St Anthony the Great

Memory celebrated January 17

Saint Anthony was born in the year 251 AD in Egypt of very pious parents. His education was limited, however he attended church with his parents and intensely observed the services, wanting to enrich his spiritual growth.

His parents died when he was 18 years old. He lived with his sister and took care of family affairs. One day when he attended the liturgy, he heard the words that Jesus had said to a wealthy young man, "If wilt be perfect, go sell all that thou hast and give it to the poor and come follow me..."

He was so impressed by these words that he decided to do as Christ had told the young man. He sold off his plots of farmland, gave the money to the poor and entrusted his sister to a Christian home for virgins for at this time there were no monasteries. Those who wanted to meditate would build cells a short distance from the city and live there. This is what Anthony did.

In the area lived an old hermit. Anthony followed his example by praying, meditating and fasting in order to overcome the many temptations which are common to young men. He drilled himself by remaining awake days at a time, eating once a day, sometimes once every two days and sleeping on the ground. The philosophy behind his actions was that young men should torture their bodies as much as possible so that their resistance to physical and spiritual sickness would be higher.

The years passed. To further his spiritual struggle, at the age of 35 he departed for the desert where he found a derelict fortress in which he barricaded himself. Completely isolated, but for a good Christian who bought him food every six months or so, he pursued with greater severity his ascetic way of life, constantly battling Satan's temptations.

As the years passed many men came to him, expressing the desire to follow his example by living the life of a hermit and undergoing spiritual struggles. He taught his brothers to prefer their love for Christ over everything else. Even though Saint Anthony lacked education, his words were full of faith and divine wisdom. His reputation and ascetic figure added a heavenly charm to his teachings.

In time this became the first monastery, established in 305 AD. It is for this reason that Saint Anthony is generally known as the Father of Monasticism. From this one brotherhood many more sprouted throughout the known world. Rules were soon established which were to be followed by all hermit monks.

During the time of the persecutions under Emperor Maximianos, Anthony and several other monks travelled to Alexandria to encourage and comfort the many suffering Christians. In 325 AD, Anthony and his monks helped defeat the Arian heretics at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea.

Many miracles are attributed to this religious father. His fame reached even Constantinople. Constantine the Great and one of his sons would write letters to Saint Anthony asking for his blessing and advice.

Saint Anthony died in 356 AD at the age of 105. He instructed two of his monks to bury him secretly. This they did, and his resting place is still unknown.

by Christina Dedoussis
from Voice in the Wilderness
newsletter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
Parish of St George, South Brisbane

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