Above: Icon of St. Antony
Image in the Public Domain
SAINT ANTONY OF EGYPT (251-356)
Roman Catholic Abbot and Father of Western Monasticism
Also known as St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Anthony the Great, et cetera
Let us not look back upon the world and fancy we have given up great things. For the whole earth is a very little thing compared with the whole of heaven.
–St. Antony, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 34
Asceticism is a vocation from God. It, like other divine vocations, is not universal. Asceticism has helped many people deal effectively with their idolatry related to physical and psychological attachments and appetites. For others, however, it has not proven proper or useful. So be it.
Asceticism was among the vocations of St. Antony of Egypt. He came from a wealthy Christian family at Heracleas, near Memphis, Egypt, in 251. St. Antony’s parents died when he was 18 or 20 years old, leaving him as the heir to a fortune and as his sister’s guardian. Eventually, in church, he heard the gospel story in which Jesus told the rich young ruler, “Go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Our saint took this message to heart and acted on it, leaving just enough to meet his needs and those of his sister. Years later he felt guilty for doing that much, given the biblical injunction not to be anxious about tomorrow. At the age of 35 years St. Antony sold the rest of his possessions and gave himself to God. His sister entered a convent (and eventually became an abbess) and he went off to live in the desert–to be precise, in a series of caves, huts, and cemeteries. Our saint, a hermit for 20 years, survived the risks of wildlife and rejected temptations, such as wine, women, food, and indolence. He remained healthy, living to the ripe old age of 105 years.
St. Antony ceased to be a hermit and became an abbot. Not only did monks gather around him, but pilgrims came to him for spiritual guidance. At Mount Kolzim, near the northwestern corner of the Red Sea, our saint was a magnet for those seeking to be near a holy man. St. Antony, who encouraged Christians suffering under the persecution of Maximinus II Daia (reigned 305-313), was so removed from the priorities of the world that, when he received a letter from Constantine I “the Great” (reigned 306-337), he was not impressed. In his final years St. Antony condemned the Arian heresy.
He died at Mount Kolzim in 356. Our saint’s biography has come to us courtesy of St. Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373), author of the Life of Antony.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 20, 2016 COMMON ERA
PROPER 29: THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING
THE FEAST OF RICHARD WATSON GILDER, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND SOCIAL REFORMER
THE FEAST OF HENRY FRANCIS LYTE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF PRISCILLA LYDIA SELLON, A RESTORER OF RELIGIOUS LIFE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
THE FEAST OF THEODORE CLAUDIUS PEASE, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER
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.
Psalm 139:1-9 or 139:1-17
—A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Calendar of Commemorations (2016)