St Antony of the Desert

January 17, 2010

One of the Saints who made a big impression on me when I was a teenager was St Anthony. It was a real joy for me as a monk to study his life. I remember the class so clearly, we worked through his life line by line and then reading several commentaries. It was deeply fulfilling. The study of the Holy Rule of St Benedict and the Life of St Anthony are things I remember with great happiness and gratitude. Today we celebrate the feast of St Anthony, it seems appropriate to remember him here.

From the New Liturgical Movement: ‘today marks the feast of St. Antony of the Desert (A.D. 251 and 356), who has often been called the Father of Monasticism — though he was not necessarily the first Christian monk. He was one of the famed Egyptian Desert Fathers. (Those interested in the Desert Fathers may like to acquire a copy of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers published as part of the excellentCistercian Studies series.)

One of the most famous early lives of St. Antony, written around A.D. 360, was that attributed to another great saint, St. Athanasius; the Vita Antoni.

About St. Antony, Catholic Culture notes: “At age 18, the gospel text ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all that you have and then follow me’ so moved him that he left everything behind and retired to an inaccessible place in the wilderness where he dedicated his life to God in manual work and continual prayer. In his old age, he imparted wisdom to his disciples and encouraged them to lead a monastic life.”

Some of this wisdom, short sayings attributed to Abba Antony, have come to us today. Here are just a few examples:

Abbe Pambo asked Abba Antony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Antony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.”

Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.” (Jn 4:18)

Abba Antony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge, or else we labor in vain.”

Liturgically, the Feast of St. Antony of the Desert is celebrated in the Roman calendar on this day in both forms, as well as in the Byzantine liturgical calendar.’

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