Sermon: St. Antony

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“As we have received the soul as a deposit, let us preserve it for the Lord, that he may recognize His work as being the same as He made it.”  If one sentence had to describe the life goal of St. Antony, the above, written by St. Athanasius in his Life of Antony, would fall far short, but would provide us with at least a gleaning.  The verse that inspired such a life is Matthew 19:21 which states, “Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.’”  Or, as we read today from Mark’s Gospel when the rich young man asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 

Antony was born in the early third century to a well-to-do family.  When he was twenty, his parents died leaving him a substantial inheritance and a younger sister to care for, but upon hearing those commands of Jesus to sell everything, he obeyed.  He immediately sold all of his possessions and gave it all away except for the few things that he and sister would need.  Upon hearing more of the words of Jesus, “therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself,” he gave away all that was remaining and placed his sister in a convent. 

That is not a calling to everyone, but it is should certainly serve as a reminder.  A reminder that all we have, including our very souls, belongs to God.  So, what belongs to God should be cared for by us.  As St. Paul declared to his young apprentice Timothy, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you– guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”  

Antony was one who guarded his soul, yet even after taking to the desert to live a solitary life the devil came after it.  St. Athanasius wrote, “the enemy, who hates good… called together his hounds and burst forth… in the night they made such a din that the whole of that place seemed to be shaken by an earthquake, and the demons as if breaking the four walls of the dwelling seemed to enter through them, coming in the likeness of beasts and creeping things. And the place was on a sudden filled with the forms of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, serpents, asps, scorpions, and wolves, and each of them was moving according to his nature… Antony, stricken and goaded by them, felt bodily pains … but his mind was clear, and as in mockery he said, ‘If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come.”

Therefore, not only does Antony remind us that everything, including our souls, belongs to God, but he also shows us that we must actively engage in the protection of that “good deposit.”  So the question for us is: How are we guarding the soul that is within us?  Do we expose it to things that might harm it, or are we vigilant in placing a shield around it?  We can’t place ourselves in the midst of those things that harm the soul and expect to walk away unsoiled, “If you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change.  The devil changes you.”  So, like Antony, guard your soul and put up a fight for it when you have to.  It is the Lord’s possession.  

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