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February 15, 2018

The Seven Great Letters of Saint Anthony the Great (Letter 6)

Letter VI

Antony to all the dear brethren who are at Arsinoe and in its neighbourhood, and to those who are with you, greeting. All you who have prepared yourselves to go to God, I greet you in the Lord, beloved, from the least to the greatest, both men and women, holy Israelite children in your intellectual substance. Truly, my children, great blessedness is come to you, for great is the grace that has been set upon you in this your generation. And it befits you, on account of Him who has visited you, not to grow weary in your striving, till you offer yourselves a sacrifice to God in all holiness, without which none can receive the inheritance.

Truly, my beloved, this is a great thing for you, that you should ask concerning the understanding of the intellectual substance, in which is neither male nor female, but it is an immortal substance, which has a beginning but no end. And you ought to know of it, that it has fallen altogether into humiliation and great disgrace, which has come upon all of us; yet it is an immortal substance, not to be dissolved with the body. For this cause God saw that its wound was incurable; and because it was so grave, He visited mankind in His clemency, and of His goodness after times had passed He delivered to them a Law, helping them through Moses the Lawgiver. And Moses founded for them the House of Truth, and wanted to heal that great wound, and could not complete the building of the house.

Thereafter again all the choirs of the saints gathered together and asked the Father’s kindness concerning our Saviour, that He might come to us for the salvation of us all. For He is our great and faithful high priest and true physician, who is able to heal the great wound. So at the Father’s will He emptied Himself of His glory. He was God, and took upon Him the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7-8), and gave Himself for our sins, and our sins humbled Him, and with His wound we all are healed. (Isa. 53:5) Therefore, my dear children in the Lord, I want you to know that because of our foolishness, and because of our weakness the form of weakness, and because of our poverty the form of poverty, and because of our death put on the form of a mortal, and endured in all this for our sake. Truly, my beloved in the Lord, we ought not to give sleep to our eyes or slumber to our eyelids (Ps. 132:4), but we should pray and constrain the goodness of the Father, until He has mercy on us; and in this way we shall give refreshment to the coming of Jesus, and power to the ministry of the saints, who work for us on the earth in the time of our negligence, and we shall rouse them to eagerness that they may help us in the time of our tribulation. Then ‘he that soweth and he that reapeth will rejoice together.’ (John 4:36.)

I want you to know, my children, my great grief which I have for you, when I see the great confusion which is coming upon us all, and consider the great labour of the saints, and their groanings which they are always uttering before God on our behalf, as they see all the labour of their Creator, and all the evil counsels of the devil and his ministers, the evil they meditate always for our perdition, since their portion is to be in hell, and for this cause they want us to be lost with them, and to be with the multitude. Truly, my beloved in the Lord, I speak to you as to wise men, that you may know all the dispensations of our Creator which are made for us, being given to us by manifest and hidden preachings. For we are called rational, yet have put on the mind of irrational beings. Or do you not know what the many machinations and arts of the devil are like: for the evil spirits envy us, ever since they knew that we have tried to see our disgrace, and have sought a way of fleeing from their works which they sow among us, but even many of us laugh at their machinations. And they know of the indulgence of our Creator that in this world He has condemned them to death, and has prepared for them to inherit gehenna because of their negligence.

I want you to know, my children, that I cease not to pray God for you night and day, that He may open for you they eyes of your hearts, to see the many hidden malignities which the evil spirits pour upon us daily in this present time. I want God to give you a heart of knowledge and a spirit of discernment, that you may be able to offer your hearts as a pure sacrifice before the Father, in great holiness, without blemish. Truly, my children, they envy us at all times, with their evil counsel, and hidden persecution, and subtle malice, and spirit of seduction, and their blasphemous thoughts, and their infidelities which they sow in our heart every day, and their hardenings of heart, and their many griefs which they bring upon us at every hour, and the faintings with which they make our heart to faint daily, and all the anger and mutual slander which they teach us, and the self-justifications in what we do, and the judgments which they set in our hearts, causing us, when we are sitting alone, to judge our fellows though they dwell not with us; and the contempt which they set in our hearts by pride, when we are hard-hearted and despise each other, when we are bitter against each other with our heard words, grieving at every hour, accusing each other and not ourselves, thinking that our toil is from our fellows, sitting in judgment on what appears outwardly, while the robber is all within our house; and the disputes and divisions wherein we dispute against each other until we establish our own word, to appear justified in the face of each other.

The evil spirits make us zealous for works which we are not able to perform, and cause us to faint in tasks on which we are engaged, and which are profitable for us. Therefore they make us laugh when it is time for weeping, and weep when it is time for laughter, and simply turn us aside at every time from the right way. And there are many other deceits whereby they make us their slaves, but there is no time now to describe all this. But when they fill our heart with these deceits, and we feed on them and they become our food, then God is patient with us and He visits us, to bring us back again from this heavy body, that we may leave it. And then our evil works which we wrongly committed will be manifested to us in the body subjected to punishment; and we shall clothe ourselves in this body once more – for God in His patience permits this – and our last state will be worse than the first. (Matt. 12:45.) Therefore weary not of praying the goodness of the Father, if perchance His help may come upon you, that you may teach yourselves to know what is right.

Truly I tell you, my children, that this vessel in which we dwell is perdition for us, and a house full of war. In truth, my children, I tell you that every man who delights in his own will, and is subdued to his own thoughts, and takes up the things sown in his heart, and rejoices in them, and supposes in his heart that these are some great chosen mystery, and justifies himself in what he does – the soul of such a man is a lair of evil spirits, counseling him to evil, and his body a store of evil mysteries which it hides in itself: and over such a one the demons have great power, because he has not dishonoured them before all men.

Do you not know that they have not one uniform method of hunting, that we should know it and flee from it? Seek, and you will not find their sin and iniquity revealed bodily, for they are not visible bodily; but you must know that we serve as bodies for them, for our soul receives their wickedness, and when it receives them, then it brings them to manifestation by the body in which we dwell. Now, then, my children, let us give them no place; otherwise we shall stir up the wrath of God against us, and they will go away home and laugh at us. For they know that our perdition is from our neighbour, and our life also is from our neighbour. Who ever saw God, to rejoice with Him and retain Him within himself, so that God should not leave him, but help him while he dwells in this heavy body? Or who ever saw a demon in his fight against us, while he prevents us from doing good and attacks us, standing in a bodily place, so that we fear him and flee from him? For they are in secret, and we make them manifest by our works. For they are all from one source in their intellectual substance; but in their flight from God, great diversity arises between them through the variety of their working.

That is why different names have been given to them by reason of the operation of each one of them. So some of them are called archangels, and some of them thrones and dominions, principalities and powers and cherubim; and these names are given to them when they have kept the will of their Creator. Again, the evil way of others made it necessary to name them devil and satan, because of their evils state; and others were name demons, and evil and impure spirits, and seducing spirits, and princes of this world. And many other varieties are there among them. Again, there are those who have opposed them in this heavy body in which we dwell; and some of these were named patriarchs, and some prophets and kings and priest and judges and apostles, and many others were made elect for their good conduct. And all these names are given them, be they man or woman, according to the different principle of their works; for all are from one.

For this cause, therefore, he who sins against his neighbour sins against himself, and he who does evil to his neighbour does evil to himself; and he who does good to his neighbour, does good to himself. Otherwise, who is able to do ill to God, or who is there who could hurt Him, or who could refresh Him, or who could ever serve Him, or who could ever bless Him, that He should need his blessing, or who is able to honour Him with the honour that is His due, or to exalt Him as He serves? Therefore, while we are still clothed in this heavy body, let us rouse up God in ourselves by incitement of each other, and deliver ourselves to death for our souls and for each other; and if we do this, we shall be manifesting the substance of His compassion for us. Let us not be lovers of ourselves, so as not to become subject to their inconstant power. For he who knows himself, knows all men. Therefore it is written, ‘He called all things out of nothingness into being.’ (Cf. Wisd. 1:14.) Such statements refer to our intellectual nature, which is hidden in this body of corruption, but which did not belong to it from the beginning, and is to be freed from it. But he who can love himself, loves all men.

My dear children, I pray that this may not be a toil to you, and that you may not grow weary of loving one another. Lift up your body in which you are clothed, and make it an altar, and set thereon all your thoughts, and leave there very evil counsel before the Lord, and lift up tht hands of your heart to Him, that is, to the creator Mind, and pray to God that He may grant you His great invisible fire, that it may descend from heaven and consume the altar and all that is on it, and that all the priests of Baal, who are the contrary works of the enemy, may fear and flee from your face as from the face of Elijah the prophet. And then you will see a cloud ‘like a man’s head’ over the sea, which will bring you the spiritual rain, which is the comfort of the Comforter Spirit. (Cf. 1 Kings 18:38-44.)

My dear children in the Lord, holy Israelite children, there is no need to bless or to name your bodily names, which will pass away. For you are not ignorant of the love between me and you, that it is no bodily love, but a spiritual, religious love. And herein I am confident that it is a great blessedness for you are not ignorant of the love between me and you, that it is no bodily love, but a spiritual, religious love. And herein I am confident that it is a great blessedness for you that you have tried to know your own ignominy, and to strengthen the invisible substance which does not pass away with the body. And in this way I think that your blessedness is brought about in this time. Therefore let this word be always manifest to you, that you may not think that your progress and entry into religion has been your own work, but may understand that you are always helped by some divine power. Strive to offer yourselves as a sacrifice to God always, and give gladness to the power that helps you, and refreshment to God at His coming, and to all the band of the saints, and to me also, this poor wretch, who am dwelling in this house of clay and darkness. For this reason I tell you these things, refreshing you, and praying that, since we are all created of the same invisible substance, which has a beginning but no end, we may love one another with a single love. For all who know themselves, know that they are of one immortal substance.

I want you to know this, that Jesus Christ our Lord is Himself the true Mind of the Father. By Him all the fullness of every rational nature is made in the image of His image, and He Himself is the head of all creation, and of His body the Church. (Col. 1:15-18.) Therefore we are al members one of another, and the body of Christ, and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’; and if one member suffers, the whole body is moved and suffers with it. (Eph. 4:25; 1 Cor. 12:21, 26, 27.) But if a member is estranged from the body, and has no communication with the head, but is delighted by the passions of its own body, this means that its wound is incurable, and it has forgotten its beginning and it s end. And therefore the Father of creatures, moved with compassion towards this our wound, which could not be healed by any of the creatures, but only by the goodness of the Father, sent forth to us His Only-begotten, who because of our bondage took upon Himself the form of a bondservant (Phil. 2:7), and gave Himself up for our sins; for our iniquities humbled Him, and by His wound we all are healed (Isa. 53:5); and He gathered us out of all regions, till He should make resurrection of our hearts from the earth, and teach us that we are all of one substance, and members one of another. Therefore we ought greatly to love one another. For he who loves his neighbour, loves God: and he who loves God, loves his own soul.

Let this word be manifest to you, my dear children in the Lord, holy Israelite children, and make yourselves ready to go to the Lord, and to offer yourselves as sacrifices to God in all purity, which none can acquire without purification. Or do you not know, beloved, that the enemies of virtue are always plotting evil against the truth? For this cause also, beloved, give heed, and give not sleep to your eyes nor slumber to your eyelids. (Ps. 132:4.) Cry out to your Creator day and night, that help may come forth to you from on high, and may encompass your hearts and thoughts in Christ. Truly, my children, we are set in the house of the robber, and bound with the bonds of death. I tell you truly, my beloved, that our carelessness and our humiliation and our turning side from the way, are not a loss to us only, but they are weariness for the angels and for all the saints in Christ Jesus. Truly, my children, our humiliation gives grief to them all: and again our salvation and glory gives joy and refreshment to them all. And know that the kindness of the Father ceases not, always from its first motion until today, to do good to us, that we may not bring about our own death by misusing the fee will with which we were created. For this cause they encompass us at all times; as it is written, ‘The angel of the Lord tarrieth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.’ (Ps. 34:7.)

Now, my children, I want you to know, ever since this motion of God’s love came about until now, all who have become estranged from virtue and acted wickedly, are reckoned as children of the devil; and those who are of the devil know it, and that is why they try to change each of us according to their own will. For knowing this, that the devil fell from heaven through pride, for this cause also they attack first those who have attained to a very great measure, seeking by means of pride and vainglory to turn them against one another. They know that in this way they can cut us off from God, for they know that he who loves his neighbour loves God; and for this cause the enemies of virtue sow division in our hearts, that we may be filled with great enmity against each other, and not hold any converse with our neighbour even from a distance.

Truly, my children, I want you to know that there are many who have pursue asceticism throughout their life, but lack of discernment killed them. Truly, my children, I think it is no great wonder, if you neglect yourselves and do not discern your works, that you should fall into the hands of the devil, when you think you are near to God, and that in your expectation of the light, darkness should overtake you. For what need was there at all for Jesus to gird Himself with a towel and wash the feet of His inferiors, but that He should make this an example, to teach those who should turn to Him their own first beginning? (Cf. John 13:4-17.) For the beginning of their motion is the pride which came at the first. That is why, except through great humility in your whole heart and mind and spirit and soul and body, you will not be able to inherit the Kingdom of God.

Truly, my children in the Lord, I ask my Creator day and night, from whom I have the pledge of His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22), to open for you the eyes of your heart to know this my love which I have towards you, and the ears of your soul to perceive your own confusion. For he who knows his own disgrace, seeks again his elect grace: and whoso knows his own death, also knows is life eternal. I speak to you as to wise men, my children: truly I am afraid lest hunger overtake you on the way, in the place where we have need to be made rich. I had hoped to see you face to face in the body. But I look forward to the time which is near, when we shall be able to see face to face watch other’s very selves, when pain and sorrow and sighing shall fee away, and joy shall be upon the heads of all. (Cf. Isa. 35:10.) There are many other things I wanted to tell you. But give occasion of wisdom to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser. (Prov. 9:9.) I salute you all, my dear children, by name.