I got to thinking recently: so far, I might have given you the impression that all these people who went off to the desert were crazy men. But in reality, this was a large movement that attracted all number of people, both men and women.
After a while, these hermits became widely known as spiritual leaders, and even spiritual fathers and mothers. Thus, most of them acquired the title of “Abba” (father) or “Amma” (mother). Many people wanted to keep and treasure the spiritual counsel and advice that these mothers and fathers had to offer, so they jotted them down. These were all compiled into the Apophthegmata Patrum – don’t worry about the pronunciation, just call it the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers).
This book was a compilation of advice, anywhere from small sentences to whole paragraphs on a number of spiritual topics, mostly having to do with simplicity, prayer, and the life of a hermit. Of these sayings, 47 of them are attributed to the Desert Mothers, and a historian named Palladius mentioned that almost 3,000 Christian women were living in the desert at one point, choosing to live a life of simplicity in the desert.
One of these was St. Syncletica of Alexandria, born around 270. Amma Syncletica was blessed with both beauty and wealth as a young woman, but even from her childhood, she was drawn to the things of God, and desired to dedicate her life completely to him. After the death of her parents, for whom she had cared for many years, she received all their property and affairs. She chose to give it away to the poor, and left everything behind to live the life she had longed for in the desert.
She lived in an ancient Egyptian tomb in the desert, and quickly gained the attention of many locals, gathering many more women who came to live with her as disciples of Christ. In all her sayings, it is very clear that Amma Syncletica was blessed with the gift of discernment and counseling. Although many of these women came to her enthusiastically and authentically desiring the monastic life, she was able to encourage them to direct their gifts and desires in other ways if they were not yet prepared to take on the rigorous life of the desert.
After a life of service to God through her asceticism, she died around the year 350. St. Syncletica is an example of many virtues, but one that stood out to me in reading her sayings was her humility. May we all imitate her gift of self as we strive to follow Christ!
“Just as one cannot build a ship unless one has some nails, so it is impossible to be saved without humility.” –Saying 26 from Amma Syncletica