Day Twenty-seven: St. Athanasius: Life of Anthony: Chaps. 61-70
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 136 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf
Here we begin with a couple more examples of the healing miracles which were done through Anthony, which carry over from yesterday's chapters. Many people would travel from far and wide to see and hear Anthony, or to receive prayer for sickness or for freedom from demons, but he “used to ask that no one should wonder at him for this; but should rather marvel at the Lord for having granted to us men to know Him as far as our powers extended.”
Two examples are given of a time when Anthony was asked to visit some monks on a boat, and there was a stench so bad in that place that Anthony said it was unusual and not natural. The people on board just said it was due to the cargo of meat, but as Anthony preached, a boy in the crowd yelled out and Anthony rebuked the demon in him, setting the boy free and with it, the stench left. The other time was of an official who had been possessed so badly that he would not know where he went and ate his own excrement! The man ended up by Anthony who sat and prayed with him all night until the demon finally let go and left with a violent outburst.
Athanasius breaks here to make a note that many monks had “related with the greatest agreement and unanimity that many other such like things were done by” Anthony, and these things were like highlights to his life story.
Anthony's vision about forgiveness of sins
Athanasius relates now of a time when Anthony was praying and about to go and eat. On standing up he suddenly found himself in the Spirit and in what we'd call today an “out of body experience”. Suddenly he was taken up into the air by “certain ones”, which I assume to mean angels because he is then opposed by “certain bitter and terrible beings” which would seem like demons. They try to stop his passage by accusing him of his sins, but the ones accompanying Anthony tell them that, “the Lord has wiped out the sins from his birth” but that only since the time he became a monk can they accuse him; they failed and Anthony was allowed to pass.
Suddenly Anthony found himself back in his body as before and was astonished at “against what mighty opponents our wrestling is” and recalled what Paul taught in his epistles about our battles being against the “ruler of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). So he taught all the more passionately about the need to put on the whole armour of God (Eph 6:13) and for living right before God so that the enemy may not have anything evil to day against us (Titus 2:8).
Anthony's vision on the passing of souls
At another time when Anthony was praying at night after a discussion with some people about what happens to the soul after death, he heard a voice from above telling him to go outside and look up.
On going, he saw a giant being going up as tall as the clouds, and people ascending upwards through the clouds. Some of the people were being hindered while others flew by without issue. He had his mind opened to understand what he was seeing, and it was explained that the giant was the enemy stopping those souls from heading to heaven who were accountable to the devil but those who belonged to God could pass by without issue.
Anthony against heretics and heresy, such as Arianism
When schisms and heresies arose, such as the Meletian schismatics, or the Manichæan heretics, Anthony would have no part of it nor would be even meet with them except to try and have them convert to the truth.
He also despised the Arians and their heresy, and warned that none should go near them nor hold to their belief. But at one point, certain “madmen” came to him so that he could learn of their doctrine more, Anthony drove them away saying their “words were worse than the poison of serpent”!
After this, some more Arians went about and lied saying that Anthony agreed with their doctrine. On hearing this, all of the bishops and other brethren summoned Anthony to Alexandria to be questioned about it. He denounced the heresy as something antichrist and defended the divinity it Christ, saying,
…the Son of God was not a created being, neither had He come into being from non-existence, but that He was the Eternal Word and Wisdom of the Essence of the Father. And therefore it was impious to say, 'there was a time when He was not,' for the Word was always co-existent with the Father. Wherefore have no fellowship with the most impious Arians. For there is no communion between light and darkness. (2 Corinthians 6:14)
He goes on to teach that they, and anyone who denies Christ's divinity and says he is a created being, are no better than the heathen, “since they worship that which is created” rather than “the Creator, the Lord of all, by whom all things came into being, with those things which were originated” (John 1:1-4).
On hearing that Anthony had denounced the Arians, the city rejoiced and even the Greeks and their temple priests came to see Anthony speak, and in that time many people were healed and set free from demons, and “as many became Christians in those few days as one would have seen made in a year”!
That must have been quite some party with all those people coming to Christ and worshipping him, what a sight it must have been. I pray that God convicts us all to live a more pious life and to raise up men and women of God who will change cities with the Gospel!