Tag Archives: Anthony of Egypt

A Way to Begin

AthanasiusIn the coming months I will be writing devotionals from the sayings of Anthony of Egypt as translated by Benedict Ward and scholars of the Coptic Church. Because of these two sources I can offer the sayings of Anthony and the comment that I write. These sayings tell us something about the great monk but not all we might want to know. One of his early followers was Athanasius of Alexandria, a Father of the Eastern Church. Athanasius took upon himself to write a biography of Anthony. In this work we can learn a lot more about the monk and how he ordered his life.

I thought it might be helpful to share some of the details of the life of Anthony as I comment on his sayings. The sayings of the Monk can be guides for life and the life of the monk can serve as the same. Writings on the life of Anthony will give us further seeds for thought and perhaps some handle that can help our spiritual journey. By using the work of Athanasius, I will attempt to make Anthony’s life one we could use as a leaning model for our own spiritual development.

A Way to Begin

Anthony found himself an eighteen-year-old moderately affluent man who had, by the death of his parents, been given the responsibility of the care of a younger. Because of his upbringing he was keenly aware of his responsibility and eager to carry out the task that had come his way. He was a very devout man who always sought guidance from the church. One day while pondering om the writings of Matthew on the calling and ministry of the apostles, he was struck with a divine message. With further study that message led him to the conclusion that He must sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor just as the apostles had left everything and concentrated on following Jesus.

There was for Anthony one great responsibility that he could not drop. His young sister was in his care and she was his first responsibility. After selling all that he had, he reserved enough to care for his sister and arranged for her to live with a group of nuns. This being settled he went about the task of seeking the knowledge that would bring him closer to God. He sought that knowledge by being aware of all those around him from whom he could learn. Athanasius said that he went like a “prudent bee” when he would hear of any good man. From one he learned graciousness, from another unceasing prayer, and from still others, he learned freedom from anger, endurance, fasting and so much more. He took all that he learned and united them in his spiritual nature. Because of this he became beloved by all.

The life of Anthony gives us some beautiful ways to pursue our beginning of the contemplative life. I believe that all contemplatives must be keenly aware that we are called to live on a higher plain than one that can be bought by money. We can never really know this unless we release the hold that our money has over us. I am not saying that we all must give it away, but we must prioritize our lives around the pursuit of God and not the pursuit of money. Then there are the ones that we are responsible like our children, grandchildren, spouses and others that God has entrusted to our care. We must make proper provision for them and cannot cast them aside and by saying that I am now following God and you are on your own. God wants us to be keenly aware that we don’t have all the answers. Every good Christian seeks guidance and knowledge from others. Every Christian contemplative must strive to unite these pieces together in their lives.

Also, it can be said that the beginning of a life that seeks after God’s heart is to be free of rivalry and competition. Many people spend undue time and effort to “top” one another. Anthony concluded and shared with us a great secret. Athanasius put it this way, “With others of the same age he had no rivalry; save this only, that he should not be second to them in higher things.”

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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


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