Do not aspire to be called holy before you really are, but first be holy that you may more truly be called so. Live by God’s commandments every day; treasure chastity, harbor neither hatred nor jealousy of anyone, and do nothing out of envy. Do not love quarreling; shun arrogance. Respect the elders and love the young. Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down.
— THE RULE
Our Life and death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our neighbor, we have sinned against Christ.
— Abba Anthony
When Jesus was questioned by the religious leaders of his day about the first commandment he said, “The first is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This dispute of the true and best path to God is ever going. “There is no other commandment greater than these. “ This lesson from Jesus and the monk is one in the same. The sacred is in the ordinary which is found in one’s daily life – in our neighbors, friends, family, in our backyard. We have never quite gotten that idea down. Men desperately search in so many places for peace with God while in continual battle with their neighbors. Our world is mired in war, violence, crime, racism and hopelessness.
The concept that to gain a brother is to gain God is not one that we often consider. Interestingly, when we truly think about it we can say that gaining a brother is a difficult task. Perhaps gaining a true friend and brother is one of our most challenging tasks. The Urban Dictionary puts it this way,” A best friend is someone who is there for you through thick and thin. It’s someone who listens and understands you. Someone you can call anytime about anything you feel you need to ‘tell’ or ‘vent’. It’s someone who will stand up for you in the times when you need it most, keep your secrets close, and someone you can trust with your life. They will support you in any decision you make even if it’s hard for them. It’s someone who is there for you as much as they can be and does and says whatever they can to up your mood in down times.” That type of brother is hard to find, and it is no wonder that Anthony compared it to gaining God.
There was a recent incident in my city where a rather flamboyant tow truck operator was killed by his next door neighbor in his front yard for spraying him with a water hose. They were in constant dispute about one thing or another-parking, planting of shrubs- you name it. This 80-year-old man shot and killed his neighbor over ongoing disputes. These proximity neighbors fought over turf and it ended most tragically. Most conflicts are over one turf or another. We are urged by scripture and wisdom teaching to regard our relationship with our neighbor as a relationship with God. By viewing it through that lens, we truly see the importance of getting along. Pray that God will give you the wisdom to see others through His eyes. With that wisdom comes the keys to the kingdom – spiritual wholeness. Such stories are the ultimate degree of sinning against God.
We are called to honor God by honoring one another. Becoming a good neighbor to all is what is expected of us. As we achieve this, we grow closer to God. That closeness to God allows us to become all that he created us to be. All persons were created in His image and should be treated as such.
Lord, teach me to be kind when my heart resists. Teach me to be patient when it is my nature to be short. Teach me to be giving when I am naturally selfish. Teach me to look to you when I want to look to myself. Teach me to see others as you see them.
Grant this through your spirit that dwells within me. Amen
The life of contemplation implies two levels of awareness: first, awareness of the question, and second, awareness of the answer. Though are two distinct and enormously different levels, Yet they are, in fact, an awareness of the same thing. The question is, itself, the answer.
Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”
Abba Anthony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”
He also said, “Some have afflicted their bodies by asceticism, but they lack discernment, and so they are far from God.”
▪▪▪▪Anthony of the Desert
The wise ABBA gives us three distinct tasks that we all must face. We often try to go through the Christian life with ease and lack of complication. Some turn to rules or codes to keep them on the straight and narrow. Others seek super spirituality or spiritual superiority to ease them and comfort them in their Christian walk. The wisdom of the desert tells us that there is a simplicity in these tasks. Let’s just think about what this really means.
The first task as told by ABBA Anthony is not trust our own righteousness. We live in the world and a time that holds our own opinions and conclusions in the highest esteem. The wise father tells us to reexamine this. He goes on to say that we should put our past behind us. We will never repair, fix, or totally rebuild or relive our past. Our calling as Christians is to put the past behind us by filtering it through grace. That being said, we have a tremendous obstacle to overcome. The control of the stomach and the tongue is our greatest challenge. The stomach is representative of the carnal appetite we al
l possess and even take pride in at times. The tongue is the agent of that carnal appetite that builds the ego, creates the story, and makes us the masters of our own fate. We can try to lie our way, bluff our way, and allude our way into fulfillment. We are challenged with the task of overcoming self-righteousness.
The journey through this world is full of snares and traps. We create and search for ways to avoid the snares them. A snare is defined as a trap for catching birds or animals, typically one having a noose of wire or cord. As we follow our own ego and self-righteousness, we can be lured into a noose that we can never escape. Desert wisdom instructs us that the answer to this problem is humility. Humility is the ability to give up self and begin a life free from pride and arrogance. Such a life allows us to turn ourselves toward God and his grace and love. Do you hear the call of humility in your life or is it drowned out by the noise and confusion of the world that surrounds you? Developing a sense of humility is a key task to living the Christian life with victory and satisfaction .
The third task is to avoid becoming rabidly, unreasonably, super religious ABBA Anthony tells us that there are people who are beset by asceticism. They have afflicted their bodies with punishing fasts , self-flagellation and other practices that have not truly accomplished the objective of the aesthetic life. They have failed to discern the ultimate reason for all of these practices. Our spiritual practices should be seeking God and trying to develop a relationship with him. It does not matter how many times we fast , how disciplined we are or how much we suffer, our true task is to move closer to God. Being super pious or super religious will not get us there. We must live out the entire gospel in our lives. Discernment of the spiritually appropriate is a task of the Christian life.
The three tasks are:put aside self-righteousness, develop godly humility, and develop mature spiritual discernment. We should look for ways to master these tasks. Always remember that we will never totally master spirituality in this life. Every day we need to seek the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”
Lord, everyday we strive to come closer to knowing the unknowable, to change the unchangeable and to see the unseeable.
Guide us in the tasks that are necessary to move closer to you. Help us to be patient enough, humble enough and wise enough to stay on the pathway that leads to your kingdom.
These things are only made possible by you and the grace you bestow upon us.
Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him who has no voice, and yet who speaks in everything that is, and who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves or words of His.Thomas Merton
Let the brethren give their advice
with all the deference required by humility,
and not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions;
but let the decision rather depend on the Abbot’s judgment,
and all submit to whatever he shall decide for their welfare.—– Rule of St. Benedict
As we travel the Christian journey, we are invariably going to discover that we are confronted by evil in many forms. In Athanasius of Alexandria’s biography of Anthony of Egypt this is referred to as his conflict with demons. We seldom reference demons in the postmodern church, but we do know about evil. Anthony the Great had a process to rid himself of evil / demons that I think we can use as well. Let’s look at his ideas.
We must remember evil hates good. That is the key to recognizing the evil that so surrounds us. Evil always seeks to find a way to counter or cheat in any good thing. The first thing that Anthony heard was what he called a whisper about the sacrifices he had made to follow God’s calling. The evil one wanted him to remember his wealth, his sister, his friends and all the pleasures he left behind. The hope of that evil one was that he would grow resentful and turn back to his old life. Though Anthony’s endeavors would be considered strange and selfish by some, it would have been wrong for him to decide to abandon God’s purpose in life and go back to his old ways.
That’s an important point to remember. The devil does not always lead us to blatant evil, but he does lead us away from God’s purpose in our lives. Only you know what God’s purpose is in your life and only you can pursue it. Simply put, the devil, the demon wants you to abandon that purpose. He does not always lead you to do wrong and despicable things but rather to simply abandon the purpose of God in your life. Anthony was a good man with a good life, but God was calling him to a new life and the devil did not want him to follow that calling.
The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.
That’s the challenge we all face. We are to recognize when the devil is really trying to turn us away from God’s plan for our lives. It can seem so innocuous and harmless, but it still leads us away from our “God path.” The work of the evil one is not always scary but is always deceptive. Anthony recognized this and we must do so as well because if we do not, we can lose our way.
This can be combated in many ways. We can maintain a life of prayer and awareness that always seeks God’s face. We can read and study the revelation of holy scriptures. We can surround ourselves by others who seek to follow their own “God Path.”
We can surmise from the words of Athanasius as he describes to us life of Anthony the Great, that one of the great concerns we must all have is interference from the demonic in our lives. We would do well to keep this in mind every day we live.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, “This is the Great Work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.” He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” He even added, “Without temptation, no one can be saved.”
▪▪▪▪Anthony of the Desert
Temptation is something we all struggle with our entire lives and regularly pray that God will remove this battle from our lives. Jesus said to us in His prayer, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Yet Anthony states, “Without temptation, no one can be saved.” Those divergent ideas seem to clash and frequently our spiritual lives are loaded with contradictions and conflict. This is one of those times. These conflicting ideas are a real source of growth and cause us to increase in strength ,knowledge, and spiritual awareness.
The prayer that Jesus taught us pleads that we are not led into temptation, but more importantly we ask to be delivered from evil. I believe that it is through real temptation that we begin to recognize evil. Once evil is recognized it becomes possible to resist. Such resistance is our key to being saved, because the temptation we suffer throughout our lives leads us to seek the Savior we so desperately need.
The challenge that we must face and embrace is the permanence of temptation in our lives. We can experience great trouble if we seek a magical formula to deliver us from all temptation, because it is an unattainable goal. That journey is wrought with peril and evil and leads us to be self-righteous, judgmental and harsh. We will find ourselves chasing false hopes and heretical ideas. If we allow the advice from the desert to lead us, we can face our temptation without feeling defeated. Let me offer a few ideas that are found in this desert wisdom.
We must grow to own our temptations. They were not thrust upon us by someone or something, but they dwell in us. Having accepted that fact, we can then move forward. Each day brings with it ways that we are led away from the path that we know is the one that leads to unity with God. We can spend our lives assigning blame, making excuses or we can spend our lives learning.
Temptations are not the road to hell but the pathway to the kingdom. “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” These dynamic words of Jesus are words of hope and victory. When we recognize them we begin to understand our earthly existence and then are able to welcome his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. His kingdom has already arrived, but we are tempted to ignore it or drift so far away that we never see it. Our temptations help us to see His here and now kingdom.
No one likes to deal with troubles, but dealing with trouble allows us to know what to do as well as what not to do in trying times. Our everyday temptations bring us closer to the Kingdom and help us better understand the concept of God’s grace. Once we grasp the concept that temptation is our ever-present companion, we can begin our kingdom journey in earnest. “Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.” That is our goal, and temptation is an element of the journey.
Lord, give me the grace and understanding to deal with temptation without despairing. Allow me to see your work in every struggle I face. Keep me mindful that it is You that I must depend upon in the times of weakening. You Lord are my strength and deliverer.