St. Anthony was born in Egypt in 251 A.D. One day, while attending Liturgy, he heard the words from the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus spoke to a wealthy young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Deeply impressed by these words, St. Anthony decided to do just this, and in 285 A.D. he went alone into the Egyptian desert to live an ascetic life in complete solitude, wholly dedicated to God.
His life consisted of praying, meditating, fasting, and staying awake for days in order to overcome temptation. As he underwent further spiritual struggles, he slept on the ground, had visions, spoke wisdom to visitors, and eventually, his reputation attracted followers to whom he became a spiritual father. As a result of his life and efforts, St. Anthony is considered the father of monasticism.
St. Anthony did leave the desert on at least two occasions, both times to travel to Alexandria. Once to comfort the persecuted Christians there, and another time in 325 A.D. to support Bishop Athanasius at the First Council of Nicaea. After returning to the desert, St. Anthony died in 365 A.D. at the age of 105. His resting place is still unknown.
In his inspirational account of the life of St. Anthony, St. Athanasius wrote, “Anthony was not known for his writings nor for his worldly wisdom, nor for any art, but simply for his reverence toward God."
For what will we be known?
Image: St. Anthony surrounded by beasts of the desert. Frontispiece to the earliest Lives of the Fathers, Caffa (Crimea), 1430.