Daily Meditations

Saint Anthony the Great of Egypt

Perhaps the most effective tactic adopted by the adversary of man’s salvation has been to blind man to the reality of the spiritual warfare being waged for possession of his soul. We have consequently become spiritually flabby and easy prey for the enemy. To escape such a perilous condition we would do well to contemplate more often the examples of the saints who engaged in direct combat with the Evil One, unmasking his deceptions and thereby disarming him. Nowhere is this illustrated more dramatically than in the life of St. Anthony the Great. Written by St. Athanasius who personally knew St. Anthony, this Life is a spiritual classic with which all Christians should be familiar .

St. Anthony was an Egyptian, born c. 251 of noble Christian parents who provided well for their son’s future by educating him in the fear of God. His parents left this world when Anthony was 18 or 20, and he inherited a substantial fortune in terms of earthly wealth. But although he was at the age most attracted by fortune’s delights, he aspired only to amass the riches of virtues.

Anthony was reflecting one day upon how the Apostles had forsaken all to follow after Christ. when he heard in church the words of the Gospel: “If thou wishest to be perfect, go and sell everything thou hast…and come and follow Me” (Matt. 19:21). Thus confirmed in his desire to do likewise, Anthony sold his estate and distributed the money to the poor, persuading his younger sister to be likeminded, he gave her into the care of some virgins.

Now free of all earthly attachments, the young man began to lead a life of great abstinence and self-denial on the outskirts of his village. He gave his mind no occasion to think back upon the affairs of this world but led it into a desert that it might be occupied with thoughts of pleasing God alone. He delighted in visiting the dwellings of righteous men and studying their virtuous habits which he proceeded to adopt for himself, exercising himself in their practice. Indeed, he was like a bee which gathers nectar from various blossoms and creates out of it a fragrantly sweet honey. With his concentrated desire Anthony rapidly ascended the ladder of perfection. The enemy, however, could not endure to behold the likeness of Christ shining forth from this creation of dust and ashes, and he determined to destroy this ‘house of virtue.’

Besides his extraordinary skill in discerning spirits, St. Anthony had other gifts –of healing, of casting out demons, of foretelling future events. And although he was illiterate he readily outwitted many philosophers. Once, when some ‘wise’ men came thinking to mock his Christian faith, St. Anthony brought forward several people who were troubled with demons, and said, “Can you heal these men by your reasoning? Or by any art or magic, calling upon your idols?” The Saint then called upon the name of Christ and marked the demoniacs with the sign of the Cross, a first, second and third time. Immediately the men were healed of their insanity, and the philosophers departed amazed by the miracle and by Anthony’s wisdom.

Crowds flocked to this heavenly-born physician of the Egyptian desert, and no one left without being enriched from St. Anthony’s store of gifts. “For who,” writes St. Athanasius, “went to him in sorrow, and did not come back rejoicing? Who went to him in anger, and was not converted into a friend? What poor man met him, with a dejected heart, who, after he saw and heard him, did not go away despising riches and content with poverty? If a monk was remiss, he excited him to diligence. If a young man went to the mountain and beheld Anthony, he straightway renounced pleasure and embraced a life of temperance. Whosoever came to him, tempted by a demo n, was relieved; or if troubled with evil thoughts was tranquilized.”

Even when St. Anthony had attained the heights of perfection, he never hesitated to learn from someone else. Nor did he, in his humility, ascribe his spiritual gifts to his own achievements, but exhorted those who benefited by his prayers to thank God, Who is the source and cause of all that is good.

St. Anthony reached the venerable age of 104, still sound in mind and body notwithstanding his severe mode of life, Foreseeing the approach of death, he gave a final word of instruction to the brethren, warning them to beware of schismatics and the Arian heretics, and urging them to diligently guard their hearts and not to fear the demons. He died in peace after a short illness, welcoming his journey into eternity as a foreigner returning to his homeland. His life, once hidden in the desert, became famed throughout the Roman Empire, not on account of worldly wisdom or riches or political power, but because of his profound piety, towards God, to Whom he brought glory and honor. Amen.

~Adapted from Mystagogy: the Weblog of John Sandidopoulos (http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/01/saint-anthony-great-of-egypt.html).