St. Athanasius on St. Antony the Great: “… learn what the life of monks ought to be;”

St. Antony the Great (Greek: Ἀντώνιος) (251 – 356)- was a Christian ascetic monk from Egypt. Antony was among the first anchorites known to go into the Egyptian desert wilderness in about AD 270. Because of his importance among the Desert Fathers and to all later Christian monastics, he is also known as the Father of All Monks. Most of what is known about Antony comes from the Life of Antony, written around 360 by St. Athanasius of Alexandria. It depicts Anthony as an illiterate holy man who, through his stark solitary ascetic life in the desert, forges an absolute connection to the divine Truth. This biography of Antony’s life helped to spread the concept of Christian monasticism into both the Greek and Latin worlds. The excerpt below is from St. Athanasius’ Life of Antony:

“Further, he was able to be of such use to all, that many soldiers and men who had great possessions laid aside the burdens of life, and became monks for the rest of their days. And it was as if a physician had been given by God to Egypt. For who in grief met Antony and did not return rejoicing? Who came mourning for his dead and did not forthwith put off his sorrow? Who came in anger and was not converted to friendship? What poor and low-spirited man met him who, hearing him and looking upon him, did not despise wealth and console himself in his poverty? What monk, having being neglectful, came to him and became not all the stronger? What young man having come to the mountain and seen Antony, did not forthwith deny himself pleasure and love temperance? Who when tempted by a demon, came to him and did not find rest? And who came troubled with doubts and did not get quietness of mind?” (87).

“Read these words, therefore, to the rest of the brethren that they may learn what the life of monks ought to be; and may believe that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ glorifies those who glorify Him: and leads those who serve Him unto the end, not only to the kingdom of heaven, but here also— even though they hide themselves and are desirous of withdrawing from the world— makes them illustrious and well known everywhere on account of their virtue and the help they render others. And if need be, read this among the heathen, that even in this way they may learn that our Lord Jesus Christ is not only God and the Son of God, but also that the Christians who truly serve Him and religiously believe in Him, prove, not only that the demons, whom the Greeks themselves think to be gods, are no gods, but also tread them under foot and put them to flight, as deceivers and corrupters of mankind, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (94)

~ from: St Athanasius, Life of Antony, 87, 94

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