Monthly Archives: February 2020
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.