St Anthony of Egypt
St Anthony of Egypt, or Anthony the Great as he is also called, lived as a hermit in the second century. With St Pachomius and St Athanasius, fellow Egyptians, he is one of the “fathers of the desert” who exercised a profound influence on early Christian spirituality. Anthony was orphaned at the age of 18. Following the call of the Spirit, he gave away his considerable wealth and retired to the outskirts of the desert. He withdrew completely from all human contact for more than 30 years, giving himself up to prayer and fasting. Curiously, his desire for solitude had the opposite effect: an increasing number of disciples settled in nearby caves and huts and begged him to be their spiritual guide. In the year 305, in his early fifties, Anthony emerged from his hermitage, not emaciated as one would expect, but full of vigour and health. Anthony then changed his lifestyle. He devoted himself entirely to the spiritual instruction and organization of his ‘hermit monks’, blending their individual lives of solitude with common religious services. He also went to Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, to encourage those living under persecution, and preached against the errors of the Manicheans and the Arians. His close friend was the patriarch St Athanasius, whose presence at the Council of Nicaea was historic. Athanasius tells us that Anthony was a man of dignity, gracious, full of divine peace and joy, sympathetic and kind to all, filled with zeal for God’s work. Christian monastic life owes a debt of gratitude to pioneers like Anthony. Their life and teachings are an inspiration to generations of religious in the east and west.