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Abba Anthony: A Monk and a Doctor
There’s not just a single path to seriously following Jesus
It was reveled to Abba Anthony1 in the desert: "There is somebody in the city like you, a physician by profession, who provides those in need with his superfluous income and is singing Holy, holy, holy with the angels of God all day long."2
Several years ago, while reading in my living room, I stumbled upon the above saying from the desert and it literally got me out of my chair. I remember reading it repeatedly while pacing around the room.
Here was a doctor, living in a city – not a monastery – that was considered the equal of St Anthony?
Remember, Anthony did what the Rich Young Ruler couldn't. He sold everything and followed Jesus.
I think the reason I was so euphoric was that it meant someone like me could experience the same kind of transformation as Anthony.
I didn't know that at the beginning of my journey.
I thought if I was going to be really serious about following Jesus, if I was going to be thoroughly transformed, then I needed to monkify my life.
The only problem was that I was married and had three little kids. How was I going to practice silence and solitude everyday?
When I read this saying, though, I recognized that there was not just a single path to seriously following Jesus.
The more I dug, the more I discovered that there are actually three vocational paths.
They're called the three life vocations in the Christian tradition: the Monastic, Single, and Married.
Neither one of these vocations is more privileged than the other. And each one can lead us to the same goal: love, likeness to God, union.
Of course, each vocation comes with its own challenges and blessings.
Monastic life may offer more time for prayer and contemplation, but it also requires a level of detachment from the world that may be difficult to maintain
Single life may be more flexible, but it can also be lonely and require a greater degree of self-reliance
Married life may provide companionship and intimacy, but it can also be full of competing demands and division
Ultimately, what matters most is not the particular vocation I have chosen, but the extent to which I have grounded my life in God. Like the physician in the city, I can experience a thorough transformation, no matter where I find myself.
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Anthony the Great, also known as Abba Anthony, was born in Egypt in the year 251 AD. He was raised in a wealthy family and was well-educated, but he decided to abandon his worldly possessions and devote his life to God. Anthony became a hermit in the desert and lived a life of asceticism. He became known as a wise and holy man, and many people sought his advice and counsel. Despite his fame, Anthony remained humble and never sought personal glory. He continued to live a simple life, focused on his relationship with God. He died in 356 AD at the age of 105, but his legacy lived on. Today, Saint Anthony is remembered as one of the greatest saints in the Christian tradition, and his writings and teachings continue to inspire people around the world.
Give Me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers. United States: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2014.