Tag Archives: Desert Fathers

Life and Death

Our Life and death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our neighbor, we have sinned against Christ.

— Abba Anthony


ShemaWhen Jesus was questioned by the religious leaders of his day about the first commandment he said, “The first is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This dispute of the true and best path to God is ever going. “There is no other commandment greater than these. “ This lesson from Jesus and the monk is one in the same. The sacred is in the ordinary which is found in one’s daily life – in our neighbors, friends, family, in our backyard. We have never quite gotten that idea down. Men desperately search in so many places for peace with God while in continual battle with their neighbors. Our world is mired in war, violence, crime, racism and hopelessness.

The concept that to gain a brother is to gain God is not one that we often consider. Interestingly, when we truly think about it we can say that gaining a brother is a difficult task. Perhaps gaining a true friend and brother is one of our most challenging tasks. The Urban Dictionary puts it this way,” A best friend is someone who is there for you through thick and thin. It’s someone who listens and understands you. Someone you can call anytime about anything you feel you need to ‘tell’ or ‘vent’. It’s someone who will stand up for you in the times when you need it most, keep your secrets close, and someone you can trust with your life. They will support you in any decision you make even if it’s hard for them. It’s someone who is there for you as much as they can be and does and says whatever they can to up your mood in down times.” That type of brother is hard to find, and it is no wonder that Anthony compared it to gaining God.

There was a recent incident in my city where a rather flamboyant tow truck operator was killed by his next door neighbor in his front yard for spraying him with a water hose. They were in constant dispute about one thing or another-parking, planting of shrubs- you name it. This 80-year-old man shot and killed his neighbor over ongoing disputes. These proximity neighbors fought over turf and it ended most tragically. Most conflicts are over one turf or another. We are urged by scripture and wisdom teaching to regard our relationship with our neighbor as a relationship with God. By viewing it through that lens, we truly see the importance of getting along. Pray that God will give you the wisdom to see others through His eyes. With that wisdom comes the keys to the kingdom – spiritual wholeness. Such stories are the ultimate degree of sinning against God.

We are called to honor God by honoring one another. Becoming a good neighbor to all is what is expected of us. As we achieve this, we grow closer to God. That closeness to God allows us to become all that he created us to be. All persons were created in His image and should be treated as such.


Prayer

Lord, teach me to be kind when my heart resists. Teach me to be patient when it is my nature to be short. Teach me to be giving when I am naturally selfish. Teach me to look to you when I want to look to myself. Teach me to see others as you see them.

Grant this through your spirit that dwells within me. Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony

The Tasks at Hand

Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Anthony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”

He also said, “Some have afflicted their bodies by asceticism, but they lack discernment, and so they are far from God.”

▪▪▪▪Anthony of the Desert

The wise ABBA gives us three distinct tasks that we all must face. We often try to go through the Christian life with ease and lack of complication. Some turn to rules or codes to keep them on the straight and narrow. Others seek super spirituality or spiritual superiority to ease them and comfort them in their Christian walk. The wisdom of the desert tells us that there is a simplicity in these tasks. Let’s just think about what this really means.

The first task as told by ABBA Anthony is not trust our own righteousness. We live in the world and a time that holds our own opinions and conclusions in the highest esteem. The wise father tells us to reexamine this. He goes on to say that we should put our past behind us. We will never repair, fix, or totally rebuild or relive our past. Our calling as Christians is to put the past behind us by filtering it through grace. That being said, we have a tremendous obstacle to overcome. The control of the stomach and the tongue is our greatest challenge. The stomach is representative of the carnal appetite we al

Tasks
l possess and even take pride in at times. The tongue is the agent of that carnal appetite that builds the ego, creates the story, and makes us the masters of our own fate. We can try to lie our way, bluff our way, and allude our way into fulfillment. We are challenged with the task of overcoming self-righteousness.

The journey through this world is full of snares and traps. We create and search for ways to avoid the snares them. A snare is defined as a trap for catching birds or animals, typically one having a noose of wire or cord. As we follow our own ego and self-righteousness, we can be lured into a noose that we can never escape. Desert wisdom instructs us that the answer to this problem is humility. Humility is the ability to give up self and begin a life free from pride and arrogance. Such a life allows us to turn ourselves toward God and his grace and love. Do you hear the call of humility in your life or is it drowned out by the noise and confusion of the world that surrounds you? Developing a sense of humility is a key task to living the Christian life with victory and satisfaction .

The third task is to avoid becoming rabidly, unreasonably, super religious ABBA Anthony tells us that there are people who are beset by asceticism. They have afflicted their bodies with punishing fasts , self-flagellation and other practices that have not truly accomplished the objective of the aesthetic life. They have failed to discern the ultimate reason for all of these practices. Our spiritual practices should be seeking God and trying to develop a relationship with him. It does not matter how many times we fast , how disciplined we are or how much we suffer, our true task is to move closer to God. Being super pious or super religious will not get us there. We must live out the entire gospel in our lives. Discernment of the spiritually appropriate is a task of the Christian life.

The three tasks are:put aside self-righteousness, develop godly humility, and develop mature spiritual discernment. We should look for ways to master these tasks. Always remember that we will never totally master spirituality in this life. Every day we need to seek the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Merton-30

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

……Thomas Merton

Prayer

Lord, everyday we strive to come closer to knowing the unknowable, to change the unchangeable and to see the unseeable.

Guide us in the tasks that are necessary to move closer to you. Help us to be patient enough, humble enough and wise enough to stay on the pathway that leads to your kingdom.

These things are only made possible by you and the grace you bestow upon us.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Christian Living

LORD, I WANT TO BE SAVED

When the holy ABBA Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by sloth and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone, what shall I do I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plating a rope, and getting up again to pray. It was an Angel the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the Angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.

…..Anthony of the Desert


The greatest longing of any follower of God is to be saved. Saved from the cares of this life. Saved from the sin that drags us down. Saved from the smothering nature of this world. Anthony abandoned his money and family ties looking to be saved but was soon feeling it was all in vain. His heart told him one thing, but his mind said another. He was stuck and wanted a way out. That scenario is all too familiar to us.

We begin a new year and a new decade, and we want things to go so well. Our resolution to God and ourselves is to leave behind the old and the inadequate. Like Anthony, we resolve to do better. Our heart’s desire is to live with God in our hearts and minds. The cares of the world and the requirements of life get in the way. Our cry to God is –show me the way! Perhaps the way is in front of us. Anthony saw an angelic vision of a man who was simply working. His task seemed mundane and tedious. Upon closer observation the monk noticed something. This man took numerous and brief breaks to pray. He did not allow the tasks of the world to be the sole dominance of his life.

The problem is not whether we will have to do the tasks of the world and live with the world as it is, but how we will respond to this journey? There have been numerous books and articles written on how to be a Monk (Christian) amid our post Christian era. These writers all have good suggestions and disciplines that will bring us closer to a serene relationship with God. I applaud them for their contribution to the conversation. I would suggest that we can note that all of them in one way or another point to the lives of the earliest of the Desert Monastics and Anthony was the first.Post 1

I don’t know why Bendicta Ward chose to make the saying quoted today the first in her book “Sayings of the Desert Fathers.” As I read these sayings once again, it just struck me that this is where it all began. The feeling Anthony was experiencing was the key to finding peace with God. He found that peace by linking the tasks of everyday life to prayer. Perhaps we can say it this way. Work is prayer and prayer is work. Most of us want to put God in one box of our lives and enter that box at prescribed times, but Anthony broke that mold. As he watched the man work and pray seamlessly it was a eureka moment. He realized that prayer is a natural part of life. It is work. Prayer is the work of the Christian but not to the neglect of everything else.

Most of us live driven, divided lives that cause division in our souls. The secret of the monk was to make them one. I don’t have to have a special time or place to pray, but I can be about my task and take time to offer all that I am to God. Your decision may be that you have that time and place that you meet God. If so, I am happy for you. For the many in this world that are looking, I urge you to look to the advice of the old Monk who heard the voice of the angels say, “Do this and you will be saved.” Work is prayer and prayer is work.

 


Prayer

Lord free my heart to be able to recognize you in the simple tasks that I am given every day. Give me the strength to see you when I am happy and to feel your presence when I am down and defeated. Let every day, moment and experience be an experience with you. Allow the tasks of this day to be melded together by your presence. That presence is my solace and salvation. Amen.

2 Comments

Filed under Abba Anthony, Christian Living

Handling the Life

A man who gives way to his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, catches the arrow in his hands, and then plunges it into his own heart. A man who is resisting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, and although the arrow hits him, it does not seriously wound him because he is wearing a breastplate. But the man who is uprooting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, but who strikes the arrow and shatters it or turns it back into his enemy’s heart.

——— Abba Dorotheos

Feedom from sinThe food for thought from the Abba is the various ways we handle the passions of life. He gives us three scenarios: surrender, self-willed resistance or spiritual release. The first two can have very dire consequences which can do great harm to us. The third allows us to experience the freedom of deliverance, and not just deliverance, but victory. As we travel on the contemplative path, we can achieve great comfort in knowing that we don’t have to fight the fight Blog-3-20-19alone. God’s spirit will allow us to uproot our passions and become resistant to the tricks of the world.

These important lessons will take us forward in our passion driven world. Bad things happen to good people and good people do bad thing because of our passions. If we partner with God for our journey , then we can achieve infinitely more than we can alone. I pose this question to you. What would happen if this Lent you, after throwing in the towel of your own control over your life, you “threw your hat into the ring” of God’s unchartered territory and divine possibilities?

That my friend is what it means to be a contemplative. Lets get on with it and walk with God.


Prayer

Lord, inflame our hearts and our inmost beings with the fire of Your Holy Spirit, that we may serve You with chaste bodies and pure minds. Through Christ our Lord.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Desert Fathers, Dorotheos of Gaza

There Is a Purpose After All

“When the demons see Christians, specially the monks, working joyfully and growing in the spirit, first they fight them with temptation, and by placing obstacles to hinder their growth, trying to inject evil thoughts in their minds; but there is no reason for fear from their temptations because their offenses fail instantly by prayer and fasting, specially if you have had armed yourself with faith and the sign of the cross.”

He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,” he even added, “without temptation no one can be saved.”

—- Anthony of Egypt

Most of us struggle with the concept of evil in our lives and the world. I wish that God would just straighten everything out and let us all live in peace and harmony. That would make things smooth and comfortable. How many times in your life have you asked the question, Why? We all want to know why we suffer, why do bad things happen to good people, why can’t I rid myself of this bad habit? what is the purpose? God, please let me see the purpose of my plight.

The first advice of the monk is to give us a way of conquering the temptations that perpetually plague us. October-3-Quote This much is clear. We will all face evil in our lives. This evil is not accidental but planned and intentional. The world is the domain of the evil one and he spreads his message to all of us. The good news is that we need not fear because we have the tools to battle this invasion of our being. Abba Anthony points to prayer, fasting, and the cross as our means of victory. Those of us who pray, fast and are signed by the cross will overcome. That is truly the “Good News”  of Jesus.

The monk asserts very strongly that without temptation it is impossible to be saved. Through our trials, we learn to rely on and live for God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is commonSatan-and-God to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Fascinatingly, we experience God’s power when we are tempted with evil. Our trials carry us to places we would never attain without them. It is through these times of testing that we taste the grace of God that eventually lands us in His Kingdom.

We all have cursed our time of temptations, but we also have been strengthened by such times. This strength carries us to new heights. Trials, temptations, and tribulations have a purpose after all.


Prayer

Lord, as I walk through these tough time help me to remember that there is a door on the other side. This door leads me to a life that is increasingly closer to your kingdom. Allow that realization to give me further strength as I make that occasional turn in the wrong direction. Let me be faithful to you in all that I do.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Temptation

The Fine Line

St. Ammon of Nitria came to St. Anthony and asked him, “My labors are greater than yours, yet your name is widespread among people more than mine, why?” St. Anthony replied, “Because I love God more than you do.”

“If devils praised your asceticism, and called you ‘blessed’ do not listen to them, and do not deal with them, but rather make the sign of the cross on yourselves, and your dwellings, and pray. You will find that they will flee, as they are craven, and fear the sign of the cross of the Lord, as the Lord disarmed them, and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross.” (Col. 2:15)

++++ Sayings of the Desert

There is a very fine line between being intolerably egotistical and being honest and realistic about our work. Working hard and faithfully does not automatically make you closer to God. To become close to God we mustego understand His love for us and all those around us. His love is not limited to the most productive or rich but also stretches out to all of His creation. The scripture says,”On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Simply put, it is not what we do but why we do it. We can’t pick which part of God’s creation to love. One of the primary reasons that the monastics fled to the desert was to get away from the “business” of a state endorsed and empowered religion. A state, or even a popularly endorsed religion, easily becomes a culture/state driven religion. Somewhere God takes a back seat.

We can learn from the sayings of these ,men and women by taking heed to the things they offer about power and influence. Education is good, influence is good and all other forms of gaining favor with our fellow man are a vital part of being the light of the world. Such things allow us to influence changes  that lead to a more Christian reality. God would say that is good. He would also say that if it is not done out of love that it is worthless. There remains a fine line between ego, love and reality that only the Holy Spirit can sort out for us.

The Fathers and Mothers fled to the desert and worked this out by isolation from the world. We don’t have that option. Our calling is to live within the chaos of this -Mother-Teresa 9-19-18world and seek to love as God loves in the middle of our situation. Modern Christianity is facing some very tough times at the moment. Sometimes, I wonder if we will survive. When I ponder such thoughts one word keeps popping up –LOVE.  If we can model the love of God, all can be made well. Love succeeds where philosophy, theology, psychology and  other disciplines fail. We must love as he loves and share that simple truth with all we engage.


Prayer

Lord, teach me to keep my ego in check when I use the talents that YOU have given me. Give me the wisdom to use my knowledge for the good of all who you send my way. As I do these things may my heart never stray from an understanding of your love. In that understanding, all things are possible.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Des, Desert Fathers

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Christian Living

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Desert Fathers

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Desert Fathers

Lent Day 11

February 26

Do Not Judge Others

Luke 6: 36-38

36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’


Prayer Thought

Lord, it is so difficult not to past judgment on the people and things that hurt our world. Give me your insight so that I may live as you will.


If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say ‘Who am I?’ and do not judge anyone.

—Sayings of the Desert

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Lent, Lenten Reflections 2018