The Desert Fathers were hermits, monks, and ascetics who lived mostly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. They were the first Christian hermits who gave up their worldly good, abandoned the pagan cities of the time, and lived in solitude.
The Desert Fathers had a profound impact on how early Christianity developed. The most well-known of The Desert Fathers was Anthony of Egypt. He is believed to be the first to retreat into solitude in the deserts of Egypt in order to hear the voice of God. This is believed to be the foundations of Western Christian monasticism.
In 313 AD, when Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire, there came to be increasing cooperation between the churches and the government. This development was seen by the Desert Fathers as a bad influence. To live as a true student of Jesus Christ, they chose the harshness and solitude of the desert life.
Similar to the apostle Paul, they retreated to the desert, and “prayed without ceasing”, as Paul had taught. As word of Anthony’s hermetic life spread, other Christians (mostly men, but also some women) followed him into the desert. Some lived a solitary life, and others in small groups. But, in all cases, they gave up all worldly possessions.
Their prayerful meditations was accompanied by sayings which have been recorded, and eventually compiled into a collection called ‘Sayings of the Desert Fathers’.
When Poemen was asked how he dealt with a brother who fell asleep during public prayer, he said, ‘I put his head upon my knees and help him to rest.