The Poverty of Love
St. Anthony's Spiritual Advice
The greatest of these monks wielded enormous power in the ancient world. Because of their reputation for humility and holiness, crowds would flock to see them. Emperors, generals, politicians, as well as the poor, would travel long distances by foot or donkey just to sit at their feet. In Syria, St. Simeon preached atop a 40-foot column, in the process converting Bedouin Arab tribes to Christ. In Egypt, John the Dwarf had an entire town "hanging from his little finger because of his humility." Some monks' characters were so transfigured by the Holy Spirit that their sheer presence was enough to effect a transformation in others.
Yet whether a beginner or a seasoned monk, everyone needed advice from a spiritual elder from time to time. The custom in the desert was to ask an elder, "Abba, give me a word that I may live!" This request was for a personal word of wisdom that would open their heart like a key to a locked door.
What if I asked Anthony the Great the same question the Christian Vision Project has asked me? If I could get on a donkey and travel to the remote deserts of Egypt to ask, "Abba, give me a word that I may live. Why is our gospel so small today?" I imagine he might answer, with characteristic simplicity: "The poverty of your love."
Bradley Nassif is professor of biblical and theological studies at North Park University and host of the Internet podcast Simply Orthodox on Ancient Faith Radio (ancientfaith.com).
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