When Antony of Egypt realized he was dying, he took two monks with him into the desert and ordered them to bury him in a secret place. He was much revered and feared that his body might become an object of reverence. According to tradition, he died on this day, January 17, 356, at the ripe age of 105.
It wasn't pride that made Antony fear the misuse of his remains. Even in his lifetime, his fame had spread through all Egypt and around the Mediterranean basin. Although he was not the first monk, he was the most famous and put monasticism "on the map" by his astonishing self discipline and leadership.
Athanasius of Alexandria wrote Antony's biography. He tells that Antony's mother and father died, leaving him with three hundred acres and a young sister to care for. He was about eighteen.
Six months after the death of his parents, Antony was meditating as he walked to church. The Apostles left all and followed the Savior and the early Christians sold their possessions to distribute to the needy. What hope they had in heaven! As he entered church, he heard someone reading Christ's words to the rich man: "If you would be perfect, go sell all you have and give it to the poor; then come follow Me and you shall have treasure in heaven."
Antony took Christ's words to heart. He immediately sold his possessions. After making provision for his sister, he distributed the rest of the money to the poor.
One of the first things he did as a hermit was to visit other hermits and study their character. He was determined to imitate what was best in each. Through fasts, vigils, prayer and ascetic practices, he hoped to overcome spiritual laziness. He went so far as to have himself walled within a tomb, where he experienced horrific demonic attacks. A vision of heavenly light made him even more enthusiastic for the faith. He retreated into the desert for twenty years. Hundreds came to see him and seek his advice.
Eventually, he emerged from total seclusion. His face showed lasting peace. By healing the sick, advising people in trouble, casting out demons, and preaching, he demonstrated the power of Christ to touch lives. Many men were attracted to monasticism through his example. Athanasius's Life of Antony perpetuated his story and inspired waves of monks who civilized and evangelized Europe and the Near East.
- Aland, Kurt. Saints and Sinners; men and ideas in the early church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970.
- "Antony, St. of Egypt." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Athanasius. Life of Antony. Medieval Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/vita-antony.html
- Butler, E. C. "St. Anthony." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Nigg, Walter. Warriors of God; the great religious orders and their founders. New York, Knopf, 1959.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated May, 2007.