The Church celebrates the feast day of St. Anthony of Egypt on January 17th. St. Anthony is called the “Father of Monasticism,” and is seen as the one of the great men known as the “Desert Fathers.”
Anthony was born into a wealthy family, but after the death of his parents, he heard the call of God to “go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and come, follow me.” [The story is told very beautifully in St. Athanasius’ Life of Anthony.] He literally did just that: he sold everything, gave the money to the poor, and went into the desert of Egypt to begin a life of prayer, fasting and manual labor. He was 20 years old. His perseverance in following his vocation (“calling”) is clear from the fact that, when he died at the age of 105, Anthony was still living in the desert in a life of profound prayer, fasting and manual labor to support himself.
St. Anthony never learned to read, but it is reported that he had the Sacred Scriptures almost completely memorized. Since he couldn’t read, he LISTENED attentively, whenever the Word of God was proclaimed, meditated deeply upon what he heard, and so ended up knowing it thoroughly. In his intense listening to the the voice of God in the Scriptures, we learn the importance of “Lectio Divina,“ the slow, meditative reading of Sacred Scripture, allowing the Word of God to sink deeply into our souls.
Although St. Anthony remained in the desert of Egypt, living a hidden life of union with God, he had a great influence in one of the greatest controversies of the early Church: the battle against the Arian heresy. The Arians denied the divinity of Jesus Christ, asserting that he was merely human. It is said that “the world woke up and discovered that it was Arian.” But there were a few staunch defenders of the orthodox and catholic faith that held that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man, and the greatest among them was the Bishop of Alexandria, St. Athanasius. On three occasions, Athanasius was forced in exile from his diocese of Alexandria, and all three times, he went into the desert to be strengthened and encouraged by St. Anthony. Anthony was thus the spiritual warrior, the great prayer power, behind the ministry of St. Athanasius.
On his feastday, it is good for us to remember all those who live the monastic life in our own day, especially those who pray for us. Members of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy will remember with gratitude the prayer support that we have from the religious sisters who are our “Special Prayer Partners.” Here is a link to the listing of the 22 communities (19 monasteries of cloistered nuns and 3 communities of active sisters) who pray for our Confraternity and all of our members: http://confraternityofourladyofmercy.org/membership/special-prayer-partners/
As we honor the great St. Anthony, let us be grateful for the lessons that we can learn from his life: total commitment to following our vocation, attentive listening to God in Sacred Scripture, and the power of intercessory prayer for others.