The fourth and fifth centuries witnessed the spread of monasticism in the Egyptian desert. Monks strove to live according to certain ideals of conduct that were expressed by many early monks. The majority of these stories, memorable sayings, or anecdotes were provided in Macarius‘ settlements at Nitria and Scetis. These “words” were initially preserved only orally but were then put into writing, very probably in Coptic. They are preserved in two forms, one is alphabetically, and the other according to subject matter.

The entire is known as the Apophthegmata patrum or Gerontica. It is a major source for the history of monastic spirituality, and it illustrates the cultural and social milieu of the monastic communities in Nitria, , and Scetis. By the sixth century, the Sayings of the Fathers were translated from into and soon thereafter into Syriac, Arabic, Georgian, and Armenian.

Therefore it is not surprising that they influenced monasticism in the East and the West. The Arabic Bustan al-Ruhban or the of the Monks is apparently based on the Sayings of the Fathers. It is widely used by and is highly appreciated by the Coptic laity.