By Mena Rizkalla
Meditations on the Fear of God according to Saint Antony and other fathers.
"I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear."
After reading this quote from Saint Antony, some of us wonder how it could be possible that we not fear God. Isn't the "fear of God the beginning of wisdom"? What is the proper way to fear of God? This is a difficult question, but hopefully we can understand this through some of the sayings of the Great Saint Antony.
The quote can be found The Paradise of the Holy Fathers - however, there are two versions of it: Sister Benedicta Ward's, and Wallace Budge's Paradise .
Sister Benedicta Ward's:
Abba Antony said, "I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear."
The one that is in the full "Paradise of the Fathers" (translated by Wallace Budge) is this:
"Abba Besarion said, "I stood up for forty nights and did not sleep.'
Abba Antony said, 'I do not fear God, on the contrary I love Him.'"
Now, in the case of the first quote, we need only to see the passage he refers to, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." ( 1 Jn. 4:18 )
People often preach about a God that you have to fear , fear in terms of always watching your back for punishment, always thinking He's upset with you or waiting for you to fall so that He can rub it in when He saves you - this is truly wrong, and can be perfectly summarized in the classic quote, "Baba Yasoo' hay izza'al minnek" ("Father Jesus will get upset with you."). That is the kind of fear that is wrong.
We love God "because He first loved us", as the Bible says - and we fear Him in that we revere Him, we acknowledge His authority over us - while still loving Him as a Father. We should be so in love with God that our fear isn't even heaven or hell! If we are truly "Intoxicated by God", as St. Macarius says, then we love Him so much that we know that He does not WANT us to end up in hell, that every win for Satan is a loss for Him. In this sense, we have lost our fear for God in that we are not even remotely concerned about His justice,
we are not concerned about His gifts - we trust that all of that is taken care of - and those are nothing compared to Him and our desire to be with Him and live for Him.
This is why in the quote from the Paradise , St. Antony responds to Abba Besarion the way he does. It seems that Abba Besarion was vigilant because He thought God required it of him, that God would be less happy with him if he did not stand up for forty nights without shutting his eyes. Antony 's God is one who just wants love. If you stand up for forty days, let it be because you want to sacrifice every waking hour to your Lord and King, that you don't want a moment of pure bliss with Him to be stolen - not because you think God won't like it if you do not.
Antony's image of God is a loving One, One that knows we are weak:
I heard that the blessed man Antony used to say, 'God doth not permit wars to wax as fierce in this generation as He did in the generation of old, for He knoweth that men are [more] feeble [now] , and that they could not bear [them].'"
A God that he can challenge, be reprimanded by, but not be even slightly phased:
"Abba Antony besought God to inform him why young children died whilst so many old men lived, and why upright men were poor whilst the wicked were rich, and why some were blind and others had their sight, and why the righteous suffered from illness whilst the wicked were healthy, and a voice came, which said, 'Antony, take care of thine own self, for these matters are the judgements of God.'"
St. Antony doesn't reject the proper fear of God, as another saying from the Paradise says, "Abba Poemen also said that Abba Antony said concerning Abba Pambo, 'This man feared God so greatly that he made the Spirit of God to dwell in him.'"
And another quote that shows his fear of God:
"Abba Antony used to say, 'Let us put God before our eyes continually [often translated "Always have the fear of God before your eyes]; remember death and Christ our Redeemer; hate the world and everything which is therein; hate the world and all bodily pleasure; die unto this life, so that thou mayest live unto God, for God will require it of thee in the day of judgement. Be hungry, and thirsty, and naked; weep and mourn; watch and groan in thy heart; examine thyself [and see] if thou art worthy of God. Love labour and tribulation, so that thou mayest find God, and treat with contempt and despise the body, so that thy soul may live.'"
So the proper fear includes recognizing His authority, but having a such a perfect relationship with Him that you're not concerned with all of the side- stuff - you're not afraid of any of that - all you want is Him; to have what Adam had with God- unity:
"They used to say that one of the old men asked God that he might see the fathers, and he saw them [all], with the exception of Abba Antony; and he said unto him that shewed [them] to him, "Where is Abba Antony?" And he said unto him, 'Wheresoever God is there is Antony .'"