Tag Archives: Abba Anthony

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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Diversity of Work

Once St. Anthony was asked, “What good work shall I do?” And he answered. “All works are not equal, the scriptures said that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him. And, Elijah loved quiet, and God was with him. And, David was humble, and God was with him. What therefore you find that your soul desires in following God, that do, and keep your heart.”

—-Abba Anthony of the Desert

All followers of Jesus feel the need to work to achieve the tenants that Jesus revealed. Many times, we ask ourselves the nagging question – Where do I fit? Often we come to the conclusion that our work is not good enough. May-23-post-1We all search for that “work” that all Jesus followers must do. Many of us were trained from a very early age that we must discover the “way” to follow Jesus and be a part of his work. The Abba tell us that there is not just one work but many works that meet that goal.

 

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:28

The monk and the apostle Paul tell us that God has given us what we need. Anthony pointed to three very well known epic biblical characters and the diversity of the work they performed. In doing so, he quickly says that God was with them all. He used the hospitality of Abraham, the silence of Elijah and the Abba-Anthony-May-23humility of David to accomplish the work of the God. They were all different, maybe radically so, but  God was with them. He created them and He used them. Paul in his Corinthian letter sets forth the concept of gifts for ministry. The message is, not all ministry is the same. We are designed by God and equipted by him.

Paul strongly points out to a very diverse and sometimes very divided church at Corinth that there is a place for all. Even more importantly, there is not a superior way of serving God. We are all equipped to be up to the task. The key is for us to embrace ourselves as God has equipped us and serve as we are gifted. Perhaps just as important is to relish in the way God has created us.

God has blessed you just as you are created. Please don’t allow the world to convince you that you have nothing to offer, or that your gift is not worth sharing. God is the one who determines such things. There are many people in the church and outside of the church that will be more than happy to devalue you so that you will not even try to offer your service.


Prayer

Lord, I know that you have created me as a person of great value. Let me discover that I have something to offer and my offering will be blessed by God.

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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I Do Not Know

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

Monastery of Saint Anthony, Egypt

Monastery of Saint Anthony, Egypt

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

“I do not know.” These are the four most difficult words to say in our society. Admitting these words has been difficult for people since the beginning. 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 to the things that remain mystery to us.

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Hope in Exile

 

It happened one day that one of the brethren in the monastery of Abba Elias was tempted.   Cast out of the monastery, he went over the mountain to Abba Anthony. The brother lived near him for a while and then Anthony sent him back to the monastery from which he had been expelled. When the brothers saw him they cast him out yet again, and he went back to Abba Anthony saying, ‘My Father, they will not receive me.’ Then the old man sent them a message saying, ‘A boat was shipwrecked at sea and lost its cargo; with great difficulty it reached the shore; but you want to throw into the sea that which has found a safe harbor on the shore. ‘When the brothers understood that it was Abba Anthony who had sent them this monk, they received him at once.

—-Sayings of the Desert

This saying deals with a very difficult dilemma. I am going to assume that the brothers who expelled the monk had a legitimate reason to do so. When people live in community, or attend the same church, there are times that personalities clash, mistakes are made, and the boredom of sameness hits. In all these situations there is usually a more guilty party that pays the price of the conflict, but there should be a desire for reconciliation. Abba Anthony reminds us in this saying that we are all potential victims of a personal or spiritual shipwreck. Further he tells us we would never turn our backs on the victims of a true shipwreck that comes to our shores. The real key to the saying is this; when someone asks to be reconciled with the community, we must give them a chance at redemption. Permanent exile, or expulsion, is not the way of the Christian.

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Finding Space for God

Monk in cellAbba Anthony said, ‘just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace.  So like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside we will lose our interior watchfulness.’

 —–Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Commentary

I would venture to say that very few of us that will read this are monks. Nevertheless, the challenge is very clear. Christians who spend the bulk of their time seeking pleasure from material things will find themselves in spiritual distress. Take the lesson from the wisdom of the fathers, and spend some time each day in the things of God.

Prayer

Jesus our peace, if our lips keep silence, our heart listens to you and also speaks to you. And you say to each one of us: surrender yourself in all simplicity to the life of the Holy Spirit; for this, the little bit of faith you have is enough. Amen

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Pleasing God

Haarlem, Netherlands, Church of Saint Anthony

Haarlem, Netherlands, Church of Saint Anthony (Photo credit: Multerland………)

Someone asked Abba Anthony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, ‘Pay attention to what  I  tell  you:  whoever  you  may  be,  always  have  God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it.  Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.’

—–sayings of the desert

Commentary

Abba Anthony gives us three simple, and yet difficult principles, that we must do to please God. The challenge is to keep God before our eyes when our sight is so cluttered with the saga of life. Additionally, we are called to live with the scripture as the ever present guide for our lives. As if that were not enough, we are then instructed to “stay put” even when things are tough. Our world tells us quite clearly to keep focused on the earthly, while perhaps giving some attention to God, and to move on whenever life gets uncomfortable. Perhaps if we all developed a vision of God and followed that vision where we are planted, we would find that peace that eludes us.

Prayer

Lord God, help us to see you in all that we do. Guide us by divine revelation each day of our lives. Help us to find true peace in the place you have given us. In these things we can find you in your fullness and grace. After all, that is what our journey is all about. We humbly ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

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The Donkey Died

Some brothers came to find Abba Anthony to tell him about the visions they were having, and to find out from him if they were true or if they came from the demons.  They had a donkey, which died on the way.  When they reached the place where the old man was, he said to them before they could ask him anything, ‘How was it that the little donkey died on the way here?’ They said, ‘How do you know about that, Father?’ And he told them, ‘The demons showed me what happened.’ So they said, ‘That was what we came to question you about, for fear we were being deceived, for we have visions which often turn out to be true.’ Thus the old man convinced them, by the example of the donkey, that their visions came from the demons.

……sayings of the Desert Fathers

The age old question for us is: How does the devil lead us? In this somewhat complicated saying the Abba leads his followers to believe that they can be led by the evil one. Many people see “visions from God” that are not from God at all. Today, as it was then, we must be on our guard when with put God into our claim. When the scripture tells us to approach Him with “ fear and trembling” we are to take heed of those words. Our society is all too quick to assign things to God, or to the devil, when they are really just our own ramblings. Be very careful when you call on either that you have the discernment necessary to make such a decision.

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Ascend to God

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 temptations no-one can be saved.’

Jacob’s Ladder

 

—-Sayings of the Desert Fathers

In a world where TV networks hire “spin doctors” to make the story turn in the “right” direction,  it is no wonder we fail to acknowledge our weaknesses and failures. After all, this problem must be somebody else’s fault. It is no wonder that Anthony called it

the great work of life. All of us have someone to blame for our sin and shortcomings. It is our childhood, the boss, the job, the teacher or if all else fails, just everyone. That’s bad enough, but the best is yet to come. We are to expect temptations throughout our lives – no relief, no time out. They are part of the human condition. Temptations are what form us into the children of God. Our challenge is to ascend to God and walk the path he has set before us.

 

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