Tag Archives: Desert Monastics

Our Encounter with Evil

As we travel the Christian journey, we are invariably going to discover that we are confronted by evil in many forms. In Athanasius of Alexandria’s biography of Anthony of Egypt this is referred to as his conflict with demons. We seldom reference demons in the postmodern church, but we do know about evil. Anthony the Great had a process to rid himself of evil / demons that I think we can use as well. Let’s look at his ideas.

Evil as GoodWe must remember evil hates good. That is the key to recognizing the evil that so surrounds us. Evil always seeks to find a way to counter or cheat in any good thing. The first thing that Anthony heard was what he called a whisper about the sacrifices he had made to follow God’s calling. The evil one wanted him to remember his wealth, his sister, his friends and all the pleasures he left behind. The hope of that evil one was that he would grow resentful and turn back to his old life. Though Anthony’s endeavors would be considered strange and selfish by some, it would have been wrong for him to decide to abandon God’s purpose in life and go back to his old ways.

That’s an important point to remember. The devil does not always lead us to blatant evil, but he does lead us away from God’s purpose in our lives. Only you know what God’s purpose is in your life and only you can pursue it. Simply put, the devil, the demon wants you to abandon that purpose. He does not always lead you to do wrong and despicable things but rather to simply abandon the purpose of God in your life. Anthony was a good man with a good life, but God was calling him to a new life and the devil did not want him to follow that calling.


Bio 2

The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.

Thomas Merton

That’s the challenge we all face. We are to recognize when the devil is really trying to turn us away from God’s plan for our lives. It can seem so innocuous and harmless, but it still leads us away from our “God path.” The work of the evil one is not always scary but is always deceptive. Anthony recognized this and we must do so as well because if we do not, we can lose our way.

This can be combated in many ways. We can maintain a life of prayer and awareness that always seeks God’s face. We can read and study the revelation of holy scriptures. We can surround ourselves by others who seek to follow their own “God Path.”

We can surmise from the words of Athanasius as he describes to us life of Anthony the Great, that one of the great concerns we must all have is interference from the demonic in our lives. We would do well to keep this in mind every day we live.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Ephesians 6:12

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Temptation

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 temptation, no one can be saved.”

▪▪▪▪Anthony of the Desert


Temptation is something we all struggle with our entire lives and regularly pray that God will remove this battle from our lives. Jesus said to us in His prayer, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Yet Anthony states, “Without temptation, no one can be saved.” Those divergent ideas seem to clash and frequently our spiritual lives are loaded with contradictions and conflict. This is one of those times. These conflicting ideas are a real source of growth and cause us to increase in strength ,knowledge, and spiritual awareness.Temptation

The prayer that Jesus taught us pleads that we are not led into temptation, but more importantly we ask to be delivered from evil. I believe that it is through real temptation that we begin to recognize evil. Once evil is recognized it becomes possible to resist. Such resistance is our key to being saved, because the temptation we suffer throughout our lives leads us to seek the Savior we so desperately need.Post 4

The challenge that we must face and embrace is the permanence of temptation in our lives. We can experience great trouble if we seek a magical formula to deliver us from all temptation, because it is an unattainable goal. That journey is wrought with peril and evil and leads us to be self-righteous, judgmental and harsh. We will find ourselves chasing false hopes and heretical ideas. If we allow the advice from the desert to lead us, we can face our temptation without feeling defeated. Let me offer a few ideas that are found in this desert wisdom.

We must grow to own our temptations. They were not thrust upon us by someone or something, but they dwell in us. Having accepted that fact, we can then move forward. Each day brings with it ways that we are led away from the path that we know is the one that leads to unity with God. We can spend our lives assigning blame, making excuses or we can spend our lives learning.

Temptations are not the road to hell but the pathway to the kingdom. “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” These dynamic words of Jesus are words of hope and victory. When we recognize them we begin to understand our earthly existence and then are able to welcome his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. His kingdom has already arrived, but we are tempted to ignore it or drift so far away that we never see it. Our temptations help us to see His here and now kingdom.

No one likes to deal with troubles, but dealing with trouble allows us to know what to do as well as what not to do in trying times. Our everyday temptations bring us closer to the Kingdom and help us better understand the concept of God’s grace. Once we grasp the concept that temptation is our ever-present companion, we can begin our kingdom journey in earnest. “Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.” That is our goal, and temptation is an element of the journey.


Prayer

Lord, give me the grace and understanding to deal with temptation without despairing. Allow me to see your work in every struggle I face. Keep me mindful that it is You that I must depend upon in the times of weakening. You Lord are my strength and deliverer.

Amen

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Three Precepts

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 holy scripture; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

++++Anthony of Egypt


— Always have God before your eyes

Thomas Merton said,” The spiritual life is first a matter of keeping awake to God ” This echoes the words of Anthony when he tells us to always have God before us. To live in constant awareness of God is more than most of us really accomplish. We say prayers or have prayer time but then God is set aside. The goal of the contemplative should be to live awake to the presence of God no matter what surroundings we are in at the time. In being awake we know that God is always with us. He lives in us and introduces himself through us to others in the world. This precept allows us peace in our lives and gives us the blessing of helping others find that peace as well. Let us practice keeping God before our eyes. Perhaps the best way to keep God before our eyes is to practice meditation every day. We can live a life of presence.

Post 3 1—Live the testimony of Holy Scripture

Many of you have been reared in churches that often refer to the scripture as a sword, authority or light. The Psalmist tells us, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” These terms and that verse indicate that holy scripture will lead us where we must go. The Bible is a beacon or guide that allows us to defeat enemies and find our way. Holy scriptures light our dark paths so that we might not stumble. Anthony conveys to us one of the keys of a life well lived is to perform in accordance with holy scripture. In order to perform in accordance with scripture, we must read and study the word with consistency. Let us never allow ourselves to step away from the habit of regular reading of the scriptures so that we may live as they instruct.

—Have stability of place

Today’s monks take a vow of stability. Most of you who read this will never become a part of a monastic community. Many of us will not only not live in community but will be required to move to make our living. HowStability poast 3 do we find stability? We begin to find it by not always believing that the next job, the next house is where we need to be. We must develop a sense of blooming where we are planted. There is another way. Scriptures say, “That we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error.” (Ephesians 4:14) By reading and studying scripture we can develop a stability of belief. We can be longstanding in our belief because we know why and what we believe. We can all have stability.

The constant awareness of the presence of God, a consistent pattern of living in accordance with the scripture and a stability of mind will carry us in a direction that charts toward the kingdom of God. Anthony gave us these precepts almost 2000 years ago and they are as true now as they were then. Let us strive to keep these precepts before us as we attempt to navigate the challenges that this life sends our way. These three simple ideas will improve our lives beyond our expectation.



PRAYER

Lord, allow me to see you as I seek you this day. Lead me to study your word enough so that it may truly guide me and bless me with the stability of mind that allows me to be capable of having stay power. In these things I ask your spirit to guide and protect me. May all my attempts to find you and connect with you end as I see your face. I pray this and all else in the name of Jesus my Messiah.

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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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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How to Find Peace?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

—- Philippians 4:7-9

There were two old men who dwelt together for many years and who never quarreled. Then one said to the other: “Let us pick a quarrel with each other like other men do.” “I do not know how quarrels arise,” answered his companion. So the other said to him: “Look, I will put a brick down here between us and I will say ‘This is mine.’ Then you can say ‘No it is not, it is mine.’ Then we will be able to have a quarrel.” So they placed the brick between them and the first one said: “This is mine.” His companion answered him: “This is not so, for it is mine.” To this, the first one said: “If it is so and the brick is yours, then take it and go your way.” And so they were not able to have a quarrel.

—-Sayings of the Desert

Recently I was teaching a Bible study group and said the best decision I ever made was to keep politics out of my ministry. A person quickly replied that as long as I was a pastor of a church I would be involved in politics. I was of course thinking of secular politics, but the point hit hard. We as Christians have surrendered to the idea that political conflict is an unavoidable part of the church. Yes, decisions have to be made and people will naturally not all think the same, but do we really all have to have it our way?

The quintessential question for the church is: are we doing church our way or God’s way?

The two old Monks had lived a life of harmony for many years. Because of theirPeace1 commitment to Christ they had not lived as others had lived. Heaven forbid, they had not had a quarrel. Their plan was to find something to quarrel about. The brick was picked and the quarrel was supposed to ensue, but it did not. Why? The simple answer is that if we put others first we won’t have anything to argue about. That is quite a novel idea for our society.

Years before that Paul was writing to the church at Philippi, and they were obviously in a struggle. His advice was to see the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. God’s peace is honorable and good. Such a peace seeks out things to praise, and majors on what is good. God’s peace never seeks to be selfish or grudging. Our challenge is to look at the story from the desert and from Paul and make it our story. Perhaps if we spent some time trying to live as peacemakers, we could find more fulfillment than we ever imagined. I will pray every day that God will allow the church to escape the politics and conflict of the world and be truly a sanctuary for all who enter its doors.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Prayer

Lord allow us to be first and foremost a peacemaker. Help us to understand that all conflict comes from our need to control. When we encounter controlling people give us the patience and grace to hold our tongue and allow you to do your work. We pray for this elusive gift of your peace, Lord. May we receive it today.

Amen

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Kingdom Humility

 

‘There was a spiritual old man who lived a secluded life. He was held in high estimation in the city and enjoyed a great reputation. He was told that a certain old man, at the point of death, was calling for him, to embrace him before he fell asleep. He thought to himself, if I go by day, men will run after me, giving me great honor, and I shall not be at peace in all that. So I will go in the evening in the darkness and I shall escape everyone’s notice. But lo, two angels were sent by God with lamps to give him light. The whole city then came out to see his glory. The more he wished to flee from the glory, the more he was glorified. In this was accomplished that which is written: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” ‘

——-Abba John the Dwarf

Every person who seeks to be a fervent follower of God wants to be seen as humble. Humility is the identifying hallmark of Jesus our Savior. No matter how hard we try, we are still driven by the human desire to be recognized and appreciated. Much of our spiritual journey is spent trying to control our need to succeed. After much prayer and determination we may arrive at the point in life where we really don’t want the spotlight and recognition. Then the new journey begins. Our challenge now is how do we avoid worldly affirmation and acclaim?

The spiritual old man was struggling with that very challenge. He, no doubt, had put much prayer and work to arriving at place in life where he shunned the notice of others. He wanted to comfort the brother who had reached out to him, but he devised a plan of making sure that his act of kindness would be done in the dark of night. That way, he thought, no one would notice, but God had another plan. God decided to send angels to light his path. This display of spiritual presence brought a torrent of attention on the spiritual old man. The very attention that he had sought to avoid was what he received. What does this mean?

Abba John uses the scripture: “He who humbles himself will be exalted” as a way of expressing why such attention is thrust upon the spiritual old man. The truth that I would like to point out is that acclaim only has value if God is the source. The world recognizes worldly values, God recognizes kingdom values. Perhaps if we all sought to be anonymous purveyors of blessing, we may find ourselves more valued by God and the world than we ever dreamed or imagined. The key to getting all the acclamation, success and self-esteem we can handle is found in the ability to be truly humble. That is kingdom humility and it is the goal of every follower of the Christ.


Prayer

Lord instill in me the form of humility that is not derived in self depreciation and doubt but one that is spiritually placed by you. I ask you today to give me the insight to understand what you mean by humility so that I might be one who is gifted with kingdom humility. With that gift we are allowed to be tremendous servants to the world. Lord I pray for this gift and with it I may be your faithful servant.

Amen

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Loving Like God

Abba John the Dwarf said, ‘A house is not built by beginning at the top and working down. You must begin with the foundations in order to reach the top.’ They said to him,’ What does this saying mean?’ He said, ‘The foundation is our neighbor, whom we must trust, and that is the place to begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one.’

—-Abba John the Dwarf

In the 1960’s there was a movie called: “Dr. Strangelove.” The simplistic plot was about a ridiculous plan of a retaliatory nuclear attack. The plan was ridiculous and so was the name of the man, Dr. Strangelove, who formulated it. This Abba’s is based on the biblical record of a conversation that occurred between Jesus and a lawyer. He asked Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  That is a difficult, demanding, somewhat strange command. The fascinating thing about the wisdom of the monk is that he tells us to begin with something we can see. As much as we would all desire to see God, we can’t see God in the flesh but we do see our neighbor. The key to experiencing God is understanding the depth of His love. God loves us at our worst and we are challenged to love our neighbors at their worst.

All too often when go for what is easy, quick, and painless the result is the foundation of our spiritual house is sinking sand. The love of neighbor is the key to understanding the nature of God. He is a loving, understanding creator and not a cruel and harsh master. To the contrary, with a heart of compassion and mercy, He welcomes sinners into His kingdom. They don’t get the “cheap seats,” but receive a regal welcome. The beginning of that journey is to see God in His creation. Loving His creation – cheats, liars and thieves – is loving Him. Maybe this is a strange love to many of us, but it is the way God loves.

Prayer

Lord help me to grasp this most difficult teaching of loving my neighbor. All too often our neighbors are those who hurt us the most. Allow your grace and my understanding of your love to rise to a level that allows this love to flow from me. In the act of such love we find an elusive peace that brings us closer to you.

Amen

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The Beginning of Good

It happened that when Abba Arsenius was sitting in his cell that he was harassed by demons. His servants, on their return, stood outside his cell and heard him praying to God in these words, ‘O God, do not leave me. I have done nothing good in your sight, but according to your goodness, let me now make a beginning of good.’

—Abba Arsenius

prayer young man 1“I have done no good but allow me to make a beginning of good,” says the monk. How do we make a beginning of good? Do we go out and do a lot of good deeds, give sacrificially to others or read the Bible daily? None of those things would hurt us, and they may even help, but such actions are not the beginning of good. Jesus says that we must leave behind the things of the world and seek God. In our seeker’s journey, we will find good. That good is recognizing our helplessness in comparison to our Creator. When we accomplish that, we can then start doing the “good” things.

The beginning of good is when we learn that we are totally dependent upon God Good-Deeds-2and have the courage to admit it. Such a simple confession changes our lives and allows us to begin the path that leads to good. A professing Christian does not plan to do good but does good naturally. The Holy Spirit that lives in us guides us to situations and time that allow the light of God to shine through us.

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Love,God and My Neighbor

Abba John the Dwarf said, ‘A house is not built by beginning at the top and working down. You must begin with the foundations in order to reach the top.’ They said to him,’ What does this saying mean?’ He said, ‘The foundation is our neighbor, whom we must trust, and that is the place to begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one.’

—-Sayings of the Desert

This saying is based on the biblical record of a conversation that occurred between Jesus and a lawyer. He ask Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, John the Dwarfwith all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The fascinating thing about the wisdom of the monk is that he tells us to begin with something we can see. As much as we would all desire, we can’t see God in the flesh. The key to experiencing God is understanding the depth of His love. God loves us at our worst and we are challenged to love our neighbors at their worst.

All too often we go for what is easy, and the foundation of our spiritual house is sinking sand. The love of neighbor is the key to understanding of the nature of God. He is a loving and understanding creator, and not a cruel and harsh master. With a heart of compassion and mercy, He welcomes sinners into His kingdom. They don’t not get the “cheap seats,” but receive a regal welcome. The beginning of that journey is to see God in His creation. Trusting His creation is trusting Him.

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