ST. ANTONY THE GREAT – HIS SPIRITUALITY

“If you gathered together all the monks in the world, there would not be a single Antony among them!”
(Abba Shenute the Archimandrite).

It is indeed sacred moments of eternal happiness when I bring to mind the cherished memory of this great and illuminating lamp: Saint Antony, the Star of the Wilderness and the one to whom is granted the title ‘the Great’ by the Universal Church! This Egyptian anchorite whose purity of life and strength of resolve ran deep throughout the annals of history, is credited as being the ‘father of monasticism’; not just in his time and not just in Egypt, but to all monks throughout the world, and throughout the ages to the end of time. Accordingly, because of Saint Antony, Egypt is recognised as being the cradle of monasticism.

The story of Saint Antony’s life and the story of monasticism generally, provide us with a profound example in the wonder of living with God. He portrayed how the wisdom and things of the world are accounted as nothing in comparison to the excellence and glory of having the knowledge of God, and through his example, he shows how one can live in the world without being affected by the world living within (John 17:15). Saint Antony’s life also exemplifies the deep love God has for humanity in that throughout his struggles in resisting the demonic forces, he was always brought to a resounding victory; not because of his own strength but because the Lord was working in him, and hence he provides us with a living example of how one can conquer evil and declare, “Not I, but the grace of God which was in me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

In addition, Saint Antony in his love gave the Lord everything that he had, and so God, according to His divine promises, rewarded him by multiplying many times over what he had offered the Lord: Saint Antony had chosen the path of celibacy, and yet the Lord made him the father of all monks. Saint Antony had chosen simplicity for himself, and yet the Lord made him the most endowed of all. Saint Antony was one who willingly distributed the lands of his inheritance to those in need, and so the Lord gave all the lands of the world as his legacy by means of many monasteries and churches established and named in his honour, icons written commemorating him, and even children named after him as a source of blessing. Saint Antony desired to escape glory, and yet his humility attracted crowds of people who wished to emulate his virtuous life. Therefore, because of his virtues and the purity of his soul, his fame spread throughout the whole world, and will continue to spread throughout the ages.

Whilst Christian asceticism was not a new concept Saint Antony introduced, his life was unique in that he brought the course of ascetic life to the highest level of discipline and perfection through his resolve to practice and embody the scriptures so completely. Accordingly, his life defined the nature of monastic spirituality and became the model for all subsequent forms of ascetic life.

The author of this biography was Saint Antony’s close friend and illustrious Patriarch
Saint Athanasius, who was the 20th Patriarch of the Alexandrian Church. He was greatly inspired by Saint Antony’s worldly detachment, love of worship and contemplation, and fearlessness, and often spent times of retreat learning from him. Saint Athanasius wrote the biography in Greek within a year of Saint Antony’s repose, and shortly after it was translated into Latin and circulated widely throughout the Empire; hence becoming the world’s reference on monasticism not only for his generation but also for all those succeeding.

Written by His Grace Bishop Yostos,
Bishop & Abbot of the Monastery of St. Antony the Great, Red Sea Egypt,
in ‘
Saint Antony: His Life and Sayings'

 

     
     
      St Antony
      His Life
      His Spirituality
      His Legacy
      His Sayings