St. Syncletike
Saint Syncletike was from Alexandria in Egypt. She lived eighty-three years in virginity
and asceticism, and became the leader and teacher of many nuns. What Saint
Anthony the Great was to men, she became to women: a model of mortification of
the flesh, of patience in afflictions, and of wise instruction; for this, she is known a
stricken with an exceedingly painful disease, which she endured with faith and
magnanimity. She reposed in the middle of the fourth century. It is said of Saint
Syncletike that she was the virgin who hid Saint Athanasius from the Arians for more
than a year in the environs of Alexandria, and it is to Saint Athanasius that her life is
ascribed (PG 18:1488-1557).
Amma Syncletica[2], a hermitess who lived in third and fourth century Egypt.  Amma
Syncletica was a native of Macedonia and educated in Egypt.  She was a rich young
woman of high social status who had many suitors, but refused them all.  She
eventually sold all that she had, cut her hair as a sign of her consecration to God,
and fled her parents' home with her blind sister, moving to the family tomb outside
Alexandria.  As women disciples began to gather around her, a monastery developed
with Amma Syncletica as their spiritual mentor.  In great asceticism, with countless
hours of vigils and prayers, this holy woman lived to the age of eighty, leaving this
life to live forever with her King in about 350.  Her counsels to the nuns have always
been regarded as true spiritual pearls, the wisdom she attained coming not from
reading, but through suffering and pain, through constant meditation and spiritual
converse with the divine world.
The sayings of Amma Syncletica:
-- Amma Syncletica said, "In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good
deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable
joy.  It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke
and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said: 'Our God is a
consuming fire' [Hebrews 12:24]); so we must also kindle the divine fire in ourselves
through tears and hard work."
-- She also said, "Just as the most bitter medicine drives out poisonous creatures so
prayer joined to fasting drives evil thoughts away."
-- Se also said, "Do not let yourself be seduced by the delights of the riches of the
world, as though they contained something useful on account of vain pleasure.  
Worldly people esteem the culinary art, but you, through fasting and thanks to cheap
food, go beyond their abundance of food.  It is written: 'One who is sated loathes
honey' [Proverbs 27:7].  Do not fill yourself with bread and you will not desire wine."
-- Blessed Syncletica was asked if poverty is a perfect good.  She said, "For those
who are capable of it, it is a perfect good.  Those who can sustain it receive suffering
in the body but rest in the soul, for just as one washes coarse clothes by trampling
them underfoot and turning them about in all directions, even so the strong soul
becomes much more stable thanks to voluntary poverty."
-- She also said, "If you find yourself in a monastery, do not go to another place, for
that will harm you a great deal.  Just as the bird who abandons the eggs she was
sitting on prevents them from hatching, so the monk or the nun grows cold and their
faith dies when they go from one place to another."
-- She also said, "Many are the wiles of the evil one.  If he is not able to disturb the
soul by means of poverty, he suggests riches as an attraction.  If he has not won the
victory by insults and disgrace, he suggests praise and glory.  Overcome by health, he
makes the body ill.  Not having been able to seduce it through pleasures, he tries to
overthrow it by involuntary sufferings.  He joins to this, very severe illness to disturb
the faint-hearted in their love of God.  But he also destroys the body by very violent
fevers and weighs it down with intolerable thirst.  If, being a sinner, you undergo all
these things, remind yourself of the punishment to come, the everlasting fire and the
sufferings inflicted by justice, and do not be discouraged here and now.  Rejoice that
God visits you and keep this blessed saying on your lips: 'The Holy One has
chastened me sorely but has not given me over unto death' [Psalms 118:18].  You
were iron, but fire has burnt the rust off you.  If you are righteous and fall ill, you will
go from strength to strength.  Are you gold?  You will pass through fire purged.  Have
you been given a thorn in the flesh?  [II Corinthians 12:1].  Exult, and see who else
was treated like that; it is an honor to have the same sufferings as Paul.  Are you
being tried by fever?  Are you being taught by cold?  Indeed Scripture says: 'We went
through fire and water; yet God has brought us forth to a spacious place' [Psalms
66:12].  You have drawn the first lot?  Expect the second.  By virtue offer holy words
in a loud voice.  For it is said: 'I am afflicted and in pain' [Psalms 69:29].  This share
of wretchedness will make you perfect.  For it is said: 'The Holy One hears when I
call' [Psalms 4:3].  So open your mouth wider to be taught by these exercises of the
soul, seeing that we are under the eyes of our enemy."
-- She also said, "If illness weighs us down, let us not be sorrowful as though,
because of the illness and the prostration of our bodies, we could not sing, for all
these things are for our good, for the purification of our desires.  Truly fasting and
sleeping on the ground are set before us because of our sensuality.  If illness then
weakens this sensuality, the reason for these practices is superfluous.  For this is the
great asceticism: to control oneself in illness and to sing hymns of thanksgiving to
God."
-- She also said, "When you have to fast, do not pretend illness.  For those who do
not fast often fall into real sicknesses.  If you have begun to act well, do not turn
back through constraint of the enemy, for through your endurance, the enemy is
destroyed.  Those who put out to sea at first said with a favorable wind; then the
sails spread, but later the winds become adverse.  Then the ship is tossed by the
waves and is no longer controlled by the rudder.  But when in a little while there is a
calm, and the tempest dies down, then the ship sails on again.  So it is with us,
when we are driven by the spirits who are against us; we hold to the cross as our sail
and so we can set a safe course."
-- She also said, "Those who have endured the labors and dangers of the sea and
then amass material riches, even when they have gained much desire to gain yet
more.  They consider what they have at present as nothing and reach out for what
they have not got.  We, who have nothing that we desire, wish to acquire everything
through the fear of God."
-- She also said, "Imitate the publican, and you will not be condemned with the
Pharisee.  Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart which is a rock
changed into a spring of water."
-- She also said, "It is dangerous for anyone to teach who has not first been trained
in the 'practical' life.  For if someone who owns a ruined house receives guests there,
harm is done because of the dilapidation of the dwelling.  It is the same in the case
of someone who has not first built an interior dwelling; loss is caused to those who
come.  By words one may convert them to salvation, but by evil behavior, one injures
them."
-- She also said, "It is good not to get angry, but if this should happen, St. Paul does
not allow you a whole day for this passion, for he says: 'Let not the sun go down'
(Ephesians 4:25).  Will you wait till all your time is ended?  Why hate the one who
has grieved you?  It is not this person who has done the wrong, but the evil one.  
Hate sickness but not the sick person."
-- She also said, "Those who are great athletes must contend against stronger
enemies."
-- She also said, "There is an asceticism which is determined by the enemy and his
disciples practice it.  So how are we to distinguish between the divine and royal
asceticism and the demonic tyranny?  Clearly through its quality of balance.  Always
use a single rule of fasting.  Do not fast four or five days and break it the following
day with any amount of food.  In truth, lack of proportion always corrupts.  While you
are young and healthy, fast, for old age with its weakness will come.  As long as you
can, lay up treasure, so that when you cannot, you will be at peace."
-- She also said, "As long as we are in the monastery, obedience is preferable to
asceticism.  The one teaches pride, the other humility."
-- She also said, "We must direct our souls with discernment.  As long as we are in
the monastery, we must not seek our own will, nor follow our personal opinion, but
obey our elders in the faith."
-- She also said, "It is written, 'Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves' (Matthew
10:16).  Being like serpents means not ignoring attacks and wiles of the devil.  Like
is quickly known to like.  The simplicity of the dove denotes purity of action."
-- Amma Syncletica said, "There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if
they were in the town, and they are wasting their time.  It is possible to be a solitary
in one's mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to
live in the crowd of personal thoughts."
-- She also said, "In the world, if we commit an offence, even an involuntary one, we
are thrown into prison; let us likewise cast ourselves into prison because of our sins,
so that voluntary remembrance may anticipate the punishment that is to come."
-- She also said, "Just as a treasure that is exposed loses its value, so a virtue which
is known vanishes; just as wax melts when it is near fire, so the soul is destroyed by
praise and loses all the results of its labor."
-- She also said, "Just as it is impossible to be at the same moment both a plant and
a seed, so it is impossible for us to be surrounded by worldly honor and at the same
time to bear heavenly fruit."
-- She also said, "My children, we all want to be saved, but because of our habit of
negligence, we swerve away from salvation."
-- She also said, "We must arm ourselves in every way against the demons.  For they
attack us from outside, and they also stir us up from within; and the soul is then like
a ship when great waves break over it, and at the same time it sinks because the
hold is too full.  We are just like that: we lose as much by the exterior faults we
commit as by the thoughts inside us.  So we must watch for the attacks from people
that come from outside us, and also repel the interior onslaughts of our thoughts."
-- She also said, "Here below we are not exempt from temptations.  For Scripture
says, 'May you who think that you stand take heed lest you fall' (I Corinthians
10:12).  We sail on in darkness.  The psalmist calls our life a sea and the sea is
either full of rocks, or very rough, or else it is calm.  We are like those who sail on a
calm sea, and seculars are like those on a rough sea.  We always set our course by
the sun of justice, but it can often happen that the secular is saved in tempest and
darkness, for he keeps watch as he ought, while we go to the bottom through
negligence, although we are on a calm sea, because we have let go of the guidance
of justice."
-- She also said, "There is a grief that is useful, and there is grief that is destructive.  
The first sort consists in weeping over one's own faults and weeping over the
weakness of one's neighbors, in order not to destroy one's purpose, and attach
oneself to the perfect good.  But there is also a grief that comes from the enemy, full
of mockery, which some call accidie.  This spirit must be case out, mainly by prayer
and psalmody."  
[1] Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA.
[2] From Laura Swan, "The Forgotten Desert Mothers," (New York: Paulist Press,
2001), pp. 50 - 63.
Lives of the Saints