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Life of St. Anthony

From the book  “The life of St. Anthony” by St. Athanasious:

 And the fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere; that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God’s love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Antony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God. That this was the gift of God no one will deny. For from whence into Spain and into Gaul, how into Rome and Africa, was the man heard of who abode hidden in a mountain, unless it was God who maketh His own known everywhere, who also promised this to Antony at the beginning? For even if they work secretly, even if they wish to remain in obscurity, yet the Lord shows them as lamps to lighten all, that those who hear may thus know that the precepts of God are able to make men prosper and thus be zealous in the path of virtue.

Saint Anthony
      Father of the Monks

Saint Anthony was the first Christian to  live a life  of consecrated solitude.
As a hermit in  the desert he lived  a long and   saintly life that  influenced
countless people both in his time and for generations thereafter, even  to this

His life had a tremendous impact on the history of early Christianity, which is
the basic history of all Christian churches all over the world.

The story of  his life was   written  by one  of  Christianity’s  most renowned
leaders, Saint Athanasius  the Apostolic who  was his disciple  and  had a very
close relationship with him.

Saint Anthony is generally considered to be the  father of the monastic family.
He was born about 251 A.D.  of  well-to-do parents in Coma  (Kemn-el-Arouse) in
the middle of Egypt.

When he was eighteen years of age his parents died, leaving him guardian of his
younger and only sister, Dious.  Six months later Anthony entered the church to
hear the Gospel, in which our Lord speaks to the  rich young man, “If you would
be  perfect, go sell  all  you have, give to   the poor  and  come follow  me.”
(Matthew 19:21)

He took this advice as a personal invitation addressed to  him by God.  He sold
about  300 acres of  fertile  land, gave most of the  money to the poor keeping
only a little for  his sister.  Then he  placed his sister in the  charge of  a
community  of virgins. He was  now free to devote  his life to asceticism under
the  guidance of  a holy man  living near Coma.  This was  the  custom of young
ascetics  to  stay  under  a master    in order  to  learn the   principles  of
spirituality, prayer and fasting.

After a while, Saint Anthony left  on his own  for the western desert.  He took
shelter in an abandoned tomb carved  in the side of  a mountain.  A good friend
used to  bring him bread  and water from time to  time.  In his solitude he was
fighting off the temptations of the flesh and attacks of demons.

He was about thirty-five years old when he left his retreat to move to the east
bank of the Nile  to  the “Outer Mountain” at  Pispir (Vista) where he lived in
complete solitude.  After twenty years, his reputation attracted many followers
who settled near him, and wished  to copy his  holy life.  Saint Anthony became
their  spiritual leader,  teaching them constantly  by word and by example  the
ascetic life. Five years later,  he again  retired into solitude  in the “Inner
Mountain” (Mount Qolozum).

As   Saint   Anthony  lived in solitude,    he  was  tempted   by   boredom and
discouragement.  His soul  fell into  such  weariness and  confusion of thought
that he began saying, “Lord, I want to be saved but  these  bad thoughts do not
leave me alone; what shall I do? How can I be saved?”

After a little while, he began to walk in the open and saw someone as if it was
himself, sitting and working – making mats of palm leaves –  and then rising to
pray.  This was an angel sent by the Lord to teach Anthony how  to live  in the
desert.   The angel repeated  what  he was  doing  several  times until Anthony
understood that he had to combine manual work  and  prayer in order to overcome

Living in solitude (anchoritism) made Saint  Anthony a  spiritual father beyond
all others. He escaped from cares of  the world but  not from the  love for his
brothers.  Thus   he was obliged  to   visit Alexandria during the  persecution
against the  Christians, engineered by Maximin Daja  in 316.  He spent his time
ministering to the  oppressed and afflicted  in prisons.  When  the persecution
ended, he returned to his cell to be a daily martyr of his conscience, fighting
always the battles of the faith.

Once again, he visited Alexandria to support Pope Athanasius against the heresy
of Arius in 352.  Pagans and Christians alike rushed out  to greet the holy old
man, but  he soon returned to the  desert, for he felt  like a  fish out of the

Saint Anthony founded no  monastery.  His  rule consisted simply of prayers and
manual work. He told his disciples that just as Christ was a carpenter and Paul
was a tent maker, they also had to keep their hands busy to escape temptations.
He  also assigned  a  uniform to  the monks. This  was  a  garb of white  linen
reaching below the knees. A wide thick belt of leather helped  the monk to keep
erect.  This pattern is seen today in many monastic orders  all over the world.

From every part of the world, people came to him, even to the innermost part of
the desert,  seeking cures of the  body, mind,  and  soul; and  as  they did at
Pispir, monks came to him for his sympathy and practical advice.

Once Saint Athanasius had invited Anthony to Alexandria and they were joined by
Didymus, a man of great learning who  had lost  his eyesight.  The conversation
turned to  the Holy Scriptures, and  Anthony could not help admiring  the blind
man’s ability and praised his insight. The he said, “You do not regret the loss
of your eyes, do you?”  At first Didymus was reluctant to  answer, but when the
question was repeated, he frankly admitted that his blindness was a great grief
to  him.  Whereupon, Anthony said, “I  am  surprised that a wise  man  like you
should grief at the loss of a physical organ which he shares with everyone, and
not rejoice rather in having the gift which only  saints and apostles have been
thought worthy.”

In 356  A.D., Saint Anthony  died at the  age of one hundred  and five, but his
place of burial was never revealed by the two  monks, Marcarius and Amatas, who
buried him.

His monastery  produced many  great saints  including Saint  Hilarion  of Gaza,
Saint Macarius  of Scete, Saint  Amoun of   Nitria and   Saint Paul the Simple.
Intimacy with God made Saint Anthony as tenderhearted as the  Master he served.
Consequently, his influence extended  beyond  his  lifetime, and  the Universal
Church still reveres him as one of the great saints.

His life was written by Saint Athanasius while he was in Rome, and it  was very
influential in spreading  the  ideas   of monasticism throughout  the Christian
world.  According to  Saint  Athanasius, Saint Anthony  was  a  man of  “divine
wisdom” and of grace, although he never learned to read or write.

Today, a monastery bearing  the name  of Saint Anthony  stands in  the  eastern
desert.  The cave, in which the saint spent most of his life, is located beside
it.  Many monks  live there, and many  people from all walks  of life visit  it
every day.

May the prayers and supplications  of this  great Saint  Anthony, the Father of
the Monks, be with us. Amen.

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