The Fathers went into the caves of the desert and they were referred to as, "Keepers of the walls," and, "Guardians of the world & peace." They considered themselves as commissioned to keep watch on the world's frontiers and waged war in prayer against the demonic powers that invaded the world of mankind. The monks were thought of as trees - purifying the atmosphere by their presence.
These desert monks were considered in 4th century Egypt, to be a force of spiritual power for their neighbors and towns and cities. Their whole life was dedicated to prayer and fasting and spiritual warfare, not for themselves or their own needs, but to intercede for those around and for the whole world. They made the desert blossom, both spiritually and physically, for apart from prayer, they also grew many foods in the desert.
Appollo was famous for his personal austerity and fasting, and the monks and cave-dwellers ate once or twice a week. But when there was a famine in Thebaid, the people in the town assumed that as always the communities of monks would have plenty of food, which they indeed did!
Demolishing the Temples
The Christianity of Egypt was a new thing but the diocese of Alexandria was a flourishing Christian center by the 3rd century. Nevertheless ancient heathen temples remained along the Nile. Theophilus the Bishop, one day summoned some of the Fathers to come to Alexandria and pray and demolish the deities of the heathen temples.
Their motive in separating themselves was to give their hearts the opportunity to focus on God alone. They went without, gave up the comforts of the towns and villages in order to give themselves to spiritual warfare on the behalf of others. They kept watches in the day and night. To "Stand by night in the House of the Lord," they took literally, and regulated their sleep so as not to give the flesh an opportunity to rule. A student of the monks of Nitria said, "Some of them never sleep at night - but either sitting or standing they persevered in prayer until the morning light." The attitude was positive, they were not refusing to sleep, but they were keeping watch. It was commonly believed among the Desert Fathers that, "One hour of sleep at night was enough for one who was a fighter."
Demons and Angels:
In their devotion to spiritual warfare, the Desert Fathers had many encounters with angels and demonic powers. They exercised great discernment and could see very clearly and deeply into the spiritual realm. One of the first and probably the most famous of these desert monks was Anthony the Great A.D. 251 - A.D.356
Anthony went into the desert at age 35 and stayed for 20 years alone, interceding and praying. Anthony said, regarding the discerning of spirits and spiritual warfare, "Let us pray that we may know the hidden things, that we may have power from God to stand against the darts of the evil one. And if we desire to know the hidden things, then we must have our hearts pure, that we may be a habitation for the Holy Spirit and then He will abide and rest in us, and the light that proceeds from Him will enable us to see hidden things; even from remote distances. Did not Elisha because of the purity of his heart, see with his spirit that which his natural eyes had never seen. We must then see and make a distinction between the things of God and the things of the congregation of the Evil one.....This fact I have learned from long experience. The visions and revelations of the Holy Spirit are not of tumultuous character, but take place under conditions of peace and restfulness."
Anthony was constantly attacked by demonic powers but learnt how to discern and take authority over them..The evil spirits would come and tell Anthony "prophetic" and informative things, but he said, "I have no need to learn things from you." He said, "On occasions they (the demons) would come and fill my house with snakes and all manner of reptiles, but I would tell them, "Be gone," and they would right away leave. Then they brought torches and threatened to set alight my cell with me in it, but I lifted up my voice in the Psalms and said, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but I will be strong in the name of the Lord our God, and immediately the devils disappeared from before me. After a month another band of demons came again in the form of singers and began to sing and speak to me with words from the Scriptures, but as a deaf man I did not hearken to them." "Another time they came back and shook my habitation where I was living, but I laughed at them, for my confidence was in the Lord. And my mind was in no way disturbed by them."
"And then they came to me with such clamor and dancing and singing and clapping, but then when they saw that I did not cease to pray or sing Psalms, (as other men who have been defeated by them), their songs turned into lamentations and they began to wail. Then I gave thanks to my good Lord because He has broken and brought low their arrogance and folly."
"On another occasion the devil appeared to me in the form of a monk and gave me false counsel telling me to rest from praying because I was after all only a man of flesh and blood. I gave him no answer but bowed myself to the Lord and asked Him to make an end of this devil, and the demon vanished like smoke from my door."
The devil came many many times to Anthony. Satan came to his door one night and told Anthony that the "Christians were filling the desert and that his own people did not follow him for any other reason that he held them captive."Anthony and others like him, lived in the Spirit and many people came to them for counsel of their wisdom, for they were able to see the matters in hand by the Spirit, and discern and pray and minister in the realm of the unseen world. Governors and other great men and women came into the desert seeking out the prayers and ministry and counsel of the Desert Fathers who had given themselves to prayer and spiritual warfare.