Anthony the Great was born in Egypt in the year 250 (circa)
of noble and wealthy parents, who brought him up in the Christian faith. At the
age of 18, he lost his parents and was left alone to care for his sister.
Blessed Anthonyís withdrawal from the world did
not occur suddenly but gradually. Initially, he resided with a pious "starets,"
close to the city, and tried to emulate his lifestyle. He also visited other
recluses living on the city outskirts, seeking their advice. Even at this time,
because of the voluntary ordeals he undertook, he was celebrated by the people
and called "Godís friend."
Whereupon he decided to isolate himself further.
Having asked the "starets" to join him and received a refusal,
he bade him farewell and moved into one of the distant caves. Occasionally, one
of his friends brought him food. Finally, Saint Anthony moved away completely
from inhabited areas, crossed the river Nile and settled in the ruins of a
fortification. He brought with him enough bread for 6 months. After this, his
friends used to bring him food twice a year, which they passed through the
opening in the roof.
It is impossible to imagine what temptations and
struggles that this great Saint endured. He suffered from hunger and thirst,
cold and heat. However, the most terrifying temptation for the hermit was, by
his own admission ó in the heart: yearning for the worldly life and distressing
thoughts. The enticements and horrors from demons further aggravated these
Once, during a fierce struggle with his thoughts,
Anthony beseeched: "Lord, I want to be saved but my thoughts are not
allowing me this." Suddenly, he beheld a person that looked like him
sitting and working. Then, that person got up and began praying, after which he
sat down and continued toiling. "Do this and you will be saved," said
the Angel of the Lord.
After Anthony had lived in isolation for 20 years,
some of his friends found out his whereabouts and arrived there with the
intention of settling near him. After knocking on the door of his cell for some
considerable time and unsuccessfully pleading for him to come out from his
voluntary isolation, they were ready to force the door open. Suddenly the door
opened and Anthony emerged. They were amazed at his physical state ó he showed
no traces of exhaustion even though he submitted himself to enormous
privations. Heavenly tranquillity reigned in his soul, and this was reflected
in his face. Serene, reserved, friendly to all, the "starets"
soon became father and teacher to many. The wilderness became enlivened:
dwellings of novices began to appear on the surrounding hills; many people
sang, read, fasted, labored and ministered to the poor. Saint Anthony did not
give his pupils any specific rules for monastic living. He was concerned only
to entrench in them a pious disposition, instill subordination to Godís will,
rejection of everything earthly and unflagging toil.
Blessed Anthony died at the old age of 106 (in the
year 356) and for his deeds of self-denial earned the calling
Blessed Anthony founded hermitical monasticism.
This involved a number of recluses being under the direction of a teacher ó
"abba," in Jewish meaning "father," and living
individually, either in huts or caves, committing themselves to prayer, fasting
and labor. When a number of these caves or huts came under the authority of one
abba, it was called a cloister.
It must be noted that during the life of Anthony
the Great, there was another type of monastic life. The ascetics gathered
together into one community, performed compatible tasks according to their
individual strength and abilities, shared a common refectory and submitted
themselves to the same rules. These communities were called monasteries and the
abbas of these congregations became known as archimandrites.
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