Dorotheos of Gaza

WENDY BRYANT
Selah Companion

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In a Kairos (Selah) gathering in October, we were invited to pray and discuss “growing together in wholeness by contemplative living in community.”  I was reminded of an example from my readings of the Desert Mothers and Fathers while attending the two-year Academy for Spiritual Formation.  The teacher of this lesson is Dorotheos of Gaza.  The following is a bit of background, Christian history, and Dorotheos’ classic illustration. – W.B.

Dorotheos (Dorotheus) of Gaza (505 – 565 CE) was a Christian monk and abbot who chose to live in the Gaza desert, south of Jerusalem. After the “official” formation of the Christian Church in the 400s, not everyone agreed on what practices and beliefs to follow. Disagreements arose about interpreting every aspect of Jesus’ birth, life, teachings, and death. The only thing all Christians agree on (even today) is Jesus’ resurrection! The numerous arguments resulted in splits that eventually created the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and currently over 1600 Protestant branches.

One common practice during this time of tension and disagreement in the Church was to live simple lives in the desert. Monasteries were formed by and for both men and women. Monastic communities developed practices centered on growing closer to God without “distractions.”  Obedience and silence became the heart of existence as monks and nuns went about their daily practice of meeting for worship five times a day to pray (chant) all 150 Psalms. Tending to the necessities of acquiring and preparing food, personal hygiene, and shelter were secondary, yet frequently also done in silence.

Dorotheos founded his monastery in Gaza around 540 CE and became abbot or head of the sanctuary. His teachings and advice were very practical, following a strict logical structure rather than abstract theology. When asked about growing closer to God or contemplative living in the community, he shared a straightforward example that speaks to each of us. As we may not live in a monastery, we are called to live a contemplative life within our communities.

Dorotheos begins by asking us to draw a circle with a dot in the center. (You can get a piece of paper and pen to draw this if you wish 😊). The circle represents the world and the dot represents God.      

               

                                 

Next, we begin to draw a line from the edge of the circle toward the dot.  

This symbolizes our journey toward God and away from the distractions and temptations of the world.  As our relationship with God changes, our movement may be toward or away from the dot or God.

Dorotheos adds another line representing another person, then another, until we see a wheel with multiple spokes.

What does this mean?  Take a close look at the “hub” around the dot. As we are each drawn closer to God, we grow closer to each other.  When we move away from God toward our desires and temptations of the world, we move away from each other.

Contemplative living in community can only happen when our hearts are centered on God, not the world or ourselves.  Thanks be to God!

Special Series for Lent

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), followed by Ash Wednesday–the first day of Lent. That’s when Here & Now begins a special series, “Lent & Easter, A Contemplative’s Journey.” From February 22 through Easter, April 9, we’ll have a new post for you daily. As you pause and reflect each day of Lent, we invite you to read Here & Now along with the dispersed Selah community. We invite you to Pause, Encounter the Spirit through these readings or other spiritual practices, and grow as a contemplative. Finally, we invite you to subscribe to receive the Here & Now by email so you won’t miss a post.

I’ll see you back here on Wednesday.
Debora Buerk
Curator & Editor,
Here & Now

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