Category Archives: Desert Fathers

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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This Road We Travel

“While still living in the palace, Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words, ‘Lord, lead me in the way of salvation.’ And a voice came saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee from men and you will be saved. ‘Having withdrawn to the solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.’ “

—sayings of the Desert Fathers

Threefold is the call to perfection. First, we must flee. We flee from the slavery of the demands of the world. We are no longer obedient vassals to what “everyone else” is doing and saying. Second, we must practice silence. The call to silence is a call to be attentive to the voice of God. God speaks loudest when we are silent. The third call is to pray always. In the practice of constant prayer, we open ourselves to the will of God, and we draw closer to Him. These three concepts are a path to perfection.

The desert people of the early church felt the necessity to go to a place apart. In doing so they gave themselves the opportunity to flee from the “world.” They soon discovered that merely fleeing would not accomplish their purpose. There would be certain disciplines that would have to be practiced. The flight was the beginning.

None of us are likely to have the inclination or the opportunity to flee the world as they did. But flee we can while really physically going nowhere. We can set ourselves apart by silence and prayer.


Prayer

Lord, show us the path that we must follow. Give us the discipline to learn to communicate with you and give us the courage to wait for your answer. In our silence, we are allowed to withdraw from the world and listen for your voice.

Amen


“Prayer is a new, gracious, lasting will of the soul united and fast-bound to the will of God by the precious and mysterious working of the Holy Ghost.”

― Julian of Norwich

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Virtue

Many desire virtue, but fear to go forward in the way that leads to it, while others consider that virtue does not even exist. So it is necessary to persuade the former to give up their laziness and to teach the others what virtue really is.

—-Abba Isadore of the Desert

Virtue-Ghandi

Virtue is behavior, particularly moral, that conforms to a very high standard. Today’s Christian, just like the desert monastics of the past, seek to live a life of high standards. Today’s world gives mixed signals about what this world should look like. On the one hand, we preach freedom of expression without any limits. Others would tell us that we must exercise restraint in all our relationships and dealings with others. I believe that in order to reach the highest standards that are possible for a man who lives on this earth, we must believe that God’s grace guides us every day.

The wise Monk advises us that there are many around us that do not believe that there is any such thing as exemplary Virtue-1behavior. With that negative approach, we are destined for failure. We must take the high ground, so to speak, and allow ourselves to be open to the wonderful reality that God can and does make virtue possible for each of us. Let us not live in the state of discouragement, defeat, and despair. The Apostle Paul in his writings tells us to “press on to the mark.” Abba Isadore gives us some sound advice and a mission.

The Abba tells us that our role is to persuade others that marching on to a life of higher standards is not only possible but doable. Let me tell you a story about virtue. There was once a man who felt very defeated. He felt that God had abandoned him and indeed the entire world seem to be against him. That is really a bad place to be, so he prayed and prayed but seemed to get no results. Through fate, he found himself in the presence of a young boy possessing the virtue that only a child can have. He was encouraged by the young boy who told him that life was good and there was hope and this changed his life. That boy, without knowing it, modeled virtue to this man who was discouraged and defeated. The man began to think, if he could do it, we can all do it. We can achieve through God virtue and excellence and move on with our lives.

Our calling is not only to live with high standards and virtue but to persuade others that God wants them to live in the same way. I am not talking about being self-righteous but just being a person who expresses the love of God and the purity of God in every way possible. That’s our challenge and mission to show God to other people and to do so absent of self-righteousness. If we can achieve that, then others will see the virtue of God in us and strive to make it so for themselves.


Prayer

Oh Lord, give me the determination to muster up all the strength in my being and discover that virtue does exist. I cannot, on my own, live life up to such a standard but with you, I can reach that high goal. Help me not only to reach it but to have the courage and determination to share that discovery with others.

Amen

Virtue-1-31-18

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Labor and Humility

Abba Carion said, ‘I have labored much harder than my son Zacharias and yet I have not attained to his measure of humility and silence.’

 —-Sayings of the Desert

Very few of us would think of humility as a laborious task, yet the Abba speaks this word about himself. There are two distinct lines of thought in this very brief saying. First, humility is not only a sought-after state for the contemplative but Related imageis a lifelong labor. The second is the apparent unfairness of some people being rewarded even if they labor less than we do.

Humility is a hard task, and we must wake every day to the familiar words of the Jesus Prayer, “… have mercy on me, a SINNER.” Until we see ourselves as worthy of nothing but graciously gifted with His saving grace, we will never attain any sort of true humility.

Feeling cheated or let down by God is an age-old problem. So many times in our lives we have felt as though we have done all we can do, and we are still lacking. Exasperatingly, we are confronted with others who did less and received abundant blessings. The lesson here is that we do what we do out of love and worship of God, and not for reward from Him.


Prayer

Lord, give me that grace to be able to labor for you without question. Drive away the tendency to think that I work harder than other and am somehow cheated. Let me take each task as a blessing that only I can achieve.

Amen


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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 Everywhere God

There is a character in the classic work Don Quixote named Pancho Sanchez. Pancho Sanchez hangs in fear from the ledge of a window all night long, too frightened to let go. When morning dawns he discovers his toes are only an inch off the ground. Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and he wanted to join Him. Matthew’s gospel tells us, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ Jesus said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ It’s amusing to think of Simon Peter climbing out of the boat trying to imitate his Lord by walking on the water. Then, like a cartoon character, he makes the mistake of looking around. “What in the world am I doing?” he asked himself and suddenly he begins to sink.

Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion said, ‘One day when we were walking beside the sea I was thirsty and I said to Abba Bessarion, “Father, I 8-9-17---Pic-1am very thirsty.” He said a prayer and said to me, “Drink some of the sea water.” The water proved sweet when I drank some. I even poured some into a leather bottle for fear of being thirsty later on. Seeing this, the old man asked me why I was taking some. I said to him, “Forgive me, it is for fear of being thirsty later on.” Then the old man said, “God is here, God is everywhere.” ‘

—-Coptic sayings of the desert

Pancho Sanchez, Peter and Abba Doulas have something in common, – their fear ruled them. The character Pancho feared the unknown ever though he was quite safe. Life works that way. We have countless numerous fears that are unnecessary. These fears cause us to hold on and suffer in our ignorance.

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That was the type of fear that Pancho was facing. He was holding so tightly to fight a danger that wasn’t real. When the sun came up, the light of the morning assured Pancho that there was really nothing to fear. Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the light…” We could be saved from untold number of fears if we would allow the light of Jesus to illumine our lives.

Peter had been a follower of Jesus from the very beginning. His enthusiasm and sometimes stupidity was legend. There was absolutely nothing that Peter wouldn’t try. This story finds him confronted by the scary sight of seeing Jesus walking on the water like a ghost. Naturally, Peter being Peter, wanted to join Jesus. After a few steps into the water, the reality of fear came crushing down and he sank. That is the way it is for most of us. We get really excited about our faith and being brought to earthly reality causes doubt to begin its rule. We sink from the excitement that could only come from heaven and fall into the despair of the earth. We are overcome by fear but we have an out. When Peter said to Jesus, “Help me” Jesus did so quickly and brought him to safety. The message is, we can’t walk on water but we can count on Jesus to carry us to high ground.

The desert story tells us of a young Monk of the desert who went to his mentor with a difficult situation. He was walking in the desert sand on the seashore and became overwhelmed by his thirst. This land is arid and hot and a drink of water is a lifesaving event. Hapless and helpless he asked his master for some help and he was told to drink sea water. Anyone who lives near the ocean knows that drinking sea water will not quench your thirst but lead to your death. The faithful monk drank the water and miraculously it was sweet. It was a miracle! The young monk being fearful of becoming thirsty tried to store the miracle by collecting more water. His fear was that God would not continue to deliver him in the future, so he decided to make plans to deliver himself. God is always with us and we should never try to bottle a miracle out of fear.

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The key to overcoming our fear is to have faith in the everywhere God.


Prayer

Lord help me to be aware of your presence and your promise to provide for me. Allow me the strength to turn to you in my time of need. Allow me the humility to be dependent on You from day to day and not try to build up reserves for myself. Your blessings are sufficient for today, and tomorrow’s blessings will be sufficient for tomorrow. May my life be lived in this day by day faith.

Amen.

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Anger’s Result

Abba Peter, the disciple of Abba Lot, said, One day when I was in Abba Agathon’s cell a brother came in and said to him, “I want to live with the brethren; tell me how to dwell with them.” The old man answered him, “All the days of your life keep the frame of mind of the stranger which you have on the first day you join them, so as not to become too familiar with them.” The Abba Macarius asked, “And what does this familiarity produce?” the old man replied, “It is like a strong, burning wind, each time it arises everything flies swept before it, and it destroys the fruit of the trees.” So Abba Macarius said, “Is speaking too freely really as bad as all that?” Abba Agathon said, “No passion is as worse than an uncontrolled tongue, because it is the mother of all the passions.” Accordingly the good workman should not use it, even as he is living as a solitary in the cell. I know a brother who spent a long time in his cell using a small bed who said, “I should have left my cell without making use of that small bed if no one had told me it was there.” It is the hard-working Monk who is a warrior.

The brethren also asked Abba Agathon “Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?” He answered “Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him. For they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. What ever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.

The same Abba said “a man who is angry, even if he were to raise the dead, is not acceptable to God”

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