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: μοναχός, monachos, “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.
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.