FATHER OF ALL MONKS
By Ven. Abbot Dom Guéranger
The East and West unite, today, in honoring St Antony, the Father of Cenobites. The Monastic Life existed before his time, as we know from indisputable testimony; but he was the first Abbot, because he was the first to bring Monks under the permanent government of one Superior or Father. Antony began with seeking solely his own sanctification; he was known only as the wonderful Solitary against whom the wicked spirits waged an almost continuous battle: but in course of time, men were attracted to him by his miracles and by the desire of their own perfection; this gave him disciples; he permitted them to cluster round his cell; and monasteries thus began to be built in the desert. The age of the Martyrs was near its close; the persecution under Diocletian, which was to be the last, was over as Antony entered on the second half of his course: and God chose this time for organizing a new force in the Church. The Monastic Life was brought to bear upon the Christian world; the Ascetics, as they were called, not even such of them as were consecrated, were not a sufficient element of power. Monasteries were built in every direction, in solitudes and in the very cities; and the Faithful had but to look at these communities living in the fervent and literal fulfilment of the Counsels of Christ, and they felt themselves encouraged to obey the Precepts. The apostolic traditions of continual prayer and penance were perpetuated by the monastic system; it secured the study of the Sacred Scriptures and Theology; and the Church herself would soon receive from these arsenals of intellect and piety her bravest defenders, her holiest Prelates, and her most zealous Apostles. Yes, the Monastic Life was to be and give all this to the Christian world, for the example of St. Antony had given her a bias to usefulness. If there ever were a monk to whom the charms of solitude and the sweetness of contemplation were dear, it was our Saint; and yet they could not keep him in his desert when he could save souls by a few days spent in a noisy city. Thus, we find him in the streets of Alexandria when the pagan persecution was at its height; he came to encourage the Christians in their martyrdom. Later on, when that still fiercer foe of Arianism was seducing the Faith of the people, we again meet the great Abbot in the same capital, this time preaching to its inhabitants that the Word is consubstantial with the Father, proclaiming the Nicene faith, and keeping up the Catholics in orthodoxy and resolution. There is another incident in the life of St. Antony which tells in the same direction, inasmuch as it shows how an intense interest in the Church must ever be where the Monastic Spirit is. We are alluding to our Saint’s affection for the great St Athanasius, who on his part reverenced the Patriarch of the Desert, visited him, promoted the Monastic Life to the utmost of his power, used to say that he considered the great hope of the Church to be in the good discipline of monasticism, and wrote the Life of his dear St. Antony. But to whom is the glory of the institution of monasticism due, with which the destinies of the Church were, from that time forward, to be so closely connected, that the period of her glory and power was to be when the monastic element flourished, and the days of her affliction were to be those of its decay? Who was it that put into the heart of Antony and his disciples the love of that poor and unknown, yet ever productive life? It is Jesus, the humble Babe of Bethlehem. To him, then, wrapt in his swaddling-clothes, and yet the omnipotent God, be all the glory!
Virtues and Actions of the great St Antony, given by the Church in her Office of his Feast.
Antony was born in Egypt, of noble and Christian parents, who left him an orphan at an early age. Having one day entered a Church, he heard these words of the Gospel being read: If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all thou hast, and give to the poor. He took them as addressed to himself, and thought it his duty to obey these words of Christ his Lord. Selling therefore his possessions, he distributed all the money among the poor. Being freed from these obstacles, he resolved to lead on earth a heavenly life. But at his entrance on the perils of such a combat, he felt that besides the shield of faith, wherewith he was armed, he must need to fortify himself with the other virtues; and so ardent was his desire to possess them, that whomsoever he saw excelling in any virtue, him did he study to imitate.
Nothing, therefore, could exceed his continency and vigilance. He surpassed all in patience, meekness, mercy, humility manual labor and the study of the Sacred Scriptures. So great was his aversion for the company of, or conversation with, heretics, especially the Arians, that he used to say that we ought not to even to go near them. He lay on the ground when necessity obliged him to sleep. As to fasting he practiced it with so much fervor that his only nourishment was bread seasoned with salt and he quenched his thirst with water; neither did he take this his food and drink until sunset and frequently abstained from it altogether for two successive days. He very frequently spent the whole night in prayer. Antony became so valiant a soldier of God that the enemy of mankind, ill-brooking such extraordinary virtue, attacked him with manifold temptations; but the Saint overcame them all by fasting and prayer.
Neither did his victories over Satan make him heedless, for he knew how innumerable the devil’s artifices for injuring souls are. Knowing this, he betook himself into one of the largest deserts of Egypt, where such was his progress in Christian perfection that the wicked spirits, whose attacks grew more furious as Antony’s resistance grew more resolute became the object of his contempt, so much so indeed, that he would sometimes taunt them for their weakness. When encouraging his disciples to fight against the devil, and teaching them the arms wherewith they would vanquish him, he used often to say to them: ‘Believe me, Brethren. Satan dreads the watchings of holy men, and their prayers, and fasts, and voluntary poverty, and works of mercy, and humility, and above all, their ardent love for Christ our Lord. At the mere sign of whose most holy Cross he is disabled and put to flight. So formidable was he to the devils that many persons in Egypt who were possessed by them were delivered by invoking Antony’s name. So great, too, was his reputation for sanctity that Constantine the Great and his sons wrote to him commending themselves to his prayers.
At length, having reached the hundred and fifth year of his age, and having received a countless number into his institute, he called his Monks together; and having instructed them how to regulate their lives according to Christian perfection, he, venerated both for the miracles he had wrought, and for the holiness of his life, departed from this world to heaven on the sixteenth of the Calends of February (January 17).
We unite, great Saint! with the universal Church, in offering thee the homage of our affectionate veneration, and in praising our Emmanuel for the gifts he bestowed upon thee. How sublime a life was thine, and how rich in fruit were thy works! Verily, thou art the Father of a great people, and one of the most powerful auxiliaries of the Church of God. We beseech thee, therefore, pray for the Monastic Order, that it may re-appear in all its ancient fervor; and pray for each member of the great Family. Fevers of the body have been often allayed by thy intercession, and we beg for a continuance of this thy compassionate aid but the fevers of our soul are more dangerous, and we beg thy pity and prayers that we may be delivered from them. Watch over us, in the temptations, which the enemy is unceasingly putting in our way; pray for us, that we may be vigilant in the combat, prudent in avoiding dangerous occasions, courageous in the trial, and humble in our victory. The angel of darkness appeared to thee in a visible shape; but he hides himself, and his plots from us here again, we beg thy prayers, that we be not deceived by his craft. May the fear of God’s judgments, and the thought of eternity, penetrate into the depth of our souls. May prayer be our refuge in every necessity and Penance our safe-guard against sin. But above all, pray that we may have that, which thou didst counsel —the Love of Jesus; of that Jesus, who, for love of us, deigned to be born into this world, that so he might merit for us the graces wherewith we might triumph—of that Jesus, who humbled himself even so far as to suffer temptation, that so he might show us how we were to resist and fight.
Patriarch of Monks
Double White vestments
Psalm 36: 30, 31
Os justi meditabitur sapientiam, et lingua ejus loquetur judicium: lex Dei ejus in corde ipsius Ps. Noli æmulari in malignantibus: neque zelaveris facientes iniquitatem. Gloria Patri.
The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom, and his tongue shall speak judgment: the law of his God is in his heart. Ps. Be not emulous of evildoers: nor envy them that work iniquity. Glory be to the Father.
Intercessio nos, quæsumus, Domine, beati Antonis Abbatis commendet: ut, quod nostris meritis non valemus, ejus patrocinio assequamur. Per Dominum.
May the intercession of the blessed Abbot Antony, we beseech Thee, O Lord, commend us unto Thee, that what we can not have through our own merits, we may obtain through his patronage. Through our Lord.
Dilectus Deo et homínibus, cujus memória in benedictióne est. Símilem
illum fecit in glória sanctórum, et magnificávit eum in timóre inimicórum, et in verbis suis monstra placávit. Glorificávit illum, in conspéctu regum, et jussit illi coram pópulo suo, et osténdit illi glóriam
suam. In fide et lenitáte ipsíus, sanctum fecit illum et elégit eum ex omni carne. Audívit enim eum, et vocem ipsíus et indúxit illum in nubem. Et dedit illi coram præcépta, et legem vitæ et disciplínæ.
He was beloved of God and men, whose memory is in benediction; He made him like the saints in glory, and magnified him in the fear of his enemies; and with his words he made prodigies to cease; He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him commandments in the sight of his people, and showed him his glory; He sanctified him in his faith and meekness, and chose him out of all flesh; for He heard him and his voice, and brought him into a cloud; and He gave him commandments before his face, and a law of life and instruction.
Psalm 20: 4-5
Domine, prævenísti eum in benedictiónibus dulcédinis: posuísti in cápite ejus corónam de lápide pretióso. Vitam pétiit a te, et tribuísti ei
longitúdinem diérum in sæculum sæculi.
Allelúia, allelúia. Justus ut palma florébit: sicut cedrus Líbani multiplicábitur. Allelúia.
O Lord, Thou hast prevented him with blessings of sweetness; Thou hast set on his head a crown of precious stones. He asked life of Thee, and Thou hast given him length of days for ever and ever.
Alleluia, alleluia. The just shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus. Alleluia.
Luke 12: 35-40
In illo tempore: Dixit Jesus discipulis suis: Sint lumbi vestri præcincti, et lucernæ ardentes in manibus vestris, et vos similes hominibus exspectantibus dominum suum quando revertatur a nuptiis: ut, cum venerit et pulsaverit, confestim aperiant ei. Beati servi illi quos, cum venerit dominus, invenerit vigilantes: amen dico vobis, quod præcinget se, et faciet illos discumbere, et transiens ministrabit illis. Et si venerit in secunda vigilia, et si in tertia vigilia venerit, et ita invenerit, beati sunt servi illi. Hoc autem scitote, quoniam si sciret paterfamilias, qua hora fur veniret, vigilaret utique, et non sineret perfodi domum suam. Et vos estote parati: quia qua hora non putatis, Filius hominis veniet.
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands. And you yourselves like to men who wait for their lord, when he shall return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh, shall find watching. Amen I say to you, that he will gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and passing will minister unto them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But this know ye, that if the householder did know at what hour the thief would come, he would surely watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open. Be you then also ready: for at what hour you think not, the Son of man will come.
Homily by Pope St Gregory the Great
13th on the Gospels
Dearly beloved brethren, the words of the Holy Gospel, which have just been read, lie open before you, and, lest their very plainness should make them seem to some to be hard, we will go through them with such shortness as that neither may they which understand not remain unenlightened, nor they which understand be wearied. The Lord saith Let your loins be girded about. Now, we gird our loins about, when by continency we master the lustful inclination of the flesh. But, forasmuch as it sufficeth not for a man to abstain from evil deeds, if he strive not to join thereto the earnest doing of good works, it is immediately added And your lights burning. Our lights burn when, by good works, we give bright example to our neighbor; concerning which works the Lord saith Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Which is in heaven. Here, then, are two commandments, to gird our loins about, and to keep our lights burning the cleanness of purity in our body, and the light of the truth in our works. Whoso hath the one and not the other, pleaseth not thereby our Redeemer; that is, he pleaseth Him not which doth good works, but bridleth not himself from the pollutions of lust, neither he which is eminent in chastity, but exerciseth not himself in good works. Neither is chastity a great thing without good works, nor good works anything without chastity. And if any man do both, it remaineth that he must look by hope toward our Fatherland above, and not have for his reason where through he turneth himself away from vice, the love of honor in this present world. And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. The Lord cometh at the hour of judgment He knocketh when, by the pains of sickness, He biddeth us know that death is nigh. To Him open we immediately, if we receive Him in love. Whoso feareth to leave this body, will not open to the Judge when He knocketh, for he dreadeth to see that Judge, Whom he knoweth that he hath despised. But whosoever knoweth that his hope and works are built upon a good foundation, when he heareth the Judge knock, openeth to Him immediately, for to such an one that coming is blessed, yea, when the hour of death is at hand, such an one haileth with gladness a glorious reward.
Psalm 20: 3,4
Desiderium animæ ejus tribuisti ei, Domine, et voluntate labiorum ejus
non fraudasti eum: posuisti in capite ejus coronam de lapide pretioso.
Thou hast given him his heart’s desire, O Lord, and hast not withholden from him the will of his lips: Thou hast set on his head a crown of precious stones.
Sacris altaribus, Domine, hostias superpositas sanctus Antonius Abbas,
quaesumus, in salutem nobis provenire deposcat. Per Dominum.
May the holy Abbot Anthony, we beseech Thee, O Lord, obtain by his prayers that the Sacrifice laid on Thy holy altar may profit us unto salvation. Through our Lord.
Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi semper, et ubique gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus: per Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem majestatem tuam laudant Angeli, adorant Dominationes, tremunt Potestates. Cœli, cœlorumque Virtutes ac beata Seraphim socia exultatione concelebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces, ut admitti, jubeas, supplici confessione dicéntes.
It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation that we should at all times and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God: through Christ our Lord. through Whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, Dominations worship, Powers stand in awe. The Heavens and the Heavenly hosts together with the blessed Seraphim in triumphant chorus unite to celebrate it. Together with them we entreat Thee, that Thou mayest bid our voices also to be admitted, while we say in lowly praise:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dóminus Deus Sábaoth. Pleni sunt cæli et terra glória tua. Hosánna in excélsis. Benedíctus qui venit in nómine Dómini. Hosánna in excélsis.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory! Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.
Fidelis servus et prudens, quem constituit dominus super familiam suam: ut det illis in tempore tritici mensuram.
This is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord setteth over his family: to give them their measure of wheat in due season.
Protegat nos, Domine, cum tui perceptione sacramenti beatus Antonius Abbas, pro nobis intercedendo: ut, et conversationis ejus experiamur insignia, et intercessionis percipiamus suffragia. Per Dominum.
May the pleading of blessed Anthony the Abbot for us, as well as the reception of Thy Sacrament, protect us, O Lord, that we may both share in the glory of his works, and receive the help of his intercession. Through our Lord.