Saints of the East: St. Anthony of Egypt
art direction/illustration by P.J. McCue
As the first Christian hermit St. Anthony exerted a deep influence not only on his own time, but helped to shape the course of religious life and monastic practice for all the ages since.
St. Anthony was born in Egypt around A.D. 250 while persecution of the Christian Church was still common. He was an odd child who shunned his companions, disliked school, and sought to be alone. While still a very young man his parents died. He soon sold all his property, and went to live alone in the desert.
His hard life of prayer, labor, and fasting drew others to him including many who wished to follow his example. There in the Egyptian wilderness we find the first flowering of monastic life as St. Anthony instructed and guided his unsought disciples.
With concern for his fellow Christians St. Anthony helped the poor, offered himself as a hostage for prisoners, and became a determined opponent of Arianism, the heresy that denied Christ was God, and threatened the future of the Church.
St. Anthony died in the desert at the age of 105. His life written at once by St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, made him known to the entire Catholic world. He was admired like St. Francis of Assisi later on for his austere living of the Gospel, for his zeal for orthodoxy, and like his namesake of Padua for his miracles. St. Anthony was regarded for a thousand years or more as the ideal monk. We celebrate his feast in the Roman rite on January 17.
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