Sayings of St Anthony the Great
1. When the holy Abba Anthony was living in the desert, he fell into acedia (a lack of concern for his salvation/ indifference to spiritual things) and was darkened by many impassioned thoughts (logismoi). He said to God, ”Lord, I want to be saved, but these thoughts will not leave me alone. What shall I do in my distress? How can I be saved?” A little later, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw someone like himself, sitting and working, then rising from work and praying, and again sitting and plaiting a rope, then again rising for prayer.” It was an angel of the Lord, sent to correct him and assure him. And he heard the angel saying, “Do this and you will be saved.” And when he heard this, he was filled with great joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
2. When the same Abba Anthony considered the depth of God’s judgements, he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die after a short life, while others live on to a ripe old age? And why are some people poor and others rich? Why do the unjust get become wealthy, whereas the righteous are poor?” And he heard a voice saying, “Anthony, pay attention to just yourself; these things are are the judgments of God, and it is not in your interest to learn about them.”
3. Someone asked Abba Anthony, “What must one keep in order to please God?” The Elder replied, “Keep to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes. And whatever you do, do it with the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. And in whatever place you live, do not leave quickly. Keep these three, and you will be saved.”
4. Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, “This is the great work of man: always to take the blame for his own faults before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.”
5. He also said, “No one is able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven untempted” He even added, “Remove the temptations no-one would be saved.”
6. Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What should I to do?” and the elder said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not regret things of the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”
7. Abba Anthony said, “I saw all the snares of the enemy spread out over the earth and, sighing, I said “What could get through these?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.'”
8. He also said, “Some have worn out their bodies in asceticism, but they lack discernment, and so they are far from God.”
9. He said also, “Life and death is from our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we gain God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”
10. He also said, “Just as fish die on dry land, so the monks who linger outside their cells or spend time with those of the world lose the intensity of calmness and silence (hesychia). And so, like a fish to the sea, we must hurry to the cell, lest we delay outside and forget our inner watchfulness”.
11. He also said, “One who lives in the desert keeping calmness and silence (hesychia) is delivered from three wars: that of hearing, that of speech, and that of seeing. Only one remains, that of fornication.”
12. Some brothers came to Abba Anthony to tell him about the visions they had seen and to learn from him if they were true, or from demons. Now, they had a donkey, which died on the way. When they finally reached the elder, he said to them first, “How did the little donkey died on the way here?” They said, “How do you know about that, Abba?” And he said to them, “The demons showed me.” So they said to him, “It was for this reason that we came to ask you, because we imagine things, and they often come true, and perhaps we were led astray (deluded)” Thus the elder informed them, by the example of the donkey, that their visions came from the demons.
13. Once someone hunting wild animals in the desert saw Abba Anthony joking himself with the brothers [and he was shocked]. And the elder, wanting to convince him that it was necessary sometimes to submit to the brothers, said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” So he did. The elder then said, “Shoot again,” and he shot. And again the elder said, ‘Shoot,” and the hunter replied “If I stretch it beyond measure my bow will break.” Then the elder said to him, “It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brothers beyond measure, they will soon burst. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to their level.” When he heard these words the hunter was contrite and, greatly edified by the elder, he went away.The brothers, now strengthened left for their place.
14. Abba Anthony heard of a certain young monk who had performed a sign (miracle) on the road. Seeing some elders walking along the road and struggling, he ordered wild donkeys to come and carry them until they reached Abba Anthony. So the elders reported this to Abba Anthony. He said to them, “Tt seems to me that this monk is a ship full of goods but I do not know if he will reach the harbour.” After a while, Abba Anthony suddenly began to weep, to pull ouy his hair and to lament. His disciples said to him, “Why are you weeping, Abba?” and the elder replied, “A great pillar of the Church has just fallen (he meant the young monk). He said, “but go to him and see what has happened.” So the disciples went and found the monk sitting on a mat and weeping for the sin he had committed. Seeing the disciples of the elder he said, “Tell the elder to entreat God to give me just ten days and I hope to have made my defence” But he died within five days.
5. The brothers praised a certain monk before Abba Anthony. So when he came before him, he tested him to see if he could bear insults. And finding that he could not bear it, he said to him, “You are like a village which is beautifully decorated on the surface, but behind that is being plundered by robbers.”
16. A brother said to Abba Anthony, “Pray for me.” The elder said to him, “I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make every effort and if you do not pray to God.
17. Some elders came to Abba Anthony, and Abba Joseph was amongst them. The elder, wanting to test them, the suggested a saying from Scriptures, and, from t youngest, began to ask, “What is this saying?” Each one gave said something according to his ability. But the elder said to each one, “You’ve not got it.” Last of all, he said to Abba Joseph, “What do you say this saying is?” and he replied, “I do not know.” Then Abba Anthony said, “By all means, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he said: ‘I do not know.'”
18. Some brothers were coming from Sketis to see Abba Anthony. When they were getting into a boat to go there, they found an elder who also wanted to come. The brothers did not know him. They sat in the boat, speaking the words of the Fathers, and from Scripture and again about their manual work. The elder remained silent. When they arrived at the moorings they found that this elder was also going to Abba Anthony. When they got there Abba Anthony said to them, “You found a good travelling comapnion in this elder” Then he said to the elder, “You found yourself amongst good brothers, Abba.” The elder said, “No doubt they are good, but their courtyard has no door, and anyone who wants can enter the stable and let the donkey loose.” He meant that they said whatever came into their mouths.
19. Brothers came to the Abba Anthony, and said to him, “Speak a word, that we may we be saved?” The elder said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures. That should be good enough.” But they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.” Then the elder said to them, “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” (Matt. 5.39) They said, “We cannot do that.” The elder 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 give as you have received (i.e. do not return evil for evil),” and they said, “We cannot do this.” So the elder said to his disciples, “Make a little porridge for they are feeble. If you cannot do this, and will not do that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.”
20. A brother renounced the world and gave his possessions to the poor, keeping a little back for his own reason, and went to see Abba Anthony. And learning this, the elder said to him, If you want to be a monk, go into the village, and buy meat, and place it around your bare body, and come back here thus. And the brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore his body. And when he came back to the elder, he wanted to learn if he had done as he had advised. When that one showed his torn up body, the holy Anthony said, Those who renounce the world, and want to hold onto possessions are thus torn by demons battling them.
21. Temptation once happened to a brother in the monastery of Abba Elias. And, cast out, he came to the mountain, to Abba Anthony. And the brother remained near him for a time, then he sent him to the monastery he had been expelled from. When they saw him, they expelled him again, and he returned to Abba Anthony, saying, They did not want to receive me, Father. So the elder sent to them, saying, A ship was wrecked in the sea, and lost its cargo, and with difficulty came safely upon the shore. And you want to cast back upon the sea what has made it safely to the shore. When they heard that Abba Anthony sent him, they quickly received him.
22. Abba Anthony said, I think that the body has a natural motion entangled with it. But it cannot act without the soul being willing. And it only signifies in the body a passionless motion. And there is also another motion, from nurturing and caring for the body with eating and drinking. By these the heat of the blood arouses the body toward action. So the Apostle also said, Do not be drunk on wine, in which is debauchery. And further the Lord in the Gospel commands His disciples, saying, Watch, lest your hearts are weighed down in indulgence and drunkenness. And there is another motion of those who struggle (or “compete” αγωνιζομενοις), coming from the plotting and envy of demons. You must understand that there are three bodily motions: one is natural, and another from negligence of intake, and the third from demons.
23. Further, he said that God does not send the same wars upon this generation as upon the ancients. For he knows that they are weak and cannot bear them.
24. It was revealed to Abba Anthony in the desert that in the city was someone like him, a physician by profession, who gave his surplus to those having need of it, and who all day sang the Trisagion with the angels.
25. 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."
26. Brothers came to Abba Anthony and said to him a saying from Leviticus. So the elder went out into the desert, and Abba Ammonas followed him secretly, knowing his usual practice. The elder went very far, standing for prayer, and cried out in a loud voice, O God, send Moses, and he will teach me this saying. And a voice came to him, speaking with him. So Abba Ammonas said that though he heard the voice speaking with him, he could not learn the word from it.
27. Three of the Fathers had a custom to visit the blessed Anthony annually. And two of them would ask about distracting thoughts (λογισμων) and the salvation of souls. But the one was always silent, never asking. Now after a long time, Abba Anthony said to him, Behold, so long a time have you been coming thus, and you don’t ask me anything. And he answered, saying to him, It is enough for me only to see you, Father.
28. They say that one of the elders asked God to see the Fathers, and he saw them except Abba Anthony. So he said to the one showing these things to him, Where is Abba Anthony? And he said to him that in the place where God is, there he is.
29. A brother in a monastery was falsely accused of fornication, and he got up and went to Abba Anthony. And the brothers came from the monastery to heal him and take him back, and they started to charge that he did so. But he defended himself that he did no such thing. Now Abba Paphnutius happened to be there, and he said this parable: I have seen a man on the bank of the river stuck in the mud up to his knees, and some men came to give him a hand, plunging him in up to his neck. And Abba Anthony said this to them about Abba Paphnutius, Behold a genuine man, able to heal and save souls. So they were pierced by remorse at the word of the elders, and they offered repentance to the brother. And, encouraged by the elders, they took the brother to the monastery.
30. Some say about Abba Anthony that he was a Spiritbearer (Πνευματοφορος), but he would not speak about it with men. For he revealed things happening in the world, and things yet to come to happen.
31. Once Abba Anthony received a letter from Emperor Constantine, in order to come to Constantinople, and he considered whether to do it. So he said to Abba Paul, his disciple, Ought I to go? And he said to him, If you go, you may say [your name is] Anthony, but if you do not go, [it remains] Abba Anthony.
32. Abba Anthony said, I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.
33. He said, Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember Him who gives death and who gives life. Hate the world and all the things that are in it. Hate all fleshly recreation. Renounce this life, so you may live for God. Remember what you have promised to God, for it will be required of you in the Day of Judgment. Suffer hunger, suffer thirst, suffer nakedness, keep vigil, mourn, weep, lament in your heart. Test yourselves, to see if you are worthy of God. Disdain the flesh, so that you may save your souls.
34. Abba Anthony once travelled to Abba Amoun, to Mount Nitria, and after meeting one another, Abba Amoun said to him, Because of your prayers, now the brothers are more numerous, and some of them want to build cells further away in order to have quiet. How much do you suggest is a far enough distance for the cells to be built from here? And he said, Let us eat at the ninth hour, and we will go out and we will investigate the desert, and look at the place. And so they travelled the desert until the sun came to set, and Abba Anthony said to him, We will make prayers and erect the cross here, so that those wanting to build will build here. So also those there, whenever they will visit these, having eaten their little bit of bread at the ninth hour, they may visit thus. And those leaving here, doing the same, may remain unworried when visiting one another. And the distance is twelve [mile] signs.
35. Abba Anthony said, Whoever strikes a lump of iron, first considers the thought of what he intends to make, a scythe, a sword, an axe. So also we ought to consider what kind of excellence we should pursue, so that we do not toil in vain.
36. Further, he said that submission with self-control subdues beasts.
37. Further, he said, I know monks that have fallen after many toils, and came to an ecstasy of pride, because they put their hope in their works, and were deceived about the commandment which says, Ask your father, and he will tell you.
38. Further, he said, If he is able, a monk ought to be confident in telling the elders how many steps he takes, or how many drops of drink in his cell, so that he will not stumble in them.
Apothegmata Patrum. J.-P. Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus (series Graeca) (MPG) 65, Paris: Migne, 1857-1866: 72-440.)