Antony the Great: Whoever you may be, always keep God before your eyes Sunday, Jan 17 2016 

saints_101_anthonyJanuary 17th is the feast of St Antony the Great.

When the holy Abba Anthony was living in the desert, he was in a state of melancholy (ακηδια) and his mind was darkened by a multitude of imagined things (λογισμων), and he said to God:

“Lord, I want to be saved, but these thoughts will not leave me alone. What shall I do in my trouble? How will I be saved?”

A little later, when he went outside, Anthony saw someone like himself, sitting and working, then rising from work and praying, and again sitting and plaiting a rope, then again rising for prayer.

It was an angel of the Lord, sent for the correction and insurance against stumbling of Anthony.

And he heard the angel saying, “Do this, and you will be saved.” And when he heard this, he had great joy and courage, and did this, and was saved.

When Abba Anthony meditated upon the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, saying, “Lord, how is it that some perish when short-lived, and some live to extreme old age? And why are some poor, and yet others rich? And why are the unrighteous rich, and yet the righteous are poor?”

And he heard a voice saying to him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself, for these things are the judgments of God, and they will not benefit you to learn them.”

Someone asked Abba Anthony, saying, “What must we keep in order to be pleasing to God?”

And the elder answered, saying, “Keep what I tell you. Whoever you may be, always keep God before your eyes. And whatever you do, do it from the witness of the Holy Scriptures. And in whatever place you live, do not leave quickly. Keep these three things, and you will be saved.”

Abba Anthony said to Abba Poimen that this is the great work of man: “always to reproach himself for his own faults before God, and expect temptation until the last breath.”

The same said, “No one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven untempted.” He said, “Remove the temptations, and no one would be saved.”

Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What should I do?” The elder said to him, “Do not put your trust in your righteousness, nor regret past actions, but control your tongue and stomach.”

Abba Anthony said, “I saw all the traps of the enemy spread over the earth,” and groaning, said, “What can get through these?” And I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”

Antony the Great (c.251-356): Thirty Eight Sayings, 1-7 @ Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension.

Antony the Great: The Only-Begotten, the Very Mind of the Father and His Image, the Great Physician Friday, Jan 17 2014 

saints_101_anthonyJanuary 17th is the feast of St Antony the Great.

Truly, my beloved in the Lord, not at one time only did God visit His creatures; but from the foundation of the world, whenever any have come to the Creator of all by the law of His covenant implanted in them, God is present with each one of these in His bounty and grace by His Spirit.

But in the case of those rational natures in which that covenant grew cold, and their intellectual perception died, so that they were no longer able to know themselves according to their first condition; concerning them I say that they became altogether irrational, and worshipped the creation rather than the Creator.

But the Creator of all in His great bounty visited us by the implanted law of the covenant. For He is immortal substance.

And as many as became worthy of God and grew by His implanted law, and were taught by His Holy Spirit and received the Spirit of Adoption, these were able to worship their Creator as they ought: of whom Paul says that “they received not the promise” on account of us. (Heb. 11:39).

And the Creator of All, who repents not of His love, desiring to visit our sickness and confusion, raised up Moses the Lawgiver, who gave us the law in writing, and founded for us the House of Truth, which is the Catholic Church, that makes us one in God; for He desires that we should be brought back to our first beginning.

Moses built the house, yet did not complete it, but left it and went away. Then again God raised up the choir of the Prophets by His Spirit. And they also built on the foundation of Moses, but could not complete the house, and likewise left it and went away.

And all of them , being clothed with the Spirit, saw that the wound was incurable, and that none of the creatures was able to heal it, but only the Only-begotten, who is the very Mind of the Father and His Image, who after the pattern of His Image made every rational creature.

For these knew that the Saviour is the great physician; and they assembled all together, and offered prayer for their members, that is, for us, crying out and saying, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” (Jer. 8:22) “We would have healed her, but she is not healed: now therefore let us forsake her and go away.” (Jer.51:9)

Antony the Great (c.251-356): Letter 2 (trans. Derwas J. Chitty).

Antony the Great: The Holy Spirit Teaches the Mind how to Heal all the Wounds of the Soul Thursday, Jan 17 2013 

saints_101_anthonyThese things I have said to you, beloved, that you may know how it is required of a man to repent in body and soul, and to purify them both.

And if the mind conquers in this contest, then it prays in the Spirit, and begins to expel from the body the passions of the soul which come to it from its own will.

Then the Spirit has a loving partnership with the mind, because the mind keeps the commandments which the Spirit has delivered to it.

And the Spirit teaches the mind how to heal all the wounds of the soul, and to rid itself of every one, those which are mingled in the members of the body, and other passions which are altogether outside the body, being mingled in the will.

And for the eyes it sets a rule, that they may see rightly and purely, and that in them there may be no guile.

After that is sets a rule also for the ears, how they may hear in peace, and no more thirst or desire to hear ill speaking, nor about the falls and humiliations of men;

but how they may rejoice to hear about good things, and about the way every man stands firm and about the mercy shown to the whole creation, which in these members once was sick.

Then again the Spirit teaches the tongue its own purity, since the tongue was sick with a great sickness.

For the sickness which afflicted the soul was expressed in speech through the tongue, which the soul used as its organ, and in this way a great sickness and wound was inflicted upon it, and especially through this member – the tongue – was the soul stricken.

The Apostle James testifies to us and says, “If any man thinketh himself to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (Jas. 1:26), And in another place he says, “The tongue is a little member, and defileth the whole body” (Jas. 3:5) – and much besides, which I cannot all quote now.

But if the mind is strengthened with the strength that it receives from the Spirit, first it is purified and sanctified, and learns discrimination in the words that it delivers to the tongue, that they may be without partiality and without self-will.

And so the saying of Solomon is fulfilled, “My words are spoken from God, there is nothing froward nor perverse in them” (Prov. 8:8). And in another place he says, “The tongue of the wise is healing” (Prov. 12:18); and much besides.

Antony the Great (c.251-356): Letter 1.

Antony the Great: In His Love God Desires to Transform the Mortal into the Immortal Wednesday, Aug 29 2012 

God is good, dispassionate and immutable.

Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask:

How, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, while turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners?

To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions.

Nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure.

It is not right to imagine that God feels pleasure or displeasure in a human way.

He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same.

We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him.

But if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him.

By living in holiness we cleave to God. But by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy.

It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us, and expose us to the demons who punish us.

And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change, but that through our actions and our turning to God we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness.

Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.
The truly devout soul knows the God of all. True devotion is simply to do God’s will.

This means to gain knowledge of God by being free from envy, self-restrained, gentle, as generous as possible, kindly, not quarrelsome, and by acquiring whatever else accords with God’s will.

The knowledge and fear of God are a cure for material passions.

As long as ignorance of God is present in the soul, the passions remain incurable and rot the soul away. For evil in the soul is like a festering wound.

God is not responsible for this, since He has given to man spiritual understanding and knowledge.

God has filled man with spiritual understanding and knowledge, for He seeks to purify man from his passions and deliberate wickedness.

And in His love He desires to transform the mortal into the immortal.

Antony the Great (c.251-356): On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life 150-153, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979). 

Antony the Great: Always Have God Before Your Eyes Tuesday, Jan 17 2012 

When Abba Anthony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age?

“Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men proper and why are the just in need?”

He heard a voice answering him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to known anything about them.”

Someone asked Abba Anthony, “What must one do in order to please God?”

The old man replied, “Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes, whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, “This is the great work of man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.

He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” He even added, “Without temptations no-one can be saved.”

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.”

He said also, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”

One day some old men came to see Abba Anthony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a text from the Scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant.

Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one the old man said, “You have not understood it.” Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, “How would you explain this saying?” and he replied, “I do not know.”

Then Abba Anthony said, “Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: ‘I do not know.’”

Antony the Great (c.251-356): Thirty-Eight Sayings, 2-9, 17,  translated by the Sr Benedicta Ward SLGin The Sayings of the Desert Fathers; online text here.

Athanasius of Alexandria: St Anthony the Great on “Make Straight Your Heart unto the Lord God of Israel” Tuesday, Jan 17 2012 

[St Anthony said] Wherefore having already begun and set out in the way of virtue, let us strive the more that we may attain those things that are before.

And let no one turn to the things behind, like Lot’s wife, all the more so that the Lord hath said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and turning back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven”.

And this turning back is nought else but to feel regret, and to be once more worldly-minded. But fear not to hear of virtue, nor be astonished at the name.

For it is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing.

That they may get knowledge, the Greeks live abroad and cross the sea, but we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue.

For the Lord aforetime hath said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you”.

Wherefore virtue hath need at our hands of willingness alone, since it is in us and is formed from us. For, when the soul hath its spiritual faculty in a natural state, virtue is formed.

And it is in a natural state when it remains as it came into existence. And when it came into existence it was fair and exceeding honest.

For this cause Joshua, the son of Nun, in his exhortation said to the people, “Make straight your heart unto the Lord God of Israel”, and John, “Make your paths straight”.

For rectitude of soul consists in its having its spiritual part in its natural state as created.

But on the other hand, when it swerves and turns away from its natural state, that is called vice of the soul.

Thus the matter is not difficult. If we abide as we have been made, we are in a state of virtue, but if we think of ignoble things we shall be accounted evil.

If, therefore, this thing had to be acquired from without, it would be difficult in reality; but if it is in us, let us keep ourselves from foul thoughts.

And as we have received the soul as a deposit, let us preserve it for the Lord, that He may recognise His work as being the same as He made it.

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Life of St Anthony, 20.

Athanasius of Alexandria: St Antony the Abbot’s Advice from the Mountain Monday, Jan 17 2011 

So after certain days he [St Antony] went in again to the mountain.

And henceforth many resorted to him, and others who were suffering ventured to go in.

To all the monks therefore who came to him, he continually gave this precept: “Believe on the Lord and love Him; keep yourselves from filthy thoughts and fleshly pleasures….

“Pray continually; avoid vainglory; sing psalms before sleep and on awaking.

“Hold in your heart the commandments of Scripture; be mindful of the works of the saints that your souls being put in remembrance of the commandments may be brought into harmony with the zeal of the saints.”

And especially he counselled them to meditate continually on the apostle’s word, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4:26).

And he considered this was spoken of all commandments in common, and that not on wrath alone, but not on any other sin of ours, ought the sun to go down.

[…] Daily, therefore, let each one take from himself the tale of his actions both by day and night; and if he have sinned, let him cease from it; while if he have not, let him not be boastful.

But let him abide in that which is good, without being negligent, nor condemning his neighbours, nor justifying himself….

For often unawares we do things that we know not of; but the Lord sees all things.

Wherefore committing the judgment to Him, let us have sympathy one with another.

Let us bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:6), but let us examine our own selves and hasten to fill up that in which we are lacking.

And as a safeguard against sin let the following be observed.

Let us each one note and write down our actions and the impulses of our soul as though we were going to relate them to each other.

And be assured that if we should be utterly ashamed to have them known, we shall abstain from sin and harbour no base thoughts in our mind….

As then while we are looking at one another, we would not commit carnal sin, so if we record our thoughts as though about to tell them to one another, we shall the more easily keep ourselves free from vile thoughts through shame lest they should be known.

Wherefore let that which is written be to us in place of the eyes of our fellow hermits, that blushing as much to write as if we had been caught, we may never think of what is unseemly.

Thus fashioning ourselves we shall be able to keep the body in subjection, to please the Lord, and to trample on the devices of the enemy.

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Life of St Antony, 55.