January 17

St. Anthony the Abbot

St. Anthony the Abbot

A Radical Way of Life

St. Anthony the Abbot lived during the 3rd century. He was born to noble and wealthy parents in Egypt about the year 250. When he was about twenty years old, his parents died. Anthony began to practice an ascetic life at this age. Moved by the Gospel message, “Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor” (Mark 10:21b), he gave away all their money and possessions he and his sister had inherited.

When he was thirty-five years old, Anthony moved to the desert to live in solitude. As a hermit, Anthony practiced extreme asceticism. He ate little, prayed much, and fought the temptations of the devil to return to the city and its money. He was granted great wisdom by God, and so many people came to him for advice. Even emperors visited him and asked his opinion on various matters.

Fighting the Devil

St. Anthony was known to have faced spiritual combats. With what he envisioned as the forces of evil, his life was one long struggle against the devil. In the writings of St. Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, the evil assaults on Anthony took the form of either horrible or seductive visions experienced by the saint. At times, the devil appeared to him disguised as a monk, bringing bread during his fasts. Other instances included the devil in the guise of women, wild beasts or soldiers beating the saint and leaving him half-dead. In all these visions conjured up by Satan, Anthony repelled them by his fervent prayer and penitential acts.

A Community of Hermits

Before Anthony’s time, many men and women went out into the solitude of the desert to pray and do penance. These hermits lived alone and were far apart from other people. When he was 54, Anthony responded to many requests and founded a community of hermits. They spent most of their time alone. They met each day to worship and to eat together.

Because of his spiritual gifts, Anthony drew many people to himself for spiritual guidance and healing. He left the solitude of the desert twice and walked to the big city of Alexandria. In his second visit to Alexandria, he preached against the heresy of Arianism, an erroneous doctrine teaching that Christ is not of the same substance as God the Father. He also comforted the victims of the persecutions of Maximinus and taught people the truth about Christ. He went back to the desert and someone began to gather Anthony’s words of wisdom.

When he was 60 years old, Anthony desired to become a martyr during the renewed Roman persecution in the year 311. He fearlessly exposed himself to danger, at the same time giving moral and material support to those in prison. Anthony died in solitude at the age of 105 at Mount Colzim. His feast day is January 17.

5 Interesting Facts About St. Anthony the Abbot

  1. St. Anthony the Abbot is also called the Desert Father and St. Anthony of Egypt.
  2. Most of the known facts about St. Anthony the Abbot are derived from the biography by St. Athanasius, the “Father of Orthodoxy.”
  3. St. Athanasius wrote that St. Anthony the Abbot was unable to read or write because he could not bear the rough behavior of the boys in the school.
  4. St. Anthony the Abbot is generally considered to be the founder and father of organized Christian monasticism, although he himself preferred to live the life of a true hermit, apart from any community, in the deserts of Egypt.
  5. St. Anthony the Abbot is associated in art with a T-shaped cross, a pig and a book. The pig and the cross are symbols of his valiant warfare with the devil: the cross his constant means of power over evil spirits and the pig a symbol of the devil himself.

Prayer to St. Anthony the Abbot

O God, who brought the Abbot Saint Anthonyto serve you by a wondrous way of life in the desert,grant, through his intercession,that, denying ourselves,we may always love you above all things.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,God, for ever and ever. Amen.