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)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Homily 1, Acts of the Apostles

Acts 1:1-5

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen,

to whom He also presented Himself alive by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me;"

for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."


This is a letter to a "lover of God;" the first few verses sum of the previous letter: all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day that he was taken up. Luke summarizes the end of his previous letter-- Christ gave commandments to the apostles, presented Himself alive, and then assembled them together in Jerusalem with a promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The first commandment in this book is to wait. To wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.


Chrysostom's sermon begins with a reflection on the importance of the Book of Acts. It is replete with Christian wisdom and sound doctrine, especially pertaining to the Holy Spirit. This book shows how Christ's predictions in the Gospel about the apostles' lives would come to pass. And it is the "crowning point of our salvation" for both Christian practice and doctrine. Finally, this book demonstrates Christian evangelistic strategy: first, to proclaim Christ's divinity, death and Resurrection; and to move to doctrine about the Godhead from there.

Of evangelistic strategy, Chrysostom says:

"Therefore it is that gently and little by little [the apostles] carry [the evangelized] on, with much consideration and forbearance letting themselves down to their low attainments, themselves the while obtaining in the more plentiful measure the grace of the Spirit, and doing greater works in Christ's name than Christ Himself did."

Acts, says Chrysostom, is a demonstration of the Resurrection: "this being once believed, the rest [of Christian faith] would come in due course."

He also makes much of the importance of eyewitness:

"Upon this [Apostolic] ground we also argue with unbelievers. For if He did not rise again, but remains dead, how did the Apostles perform miracles in His name? But they did not, say you, perform miracles? How then was our religion instituted? ... For this would be the greatest of miracles, that without any miracles, the whole world should have eagerly come to be taken in the nets of twelve poor and illiterate men."

Chrysostom also emphasizes the forty days of Christ's life before his Ascension: Christ remained so that his disciples would see "Him in His own proper Person." Christ commanded them to stay in Jerusalem because he didn't want them fighting before being armed with the Spirit. And Christ made them wait for the Spirit until after He Himself had ascended so that they would miss His presence keenly and expect the Spirit earnestly.

Whereas the Gospels, says Chrysostom, are a history of what Christ did and said, the Acts are histories of what the Comforter did and said. And so he makes much of the synergy in our lives with the work of the Holy Spirit:

"We shall be surest of obtaining God's mercy when we do our part."

"Which is best, to fear or to labor?"

The conclusion of the sermon is both a reminder of the great expectations put to Christians, and an exhortation to not let this responsibility keep one from baptism. For where the responsibility increases, so does God's mercy increase.