Category Archives: Abba Anthony
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
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.
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.
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 holy scripture; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”
++++Anthony of Egypt
— Always have God before your eyes
Thomas Merton said,” The spiritual life is first a matter of keeping awake to God ” This echoes the words of Anthony when he tells us to always have God before us. To live in constant awareness of God is more than most of us really accomplish. We say prayers or have prayer time but then God is set aside. The goal of the contemplative should be to live awake to the presence of God no matter what surroundings we are in at the time. In being awake we know that God is always with us. He lives in us and introduces himself through us to others in the world. This precept allows us peace in our lives and gives us the blessing of helping others find that peace as well. Let us practice keeping God before our eyes. Perhaps the best way to keep God before our eyes is to practice meditation every day. We can live a life of presence.
Many of you have been reared in churches that often refer to the scripture as a sword, authority or light. The Psalmist tells us, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” These terms and that verse indicate that holy scripture will lead us where we must go. The Bible is a beacon or guide that allows us to defeat enemies and find our way. Holy scriptures light our dark paths so that we might not stumble. Anthony conveys to us one of the keys of a life well lived is to perform in accordance with holy scripture. In order to perform in accordance with scripture, we must read and study the word with consistency. Let us never allow ourselves to step away from the habit of regular reading of the scriptures so that we may live as they instruct.
—Have stability of place
Today’s monks take a vow of stability. Most of you who read this will never become a part of a monastic community. Many of us will not only not live in community but will be required to move to make our living. How do we find stability? We begin to find it by not always believing that the next job, the next house is where we need to be. We must develop a sense of blooming where we are planted. There is another way. Scriptures say, “That we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error.” (Ephesians 4:14) By reading and studying scripture we can develop a stability of belief. We can be longstanding in our belief because we know why and what we believe. We can all have stability.
The constant awareness of the presence of God, a consistent pattern of living in accordance with the scripture and a stability of mind will carry us in a direction that charts toward the kingdom of God. Anthony gave us these precepts almost 2000 years ago and they are as true now as they were then. Let us strive to keep these precepts before us as we attempt to navigate the challenges that this life sends our way. These three simple ideas will improve our lives beyond our expectation.
Lord, allow me to see you as I seek you this day. Lead me to study your word enough so that it may truly guide me and bless me with the stability of mind that allows me to be capable of having stay power. In these things I ask your spirit to guide and protect me. May all my attempts to find you and connect with you end as I see your face. I pray this and all else in the name of Jesus my Messiah.
When the same ABBA Anthony thought about the depths of the judgments of God, he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on too extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked man prosper and why are the just in need ?” He heard a voice answering him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not your advantage to know anything about them.”
…..Anthony of the Desert
Man has struggled for generations with the prosperity of the wicked and the lack of suffered by the just and humble. You don’t have to look very deep to see injustices in the world. It wouldn’t take you long to discover a very cruel and dishonest person who lives a life of luxury. In the same way, you would not have to go far to find someone who wishes the best for all but seems to lack the necessities of life. This dichotomy was a source of confusion for Anthony. He saw young, vibrant people being stuck down and those who could not care for their basic needs lingering on. All these things were a source of frustration for a man who sought the perfection of God.
Have you ever wondered what was the “rhyme or reason” of a confusing event in the world? Anthony did, and he wanted a solution that would solve such problems. Instead, he got an answer that would only fit Him. God told him, “Anthony, turn to your own perfection and leave the perfection of the world to me.” Many of us, like Anthony, spend an undue amount of time and anxiety trying to fix the world and forget that we are broken as well. God wants to make you whole so that you may spread that wholeness to the world. How do we become whole?
When I was in formation to become a United Methodist Elder, my mentor shared a truism from Native American Culture. He spoke of how the Tribal Council sat in a circle surrounded by their personal hoops. The moral was that they had to “tend their own hoops’ before they had anything to say to the council. Nothing they said was of any value unless they began with themselves. That’s interesting, because it is the very same thing that the monk is hearing from God when he says, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself.” Those words ring as loudly for us as they did for Anthony those many years ago. We must accept the reality that the only person we can really change is ourselves and hope that that change will profit those that surround us. Our change becomes an inspiration for their change.
In spite of that reality, it can get very frustrating to watch the many apparent inequities and injustices that surround us, but we must remember that we are marching on to perfection. We are praying every day I hope, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” We strive for that intersection of heaven and earth to come in our own lives so that we might understand why things are as the are and leave it to God.
The rhyme or reason is not for us to know. We are called to leave it with God.
Lord, help me this day to see to the shortcomings of my walk. Allow me to outstretch a hand of understanding and grace to all you send my way. Relieve me of the torture of the many “whys” of life and give me the peace that comes with striving to be one with you.
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.”
When the holy ABBA Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by sloth and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone, what shall I do I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plating a rope, and getting up again to pray. It was an Angel the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the Angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
…..Anthony of the Desert
The greatest longing of any follower of God is to be saved. Saved from the cares of this life. Saved from the sin that drags us down. Saved from the smothering nature of this world. Anthony abandoned his money and family ties looking to be saved but was soon feeling it was all in vain. His heart told him one thing, but his mind said another. He was stuck and wanted a way out. That scenario is all too familiar to us.
We begin a new year and a new decade, and we want things to go so well. Our resolution to God and ourselves is to leave behind the old and the inadequate. Like Anthony, we resolve to do better. Our heart’s desire is to live with God in our hearts and minds. The cares of the world and the requirements of life get in the way. Our cry to God is –show me the way! Perhaps the way is in front of us. Anthony saw an angelic vision of a man who was simply working. His task seemed mundane and tedious. Upon closer observation the monk noticed something. This man took numerous and brief breaks to pray. He did not allow the tasks of the world to be the sole dominance of his life.
The problem is not whether we will have to do the tasks of the world and live with the world as it is, but how we will respond to this journey? There have been numerous books and articles written on how to be a Monk (Christian) amid our post Christian era. These writers all have good suggestions and disciplines that will bring us closer to a serene relationship with God. I applaud them for their contribution to the conversation. I would suggest that we can note that all of them in one way or another point to the lives of the earliest of the Desert Monastics and Anthony was the first.
I don’t know why Bendicta Ward chose to make the saying quoted today the first in her book “Sayings of the Desert Fathers.” As I read these sayings once again, it just struck me that this is where it all began. The feeling Anthony was experiencing was the key to finding peace with God. He found that peace by linking the tasks of everyday life to prayer. Perhaps we can say it this way. Work is prayer and prayer is work. Most of us want to put God in one box of our lives and enter that box at prescribed times, but Anthony broke that mold. As he watched the man work and pray seamlessly it was a eureka moment. He realized that prayer is a natural part of life. It is work. Prayer is the work of the Christian but not to the neglect of everything else.
Most of us live driven, divided lives that cause division in our souls. The secret of the monk was to make them one. I don’t have to have a special time or place to pray, but I can be about my task and take time to offer all that I am to God. Your decision may be that you have that time and place that you meet God. If so, I am happy for you. For the many in this world that are looking, I urge you to look to the advice of the old Monk who heard the voice of the angels say, “Do this and you will be saved.” Work is prayer and prayer is work.
Lord free my heart to be able to recognize you in the simple tasks that I am given every day. Give me the strength to see you when I am happy and to feel your presence when I am down and defeated. Let every day, moment and experience be an experience with you. Allow the tasks of this day to be melded together by your presence. That presence is my solace and salvation. Amen.
First, there are those who are called by the law of love which is in their nature, and which original good implanted in them. They achieve the true manner of life, because their souls are ready to follow the love of God. This is the first kind of calling.
Second, there are those who hear the written law testifying of the pains and torments prepared for the wicked, and of the promises for those who walk worthily in the fear of God. By the testimony of the written law, their thoughts are roused up to seek to enter into the calling.
Third, there are the souls which at first were hard of heart and persisted in the works of sin; and somehow the good God in his mercy sends upon such souls the chastisement of affliction, till they grow weary, and come back to their senses, and are converted, and draw near, and enter into knowledge, and repent with all their heart.”
—— Anthony of the Desert
Everyone who has ever lived has an inbuilt desire to discover the great unknowns of life and death. At some point in our lives, we ask questions that have no answers. These unanswerable questions are usually pursued by venturing into the realm of the spiritual. The monk seeks to present reasons that people discover and satisfy their need for the unknown.
The first and the seemingly most noble is love. Anthony asserts that there are people who have a natural gift to love. He terms it the “law of love.” This law draws people toward a calling in Christ. They feel and see the love of God in action and are compelled to follow that law. Their motivation is one of a heartfelt desire to imitate Christ and to be His light for others.
The second is fear. I would venture that this is the “fear of the Lord” that is frequently referenced in scripture. These people see the might and majesty of God and quickly realize that they fall woefully short and cry out to God for redemption.
The third fear is distraction. Our world is filled with people who live busy and distracted lives. They meet themselves “coming and going” but something drastically changes. All of a sudden, often without warning, they hit a wall. Anthony calls that event a chastisement. That chastisement thrusts them into the presence of God and changes their lives.
These wise words should be taken seriously in our present culture. There are so many people crying out for answers that seem elusive to all. Examine what you are going through and I believe that you will see God showing a door that leads to peace. He invites us to walk through that door to experience His love and grace. God has a tailored invitation to all who seek Him.
Lord, allow me to see and hear the message that you have prepared for me. May I discover the love that surrounds me and know that you are the source of that love. May I go through this day as one who is at one with you.