From our neighbor comes life or death.

St. Anthony

+ + +

These are the words of the wise 3rd century ascetic and monk who gained wisdom through his struggles to live faithfully in the world as he found it.

His statement about neighbors, others is true today as when he said it.  How we relate to others determines whether we live or whether we die.  Whether we are well or ill, happy or discontented, at peace or in conflict, close to God or far, far from God.

For the Christian the ability to befriend others rests on the relationship one has with Christ.  Yes, our capacity to befriend others is a reflection of our relationship with God.  A Christian’s relationship with others is built on the understanding that God is present to each and all of us.

Of course, in an exclusionary secular culture which dismisses God and disparages faith and belief – the person is reduced, highly individualized, segregated and made less likely to befriend others or have the capacity to do so.   In such a culture, hardship and hurt are prevalent.

Yes, this is the hardship we encounter in contemporary mass culture where herds of people as crowded into corrupted and unmanageable cities.  Yes, this is precisely what led to the growth of monastic communities in the Egyptian deserts as many well-off and well-educated people fled the chaos they faced.

But realize that the flight of the early monks was less an effort to escape rather more a desire to restore relationship with God and others.  So learning to coexist in a healthy manner with others was an essential part of monastic life.

In that quest for healthy life and relationships – quiet was necessary, nature also, cooperative community as well, daily prayer and reading, times for silence and mutual support.

In monastic life, the people you lived with were to be as good neighbors – you to them and them to you.  Yes, others were to be helped, supported, included, cared for, depended upon as you might be depended upon.

This is our standard as Christians living now among others.

Do not … let your mind be stern and bitter … be transformed by kindly feelings, and know yourself to have a gentle, benevolent, affable, ready heart toward everyone … if anger … should suddenly move or provoke you … take care not to give in to this wicked impulse … Humble yourself and ask God’s help … Often God allows his chosen friends to be prone to anger, so that they may know themselves more deeply and stand fast more firmly in humility.

Blosius, in Spiritual Mirror