Feast Day – January 17
Experienced Families Anthony was born in the village Koman, south of Memphis in upper Eygpt, in the year 251. His parents were Catholic, and to keep him away from the bad example of the pagan society in which they lived, kept him always at home. When his parents died, he was left with extensive lands and wealth, and the charge of his younger sister. About six months after he had assumed control of his estate, he heard the Lord’s instructions in the Gospel to “go, sell what you have, give to the poor, and thall shalt have treasure in heaven.” Anthony took these words to refer to himself, and thus dispensed of his lands and gave to the poor all he had save what he needed to care for his sister. He soon after heard Christ’s command, “be not solicitudinous of tomorrow.” With those words he felt obliged to give away the rest of his monies, and placed his sister in a house of maidens. This is thought to be the first mention, anywhere, of a nunnery. With his wealth gone, he retired to the desert as a hermit. His isolation brought him great virtue in humility and charity. He lived on bread and a bit of salt, drank only water and ate after sunset, sometimes only every third or forth day. His holiness was a prime object for Satan, and the Evil One often physically manifested himself, attacking the saint in spirit and body. In 285 he crossed the Nile and established himself in the mountains. He stayed there for twenty years in fasting and prayer, and had little contact except with the man that brought him bread every six months. In 305, he was persuaded to leave his strict isolation to found a monastery at Fayum (Phaium). In 311, when Maximinus renewed the persecution of the faithful (see the Saint’s Profile of Saint Lucy), Anthony went to Alexandria to give courage to the martyrs. The persecution finally abated, and Anthony founded another monastery called Pispir near the Nile. He then withdrew with an assistant, who would interview visitors, to a cave. Here Anthony tended a garden and made mats for alms. In 355, Saint Athanasius and other bishops called Anthony out of seclusion to confront the Arians at Alexandria. He regarded the Arian no better or different from a pagan heathen, for in their error they worshipped a creature and not the creator. He converted many. Heathens came to the saint, and were astonished by his meekness and wisdom. In 337 emperor Constantine and his two sons wrote to the saint asking him to pray for them. The monks were surprised at this letter, but Saint Anthony admonished them saying ‘be surprised that God has written to us through His Son.’ A maxim of the saint was that knowing ourselves is the only step we can take in order to ascend to the knowledge and love of God. When Anthony knew when he was going to die, he visited his monks, then retired with his two assistants. He gave strict instructions that he be buried in secret. One of his sheepskins was to be sent to Athanasius as a sign of unity with the esteemed prelate. The other was given to bishop Serapion. He then bid his assistants goodbye, laid down and gave up his ghost. This was on the 17th of January, 356. The saint was 105 years old.