Ancient Wisdom

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Wisdom from Antony, one of the most influential and holy of the desert fathers.

“Somebody asked Antony, “What shall I do in order to please God?” He replied, “Do what I tell you, which is this: wherever you go, keep God in mind; whatever you do, follow the example of holy Scripture; wherever you are, stay there and do not move away in a hurry. If you keep to these guide-lines, then you will be saved.”

I’ve been thinking and praying about this quote over the last couple of weeks. It’s quite a striking saying, but there are a couple of points that stand out that I’d like to note.

The first thing that struck me is that Antony seems to be answering a different question than the one asked. The question was phrased, “What shall I do to please God?” Antony’s guidelines are meant to lead to salvation; his answer is meant to lead one to a much higher standard.

I think, here, Antony is following his own guidelines, “Wherever you go, keep God in mind.” He is leading us to look to the question God wants us to ask, how we can be with Him in eternity. Our desire is often to just go halfway, to please God in the moment, rather than eternally. That is a much tougher question to ask ourselves.

I have to admit, I’ve been a bit puzzled about this. It seems the question is focused on living a moral life, it seems this person was seeking some sort of practical, short term advice. Antony’s answer, as I said, is focused on the very long term. But I think Antony is saying that living a life pleasing God must have the inevitable result of salvation. I think it is a gentle reminder that all our actions have eternal consequences and that is where our focus should always be.

Another point I found interesting is that, his first two guidelines are what you might expect from a person living a holy Christian life: pray always and live a life in accordance with God’s Word. The third, though, seems out of place, especially in this day of constant movement and, one might say, instability: stay put. Most people today would feel prompted to ask, “What does that have to do with salvation?”

It should be obvious, though, that Antony is also giving advice that one would expect from a monk; he is simply saying, slow down, look around you, see the beauty of the world God has created for you. Take a minute and think about the gifts God has given you, say a prayer of thanksgiving, read a bit of Scripture and meditate, hear what God is trying to say to you. If you live a life on the move, running here and there at a frantic pace, you don’t have time to do the really important things.

Ideally, a monk’s entire existence is centered in one place, with little or no opportunity to do a lot of travel. He takes a vow of stability, which means he seeks God within his community and monastery. This vow, I think, is intended to slow down the tempo of his existence and to allow him to take a longer term view of things. The intent here is to simply lead the monk to a greater sense of gratitude for God’s gift of life and salvation. I think that the fruit, or one of the fruits, of a life of prayer is this sense of gratitude, which leads to yet deeper prayer and union with God. It is our constant tendency to continually be on the move that is one of the greatest obstacle to a simple awareness of God’s never ceasing presence in our lives, and what, for many people, makes prayer so difficult.

The desert fathers weren’t spiritual weaklings, they chose the hard road. I think people in their day also faced the same spiritual challenges that we face today. Yet, their way was one of simplicity. The way to salvation is simple: keeping God in mind at all times, read and pray over Scripture (regularly), and slow down so you can see what God is trying to do in our lives. This simple road, as true fifteen hundred years ago as it is today, leads us to a greater reward than we could ever dream to ask for, almost more than we dare ask for ourselves, salvation.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on July 30, 2007 7:47 AM.

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