Tag Archives: Apophthegmata Patrum

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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What Good Work Should I Do?

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.”

—-Sayings of the Desert

What a great place to start! All of us who seek to follow the path of God areGood Works 1 anxious to find a way to do good works. The world tells us that some works are better than others. We get the idea that unless we are doing certain things, in very precise ways, God is disappointed with us. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” The point that was being made was in reference to children but the truth holds. In the time of Jesus, children were possessions and nothing more. With that in mind, Jesus said that doing good or bad things to them was significant. That says to me that all works are significant.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has given away 28 billion dollars to charitable causes and good works since 2013. That’s a lot of good works. My giving, good works and all that I have cannot match such a figure in worldly terms, but God blesses my good works with the same blessing as he blesses the billions. This lesson is so important to learn that the Monk felt compelled to teach it. The world functions by size and impact. God functions by the impact that our works have on our souls and the souls of others. The message from the desert is simple.Good Works 2

Bill and Melinda Gates visiting a Foundation supported worksite.

ALL GOD DRIVEN WORKS ARE EQUAL

The prophets cited by the Monk were doing the works that God had put into their souls. We all have a certain spiritual DNA that gives us a way to gloriously serve God and our fellow creation.

YOUR GOOD WORKS ARE OF VALUE TO GOD

Low self-esteem, poor self-image, and bad circumstance erode away at our view of what constitutes good works. If we follow the advice that has come to us from the desert, we can know that God sees what we do as something of value. Doing the good works of God is not a competitive contest but an outpouring of love from our spirit.

GOD GIVES EACH OF US DIFFERENT WAYS TO SERVE

Plainly, we can see that the Kings and prophets served in diverse ways. Some were more showy and noticeable than others. The level of notoriety does not constitute the value of the work.

GOD DISTRIBUTES HIS BLESSINGS ACCORDING TO OUR ABILITY

The scripture teaches that we all have certain spiritual gifts that were bestowed on us by God. Our challenge as followers of Jesus is to use those God-given gifts to serve our world and by doing so we serve Him.

What good work should I do? Simply stated, you should do the work that God has given you the resources and ability to accomplish.


Prayer

Lord, give me the motivation to do your good works no matter how small. I know that you see my works through your lens. Help me not to be pressured to do the showy things but to get the peaceful contentment of doing the works that you have presented to me.

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 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.

8-9-17-Pic-2

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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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

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Restrianing Controversy

A Brother said to Abba Mateos, ‘Give me a word.’ He said to him, ‘ restrain the spirit of controversy in yourself, in everything, and weep, have compunction, for the time is drawing near.’

—-Abba Mateos of the Desert

The wise Abba tells us to refrain from controversy. Our world is wrought with controversy, because it appears as though we thrive on our divisions. Governments, families, and churches all seem to have a great need to live in a state of conflict. Many people think that this postmodern world is the cause of this state of affairs, but here we see this man of the desert approaching this subject fourteen hundred years ago. He describes controversy as a “spirit,” which says to me that it is a real driving force that wraps itself around us and produces negative results.

Abba Mateos’ advice to his fellow monks, and to us, is for us to have compunction. Which means we have a guilty conscience.We must allow our Humble manwith wordsmoral compasses to guide us in the situations that are given to us. Ultimately, it is our choice how we react to any event, statement or accusation. The challenge is to act as though the time to face our God was near. Mateos calls us to be in peace with those that disagree and hold to other beliefs. The compunction, moral code, of the Christian is to have a spirit of harmony. Just as Christ reconciled the world by suffering the cross we, as His followers, are called to stay away from controversy and to embrace His love. Let us strive to develop a spirit of compunction instead of a spirit of controversy.

Prayer

Lord help me this day, and all the days that you give me, to be a person of peace. Let the Spirit that dwells in me guide my action to be  your actions. Block out the temptations that lead me to become arrogant and mean, and to assume that my way is better than your way. I commit myself to live as though you were watching my every move.

Amen

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Silent Healing

PoemanAbba Poemen said of Abba Nisterus that he was like the serpent of brass which Moses made for the healing of the people: he possessed all virtue and without speaking, he healed everyone.

—sayings of the desert

There is great power in silent centering on God. We are pressed to be vocal and aggressive – even in prayer. I can well remember when the reason I didn’t want to pray in public was because I lacked the spontaneity of some others I knew. The monk tells us that we see great healing when we silently approach God with the needs of others. There are certain times when just being in the presence of prayer heals.

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Saints as Well

Once upon a time long ago a young man decided to become a saint. He left his home, family, and possessions and journeyed into the hot sands of the desert where he eventually found a dark cave. He thought, “I anthony_egyptcan find God here. I will be alone and nothing will disturb me.” He prayed day and night in the cave, but God sent him many temptations. He imagined all the good things in life and wanted them desperately, but he was determined to give up everything and be with God alone. After many months, the temptations stopped and the young man was alone with God.

Then one day God called to him, “Leave your cave and go to a distant town. Look for the local shoemaker. Knock on his door and stay with his family for a few days.” The holy hermit was puzzled by God’s request, but nonetheless left the next morning. He walked across the desert sands and by nightfall had reached the village. He found a small house, knocked on the door and was greeted with a smile and a welcome. The hermit inquired if the man was the local shoemaker. Hearing that he was, the hermit was pleased, but the shoemaker, seeing that the hermit was tired and hungry invited him in to stay. The hermit was given a hearty meal and a clean place to sleep. The hermit stayed with the shoemaker and his family for three days. The two men talked quite a bit and the hermit learned much about the shoemaker, but he revealed little about himself, even though the family was quite curious about him.

Then after three days the hermit said good-bye to the shoemaker and his family and walked back across the desert to his cave, wondering all the while why God had sent him on this mission. When he arrived back at the cave, God questioned the hermit. “What was the shoemaker like?” The hermit answered, “He is a simple man; they have a small home. He has a wife and a baby. They seem to love each other greatly. He has a small shop where he makes shoes. He works very hard and makes very little, but he still gives money and food to those who are less fortunate. He and his wife pray each day; they have lots of friends.” God listened to the hermit and replied, “You will be a great saint, as you wish, but the shoemaker and his family will be great saints as well.”

….a legend of St. Anthony of the desert

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Sins Run Out

leaking_bucket_RBK01026_edited-1A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba 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 leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, “what is this, father?” The old man 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. 

—-sayings of the desert

I do not believe that comments are necessary on this story. Let me offer this prayer.

Lord help me to understand the nature of the grace that you offer to me. May I not waste my time trying to figure out other people’s sin and faults but know that their forgiveness is already been secured. Let me offer my forgiveness in the same manner as You.  Amen

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