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A Letter to the Disciples of Saint Antony

At the end of his life, St. Antony gave two sheepskin coats to his two closest disciples—‎both were bishops and became ‎saints: St. Serapion, the bishop of Thmuis; and St. ‎Athanasius, the Archbishop of ‎Alexandria. This letter is addressed to ‎the disciples of St. Antony and was ‎written immediately after St. Antony’s departure in 356 AD.‎ St. Serapion wrote also four or five other letters to St. Athanasius.

‎1. After the departure of the blessed Antony the hermit, Serapion, the Bishop of Thmuis, ‎wrote to the hermits Isaac and Saramata as follows:‎

‎2. The world lost a great old man, and the heavens have gained a great man. ‎

‎3. The One above has found the one he has sought; the one below has lost the one he ‎possessed. ‎

‎4. Today, there is a festival above because of his passing on high, but there is great ‎desolation and anguish for us who remain below because of his departure from us. ‎

‎5. See now, brothers! As soon as the great old man departed from us—that blessed ‎Antony, who had been an intercessor for the world—behold we were suddenly thrown ‎down and laid low; and all the elements together were anguished; and the earth of God ‎from above first consumed Egypt. ‎

‎6. Behold, his separation from us has made apparent our immense loss in desolation; but ‎how much more will his freedom make the joy which is in heaven apparent. ‎

‎7. As long as that saint was on earth he spoke and cried out. And he kept his holy hands ‎always stretched out to God; and by speaking with him, he was gloriously radiant before ‎the Lord. He did not allow wrath to come down; and by faithfully lifting up his thoughts, ‎the saint prevented God’s wrath from coming upon us. ‎

‎8. But after his hand was withdrawn and no one was any longer found who could keep us ‎from the descent of wrath, now suddenly it was poured out and came down to afflict the ‎region and laid waste everything. ‎

‎9. Now Aaron, when plagues began among the people, took incense and opposed the ‎wrath with great force and ‘stood between the living and the dead.’ [Num. 16:58]. He did ‎not allow some of the living to die and did not permit wrath to break forth. And some he ‎preserved alive, and turned death away from them. And God’s wrath stopped and stood ‎still, filled with shame by the righteous one. ‎

‎10. But as long as the old man, blessed Antony, was still with us, since he constantly ‎carried about the sweet-smelling incense of his prayers, he compelled the wrath to be ‎suspended on high and did not let it spring forth below to us. ‎

‎11. For as long as that blessed one was with us, it did not come down very much. And as ‎long as that saint was with us, the wrath was far from us. But when that righteous one ‎departed, then the wrath found an opportunity and came down to us, since it did not find ‎anyone among us to prevent it. But while the saint of God was alive, it did not remain in ‎our midst. ‎

‎12. Therefore, what tears shall we now shed or what lament shall we sing, because we ‎have been deprived of that outstanding man and wonderworker and have been surrounded ‎by that great wrath? And now, because we have no remedy to find for this, ‎

‎13. we therefore now flee to you, who ought to retain his image, O holy disciples of that ‎blessed one, and who ought to form in yourselves his image and teaching. ‎

‎14. For in no way should a disciple be cast down in spirit, decline from his forebears’ ‎way of life, and fall behind his instructor. Rather he should always form his teacher’s ‎image in himself rigorously and diligently by hard and diligent training. ‎

‎15. Moreover, since I am by no means ignorant that you once spent time with the saint ‎and dwelling with God’s witness, thereby retaining his word and sanctity and ascetical ‎life, for this reason, ‎

‎16. though the one most acceptable has been taken from our midst, since we now have ‎many with us, it is now right for us to find among ourselves the power of the one in ‎many. ‎

‎17. I therefore pray that while you are many and have great power among you—because ‎each of you was an Antony and because you labor greatly and are indeed many—the ‎power of many Antonys may come down to us, powers which by effecting a greater ‎reformation than before will themselves be made more perfect than before. ‎

‎18. And because it is difficult for you to have his power by imitating him, although you ‎are many, display the power of the one; and what he alone effected, we ourselves who are ‎many shall effect; and what he alone did, we shall do. Because he appeased God by his ‎holy prayers, we who are many shall now do the same thing by good deeds; and you will ‎appease God by the holiness of your souls. And I think that the whole of wrath may ‎chance to depart from us, for the Church will surely receive some quiet relaxation. ‎

‎19. And now, my beloved, I am writing to you because the churches have been reduced ‎to captivity. Blasphemies have filled the squares of our streets. All the wickedness and ‎crimes are scattered in our city, and destructive impiety has led our souls into captivity. ‎The errors of the Arians fill our minds, and it is not possible to turn this way or that and ‎to abandon tears. ‎

‎20. For the sanctuary of God does not have its ministry, and the churches of God are ‎despoiled of many people. And now the places are left deserted because the people do ‎not enter, and they make for themselves desert places as congregations in place of the ‎Holy Church. Their grief is cured by changing places, and they dwell in the wilderness ‎and from there offer their prayers to God. ‎

‎21. the churches weep, and the walls send forth, as it were, a cry. And the holy places ‎remain dishonored and are as though they shed tears for themselves. We too are ‎distressed in pronouncing what is written: ‘The ways of Zion mourn, because they do not ‎come to her festival.’ [Lam. 1:4]. ‎

‎22. I now write this to you so that when you hear it, you may take refuge with God and ‎may pray. And we believe that God will be merciful and that though aroused because of ‎our sins, He will quickly unbend, when we who have caused Him to threaten us as ‎sinners, shall have recited the prayers of that saint. ‎

This text was taken from the English translation of the Armenian text, with references to ‎the translation of the Syriac text, published by Cistercian Publications, “The Life of ‎Antony,” 2003, pp. 41-47. ‎

Posted by Fr. Moses Samaan

April 9, 2009