Thursday, July 05, 2007

Asceticism, Discipline and Leadership Formation

Early Egyptian Monasticism, in reaction to the growing secularism and materialism of the Christian Church of the fourth century, stressed the need for personal and communal transformation through ascetic disciplines, with a high regard for moral development and experiential holiness. An ascetic form of discipleship was presented by these Desert Fathers and Mothers as a mode of moral development and spiritual transformation. Asceticism, from the Greek “askēsis”, which means “discipline” or “training”, was seen as a way of personal and communal self-effacement that opened the way for personal and communal transformation into holiness. To the twenty-first century ear these calls to asceticism might sound extreme, but for the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Fourth Century, it was a way to experience true life to it fullest. The fourth century prayer of the Desert Father, Serapion of Thmuis summarizes this cry for experiential fullness of life: “Make us truly alive!”

These early Egyptian monks sought through voluntary simplicity, a leaving of their previous privileged lives and a commitment to simple labor, an inner stillness (hesychia) that came from progressive victories in Christ of over their “passions” (apatheia). The inner logic of these schools of asceticism, as it relates to the practice of Christian discipline was a simple one: - disciplines of simple housing, devotional living, controlling of the appetites, voluntary simplicity and absolute obedience to Scripture created the necessary spiritual and emotional “space” for devotion and contemplation that defeated the “passions” of pride, envy and gluttony. This is rich ground for the exploration of the context in which authentic Christian Leadership is formed.