Today we celebrate the day of the translation into the Heavenly habitations of the great ascetic and founder of a monastic habitation—St. Anthony the Great.
The life of St. Anthony was quite full of various miraculous occurrences, that we, while reading his life and the lives of others ancient saints like him, marvel at how much their lives differed from our modern lives.
Sometimes this gives us reason to suppose that there lived in that time such people especially gifted by nature and especially chosen by God, foreordained by God to be receptacles of his grace.
Sometimes it seems to us that their time was somehow unique; a time when the Lord was more generous with the gifts of the Spirit, and poured them out on every Christian as if without measure.
We forget that the ancient saints were of the same nature as you and me; they had the same weaknesses that we observe in ourselves: They also experienced hunger like we do; they also wanted to sleep; their bodies were exposed to the same sicknesses as are ours.
God is no respecter of persons; and we hear now the same Divine voice that St. Anthony the Great heard, and that the host of great ascetics and saints following after him heard, and that future generations of Christians coming after us will hear: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne (Rev. 3:20-21).
For our sake, our Lord Jesus Christ created this visible world; for our sake He descended from Heaven, becoming a man like unto us; He poured out His Divine blood for us in the terrible sufferings of the Cross, to grant us such blessings of which we on Earth cannot even conceive.
Therefore, perhaps, there is neither in Heaven nor on Earth any greater sorrow than the sorrow of the awareness that Christians neglect these ineffable gifts, whose inheritors they are called to be.
Precisely this sorrow seized the heart of St. Anthony, when once his disciples, seeing with what great zeal such a countless multitude of monks labored in the desert, asked him, “Father! Will this zeal and fervor for the virtues, to which we and this whole multitude of monks so fervently apply ourselves, nearly without exception, continue for long?” Then the saint, sighing and shedding copious tears, proclaimed to them the dread prophecy of the state of Christianity in the last times, that the narrow and tight path of virtues will be abandoned by many, from which many will follow the impulses of their mind and body.
However, he added, against the background of this universal apostasy, among the Christians of those times, some will be far better and more perfect than us, because more blessed is he who could have sinned but did not, or done evil but did not, than he before whom there were innumerable examples of asceticism by which he was as if involuntarily drawn to the good.
These words of the God-pleaser are for us a source of great consolation. It means that we, in our current situation, although it sounds bold, can ascend to the same level of perfection as St. Anthony the Great! That means, with our present visible impoverishment of the gifts of the Spirit, we have the chance to prove to the Lord our love for Him, and the Lord awaits this love from us.
There is an episode in the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov where the Mother of God appeared to him and revealed that the martyr’s podvig is possible now, only in another form. If the martyrs of old suffered manifestly, then those of today suffer in secret from various heartfelt sorrows, and their reward will be the same as that of the ancients.
Every time is given its own kind of suffering by the providence of God. Knowing this, let us ever remember that our seemingly small podvigs and sufferings for the sake of Christ, which we offer in our daily lives, acquire in our present situation another value in the eyes of God than in ancient times. In this lies God’s great mercy to us.
Let us remember the words of St. Anthony the Great: “Let us believe in our Lord Jesus Christ with all our heart, and live according to His commandments, and He will have mercy upon us in His Kingdom, when we depart from this wandering designated for us in this world.”