Category Archives: Africa

Anthony of Egypt — January 17

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony (right wing), 1505-06, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

Bible connection

Read James 4:1-12

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

All about Anthony the Great (251-356)

Today is St. Anthony of Egypt’s feast day.

The Roman Catholic Church developed an elaborate system of celebrating the lives of “saints.” Early on, these great people were often the martyrs who gave all believers courage to keep their faith in difficult times. Later, these people were thought to play an intermediary role between Jesus and humanity. Their shrines were thought to be healing, powerful places, and they were thought to be praying for us and taking advantage of their special relationship with God on our behalf. Even though these practices have been  excessive and even heretical, we still recognize how notable Jesus followers got to be “saints.” The Bible calls everyone who has been set apart for God in Jesus a saint, so you probably deserve an entry in our list. But some people are so inspiring we don’t want to forget them. The Body of Christ has  great history.

The word “saint” means “holy one.” When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he starts his letter: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you follow Jesus, you are a saint, right along with Anthony.

Anthony was one of the first Christian monks.  A “monk” (from Greek: μοναχόςmonachos, “single, solitary” and Latin monachus) is a person who practices strict spiritual discipline to be close to God and serve the Lord’s purpose, living either alone or with any number of other monks. They voluntarily choose to leave mainstream society and live an alternative life, usually according to a rule.

Anthony lived for 105 years! At the age of 20, he was inspired by a passage in Mark: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (10:21). So he made sure his sister was well provided for and gave away a large inheritance and all his possessions. He then pursued a life of solitude in the desert, away from a Church which was quickly becoming dominated by the world. In many ways, he was the “anti-Constantine.”

Anthony was illiterate but he became very wise.  He went further into the desert than his ascetic contemporaries in search of an undistracted life with God.  He spent time in an old tomb and eventually he shut himself up in an old Roman fort for twenty years.  In his solitude, he had frequent run-ins with the devil, but triumphed.  His life was written down by the famous bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, so we know a lot about his struggle and his influential successes. [Link to Athanasius’ Life of Anthony…]

The Emperor Constantine and his two sons, Constantius and Constans, once sent Anthony a joint letter, recommending themselves to his prayers. Noting the astonishment of some of the monks present, Anthony said,

“Do not wonder that the Emperor writes to us, even to a man such as I am; rather be astounded that God has communicated with us, and has spoken to us by His Son.”

Replying to the letter, he exhorted the Emperor and his sons to show contempt for the world and to constantly remember the final judgment.

The holiness Anthony achieved in his solitude ended up being very influential. People came to see him and formed a community around his example. Plus, the leaders of the church called him out of his separation to add his wisdom to the development of the church.

Perhaps the best movements are those begun by people not trying to start them. The monastic movement that Anthony inspired is still inspiring further descendants in the faith today. Many believers in these troubled times honor the spirit of separation from the world and practice that separation invasively.

More

You might appreciate a bio of Anthony from the Coptic Church [link].

Expoza Travel tells you why you should go to the desert with Anthony. [link]

Interesting documentary about monks inthe desert: Desert Foreigners [link]

What do we do with this?

Here are some ways you could experiment with Anthony’s discipline. You might hear from God yourself!

  • Spend half a day (or more if you can) in the “wildereness,” in silence, some time in the near future
  • Have a silent day at home. Make a deal with your spouse or roommates that you are going to be silent (maybe get them to do it with you).
  • Unplug completely for at least two days.
  • See if a five-minute alone time of listening during your workday allows you to connect with God in any way.

Nelson Mandela — December 5

Mandela in Soweto two days after his release from prison in 1990. He addressed over 100,000 people in a soccer stadium.

Bible connection

Therefore My people shall know My Name and what it means. Therefore in that day I am the One who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’”

How beautiful and delightful on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace,
Who brings good news of good [things],
Who announces salvation,
Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
Together they shout for joy;
For they will see face to face
The return of the Lord to Zion. Isaiah 52:6-8

Then-President Nelson Mandela revisits his South African prison cell on Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, in 1994.
Then-President Nelson Mandela revisits his South African prison cell on Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, in 1994.

All about Nelson Mandela  (1918-2013)

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.

Mandela was not outspoken about his Christian faith. However, in his autobiography, he noted that he has always been and will be a Christian and that his actions and conviction stem from his Christian faith. He kept his Christian beliefs discreet in favor of his great life work of reconciliation. “He was a deeply religious man; he believed sincerely in the existence of the Almighty,” said Bishop Don Dabula, who first met Mandela in 1962 and met to pray with him whenever he was at his home in Qunu

The former president had the last rites administered by a Methodist minister in his Houghton home as he was nearing death. Nearby, in a private room, long-time friend Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said Mandela’s favorite blessing as he died. “I asked not to be in the room when he died,” said Mpumlwana, who had prayed at the family home regularly towards the end of Mandela’s life. He looked at the time midway during what he knew was Mandela’s favorite blessing and saw it was 8:49 p.m. He chanted the words that always made the elderly statesman’s face light up when he heard them: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. “May the Lord look upon you with kindness, and give you peace. “I later realized that was when he died,” Mpumlwana said.

It is testament to Mandela’s universal appeal that he has been claimed to be everything from a communist to a true liberal by his many admirers. And the image of the father of South Africa’s secular democracy as being deeply religious may well sit uncomfortably with some. But Mandela’s relationship with religion was always significant, if muted.

He was raised and schooled as a Methodist, an experience he recalled fondly in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela was married to his third wife, Graça Machel, by the then head of the South African Methodist church, Bishop Mvume Dandala. At a religious conference in 1999, he said: “Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today…Religion was one of the motivating factors in everything we did.”

But Mandela held an aversion to speaking publicly about his own faith for fear of dividing or—even worse—using religion as a political tool, as the apartheid regime did. In his autobiography he wrote:

“The [apartheid] policy was supported by the Dutch Reformed Church, which furnished apartheid with its religious underpinnings by suggesting that Afrikaners were God’s chosen people and that blacks were a subservient species. In the Afrikaner’s world view, apartheid and the church went hand in hand.”

The head of the Methodist Church in South Africa, Bishop Zipho Siwa, agreed: “He is a leader whose role was to unite everybody.” Ultimately, his faith, like everything else about Mandela, played to the great theme of his life: reconciliation. This was illustrated in a 1994 speech to the Zion Christian Church Easter conference, in which he said: “The good news was borne by our risen Messiah, who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language,  who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind.”

More

More biography.

Mandela and the church

Long Walk to Freedom trailer

What do we do with this?

Mandela spent years in prison waiting his opportunity to serve. He had no choice, and maybe you do not either. Will you be bitter when you receive your chance, or ready?

Who can you help reconcile today? Be sincere as you provide a way for people to love. They need your help.