Sayings Of St. Anthony the Great of Egypt

1. When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by 'accidie' - lethargy - , and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, 'Lord, I want to be saved, but these thoughts will not leave me alone. What shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?' A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, "Do this and you will be saved." At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.

2. When the same Abba Anthony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, "Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men prosper and why are the just in need?" He heard a voice answering him, "Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.'

3. Someone asked Abba Anthony, "What must one do in order to please God?" The old man replied, "Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes, whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved."

4. Abba Anthony said to Abbe Poemen, "This is the Great Work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath."

5. Abbe Pambo asked Abba Anthony, "What ought I to do?" and the old man said to him, "Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach."

6. Abba Anthony said, "I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, 'What can get through from such snares?" Then I heard a voice saying to me, "Humility.'"

7. A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, "Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it." So, he did. The old man said, "Shoot another," and he did so. Then the old man said, "Shoot yet again," and the hunter replied "If I bend my bow so much I will break it." Then the old man said to him, "It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs." When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened.

8. The brothers praised a monk before Abba Anthony. When the monk came to see him, Anthony wanted to know how he would bear insults, and seeing that he could not bear them at all, he said to him, "You are like a village magnificently decorated on the outside, but destroyed from within by robbers."

9. One day some old men came to see Abba Anthony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a text from the Scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one the old man said, "You have not understood it." Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, "How would you explain this saying?" And he replied, "I do not know." Then Abba Anthony said, "Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: 'I do not know."

10. The brethren came to Abba Anthony and said to him, "Speak a word: how are we to be saved?" The old man said to them, "You have read the Scriptures. That should teach you how." But they said, "We want to hear from you too, Father." Then the old man said to them, "The Gospel says, 'if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'" (Mt 5:30) They said, "We cannot do that." The old man said, "If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck." "We cannot do that, either," they said. So he said, "If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil," and they said, "We cannot do that, either." Then the old man said to his disciple, "prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers."

11. He also said, "God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much."

12. Abba Anthony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, "You are mad, you are not like us."

13. Three Fathers used to go and visit Blessed Anthony every year and two of them used to discuss their thoughts and the salvation of their souls with him, but the third always remained silent and did not ask him anything. After a long time, Abba Anthony said to him, 'You often come here to see me, but you never ask me anything,' and the other replied, 'It is enough for me to see you, Father.'

14. One day Abba Anthony received a letter from the Emperor Constantius, asking him to come to Constantinople, and he was wondering if he ought to go. So he said to Abba Paul, his disciple, "Ought I to go?" He replied, "If you go, you will be called Anthony, but if you stay here, you will be called Abba Anthony."

15. Abba Anthony said, "I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear." (Jn 4:18)

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He also said, "Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember Him Who gives death and life. Hate the world and all that is in it. Hate all peace that comes from the flesh. Renounce this life, so that you may be alive to God. Remember what you have promised God, for it will be required of you on the Day of Judgment. Suffer hunger, thirst, nakedness, be watchful and sorrowful; weep, groan in your heart; test yourselves, to see if you are worthy of God; despise the flesh, so that you may preserve your souls."

17. Abba Anthony said, "Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge, or else we labor in vain."

18. He also said, "Obedience with abstinence gives men power over wild beasts."

From the Prologue from Ochrid: Anthony was an Egyptian and was born about the year 250 A.D. in the village of Koman near Herculea. Following the demise of his noble and wealthy parents, he divided the inherited estate with his sister, who was a minor, and provided for her with some relatives. Anthony distributed his half of the estate to the poor and, he, in his twentieth year, dedicated himself to the ascetical life for which he yearned from his childhood. In the beginning Anthony lived a life of asceticism in the proximity of his village but, in order to flee the disturbances of people, he withdrew into the wilderness on the shore of the Red Sea, where he spent twenty years as a recluse not associating with anyone except with God through constant prayer, reflection and contemplation, patiently enduring unspeakable temptations from the devil. His fame spread throughout the entire world and many disciples gathered around him whom he placed on the path of salvation by his example and words. During the eighty-five years of his ascetical life, only twice did he go to Alexandria. The first time to seek martyrdom during the time of the persecution of the Church and, the second time at the invitation of St. Athanasius, in order to refute the accusation of the Arians: supposedly that he, too, was an adherent of the Arian heresy. Anthony died in the one-hundred fifth year of his life, leaving behind an entire army of his disciples and imitators. Even though Anthony was not a scholar, nevertheless, he was a counselor and teacher of the most learned men of that time, as was St. Athanasius the Great. When certain Greek philosophers tempted him with literary wisdom, Anthony shamed them with the question: "Which is older, the understanding or the book? Which of these two was the cause of the other?" Ashamed, the philosophers dispersed for they perceived that they only had literary knowledge without understanding and Anthony had understanding. Here is a man who attained perfection in as far as man, in general, can attain on earth. Here is an instructor to instructors and a teacher to teachers, who, for a full eighty five years perfected himself and only in that way was he able to perfect many others. Filled with many years of life and great works, Anthony died in the Lord in the year 335 A.D.   See also the Life of St. Anthony by St. Athanasius the Great