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January 17

St Anthony the Great - January 17

Saint Anthony of Egypt

Monk, “Father of All Monks”

(Around 251 – 356)

“Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”

Saint Anthony of Egypt

His Early Life

Anthony was born in Coma in Lower Egypt to wealthy landowner and pious parents. Though Anthony was brought up in affluence, he did not trouble his parents for luxuries.His childhood was marked by his even temper, attendance to religious duties, and obedience to his parents. Most of what is known about Anthony comes from the Life of Anthony, that was written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria in Greek around 360.

Death of His Parents

At age 18 or 20, his parents died leaving Anthony a vast fortune, including 300 auras (about 120 acres) of rich Egyptian soil. He was left their home and his little sister to care for. Many of us hear this passage without really paying much attention to it. But, Anthony, impressed by Christ’s words to the rich young ruler, sold his parent’s house, their furniture, and the land he owned, giving the proceeds to the poor. After providing for only the needs of his sister, Anthony became an ascetic. He joined the anchorites who lived nearby and moved into an empty sepulchre. However, she, following his example, surrendered her share in the inheritance and entered a house of virgins (which may be the first instance mentioned in history of a convent).

A Hermit for 15 Years

Anthony went to live alone in various spots in the neighborhood of his home in Lower Egypt. He 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.

Anthony 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 practicing the strictest self-denial. He ate only bread, with a little salt, and water, which he never tasted before sunset. Anthony wore sackcloth and sheepskin.  Often, he 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 Anthony’s 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 Anthony 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 Anthony with terrible noises and a variety of specters 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: “Anthony, 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.”

First Christian Monastery

About 285, in a quest for greater solitude, Anthony left the area around his birthplace and took up residence in an abandoned fort atop Mount Pispir (now Der el Memun). Here, Anthony lived in nearly complete solitude and seeing almost no one. He ate only dates growing nearby and the load of bread that was thrown to him over the wall of the fort every six months. Anthony continued this life for 20 years until he knew and could govern himself to do the exterior work. In 305, he emerged to organize at Fayum (Phaium) the colony of ascetics that had grown around his retreat into a loosely organized 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 labor.

Anthony 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. Anthony 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 fervor of their souls to please God.

Off to Alexandria, Egypt

In 311, at the height of Emperor Maximin’s persecution, Anthony went to Alexandria, Egypt 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 recognized by other Christians. Anthony 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. There, he organized another colony at Pispir, near the Nile.

Life of Solitude

Again, Anthony retired to solitude. This time with his disciple Saint Macarius the Younger 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, Saint 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.

Anthony had many followers. 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.

Influenced Saints Hilarion and Pachomius

Antony’s influence exerted itself like a radiating force in other countries, too. Saint Hilarion visited him about 310 and inaugurated monasteries in Palestine.  In 318, Saint Pachomius also inaugurated monasteries nearer to home. Anthony 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, Saint Pachomius started a much more centralized, highly organized monasticism more like modern convents – the system that spread to the West.

The Cobbler

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

“Sir,” the cobbler 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 neighbors and poor friends as I have. After, I set me at my labor, 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 life.”

Thus, Anthony learned that there are many way of holiness and that perfection is not only to be found in the lonely places of the desert.

Emperor Constantine

About 337, Emperor Constantine and his two sons, Constantius and Constans, wrote a joint letter to Anthony seeking advice and asking for his prayers. His monks were surprised that he should be so honored. Unmoved Anthony 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 of Alexandria, and seven other letters to various monasteries are the sum of Anthony’s literary output.

Arian Persecution

In 339, Anthony 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, Anthony again went to Alexandria to join those combatting Arianism. Anthony 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, Anthony met and became close friends with Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, whose Vita Antonii is the chief source of information about Anthony.

Late in life, Anthony became a close friend of Saint Paul the Hermit. He buried the aged anchorite, leading to his patronage of gravediggers.

His relationship with pigs and patronage of swineherds is a little complicated. Skin diseases were sometimes treated with applications of pork fat, which reduced inflammation and itching. As Anthony’s intervention aided in the same conditions, he was shown in art accompanied by a pig. People who saw the art work, but did not have it explained, thought there was a direct connection between Anthony and pigs – and people who worked with swine took him as their patron.

His Death

On his return, Anthony again sought refuge in the cave on Mount Kolzim. Here, 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, Anthony died on January 17 in the desert in Mount Kolzim, Egypt, where he was secretly buried. About 561, his body was discovered and with great solemnity translated to Alexandria, then to Constantinople, and is now at Vienne, France. Saint Anthony of Eqypt is also known as Saint Anthony the Great, Saint Anthony the Abbot, and Saint Anthony of the Desert. 

In art, Saint Antony is depicted as a very old monk in a habit to indicate that he was the founder of monasticism. He is also 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; and (3) with a book to signify Anthony’s devotion to the Scriptures.

Born :                   Around 251 in Coma (near Heracleopolis), Eqypt

Died:                    January 17, 356 age 105 in Mount Colzim, Egypt

Beatified:            Pre-Congregation

Canonized:         Pre-Congregation

Feast Day:          January 17

Patron Saint:     Against Eczema; Against Skin Diseases; Anchorites; Gravediggers; Hermits; Hogs; Monks; Pigs; Swineherds

Source:

Reflection 

Saint Anthony’s legacy extends far beyond his historical context. His emphasis on prayer, humility, and the pursuit of a deeper relationship with God continues to inspire and guide countless Christians in their spiritual journeys. He remains a symbol of the enduring quest for God in the solitude of the human heart. While we may not have a quiet desert to go to for solitude, we can pray to God in the quiet of our hearts anytime and anywhere.

How will you quest for God today wherever your spiritual journey leads you in pursuit of a deeper relationship with Our Father?

Prayers

Saint Anthony the Great,

You spoke of the importance of persevering in our faith and our practice. Help us to wake up today with new zeal for the Christian life and a desire to take the next challenge in the pursuit of a deeper relationship with God instead of just sitting still.

Saint Anthony the Great, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

Aleteia – St. Anthony of the Desert corrects the Footprints story

All Saints & Martyrs – St. Anthony the Abbot

Bartleby – Rev. Alban Butler Volume I: January. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. January 17 St. Antony, Abbot, Patriarch of Monks

Catholic Exchange – Saint Anthony the Abbot

Catholic Fire – St. Anthony of the Desert

Catholic Ireland – Jan 17 – St Anthony of Egypt

Catholic News Agency – St. Anthony of Egypt Feast day: Jan 17

Catholic Online – St. Anthony the Abbot

Franciscan Media – Saint Anthony of Egypt

Heralds of the Gospel – St. Anthony – Father of Monastic Life

Independent Catholic News – St Anthony of Egypt

My Catholic Life – January 17: Saint Anthony of Egypt, Abbot

New Advent – Butler, E.C. (1907). St. Anthony. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

Newman Ministry – Saint Anthony the Abbot

RC Spirituality (Uncle Eddy) – St Anthony the Abbot

Saint Mary’s Press – Saint Anthony of Egypt (251-356)

Saints, Feast, Family – Saint Anthony of Egypt’s Story

Sanctoral – Saint Anthony of the Desert Patriarch of Monastic Life (251-356)

St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Church – Who is St. Anthony the Great?

The Life of Antony by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria

uCatholic – Saint Anthony

Video Link

Cradio Saint of the Day: Saint Anthony the Abbot – YouTube (CatholicSaints.Info)

St Anthony of the Desert – YouTube (Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network – USA)

Jan 17 – Homily: St Anthony the Abbot – YouTube (franciscanfriars)