Parents nowadays are pulled in so many different directions. We want to provide well for our children, to work hard and have resources to meet their needs with extra left over so we can provide for some of their (and our!) wants, as well. It is easy to begin living a lifestyle that looks much like that of our non-Orthodox counterparts, unknowingly disillusioned by the culture in which we live. Activities, busyness, money, things: all are very important to current culture. It is easy for us to be sucked into believing that these things are necessary, that they are very important, and that pursuing them is how we should be spending our lives.
But we are Orthodox Christians. We are to be set apart from the world and living our life for Christ. So, what is truly important? On what should we be spending our time and our resources? St. Anthony the Great, considered by many to be the father of Christian monasticism, had the following to say about what is truly important in life. Although he lived on earth in the third century, his words apply just as much to us, today:
“Why do we not voluntarily abandon what must be destroyed when this life comes to an end, so that we might gain the kingdom of Heaven? Let Christians care for nothing that they cannot take away with them. We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven; namely wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality. Striving after these things, we shall prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.” – St. Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 17
If we were to truly take St. Anthony’s words to heart, what would that look like? Voluntarily abandoning “what must be destroyed at the end of this life” would mean making a deliberate choice to let go of anything material, to relinquish things’ control over our time, our focus, even our desires. “Caring for nothing that [we] cannot take away with [us]” could mean not only not taking the time to nurture/acquire things, but also not even to have a desire for them. How often we hear “I don’t care about ___!” from our children? If we choose to truly live Christian lives, we should be able to say the same about all earthly/material things.
Releasing ourselves from the grip of earthly stuff opens our time, our hearts, even our very thoughts to the things of God. But don’t worry, St. Anthony immediately offers ways in which to fill the “gap” that worldly concerns take up! “We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven…” This declaration is thorough in and of itself, but he goes on with specifics: “wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality.” Any one of those can take a lifetime to truly acquire. Aspiring to all of them together will easily fill whatever time we may have previously been pouring into the acquisition of material things!
So what is truly important? “Striving after these things” (wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, and hospitality) which lead us to heaven is what we should both care about and do. This is the lifestyle that we should be living. This is how we ought to spend our lives. Pursuing these things is how we can truly “prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.”
Thank you, St. Anthony, for your timeless wisdom. Please intercede for our salvation!
Read about the life of St. Anthony, as well as more of his wisdom (at the end of this page): http://stanthonylc.org/about/who-is-saint-anthony/. Find information on his feast day, as well as his troparion and kontakion here: http://orthodoxsanantonio.org/lifeofstanthony.html.
Read St. Athanasius’ book The Life of St. Anthony online here: http://www.orthodoxebooks.org/node/213
The following quotes and readings are for each of the specific pursuits that St. Anthony encourages us to work towards.
Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on wisdom, here: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2013/10/teach-them-to-love-true-wisdom.html
Read what St. Nicholas says about chastity here: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2013/12/05/st-nicholas-of-myra-children-i-beseech-you-to-correct-your-hearts/
Ponder justice by reading this blog: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2009/09/tribulation-in-life.html
Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on cultivating virtue in our children’s lives here: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2015/05/virtue-in-their-souls.html
Find encouragement to maintain watchfulness in your life here: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2015/02/watchfulness/
Read about what St. Thomas did to care for the poor, in this story: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2012/10/for-consideration.html#more
Find encouragement to stay strong in your faith in Christ in this blog: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2014/07/faith-in-secular-world-being-orthodox-2/
Read this blog on the importance of controlling one’s anger: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2014/05/anger-in-every-way-we-must-strive-to/
Find out what St. John Chrysostom says about who should participate in hospitality in this quote: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2013/09/06/st-john-chrysostom-every-family-should-have-a-room/