On January 17, the Church remembers Saint Anthony the Great, the founder of Christian monasticism.
Early Life of St. Anthony
Most of what is known about St. Anthony, who was born around 251 AD, is found in the document “Life of Anthony,” written by Athanasius of Alexandria in the year 360. The biographical information as well as some homilies and epistles of Anthony provide the known details of this saint’s life and works.
Anthony was born at Coma in the middle of the 3rd century, near Heracleopolis Magna in Fayum (Lower Egypt), to a well-to-do family. There is not much detail on Anthony’s childhood and youth. His parents died when he was 20, and so he inherited their possessions at that time. He had a desire to live his life in imitation of the apostles, and so it was not long before, upon hearing in the church the Gospel words “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all thou hast,” Anthony shed himself of all his property and other goods. At this point, Anthony made the decision to devote himself entirely to God and religious exercises. He placed his unmarried sister, who had been in his care since the death of their parents, with a group of Christian virgins, a sort of proto-nunnery.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, at this time in the history of the Church, it was already common for Christians to “practice asceticism, abstain from marriage and exercising themselves in self-denial, fasting, prayer, and works of piety.“However, until this point these pious Christians dedicated their lives to God and practiced these acts of holiness without leaving their homes and families. By the year 270, around the time that Anthony discerned his call to an ascetic life, it had become a common practice in Egypt for ascetics to live in huts at the outskirts of town and so Anthony began his career this way. He visited the other nearby ascetics, studying their habits and virtue, to learn from them. It was also while he resided here that Anthony experienced the conflicts with strange demons in the form of beasts that inflicted painful blows on him.
Read about the rest of St. Anthony’s life here.