Gain your neighbor and you’ll gain God

Taken from Leah’s blog Christ is in our midst! (here):

More than fifteen hundred years ago St. Anthony the Great declared that “a time is coming when people 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.”

It may well be that the time that St. Anthony foresaw is now upon us, or at least is rapidly approaching.  And because of what we have learned, we know what we have to do about it.  The same St. Anthony, with all holy people, has told us.  I urge you, and, if I could, I would command you, to read St. Anthony’s thirty-eight sayings in the Saying of the Desert Fathers.  Everything we need to know in order to live is there for us in its simplest and clearest form.

Abba Anthony first tells us that when we are plagued by whirling thoughts (logismoi) and worn down by an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness and futility (acedia), which we will be in this sinful world, we must simply and diligently work and pray, by pure devotion and sheer obedience.  We must pay attention to ourselves and mind our own business.  We must do our work, and let God — and other people — do theirs.

He also tells us that whoever we are, we should always have God before our eyes; and whatever we do, we should always do according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures; and wherever we are, we should not easily leave that place.

He further tells us (with his friend Abba Pambo) not to trust in our own righteousness, not to worry about the past, and to guard our mouths and our stomachs.  He tells us to take responsibility for our own behavior, and to expect to be ferociously tempted to our very last breath.  He tells us that there is no salvation for us without trial and temptation, and that without being tested, no person can be healed, illumined and perfected.  He tells us that each one of us has our own unique life, that no two people are the same, and that each of us has to be the person that God made us to be:  where we are, when we are, with whom we are, from whom we are, and such as we are, according to God’s inscrutable providence.

St. Anthony also tells us, as do all the saints, that our life and our death begin and end with our fellow human beings.  He insists that if we have gained our neighbor, we have gained our God, but if we have scandalized our neighbor, we have sinned against Christ.  He says that all of our ascetical disciplines, including our scholarly studies, are means to an end; they are not ends in themselves.  The end is discernment and dispassion and the knowledge of God through keeping His commandments, the first and greatest of which is love.  And he teaches that our only hope to escape the countless snares of this broken world that seek to enslave us is found in one thing alone:  Christ-like humility.

~reflection by Fr. Thomas Hopko

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