Day Twenty-five: St. Athanasius: Life of Anthony: Chaps. 41-50
Who: Bishop of Alexandria; Confessor and Doctor of the Church; born c. 296; died 2 May, 373 AD. He was the main defender of orthodoxy in the 4th-century battle against the Arianism heresy. Certain writers received the title “Doctor” on account of the great advantage their doctrine had on the whole Church, Athanasius especially for his doctrine on the incarnation.
What: The biography of Anthony the Great’s life, which helped to spread the concept of Christian monasticism, particularly in Western Europe.
Why: From the letter’s own prologue: “The life and conversation of our holy Father, Anthony: written and sent to the monks in foreign parts by our Father among the Saints, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.” They wanted an accurate account of his life so they imitate his life and teaching.
When: Somewhere between 356 and 362 AD
You can find today’s reading on page 126 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf
Today we continue with a little more teaching and experience from Anthony on demons and the spiritual battle we are all in as believers.
This chapter opens with a strange anecdote from the time that Anthony was still living in his “cell” (the secluded room on the edge of the Nile, not a prison!).
“Once someone knocked at the door of my cell”, he says, and getting up to answer the door, he sees “one who seemed of great size and tall” standing there. Enquiring who this person was, he answered, “I am Satan”. Unphased by this, Anthony just asks him what he is doing there at his door! Satan then just bemoans that all of the “monks and all other Christians” just blame him “undeservedly” and curse him “hourly”, to which Anthony simply asks him, 'then why do you bother them in the first place if you don't want to be blamed for it?'.
Maybe this is what inspired the Rolling Stones song title Sympathy for the Devil (sorry, couldn't help myself!).
Satan then goes on to say that there's no point in cursing him so much since he doesn't have as much power as people think, and then goes on to quote Psalm 9 saying, “I have become weak. Have they not read” the Scriptures?
The swords of the enemy have come to an end, and you have destroyed the cities?
“I have no longer a place, a weapon, a city. The Christians are spread everywhere”, Satan goes on to explain. Anthony agrees with him, rejoicing that, “the coming of Christ has made you weak, and He has cast you down and stripped you”! But on mentioning the Lord's name, Satan vanished as he could not bear to be in the presence of even the name of Jesus.
So now, if even the devil himself confesses that he is weak and defeated, then we should no longer despair at the demons for we know their weakness now, and can now despise them.
Let us consider in our soul that the Lord is with us, who put the evil spirits to flight and broke their power. Let us consider and lay to heart that while the Lord is with us, our foes can do us no hurt.
Coming to a close on his teaching about evil spirits, Anthony gives us the simplest way in which we can test the spirits:
If a vision or apparition appears before you, don't lie down in fear, all you need do is ask, “who are you and from where do you come?”. If the vision is a holy one, then like we see in the Scriptures, the angels will assure you and turn fear into joy. But if it is of evil origins, the fear remains and spirit may fumble with clever words of deception and trickery to hide it's purpose. Remain steadfast in your faith and purpose of mind with Christ and tell that demon to flee in the name of Jesus, and he will!
The growth of the monastic life at this time (about 305 AD)
As Anthony taught on these things, the people rejoiced and came to despise the evil one even more and became strengthened in their faith.
So their cells were in the mountains, filled with holy bands of men who sang psalms, loved reading, fasted, prayed, rejoiced in the hope of things to come, laboured in almsgiving, and preserved love and harmony one with another.
More and more people came to saving faith and began living the ascetic lifestyle, to the point that there was hardly any wrongdoing committed in their area.
During this time, it seems as though Anthony became a little strange. With his focus so much on heaven and on the thought of eventually going to be fully spiritual with no need to support the body through food and drink, he withdrew from the other monks to be in solitude again, feeling shame for eating in front of them and trying to be sure not to give into the pleasures of the body.
Desire for martyrdom at Alexandria during the Persecution (311 AD)
The Church came under persecution from Maximinus II, who took many Christians away to Alexandria to be martyred. Anthony, having not been caught, followed anyway hoping to either be a witness or to at least minister to those who had been taken, and ended up going to those in the mines and the prisons.
The judge who was overseeing the martyrs, saw this fearless zeal from Anthony and his companions, and “commanded that no monk should appear in the judgment hall, nor remain at all in the city” which led to many Christians going into hiding at that time.
Life after the persecutions
After the persecutions ended, Anthony retreated back to his cell where he became a little depressed by the sounds of things and made his discipline more harsh on himself. After a while someone came to his door seeking his help through prayer for their daughter who had a demon.
But Anthony, not wanting to become puffed up, simply said that he is only a man like the visitor, and can do no more than he, but if he goes in faith in Christ, then he shall receive what he asks, quoting Luke 11:9. The daughter was freed from the evil spirit, and so more people came to sit at Anthony's door seeking help to be healed, though he wouldn't open the door to them. But through their sincere prayers and faith, they were healed, and “many other things also through Antony the Lord did”.
Anthony seeks another place
Since so many people were gathered around Anthony's cell seeking for his help and prayers, and because he didn't want to get prideful due to the signs that the Lord was doing through him, he decided to find a new place to dwell.
Anthony set off to find a new secluded place and, by a heavenly voice, was pointed towards a group of Saracens who were heading deeper into the desert; so Anthony travelled with them for three days and three nights until he came to a new mountain with a clear, fresh stream and a plain with some palm trees. Here he decided to settle down to stay.
Tomorrow we will see how Anthony gets on at his new home and what the Lord does with him there! I hope you're finding the life of Anthony as interesting as I am and look forward to what comes next.