Saint Anthony the Great
If we would despise the enemy, our thoughts must always be of God and our souls always glad with hope
Saint Anthony the Great (Ἀντώνιος in Greek, Ⲁⲃⲃⲁ Ⲁⲛⲧⲱⲛⲓ in Coptic) was born in in the Egyptian village of Coma, near the desert of Thebaid in 251 AD to very wealthy land owning and devout Christian parents. His childhood education was completely immersed in the Holy Scriptures and he was able to immediately recall any scriptures read in the Church that he attended. At the age of 20, he lost both of his parents and was entrusted in the care of his younger sister. Again and again in his heart he heard the Sacred Scriptures in Matthew 19 :
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me”
He took his inheritance and sold all of it as quickly as he could, distributing all of the proceeds to the poor of his village. After his sister joined a nearby convent, Saint Anthony began living in a small hut not farm from the village, earning just enough for his ascetic lifestyle through hard labor (Several writings attest that he worked as swineherd for his meager income).
These years were completely lived in ascetic practice. His diet consisted only of bread, salt and water and was eaten only once a day (though multiday fasts were frequent). Saint Athanasius writes that this time was also filled with the temptations from the Enemy. He would often tempt him by recalling memories of his previous wealthy, pleasures of food and comfort, and often thoughts of lust. The Devil feared that the practices, faith and devotion of Saint Anthony would cause the desert to be filled with Holy Discipline. Every time these terrible temptations would arrive, Saint Anthony would vanquish them through immediate prayer to Christ. Saint Athanasius writes that the Devil filled his cave hermitage full of horned and angry demons that would viciously attack him all night long. One night, after a vicious attack, a sudden bright light appeared and the demons took flight. Saint Anthony knew at once that Christ was present and he said aloud "Where were you? Why did you not help me in the beginning ?" Christ replied with:
"I was here Antony, but I wanted to watch your struggle. And now, since you persevered and were not defeated, I will be your helper forever, and I will make you famous everywhere.”
Saint Anthony then went deeper into the desert by himself. On his way on the path, the Enemy palced a large silver disc on the path, then gold but each time Saint Anthony ignored it and continued to avoid temptation. He finally arrived at an old abandoned Roman fort next to a river and he made it his new home. Food would be thrown over the wall of the fort for him and eventually a group of pilgrims began to live in the caves and huts around the fort. In 305 AD, Saint Anthony came out of the fort to help lead them spiritually. The pilgrims all believed he would be totally emaciated but he left the fort fully healthy in both his mind and body.
In 311, the great Roman persecutions began. Saint Anthony, wishing to suffer alongside the Holy Martyrs of the time travelled to Alexandria where he ministered to Christians in prison, made himself present at the trials and accompanied martyrs to their executions. Afterwards, he returned back home to the desert, casting out demons and healing the sick through prayer. Famously several miraculous healings from skin diseases were credited to him which began to be known as Saint Anthony's Fire (two noblemen who were assisted by Saint Anthony's intercession of their disease founded the Hospital Brothers of Saint Anthony to honor him). One day he received a letter from Emperor Constantine the Great wrote to Saint Anthony seeking advice. The reply was to the point - Saint Anthony thanked him for his Christian faith and love towards the Christians of the Empire but reminded him that he should be preparing for the next world, not this one. He left the desert briefly in another trip to Alexandria around 338 AD to publicly refute the teachings of Arius (and the Arian heresy that was spreading).
In his final days he retreated further up a mountain, seeming solitude but allowing visitors who he lead spiritually. As his death approached, he commanded his followers to give his staff to Saint Macarius of Egypt, a sheepskin cloak to Saint Athanasius of Alexandria and his other sheepskin cloak to Saint Serapion of Thmuis. He was buried in secret on the mountain top.
His remains were discovered in 361 AD and the relics first transferred to Alexandria. As the Saracen invasion approached, they were moved to Constantople. The French Count Jocelin was given the relics in the 11th century by the Byzantine Emperor and taken to La-Motte-Saint-Didier. The Church to house them was finished in 1297 and the area renamed Saint-Antoine-l'Abbaye. In the Western Church, Saint Anthony was honored as one of the Four Holy Marshals in the Rhineland (alongside Saint Quirinus of Neuss, Saint Cornelius and Saint Hubertus). In the East, he is regarded as the "first master of the desert and the pinnacle of holy monks" with many monasteries following his monastic rule.
In the Catholic Church he is often regarded as the Patron Saint of animals, skin diseases, farmers, and the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy of Rome. In Both Churches he is known as the Father of All Monks and has his feast day celebrated on January 17th (Tobi 22 in the Coptic calendar).