February 10 – Jacob Engel

From the Bible

Read Philippians 2:1-11

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

About Jacob Engel

Jacob Engel (or Engle) died On February 10, 1833.  He arrived with his parents in Philadelphia in 1754. They left Switzerland because of the persecution Mennonites were facing. The family settled in Lancaster, PA. Township  tax records indicate Jacob was a farmer, owner of a cloth processing mill,  and a minister of average financial means.

As a young man, “Yokeli” was transformed when elements of the Pietist revival, which first began in Germany, reached rural Pennsylvania.   When a religious awakening swept  through the German-speaking settlements, Jacob, assisted by his brother John, became  the leader of the emerging River Brethren (ca. 1780). The River Brethren are the spiritual ancestors of the Brethren In Christ (our denomination). Little is known regarding the ministry of Jacob Engel. There is evidence that  he was an evangelist. He was the shepherd of the newly formed River Brethren  fellowships.

This new group brought  together the crisis conversion experience of the  Pietist awakening with the Pennsylvania version of the Anabaptist view of the church.  Pietism has often served as a channel of renewal in the midst of orthodox faith and human enlightenment. In its stream were flowing the ingredients of a more biblical combination of faith in action.  The Pietists stressed the importance of genuine conversion and a warm, personal experience of renewed life in Christ. For Brethren in Christ, the Christian faith is a relationship with God that is to be enjoyed with the heart, even as it is affirmed with the head.

Key elements of Pietism include:

  • An empahsis on conversion, the new birth
  • Heartfelt worship
  • Intentional deepening of personal and corporate life; spirituality as a disciplined Christian life
  • The importance of right living. In other words, the Pietists believed that Christianity should be characterized by more than just thinking the right things about God, it should be characterized by living in ways that demonstrated one’s commitment to God. Thus they rebelled against arguing about traditional orthodox faith and being subject to static ecclesiastical structures.

February 10 — Ash Wednesday

From the Bible

Read Isaiah 58

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?

About Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday. If you attend one of our observances, you will be given the opportunity to make the sign of the cross on your forehead with ashes collected by burning last year’s Palm Sunday palms.

The symbol is meant to remind us of our need for repentance, the need to turn and go in a new direction. So we use the palms that signaled our hope in Jesus being a triumphant king to remind us that we often get things wrong and we often need to turn around, to repent and concentrate our attention on how to depend on God in our lives more actively. We all want Jesus to be a visible, easy-to-know-and-follow king who is always the winner, always leading the joyous parade. We all know that the parade from last Palm Sunday, as is true with every Palm Sunday parade, leads not to our easy discipleship, but instead to the cross where something far deeper than these desires to win is won for us.

We can’t live lives marked by Jesus and stay on the surface of things, following rules, trying to be right/good. Jesus told the Pharisees that just wasn’t a viable option. He said that would be a farce because our hearts are the problem. We need something new to happen at the depths of us. Jesus is calling for a new way of being altogether. We must go to the heart of things and to the heart of ourselves and turn away from our ideas of what’s best and turn there to the Living God.

More from Rod for those who feel too bad to be involved: [link]

February 9 – Richard Twiss

Today’s Bible reading

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. — John 1:14 (The Message)

More thoughts for meditation about Richard Twiss

Richard, Tayoate Ob Najin “He Stands with his People” (1954-2013) was born on the Rosebud Reservation (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) in South Dakota. His father was a member of the Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge Reservation also in South Dakota. His parents split up and while seven years old.  Richard moved to Denver, CO with his mother during a trend of Indian urbanization (Federal Relocation Policy). They eventually moved to Oregon where Richard finished high school. They made visits back to the Rez, staying in touch with relatives.

He moved back to Rosebud to attend his first year of college at Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail) University where he became involved with the radical politics of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Richard participated in the storied takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in 1971. He wandered and experimented with many substances. One night in 1974 on the island of Maui, Jesus responded to Richard’s desperate prayer. There began a transformation that was coming into fullness at the end of his life as a Lakota follower of the Jesus Way.

Two years later he married Katherine (Scottish and Norwegian decent) while living in an intentional community in Alaska. They had four sons and two grandchildren. Richard served as pastor of a mostly white (their family being the notable exception) in Washington State for over a decade when Richard felt a nudging of the Holy Spirit. Across the US and Canada and around the world, Indigenous People were shedding off the colonial norms that lifted up dominant cultural norms above other God-given cultures such as their own, typified by the US policy of “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” that gave way to the Residential School abuses.

In 1997, he and Katherine began Wiconi International, a non-profit ministry “to work for the well-being of our Native people by advancing cultural formation, indigenous education, spiritual awareness and social justice connected to the teachings and life of Jesus, through an indigenous worldview framework.” Richard became a wonderful speaker and educator in many contexts, local to the Portland area and around the country and world. Richard not only taught about the wonders of creation with his quick wit but the negative affects of Christian mission in the US with his disarming sense of humor. He received his doctorate from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2011 (Intercultural Studies) and authored two books One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You and Rescuing Theology from the Cowboys: An Emerging Indigenous Expression of the Jesus Way in North America, as well as many articles. His contributions to contextualizing the gospel has been a source of healing and inspiration for Indians and non-natives.

Richard was one of the founders of the North American Institute for Indigenous Studies, an Indigenous learning community that now includes several seminary programs. He served on the board of directors of the Christian Community Development Association and the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland and others as well as being the US representative for the World Christian Gathering of Indigenous Peoples.

Dr. Twiss did not live without his critics or staunch opposition to his work from both within native communities at from Christians. Toward the end of his life, Richard often talked about the next generation carrying on the work. He had a knack for expressing love and including people. His capacity to forgive astonished and did not dissuade him from working for justice or inspiring people to fall deeper in love with Jesus and walk in His Way.

Richard often received undue credit for the work and wisdom from his community because of his notoriety, charisma, and because he thought it was funny. He did not promote himself nearly as much as he did the Movement and built the community. Richard gathered people, encouraged them to love and give of themselves towards a beautiful vision of reconciliation, towards what his close friend Randy Woodley describes as The Community of Creation. He always tried to speak from a place of community, and did not strive to be a celebrity as much as a demonstrate the Lakota value of being Ikce Wicasa, a common human person.

More about Richard Twiss:

Obituary on Wiconi International’s site [link]

A short article for Mission Frontiers “Making Jesus Known in Knowable Ways” [link]

Video of Richard’s keynote speech at CCDA 2011 [link]

Wiconi International’s Youtube page, several short pieces [link]

To browse Richard’s books [link]

Red Letter Christians’ tribute page to Richard [link]

Suggestions for action

For some using this post today, an “indigenous” anything might seem strange. Take some time to enter into this community through the gracious welcome of Richard Twiss. Native Americans have a lot to teach everyone about how to live in Christ. Their cultural traits and tragic history bring a deep sensitivity to scripture and life in the Spirit.

Richard was used by “the movement” as a spokesperson. He resisted being notorious. Do you think he should have resisted?

February 9 – Mardi Gras

From the Bible

Read Judges 6:33-40

Then the Lord’s spirit came over Gideon, and he sounded the horn and summoned the Abiezrites to follow him.  He sent messengers into all of Manasseh, and they were also summoned to follow him. Then he sent messengers into Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali too, and they marched up to meet them.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

About Mardi Gras

The Eve of Lent became a time to hold off the inevitable, even to mock and diminish the authority of the spiritual season “imposed” on everyone which was to begin on Ash Wednesday. In Europe, the church of the Middle Ages had a lot of power to impose the rigors of an enforced fast during the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. Before the fast began, people partied and did things they shouldn’t do in order to get those things out of their system before they committed (or were forced to commit) to doing the things they should do.

One of the things many people did (and still do) was eat all the foods they wouldn’t be seeing for a while. In Pennsylvania Dutch territory a “fastnacht” came to be the name of a donut instead of the title of the day: Fast Night or Lent Eve. Unfortunately, “Fat Tuesday” came to be a day to store up as much of the past as possible, so one could endure the season of moving into what is next. Instead of being shriven on Shrove Tuesday, many people are just like Peter, trying to keep Jesus (and themselves) from going to Jerusalem.

Jesus’ journey to the cross is the ultimate pilgrimage into what is next. Let’s move with him. Let’s keep in mind his concerns, so we don’t get stuck in what is merely human. There’s nothing wrong with being human, of course, unless we don’t have in mind the things of God.

February 1 — Brigid

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read John 1:10-14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

More thoughts for meditation about Brigid

Today is the traditional feast day to celebrate Brigid of Kildare (c. 451 to 525) as a crucial figure in the 5th Century church, particularly in Ireland.   Brigid was a convert to the faith, a nun, abbess, and founder of several monastaries, most famously at Kildare.

Her story is widely debated because of the tensions she walked on between paganism and Jesus during a confusing era and perhaps, more practically, because of her powerful office as the abbess of Kildare (an office which held the powers of bishop until the 12th Century).

Brigid was known for her love for the poor and her generous heart.  Even before her vows as a nun, she gave away so much food (and other wealth) that stories developed about her ability to multiply food or even influence the weather.

Her cross (pictured above) is a famous symbol about taking ordinary things and showing God’s love through time and labor — like the famous story of her weaving a cross out of flooring to demonstrate the gospel to a dying man.

Here is a very nice bio from the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare: [link]

Thoughts from Rod, who “visited” Brigid on pilgrimage [link]

Suggestions for action

Brigid reminds us that women have always been esteemed by God as worth leaders. Men have often denied them their calling, but Spirit filled sisters often break through the injustice. Celebrate daring women of faith you know!

Brigid also reminds us of earth, wind, fire and water. Her home-grown, Celtic Christianity is full of natural elements, including a fire she and her band tended on site that was not put out for centuries. There is a Druid goddess named Brigid, as well. Sometimes the Irish have gotten the saint and goddess mixed up. But we can celebrate how the yearning represented in gods and goddesses are met in Jesus, as Brigid boldly proclaimed. Think about honoring the yearning of people around them. Imagine how you can connect them to Jesus.

January 31 – Menno Simons

Today’s Bible reading

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. — James 1:27

More thoughts for meditation about Menno Simons

At the height of their persecution, one powerfully influential leader would survive the height of Anabaptist martyrdom. Menno Simons (1496-1561) was a Catholic priest born in modern day Netherlands. While beginning to study the Scriptures for the first time (even though he was a priest for over a decade), Simons was in conflict with church leaders about transubstantiation. A few years later, around 1531, Simons heard about “rebaptizing” through a beheading of an Anabaptist named Sicke Snijder. He was moved to study the scriptures and found that infant baptism was not in the Bible. He began having more contact with Anabaptists, and while the date of his own adult baptism is not known, those who harbored Simons were arrested for the offense.

The Mennonites, a religious group descended from the 16th century Anabaptists, take their name from Menno Simons. He became a leader in the movement. His moderation, after the militant excesses of the fanatical Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster (1534 – 35), restored balance to the movement.

Simons, whose name means his father was named Simon, gained increasing influence over the years. Thus the Dutch brethren were called Mennonites. They developed a distinctive focus on evangelism. Most celebrated of Simons’ work Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing in 1539 reads,

True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love; it dies to flesh and blood; it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires; it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul; it clothes the naked; it feeds the hungry; it comforts the sorrowful; it shelters the destitute; it aids and consoles the sad; it does good to those who do it harm; it serves those that harm it; it prays for those who persecute it; it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord; it seeks those who are lost; it binds up what is wounded; it heals the sick; it saves what is strong (sound); it becomes all things to all people.

The Mennonites rejected infant baptism, the swearing of oaths, military service, and worldliness. They practiced strong church discipline in their congregations and lived simple, honest, loving lives in emulation of the earliest Christians. Because Mennonites refused to assume state offices, to serve as police or soldiers, or to take oaths of loyalty, they were considered subversive and as such severely persecuted. These persecutions led at various times to the emigration of Mennonite groups: to the American colonies (1683), where they settled in Pennsylvania. At the end of the 18th Century, merging this Anabaptist stream with influence from the Pietist movement, the River Brethren (later to become the Brethren In Christ) were formed.

Simons died a free man of natural causes on this day in 1561, 25 years after he had renounced his priestly vows and was buried in his personal garden.

Here is all you might want to know from the Mennonite history website. 

Suggestions for action

Read through the excerpt from Simons’ writings again. Maybe we should all take a “dormancy” test. Is there an elements of the true evangelical faith that is less active in you or us than it ought to be? Does our relative lack of persecution quench the Spirit among us?

January 27 — Mahalia Jackson

From the Bible

 

About Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson (October 26, 1911 – January 27, 1972) was an American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel”. She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist.  She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.

At the March on Washington in 1963, Jackson sang in front of 250,000 people “How I Got Over” and “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned”. Martin Luther King, Jr.made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech there. She also sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral after he was assassinated in 1968. She sang to crowds at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and was accompanied by “wonderboy preacher” Al Sharpton.

Earlier, in 1956, she met Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the National Baptist Convention. A few months later, both King and Abernathy contacted her about coming to Montgomery, Alabama, to sing at a rally to raise money for the bus boycott. They also hoped she would inspire the people who were getting discouraged with the boycott.

Despite death threats, Jackson agreed to sing in Montgomery. Her concert was on December 6, 1956. By then, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Browder v. Gayle that bus segregation was unconstitutional. In Montgomery, the ruling was not yet put into effect, so the bus boycott continued. There was a good turnout at the concert and they were happy with the amount of money raised. However, when she returned to the Abernathy’s home, it had been bombed. 

Jackosn once said: “I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free”, Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.”

January 19, 2015 — Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday

A national holiday rarely intersects with the Christian calendar. But Martin Luther King is so precious to us that we’re inlcuding his “birthday” as part of our observances.

From the Bible

Read Deuteronomy 15:1-15

“However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.” — Deuteronomy 15:4

About the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday

In 1983, Ronald Reagan signed into law the legislation that made the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15) a national holiday. Reagan did not support the legislation. He opposed the King holiday because he thought King did not deserve to be so honored. Plenty of people at the time shared that opinion, and plenty of people still do.

There is, after all, exactly one other American so honored, and that person is George Washington — not Lincoln, not Jefferson. (The third Monday in February, the day we call “Presidents Day,” is officially, as it has always been, Washington’s Birthday). Giving Martin Luther King Jr., a man who never held public office, an honor that had been reserved exclusively for the father of the country was a very loud statement, one that our nation’s most conservative president probably would have preferred not to make.

Reagan objected because he believed that another federal holiday would just create more government bloat. The King holiday would become the tenth national holiday that came with a paid day off for all federal workers, the cost of which the Congressional Budget Office estimated at $18 million per holiday in 1983 dollars. To those who objected to the cost of the new holiday, Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, whose conservative bona fides were no less than Reagan’s, said: “I suggest they hurry back to their pocket calculators and estimate the cost of 300 years of slavery, followed by a century or more of economic, political and social exclusion and discrimination.”

Luckily for the president, the legislation was passed with veto-proof majorities, making his threatened veto a non-issue. So on Nov. 2, 1983, in a Rose Garden ceremony, Ronald Reagan signed the legislation into law with Coretta Scott King, King’s widow, by his side. This is often listed among his accomplishments.

Reagan’s point was not without logic. The original impetus for the holiday came from labor unions with large African-American memberships that sought a paid day off on MLK’s birthday in contract negotiations. And though legislation creating the holiday was a landmark in American racial relations, all the creation of a federal holiday practically does is give a paid day off to federal government workers. It does not give the day a spirit or a meaning.

Many of the people who had worked diligently for years collecting signatures and petitioning legislators to create the King holiday must have experienced a “What now?” moment when they achieved their goal. They had insisted on having an “official” holiday. They were not interested in Reagan’s counter-suggestion that the King birthday be observed like Lincoln’s, which is to say, without closing government offices. But if the King holiday were to keep true to the spirit of the man whose life inspired it, then it had to become more than just another three-day weekend.

In 1994, Sen. Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania and Congressman John Lewis of Georgia authored the King Holiday and Service Act, with the intention of transforming the King holiday from a vacation day into a day of civic participation and volunteerism; from what had been a “day off” to a “day on.” President Bill Clinton signed the legislation into law on Aug. 23, 1994.

The Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service has often been cited as the nation’s largest King Day event: (website and Facebook). There is no doubt Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King left his mark on Philadelphia. His journeys to this city are noted and marked and his wife Coretta authorized the only Chapter of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association for Nonviolence in Philadelphia.

Martin Luther King, Jr., addressing protesters at Girard College on August 3, 1965.

Martin Luther King, Jr., addressing protesters at Girard College on August 3, 1965.

It is understandable that his holiday, Jan. 21, 2013, will be centered at an institution he once criticized for its racist legacy: Girard College. He staged a rally there in 1965. It is the kickoff place for 1,500 community-service projects scheduled throughout the city for the celebration marking his birthday, now a national holiday. This year is the fourth in which Girard College has acted as host to the daylong celebration.

Philadelphians and the City administration have worked to make MLK Day truly a day of service, the kind of day envisioned by Dr. King. The Day of Service concept has taken hold around the country, due to the efforts of Philadelphian Todd Bernstein, who over the past eighteen years has kept the day of service alive and growing. His efforts have made Philadelphia, the leading celebrator of this day of service. He founded Global Citizen to spearhead the annual event. “What started 18 years ago as a local project has become a growing nationwide movement of celebrating Dr. King’s legacy by uniting people of all backgrounds and ages and turning pressing community concerns into ongoing citizen action.”

The Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service has drawn some 785,000 volunteers over 17 years. Each year, it has been the largest King Day event in the nation. In 2012, more than 85,000 people, including VP Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, volunteered in some 1,300 projects. In 2013 over 100,000 participated.

January 18 – Amy Carmichael

From the Bible

About Amy Carmichal

Amy Carmichal (1867-1951) was a well-known missionaries during the first half of the 20th century.  Her 35 books are loved by thousands.

She into a well-to-do North Ireland Christian family.  In her teen years, she was educated at a Wesleyan Methodist boarding school; and at age 13, while still in boarding school, she accepted Christ as Savior.  When she was age 18, her father died, leaving the family in difficult financial circumstances as he had given a large personal loan that was not repaid.  The family moved to Belfast.  There she became involved in visiting in the slums, and seeing the terrible conditions under which many women and girls worked in the factories, she began a ministry with these women.  It was a work based on faith alone in God, and He met the needs in most remarkable ways.

She became acquainted with the Keswick Movement, and it was there that she learned of a close, deeper walk with the Lord.  One of the leaders of the Keswick Movement, Mr. Wilson, a widower, asked her to come and live in his home and be his secretary.  She learned much from that employment.  She remembered on one occasion at Keswick where Mr. Moody had preached and afterwards was talking with Mr. Wilson when he stopped in mid sentence.  He had just preached on the prodigal son where the father had said to the older son “Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine.”  Mr. Moody said, “I never saw it before.  Oh, the love of God’s love.  Oh, the love.  God’s love.”  Tears rained down his cheeks.  Amy never forgot that spiritual truth-“All that I have is thine.”  It reinforced her faith that God knew her needs before she asked and wanted to supply them by faith.

She received a “Macedonian call” in 1892 at the age of 24; and the following year, as the first appointee of the Keswick’s missions committee, she went to Japan.  But there and elsewhere she met with disappointments.  She left for Japan for Ceylon, went back to England, and then India, where she caught dengue fever. She saw in the missionary community in India that the church was very active but there were no changed lives.  She detested the meetings with the other missionary ladies-drinking tea and gossiping, again showing very little concern for the eternal souls of those about them.  She felt so alone.  One day as she fell to her knees in despair, a verse that she had learned long before floated into her memory:  “He that trusteth in me shall never be desolate,” and she found that to be true throughout her long life of ministry in India.  In reflection, she wrote:

Onward Christian soldiers,
Sitting on the mats;
Nice and warm and cozy
Like little pussycats.
Onward Christian soldiers,
Oh, how brave are we,
Don’t we do our fighting
Very comfortably?

She left Bangalore for South India and with the daughter of her host family and several Christian Indian ladies, began an itinerant ministry through the villages in Tamil Nadu.  They were dubbed the “starry cluster,” for the Indians recognized the sincerity and light that shown forth from them.  The members of the band had no salary but looked to God to supply needs.  Their attitude was “How much can I do without that I may have more to give?”  It was during this period of time that she took on the habit of wearing Indian dress, which she continued throughout her lifetime.

A life-changing experience took place in 1901.  A little five-year-old girl, named Pearl Eyes by Amy, was brought to her by an Indian woman.  The child had been sold by the mother to the temple, and there she was being prepared and taught all the degradation of temple prostitution.  Twice she had run away only to be caught, carried back, beaten, and subjected to the terrible perversion of that Hindu temple.  Finally, as she was running away again at night, she met with this understanding woman who brought her to Amy, who gathered the child up into her lap and picked up the rag doll and gave it to the child to play with.  It was then that she really truly understood the evil of the temple practice.  Little Pearl Eyes talked freely as she played with the doll.  She told Amy things that they did to her in the temple, demonstrating them using the doll.  The date was March 7, 1901.  Amy never forgot that day nor the child’s story.  It was terrible beyond imagination.  This was the beginning of her rescue of these children who had been dedicated to the temple gods. This incident led to the founding of the Dohnavur Fellowship.  In 1918, they began to rescue baby boys, for they likewise were dedicated to the temple gods and goddesses.  Other areas of the work over the years were added such as hospital, schools, printing, etc.  Amy was not understood by many of the missionaries in India.  She was also greatly resented by the Hindu priests and was frequently taken to court on charges of being a kidnapper.

In 1931 Amy had a fall that left her an invalid for the remainder of her life, and she seldom left her bed.  It was during this period of her life that she was most prolific in writing.  Occasionally someone would wheel her in a type of wheelchair out onto a veranda where her children would gather outside and greet her and sing to her.

Amy was very self-effacing-would never allow her photograph to be taken and never referred to herself by name or personal pronoun in her writings.

Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die,
Another’s life, another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.

 

January 17 — Anthony of Egypt

From the Bible

Read James 4:1-12

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony (right wing), 1505-06, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony (right wing), 1505-06, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

About Anthony of Egypt

Today is St. Anthony of Egypt’s feast day.  He was one of the first Christian monks.  He lived from 251-356 AD (105 years!)  At the age of 20, Anthony was inspired by the Gospel passage “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21). So he made sure his sister was well provided for and then he gave away a large inheritance and all his possesions. He then pursued a life of solitude in the desert, away from a Church that was quickly becoming dominated by the world. In many ways, he was the “anti-Constantine.”

Anthony was illiterate but he became very wise.  He went further into the desert than his ascetic contemporaries in search of an undistracted life with God.  He spent time in an old tomb and eventually he shut himself up in an old Roman fort for 20 years.  In his solitude, he had frequent run-ins with the devil, but triumphed.  His life was written down by the famous bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius [bio], so we know a lot about his struggle and his influential successes. [link to Life…]

The Emperor Constantine and his two sons, Constantius and Constans, once sent Anthony a joint letter, recommending themselves to his prayers. Noting the astonishment of some of the monks present, Anthony said, “Do not wonder that the Emperor writes to us, even to a man such as I am; rather be astounded that God has communicated with us, and has spoken to us by His Son.” Replying to the letter, he exhorted the Emperor and his sons to show contempt for the world and to constantly remember the final judgment.

The holiness Anthony achieved in his solitude ended up being very influential. People came to see him and formed a community around his example. Plus, the leaders of the church called him out of his separation to add his wisdom to the development of the church. Perhaps the best movements are those begun by people not trying to start them. The monastic movement that Anthony inspired is still inspiring further descendants in the faith today. Circle of Hope honors the spirit of separation from the world and practices it invasively.

You might appreciate a bio of Anthony from the Coptic Church [link].