Amma Syncletica

Amma Syncletica of Alexandria, a Desert Mother of the 4th century, was of a wealthy background and is reputed to have been very beautiful. From childhood, however, Syncletica was drawn to God and the desire to dedicate her life to him. After the death of her parents, she gave all that had been left her to the poor. With her younger sister Syncletica abandoned the life of the city and chose to reside in a crypt adopting the life of a hermit. Her holy life soon gained the attention of locals and gradually many women came to live as her disciples in Christ. Her sayings are recorded with those of the Desert Fathers.

BEGIN Syncletica of blessed memory was asked whether owning nothing was the highest perfection. She replied, “It is indeed a very good thing for those who can. For if you are able to put up with it you may experience bodily discomfort but you will have peace of mind. Just as clothing of good quality is laundered and restored to whiteness by being trampled on and turned over and over again underfoot, so is a strong person made stronger by voluntary poverty.”

V.vii.15. Holy Syncletica said, “If you fall out with someone in the monastery, don’t go and live elsewhere. If you do that you only harm yourself. If a hen fails to keep her eggs warm they will go bad without producing chickens. Just so will monks or nuns grow cold and die if they persist in gadding about from place to place.”

V.vii.16.  Syncletica said, “When the devil fails to subvert us through the rigours of poverty, he uses riches in his endeavours to seduce us.  And if he can’t prevail through insults and indignities he makes use of honour and glory. But if he can’t seduce us by means of pleasures and bodily satisfactions he tries to gain possession of the soul by unlooked for vexations. He can devise all kinds of burdens to be cast on to one whom he wishes to tempt, by means of which he reduces monks to a state of fear and upsets the charity which they ought to have towards God. But even though the body be chastened and afflicted with severe fevers or even intolerable thirst, remember that you are a sinner who suffers these things, and compare them with the punishments and everlasting flames of eternity, the torments which justice demands, and then you will not be overwhelmed by your present troubles but will rather rejoice that God has visited you. Let this pre-eminent saying be upon your lips, ‘The Lord has chastened and corrected me, but he has not given my soul over to death’ (Psalm 118.18). If you are like iron, by being put through the fire you will lose the rust. If you undergo all these things with integrity you will go from strength to strength. You will be like gold which is purified by fire. A messenger of Satan has been given to you to buffet your flesh. Rejoice therefore at the thought of who it is to whom you are being likened, for St Paul himself was found worthy of a similar visitation (2 Cor.12.7). If you are afflicted by illnesses or by excessive cold remember that when Scripture says, ‘We went through fire and water’, what follows is that ‘we were brought out into a wealthy place’ (Psalm 66.11). While you are in the middle of the one, hope confidently for the other, using what strength is given you. Shout aloud the words of the prophet, ‘I am poor and in heaviness’ (Psalm 89.30). It is through tribulations of this sort that you will be made perfect, as it is written, ‘Thou hast set me at liberty when I was in trouble’ (Psalm 4.1). It is in these practices above all that he tries our spirits, for then we have our adversary always before us. 

V.vii.17.  She also said, “If you should become seriously ill, don’t worry because you are no longer able to stand for prayers or chant the psalms aloud because of weakness and bodily infirmity. For all these things are necessary to dispel the lusts of the flesh in the same way as fasting and labour act against unlawful desires. So when sickness is working towards that end all those other observances are no longer necessary. For just as illness can be cured by strong and efficacious medicine, so vice is cut off by that very illness. It is a great virtue to be patient in the face of illness and give thanks to God. Don’t be overly depressed if you lose your sight – you may have lost one means of praising God, but you can still contemplate with your interior eye. Have you gone deaf? Be thankful that you can no longer hear things that are unseemly. Is your sword-arm weakened by some sort of wasting sickness? You can still carry on the inner fight against the temptations of the enemy. Is your whole body diseased? Your inner man can nevertheless grow in holiness.” END

From: DE VITIS PATRUM BOOK V, Libellus 7: Patience and Fortitude


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