The spiritual exploits of Saint Anthony the Great—the prototype of the Christian "Desert Father"—have been immortalized in stories and art since the fourth century. Here is the stunning account of a modern seeker's quest to get beneath the legends that surround Anthony and to determine whether his extreme way of life has something to offer people in today's world. James Cowan's quest takes him to Egypt, to the monastery that still exists near the site of Anthony's hermitage, where he meets the monk who becomes his guide and mentor on the journey.
He comes to regard Anthony and the colorful men and women who shared his lifestyle in the fourth through seventh centuries with affection and awe—their departure to the desert a flight from the status quo of the newly Christian empire in order to preserve the radical path to liberation they saw in Christian teaching. Our modern efforts toward liberation may look different from theirs, he concludes, but the ultimate goal is no different, and Anthony remains a luminous model for anyone who passionately seeks to know God.
"Cowan creates a compelling portrait of the desert hermits, reminding us that most people deferred to these solitary figures over the bishops of the church in mystic matters." —Los Angeles Times Book Review
"A thrillingly beautiful book. A memorable addition to the great 'quest' books of Christianity." —Church Times (London)
"Cowan's exposition of Christian spirituality as it was and could now be lived is wholly engrossing." —Booklist
"Cowan has written a fascinating book about his own quest to find meaning in this desert path of selflessness." —Spirituality and Health
"A book that opens up a vast spiritual territory and whets the appetite for more." —What Is Enlightenment?
"Cowan's elegant meditation upon Christian asceticism is the perfect antidote to the consumerism and hedonism of modern culture. His search for wisdom in the Egyptian desert reminds us that another way of life, based upon love and self-sacrifice, is available to all who are willing to seek it out. A valuable addition to the literature of spiritual reflection." —Philip Zaleski, editor of The Best American Spiritual Writing series and author of The Recollected Heart
"Sceptic or believer, once you travel with James Cowan to Saint Anthony's cave, you are wayless, yet stick with him until you have experienced illumination. This redemptive light is Anthony's, Cowan's, or maybe yours. You have gone on an extraordinary journey with an erudite and poetic guide. Through hermitic meditation one comes upon the science of the spirit, and the self escapes from illusory time and space to merge in the desert flame of salvation. We discover that solitude is the elixir of eternity." —Willis Barnstone, editor of The Other Bible, and with Marvin Meyer, The Gnostic Bible