January 30, 2023 - Toba 22, 1739
Departure of St. Anthony the Great (Antonius)
On this day, of the year 355 A.D., St. Anthony the Great, the star of the wilderness, and the father of all monks, departed. This righteous man was born in the year 251 A.D. in the city of Qimn El-Arouse, to rich parents who loved the church and the poor. They raised him up in fear of the Lord. When he was twenty years old, his parents departed, and he had to take care of his sister. Once, he entered the church and heard the words of the Lord Christ in the Gospel, If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me. (Matthew 19:21) He returned to his house, decided to fulfill this commandment and considered it directed to him personally. He gave his wealth to the poor and needy, and he took his sister and placed her with some virgins. At that time, monasticism had not yet been established. All those who wanted to live a solitary life went and lived on the outskirts of the city. This was what St. Anthony did as he dwelt alone, worshipping and living an ascetic life.
The devil fought him there by afflicting him with boredom, laziness, and the phantoms of women. He overcame the devil's snares by the power of the Lord Christ. After that, he went to one of the tombs, and he resided therein and closed the door on himself. Some of his friends used to bring him food. When the devil perceived his ascetic life and his intense worship, he was envious of him, and he beat him mercilessly, then left him unconscious. When his friends came to visit him and found him in this condition, they carried him to the church. After he somewhat recovered, he went back to the same place. The devil again resumed his war against St. Antonius, only this time the phantoms were in the form of wild beasts, wolves, lions, snakes and scorpions. They appeared as if they were about to attack him or cut him into pieces. But the saint would laugh at them scornfully and say, If any of you have any authority over me, only one would have been sufficient to fight me. At his saying this, they disappeared as though in smoke, for God gave him the victory over the devils. He was always singing this psalm, Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those also who hate Him flee before Him. (Psalm 68:1)
St. Anthony used to prepare a quantity of bread that would sustain him for six months. He did not allow anyone to enter his cell, and whoever came to him, stood outside and listened to his advice. He continued in this condition of solitary worship for 20 years. Then by God's command, he went to El-Fayyoum and confirmed the brethren there in the faith, then returned to his monastery. During the time of persecution, he longed to become a martyr. He left his monastery and went toAlexandria. He visited those who were imprisoned for the sake of Christ and comforted them. When the Governor saw that he was confessing the Lord Christ publicly, not caring what might happen to him, he ordered him not to show up in the city. However, the saint did not heed his threats. He faced him and argued with him in order that he might arouse his anger so that he might be tortured and martyred. But God preserved him all along, according to His will, for the benefit of many, and so the Governor left him alone. Then the saint went back to his monastery according to God's will, and many came to visit him and to hear his teachings. He saw that these visits kept him away from his worship. As a result, he went far away to the eastern desert. He travelled with some bedouins to the inner wilderness for three days, until he found a spring of water and some palm trees, and then he chose to settle there. On this spot now stands the monastery of St. Anthony the Great. The bedouins came to him with bread, and the Lord drove away all the wild beasts from this place, for his sake.
On occasions, he would go to the monastery on the outskirts of the desert by the Nile to visit the brethren, then return to his inner monastery. His fame spread abroad and it reached Emperor Constantine. The Emperor wrote to him, offering him praise and asked him to pray for him. The brethren were pleased with the Emperor's letter, but St. Anthony did not pay any attention to it, and he said to them, The books of God, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, commands us everyday, but we do not heed what they tell us, and we turn our backs on them. Under the persistence of the brethren who told him, Emperor Constantine loves the church, he accepted to write him a letter blessing him, and praying for the peace and safety of the empire and the church. One day, he was bored, and he heard a voice telling him, Go out and see. He went out and saw an angel who wore a girdle with a cross, one resembling the holy Eskiem, and on his head was a head cover (Kolansowa). He was sitting while braiding palm leaves, then he stood up to pray, and again he sat to weave. A voice came to him saying, Anthony, do this and you will rest. Henceforth, he started to wear this tunic that he saw, and began to weave palm leaves, and never got bored again.
St. Anthony prophesied about the persecution that was about to happen to the church and the control of the heretics over it, the church victory and its return to its formal glory, and the end of the age. When St. Macarius visited St. Anthony, St. Anthony clothed him with the monk's garb, and St. Anthony foretold him what would be of him. When the day of the departure of St. Paul, the first hermit in the desert, drew near, St. Anthony went to him. St. Anthony buried St. Paul the hermit after he had clothed him in a tunic which was a present from St. Athanasius the Apostolic, 20th Pope of Alexandria. When St. Anthony felt that the day of his departure had approached, he commanded his disciple to hide his body and to give his staff to St. Macarius, and to give one sheepskin cloak to St.Athanasius and the other sheepskin cloak to Anba Serapion, his disciple. He stretched himself on the ground and gave up his spirit. The angels and the saints took his spirit and carried it to the place of perpetual rest. This saint lived for 105 years, struggling in the way of holiness and purity. May His prayers be with us and Glory be to our God forever. Amen.