Biography of Saint Antony of Egypt

Biography of Saint Antony of Egypt

1. Introduction
Each saint is a gift which God sent to us. Reading the biographies of saints helps us to follow Jesus more closely and to love him intimately. Saints are good models for all of us, showing in their lives how they follow radically the life of Jesus. Our Catholic faith has shown us the lives of many saints. The experiences of the saints express the various ways God loves human beings like us. Saints are witnesses of God in the Christian life. Throughout church history, each saint demonstrates different character as well as different ways to become witnesses of God. One saint, in whose life I am interested, is Saint Antony of Egypt. This essay will look at the life of Saint Antony, his teachings, and explore some of his influences on the early Church as well as on Christian life today.
2. The life of saint Antony of Egypt
Antony was born in 251 at Coma, a village near Great Heracleopolis in Middle Egypt.[1] His parents were good Christians and they “were of good stock and well-to-do”.[2] Therefore, Antony grew up in a righteous family. When he was a boy, he stayed at home with his parents and did not go to school. When he was about eighteen or twenty years old, his parents died and he had to take care of the house, the huge property, as well as his sister because she was too young.
Less than six months after his parents died, Antony went to church, where he heard the Word of God from the Gospel of Matthew, “Go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”, (Mt, 19: 21). Antony pondered these words and felt it was intended for him. He wanted to be a perfect man, so he sold all his property and gave his money to the poor. He kept only what he thought necessary to care for himself and his sister. However, when he heard the Word of God from the Gospel of Matthew again, “So do not worry about tomorrow”, (Mt, 6: 34) he returned home and distributed everything to people in need without keeping any money for himself.
When Antony was twenty one years old, he wanted to become a hermit and lived in his tomb which was near Coma until he was 34 years old. After that, he spent 20 years living in the desert in the ruins of an old castle on the top of a mountain[3]. When Antony was 55 years old, he came down from his mountain and founded his first monastery near Aphroditopolis. After that, a number of monasteries were established very quickly and he was a guide and a father.[4]
A short time before his death, Antony made a round of visitations of his scattered communities of monks. He died on January 17th in 356. He lived to the remarkable age of 105, without sickness, his sight unimpaired, his teeth still sound.[5]
3. The teachings of saint Antony
One of the teachings that Saint Antony taught his disciples was how to cast out demons through prayer, silence and fasting. Because of his many years experience in the desert, Antony had a close relationship with God who can cast out demons. Antony believed that “we must not be afraid of their waylaying, for by prayers and fasting and confidence in the Lord they are promptly thwarted”.[6] Moreover, when he spent time being silent and fasting everyday, he easily communicated with God and God would give him more strength to overcome the temptation of devils. He realised that “our names are inscribed in Heaven as witness to our life of virtue, but as to casting out demons, that is gift of the Saviour who grants it”.[7] Therefore, people who wanted to become hermits, to be disciples of Antony, needed to practise a lifestyle of prayer and silence, to be able to cast out demons and become witnesses for God.
4. Some influences of Antony in the early Church as well as the Christian life
One of the most significant influences of saint Antony in Church history is that he was the father of the hermit. In his whole life, he spent time being in his tomb and in the desert. It is clear that the life of a hermit was difficult for him during his time in the tomb and his 20 years in the desert. He lived in poor conditions, engaged in prayer and religious reading. His only food was bread and a little salt, without drinking water. He wanted to become “a model of humility, piety, and self- discipline.”[8] During that time, he often encountered temptations from devils but he still believed in God, his Master. When assaulted by the devils, he would tell them, “Nothing shall separate me from Christ my Lord”.[9] As he lived in the desert for 20 years, he had time to train himself in solitude, never going forth and seldom seen by anyone.[10] He had time to be silent and listen to God’s Word. Therefore, life in desert helped him to have a close relationship with God.
Another influence of saint Antony is that he was also the father of Monasticism. After he founded his monastery, there were many people who wanted to hear his teaching and they became monks in his monastery. He was a good example for his disciples in spending time praying and working. He believed that keeping the hands busy is to escape from temptations.[11] Moreover, when he worked outside, he still kept his heart living in solitude. For example, when “the governor of Egypt invited him to stay longer in the city, he declined and said ‘fish die if they are taken from the water; so does a monk wither away if he forsakes his solitude’.”[12] Thus, saint Antony became a good example for everyone in the monastic life.
Finally, saint Antony dramatically influenced the Christian life not only in his time but also today. It is necessary for people when they read Saint Antony to realise that spending time living in solitude is the best way to communicate with God. Therefore, they can realise values as well as meaning in life through saint Antony.
5. In conclusion
Saint Antony has influenced significantly Church history as well as the Christian life. Some main points we can learn from saint Antony are that he had a life in desert and the way of his teachings. Moreover, he was the father of the hermit, the father of Monasticism as well as a good example for people to communicate with God by praying and living in solitude.

                                                                                             (1,120 words)

Comby, Jean. How to read church history. Vol.1. London: SCM Press, 1985.

Coptic, Saint Anthony, father of the monks.

Saint Antony of Egypt Abbot, Patriarch of monks

Saint Athanasius. The Life of Anthony. Ancient Christian Writers Vol.10. Trans. Robert T. Meyer. Westminster, MA: The Newman Press. 1950.

[1] Saint Antony of Egypt Abbot, Patriarch of monks, 1.

[2] Saint Athanasius, The Life of Anthony, Ancient Christian Writers Vol.10, trans. Robert T. Meyer (Westminster, MA: The Newman Press, 1950), 18.

[3] Saint Antony of Egypt Abbot, 2.
[4] Saint Athanasius, Saint Antony the hermit, trans. Dom F.B. Mc Laughlin, O.S.B (London: Burns and Washbourne, 1924), 24.
[5] Saint Antony of Egypt Abbot, 3.
[6]Saint Athanasius, The Life of Anthony, 39.
[7]Saint Athanasius, The Life of Anthony, 52.
[8] Saint Antony of Egypt Abbot, 1.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Jean Comby, How to read church history, Vol.1, (London: SCM Press, 1985), 83.
[11] Coptic, Saint Anthony, father of the monks.
[12] Saint Antony of Egypt Abbot, 2.

Nguyen Xuan Henry

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