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September 5, 2013

Monastic History: Origins of Monasticism (Part 2 of 3)

Antony of Egypt (251 – 356 AD), Father of Monasticism & Model for Monks

The Life of Antony, written by St. Athanasius, begins with a brief account of Antony’s home life. Though he was born into a wealthy peasantry, Antony’s parents died young, leaving him as the main care taker for his seven year old sister. However, this was not a long term duty for Antony who soon entrusted his sister to the care of a group
St. Antony of Egypt
of Consecrated Virgins in order that he might set out to the edge of society, seeking an ascetical master (an Appa) to teach him the contemplative / ascetical life. While this might seem to be a radical decision, leaving everything, including his sister behind, Antony’s decision was not merely based on a whim; rather, it was a response to a personal call that he heard in Church on two different occasions: the first occasion, Antony heard the Gospel call him to sell everything and “follow Me;” on the second occasion, he heard the Gospel tell him “Do not be anxious about tomorrow”.

After his initial detachment and flight from the world, Antony underwent many temptations in his early ascetical life such as temptations of self indulgent concerns, bitterness, and lust. At times, Antony even questioned his motivation for leaving the world and his sister behind. However, the greatest of the temptations, the temptation of spiritual pride, came in the form of the devil disguised as a little Ethiopian boy trying to trick Antony into admitting that he had mastered the spiritual and ascetical life. Nevertheless, in all of these trials, Antony kept vigil, fasting and praying, triumphing over all of the temptations, not through his own strength but through the grace of Christ.

Following this last temptation of spiritual pride, Antony fled even further, going into the desert, the domain of demons, where he lived in old abandoned tombs. In the desert, Antony experienced trials similar to those of the martyrs in the coliseum; at night, animals of every type came and tried to terrify him and physically assault him. At one point, a friend of Antony found Antony’s seemingly lifeless body. The man carried Antony back to the city and brought him to the Church. Waking up, Antony returned to the desert tombs, questioning God: “Why have you abandoned me?” Upon this question, Antony experienced God in a descending beam of white light. Like before, the triumphs of Antony over temptation were not achieved by him, but rather by Christ in light.

For more information about the Life of Antony, Part 3 of Origins of Monasticism will be posted on September 9.

To read the full Life of Antony, by St. Athanasius: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2811.htm

Pax et Gaudium

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness