Anthony was an Egyptian and was born in about the year 250 in the village of Koman near Heraclea. Following the death of his noble and wealthy parents, he divided the inherited estate with his sister, who was a minor, and made sure that she was cared for by some relatives. Anthony distributed his half of the estate to the poor, and in his twentieth year he dedicated himself to the ascetic life for which he had yearned from his childhood. In the beginning, Anthony lived a life of asceticism in the proximity of his village, but in order to flee the disturbance of people he withdrew into the wilderness on the shore of the Red Sea. There he spent twenty years as a recluse, not associating with anyone except God. Through constant prayer, reflection and contemplation, he patiently endured unspeakable temptations from the devil. His fame spread throughout the entire world, and many disciples gathered around him, whom he set on the path of salvation by his example and words. During the eighty-five years of his ascetic life, only twice did he go to Alexandria: the first time to seek martyrdom during a time of persecution of the Church, and the second time at the invitation of St. Athanasius the Great, in order to refute the accusation of the Arians that he too was an adherent of the Arian heresy. Anthony reposed in the 105th year of his life, leaving behind an entire army of disciples and emulators. Even though Anthony was not a scholar, he was nevertheless a counselor and teacher of the most learned men of his time, as was St. Athanasius. When certain Greek philosophers tempted him with literary wisdom, Anthony shamed them with the question: “Which is older, the understanding or the book? Which of these two was the cause of the other?” Ashamed, the philosophers dispersed, for they perceived that they only had literary knowledge without understanding, whereas Anthony had understanding. Here is a man who attained perfection insofar as man, in general, can attain on earth. Here is an instructor of instructors and a teacher of teachers, who for a full eighty-five years perfected himself; and it was only in that way that he was able to perfect many others. Filled with many years of life and great works, Anthony reposed in the Lord in the year 356.
St. Anthony teaches: “Learn to love humility, for it will cover all your sins. All sins are repulsive before God, but the most repulsive of all is pride of the heart. Do not consider yourself learned and wise; otherwise, all your effort will be destroyed, and your boat will reach the harbor empty. If you have great authority, do not threaten anyone with death. Know that, according to nature, you too are susceptible to death, and that every soul sheds its body as its final garment.” In Byzantium there existed an unusual and instructive custom during the crowning of the emperors in the Church of the Divine Wisdom [Hagia Sophia]. The custom was that, when the patriarch placed the crown on the emperor’s head, he also handed him a silk purse filled with earth from a grave, so that even the emperor would recall death, avoid all pride and become humble.
O Father Anthony, you imitated the zealous Elijah. You followed the straight paths of the Baptist and became a desert dweller. By prayer you confirmed the universe. Wherefore, intercede with Christ our God to save our souls.