St. Anthony of Egypt
Author: Andie Rocha | Source: Ewtn.com
Roman martyrology: St. Anthony is generally considered to be the founder and father of organized Christian monasticism, although he himself preferred to live the life of a true hermit, apart from any community, in the deserts of Egypt. Having lost his parents, he distributed all his wealth to the poor, following the evangelical indication, and retreated to the solitude of Thebes in Egypt, where he led an ascetic life. He worked to strengthen the action of the Church during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian, supported Athanasius against the Arians, and gathered many disciples he deserved to be considered as Father of the monks.
Etymology: Commonly associated with Greek anthos meaning "flower".
The life of Anthony will remind many people of St. Francis of Assisi. At 20, Anthony was so moved by the Gospel message, that he actually did just that with his large inheritance. He is different from Francis in that most of Anthony’s life was spent in solitude. He saw the world completely covered with snares, and gave the Church and the world the witness of solitary asceticism, great personal mortification and prayer. But no saint is antisocial, and Anthony drew many people to himself for spiritual healing and guidance.
St. Anthony was born in 251 in a small village in Egypt. He descended from a noble family, but his mind was very humble; actually he was exceedingly modest, and honest beyond measure. At young age, he was unable to read or write because he could not bear the rough behavior of the boys in the school; his whole desire was to be even according to what is written about Jacob, "He was a simple man, and a dweller in tents.”
When he was twenty years old, both of his parents died, leaving him a large estate and placing him in charge of his young sister. Anthony felt overwhelmed and turned to God in prayer. Gradually he became more and more aware of the power of God in his life. About six months later, he heard this quotation of Jesus from the Gospel: "Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Mark 10:21). He took the words as a personal message in answer to his prayer for guidance. He sold most of his possessions keeping only enough to support his sister and himself. Then he gave the rest of the money to people who needed it.
Anthony's sister joined a group of women living a life of prayer and contemplation while Anthony decided to become a hermit. He begged an elderly hermit to teach him the spiritual life. He also visited other hermits so he could learn each one's most outstanding virtue and then he began his own life of prayer and penance alone with God.
At 54, he responded to many requests and founded a sort of monastery of scattered cells to help others. Again like Francis, he had great fear of “stately buildings and well-laden tables.” Many people heard of him and sought his advice. He would give them practical advice such as: "The devil is afraid of us when we pray and make sacrifices. He is also afraid when we are humble and good. He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much. He runs away when we make the Sign of the Cross."
At 60, he hoped to be a martyr in the renewed Roman persecution of 311, fearlessly exposing himself to danger while giving moral and material support to those in prison. At 88, he was fighting the Arian heresy, that massive trauma from which it took the Church centuries to recover. “The mule kicking over the altar” denied the divinity of Christ.
Anthony died after a long, prayerful life. He was 105. St. Athanasius wrote a well-known biography of St. Anthony of Egypt, here he said "Anthony was not known for his writings nor for his worldly wisdom, nor for any art, but simply for his reverence toward God."
Anthony is associated in art with a T-shaped cross, a pig and a book. The pig and the cross are symbols of his valiant warfare with the devil—the cross his constant means of power over evil spirits, the pig a symbol of the devil himself. The book recalls his preference for “the book of nature” over the printed word.
From his footsteps we can learn: Fast for one day, if possible, as Anthony did, eating only bread and only after the sunsets. Praying to God will show you your strength.