St. Antony of Egypt
Feast day: January 17
Regarded as the first monk, Antony was born in 251 to wealthy Christian parents in Upper Egypt. After his parents passed away when he was a young man, he heard the Gospel line, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me.” The words resounded within his heart and he gave some of his family estates to neighbors, selling the rest so he could give the money to the poor.
Antony lived in seclusion from 273-306, first at an old burial ground and then an abandoned military fort in the Arabian desert. When he emerged from his seclusion he founded a monastery that was composed of hermits cells for his disciples and traveled to Alexandria to help Christians being persecuted by Maximinus. Later, after opening a second monastery he withdrew to a remote mountain stating that, “Just as fish die if they remain on dry land, so monks, remaining away from their cells, or dwelling in the world of men, lose their determination to persevere in solitary prayer. Therefore, just as fish should go back to the sea, so we must return to our cells.” Antony is attributed with the “flight from the world” feature that became a lasting aspect of monasticism. He stressed the importance of charity, teaching “Life and death depend on our neighbor. If we gain a brother, we gain Christ; but if we scandalize our neighbor, we sin against Christ.” He became a famous teacher, and many stories and legends are attributed to his life. When he died in January of 356 his disciples buried him secretly on his mountaintop as he requested, although his relics were allegedly rediscovered several years later and were said to have had miraculous properties.