by Alan Altany
From Paul the Hermit & Anthony of Egypt to Benedict, Bernard & Thomas Merton, from the Desert Fathers to computers, a very few monks are known by name, all the other hermits and cenobites with their vows, habits, ascetic lives, disappear like dusk into the long night of welcomed obscurity and endless prayer, forgotten forever by history’s memory. Anonymous men and women known only to the God they longed to love through centuries of copying manuscripts, creating art and icons, offering education and healthcare, some even as missionaries, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Sacred Mysteries of the Mass, working the fields contemplating their laboring. Could it be that in those silent cells and monastic choirs, nearly 2 millennia of unceasing prayer have upheld the world? Have generations of anonymous monks in the very darkness and uselessness of their secluded chants of praise been used by God to bring millions, sight unseen, to union with Christ? Is the continued life of monasteries in today’s brazen-faced cultural desert a contemporary miracle too hidden, too faceless, to recognize after all? Totally undistinguished monks silently declaring the Cross to a frantic and forgetful world.
Dr. Alan Altany is a partially retired, septuagenarian college professor of religious studies and theology who is still teaching. He has been a factory worker, swineherd on a farm, hotel clerk, lawn maintenance worker, high school teacher, small magazine of poetry editor, director of religious education for churches, truck driver, among other things. In 2020, he had published a book of Christian poetry entitled A Beautiful Absurdity: Christian Poetry of the Sacred