Category Archives: Desert Fathers

Temptation

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.Temptation

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.Post 4

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.


Prayer

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.

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 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.

Post 3 1—Live the testimony of Holy Scripture

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. HowStability poast 3 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.



PRAYER

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.

Amen



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Handling the Life

A man who gives way to his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, catches the arrow in his hands, and then plunges it into his own heart. A man who is resisting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, and although the arrow hits him, it does not seriously wound him because he is wearing a breastplate. But the man who is uprooting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, but who strikes the arrow and shatters it or turns it back into his enemy’s heart.

——— Abba Dorotheos

Feedom from sinThe food for thought from the Abba is the various ways we handle the passions of life. He gives us three scenarios: surrender, self-willed resistance or spiritual release. The first two can have very dire consequences which can do great harm to us. The third allows us to experience the freedom of deliverance, and not just deliverance, but victory. As we travel on the contemplative path, we can achieve great comfort in knowing that we don’t have to fight the fight Blog-3-20-19alone. God’s spirit will allow us to uproot our passions and become resistant to the tricks of the world.

These important lessons will take us forward in our passion driven world. Bad things happen to good people and good people do bad thing because of our passions. If we partner with God for our journey , then we can achieve infinitely more than we can alone. I pose this question to you. What would happen if this Lent you, after throwing in the towel of your own control over your life, you “threw your hat into the ring” of God’s unchartered territory and divine possibilities?

That my friend is what it means to be a contemplative. Lets get on with it and walk with God.


Prayer

Lord, inflame our hearts and our inmost beings with the fire of Your Holy Spirit, that we may serve You with chaste bodies and pure minds. Through Christ our Lord.

Amen

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There Is a Door for All

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.

Anthony newSecond, 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.Anthony-10-10-18

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.


Prayer

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.

Amen

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The Fine Line

St. Ammon of Nitria came to St. Anthony and asked him, “My labors are greater than yours, yet your name is widespread among people more than mine, why?” St. Anthony replied, “Because I love God more than you do.”

“If devils praised your asceticism, and called you ‘blessed’ do not listen to them, and do not deal with them, but rather make the sign of the cross on yourselves, and your dwellings, and pray. You will find that they will flee, as they are craven, and fear the sign of the cross of the Lord, as the Lord disarmed them, and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross.” (Col. 2:15)

++++ Sayings of the Desert

There is a very fine line between being intolerably egotistical and being honest and realistic about our work. Working hard and faithfully does not automatically make you closer to God. To become close to God we mustego understand His love for us and all those around us. His love is not limited to the most productive or rich but also stretches out to all of His creation. The scripture says,”On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Simply put, it is not what we do but why we do it. We can’t pick which part of God’s creation to love. One of the primary reasons that the monastics fled to the desert was to get away from the “business” of a state endorsed and empowered religion. A state, or even a popularly endorsed religion, easily becomes a culture/state driven religion. Somewhere God takes a back seat.

We can learn from the sayings of these ,men and women by taking heed to the things they offer about power and influence. Education is good, influence is good and all other forms of gaining favor with our fellow man are a vital part of being the light of the world. Such things allow us to influence changes  that lead to a more Christian reality. God would say that is good. He would also say that if it is not done out of love that it is worthless. There remains a fine line between ego, love and reality that only the Holy Spirit can sort out for us.

The Fathers and Mothers fled to the desert and worked this out by isolation from the world. We don’t have that option. Our calling is to live within the chaos of this -Mother-Teresa 9-19-18world and seek to love as God loves in the middle of our situation. Modern Christianity is facing some very tough times at the moment. Sometimes, I wonder if we will survive. When I ponder such thoughts one word keeps popping up –LOVE.  If we can model the love of God, all can be made well. Love succeeds where philosophy, theology, psychology and  other disciplines fail. We must love as he loves and share that simple truth with all we engage.


Prayer

Lord, teach me to keep my ego in check when I use the talents that YOU have given me. Give me the wisdom to use my knowledge for the good of all who you send my way. As I do these things may my heart never stray from an understanding of your love. In that understanding, all things are possible.

Amen

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In Time of Trouble

While I was in trouble with my feet and very weak, some of the brethren came to see me and ask me to tell them something about the cause of my sickness. I think they had a double purpose, first to comfort me by distracting me from my pain and second to set me off talking about something profitable.

—Dorotheos of Gaza

I truly believe the monk’s assertion of the two fold purpose of any visit to those that are in need is very valid and weighty. When we comfort someone that is hurting, we have a tendency to turn them away from their pain, but more significantly we make them feel a sense of value. The monk was sitting in his cell probably thinking of nothing but the gout that caused him so much pain, but his day was interrupted with a joyful distraction. This interruption lifted him away from the routine of the day and gave him value to the brethren even in the midst of his pain.

Dorotheos gives us a very valuable lesson in his words. This lesson reframes the purpose of visiting the sick and lonely. When we comfort someone in need, we not only minister to them, but we give them an opportunity to minister to us. The brothers visited the monk in his time of suffering, and they gave him the chance to feel whole again. Dorotheos teaches us that we should never stop sharing and never stop serving. In this serving and sharing, God allows us to be disciples no matter what our condition may be.


I have always gotten great comfort from prayers of the Celtic tradition. Perhaps this one will mean as much to you as it has to me.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

You are the love

of each living creature O God

You are the warmth

of the rising sun

You are the whiteness

of the moon at night

You are the life

of the growing earth

You are the strength

of the waves of the sea.

Speak to me this night O God

Speak to me your truth.

Dwell with me this night O God

Dwell with me in love.

Amen


 

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It Begins With You

“Pray for me.” The old man said to him, “I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God.” St. Anthony meant that we should not rely on the prayers of others without having our own prayers and spiritual struggle. Regarding resisting the evil thoughts, St. Anthony advises us saying, “Tire yourself in reading the holy books, as they save you from the evil thoughts”… “Tire yourself in reading the books, and following the commandments, so that the mercy of God comes upon you speedily.”

—– Anthony of Egypt

All of us want the prayers of others as we go about the challenges in our lives however, we often forget that our own prayers are the most important of all. The Monk said plainly, perhaps bluntly, to the inquirer that he cannot have mercy on his soul unless he had first turned it over to God. The one who requested the Monk’s prayer was apparently one who did not pray for himself. In a sense, he was asking for a parole to enter rest. In immigration law, a parole visa is issued to someone when they cannot enter the country on their own but are paroled in under special circumstance. We cannot be paroled into spiritual unity with God but must be worthy on our own. How can this happen?growth 1

Develop a personal relationship with God.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with soliciting the prayers of others. The problem is when we see their prayers as a magic formula for us to get what we desire. There is no such thing as special holy men or prayer formulas that allow us to get the desired results. In reality, climbing a holy mountain does not make us holy. Personal holiness comes with a personal relationship with the Holy One. That relationship is built by prayer and study.

Develop a practice of prayer.

Prayer_an-invitation-to-prayerCommunication is always the starting point of getting to know anyone. Interaction is the key to understanding and relationship. For anything to be of quality there must be consistency. That is why I use the word “practice,” because a practice of prayer means discipline and planning. For our prayer life to truly be genuine, it must be thought out and become a part of us. It matters little how and when you pray as long as you know how and when you will pray. There is no prayer practice that is superior to the other, but each person must develop a way of prayer.

Develop a discipline of study.

The study of the divine revelation of God to man is a must for any follower of Jesus. Anthony says, “Tire yourself in reading the holy books” to keep on the path of holiness. The study of God’s word is a key component in building a strong and healthy relationship with God. Each time you open the Bible something new will emerge even though you have read it many times. That’s what makes it a living word. Just as the scriptural writers were guided by the Holy Spirit, so will it be for you as you develop a discipline of study.

I share these thoughts today with the hope that they can be of some help. Always keep in mind the advice of the Monk to begin inside of yourself as you seek spiritual peace and deliverance. Make the time to pray and study and God will bless you beyond measure.


Prayer

Lord, I know my need and cry out to you to hear me. Guide me as I develop my life in a way that will lead me to be closer to you. Keep my hands steady as I develop better spiritual disciplines. Allow these efforts to be productive for me and all I touch.

Amen

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This Life We Shape

St. Anthony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an ax. Even so, we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge, or we labor in vain.”

—-Sayings of the Desert

There are three possible components to shaping our lives.

Shaping-2

Change –

Anthony says “Whoever hammers a lump of iron.” What is the implication of that statement? Quite simply it means that the lump of iron must change its shape to become useful. Our lives are very much the same. We are raw and unprepared to live the virtuous life. The scripture tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” With that message, it is clear that change will be a part of our lives as we move toward God.

Change doesn’t come easily. Anthony speaks of the hammer as the instrument of change. We all know that the blows of the hammer to the stubborn lump changes its shape. The iron will not change without the violent blows of the hammer. The same is true with us. We change when we are struck with the imperative to do so.

Vision –

The next element in shaping our lives is vision. Without vision, we continue to be shapeless. In speaking of the iron worker, the Monk asserts that first he must decide what he will make out of the lump raw iron. Blow after blow can be stuck,Shaping3 but without vision the effort is worthless.

Our lives are exactly the same. Blow after blow can come and we can still lack shape and form. Suffering and hard times are not the key to shaping our lives but only the tools by which we are shaped. The key is vision. What should we be? How do we get there? In Proverbs the writer asserts,” Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Vision is the first consideration when we begin our Christian formation.

Focus –

Have you ever been to a “visioning” workshop and come away confused because the visions were so diverse and so many? Anthony was aware of this problem over a thousand years ago. Make up your minds on what virtue you are seeking or your labor will be in vain. Without vision we perish, but without a focus we perish as well.

Therein lies the key to shaping and forming our lives for Christ. We must discover our gifts and work to develop them. God has given to each of us the possibility of greatness and all too often we go around hammering ourselves without a clear vision. Yes, we are suffering servants but we suffer in vain. Earnestly, sincerely and deeply seek the vision of God for your life. When it is discovered God will give you all the grace you need to suffer the blows and become the person that God created.

Shaping-1Change, vision and focus are three powerful concepts as we seek to shape our lives for the Christian journey. These are essentials that we must master to move forward. Open your lives to the change that God has in mind and capture the vision and place He has for you. Mother Teresa said, “Become the change you want to see in the world That statement means that we must commit to visionary targeted change in our lives.


Prayer

Lord, as we seek form and shape to our lives help to have clarity of vision. Assist me to ascertain and apply virtue and purity to my life so that I may go forward in a path that is good for me and pleasing to you.

Amen

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The Path

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.”

—Abba Anthony of the Desert

path-1When I was a small boy there was an undeveloped piece of property at the end of our very urban neighborhood. I imagine it was about 4 acres. That piece of land was surrounded by hundreds of houses built on forty to fifty foot wide lots. For a boy of 8, it was a jungle. My “jungle’ was made more exciting by the paths that had been walked down by people walking through our jungle. These paths were safe because we didn’t trip over anything as we would if we headed out through an untouched wooded area. One day, a few of us that frequented this urban jungle decided that we were going to cut a new path. We geared ourselves up with knives and axes and went out like the pioneers we envisioned ourselves to be. The work was hard but we made a new path that joined the two existing trails to one another. We felt that we accomplished a great work that day. If our path would not have led back to the original trail, it would have led nowhere and been a useless dead end. Many years later I returned to that area and found that the path that we created was still there.

Abba Anthony addresses that path by which we stay with God and get closer to him. In his words, he teaches us the difference between the world’s path and the God path. Here are some observations.

Never forget your starting point.

The day we discover that God loves us we are filled with joy and confidence. We really believe that our faith can move mountains. Strive to revisit that place when necessary and never forget that it IS real.

Remember what it felt like to decide to follow God.

The decision to be a believer gives us a new sense of life. The Monk refers to it as a fervor or eagerness to soak up all of Him that we possibly could handle. God’s grace is so overwhelming that it brings tears to our eyes. Keep in mind the present reality of that faith.

Be reminded that you are never alone.

Many prayers are offered for us as we begin our journey down the path. These prayers are still with us and God wants us to grow in Him every day of our lives. We are part of the “holy catholic church” and are surrounded by a great community of faith that is always in prayer for its partners.

communion-of-saints

Be ready to seek God at all times

There are times that we back off from God and go it alone. Remember this is never necessary because He wants us to seek Him in good times and bad. God is an ever-present partner and loving guide.

There are times when we stray from the path but God is always there clearing a new path when we call upon Him. The purpose of this new path is to get us back on the pathway that leads to sanctification. Don’t be confused by what the world has to offer and always be ready to get yourself back on the pathway to God.


Prayer

Lord, allow me to see the times that I have strayed and give me the consciousness to come back to you, please allow me to know that I am never alone and You and the community are ready to help. Give me the faith necessary to acknowledge this.

Amen

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The Internal Desert

When St. Anthony entered to the internal desert, the demons watched him dauntingly, saying, “O You young of age and mind, how did you dare to enter our territory, as we have never seen a human before you.” And they all started to fight him. He said to them, “O strong ones, what do you want from me, the weak; And who am I so that you all gather to fight me. Don’t you know that I am ashes and dust, and unable to fight the smallest in you.” And he lay on the ground, shouting to God, “O God, help me, and strengthen my weakness. Have mercy on me, as I sought after you. Do not leave me; and do not let those who think that I am something overcome me. O God, You know that I am unable to fight the smallest of these.” When the demons heard this prayer full of life and humility they fled away, and did not dare to approach to him.

—Sayings of Anthony of the Desert


There is hardly one among us who would not like to escape a, place, problem or Anthony-Saying-6-27-18person that seems to bring out the worst in us. The early Christian monks left the responsibilities, and perhaps liabilities, of living in the world and sought blessing in the remoteness of the desert. Escape from a place was only the beginning of the pilgrimage.

After Anthony had sold all that he had and escaped to the solitude of the desert, he found a new desert to conquer. That was what he called the internal desert. We can escape people, places, and things but eventually, we have to deal with ourselves. We must not deal with our utter hopelesInternal-Desertsness without God ‘s grace. The evil presence in the monk challenged him by saying that he could never defeat them. Anthony knew that this was so true. He did, however, know how to accomplish this victory. He prayed “strengthen me in my weakness.” With that prayer, the monk admitted that he was unable to overcome the evil that beset him but needed to acknowledge the dryness of his own spirit. He cried out for God to help him fight even the smallest of foes. The wonderful thing is that when he prayed this prayer of weakness, he found the relief that he sought. He moved into the “internal desert” which allowed him to rely upon God for his needs. As followers of Jesus, we must reach this internal desert reality. How can we know we are on the path to the internal desert?

  • The Jesus follower who reaches the internal desert admits fragility.
  • The Jesus follower who reaches the internal desert puts aside accomplishment.
  • The Jesus follower who reaches the internal desert admits sin.
  • The Jesus follower who reaches the internal desert speaks to God.
  • The Jesus follower who reaches the internal desert knows the difference between suffering and abandonment.
  • The Jesus follower who reaches the internal desert knows the devil is real.

Let us strive to make this journey to our internal desert and never forget –

LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER.


PRAYER

Lord, as I journey to the desert of my heart help me to see the things that hold me back May I learn to recognize weakness and know that is in my weakness that God is strong.

AMEN

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