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Instructions of Blessed Anthony the Great

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 tribulations.

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 "Great."

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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