St. Anthony of Egypt (251–356)
St. Anthony is the most famous and most well-known of the desert fathers. His simple, profound sayings have been passed down from one generation to the next and continue to have a profound impact on those of every age. He was the child of wealthy Egyptian parents who died when he was just eighteen years old. He was left to care for his sister and to manage their financial resources. But one day when he was in church, he heard the Gospel text in which Jesus tells the rich man to sell all that he has and to give it to the poor. Anthony felt as if the words were spoken directly to him. He knew that something had to change, but he did not quite know how.
He eventually headed out to the desert, where he spent his time in caves. He was able to fully devote himself to the work of prayer and manual labor, and to waging war upon all that was ugly in himself. He also had to contend with a host of external battles with the elements, but through his struggles, he grew and became wise, strong, and joyful.
Figure 12-1: St. Anthony of Egypt
As Anthony became older, he no longer needed the isolation he once sought. He welcomed pilgrims who came to him seeking advice, and he helped to establish a monastic community in the desert.
He lived to be 105 years old, and his biographer and friend, Athanasius, marveled at his soundness of health — remarkably, his teeth and vision are said to have remained intact for all of his days. Despite the harshness of the climate in which he lived — or perhaps because of it — he grew to be a powerful witness for abrave, unconventional life of solitude and prayer. His face so shone with joy that strangers could recognize him by his joyful face alone. He is commemorated on January 17.
St. Anthony's Monastery, located just two kilometers from the cave where St. Anthony lived, was founded in 356, just after the saint died. The monastery is a self-contained village, complete with gardens and a mill as well as a church dedicated to St. Anthony. To learn more, go to