The cell was regarded in the apophthegms as a specific space where one lived and followed a particular praxis that suited the monastic. The cell was set aside from other spaces because it was the place for serious spiritual work, which often included battles against thoughts and demons. A brother went to Abba Moses to ask for a word of advice on living the monastic life. Moses replied, “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” The suggestion to adopt a praxis that was confined to the area of the cell implied that the cell would somehow establish the proper behaviour for a monk who desired to make progress in his spiritual life and find peace. Sitting in one’s cell was not passive or simple. Conscientious perseverance in the cell could empower an individual to reach one’s full monastic potential?
While Moses regarded the cell as a messenger of change for the individual who resided within, his words were not easy to follow, as the following apophthegms demonstrate. Abba Ammonas recognized the challenge that focusing in the cell held for most individuals. He said, “A person may remain for a hundred years in his cell without learning how to live in the cell.” Just being in the cell would not make an individual a monk; true monastic practice required learning what the cell had to offer – the time to be alone with God. Ammonas confirmed Moses’ statement that the built form in monastic life held the potential to be the ultimate teacher for attaining spiritual maturity through right praxis.
The life-giving nature of the cell for a healthy monastic life is represented in Antony’s comparison of the cell to water for sustaining the life of fish. Without water fish could die physically; without the cell a monk could die spiritually. An anonymous saying states: ”Just as a tree cannot bring forth fruit if it is always being transplanted, so the monk who is always going from one place to another is not able to bring forth virtue.” The advice given to those who truly asked for a word of encouragement to stay in the cell was shared frequently among the community of ascetics and was recorded in the apophthegms.
By: Darlene Lynn