Editor's note:

Jan­u­ary 17 is St. Antho­ny the Abbot’s feast day, and one of our favorite Church Fathers is join­ing us today to help us celebrate.

Some of you may remem­ber that Chris Hall led us through Athana­sius’s Life of Antony in the 2015 – 16 sea­son of the Ren­o­varé Book Club. So, today’s excerpt may feel like a vis­it with an old friend — or rather two old friends. 

St. Antho­ny offers his fel­low monks some wise coun­sel on the prac­tice of exa­m­en — show­ing them how reflect­ing on their spir­i­tu­al lives will both keep them from sin and pro­mote love. Enjoy!

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from The Life of Antony and the Letter To Marcellinus

So after cer­tain days he went in again to the moun­tain. And hence­forth many resort­ed to him, and oth­ers who were suf­fer­ing ven­tured to go in. To all the monks there­fore who came to him, he con­tin­u­al­ly gave this pre­cept: Believe in the Lord and love Him; keep your­selves from filthy thoughts and flesh­ly plea­sures, and as it is writ­ten in the Proverbs, be not deceived by the full­ness of the bel­ly. Pray con­tin­u­al­ly; avoid vain­glo­ry; sing psalms before sleep and on awak­ing; hold in your heart the com­mand­ments of Scrip­ture; be mind­ful of the works of the saints that your souls being put in remem­brance of the com­mand­ments may be brought into har­mo­ny with the zeal of the saints.’

And espe­cial­ly he coun­seled them to med­i­tate con­tin­u­al­ly on the apos­tle’s word, Let not the sun go down upon your wrath’ (Eph­esians 4:26). And he con­sid­ered this was spo­ken of all com­mand­ments in com­mon, and that not on wrath alone, but not on any oth­er sin of ours, ought the sun to go down. For it was good and need­ful that nei­ther the sun should con­demn us for an evil by day nor the moon for a sin by night, or even for an evil thought. That this state may be pre­served in us it is good to hear the apos­tle and keep his words, for he says, Try your own selves and prove your own selves’ (2 Corinthi­ans 13:5).

Dai­ly, there­fore, let each one take from him­self the tale of his actions both by day and night; and if he have sinned, let him cease from it; while if he have not, let him not be boast­ful. But let him abide in that which is good, with­out being neg­li­gent, nor con­demn­ing his neigh­bors, nor jus­ti­fy­ing him­self, until the Lord come who search­es out hid­den things ‚’ as says the blessed apos­tle Paul. For often unawares we do things that we know not of; but the Lord sees all things. Where­fore com­mit­ting the judg­ment to Him, let us have sym­pa­thy one with anoth­er. Let us bear each oth­er’s bur­dens’ (Gala­tians 6:6); but, let us exam­ine our own selves and has­ten to fill up that in which we are lacking. 

And as a safe­guard against sin let the fol­low­ing be observed: Let us each one note and write down our actions and the impuls­es of our soul as though we were going to relate them to each oth­er. And be assured that if we should be utter­ly ashamed to have them known, we shall abstain from sin and har­bor no base thoughts in our mind. For who wish­es to be seen while sin­ning? Or who will not rather lie after the com­mis­sion of a sin, through the wish to escape notice? As then while we are look­ing at one anoth­er, we would not com­mit car­nal sin, so if we record our thoughts as though about to tell them to one anoth­er, we shall the more eas­i­ly keep our­selves free from vile thoughts through shame lest they should be known. Where­fore let that which is writ­ten be to us in place of the eyes of our fel­low her­mits, that blush­ing as much to write as if we had been caught, we may nev­er think of what is unseem­ly. Thus fash­ion­ing our­selves we shall be able to keep the body in sub­jec­tion, to please the Lord, and to tram­ple on the devices of the enemy.’

This was the advice he gave to those who came to him. And with those who suf­fered he sym­pa­thized and prayed. And oft-times the Lord heard him on behalf of man; yet, he boast­ed not because he was heard, nor did he mur­mur if he were not. But always he gave the Lord thanks and besought the suf­fer­er to be patient, and to know that heal­ing belonged nei­ther to him nor to man at all, but only to the Lord, who does good when and to whom He will. The suf­fer­ers there­fore used to receive the words of the old man as though they were a cure, learn­ing not to be down­heart­ed but rather to be long-suf­fer­ing. And those who were healed were taught not to give thanks to Antony but to God alone.

From Anthana­sius’s The Life of Antony, in the pub­lic domain via New Advent.

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