Anthony the Desert Father is probably my favorite figure in Christian history. He was one of the early hermit monks of whom there is a considerable record. His way of practicing and living out his spirituality moves something within me. Here are some interesting tidbits:
According to Athanasius, the devil fought St. Anthony by afflicting him with boredom, laziness, and the phantoms of women, which he overcame by the power of prayer, providing a theme for Christian art. After that, he moved to a tomb, where he resided and closed the door on himself, depending on some local villagers who brought him food. When the devil perceived his ascetic life and his intense worship, he was envious and beat him mercilessly, leaving him unconscious. When his friends from the local village came to visit him and found him in this condition, they carried him to a church.
As if that wasn’t enough:
After he recovered, he made a second effort and went back into the desert to a farther mountain by the Nile called Pispir, now Der el Memun, opposite Crocodilopolis. There he lived strictly enclosed in an old abandoned Roman fort for some twenty years. According to Athanasius, the devil again resumed his war against Saint Anthony, only this time the phantoms were in the form of wild beasts, wolves, lions, snakes and scorpions. They appeared as if they were about to attack him or cut him into pieces. But the saint would laugh at them scornfully and say, “If any of you have any authority over me, only one would have been sufficient to fight me.” At his saying this, they disappeared as though in smoke, and God gave him the victory over the devil.
Read the entire wiki-article on St. Anthony here.
[Reposted from JDM – The Weblog.]
I have often heard that the Desert Fathers served an important purpose of reminding people–to use the words of Bonhoeffer–of the cost of discipleship during an era when the church was becoming a bit too comfortable. On the other hand, I have always wondered what perspective the Desert Fathers had on the mission of the church. In other words, how did they understand Jesus’ own model of going into the desert to confront the devil and to commune with God only to then go back into the world to proclaim the gospel? Did the Desert Fathers ever find this balance, and if so, how?
The Desert Fathers were generally hermetic and solitary. But many times that would change when people would seek them out for guidance. They would often have people who came to be disciples and so they would create these monastic communities. Some in the community would stay there permanently while others would go back into the cities. It’s hard to say how many found that balance because many of the sayings I’ve read focus on the importance of retreating to the monk’s cell.
One thing that seems to have offset their separatedness is their emphasis of prayer as a means to change the world around them. They were also people of great compassion, so those who weren’t monastic who came into contact with the Desert Fathers often left uplifted and enlightened. Presumably, the non-monastics would then go back into the world to preach. Abba Anthony did have an equal in the city who gave to the poor and everyday “sang the Sanctus with the angels.”
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