Tomorrow, Wednesday 17th January, is the memorial of St. Anthony of Egypt (251-356), the founder of monasticism. He came from wealthy Christian parents in Upper Egypt and upon his parents’ death, gave away his inheritance to the needy, placed his sister in a convent, and began to live as a hermit in a nearby cemetery. There he lived an austere life of prayer, manual labour and penance, whilst undergoing his famous temptations, trials of the flesh, yet overcoming them all. His fame began to spread and after 15 years he moved to another site where he lived for 20 years in complete solitude, eating only what people threw over the wall to him. Inevitably a group of disciples gathered around him and in 305 he emerged and organised a simple community. Each monk lived in prayer and penance, under the general authority of Anthony, coming together only for worship and communal work. He left for Alexandria in 311 and upon return founded another monastery before retiring again to the seclusion of Mount Kolzim, near the Red Sea. This time, he took with him a close disciple, Makarios. He visited Alexandria again in 355 to help the fight against Arianism, working closely with his friend Athanasius, whose Life is the main source of information about St. Anthony. After his return, he remained in the cave at Kolzim until his death in 356. Following his wishes, he was buried secretly and his relics were not discovered until 561, when they were translated to Alexandria and later to Constantinople. Many people visited this remarkable saint during his lifetime, out of veneration or curiosity. He avoided the fanaticism and excess of many of the Desert Fathers and although austere, was known for his sound teaching and personal holiness, a model for monks ever since. Artists have developed the legend of Anthony’s temptations, but early pieces often show him receiving St. Paul the Hermit as a guest, together with the ravens that used to bring him half a loaf of bread each day.
Tomorrow would be a good day for us to pray for all the hermits as well as for the monks, nuns and religious who live within our Diocese. [Image: www.mycatholic.life]