Simple question. Does anyone know whether hermits such as St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Simeon Stylites, etc. attended Mass on Sundays?

I am interested in both examples of those who did and those who did not, if they exist.

It is somewhat perplexing that a hermit would deprive himself of the Eucharist for years...

2 Answers 2


Did hermits receive the Eucharist regularly?

The short answer is that some did while others did not.

Holy Communion is not often talked about in relation to the Desert Fathers. Usually, and understandably, we talk about their teachings on topics such as interior prayer, fasting, Psalmody, watchfulness, apatheia, hesychia, etc. In the selection of letters in this volume of Chryssavgis’ (who has also translated them all in two volumes for The Fathers of the Church series), Holy Communion comes up in five letters, to both communicants and celebrants. Ep. 241 is a beauty; I’ll quote only a bit:

The deacon serves like the Cherubim, and ought to be all eye, all intellect, with his intellect and thought looking upward, with fear, trembling, and doxology. For he bears the Body and Blood of the immortal King. He even assumes the face of the Seraphim in proclaiming the doxology and in fanning the hidden mysteries as with their holy wings, recalling through these wings their levitation from this earth and from things material, crying out ceaselessly with his intellect in the temple of the inner man (cf. Rom 7.22) the victory hymn of the magnificent glory (cf. 2 Pet 1.17) of our God: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of your glory” (Is 6.3).

Trans. Chryssavgis, p. 107

The desert tradition of spirituality is not, then, divorced from the common worship of the church in all ages. Now, it’s true that St. Mary of Egypt went 40 years in complete solitude and thus didn’t received communion. And many of the hermits only received occasionally. But it’s also true that, say, St. Simeon the Stylite went for an extended period living on nothing but Holy Communion! When the semi-eremetic communities emerged at Nitria, Kellia, and Sketis, the abbas of the desert all lived within walking distance of a common chapel. Even if they were hermits six days a week, the Desert Fathers, for the most part, got together for the assembly of the saints, the synaxis, and this was a service of Holy Communion.

They received communion at least weekly, and they believed in the Real Presence of Christ, as we see in the Sayings as well as in the discourses of St. Shenoute of Atripe. The Sayings include a miracle story wherein one simple monk who doubted the veracity of the body and blood under the species of bread and wine had a vision of the priest offering him bloody flesh at Communion, and so came to believe in the Real Presence. And Shenoute is insistent about the reality of the bread as Christ’s body, sounding in many ways like St. Cyril of Alexandria, with whom St. Shenoute had contact. - Bread in the Desert

St. Anthony of the Desert went twenty years without seeing a single person!

Ancient hermits once organized in ascetic communities, certainly had more access to the sacraments on a regular basis.


The Desert Fathers, St. Benedict, and other hermits moved away from cities into solitude, often due to persecution. St. Benedict, for example, did not live alone in the cave his entire life, but formed monasteries after others sought his help.

Fr. Hardon, S.J., defines "hermit" in the Modern Catholic Dictionary:

in Christianity from the early persecutions of the Church, […] Christian hermits soon spread to the West, where eventually monasteries arose combining the eremitical life with the cenobitical, and isolated hermits were encouraged to form communities. (Etym. Latin eremita, from Greek ἐρημίτης, a dweller in the desert.)

Humans are social animals. Even the more contemplative/eremitic orders in the Church periodically come together communally.

Cf. St. Thomas's comparison of communal vs. solitary religious life, Summa Theologica II-II q. 188 a. 8.


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