Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Glory to Jesus Christ
The spiritual traditions of the desert constitute an essential treasury for us. The lives of the remarkable womean and men who inhabited the barren wastes of the Middle East point us to a radical and uncompromising way of life that resembles nothing less than the Savior Himself. Taking Jesus at His word they staunchly refused to allow the corruption of the world to distract them from their goal of union with God and love for all creation. In honor of the Feast of St. Antony the Great (Jan. 17) let's look at a few examples of what they taught.
Tempted to accuse others of evil turned the accusations on themselves. "To the pure," they wrote, "all things are pure." "There is no other virtue," said Abba Theodore of Pherme, "than that of not despising anyone."
Tempted to focus on the speck in their neighbor's eye, they stubbornly set about removing the log from their own. Not one word of condemnation was admitted among them for sinners small or great. It was with love that they won many back to the path of righteousness. Watching the prostitute Pelagia in Antioch in procession with her courtiers in the streets of Antiochi, the Bishop Zossimas exclaimed to the amazement of those around him, "Does her beauty not astound you? She spends hours preparing herself for her lovers, yet I will not take even a moment to prepare myself to meet the King of all!' Pelagia ended her life an ascetic laborer on the Mount of Olives.
When one old monk heard that a young brother had been thrown out of church he excommunicated himself as well claiming that he, too, was a sinner worthy of the same.
Robbed by thieves and noticing they had not discovered a book of the Gospels hidden in his cell, a Desert Father ran after them with the book insisting that they should take it also. Seeing his great humility they returned all his goods and repented of their sins.
In a group Bible study, St. Antony read a verse and then asked for the others to say what they thought it meant. One replied with genuine humility, "I do not know what it means." St. Antony replied, "This man has discovered true wisdom."
Allow me to close with some teachings from the great ascetical Father Isaac of Syria. His words speak volumes.
"Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?
Answer: When he considers all human beings as good and no created thing appears impure or defiled to him. Then he is truly pure in heart."
"Spread your cloak over anyone who falls into sin and shield him. And if you cannot take his fault on yourself and accept punishment in his place, do not destroy his character."
What a wonderful world this would be if more of us took such lives and such teachings to heart.
May the Light of the Glorious Theophany lead us all to greater acts of righteousness.
Your servant in Christ,