These life-giving "words" were collected and eventually written down by disciples of the first monks, and grouped together in various ways, sometimes under the names of the monks with whom they were connected sometimes under headings which were themes of special interest, such as "solitude and stability", "obedience", or "warfare that lust arouses in us". Mixed in with these sayings were short stories about the actions of the monks, since what they did was often as revealing as what they said. These collections of "apophthegmata" were not meant as a dead archaism, full of nostalgia for a lost past, but as a direct transmission of practical wisdom and experience for the use of the reader. Thus it is as part of tradition that this small selection has been made from some of the famous collections of desert material, most of which have been translated and published in full elsewhere. They are placed in pairs, so that a "word" faces a story and illustrates its central, though not its only meaning. Each saying-and-story pair has been given a heading; these are arranged in two series, the first part relating to the commandment to love one's neighbour, the second to the commandment to love God.
This material first appeared among uneducated laymen; it is not "churchy" or specifically religious. It has its roots in that life in Christ which is common to all the [[baptism|baptized]], some of whom lived this out as monks, others who did not. There is common a universal appeal in these sayings, in spite of much which is at first strange. I have not tried to eliminate all the strangeness of the material, but to present a very small part of it as it is, in the belief that the words and deeds of these men can still make the fountain of life spring up in the arid deserts of lives in the twentieth century as they did in the fourth. "Fear not this goodness", said
abba Antony, "as a thing impossible, nor the pursuit of it as something alien, set a great way off; it hangs on our own choice. For the sake of Greek learning, men go overseas. But the City of God has its foundations in every seat of human habitation. The kingdom of God is within. The goodness that is in us asks only the human mind."
--Benedicta Ward, Oxford