The following are excerpts from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicta Ward, Cistercian Publication, 1975.
Anthony the Great, called ‘The Father of Monks’ was born in central Egypt about AD the son of peasant farmers who were Christian. In c. 269 he heard the Gospel read in church and applied to himself the words. ‘Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and come . . .’ He devoted himself to a life of asceticism under the guidance of a recluse near his village. In c. 285 he went alone into the desert to live in complete solitude. His reputation attracted followers, who settled near him, and in c. 305 he came out of his hermitage in order to act as their spiritual father. Five years later he again retired into solitude. He visited Alexandria at least twice. Once during the persecution of Christians and again to support the Bishop Athanasius against heresy. He died at the age of one hundred and five. His life was written by Saint Athanasius and was very influential in spreading the ideals of monasticism throughout the Christian World.
3. Someone asked Abba Anthony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, ‘Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.’
4. Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, ‘this is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.’
5. He also said, ‘Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. ‘He even added, ‘Without temptations no-one can be saved.’
15. The brothers praised a monk before Abba Anthony. When the monk came to see him, Anthony wanted to know how he would bear insults; and seeing that he could not bear them at all, he said to him, ‘You are like a village magnificently decorated on the outside, but destroyed from within by robbers.’
16. A brother said to Abba Anthony, ‘Pray for me.’ The old man said to him, ‘I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God.’