On this Monday of Holy Week, I call your attention to those Monks who chose to escape the temptation and hardships that beset them when they lived in the cities. Their escape to the desert was the way that they chose to pursue the calling as Christians. I have chosen a few quotes that will set the stage for their way of life. Read and pray on these and God will lead you in the right direction.
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.”
~~~Anthony of Egypt
A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, ‘I have committed a great sin and I want to do penance for three years.’ The old man said to him, ‘That is a lot.’ The brother said, ‘For one year?’ The old man said again, ‘That is a lot.’ Those who were present said, ‘For forty days?’ He said again, ‘That is a lot.’ He added, ‘I myself say that if a man repents with his whole heart and does not intend to commit the sin any more, God will accept him after only three days.’
For quite some time I have been learning great lessons from the men and women of the desert monastic movement. Their commitment to living a Christ honoring life was given number one priority in their lives. Many of them abandoned influence, wealth, and families to live for Christ. They were the mentors of numerous leaders of early Christianity. Their attitudes and actions drew people to them for inspiration. I have shared some quotes from their teaching today. I will expand on those in the words that follow.
In our first saying we see the age-old question, “What must I do to please God?” That is the most important request that anyone can make. Anthony’s reply is simple. He is saying that it all has to do with focus. He says to begin with your personal life. The Christian must always have God before him. Too many believers make it habit to compartmentalize their lives. When we have a box for God, a box for work and separate boxes for each part of life, we lose sight of what should be our primary focus. Christians should always have God in front of their eyes and all else will come into focus. Anthony then turns his attention to the scripture and tells us that we should look for its testimony. The Holy Scriptures are given to us by God as a guide for life and work. We should consult with them and live in them for everything we do. Anthony’s next stop is where we live. If we establish stability of place, we will not spend our lives searching for the next adventure or excitement of life. Focus on God, Holy Scriptures and stability of place, and God will bring you great peace and salvation.
Abba Poeman warns us against excessive guilt and self-loathing. Many people suffer through much in life because they never forgive themselves for some grievance that they have committed. Somehow, they always feel a sense of guilt and never really accept the grace of God. Such an attitude leads to self-loathing and ultimately to destructive behavior. The monk communicates to the brother that God will accept the repentant heart without excessive penance. The message is that we do not earn God’s forgiveness, it is given to the penitent heart. When Christians accept and live out that truth, they are free.
During Holy Week we journey towards the cross. It is a cross of suffering and salvation. Abba Anthony gives us some ways that we can focus our lives. Abba Poeman offers us a way that we can accept forgiveness and move on with life. These two concepts will perhaps give you a vision of how to apply Christ’s suffering and salvation to your life.
Lord, As I experience Holy Week lead me to prepare my heart to receive the sacrifice of Jesus with a penitent heart. Let me keep my focus toward Him and His grace.