Category Archives: Desert Fathers

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


Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Desert Fathers, Monasticism

First Thoughts

There was once a festival in Scetis, and an old man was given a cup of wine. He refused it saying, ‘Take this death away from me.’ On seeing it, the others who were eating with him refused it also.

A brother was hungry early in the morning, and he fought his desire to eat before the third hour. When the third hour came, he forced himself to wait until the sixth hour. At that time he broke loaves and sat down to eat, then he stood up again, saying to himself, ‘Now wait until the ninth hour.’ At the ninth hour he said a prayer and saw the power of the devil like smoke rising from his manual work, and his hunger vanished.

—-sayings of the desert

The old man who refused the cup of wine was not making a statement on consumption of alcohol but was rather talking about what controls us. All of us need to look seriously at our motivations and our driving factors of life. Do we just go along with anything that comes our way? Do we set our own course or simply allow the crowd to lead the way? Many times the crowd has led to very poor choices and an undesirable outcome. We should be focused on becoming persons who think for ourselves and act out of a spiritual drive. We all know that our world cries out for people who exercise wisdom and courage. Not only did the father offer his deference to God but he led others to do the same. People are watching what you do. May we all be those who bring out the best in those who observe our lives.

The second word from the fathers was concerning fasting until the sixth hour. We, like the old man, sometimes wake up to very fleshly hungers. Our drive is to satisfy ourselves, but that is the will of the evil one and not the will of God. When Jesus was challenged in the desert by the devil he said: “It is written – One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We must take careful note of our “first thoughts” and send them up to God and allow Him to give us guidance. Many a person has failed miserably in life for acting imprudently. All of life must be put in the desert mode of waiting upon the Lord. When we wait on the Lord the evil one is cast away from us.

I challenge you, even if you don’t believe in a literal devil, take a pause of self-denial and just see if your result is not better. A life without filters and controls can be very hazardous.


Prayer

Lord help me to just take the time to consider what I am doing. In rashness many mistakes are made. Please give me the wisdom of self-denial and the courage to be and follow good examples that You send my way. Let me never take evil lightly or get so bold as to think I have all the right answers. May the words of Jesus and the wisdom of the desert sustain me. Guide me this day and every day.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Desert Fathers, Self-Control

How to Find Peace?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

—- Philippians 4:7-9

There were two old men who dwelt together for many years and who never quarreled. Then one said to the other: “Let us pick a quarrel with each other like other men do.” “I do not know how quarrels arise,” answered his companion. So the other said to him: “Look, I will put a brick down here between us and I will say ‘This is mine.’ Then you can say ‘No it is not, it is mine.’ Then we will be able to have a quarrel.” So they placed the brick between them and the first one said: “This is mine.” His companion answered him: “This is not so, for it is mine.” To this, the first one said: “If it is so and the brick is yours, then take it and go your way.” And so they were not able to have a quarrel.

—-Sayings of the Desert

Recently I was teaching a Bible study group and said the best decision I ever made was to keep politics out of my ministry. A person quickly replied that as long as I was a pastor of a church I would be involved in politics. I was of course thinking of secular politics, but the point hit hard. We as Christians have surrendered to the idea that political conflict is an unavoidable part of the church. Yes, decisions have to be made and people will naturally not all think the same, but do we really all have to have it our way?

The quintessential question for the church is: are we doing church our way or God’s way?

The two old Monks had lived a life of harmony for many years. Because of theirPeace1 commitment to Christ they had not lived as others had lived. Heaven forbid, they had not had a quarrel. Their plan was to find something to quarrel about. The brick was picked and the quarrel was supposed to ensue, but it did not. Why? The simple answer is that if we put others first we won’t have anything to argue about. That is quite a novel idea for our society.

Years before that Paul was writing to the church at Philippi, and they were obviously in a struggle. His advice was to see the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. God’s peace is honorable and good. Such a peace seeks out things to praise, and majors on what is good. God’s peace never seeks to be selfish or grudging. Our challenge is to look at the story from the desert and from Paul and make it our story. Perhaps if we spent some time trying to live as peacemakers, we could find more fulfillment than we ever imagined. I will pray every day that God will allow the church to escape the politics and conflict of the world and be truly a sanctuary for all who enter its doors.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Prayer

Lord allow us to be first and foremost a peacemaker. Help us to understand that all conflict comes from our need to control. When we encounter controlling people give us the patience and grace to hold our tongue and allow you to do your work. We pray for this elusive gift of your peace, Lord. May we receive it today.

Amen

4 Comments

Filed under Desert Fathers, Peace

The Leaky Sack

A brother committed a fault. A council was called to which Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you”. So he got up and went. He took a sack, filled it with sand and cut a small hole at the bottom and carried it on his shoulders. The others came out to meet him and said, “What is this, father” The Abba said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

—–Abba Moses of the Desert

If I were to say that we live in a judgmental world, it would be a surprise to no one. We are surrounded by people who make judgments on everything from the call of a referee at last Sunday’s football game to the right of someone to call themselves an American. People very neatly set up boundaries that give them permission to judge, and we just love being in the seat of judgment. From that seat we are a notch above everyone else, and it sure feels good. Jesus said: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Abba Moses took the saying of Jesus very seriously. He was so mindful of his own sin that he knew he couldn’t possibly sit in judgment of another. His lessonabba-moses of the sack with the hole in it drives home an important point. We don’t see our own sins very clearly, how can we clearly see the sins of others? Our lives consist of a series of successes and failures that make up our journey towards God. Just as the monk didn’t see that going to a meeting of judgment was appropriate, we need to begin to get a glimpse of what is the true calling of the Christ follower. Our present age conditions us to see ourselves as far more the judges of the world rather than the light of the world.

The symbol of the leaky sack is to remind us that sins are not always seen by those who commit them and our sin is never far away from us. We do leave a trail of sin in our daily walk. That trail, however, is covered by grace that come from God’s love for us. We, in turn, need to understand grace so that we might fully receive such a gift and pass it on to others. That is the lesson of the leaking sack.


Prayer

Oh Lord, why does the wisdom of forgiveness escape us so readily? It seems so very difficult to empty ourselves of the baggage we carry. This baggage blinds us from the reality of our own weaknesses and frailty and drives us to a life of false righteousness. Help me, Lord, to tend to my own sin and allow me to live into a peace with You and my fellow sinners.

Amen

1 Comment

Filed under Abba Moses, Desert Fathers

Mastering Your Passion

A disciple of Abba Anthony said, ‘If anyone wants to drive out the demons, he must first subdue the passions; for he will banish the demon of the passion which he has mastered. For example, the devil accompanies anger; so if you control your anger, the devil of anger will be banished. And so it is with each of these passions.’

——–Sayings of the Desert Fathers

 

Self-control and overcoming the negative forces and habits that drive each of us is a worthy goal. The wise old man attributes every problem very directly to a “demon.” We do not share such a view of good and evil. We do, however, need to acknowledge the presence of supernatural evil in our world. That being said, I want to concentrate on the positive advice of the saying.

Passion is the root of both good and evil. Learn to reap your positive passions, and subdue your negative (sins) ones and you will be on your way to a life of the Spirit. We are advised to master the passions that lead us away from God and our neighbor, thus banishing that obstacle of spiritual attainment from our lives. May each of us take this to heart, and make it a matter of fervent prayer.

Edmund-Burke


Prayer

Lord let me take serious the passions that drive me. By your spirit help me to control my negative passions and allow those that  are life giving to soar. May I soar in your direction all the days of my life. Give the wisdom to know the difference and the self control to win the day.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Desert Fathers, Passions, self control

Success

From Brown Book Magazine:1904

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


“I am going to work with Christ today, for the salvation of my soul, for that is the reward he gives.”

Sayings of the Desert


Whether it is the words of a great writer or a committed monk of the desert, the formula for success seems to be the same. Success is expressed by what we accomplish outside of ourselves by giving to others. Jesus said, “…when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you.” Jesus makes it quite clear that hospitality or works that only have potential payback are not a key to the doorway of success. The essence of success is leaving more thaRalph-Waldo-Emerson-1fn you take. In doing so, your success provides for the welfare of all. Those who provide for the welfare of all find themselves immeasurably rewarded.

There is not one among us who does not seek success. For some, success is big and glowing but for others, it is far simpler. Our skill set, goals and definition of success are all factors in our ultimate success, but one thing remains constant, Those who act only out of selfish motives never find peace. A person who has no peace is not successful no matter how they appear on the outside. One who spends life laughing, loving, and enjoying has the ability to motivate and help others to grow. A person who seeks God in all work will find Him in multiple places. Never think of yourself as “merely” anything, but see yourself as one who contributes greatly to the world. The key word is always – CONTRIBUTE. Our lives will ultimately be measured by our contribution.


Prayer

Lord help me to see the needs of others around as being as important as mine. Lead me to give more than I take and receive graciously what I am given. Let every moment of my work be a time of prayer that is guided toward you. Let my days be filled with laughter and joy and my nights with rest and peace. Please allow me to contribute to the successes of others and to be at peace while doing so. My I leave a trail of abundance as I go about my days. Let me leave more than I take.

Amen

graciously what I am given. Let every moment of my work be a time of prayer that is guided toward you. Let my days be filled with laughter and joy and my nights with rest and peace. Please allow mw to contribute to the successes of others and to be at peace while doing so. My I leave abundance as I go about my days. Let me leave more than I take.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Desert Fathers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Success

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Desert Fathers

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Desert Fathers

The Garment of Humility

There are certain kinds of trees which never bear any fruit as long as their branches stay up straight, but if stones are hung on the branches to bend them down they begin to bear fruit. So it is with the soul. When it is humbled it begins to bear fruit, and the more fruit it bears the lowlier it becomes. So also the saints; the nearer they get to God, the more they see themselves as sinners.

—–Dorotheos of Gaza

Paul called himself the chief, or first, of sinners. Isaiah said, “We are all sheep that have rebelled, and gone our own way, and God has laid our sin upon the shoulders of the messiah.” (My paraphrase) When we can come to grips with these three factors: we are all primarily sinners, we will go our way and Jesus took ours sins upon himself, we will begin the process of becoming humble. Without the humbling of our souls, we will never do the true work of God. On our own we can become legally righteous and live a “punch list” sort of Christianity, but the spirit of the ONE who went to the cross for us will never be the pervasive force in our lives.

Humility-MertonA great deal of energy is expended to avoid pain and difficulty in our lives. We shield our children and consequently ourselves from the reality of the world that surrounds us. These activities in and of themselves are not harmful or sinful. They can, however,r lead to a false sense of accomplishment and safety that does not challenge us to meet the powers of this world and find the victory that comes when we do. We are given battles, our souls are weighed down, our branches are pruned, but all of these things make us stronger in our reliance in God. Most importantly, we are reminded that we are fatally flawed without our reliance on Him.

Coming nearer to God, as the monk says, is a matter of acknowledging our sins and living with them and not being controlled by them. We will never know the true power of God until we recognize our weaknesses. If we are to bear fruit in this life we must don the garment of humility that weighs down the arms of self-sufficiency that so naturally dominate us. Such an action will bring humility to our souls and spiritual productivity to our lives.

Humility-CS-Lewis1

Prayer

Lord, give me the wisdom to know the need and marshal the courage to accept the garment of humility that my sinful soul so badly needs. By accepting the garment, I am allowing you to lead me in the direction of spiritual humility which blesses me and those I encounter. Lord, this day I ask my arms to be drawn down by confession of my sins, so I might be lifted by your grace.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Desert Fathers, Dorotheos of Gaza, Humility

The Dead End of Pride

There are two kinds of pride. The first kind of pride is when a man despises his brother, considers him worth little or nothing, while he puts much greater value on himself. Such a man, unless he speedily repents and takes great care, will come in a short time to that second kind of pride by which he lifts himself up against God , and ascribes what he does right not to God, but to himself.

-Dorotheos of Gaza

Dead-End-SignThere are many proud people who handle their pride in proper ways. We should be proud of our achievements, our children, our honesty, our morality, but all these things must be credited to God who has given us all that we have. Without a God based pride in ourselves we accomplish very little for ourselves, the world or God. We are His creation and He has created us for good. He wants us to accomplish and thrive for His glory. The scripture says, “…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” He created us for His glory and we are all called by His name. As we do our very best for God, and take pride in doing so, we glorify Him.

I live on a dead end street. Simply expressed, that means if you get to the end of my street, you have to turn around or back up to get out. The two types of pride that Dorotheos refers to are dead ends. The first one, the devaluation of the brother is the beginning of the dead end. It has a way out, the second, the devaluation of God, requires that we turn around or back out before we are destroyed.

Dead-End-PrideAre you traveling down that dead end path of pride? Do you find yourself enjoying the company of yourself more than anyone else? Is it difficult for you to admit the possibility that you may be mistaken? Worse yet, are you forgetting that you are created for God’s glory, not your own? If you see these warning signs in your life, you are headed down a dead end road, but faint not, all things are possible through the God who gives us strength. Take a pause and call on Him. Dorotheos says to “speedily repent,” before it is too late.

Prayer

Lord I ask You to give me the wisdom to know the difference between the actions that give You glory and the ones that give me glory. I repent of the times that I have acted for my own glorification. I pray that you will forgive me for those times. Set me forth on a road, this day, that will lead to You and Your glory.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Desert Fathers, Dorotheos of Gaza, Pride