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Born at Koman (Coma) near Memphis, Egypt, c. 251; died on Mount Kolzim, January 17, 356.

The same St. Anthony is often depicted on Irish High Crosses, together with St Paul of Thebes, both being brought bread by a raven as they converse about spiritual matters

Whoever sits in solitude and is quiet has escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, and seeing. Yet against one thing he must constantly battle: his own heart. --Saint Antony Abbot.

The devil dreads fasting, prayer, humility, and good works: He is not able even to stop my mouth who speak against him. The illusions of the devil soon vanish, especially if a man arms himself with the Sign of the Cross. The devils tremble at the Sign of the Cross of our Lord, by which He triumphed over and disarmed them. --Saint Antony Abbot.

Antony's work was of lasting import--centuries later, in the 20th century, the monasteries he established still exist and are peopled by numerous monks as the Coptic Orthodox Church enjoys a thriving monastic life in the 20th century.

But the Church has never been simply a clique of saints but a field of weeds as well as wheat. Even after only its first 250 years of existence the level of early enthusiasm and standard of holiness had sunk a great deal as large groups of people, some lukewarm, entered the Church. The Church does not exist for men who are already holy, but rather to help us to grow in sanctity. Her moral laws do not exist to inhibit our freedom, but as signposts allowing us the freedom to become most ourselves, who are made by, for, and in the image of God. Her Sacraments are not prizes for the already perfected but medicine for the sick and weak.

Yet the Church is not just a hospital for the morally wounded or spiritual convalescents. The generous heart, the strong worker, the vivid imagination, the triumphant will--all these are cared for, nurtured, and called to live within her. And not only the Church as a body, but each of us within Her, contains this mixture of the sick and the holy. We are beaten down by the evil within and around us but, with God's help, arise again to continue the fight. Antony was one of those whose virtues encouraged others to continue the battle and win the crown of glory offered to all by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Antony, the founder of Christian monasticism, is considered as such because he gathered the desert hermits into loosely-knit communities and exercised a certain authority over them. Nevertheless, he himself spent most of his life in solitude.

In order to keep Antony from being tainted by bad example, his rich and pious parents kept him always at home, unacquainted with any branch of human literature or other languages. His childhood was marked by his even temper, attendance to religious duties, and obedience to his parents.

At age 18 to 20, his parents died leaving him a vast fortune, including 300 "auras" (about 120 acres) of rich Egyptian soil. The "Golden Legend" says that one day in church Antony heard: If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor. Many of us hear this passage without really paying much attention to it. But Antony, impressed by Christ's words to the rich young ruler, gave up everything and, providing only for the needs of his sister, became an ascetic. She, however, following his example, surrendered her share in the inheritance and entered a house of virgins.

He went to live alone in various spots in the neighbourhood of his home in Lower Egypt, but sought the counsel of an aged hermit to teach him the spiritual life and help to control what he felt was his wayward, impressionable temperament, which he knew he could not govern all alone. During the next 15 years, he also visited other solitaries, copying in himself the principal virtue of each. Soon he was a model of humility, charity, and prayerfulness.

He found God on the abrupt and rocky banks of the Nile, where burning stones take possession of flowers before they even bloom. Fleeing the agony of a corrupt and crumbling world, he sought in silence and poverty to hear the whispers of the divine presence, to make the sand and flagstones flourish with spiritual flowers.

Antony began the life of a hermit, living in a tomb. He spent his time in prayer, study, and the manual work necessary to earn his living, while practising the strictest self-denial. He ate only bread, with a little salt, and water, which he never tasted before sunset, and sometimes only once every several days. He wore sackcloth and sheepskin, and often knelt in prayer from sunset to sunrise. When he did sleep, it was on a rush mat or the bare floor. Thus, he became Antony the Great: the giant of holiness, the athlete of the spiritual order, the colossal mystic whose name dominates early Christianity in Egypt.

Here the devils assaulted him most furiously, appearing as various monsters and worldly temptations such as rich clothing, delicious food, and beautiful women. They even wounded him severely. But his courage never failed, and he overcame them all by confidence in God and by the Sign of the Cross. One night many devils scourged him so terribly that he lay as if dead. A friend found him that way and, believing him dead, carried him home. When Antony awakened, he persuaded his friend to carry him, in spite of his wounds, back to his solitude. Here, prostrate from weakness, he defied the devils, saying, I fear you not; you cannot separate me from the love of Christ.

Hereupon the fiends appearing again, renewed the attack, and alarmed him with terrible noises and a variety of spectres in hideous shapes until a ray of heavenly light chased them away. He cried out as we so often do when besieged by the enemy: Where were You, my Lord and my Master? Why weren't You here from the beginning of my conflict to assuage my pain? A voice answered: Antony, I was here the whole time; I stood by you, and saw your combat. And because you manfully withstood your enemies, I will always protect you, and will make your name famous throughout the earth.

Not only did the devils assault him in this way, they also tempted him with thoughts about failed opportunities for doing good with the property he had given away. This is a common ploy of the evil one: to attempt to pull us away from the vocation to which God has called us, making us slothful or dissatisfied with our own role in the salvation of the world and the glorification of the Father.

About 285, in a quest for greater solitude, he left the area around his birthplace and took up residence in an abandoned fort atop Mount Pispir (now Der el Memun), living in nearly complete solitude and seeing almost no one, eating only dates growing nearby and the bread thrown to him over the wall. He continued this life for 20 years until he knew and could govern himself to do the exterior work.

In 305, he emerged to organise at Fayum (Phaium) the colony of ascetics that had grown around his retreat into a loosely organised monastery with a rule, though each monk lived in solitude except for worship. Most say it was the first Christian monastery. The dissipation occasioned by this undertaking led him into a temptation of despair, which he overcame by prayer and hard manual labour.

During this time of his life, he daily ate six ounces of bread soaked in water with a little salt, and sometimes added a few dates. He generally ate after sunset, but on some days at 3:00 p.m. In his old age, he also added a little oil. Thus, in his more active period he somewhat modified his earlier austerities.

It is said that he was always so cheerful when in company that strangers could always identify him from among his disciples by the joy that always painted his countenance. This, of course, was the result of the inward peace and composure of his soul--Christ's final gift to us, His servants. (It does appear, however, that Antony also possessed the gift of tears.)

Antony exhorted his brethren to spend as little time as possible in the care of the body. Nevertheless, he was careful never to place perfection in mortification, but rather in charity. He instructed his monks to always be mindful of eternity: to reflect every morning that they might not live until nightfall, every evening that they may never see the sun rise, and to perform every action as if it were the last of their lives, with all the fervour of their souls to please God.

In 311, at the height of Emperor Maximin's persecution, he went to Alexandria to give encouragement to the Christians being persecuted there and in the mines of the Sudan where they were imprisoned. He wore a white tunic of sheepskin during his stay in Alexandria so that he would be recognised by other Christians. He took care, however, never to provoke the judges or impeach himself, as some rashly did. He returned to his monastery when the persecution subsided in 312 and organised another at Pispir, near the Nile.

Again he retired, this time with his disciple Saint Macarius the Younger (f.d. January 2) to a cliffside cave on Mount Kolzim near the northwest corner of the Red Sea, where he remained for the rest of his long life cultivating enough land to support himself, weaving reed mats, and visiting the monks of the desert community. Generally, Macarius would entertain any strangers who managed to reach their aerie. If they were found to be spiritual men, Antony would spend time with them, too.

Another lesson we can learn from Saint Antony: In a time of spiritual dryness take up an ordinary occupation. When Antony found uninterrupted contemplation above his strength, an angel taught his to use intervals of manual labour interspersed with prayer. Soon prayer was added to the work of his hands.

He had many followers and soon his life of solitude became impossible. Numerous colonies of monks, following his example, multiplied with great rapidity, so that the deserts of the Nile and the sands of Libya were peopled with thousands of anchorites. The rocks resounded with their songs, and at Easter immense congregations of up to 50,000 people would gather to celebrate the glory of the Risen One.

Antony's influence exerted itself like a radiating force in other countries, too. Saint Hilarion (f.d. October 21) visited him about 310, and inaugurated monasteries in Palestine; Mar Agwin did so in 325 in Mesopotamia; Saint Pachomius (f.d. May 9), nearer home, in 318. Antony had two qualities proper to great men--he was able (such was the force of his personality) to leave almost complete freedom and initiative to the men under his immediate influence; and he did not grumble if others imitated and also modified his system. Thus, Pachomius started a much more centralised, highly organised monasticism more like modern monasteries--the system that spread to the West.

A significant feature of these desert saints was their physical strength and energy. Antony himself remained alert and vigorous despite his privations, and those who followed him became spiritual athletes, men and women who under conditions of great severity developed strong physique and braced themselves in health and virtue. (When Antony died at age 105, his sight and hearing were unimpaired and he had all his teeth.) These desert fathers lived in remote places in huts, caves or abandoned buildings, and sought God through intellectual and physical self-discipline in a life of prayer, meditation, austerity, and manual labour (to feed themselves). Such lives produced characters of impressive integrity and wisdom, as well as keen understanding of the human psyche.

Some desert monks were characterised by extravagant austerities and fanaticism; not so Antony. He was notably moderate for his time, a man of spiritual wisdom, whose austerity of life was always consciously directed to the better service of God.

Many stories are told of Antony and of his encounters with strange creatures (including a centaur and satyr in the story of his search for Saint Paul the Hermit (f.d. January 15), and of how by the power of prayer he overcame his fears and proved that the wildest phantasies of the mind can be dispelled by the grace of God. He had also the gift of taming wild animals and on that account is called their patron saint. Why do you hurt me, he asked the beasts of the desert, gently taking hold of one of them, who do not hurt you? and they left him in peace.

He had a great reputation for holiness, but on one occasion he heard an inner voice: Antony, you are not so perfect as is a cobbler that dwells at Alexandria. Whereupon he took his staff and sought him out. The cobbler was amazed to see such a holy and famous man at his door. Antony enquired how he spent his time.

Sir, he replied, as for me, good works have I none, for my life is but simple and slender. I am but a poor cobbler. In the morning when I rise, I pray for the whole city wherein I dwell, especially for all such neighbours and poor friends as I have. After, I set me at my labour, where I spend the whole day in getting my living. And I keep me from all falsehood, for I hate nothing so much as I do deceitfulness; wherefore when I make to any man a promise, I keep to it and perform it truly. And thus I spent my time poorly with my wife and children, whom I teach and instruct, as far as my wit will serve me, to fear and dread God. And this is the sum of my simple />
Thus, Antony learned that there are many way of holiness and that perfection is not only to be found in the lonely places of the desert.

About 337, Emperor Constantine and his two sons, Constantius and Constans, wrote a joint letter to Antony seeking advice and asking for his prayers. His monks were surprised that he should be so honoured. Unmoved he said, Do not wonder that the emperor writes to us, one man to another; rather admire that God should have written to us, and that He has spoken to us through His Son. In total, his response to the emperor preserved by Saint Athanasius (f.d. May 2), and seven other letters to various monasteries are the sum of Antony's literary output.

In 339, Saint Antony had a vision in which mules kicked down the altar. This was taken as a warning about the havoc the Arian persecution wrought just two years later in Alexandria. At the request of the bishops, about 355, Antony again went to Alexandria to join those combatting Arianism. He taught that God the Son is not a creature but the same substance as the Father, and that the Arians, who claimed he was, were heathens. There he met and became close friends with Saint Athanasius, whose "Vita Antonii" is the chief source of information about Antony.

On his return, he again sought refuge in the cave on Mount Kolzim, where he received visitors, including Emperor Constantine, and dispensed advice. He chief advice was that knowledge of oneself was the necessary and only step by which one can ascend to the knowledge and love of God.

Full of years, of battles and victories, Antony died on January 17 in the desert where only legend could trace his path. He was secretly buried on Mount Kolzim. About 561, his body was discovered and with great solemnity translated to Alexandria, then to Constantinople, and is now at Vienne, France.

After Saint Antony had lived in the desert for 75 years, he was told in a vision about the hermit Saint Paul (f.d. January 15), who had been living in asceticism for 90 years. At once he resolved to find him and set out across the desert. On the way he met with a centaur and a satyr, before finding Saint Paul in a cave in the rocks beside a stream and a palm-tree. The two embraced in immediate recognition, after which Saint Paul inquired about the state of the world that he had left so long ago.

Saint Jerome (f.d. September 30), in his account of Paul the Hermit, describes the meeting of the two during which a raven dropped a loaf of bread for the hermits to share. Paul then asked Antony to return to his own hermitage and fetch the cloak given to him by Bishop Saint Athanasius in which he wished to be buried. En route back to the elder hermit, Antony saw Paul ascending into heaven. At the cave he found the dead body in an attitude of prayer. Antony was too old to have the strength to dig a grave, but two lions came and dug it with their paws. Antony wrapped Paul's body in the cloak and buried it.

The ascetic lives of Paul of Thebes and Anthony was known to the monks of ancient Ireland and they strove to emulate their asceticism. They frequently carved onto the Irish High Crosses the scene of the two ascetics conversing while a raven brings them bread. These High Crosses, with Paul. and Antony depicted on them, may be seen in Ireland even today. If you go here and look at the North Face of the Cross you can see the two hermits on the Ruthwell Cross, created about 700 AD.

Saint Jerome (f.d. September 30) and Rufinus relate that Antony met Didymus, the blind head of the catechetical school at Alexandria.

His fights with the devil, his temptations, his meeting with Saint Paul the Hermit, his association with monks who treasured his sayings, his prophecies: These are all told in his "Life" written by Saint Athanasius, to whom he bequeathed one of his sheepskins and his cloak as a public testimony of his being united in faith and communion with that holy prelate.

Upon his death 14 years after that of Saint Paul, Antony was buried secretly, according to his own wish. Both during his life and after his death his influence was great, and veneration for him remains strong all over Christendom (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Butler, Delaney, Encyclopaedia, Gill, Husenbeth, Martindale, Meyer, Tabor, White).

In art Saint Antony is depicted as a very old monk in a habit to indicate that he was the founder of monasticism. But he is represented in various ways: (1) with a bell or asperges (both to exorcise evil spirits) and a "tau"-shaped cross which designates, perhaps, his age and authority, and which is worn by the Knights of Saint Antony (instituted 1352); (2) with a pig (representing sensuality and gluttony), to denote his battles with the devil; (3) with a book to signify Antony's devotion to the Scriptures; or (4) with flames to indicate the disease known as Saint Antony's Fire, against which his name was invoked in the Middle Ages; (5) with the devil near him; (6) tempted by devils or carried aloft by them; (7) with the centaur and satyr he met on his way to Saint Paul; (8) breaking bread with Saint Paul the Hermit (the bread is brought to them by ravens); (9) with two lions, who dig Paul's grave; (10) making baskets, which was one of the primary occupations of the Egyptian monks; or (11) as a young man distributing his wealth (Appleton, Encyclopaedia, Roeder, Tabor). Attwater claims that his emblems are a pig and a bell.

Saint Antony is the patron of basket-makers (Roeder), domestic animals, pet, people those with skin diseases (White). He is invoked against erysipelas (Saint Antony's Fire), probably because of his reputation as a healer (Roeder, White).

Troparion of St Anthony the Great
Tone 4
Thou didst follow the ways of zealous Elijah, and the straight path of the Baptist, O Father Anthony.
Thou didst become a desert dweller
and support the world by thy prayers.
Intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

Icon of St. Anthony:

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