St. Anthony of Egypt remembered Jan. 17
On his Jan. 17 feast day, both Eastern and Western Catholics will celebrate the life and legacy of St. Anthony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism whose radical approach to discipleship permanently impacted the Church.
In Egypt's Coptic Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which have a special devotion to the native saint, his feast day is celebrated on Jan. 30.
Anthony was born around 251 to wealthy parents who owned land in the present-day Faiyum region near Cairo. During this time, the Catholic Church was rapidly spreading its influence throughout the vast expanses of the Roman empire, while the empire remained officially pagan and did not legally recognize the new religion.
In the course of his remarkable and extraordinarily long life, Anthony would live to see the Emperor Constantine's establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire. Anthony himself, however, would establish something more lasting – by becoming the spiritual father of the monastic communities that have existed throughout the subsequent history of the Church.
Around the year 270, two great burdens came upon Anthony simultaneously: the deaths of both his parents, and his inheritance of their possessions and property. These simultaneous occurrences prompted Anthony to reevaluate his entire life in light of the principles of the Gospel – which proposed both the redemptive possibilities of his personal loss, and the spiritual danger of his financial gains.
Attending church one day, he heard – as if for the first time – Jesus' exhortation to another rich young man in the Biblical narrative: "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." Anthony told his disciples in later years that it was as though Christ had spoken those words directly to him.
He sold everything he owned and donated the proceeds, setting aside a portion to provide for his sister. Although organized monasticism did not yet exist, it was not unknown for Christians to abstain from marriage, divest themselves of possessions to some extent, and focus their lives on prayer and fasting. Anthony's sister would eventually join a group of consecrated virgins.
Anthony himself, however, sought a more comprehensive vision of Christian asceticism. He found it among the hermits of the Egyptian desert, individuals who chose to withdraw physically and culturally from the surrounding society to devote themselves more fully to God. But these individuals' radical way of life had not yet become an organized movement.
After studying with one of these hermits, Anthony made his own sustained attempt to live alone in a secluded desert location, depending on the charity of a few patrons who provided him with enough food to survive. This first period as a hermit lasted between 13 and 15 years.
Like many saints both before and after him, Anthony became engaged in a type of spiritual combat against unseen forces seeking to remove him from the way of perfection he had chosen. These conflicts took their toll on Anthony. When he was around 33 years old, a group of his patrons found him seriously ill and took him back to a local church to recover.
This setback did not dissuade Anthony from his goal of seeking God intensely, and he soon redoubled his efforts by moving to a mountain on the east bank of the Nile River. There he lived in an abandoned fort, once again subsisting on the charity of those who implored his prayers on their behalf. He attracted not only these benefactors, but a group of inquirers seeking to follow his example.
In the first years of the fourth century, when he was about 54, Anthony emerged from his solitude to provide guidance to the growing community of hermits that had become established in his vicinity. Although Anthony had not sought to form such a community, his decision to become its spiritual father – or "abbot" – marked the beginning of monasticism as it is known today.
Anthony himself would live out this monastic calling for another four decades, providing spiritual and practical advice to disciples who would ensure the movement's continued existence.
He may have been up to 105 years old when he died, sometime between 350 and 356.
— Catholic News Agency
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
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