Habits of the Heart: Some Coptic Sayings of St. Antony the Great from Vatican Copt 64: A Meditation

A camel, a horse, a troupe of pigs rising from the waters of the Nile; an ostrich with its young; genuflecting crocodiles; souls flying up to heaven, a malevolent giant stopping some of them; a female monk who has transgressed; a dummy dressed up like a monk with demons attacking it; fiery lamps and a chorus of angels. These “characters” in the sayings translated below may seem to a modern reader the fanciful trappings of the picaresque, the overstuffed stage props of a simple people in a simpler time. Sayings about ubiquitous and fantastical demons2 instead of journalism about acts of terrorism, sayings seemingly obsessed with transgressions and sins instead of debates about the merits or demerits of tax cuts, may seem like the warp and woof of monastic hagiography rather than the worrisome rusting nuts and bolts of a country’s physical and moral infrastructure.


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