The Practical Wisdom of Self-Denial

From Anthony of the Desert

‘Wherefore, children, let us not faint nor deem that the time is long, or that we are doing something great, “for the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.” Nor let us think, as we look at the world, that we have renounced anything of much consequence, for the whole earth is very small compared with all the heaven. Wherefore if it even chanced that we were lords of all the earth and gave it all up, it would be nought worthy of comparison with the kingdom of heaven. For as if a man should despise a copper drachma to gain a hundred drachmas of gold; so if a man were lord of all the earth and were to renounce it, that which he gives up is little, and he receives a hundredfold. But if not even the whole earth is equal in value to the heavens, then he who has given up a few acres leaves as it were nothing; and even if he have given up a house or much gold he ought not to boast nor be low-spirited. Further, we should consider that even if we do not relinquish them for virtue’s sake, still afterwards when we die we shall leave them behind—very often, as the Preacher saith, to those to whom we do not wish. Why then should we not give them up for virtue’s sake, that we may inherit even a kingdom? Therefore let the desire of possession take hold of no one, for what gain is it to acquire these things which we cannot take with us? Why not rather get those things which we can take away with us—to wit, prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, kindness to the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from wrath, hospitality? If we possess these, we shall find them of themselves preparing for us a welcome there in the land of the meek-hearted.”

From Athanasius’ “Life of Anthony” in NPNF 2/4: Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, p. 200-201.

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