Saints and Theology of the Heart - St. Anthony, Abbot

Feast Day:  January 17

Saint Anthony did not simply want to observe and contemplate, he wanted to become. His parents died when he was around eighteen years old and they left him three hundred acres of land. The death of his parents also left him with the responsibility to take care of his younger sister. While in church one day, he heard the words of Matthew 19:21: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” He immediately got up and gave away everything except for what he and his sister would need to survive. Then he heard Matthew 6:34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today”. Again not being content to just contemplate what he heard, he gave away everything else and entrusted his sister to a convent. He began to live a life of prayer, fasting, and manual labor. He desired holiness. When he heard of a person who was living a holy life he would go to that person to learn from them and become what they were.  

All of this was very difficult for him. He literally wrestled with the devil over it, and first the devil tempted him with things that would be hard to resist. He was worried about his sister and other relatives; he thought about how he could have used his property for good things, he also began to desire wealth and power. Anthony, however, was able to resist these temptations. Eventually the devil had left him so wounded that his friends thought he was dead and carried him to the church.  But, Anthony came to the understanding that God was with him in the struggles and would always protect him.

After coming to this understanding, he moved to the tombs that were a little farther away from town, and eventually to the desert. He lived in one room for twenty years without ever leaving. His friends and family would throw bread to him so that he could eat. Many came to speak to him and be healed, but he never came out. After twenty years they broke down the door and Anthony calmly came out. Some of those people who spoke to him were healed physically and many more were given comfort by his words. Others decided to stay and learn from him. They formed what is thought of as the first monastic community. They lived apart from one another and only came together to worship and to hear Anthony speak.

After a while of this it became too much for Anthony. He was afraid that he would become proud because so many people were coming to see him. He was also afraid that people were coming to worship him and not God. He left in the middle of the night to another part of Egypt. He knew that he needed to go into the desert. He was taken deep into a mountain and he stayed there until his friends found him again. Anthony died at 105 years old. His life of solitude, fasting, and manual labor serving God made him a very healthy man until he was very old.



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