Introductory Note:

One of the most delightful aspects of my work with Renovaré is my involvement with the Renovaré Book Club. From October-June every year, 300 or so Book Club members agree to journey together through four books. We follow a reading schedule, and every week our Renovaré team sends out supplementary resources (study guides, articles or podcasts). We also facilitate a lively online discussion among the members, who routinely amaze us with their honesty and insights.

Here’s some great news: It’s not too late to become a part of this year’s community! Although we are almost finished with our third book (Margaret Guenther’s Holy Listening), we’ve got another book yet to come. And all the resources and discussions for the first three books are still available if you’d like to catch up.

We’ll begin our fourth book, Athanasius’s The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus, on April 18. We will only be covering the first part, The Life of Antony, this time around. Renovaré’s president, Chris Hall, will be our facilitator for this session, and given the fact that Chris is a renowned scholar in the area of ancient Christian spirituality, we’re pretty thrilled to have him! Chris is also a great encourager and a down-to-earth teacher who can make the potentially daunting both doable and relatable. So those of us who are just a little bit afraid to tackle a book from the fourth-century can rest assured that the journey will be an enjoyable one.

To whet your appetite, here’s an introduction to Athansisus and Antony from Chris. Enjoy!

Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

Transformation in the Desert

Toward the latter stages of the third century A.D. a young man named Antony found himself sitting in church listening to the Gospel reading from Matthew 19:21 (RSV): If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Athanasius, archbishop of Alexandria and Antony’s biographer, comments that Antony sensed that Jesus’ words in Matthew’s text were directly and personally addressed to him. It was as if by God’s design he held the saints in his recollection, and as if the passage were read on his account.” Antony immediately decided that he must respond to Jesus’ command through a concrete act of obedience. Step by step, almost methodically, Antony initiated his move into the learning space of the desert to lead a life characterized by solitude, conflict with the demonic realm, prayer, and service.

Why would Antony respond to Jesus’ teaching in such a radical fashion? Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is why not?” What was he thinking? Was Antony hearing truths in the gospel to which other Christians of his day and our own are tone-deaf? Is such far-reaching, radical discipleship what Jesus meant by his commandment to the rich young ruler to give away all his possessions (Mark 10:17 – 25)? How are we to understand – especially those of us who live lives of material prosperity and security – Antony and the many other early Christians who made the desert a home for most of their lives? Surely there is an immediacy, dedication and seriousness in these early Christians’ obedience to the gospel that is worth our close examination.

Other Christians in the church’s history have been deeply affected, encouraged, challenged, and sometimes puzzled by the example of Antony. Augustine, the great North African church father, mentions the story of Antony as a key factor in his own conversion. For I had heard the story of Antony, and I remembered how he had happened to go into a church while the Gospel was being read and had taken it as a counsel to himself when he heard the words Go home and sell all that belongs to you. Give to the poor, and so the treasure you shall have shall be in heaven; then come back and follow me. By this divine pronouncement he had at once been converted to you.”

Why did such a seemingly eccentric and outlandish type of discipleship touch people like Augustine so profoundly? This is a question – among many others – that we will be exploring together in the weeks to come.

(Largely taken from Worshiping with the Church Fathers, 203 – 204).