
Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the Apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high honour. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
St. John Cassian
The Conferences 18.4.2-5.4 (Ancient Christian Writers 57 ; Tr. Boniface Ramsey, O.P.)
There are in Egypt three kinds of monks. Two of them are very good, whilst the third is lukewarm and utterly to be avoided. The first is that of the cenobites, who live together in a community and are governed by the judgement of one elder. The greatest number of monks dwelling in Egypt are of this kind. The second is that of the anchorites. These are first instructed in the cenobia and then, perfected in their practical way of life, choose the recesses of the desert. We too have chosen to be part of this profession. The third and blameworthy type is that of the sarabaites.
The discipline of the cenobites took its rise at the time of the apostolic preaching. For such was the whole multitude of believers in Jerusalem described in the Acts of the Apostles: The multitude of believers had one heart and one soul, and none of them said that what he possessed was his own, but all things were common to them. They sold their possessions and their belongings and distributed them to all as each had need.
Such, I say, was the whole Church then, whereas now it is difficult to find even a few like that in the cenobia. But, at the death of the Apostles, the multitude of believers began to grow lukewarm, especially those who came over to the faith of Christ from different foreign nations. Because of their rudimentary faith and inveterate paganism, the Apostles asked nothing more of them than that they abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from fornication, from things strangled, and from blood. But this liberty, which was conceded to the pagans because of the weakness of their new faith, gradually began to spoil the perfection of the Church in Jerusalem, and, as its number daily increased, the warmth of that new faith grew cold, and not only newcomers to the faith of Christ but even the leaders of the Church relaxed their strictness. For some people, thinking that what they saw conceded to the pagans because of their weakness was lawful for them as well, thought that it would be no loss to themselves if they believed in and confessed Christ whilst keeping their belongings and property.
Those in whom the apostolic fervour still existed, however, were mindful of that earlier perfection. Abandoning their towns and the company of the negligent, they began to live in rural and more secluded places and to practise privately and individually what they remembered had been taught by the Apostles throughout the body of the Church. As time went on, they gradually separated themselves from the crowds of believers because they abstained from marriage, cut themselves off from the company of their parents and from the life of this world. They were called monks or monazontes because of the strictness of their solitary lives. They are also called cenobites from their common fellowship, and their cells and dwelling places are called cenobia. This alone, then, was the most ancient kind of monks, which is first not only in time but also in grace, and which remained inviolable throughout the years, up until the era of Abba Paul and Abba Antony. We see that remnants of it endure even now in strict cenobia.