Wednesday, January 17, 2007

St. Anthony of Egypt, Abbot

Today is the Feast of St. Anthony of Egypt. He was one of the first Christian monks. He was born around the year 251 to a wealthy Christian family. When he was about twenty years old, his parents died, and he and his younger sister inherited vast estates and much money. I like Anthony because he took the gospel seriously. About six months after his parents' deaths, he was walking to church thinking about the lives of the apostles and how they gave up everything to follow Jesus. When he arrived at church, late, the gospel was being read, and he heard the story of Jesus and the rich young man. Jesus said to the young man, “If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Anthony took this message to heart; he gave most of the land to the villagers, and he sold many of his possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor. A few months later, contemplating the command "Do not be anxious about tomorrow," he sold the rest of his possessions, made arrangements with a group of dedicated virgins to care for his sister, and moved to the very edge of the village to live the life of an anchorite. He soon moved out of the village to some tombs on the outskirts of the civilized area. It was there that he had his first encounters with the demons who would appear in the form of wild beasts and knock him around, sometimes leaving him near death. After fifteen years of living in the tomb on the edge of the inhabited area, he decided to withdraw completely and crossed the Nile to an abandoned fort, where he lived for some twenty years. In those days, the wilderness was understood to be very much like how we see outer space, a place beyond our comprehension. Pilgrims would come to see him at the fort but he would avoid them. Hermits began to live in the caves in the mountains surrounding the fort, and quite a community developed. The hermits requested Anthony to come and guide them in the spiritual life. He finally came out of seclusion around the year 305, and according to Athanasius, people were amazed that he wasn't any different than he had been twenty years earlier; he was still "vigorous in body and mind." Anthony worked with the hermits for some six years, developing a spiritual community and a rule of life. After six years he decided to withdraw again, and found a mountain between the shores of the Red Sea and the Nile. A monastery bearing his name exists in that spot to this day. He remained their, praying and doing manual labor and fighting his demons. In the year 321 he left his seclusion and came into Alexandria to encourage and strengthen the martyrs and those suffering the persecution of Maximinus, returning to his mountain top after a few years. He left his mountain for Alexandria in the year 350 to preach against the Arians and in support of the Nicene party, later returning to his mountain. According to Athanasias, Anthony was 105 years old when he passed away, and Jerome places his death around the year 357. Here are two sayings of Anthony from the Desert Fathers: Abba Anthony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”Sounds like the present to me. Abba Anthony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love him. For love casts out fear.”
O God, by your Holy Spirit you enabled your servant Antony to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Give us grace, with pure hearts and minds, to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 comment:

Matty Boy said...

Loves me some lives of the saints! Right now, I'm teaching Math for Liberal Arts, and I'm letting the folks know about some of the secular saints of math, Archimedes, Newton, Euler and Gauss.

By the way, is this the same Anthony who the Texas city is named for?

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