Study Questions

Mystics, Heretics, Saintly Madmen, and Holy Fools in World Spiritual Traditions 


Lives and Sayings of Desert Fathers


  1. The aim of the monk’s lives was not asceticism but God. What do you think is meant by that? 
  2. Evagrius described the monk as one who is separated from all and united to all. What do you think he meant? 
  3. Did the Desert Fathers live according to the Gospel?




            1. Why did the Mad Nun (Isidora) decide to feign madness?

            2. In what ways was Isidora different from her sisters? What was her place within the monastic community?

            3. Why did Piterum search for the Mad Nun? How did he find her?

    4.    What were the ramifications of the communal appreciation of Isidora’s holiness?

        5.     Why was the anonymous Nun later identified as Isidora?




1. What kind of an ascetic is Sarapion? What is his reason for wandering?

2. How does he interact with people? What are his goals? How does he achieve his goals?  

3. Sarapion had a Roman citizenship. What kind of a citizen was he?

5. What was Serapion’s reason for visiting the maiden? 

8. Why does Serapion challenge the maiden? Does anyone benefit from his intrusion?



Alexis the Man of God


  1. What is Alexis’ reason for leaving his family? Is this reason stated in the text? Why do you think he is leaving on his wedding night and not on any other night/day?
  2. How do you interpret/understand his living at his father’s yard?
  3. Did Alexis return from his travels the same person?
  4. Being a ‘stranger’ is an ascetic virtue. When is Alexis shown as a stranger?
  5. What is holy about Alexis? What are his virtues?


Euphrosinus the Cook


  1. How did Euphrosine’s saintliness come to light?
  2. In which way is this a tale of secret saintliness?
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