Acta Sanctorum: St. Anthony of Egypt (Jan 17)
January 17, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

January 17

St. Anthony of Egypt (“the Great”)

Life (250-356)

This St. Anthony was the son of well-to-do Egyptian Christian parents. He could have afforded a broad education, but he detested school and preferred his own company. This was perhaps providential, considering his monastic calling.

When Anthony was about 20, both his father and his mother died, leaving him a good estate and a young sister to raise. Now, one day when he was attending Mass, he heard read the scripture message in which Jesus told the rich young man, “Go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” Anthony took this literally, and disposed of most of his property for the benefit of the poor. Not long afterward, he heard read Christ’s other words, “Be not solicitous for tomorrow.” That passage prompted him to get rid of the rest of his property, entrust his sister to the care of some pious women, and go off to be tutored by a holy man of the locality in the virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience. Then he moved farther from his home town, and there for over a dozen years he wrestled to bring his will into subjection by prayer, abstinence and manual labor.

St. Athanasius, the first writer to recount the life of this contemporary fellow countryman, tells of the battles that Anthony fought with the devil during these years. Satan left no means untried to tempt him in body and soul, and even beat him within an inch of his life. God seemed far away from the hermit during those awful hours. When the trial was finally over, Anthony asked Him, “Why were you not here to help me?” God answered, “Anthony, I was here the whole time; I stood by you and watched your combat; and because you have manfully withstood your enemies, I will always protect you, and render your name famous throughout the earth.”

After that, Anthony went into a more remote mountain country, where he spent the next 20 Years. But about the year 305, to satisfy the pleading of other ascetics he founded a monastery for them at Fayum.

The several monasteries that St. Anthony founded were not of the type we have today. They were more like colonies of hermits, each of whom worked and prayed in his own cell. They came together only for common devotions. Anthony himself visited them only occasionally. But when he gathered them for a conference, he counseled them out of his own rich experience. “Do every action as if it were the last in your lives,” he would say. Or, “The Devil dreads fasting, prayer, humility and good works.” Or, “If prayer becomes too difficult, turn for a while to manual labor.”

The Roman persecutions were still on in those days, and in 311, Emperor Maximinus started a new one in Alexandria. Despite his dislike of crowds, St. Anthony felt duty-bound to go to Alexandria for a while and encourage those Christians on trial for their faith. He thus exposed himself to martyrdom, but the governor ignored him. God evidently preferred to have him continue his living martyrdom. Only once after that did he return to Alexandria. When the Arian heresy broke out, he went there at the request of the bishops to defend the divinity of Christ. At that time crowds of citizens joyfully gathered to see and hear this already legendary man, and many were converted. But when some invited him to stay, he replied, “As fish die if they are taken from the water, so does a monk wither away if he forsakes his solitude.” He worried that in future days his monks might become citified and tepid. His wisdom and meekness impressed people, and all who spoke to him went home full of comfort.

A few months after returning to his cell, Anthony took ill and bade a gentle farewell to his monk companions. He died quickly and calmly at 105. Old age was certainly the cause of death, for despite his long austerity he had never been sick or lost his vision or even lost one of his teeth.

St. Paul said, “Our battle is not against human forces, but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in regions above.” (Ep., 6:12). Creatures do tempt us, but it is because Satan uses them as instruments. We seem to have forgotten sin in our times. But St. Anthony still reminds us that it exists, and shows us how to repudiate Satan, the mortal enemy that seeks to destroy us. — Father Robert F. McNamara (+2009).  

When available, I will be employing the lives of the saints written by Fr. McNamara in his "Saints Alive" column which appeared in the parish bulletin of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Irondequoit NY where he was resident.  He was the long-time historian of the Diocese of Rochester and professor at St. Bernard's Seminary and the eldest priest of the diocese at the time of his death.  The executor of his estate assures me these are free of copyright infringement.     

Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-13,18

  Grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power. Put God’s armour on so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics. For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens. That is why you must rely on God’s armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance when the worst happens, or have enough resources to hold your ground.

  Pray all the time, asking for what you need, praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion. Never get tired of staying awake to pray for all the saints.


(Year A) The motives that drive a person to the life of repentance and prayer and asceticism are three, and God provides all of them: First, there are those who are called by the law of love which is in their nature, and which original good implanted in them. They achieve the true manner of life, because their souls are ready to follow the love of God. This is the first kind of calling. Second, there are those who hear the written law testifying of the pains and torments prepared for the wicked, and of the promises for those who walk worthily in the fear of God. By the testimony of the written law, their thoughts are roused up to seek to enter into the calling. Third, there are the souls which at first were hard of heart and persisted in the works of sin; and somehow the good God in his mercy sends upon such souls the chastisement of affliction, till they grow weary, and come back to their senses, and are converted, and draw near, and enter into knowledge, and repent with all their heart.” (Letters 1)

Musical Selection

Apolytikion of Anthony the Great

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.


Lord God, you called the abbot Anthony into the desert

to serve you in a new and wonderful manner of life;

grant by his intercession that we may practice self-denial

and persevere in loving you above all things. 

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. (ICEL; 1998)