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Posted by on Jan 17, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Anthony the Great – January 17

Saint of the Day: St. Anthony the Great – January 17

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The feast of St. Anthony the Great (251-356) is January 17. In the Egyptian or Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic Churches, the feast day is January 30. He is also known as St. Anthony the Abbot and is an early example of the Christian monk. What we know of his life comes from a biography written by St. Athanasius, the patriarch of Alexandria in Egypt. The account was written in Latin and had a major impact on the development of monasticism in the West. Devotion to St. Anthony is less prominent in the East.

St. Anthony is best known for his literal following of the Gospel. According to St. Athanasius, St. Anthony’s parents died when he was a young man. Hearing the call of Christ in St. Matthew’s Gospel to sell everything he had and come follow Christ, St. Anthony, who had inherited a substantial estate from his parents, did just that. He spent his life in the desert, primarily alone, although toward the end of his life he did supervise some other monks who had joined him. They lived with the fundamental rule to work and pray, which would later be echoed by St. Benedict of Nursia.

What is noticeable in the account of St. Athanasius is the theme of spiritual warfare with the devil. St. Anthony overcame many temptations through prayer and faith. His life in the desert brought him the same temptations that Christ encountered during His soujourn in the desert. What is even more notable is that St. Anthony emerged from his time of testing as someone enlightened who could comfort and heal, someone people sought out not for his wisdom or knowledge, but for his goodness and genuine holiness.

As postmodern people, we have a highly developed notion of individual psychology and it can be difficult to relate to someone like St. Anthony. Our notion of self-actualization appears to get in the way of such an extreme life style of self renunciation. However, it is hard to see how such enlightenment is not the highest form of self-actualization. Today our spiritual heroes, such as Mother Teresa, have chosen a very challenging path not unlike that of St. Anthony. What desert are we being called to?

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