Home SAINT ANTHONY THE GREAT
Saint Anthony is also known as the Father of the Monks; the Father of Cenobites; the Founder of Christian monasticism, and The Abbot.
Feast day: January 17
Name Meaning : inestimable
Saint Anthony was the first Christian to live a coenobitic consecrated life of solitude. As a hermit in the desert he lived a long and saintly life that influenced countless people both in his time and for generations thereafter, even to this day. Many of his ideas are still used to this day by modern monks and nuns nowadays. His life had a tremendous impact on the history of early Christianity, which is the basic history of all Christian churches all over the world.
Most of what we know about St. Anthony comes from the writings of Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, a disciple and close friend of St. Anthony's, who wrote the story of his life.
St. Anthony at Home
Anthony was born about AD 251, of a well-to-do family in the village of Coma (Kemn el-Arous) in the middle of Egypt. His parents, noble Christians, were very pious, and wealthy Christians who provided well for their son's future by educating him in the fear of God. His education was limited, however he attended church with his parents and his younger sister and intensely observed the services, wanting to enrich his spiritual growth.
When he was eighteen his parents died, leaving him sole guardian of his younger sister Dious. He lived with his sister and took care of family affairs. Six months later, Anthony was reflecting upon how the Apostles had forsaken all to follow after Christ, He had a desire to imitate them and the life of early Christians, he heard one day, while attending a church, the scripture passage of Jesus and the rich young man, in which Jesus says, "If you would be perfect, go, sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me (Matt. 19:21)." He was so impressed by these words and he took it as a personal invitation from God that he decided to do as Christ had told the young man. He sold most of his inherited property, gave much of the money to the poor and the rest to his sister and placed his sister to complete her education in the care of a parthenon, a community of holy women, very similar to the priories of the Middle Ages. Long before this, it had been usual for Christians to practice asceticism, abstain from marriage and exercising themselves in self-denial, fasting, prayer, and works of piety; but this they had done in the midst of their families, and without leaving house or home.
St Anthony leaves the material world
Free of all earthly attachments, the young man began to lead a life of great abstinence and self-denial on the outskirts of his village. He gave his mind no occasion to think back upon the affairs of this world but led it into a desert that it might be occupied with thoughts of pleasing God alone. He sought guidance from a holy man near Coma in the ways of the Christian ascetic: prayer, contemplation, fasting, and holiness. This was the custom of young ascetics to stay under a master in order to learn the principles of spirituality, prayer and fasting. Also, he was delighted in visiting the dwellings of righteous men and in studying their virtuous habits which he proceeded to adopt for himself, exercising himself in their practice. Anthony followed their 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. Indeed, he was like a bee which gathers nectar from various blossoms and creates out of it a fragrantly sweet honey. With his concentrated desire Anthony rapidly ascended the ladder of perfection.
After a time of study, Saint Anthony left on his own and began living in the manner of a mountain hermit, living in a cave (a tomb) and praying for the salvation of the world. There it was that the Life records those strange conflicts with demons in the shape of wild beasts, who inflicted blows upon him, and sometimes left him nearly dead. He lived on bread and a bit of salt and ate after sunset. His isolation brought great virtue in humility and charity.
St Anthony and the Evil
In his solitude he was fighting off the temptations of the flesh and attacks of demons. The enemy, however, could not endure to behold the likeness of Christ shining forth from this creation of dust and ashes, and he was determined to destroy this 'house of virtue. Satan frequently attacked the saint in spirit and body, often appearing in the form of a pig. (In many countries today ham is the traditional meal on the feast of Saint Anthony). A friend who brought Anthony bread, found the saint beaten and near death from Satan's attacks.
The first campaign was waged on the battlefield of the mind. Anthony experienced a barrage of unsettling thoughts--flattery, the allurement of the world and all the pleasures his former wealth could buy, concern for his sister's welfare, the difficulties of the path he had chosen. The vicious net was craftily woven, but the Saint recognized it as the handiwork of his adversary and tore it apart by means of intense prayer and vigilance, deflecting any and all disturbing thoughts before they took hold in his mind. The battle grew more intense when the Enemy, taking advantage of the Saint's youth, assailed him with lustful thoughts, inflaming the natural appetites of the flesh until the Saint was burning with his own lust. He manfully fought back by mortifying his body with increased fasting to quench the passions of the flesh, and by meditating on death and the eternal torments which await those who give themselves over to the spirit of fornication. And so be escaped unharmed, even strengthened by this experience.
When the Evil One found himself so disgraced, he took on a human voice and complained bitterly to Anthony: "I have deceived and conquered many in my time; but now in your case, as in that of many others, I am defied by your ascetic labors."
Knowing that his antagonist would continue to stalk him as a roaring lion after his prey, Anthony did not allow himself to relax his vigilance on account of his victory. Not to be defeated by Satan during his sleep, St Anthony hung a bell to his stick on what he took a rest while praying up to remain heedful and not to give a chance to Satan to defeat it even while sleeping. Thus, when he was asleep, the stick fell and the bell sounded. St Anthony woke up to continue his prayer and his fight against Satan. (St Anthony's picture shows the bell hung to his stick). He passed many nights without sleep, en grossed in prayer, and limited his bodily nourishment to bread and water, of which he partook once a day at evening. For, he said, by weakening the pleasures of the body the mind is strengthened. Such disregard did he have for the body as to imitate the nature of the fleshless ones, i.e., the angels. The severity of his labors and his accumulated virtues astonished the older ascetics, but Anthony never thought about his spiritual progress and regarded each day as the beginning of his spiritual journey, thereby shielding himself from pride and vainglory.
For the sake of greater solitude, Anthony moved further from the village to a burial place at the edge of the desert, where he locked himself up in a sepulcher; only allowing a servant to come at rare intervals with a supply of bread. The enemy, embittered by his previous defeat, attacked with vengeance. This time the assault was physical. A whole troop of demons came one night and beat the Saint until the very breath of life was ready to leave him. But even as he lay on the ground, covered with bruises and unable to stand, he said in a loud voice:
"Here, devils, here I am, Anthony, ready for more of your wounds. Try your worst, for you shall never separate me from Christ." He fortified himself by singing the words of the Psalmist: "Though a host should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not fear."
Incensed by the audacity of Anthony's challenge, the Devil gathered his minions: "Don't you see now? This fellow could not be restrained either by the spirit of fornication or by bangs and bruises,.. We must assail him by other means."
That night, as Anthony was still lying on the ground recovering, a hoard of demons shook the walls of the sepulcher and rushed in to terrorize the Saint. For this purpose they had taken on the forms of hideous wild beasts--hissing snakes, roaring lions, ferocious wolves, a bull which threatened to gore the victim. But Anthony was not frightened by what he perceived to be mere spectral creatures, and he made bold to mock his enemy's impotence: "What is the use of all this vain uproar? If ye have power to hurt, why don't you? But you can't, for the Lord is my shield and my wall of safety." The demons could only gnash their teeth in reply.
When Anthony had thus manfully proven himself as a champion athlete in the spiritual arena, he was granted to experience the comforting presence of the Lord. Lifting his eyes heavenward he saw a roof-curtain drawn aside and a ray of light descending upon him. Straightway the demons vanished, and Anthony felt his bodily pains melt away. Consoled by this outpouring of Divine Grace, he rested briefly from the fatigue of battle before addressing his Master aloud:
"Lord, where was Thou when these sufferings and tribulations came upon me? Why didst Thou not help me?" He heard a voice in reply:
"I was here, Anthony, but I wanted to witness your combat. Having seen that you withstood your adversary without retreating, I shall from now on be your Helper and shall make your name celebrated far and wide as My faithful servant."
Anthony knelt in prayer to give thanks to God for this promise and for the peace and newfound strength which filled his soul, the grace-given rewards of his victory.
In his life, St Anthony fought and defeated Satan. It is why, there is a common and a popular faith that St. Antoine of Qozhaya (Lebanon) heals the possessed by the demons and those that have mental and nervous unrests.
St. Anthony in the desert
He was about thirty-five years old when he left his retreat to move to the east bank of the Nile to the "Outer Mountain" at Pispir (Vista) where he lived in complete solitude. As Saint Anthony lived in solitude, he was tempted by boredom and discouragement. His soul fell into such weariness and confusion of thought that he began saying, "Lord, I want to be saved but these bad thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do? How can I be saved?". After a little while, he began to walk in the open and saw someone as if it was himself, sitting and working - making mats of palm leaves - and then rising to pray. This was an angel sent by the Lord to teach Anthony how to live in the desert. The angel repeated what he was doing several times until Anthony understood that he had to combine manual work and prayer in order to overcome boredom.
After twenty years, his reputation attracted many followers who settled near him, and wished to copy his holy life. Saint Anthony became their spiritual leader, teaching them constantly by word and by example the ascetic life. From every part of the world, people came to him, even to the innermost part of the desert, seeking cures of the body, mind, and soul; and as they did at Pispir, monks came to him for his sympathy and practical advice.
Living in solitude (anchoritism) made Saint Anthony a spiritual father beyond all others. He escaped from cares of the world but not from the love for his brothers. During that time, many came to live near him and copy his holy life. He became their spiritual leader, teaching them by word and by example the life of the ascetic. Anthony also taught them to perform manual labor between prayer times as an additional contribution to society.
The Hermit in Alexandria
When the persecutions began again against the Christians in Egypt at the hands of Maximinus Daia in the early 300s, St. Anthony went to Alexandria and ministered to those in prison. After the persecutions ended, he returned to his life of solitude. Once Saint Athanasius had invited Anthony to Alexandria to support him against the Arian Heresy in 352. Many came to see the aged holy man as he walked through the city. Didymus, a man of great learning who had lost his eyesight, joined them. The conversation turned to the Holy Scriptures, and Anthony could not help admiring the blind man's ability and praised his insight. The he said, "You do not regret the loss of your eyes, do you?". At first Didymus was reluctant to answer, but when the question was repeated, he frankly admitted that his blindness was a great grief to him. Whereupon, Anthony said, "I am surprised that a wise man like you should grief at the loss of a physical organ which he shares with everyone, and not rejoice rather in having the gift which only saints and apostles have been thought worthy." He returned to his desert soon after, society no longer having any hold on him, for he felt like a fish out of the water.
St. Anthony and St. Paul (Boula)
On his search for perfection, St. Anthony visited the dwellings of righteous men and tried to adopt for himself their virtuous habits. St. Paul was the first hermit (229-342), whose feast is celebrated in the Maronite Church on January 5 (In the Roman Catholic on January 15).
By the time Saint Paul reached the age of 113 years, Saint Anthony, heading a community of monks in another part of the Desert, was 90 years of age. Saint Anthony claimed to have a vision at this time of Paul's nearness and immediately set out to visit him, traveling by foot, a journey of at least three days. Anthony did not know where Paul was located but Saint Jerome stated that he met a centaur who showed him the way.
Saint Anthony found Saint Paul weak of limb and with shaggy white hair. They embraced and prayed. A raven flew in with a whole loaf of bread. When this occurred Paul said, "God has sent us our dinner." Each day for the previous 60 years the raven had brought him but half a loaf. They spent the night in prayer and meditation.
In the morning Saint Paul said to Saint Anthony, "From old time, my brother, I have known thou dwelt in these parts; from old time God has promised thou would come to me. But since the time has come for sleeping, I have ever desired to be dissolved to be with Christ, the race is run, there remaineth for me a crown of righteousness. Thou has been sent by God to shelter this poor body in the ground, returning earth to earth."
Weeping and groaning, Saint Anthony began pleading with Saint Paul not to leave but to take him with him. Saint Paul said, "Thou must seek, not thine own, but another's good. If it were good for thee, the burden of the flesh flung down, to follow the Lamb; but it is good for the other brethren that they should have thine example for their grounding."
Saint Paul asked Saint Anthony to return to the monastery and bring back a robe which had been the gift of Athanasius, the Great, an early Bishop, for he wished his body to be wrapped in this for burial. Saint Anthony could not speak, but weeping, he saw Christ in Saint Paul and worshipped God in Saint Paul's heart. He set out on this mission which was a three-day walk each way. On the third day of his return journey with the robe, he had a vision of a host of angels with companies of prophets and apostles and amid these was Saint Paul climbing the steps of heaven. He knew this meant Saint Paul's death, and weeping, he hastened to reach the cave.
There he found Saint Paul's lifeless body kneeling in prayer, his arms outstretched and his face lifted to heaven. He wrapped the body in the robe Saint Paul had requested and carried it outside, chanting the hymns and psalms of Christian tradition. He had no means of digging a grave and was really too weak for this physical effort. Two lions came running across the Desert with their manes flying. They knelt by the body of Saint Paul and roared lamentations. Then they went off and with their paws dug a grave. They then came to Saint Anthony for his blessing. Saint Anthony prayed: "Lord, without whom no leaf lights from the tree; nor a single sparrow falls upon the ground, give unto these even as thou knowest." The lions left.
Saint Anthony lived 15 years after Saint Paul's death, dying in the year 356 A.D. Throughout his own lifetime and for more than 100 years after his death, men were seeking a religious life on the Desert because of his influence.
Saint Paul and Saint Anthony were the forerunners of a great religious movement of Christian men seeking a holy life on the Desert.
The Rule of St. Anthony
Contrary to popular belief, Anthony founded no formal monastery, but a style of monastic life. His rule consisted simply of prayers and manual work. He told his disciples that just as Christ was a carpenter and Paul was a tent maker, they also had to keep their hands busy to escape temptations. Anthony also designed the first monastic uniform, an all-purpose robe of white linen fastened about the waist with a sturdy leather belt. This has become the basic pattern for monastic garb all over the world and in all times since. Many came to Saint Anthony for advice, spiritual help, healing, and for living his rule.
The Saint relinquished his solitude to share the light of his accumulated experience with these eager new recruits in Christ's army. By word and example he fanned such zeal for the ascetic life that many monasteries--the first in the history of Christianity--were founded under his influence, for which reason he is known as the Father of Monasticism. 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.
St. Anthony's advices to his disciples
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 guiding these warriors of Christ, St. Anthony exhorted them to pursue their aim with diligence, for "the promise of eternal life is bought with a small price..., and the work is easy, if we be only willing." He warned them of the subtle craftiness of the demonic powers, exposing their numerous tricks and guises whereby they seek to trip and destroy the Christian whom they find laboring on the path of salvation. He spoke of the evil and impure thoughts they try to instigate and of the fearful appearances they assume, of their pretension in foretelling future events. "Sometimes, too, they appear in the habit of monks, and talk very religiously in order to gain our confidence and then to seduce us." At the same time, he encouraged the brethren not to fear when they came under attack, but to fortify themselves by faith and the sign of the Cross: "If they find us rejoicing in the Lord, and meditating or conversing on divine things, then demons have no power over the Christian...for when they see the soul secured by such thoughts, they turn away deeply ashamed of themselves."
He would give his disciples also practical advice such as: "The devil is afraid of us when we pray and make sacrifices. He is also afraid when we are humble and good. He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much. He runs away when we make the Sign of the Cross."
Anthony knew when he was going to die, and visited his monks, then retired with his two assistants, Marcarius and Amathas. He gave strict instructions that he be buried in secret. His instructions complete, he laid down and died. This was on the 17th of January, 356, when the saint being 105 years old.
The gifts of St. Anthony
Besides his extraordinary skill in discerning spirits, St. Anthony had other gifts --of healing, of casting out demons, of foretelling future events. And although he was illiterate he readily outwitted many philosophers. Once, when some 'wise' men came thinking to mock his Christian faith, St. Anthony brought forward several people who were troubled with demons, and said, "Can you heal these men by your reasoning? or by any art or magic, calling upon your idols?" The Saint then called upon the name of Christ and marked the demoniacs with the sign of the Cross, a first, second and third time. Immediately the men were healed of their insanity, and the philosophers departed amazed by the miracle and by Anthony's wisdom.
St. Anthony of Qozhaya
The history of the Monastery St. Anthony of Qozhaya goes back to the fourth century, when monastic life was widespread throughout the region.
No historic reference mentions that St. Anthony visited the valley of Qozhaya. However the oral tradition tells that some disciples of St. Anthony lived in the cave located at the entry of the monastery and known as "the miraculous cave of St. Anthony". This same tradition affirms that St. Anthony visited his disciples in that cave during his visit of the Holy Land. The miracles and the recoveries related to St. Anthony, that occurred in this cave confirm this hypothesis.
In the Valley of Qozhaya (Lebanon), the monastery of St. Anthony where the monks lived the Rule of St. Anthony, and the hermitage of St. Paul where several hermits lived as the style of St. Paul, represent the relation and the style of life of the two Saints.
In Qozhaya, St. Anthony is known as a "children-giver" to those parents who were less fortunate and could not provide sufficiently for their family. He also has a history of curing those having mental or nerve problems, as well as casting out demons from those dominated by Satan.
Bibliography / Bibliographical References
-Dedoussis (Christina), Saint Anthony, in Voice in the Wilderness
newsletter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia Parish of St. George, South Brisbane,(web page).
-BUTLER (E.C.), St. Anthony, Transcribed by Robert Gordon, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I (web page).
-St. Athanasius, Select Works and Letters, Volume IV of NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERS, Series II, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, editors (web page).
- Catherine Fournier, Saint Anthony, Pray for Us(web page).
- St. Anthony the Abbot (web page).
- St Anthony of Egypt (web page).
- Saint Anthony Father of the Monks (web page).