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« Other people’s job | Main | The Strangeness of Normalcy: Meditations on 34 Years Since Roe v. Wade. »

January 22, 2007

One Man’s Simple Faith

"Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision..."  Acts 26:19

One day, late in the third century, during a lull between periods of intense persecution, a young Egyptian Christian made a decision that changed the course of Church history.

He had everything anyone could want: Roman citizenship, good standing in a safe and orthodox church, and all the wealth he would ever need, a legacy from his deceased parents.  Life was good for young Anthony. And then he read in the Scriptures that Jesus taught the rich young ruler to give away all his wealth and follow him.

The vision inspired by that story pierced his soul. Anthony did not hesitate.  He liquidated all his assets and gave his wealth to the poor. Taking only the clothes on his back, he fled to the desert and took up residency there alone for the next twenty years, seeking the Lord in prayer and wrestling with temptation, demons, and want. His powerful ascetic lifestyle and devotion to the Lord soon became widely known, and many young men began taking up hermitage in the desert following his example. Thus began the movement of men into lives of devotion to the Lord - monos, or "monks", as they were called - which resulted in the rise of the monastic movement of the 4th-9th centuries and beyond.

Half a century after Anthony's death Athanasius, Bishop of Milan, wrote his story and published it widely.  It inspired Martin of Tours, as well as Basil of Caesarea, two of the fathers of Christian monasticism. Martin's model, conjoined with the example of Anthony, inspired and guided the Celtic Christians whose monasteries became centers of culture, learning, and missions for nearly 500 years.  Later monastic movements made advances in agriculture and the arts, improved scholarship and general education, and laid the foundation for the modern universities.

Anthony is remembered on January 17, a faithful follower of Christ whose example inspired generations and led to a movement of Christian asceticism, mercy ministry, evangelism, and learning that sustained and enriched the Church for over a thousand years, and continues to bless her even to this day. One man's simple faith began an avalanche of good works. Do not despise heavenly visions or the day of small beginnings.

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