January 19, 2018

The Seven Great Letters of Saint Anthony the Great (Letter 3)

Letter III

The rational man who has prepared himself to be set free through the advent of Jesus, knows himself in his intellectual substance. For he who knows himself knows the dispensations of the Creator and all that He does among His creatures. Dearly beloved in the Lord, our members and join theirs with the saints, I beseech you in the name of Jesus Christ, that God may give you the spirit of discernment, to perceive and know how great love I have towards you, that it is not a bodily love, but a spiritual, religious love. For concerning your bodily names there is no need to write to you at all, since they are transitory. If a man knows his true name, he will see also the name of truth. For this cause also while Jacob was wrestling all night long with the angel, his name was still Jacob; but when morning came, his name was called Israel, which means “Mind that sees God”. (Gen. 32:24-30)

I think you are not ignorant that the enemies of virtue are always plotting against the truth. For this cause not at one time only did God visit His creatures, but from the beginning there were some who were prepared to come to their own Creator by the Law of His covenant implanted in them, being taught by it to worship their Creator as is right. But by reason of the spread of infirmity, and the heaviness of the body, and evil cares, the implanted law dried up and the senses of the soul grew weak, so that men could not find themselves as they truly are according to their creation, that is to say, an immortal substance, which is not to be dissolved with the body; therefore this substance could not be set free by its own righteousness. For this cause God dealt with them according to His bounty by the writing of the Law, to teach them to worship the Father as they ought. God is One, that is to say, Unity of intellectual substance. You should understand this, beloved, that in all places where there is not harmony, men draw wars upon themselves, and raise up lawsuits among themselves.

And the Creator saw that their wound was grown great, and needed the care of a physician – and Jesus Himself is their Creator, and Himself heals them – and He sent forerunners before His face. And we are not afraid to say of Moses the Lawgiver that he is one of His forerunners, and that the same Spirit which was with Moses worked also in the choir of the saints; and they all prayed for the Only-begotten Son of God. John again is one of His fore-runners: and for this cause the Law and the Prophets were until John, and ‘the kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.’ (Matt. 11:12-13) And being clothed with the Spirit, they saw that none among the creatures was able to heal that great wound, but only the bounty of God, that is to say His Only-begotten, whom He sent to be the Savior of all the world; for He is the great physician, who is able to heal the great wound. And they asked God, and of His bounty the Father of creatures spared not His Only-begotten for our salvation, but delivered Him up for us all and for our iniquities. (Rom. 8:32) And He humbled himself, and by his stripes we all were healed. (Phil. 2:8, Isa. 53:5) And by the word of His power He gathered us out of all lands, from one end of the world to the other end of the world, and raised up our hearts from the earth, and taught us that we are members one of another.

I beseech you, dearly beloved in the Lord: understand that this Scripture is the command of God. For it is a great thing for us to understand the form that Jesus accepted for us: for He became in all things like unto us, apart from sin. (Heb. 4:15) Now therefore it is right that we also should set ourselves free by His advent, that by His foolishness He may make us wise, and by His poverty may enrich us, and by His weakness strengthen us, and confer resurrection upon us all, destroying him that had the power of death. (Heb. 2:14) Now therefore it is right that we also should set ourselves free by His advent, that by His foolishness He may make us wise, and by His poverty may enrich us, and by His weakness strengthen us, and confer resurrection upon us all, destroying him that had the power of death. (Heb. 2:14) Then we shall also cease to call upon Jesus for bodily needs. The advent of Jesus helps us to do what is good, until we have destroyed all our vices. Then Jesus will say to us, ‘Henceforth I call you not servants, but brethren.’ (Cf. John 15:15) When therefore the Apostles attained to receiving the Spirit of Adoption, then the Holy Spirit taught them to worship the Father as they ought.

And to me, this poor prisoner of Jesus, this time to which we have come has brought joy and lamentation and weeping. For many of our generation have put on the robe of religion, and are become beasts – for them I weep. Know therefore that for such men the advent of Jesus becomes a great judgment. But do you, my beloved in the Lord, know yourselves, that you may also know this time, and prepare to offer yourselves as a sacrifice acceptable to God.

Truly my beloved in the Lord – for I write to you as men of understanding, who are able to know yourselves – you know that he who knows himself knows God: and he who knows God, knows also the dispensations which He makes for His creatures. Let this word be manifest to you, that it is no bodily love that I have towards you, but a spiritual, religious love: for God is glorified in the council of His saints. (Ps. 88 [89]:8 LXX) Prepare yourselves while you have intercessors to pray to God for your salvation, that He may pour into your hearts that fire which Jesus came to send upon the earth (Luke 12:49), that you may be able to exercise your hearts and senses, to know how to discern the good from the bad, the right from the left, reality from unreality. Jesus knew that the devil derives his power from the material things of this world, and He called His disciples and said to them, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth’, and ‘Take no thought for the morrow; for the morrow will take thought for itself.’ (Matt. 6:19, 34) Truly, my beloved, you know that when there is a fair wind, the captain of the ship boasts; but it is in the time of violent adverse winds that every skilled captain is revealed. Know now of what kind is this time to which we have come. Of the details for the word of freedom there were many things to say to you, But ‘give occasion to the wise man, and he will be yet wiser.’ (Prov. 9:9) I salute you, from the least to the greatest, in the Lord, Amen.