Saint Anthony the Great
This great Saint was born in the city of Coma in Upper Egypt (Saiid Egypt) around the year 251. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria a contemporaneous of him, wrote Anthony’s biography, he said: “Anthony was born in a devout Christian family. His parents died leaving for him a little sister, which he took good care of. He heard one day the words of the Gospel (Mt. 19:21): ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ This word penetrated Anthony’s heart and changed his life. He sold his portion of his family’s wealth and distributed it to the needy and churches, after he gave to his sister her portion. Then he left the world, and went on visiting the hermits, spending his time in prayer, meditation, and reading the Sacred Scripture.”
At that point the Devil envied him and came to put him to temptation; which made Anthony stronger, fighting back these temptations by fasting, meditation and prayer life. His food was nothing but bread mixed with salt and little water. Then more temptations Anthony overcome, the more furiously Satan attacked him. This drove Anthony who was growing up in holiness, deep in the heart of the cold desert, where he found an empty tomb, and made it into his hermitage. There Satan attacked him in various forms of frightening beasts, but Anthony was resisting them with God’s grace. One morning, and after a long night fight, a heavenly light shined in that tomb, and Jesus appeared to Anthony, who cried out: “Where have you been, my Lord?” Jesus replied: “I was here Anthony, witnessing your good struggle (jihadJ).”
After that Anthony went even deeper into the desert, and into his life of prayer, meditation, and praising the Lord into His creation for some twenty years, until people learned about his place, and started coming up to him from everywhere. Many asked him to accept them as disciples, thus he surrendered to their demands and moved down with them to the boards of the Nile River, where he started for them several monasteries and hermitages. Several monasteries flourished in Upper Egypt, spreading out the sweet aroma of Christian virtues and values into the region; while Anthony visited them, encouraging them in their sacred monastic vocation. One of famous saying, often remembered by his monks was: “Son, never forget about eternity; tell yourself every morning that you might not survive today, and as the evening draws near, remember that you could never see the morning’s light. Fight temptations with courage, the Devil your enemy is weak when faced with fasting, prayer and the sign of the Cross.”
In the year 311, when persecution against Christians got fierce, Anthony was carried out by a great apostolic zeal, and marched down to Alexandria, searching for his Christian brothers and sisters, supporting them in their faith, accompanying them before governors and judges, and till martyrdom, helping them to stand firm in the face of this ephemeral persecution. He remained in Alexandria until persecutions calmed down, and then returned to his hermitage in Upper Egypt, persevering in his monastic life.
God granted Anthony the gift of healing, and casting away evil spirits, and people came up to him in groups from everywhere. Upon this, Anthony feared that he would surrender to the spirit of pride, and again run away to the Upper desert of Tiabias. His monks managed to find him afterwards, and got him to visit them in their monasteries, where he confirmed them in pursuing with greater love and zeal holiness in monastic life. After that he visited Saint Paula (a man) the hermit, and then he returned to his solitude.
In the year 325 Alexandria the capital of North Africa, again was threatened by the Arian heresy, and Anthony was called down for help, by Bishop Athanasius. In stead of his old age, Anthony obeyed the call of his bishop, and walked down to Alexandria, which came out to greet him. He stayed among them for a while teaching them about the truth of Jesus Christ, a true man and a true God, and then turned back to his mountain in solitude. Anthony was quite revered among kings and the lords of this earth, especially by king Constantine the Great who wrote him asking for his prayers.
Saint Anthony spent his last years on earth visiting his monks in their monasteries, encouraging them to be faithful to their monastic life and persevere in growing up in holiness. He slept in peace in January 17th, 356, an 105 honorable elder old.
He left behind some seven famous letters, which he addressed to his monasteries. They were translated from Coptic to Greek, Latin and included along the writings of the Fathers of the Church.
We cannot but mention here the many hermitages and hermits that imitated Saint Anthony and were inspired by him in Mount Lebanon. The Holy Valley (Qadisha), and the historical monastery of Saint Anthony Qozhaiia (Gazo d’hayeh, i.e. treasury of life), famous for casting out evil spirits, and the three Maronite males Religious Orders that adopt Saint Anthony’s spirituality, are but few proofs of the deep love and honor the Maronite Church held for this great Saint, who really deserved to be called The Sun of the Desert, and The Glory of the Monastic Life. May his prayers be with us. Amen.