The Desert Fathers and Mothers were the first Christian monastics. Originally fleeing the Diocletian persecution (300 AD) and later ( 313 AD) when Constantine made Christianity the state religion, escaping the "worldliness" of the church. They inhabited the wilderness living as ascetics in solitude, in and around the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Theirs was a grass roots non-ecclesiastical movement, spear headed by ordinary people. They chose solitude and lives of celibacy, fasting, vigil, prayer, and poverty in simple response to the Gospel.
Paul of Thebes was the first recorded hermit to model what would become the tradition of monastic asceticism and contemplation. Pachomius of Thebaid is considered the founder of early monasticism. However, it is the revered Anthony of Egypt at the end of the third century who overseeing colonies of hermits that became the archetypal model of the deserts fathers.
By way of their example these early monastic drew sizable followings to their way of life. The desert fathers and mother were often appealed to for spiritual guidance and counsel by both those inside and out side these communities.
Originally there was no strict organization, every thing functioned relationally. People were encouraged to find their own rule (guiding principles), Eventually two types of expression developed, hermetic ( cloister) and monastic (community).
John Cassin of Bethlehem spent time with the desert Fathers writing down preserving what he learned and saw in two volumes, the "Institutes" and the Conferences. In the 4th century the Paradise or Apophthegms of the Fathers a collection of spiritual advice, anecdotes, parables, and reflections on the life of these desert pilgrims surfaced.