St. Antony the Great. On the fruits of piety and spiritual maturity.

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Teachings of St. Antony the Great

A hunter of wild desert animals happened to come to Abba Antony’s mountain. He was disturbed to see that Abba was affording consolation to the brethren. The Elder, wanting to calm him down and show him that sometimes it was necessary to allow the brethren some relaxation, he said to him: “Notch an arrow in your bow and draw it back.” The hunter did so. The Elder said, “Draw it tighter.” The hunter drew the bowstring tighter. The Elder again said, “Even tighter.” The hunter answered, “If I over tighten the bow, it will break.” To that Abba Antony replied, “It is the same with God’s work. If you strain the powers of the brethren beyond their capacity, they will soon fall away from doing God’s work. It is essential that from time to time they be given a degree of relaxation. On hearing this, the hunter expressed his agreement, and departed from the Elder having received something of great use; the brethren, confirmed in a correct attitude toward their podvig, went to their cells.

Commentary by Holy Hierarch St. Ignaty Brianchaninov:

This is an extremely important account! All spiritual struggles taken on without corresponding strength are abandoned. The impression left by an abandoned excessive podvig is so harmful that the spiritual strugglers who abandon an immoderate podvig ordinarily abandon any podvig at all, and turn to a careless way of life, to spiritual disorder. St. Isaac the Syrian says, “Immoderate work is followed by despondency, and despondency, by frenzy,” i.e. by disorder! Here one may add that consolation is the name for a certain relaxation in the usual order of the brethren’s way of life, primarily in the realm of food. When fish, wine, or fruit is part of their meals, it is referred to as a consolation. When on great Feast Days, all of these things are part of the meal, the consolation is referred to as a great one. When a sick person or an elder is clothing more comfortable than that generally worn by the brethren, that is also called a consolation.

On the fruits of piety and spiritual maturity

People are ordinarily called wise based on an incorrect application of the term. It is not those who have studied the sayings and writings of ancient wise men that are wise, but rather, those who possess a wise soul, those who can distinguish between good and evil, those who avoid everything that is evil and harmful to the soul, those who rationally and intelligently tend to what is good and useful, and who do so with great thankfulness toward God. It is only they who should truly be called wise people.

When a calm breeze is blowing, any sailor can boast and have a high opinion of himself. It is only during a sudden shift in the winds that the art of experienced helmsmen is made manifest.

One who lives piously does not allow evil to enter his soul. And when there is no evil in the soul, it is safe and inviolate. Neither an evil demon nor random events can hold sway over such people. God keeps them from evils, and they live protected from harm, as those after the likeness of God. Should someone praise such a one, he will not take the praise seriously; should someone defame him, he will neither defend himself nor take offense against the offender.

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