Category Archives: Abba Anthony

Breaking the Bow

8-16-17

A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” So, he did. The old man said, “Shoot another,” and he did so. Then the old man said, “Shoot yet again,” and the hunter replied “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.” Then the old man said to him, “It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.” When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened.

—— Abba Anthony of the Desert

From the beginning there have always been people who have viewed the Christian life as a life of drudgery. This type of life that has no room for fun or laughter. The hunter in our saying was shocked to see that monks could have fun, after all, monks were supposed to be serious and reverent. Monastic (Christian) life just has to be extremely hard, difficult and exhausting. There can be no room for laughter or relief. Abba Anthony taught the hunter the necessity of diversion and relief by challenging him to test his bow beyond its endurance. Every person, every machine, has its limits. When those limits are exceeded a breakdown can occur. Just as the hunter’s bow had its breaking point if rest was not given, so do we. What are some “take aways” from this saying?

  • Don’t judge people by your preconceived opinions.
  • Don’t neglect your need for down time.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Don’t force your body to endure beyond its capacity.
  • God wants you to laugh.
  • God wants you to meet people where they are.
  • God wants you to strengthen people.

Let us not make the mistake of lording over people that God sends our way. Show them that you are kind and generous, but most of all, that you are genuine. We can accomplish so much more for the kingdom when we allow ourselves to be genuine and vulnerable. Then the world sees Christians as their friends who want the best for them. Too often, the world sees the followers of Jesus as demanding, harsh and a rule driven sort of people. The world is truly looking for the “good news” and we can give it to them. People are strengthened and renewed by laughter and kindness and that is the calling of a Christian to bring light and life to the world.

Do something that is burden easing for someone this week.


Prayer

My Lord, help me to spread your grace to those around me. Help me to be a person of light to all I encounter. I pray that You will plant in me the secret of being a burden lifter for those you have entrusted to my influence. May my world be filled with laughter and joy.

Amen

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The Time of Your Fervor

Many of the thoughts that I share are written at a coffee shop on Oak St. in New Orleans. There is nothing particularly inspiring about the shop. As a matter of fact, it is a bit run down and not the cleanest place in the world. In spite of that, the old shop has a special way of inspiring my thoughts. The reason is that it is an old bank building where my grandfather used to keep his Christmas Club account. Christmas Club accounts have gone out of vogue, but when I was growing up in the 1960’s they were very important. What is a Christmas Club? The Christmas Club is a savings program that was first offered by various banks in the United States during the Great Depression. The concept is that bank customers deposit a set amount of money each week into a special savings account and receive the money back at the end of the year for Christmas shopping. Because of that, every time I stepped into the old bank it was Christmas. I could try to imagine what I might get for Christmas. Somehow the old bank building still gives me a sense of Christmas. I am no longer six but in my sixties, but that old building still does something for me.

Anthony-of-Egypt-July-19Let me share some thoughts from one of my favorite desert monks today. Anthony of Egypt was the founder of the monastic movement. He fled to the desert to find peace with God. People from all over the known world traveled to see him and seek his wisdom. Here is a small portion of advice he give to a young monk, and just maybe to you as well.

“My son, do not stray away from God seeking what is perishable; but rather remember what you have decided in the time of your fervor, and do not forget the seal by which you were purified before. Remember the tears of repentance, and the prayers that were raised on your behalf, and flee from the evil thoughts lest you be lost. My son, leave your bed every night, and wet your bedclothes with your tears, and supplicate to the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, your renewal, and for help in the good deeds so that you may inherit His eternal heavenly kingdom.”

—Anthony of Egypt

When we turn from God and seek the perishable, we forget the seal of our purification. Our salvation was sealed by the sacrifice of Jesus. He put Himself forth for our sins and failures. He who knew no sin became sin. And why -for you and me. Those times when we pursue the perishable treasures of life we forget the wonderful grace of God. Grace purifies that which cannot be purified. There is no other formula by which we can approach God other than grace. The Christian must discern between the perishable and the seal of grace.

We are urged to take time to remember what life was like before God so that we can realize all that He does for us. We come to God through repentance from our rebellion. A truly repentant heart is a tearful one. The monk advises us to remember the tears (feeling) of that time. As we turn around to follow God we are compelled to acknowledge our failures and seek to be more like Him. The tears, literal and symbolic, are a sign of the reality of our confession of faith. Never forget them.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” These words were wisely written by the poet John Donne. Anthony advises us to remember the prayers that were and are offered for us so that we might keep on the right path. Perhaps nothing is more dangerous than forgetting the path that brought us to our present place. We must not forget our origin. That remembrance keeps us humble and allows us to grow. I cherish the prayerful support of all who journey with me. We all need to constantly be reminded that we are surrounded by evil, but we are also consumed in a blanket of prayer protection.

John-donne

May we spend our days in these remembrances that the wise monk sets forth.


Prayer

Now Lord, we set ourselves before you. We know from whence we came and the desolation of that place. That seal of salvation that you gave us is such a blessed gift which cannot be replicated or replaced. Our repentance is bathed in the tears of confession and our protection from evil is wrapped in a blanket of prayer. May we go through this day and everyday remembering these blessings.

Amen


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Relaxation and God

A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, ‘Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ So he did. The old man then said, ‘Shoot another,’ and he did so. Then the old man said, ‘Shoot yet again and the hunter replied ‘If I bend my bow so much I will break it.’ Then the old man to him, ‘It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.’ When he heard these words “the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened.

——Abba Anthony

It is a novel thought for most people that relaxation and rest are an important part of life. The average American works 11 hours more per week that they did in 1970. That is a somewhat startling little fact. I wonder how much more we are really accomplishing than we were forty seven years ago. Without a doubt the rise in use of pain killers, sleeping pills and people who suffer depression are linked to our lack of rest. The number of prescriptions for sleeping pills alone, grew 30 times over between 1994 and 2007. Hospitalization for clinical depression has been on the rise since 1975.

Why is this happening?

The wise man of the desert pointed this out to the hunter, and it changed the hunter’s life. We need to rediscover the value of rest, and to acknowledge that it is necessary for physical and spiritual wellbeing. God knew this when  He gave us the Sabbath. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. The Hebrew word Sabbath literally means “to cease.” Just as God rested from His creation work, we are to rest from our day-to-day occupations and refocus on what’s really important. It’s a day to push the reset button. Anthony and God were on the same page here. All of us need to “relax the bow” before it snaps.

Plan a personal SABBATH, you need it!


Prayer

Lord give me that courage to pause. The world threatens me if I dare to think that I can take time to renew my body and my faith. Long ago you gave us the command to do so. Too often we see your commands as chores rather than pathways to blessings. Help us to see the bright pathway that is illuminated by Sabbath rest.

Amen

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The Great Work of Man

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 Temptationtemptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” He even added, “Without temptation, no one can be saved.” 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 of the Desert

There are several very biting suggestions made here by the old Monk. Perhaps we can use his advice to bring us a little closer to God. I am convinced that all men seek closeness to God. Some call this closeness getting in touch with their inner bein., Others may call it karma, but I just call such closeness prayer, and prayer allows me to know  God. He is my creator, friend and redeemer.

Our first step is to take blame for our own sins. A good expression for this is “owning up.” We live in a world of excuses and explanations, but raw truth is always best. I confess to being amused when I heard the expression”alternative facts” this past week. Anthony tells us to simply take blame for our own failures. The scripture says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” That is the beginning of our path to heaven and peace on this earth.

He reminds us to expect temptation every day of our lives. On face value that is very depressing, but temptation drives us to the grace of God. The scripture reminds us that we have all sinned but it also says,“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Simply put, temptation drives us to a choice – God or self satisfaction. God created us with a free will and salvation is a choice, a serious and demanding choice that we all have to make. Our easy, comfortable and pleasure seeking world resists the concept of choices that limit our “freedom.” For those that choose Jesus, there is no greater freedom to be had.

Allow me to chase the “sin rabbit” for just a moment. God offers forgiveness and the world offers forgiveness. There is, however, an astounding difference between God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of the world. Convicted felons Forgive-Forgetwho have served their time and even expressed genuine remorse for their crimes are excluded from voting and holding public office, have limited credit privileges, can be denied a job,cannot serve on some juries, and are excluded from other rights in ways that vary from state to state. They have served their time, but their crime is not forgotten. ALL of us, whether we admit it or not , are unable to forget the sins (we may forgive and even move on) of those that have offended u., Only God can do that. God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation is the one that we can’t pass up. No one, I mean no one, offers such a gift but God.God says, “For I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” God is so good to us!

Now back to the monk, “do not trust your own righteousness but control your tongue and stomach” The tongue has the ability to destroy others and ourselves. When we utter a false wittiness against some we have the potential of denying that person so much. With our tongues we can cause people to lose their relationships, reputations and in some cases their lives. In World War Two there was an expression,”Loose lips sink ships.” The importance of keeping confidences and telling the truth cannot be underestimated. Control of the stomach is an analogy for controlling our carnal nature. We should think before we use our bodies in ways that dishonor ourselves and God. Control your carnal nature or it will be the end of you.

Work-of-Man

The great work of man is to trust God and control our nature with the tools He provides. I found a poem that calls this an act of wisdom.


He, in whose bosom wisdom’s seed is sown,

To waste a single day was never known;

Either he strives to work God’s will,

Or else exalts the cup, and works his own.

Omar Khayyam


Prayer

O Lord as I embark on my great work this day I do so fully aware of my dependence on you. Walk with me and keep me aware of your company. Rebuke when I need rebuking. Give me encouragement when I am down. Most of all remind me when I have moved into my own path while forgetting your path. In doing these things you give me the richness of your grace and the benefit of your remarkable love.

Amen

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Finding a Way

One day some old men came to see Abba Anthony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph.   Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a text from the Scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able.  But to each one the old man said, ‘You have not understood it.’ Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, ‘How would you explain this saying?’ and he replied, ‘I do not know.’ Then Abba Anthony ‘Indeed Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: “I do not know.”

—-Abba Anthony of Egypt

The current events of our day demand that presidential candidates know everything. As a result, these candidates say things that are not well thought out, and even reckless. People lie on their resumes because they feel they must do so in order to get ahead. The world we have created is one that encourages everyone to be more, do more than is realistic. That demand has been the downfall of many who could function in a world that accepts and respects, “I don’t know.”

“I do not know.” These are four most difficult words. Admitting these words has been difficult for people since the beginning, since we are created with a “must know” nature. All men run from mystery, and yet God is a mystery. He calls us to believe what we have not seen. We are led to serve without knowing the results of our service. Be attentive to the voice of the Spirit that calls us to action, even the things that remain a mystery to us.

The old monk helps us find a way in the here and now to the mystery of God. The “I do not know” is the way that we express our belief in that unknowing mystery of God. We are surrounded by atheists and doubters who have demanded concise and quick answers about the God we worship. We are first and foremost a people of faith. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” Proclaim your faith and live your life in the joy of not having all the answers.

PRAYER

Dear Lord ,I do not know why there is so much evil in the world. I do not know why I fail to love you and my neighbor as much as I should. I do not know why prayers that seem so necessary go unanswered. I do not know why the scripture is full of mysteries. It is in that sort of unknowing that I cry out to you in faith.

Amen

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Three Precepts

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.”

—–Antony of Egypt


  • ALWAYS HAVE GOD BEFORE YOUR EYES

This statement begs the question, how do we always have God before our eyes? God is before our eyes when we worship and pray. The monk is telling us that our lives should be bathed in worship and prayer. In these practices we can find the face and heart of God.

  • WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT ACCORDING TO THE TESTIMONY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

The Psalmist writes, children sing -“the Bible is a lamp unto my and a light unto my path.” The monk advises that this simple instruction is one of the keys to pleasing God. Today’s world seems to have neither light nor path. Antony steers us to the lighted path of Holy Scripture.

  • WHATEVER PLACE YOU LIVE DO NOT EASILY LEAVE IT.

Monks call this one stability. Our transient, temporary society is floundering for lack of stability. Marriages crumble, jobs are abandoned, work goes unfinished, all because we are not willing to commit ourselves to being in for the long haul. Pleasing God requires that we develop stay power – the type that settles us in long enough to walk through the valley that precedes the mountain.

The words of this monk of old can take us a long way today.


God-Before-your-Eyes-Quote

Prayer

Lord help me to know how to live this day. May I have the unction to keep you before my eyes in the midst of the many distractions of this life. Help me to look to the scriptures when confusion and disarray come my way. Let your scriptural light- light my way. Allow me to find peace in the place that you have provided for me. In finding that peace, I then can become a blessing to others.

Amen

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The Art of Pleasing God

“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. Monk in prayer 1

  • Always have God before your eyes
  • Live in harmony with scripture
  • Have stability of place in your life

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.

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