38 Sayings of Saint Anthony
Arranged to be Read Through Each Month
These sayings are based on a new version by the webmaster, adapted from several translations:
- The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection * Translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pages 1 – 7.
- The Famous 38 Sayings * Translated by Father Pius Sammut. Available at Coptic Orthodox Church Diocese of Los Angeles.
- Sayings of the Fathers: Anthony * Translated by Kevin P. Edgecomb. Part 1 is available here and Part 2 is available here.
1. When the holy Father (Abba) Anthony was living in the desert he was afflicted with lethargy, and attacked by many imaginations. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts will not leave me alone. What shall I do in my afflictions? How can I be saved? A little later, when he went outside, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and braiding a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
2. When the same Father Anthony meditated on the depth of the judgment of God, he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age? And why are some poor and others rich? Why do wicked people prosper and why are the just in need? He heard a voice answering him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your benefit to know anything about them.
3. Someone asked Father 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 witness of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”
4. Father Anthony said to Father Poemen, “This is the great work of man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation until the 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.”
6. Father Pambo asked Father Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the elder said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach (appetite).”
7. Father Anthony said, “I saw all the traps that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’”
8. He also said, “Some have worn out their bodies by asceticism, but they lack discernment, and so they are far from God.”
9. He also said, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”
10. He said also, “Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace. So like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to the cell, for fear that if we delay outside we will lose our interior watchfulness.
11. He said also, “He who wishes to live in solitude in the desert is delivered from three conflicts: hearing, speaking, and seeing; there is only one conflict for him and that is with fornication.”
12. Some brothers came to find Father Anthony to tell him about the visions they were having, and to find out from him if they were true or if they came from the demons. Now they had a donkey which died on the way. When they reached the place where the elder was, he said to them before they could ask him anything, “How did the little donkey die on the way here?” They said, “How do you know about that, Father?” And he told them, “The demons showed me what happened.” So they said, “That was what we came to question you about, for fear we were being deceived, for we have visions which often turn out to be true.” And the elder convinced them by the example of the donkey, that their visions came from the demons.
13. A hunter in the desert saw Father Anthony enjoying himself with the brothers and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brothers, the elder said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” So he did. The elder then said, “Shoot another,” and he did so. Then the elder said, “Shoot yet again,” and the hunter replied, “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.” Then the elder said to him, “It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brothers beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.” When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by remorse and, greatly edified by the elder, he went away. As for the brothers, they went home strengthened.
14. Father Anthony heard about young monk who had performed a miracle on the road. Seeing some elders walking with difficulty along the road, he ordered the wild donkeys to come and carry them until they reached Father Anthony. Those whom they had carried told Father Anthony about it. He said to them, “This monk seems to me to be a ship loaded with goods but I do not know if he will reach harbor.” After a while, Anthony suddenly began to weep, to pull out his hair and lament. His disciples said to him, “Why are you weeping, Father?” and the old man replied, “A great pillar of the Church has just fallen (he meant the young monk) but go to him and see what has happened.” So the disciples went and found the monk sitting on a mat and weeping for the sin he had committed. Seeing the disciples of the elder he said, “Tell the elder to pray that God will give me just ten days and I hope I will have made satisfaction.” But after five days he died.
15. The brothers praised a monk before Father 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 beautifully decorated on the outside, but destroyed from within by robbers.”
16. A brother said to Father Anthony, Pray for me,” The elder 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.”
17. One day some elders came to see Father Anthony. In the midst of them was Father Joseph. Wanting to test them, the elder suggested a text from the Scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one the old man said, “You have not understood it.” Last of all he said to Father Joseph, “How would you explain this saying?” and he replied, “I do not know.” Then Father Anthony said, “Indeed, Father Joseph has found the way, for he has said: ‘I do not know.’”
18. Some brothers were coming from Scetis to see Father Anthony. When they were getting into a boat to go there, they found an old man who also wanted to go there. The brothers did not know him. They sat in the boat, occupied by turns with the words of the Fathers, Scripture and their manual work. As for the old man, he remained silent. When they arrived on shore they found that the old man was going to the cell of Father Anthony too. When they reached the place, Anthony said to them, “You found this elder a good companion for the journey?” Then he said to the old man, “You have brought many good brothers with you, father.” The elder said, “No doubt they are good, but they do not have a door to their house and anyone who wishes can enter the stable and loose the donkey.” He meant that the brothers said whatever came into their mouths.
19. The brothers came to Father Anthony and said to him, “Speak a word; how are we to be saved?” The old man said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.” But they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.” Then the elder said to them, “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.’” (Matt 5:39) They said, “We cannot do that.” The old man said, “If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.” “We cannot do that either,” they said. So he said, “If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,” and they said, “We cannot do that either.” Then the elder said to his disciple, “Prepare a little soup for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.”
20. A brother renounced the world and gave his goods to the poor, but he kept back a little for his personal expenses. He went to see Father Anthony. When he told him this, the elder said to him, “If you want to be a monk, go into the village, buy some meat, cover your bare body with it and come here like that.” The brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore at his body. When he came back the old man asked him whether he had followed his advice. He showed him his wounded body, and Saint Anthony said, “Those who renounce the world but want to keep something for themselves are torn in this way by the demons who make war on them.”
21. It happened one day that one of the brothers in the monastery of Father Elias was tempted. Cast out of the monastery, he went over the mountain to Father Anthony. The brother lived near him for a while and then Anthony sent him back to the monastery from which he had been expelled. When the brothers saw him they cast him out yet again, and he went back to Father Anthony saying, “My Father, they will not receive me.” Then the elder sent them a message saying, “A boat was shipwrecked at sea and lost its cargo; with great difficulty it reached the shore; but you want to throw into the sea that which has found a safe harbor on the shore.” When the brothers understood that it was Father Anthony who had sent them this monk, they received him at once.
22. Father Anthony said, “I believe that the body possesses a natural motion, to which it is adapted, but which it cannot follow without the consent of the soul; it only signifies in the body a passionless motion. There is another motion, which comes from the nourishment and warming of the body by eating and drinking, and this causes the heat of the blood to stir up the body to work. That is why the apostle said, “Do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery” (Eph. 5:18). And in the Gospel the Lord also recommends this to his disciples: “Watch, lest your hearts be weighed down with indulgence and drunkenness” (Luke 21:34). But there is yet another motion which afflicts those who struggle, and that comes from the plotting and jealousy of the demons. You must understand what these three bodily motions are: one is natural, one comes from too much to eat, the third is caused by the demons.”
23. He also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for people are weaker now and cannot bear so much.”
24. It was revealed to Father Anthony in the desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Trisagion with the angels.
25. Father Anthony said, “A time is coming when people will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, “You are mad, because you are not like us.”
26. The brothers came to Father Anthony and laid before him a passage from Leviticus. The elder went out into the desert, secretly followed by Father Ammonias, who knew that this was his custom. Father Anthony went a long way off and stood there praying, crying in a loud voice, “God, send Moses, to make me understand this saying.” Then there came a voice speaking with him. Father Ammonias said that although he heard the voice speaking with him, he could not understand what it said.
27. Three Fathers used to go and visit blessed Anthony every year. Two of them used to ask about distracting thoughts and the salvation of their souls, but the third always remained silent and did not ask him anything. After a long time, Father Anthony said to him, “You often come here to see me, but you never ask me anything,” and the other replied, “It is enough for me to see you, Father.”
28. They said that a certain elder asked God to let him see the Fathers and he saw them all except Father Anthony. So he asked his guide, “Where is Father Anthony?” He told him in reply that in the place where God is, there Anthony would be.
29. A brother in a monastery was falsely accused of fornication and he arose and went to Father Anthony. The brothers also came from the monastery to correct him and bring him back. They set about proving that he had done this thing, but he defended himself and denied that he had done anything of the kind. Now Father Paphnutius happened to be there, and he told them this parable: “I have seen a man on the bank of the river buried up to his knees in mud and some men came to give him a hand and to help him out, but they pushed him further in up to his neck.” Then Father Anthony said this about Father Paphnutius: “Here is a real man, who can care for souls and save them.” All those present were pierced to the heart by the words of the elder and they asked forgiveness of the brother. And, encouraged by the elders, they took the brother back to the monastery.
30. Some say of Saint Anthony that he was a Spirit-bearer, that is, carried along by the Holy Spirit, but he would never speak about this to people. For he revealed things happening in the world, as well as things going to happen.
31. One day Father Anthony received a letter from Emperor Constantine, asking him to come to Constantinople and he wondered whether he ought to go. So he said to Father Paul, his disciple, “Ought I to go?” He replied, “If you go, you will be called Anthony; but if you stay here, you will be called Father Anthony.”
32. Father Anthony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
33. He also said, “Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember Him who gives death and life. Hate the world and all that is in it. Hate all fleshly recreation. Renounce this life, so that you may be alive to God. Remember what you have promised God, for it will be required of you on the day of judgment. Suffer hunger, thirst, nakedness, be watchful and sorrowful; weep, and groan in your heart; test yourselves, to see if you are worthy of God; despise the flesh, so that you may preserve your souls.”
34. Father Anthony once went to visit Father Amoun in Mount Nitria and when they met, Father Amoun said, “By your prayers, the number of the brothers increases, and some of them want to build more cells where they may live in peace. How far away from here do you think we should build the cells?” Father Anthony said, “Let us eat at the ninth hour and then let us go out for a walk in the desert and explore the country.” So they went out into the desert and they walked until sunset and then Father Anthony said, “Let us pray and plant the cross here, so that those who wish to do so may build here. Then when those who remain there want to visit those who have come here, they can take a little food at the ninth hour and then come. If they do this, they will be able to keep in touch with each other without distraction of mind.” The distance is twelve miles.
35. Father Anthony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labor in vain.”
36. He also said, “Obedience with self-control subdues wild beasts.”
37. He also said, “Nine monks fell away after many labors. They were obsessed with spiritual pride, for they put their trust in their own works and being deceived they did not give due heed to the commandment that says, “Ask your father and he will tell you.’” (Deut 32:7)
38. And he said this, “If he is able to, a monk ought to tell his elders confidently how many steps he takes and how many drops of drink he drinks in his cell, in case he is in error about it.”