In the coming months I will be writing devotionals from the sayings of Anthony of Egypt as translated by Benedict Ward and scholars of the Coptic Church. Because of these two sources I can offer the sayings of Anthony and the comment that I write. These sayings tell us something about the great monk but not all we might want to know. One of his early followers was Athanasius of Alexandria, a Father of the Eastern Church. Athanasius took upon himself to write a biography of Anthony. In this work we can learn a lot more about the monk and how he ordered his life.
I thought it might be helpful to share some of the details of the life of Anthony as I comment on his sayings. The sayings of the Monk can be guides for life and the life of the monk can serve as the same. Writings on the life of Anthony will give us further seeds for thought and perhaps some handle that can help our spiritual journey. By using the work of Athanasius, I will attempt to make Anthony’s life one we could use as a leaning model for our own spiritual development.
A Way to Begin
Anthony found himself an eighteen-year-old moderately affluent man who had, by the death of his parents, been given the responsibility of the care of a younger. Because of his upbringing he was keenly aware of his responsibility and eager to carry out the task that had come his way. He was a very devout man who always sought guidance from the church. One day while pondering om the writings of Matthew on the calling and ministry of the apostles, he was struck with a divine message. With further study that message led him to the conclusion that He must sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor just as the apostles had left everything and concentrated on following Jesus.
There was for Anthony one great responsibility that he could not drop. His young sister was in his care and she was his first responsibility. After selling all that he had, he reserved enough to care for his sister and arranged for her to live with a group of nuns. This being settled he went about the task of seeking the knowledge that would bring him closer to God. He sought that knowledge by being aware of all those around him from whom he could learn. Athanasius said that he went like a “prudent bee” when he would hear of any good man. From one he learned graciousness, from another unceasing prayer, and from still others, he learned freedom from anger, endurance, fasting and so much more. He took all that he learned and united them in his spiritual nature. Because of this he became beloved by all.
The life of Anthony gives us some beautiful ways to pursue our beginning of the contemplative life. I believe that all contemplatives must be keenly aware that we are called to live on a higher plain than one that can be bought by money. We can never really know this unless we release the hold that our money has over us. I am not saying that we all must give it away, but we must prioritize our lives around the pursuit of God and not the pursuit of money. Then there are the ones that we are responsible like our children, grandchildren, spouses and others that God has entrusted to our care. We must make proper provision for them and cannot cast them aside and by saying that I am now following God and you are on your own. God wants us to be keenly aware that we don’t have all the answers. Every good Christian seeks guidance and knowledge from others. Every Christian contemplative must strive to unite these pieces together in their lives.
Also, it can be said that the beginning of a life that seeks after God’s heart is to be free of rivalry and competition. Many people spend undue time and effort to “top” one another. Anthony concluded and shared with us a great secret. Athanasius put it this way, “With others of the same age he had no rivalry; save this only, that he should not be second to them in higher things.”