About the Commemoration
Commemorated with Pachomius, Abbot, 346
Antony (or Anthony), the founder of monasticism, was born near Memphis in Lower Egypt ca. 251. When he was a young man, he was so moved by hearing the command in the Gospel, “Go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matt. 19:21), that he did just that with his considerable inheritance and went to live alone in the desert of Upper Egypt as an anchorite, a solitary ascetic, spending time in prayer and study, making baskets to earn a living.
He lived in complete solitude for twenty years and underwent severe spiritual and physical temptations, tormented by demons in various guises. He became aware of the dangers of solitude for those who are unprepared, and, as in time a number of disciples gathered around him, he organized them into loosely knit communities and exerted a certain authority over them. He initiated a formula of monastic rule where common life, prayer, and the rule of a superior and fraternal love proved more secure means of holiness of life than eremitic practices. His preference, however, was for solitude, so about the year 312 he withdrew further away and lived in a cave on Mount Colzim (or Kolzim) in the harsh mountainous landscape of the Eastern Desert, near the northwest corner of the Red Sea. He fell in love with the place at first sight and remained there for the rest of his life.
People of all kinds sought out Antony to get his advice or simply to see the man out of curiosity. He would occasionally visit his followers in their hermitages. At an advanced age he went to Alexandria to encourage opposition to Arianism, which denied the full divinity of Christ. Notably moderate in contrast to the more eccentric austerities of other solitaries, Antony was a man of spiritual wisdom, whose disciplined pursuit of holiness was always directed toward the better service of God.
He remained a layman all his life and was over one hundred when he died, in perfect health, in 356. The Monastery of St. Antony, which still exists, was built a few years after his death.
Antony is remembered on this date on the Eastern, Roman Catholic, Episcopal (Anglican), Lutheran, and Methodist calendars.
Antony’s younger contemporary, Pachomius, may appropriately be remembered with him. He was born ca. 290 near Esneh in Upper Egypt of pagan parents and was later conscripted into the imperial army. After his discharge in 313 he became a Christian and was baptized. He founded a monastery at Tabennisi near the Nile about 320 where his fame soon attracted large numbers of monks. Pachomius applied the administrative skills he learned in military service to the preparation of a rule and the organization of the communal life of monks, emphasizing life in community, work according to one’s craft, and common prayer. To keep the monks from spiritual pride, he did not permit any to be ordained to the priesthood but had a priest come from outside the monastery to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. He set the example himself, it is said, by fleeing when the renowned Patriarch of Alexandria, Athanasius, sought to ordain him a priest. Pachomius is honored as the founder of Christian cenobitic (community) monasticism. At his death in 346 he was ruling as abbot-general over nine communities for men and two for women. Pachomius’s feast day in the East is May 15, May 14 in the West, May 9 in the Coptic Church. He is not on the General Roman Calendar nor on the Episcopal calendar; he is, however, on the 1962 German Evangelical Calendar and among the “Witnesses to the Faith” in the Lutheran African American service book, This Far By Faith (1999) and, together with Antony, has been added to the calendar in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006).
Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.
From The Life of St. Antony by St. Athanasius
When Antony was about eighteen or twenty years old, his parents died, leaving him alone to care for a very young sister and to look after the family property.
Some six months later, on his way to church, he thought of how the apostles had left everything and followed the Savior, and also of how the Christians, recorded in the book of Acts, had sold their possessions and brought the money to the apostles for distribution to those in need. He reflected on the great hope stored up in heaven for such as these. All this was all in his mind when he entered the church just as the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord’s words to the rich man, If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” [Matt. 19:21 ]
It seemed to Antony that it was God who had brought the early saints to his mind and that the words of the Gospel had been spoken directly to him. Immediately he left the church and gave away to the villagers all the property he had inherited, about two hundred acres of very beautiful and fertile land, so that it would no longer distract his sister and himself. He sold all his other possessions as well, and gave the money to the poor, except for a small sum to care for his sister.
On another occasion when he went to church he heard the Lord say in the Gospel, “Do not worry about tomorrow.” [Matt. 6:34] Without hesitation he went out and gave the poor all that he had left. He placed his sister in the care of some trustworthy nuns and arranged for her to be brought up in the convent. Then, not far from his home, he dedicated himself to the ascetic life, keeping a careful watch over himself and practicing great austerity. He worked with his hands because he had heard the words, “Anyone not willing to work should not eat.” [2 Thess. 3:10] With the profit from this work he bought bread for himself and gave the rest to the poor.
Having learned that we should pray always, even when we are by ourselves, he prayed constantly. Indeed, he was so attentive when Scripture was read that nothing escaped him, and because he retained all that he heard, his memory became his library.
Seeing the kind of life he lived, the villagers and all the virtuous people in the neighborhood called him the friend of God, and they loved him as both son and brother.
Athanasius, The Life of St. Antony, chaps. 2-4. Trans. PHP, based on A Short Breviary by St. John’s Abbey and the English translation of the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours.
O God, by your Holy Spirit you called Antony and Pachomius to renounce the world and to serve you in the solitude of the desert, withstanding the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Grant us grace to learn by their example to deny ourselves, to love you above all things, and, with pure hearts and minds, to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
PHP, RS + LFF
Readings: 1 Peter 5:6-10; Psalm 91:9-16 or Psalm 1; Mark 10:17-21 or Matthew 19:18-26
Hymn of the Day: “Fight the good fight with all thy might” (H82 552, 553; LSB 664; LBW 461)
Prayers: For all whom God is calling to the Religious Life; For all monks and nuns and for all communities in which men and women seek a deeper faith and a fuller life; For an appreciation of the virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience; For deliverance from acquisitiveness and from attachment to the things of this world.
Preface: A Saint (2)