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Saint Antonius, or Saint Antony the Great, was born in 251 A.D. in Upper Egypt. His Christian parents raised him in the church. His whole desire was to remain in his home without deceit and he was never recklessly playful like a child. He obeyed his parents and learned from them, keeping what was profitable in his heart. He showed respect by never pestering them, being content with what he had and never looked for anything more.
When he was around the age of 18 or 20, Saint Antony’s parents reposed and he was left to care for the home and his sister. Not six months had passed after the death of his parents, when Saint Antony, as was his custom, left the house and went to church. On his way there, he considered how the apostles gave up everything and followed their Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. He also contemplated on the Acts of the Apostles which mentions that the members of the early church brought all their possessions and laid them at the apostles’ feet. The apostles then distributed them to those in need. As he reflected on these things, Saint Antony entered the church and heard the Gospel reading, ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give them to the poor, and come and follow me, and you will have treasure in heaven’ (Mt 19:21).
Saint Antony followed this instruction, sold all his possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor. However, he still reserved a little for his sister’s sake. Later, as he went to the church again, he heard the Gospel reading, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow’ (Mt 6:34). Taking these words to heart, he gave the rest of his possessions to the poor and entrusted his sister to known and faithful virgins.
Saint Antony began to live an ascetic life on the outskirts of his village, where he, like the wise honeybee, went from one elder to the next learning different virtues. The devil became very envious and tempted him with boredom, laziness, and visions of wild beasts and women. Early in his ascetic career, Saint Antony went into the tombs at some distance from the village. There, the devil assaulted him and beat him so mercilessly that he was nearly left for dead. By the grace of God, Saint Antony’s attendant and companion, who brought him food every few days, found him. He took Saint Antony to the nearby church, where his relatives and people from the village gathered around him. At midnight, while everyone was asleep, Saint Antony awoke, saw his friend, signaled to him, and asked to be carried back to the tombs without waking anyone. When Saint Antony returned with boldness, he resisted the devil saying, ‘Though war should rise up against me, my heart will not be afraid.’ He was also known to recite the psalm, ‘Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered; let all who hate Him flee before Him’ (Psalm 68:1).
After this spiritual war ended, Saint Antony looked up and saw that the ceiling appeared to be opening. He saw what seemed to be a beam of light descending toward him. Suddenly, the demons vanished and the pain in his body ceased. Saint Antony perceived that the Lord had saved him and when he took a breath, he realized that he had been relieved from his suffering. He asked the Lord, ‘Where are you? And why did you not appear to me from the beginning so you could heal me?’ A voice then came to him saying, ‘I was here, but I waited to see your struggle. And now, since you persevered and were not defeated, I will be a helper to you forever and I will make you famous everywhere.’ When Saint Antony heard these things, he stood and prayed, and was strengthened. He was about thirty-five years old at that time.
Saint Antony remained in solitude for almost twenty years, practicing ascetic discipline alone. Many wished to see him and to imitate him, so they forcefully tore down his door. Saint Antony emerged and God was him. He then counseled and instructed those who wished to hear him.
During the time of persecution, he longed for martyrdom. Saint Antony left to Alexandria and visited those who were imprisoned for the sake of Christ. When the Governor saw that Saint Antony was confessing the Lord Jesus Christ publicly, not caring what might happen to him, he ordered Saint Antony to leave the city. God preserved Saint Antony throughout this trial, and Saint Antony return to the deserts for the benefit of many. Saint Antony would return to Alexandria a second time to refute the heresy of Arius.
At the age of 90, Saint Antony sought out Saint Paul of Thebes, the first hermit. Saint Paul reposed and Saint Antony buried him with the aid of two lions who dug his grave.
Saint Antony completed 85 years of the ascetic and monastic life. He is considered the Father of Monasticism. He lived to the age of 105 and reposed in 356 A.D.
The Life of Saint Antony, written by Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, is one of the most influential writings in all of Christian literature, and has inspired many to pursue the monastic life.
Saint Antony, pray for us!