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 temptations no-one can be saved.’
—-Sayings of the Desert Fathers
In a world where TV networks hire “spin doctors” to make the story turn in the “right” direction, it is no wonder we fail to acknowledge our weaknesses and failures. After all, this problem must be somebody else’s fault. It is no wonder that Anthony called it
the great work of life. All of us have someone to blame for our sin and shortcomings. It is our childhood, the boss, the job, the teacher or if all else fails, just everyone. That’s bad enough, but the best is yet to come. We are to expect temptations throughout our lives – no relief, no time out. They are part of the human condition. Temptations are what form us into the children of God. Our challenge is to ascend to God and walk the path he has set before us.
The Lord’s Prayer is an expression of faith which assumes that human beings are not self-sufficient but dependent on God. It is not a sign of weakness to pray but a sign of our humanity, because prayer acknowledges our need for God .In his book, The Reaffirmation of Prayer, E. Glenn Hinson says that “the key to human existence lies in surrender to God, putting one’s self and one’s affairs utterly and with complete child-like trust in God’s hands.”
We see prayer as something that exists when we have exhausted all other options. It would serve us well to become “children” of God. People are called to look to God at all times because He wants to be our strength and salvation. Our lives need to be totally surrendered to His loving care.
How often do you pray? Why do you pray?What do you pray for? Do you have a time and place for prayer? Think about these questions today and try to arrive at a practice of prayer that works for you. All of us are different and will develop varying ways of offering our prayer to God, but everyone a needs to spend time with God
North Africa 2007 260 Monastery of the Syrians in Wadi el Natrun (Photo credit: David Holt London)
It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert ‘at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His Abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, ‘Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.’ Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, ‘Take and eat the fruit of obedience.‘
—-Sayings of the Desert Fathers
We live in a world of “have it your way,” but in order for us to communicate with the Creator of the universe we must understand His time. Not only was the Abba obedient, he was patient. He kept about his task for much longer than was reasonable. In our world we expect things to happen very quickly, and if they don’t we just give up. We lack that “long suffering” obedience it takes to accomplish the very best of this life and the life to come. I dare say that not one among us would water a dead stick for three months, let alone three years! Try to look for the “dead sticks” that God would bring to life if only we were patient and obedient disciples.
These words were uttered by Napoleon of France when he was exiled on the island of Elba.
“Alexander, Caesar, and Hannibal conquered the world but had no friends. Jesus founded his empire upon love, and at this hour millions would die for him. He has won the hearts of men, a task a conqueror cannot do.”
In the waning years of his life,’Napoleon realized that the most important thing in life was not the ability to take, but the ability to give. Jesus does nothing but give, and he says “follow me” to all that would call themselves Christians. I would hope that we would not have to be defeated and forced to a place of exile and suffering to learn that lesson.
“Someone asked Abba Anthony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, ‘Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”
—sayings of the Desert Fathers
Abba Anthony gives us three simple, and yet difficult principles, that we must do to please God. The challenge is to keep God before our eyes when our sight is so cluttered with the saga of life. Additionally, we are called to live with the scripture as the ever present guide for our lives. As if that were not enough, we are then instructed to “stay put” even when things are tough. Our world tells us quite clearly to keep focused on the earthly, while perhaps giving some attention to God, and to move on whenever life gets uncomfortable. Perhaps if we all developed a vision of God and followed that vision where we are planted, we would find that peace that eludes us.
It is said that World War II military hero, George Patton, couldn’t or wouldn’t control his temper as a young officer. Patton once ordered a mule shot. Why? It had gotten in the way of his jeep. He forced members of an antiaircraft unit to stand at attention for being sloppily dressed, despite the fact that they had just beaten off an attack and some of the men were wounded. In one notorious incident, he slapped a hospitalized, shell-shocked soldier, and denounced the man for being a coward.
Soon after that incident General Eisenhower, his commanding officer, ordered him to publicly apologize to the soldier, postponed his promotion to general, and put him on probation as a commander. To the surprise of many people, General Patton had no other incidents for the remainder of the war. For two years Patton controlled himself. He received his promotion and went on to win many battle for the remainder of WWII. This behavior-this control- was something that was always in him , but he never was given a real reason to do so until his commander called him to account.
“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those”
God has placed inside each person all that we need to exercise self-control and forgiveness. In order for us to be all that we can be we need accountability and motivation, the likes of which comes from being a part of a church. Jesus , our Lord, calls us to account.
” 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.’ “
—sayings of the Desert Fathers
Control your tongue and your stomach is the advice of the wise old man. Our tongue determines what we say and our stomach represents what we consume .In countless ways we sin by saying something or giving in to some physical craving. Abba Anthony instructs us to more forward from our sin and keep control of our bodies. In that way we find peace.
Several centuries ago, a Japanese emperor commissioned an artist to paint a bird. A number of months passed, then several years, and still no painting was brought to the palace. Finally the emperor became so exasperated that he went to the artist’s home to demand an explanation. Instead of making excuses, the artist placed a blank canvas on the easel. In less than an hour, he completed a painting that was to become a brilliant masterpiece. When the emperor asked the reason for the delay, the artist showed him armloads of drawings of feathers, wings, heads, and feet. Then he explained that all of this research and study had been necessary before he could complete the painting.
The word is preparation. One of the primary reasons for failure is lack of preparation. Are we preparing to succeed or setting ourselves up for failure? As in the story above, a person who is prepared for a task can easily accomplish it, but the unprepared flounder and fail.
When we go to church, our task is to worship God. Worship means to honor, respect or encounter. We cannot do any of these things unless we are prepared. Come to worship prepared to interact with God. He will pour out His blessings to you.
“While still living in the palace, Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words, ‘Lord, lead me in the way of salvation.’ And a voice came saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee from men and you will be saved. ‘Having withdrawn to the solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.’ “
—sayings of the Desert Fathers
Threefold is the call to perfection. First we must flee. We flee from the slavery of the demands of the world. We are no longer obedient vassals to what “everyone else” is doing and saying. Second, we must practice silence. The call to silence is a call to be attentive to the voice of God. God speaks loudest when we are silent . The third call is to pray always. In the practice of constant prayer ,we open ourselves to the will of God, and we draw closer to Him. These three concepts are a path to perfection.