Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Paradise of the Holy Fathers: Abba Anthony

I'm reading the end of the life of St. Anthony, and here are some memorable bits.

In a discourse with philosophers about Christianity, he emphasized the miracles that they had witnessed:

Why marvel ye at this thing? It is not we who have done this, but Christ... Therefore do you also believe even as do we... and see that we possess none of the handicraft of devils, but only the faith which is made perfect by means of the love of Christ, our Lord Jesus. If ye possess this also, ye have no need of the quest of much discussion, for the deed itself will convince you that it is not by words, but by manifest works, that our doctrine increaseth and giveth the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. (65)

As his fame spread, Abba Anthony began receiving letters from kings and princes asking for spiritual advice. The other monks were very impressed with this, but he replied:

Ye marvel, perhaps, that the kings and the princes should write epistles unto us, but what [need] is there for wonder, seeing that it is only one man writing letters to another? but what ye should wonder at is how God wrote the Law for the children of men, and how He hath spoken unto us through His only Son. (66)

Here's a description of Abba Anthony's letter-writing style:

In the first place he magnified [those to whom they were addressed], and returned thanks because they were worshippers of Christ, and he gave them advice and united thereto the counsels which were suitable, and which would benefit them both in this world and in that which is to come. And he told them that the wearisome labours which were visible should not be accounted overmuch by them, and exhorted them to remember the judgment which is to come, and that it is Christ Who is the true and everlasting King. And he advised them to let lovingkindness be found in them, and to be careful for that which is right, and to have considerate regard for the poor.

When Abba Anthony prepared for his death, he emphasized that he wanted to be buried-- at the time, the Egyptians were still mummifying their dead and keeping the corpse in a place of honor; this practice was being continued even by pious Christians. St. Anthony harshly condemned the custom, reminding people that the apostles and even Christ were not mummified but buried, and insisted on being buried in a site unknown to all but those who dug his grave.

The conclusion of this Life reminds us why Abba Anthony is so well-known:

For he did not become known unto all the world by means of [his] discourse, or by the wisdom of words, or by means of crafty plans and schemes, but by radiant righteousness towards God... For although these men of God live in secret places and do not desire to be seen and known, yet our Lord [maketh them] to shine like lamps upon all men. Thus also let those who hear [me], and who are mighty men before God, and who love His commandments, be persuaded to keep [their] steps, not that they may be praised but that they may be justified. (75)

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