The confluence of the days is no coincidence. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday will be celebrated on January 21st. This is also the same date of the Second Inauguration of President Barak Obama. Every American, in particular African-Americans, understand the importance and prophetic like significance of these events. King was the voice for a better America and helped lead the country out of the satanic state of segregation. Obama is a symbol of what anyone can achieve if they strive to do their best. There is no way I could nor would want to dispel these two great men. But, I do believe it is important for we as Protestant Christians, and especially African-American Christians to also regard Saint Anthony of Egypt. Today is his feast day.
St. Anthony the Great inherited great wealth from his parents and could have lived a life of great splendor. Yet hearing the Gospel message, he left his worldly possessions behind and took up a life of prayer in the desert. His devotion to prayer was a great influence on Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria who gave the church its first creed and was the first to compile the list of books that became our New Testament. Another Egyptian, Macarius, to write prayers that are still prayed by Orthodox believers around the world. Anthony’s defence of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God during the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea helped the early church reject the heresy of Arianism. Yet, rather than bask in the glories of his achievements, Anthony kept returning to his cave. His followers followed his instructions and buried him in a secret grave so that he would not become the object of veneration.
The importance of Anthony is no less than that of MLK and Mr. Obama. As we celebrate these to great men, now is the time for us to open our hearts and minds to learn about and celebrate our African-Christian heroes (and the saints of other lands as well). Had there been no Anthony, the correct doctrines supported by Athanasius, Basil, Nicholas (yes, THAT St. Nicholas), and others may not have been as convincing to Emperor Constantine and the Council. The rich prayer tradition of Orthodox and Catholic monks and nuns would not have developed in such meaningful ways. Indeed, where would King have received his Holy Bible from? What sort of Bible would Mr. Obama take the oath of office on? The “Desert Fathers” of Africa should and must be a part of who we African-American Christians honor during Black History Month as without them, we (and the world) might not be here and not have a true idea of who Jesus Christ is.
During the era of Dr. King, we were too busy with fighting for our Civil Rights to learn much about our Christian history. Now, it is possible that an African-American President who struggled during his first term could win a second. Nothing is stopping us from reading the books of the early church fathers and talking to Eastern and Oriental Orthodox clergy. Instead of choking our people on a diet of a modern Christian market, we can introduce them to the solid doctrines, prayers, and practices of our African ancestors. Even if we choose not to convert to Orthodoxy (and I think some of us should), we should know our history. We have no excuses not to learn.