January 17: Antony, Abbot in Egypt, 356

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About this Commemoration

In the third century, many young men turned away from the corrupt and decadent society of the time, and went to live in deserts or mountains, in solitude, fasting, and prayer.  Antony of Egypt was an outstanding example of this movement, but he was not merely a recluse. He was a founder of monasticism, and wrote a rule for anchorites. Antony’s parents were Christians, and he grew up to be quiet, devout, and meditative. When his parents died, he and his younger sister were left to care for a sizable estate. Six months later, in church, he heard the reading about the rich young ruler whom Christ advised to sell all he had and give to the poor.  Antony at once gave his land to the villagers, and sold most of his goods, giving the proceeds to the poor. Later, after meditating on Christ’s bidding, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow,” he sold what remained of his possessions, placed his sister in a “house of maidens,” and became an anchorite (solitary ascetic).

Athanasius, who knew Antony personally, writes that he spent his days praying, reading, and doing manual labor. For a time, he was tormented by demons in various guises. He resisted, and the demons fled. Moving to the mountains across the Nile from his village, Antony dwelt alone for twenty years. In 305, he left his cave and founded a“monastery,” a series of cells inhabited by ascetics living under his rule. Athanasius writes of such colonies: “Their cells like tents were filled with singing, fasting, praying, and working that they might give alms, and having love and peace with one another.”

Antony visited Alexandria, first in 321, to encourage those suffering martyrdom under the Emperor Maximinus; later, in 355, to combat the Arians by preaching, conversions, and the working of miracles. Most of his days were spent on the mountain with his disciple Macarius.

He willed a goat-skin tunic and a cloak to Athanasius, who said of him: “He was like a physician given by God to Egypt. For who met him grieving and did not go away rejoicing? Who came full of anger and was not turned to kindness? … What monk who had grown slack was not strengthened by coming to him? Who came troubled by doubts and failed to gain peace of mind?”


I O God, who by thy Holy Spirit didst enable thy servant Antony to withstand  the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Give us grace, with pure hearts and minds, to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II O God, by your Holy Spirit you enabled your servant Antony to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Give us grace, 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, for ever and ever. Amen.


1 Kings 17:1–9

1 Peter 5:6–10

Mark 10:17–21



Preface of  a Saint (2)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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9 thoughts on “January 17: Antony, Abbot in Egypt, 356

  1. New Hebrew reading: I am not convinced that this reading is that edifying. Sure, it is a desert setting – but what else?

    Bio. 1st paragraph: I think that a paragraph break would improve the bio. I suggest a break after the 3rd sentence (ending with ‘… wrote a rule for anchorites.’
    He lacks a ‘He died in 356.’ statement.

  2. Learning more about the early church is helpful and I appreciate what you are trying to do here in this space. We can learn much from the contemplative traditions within Christianity, and much from the contemplatives who came before us.

    Coming to understand the stillness and silence found in meditation and contemplative prayer as a sacrament that allows the the Holy Spirit to come and pray with and through us is important. The Desert Fathers and Mothers in the first few centuries of Christianity came to understand this profoundly.

    I’d like to offer the following as a contemplative response to this thought.


    Ron Starbuck

  3. The first sentence is jarring, misleading, and historically inaccurate. Both men and women went into the desert for complex reasons and the Christian flight was part of a much larger demographic and cultural transformation. To say third-century society was “corrupt and decadent” is the sort of generalization that obscures the historical reality and suggests that the Roman empire was well into its decline and fall. Making mention of Athanasius is crucial for any account of Antony’s biography and significance, but he needs identification as archbishop of Alexandria and as Antony’s biographer. His descriptive phrase saying that Antony (and other monks) “made the desert a city” is an important clue to understanding the significance of Egyptian monasticism.


    I notice that starting today, January 16, there are feasts appointed or proposed for
    January 16, 17, [18], 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, [25], 26, 27, 28, 29, two for 31,
    February 1, [2], 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. The square brackets indicate major feasts.

    My question is, in 22 almost consecutive days (with one day unclaimed and 23 commemorations) isn’t there concern we won’t have free weekdays to which we can defer minor observances that fall on Sundays?

    I assume the answer is, “nah, what’s your problem; if we can appoint more than two for the same day on some days, why not in these cases, too?”

  5. I suggest that the title be either “Antony the Great” or “Antony of Egypt”.

    I suggest a subtitle reading “Monastic, Abbot, and Anchorite”.

    Antony is reported to have been born in Cooma near Herakleopolis Magna in Lower Egypt in 251, and to have lived until 356.

  6. THE READINGS: Of all the readings, the epistle selection strikes me as the most appropriate. I find it puzzling why it ends at verse 10 when the extremely short verse 11 is the obviously intended canonical ending for that passage. I strongly object to breaking apart the integrity of the passages where it is not only possible but meaningful to respect their canonical integrity.
    10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.
    11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
    Similarly, the Gospel selection is cropped two verses before it should be – some might even say more than two verses. Nowhere in the Baptismal Covenant is poverty required as a necessary part of the Christian life,– neither poverty as a vow required for membership in an organization that steps up to compensate for the voluntary renunciation of private property, the organization itself taking on responsibility for providing the necessities of life for the individuals in the organization, nor is poverty required from Christians as a simple fact of economic and spiritual asceticism. To make it a requirement would virtually require a theological denial of the goodness of material creation as such, which is territory the church traversed over a millennium ago. Poverty is simply not a defining requirement of a Christian. Jesus and the twelve operated from a common purse, and from the hospitality of others on occasion, but we don’t believe the immediate families of the twelve would be so provided for if they were at any significant remove from the whereabouts of Jesus and the twelve. At any rate, all who followed Jesus were never held to such a norm. In Luke-Acts we have a second example of a common treasury community model. But when we extrapolate the economic decisions of hermits, communities of monks, or exemplary mendicants, and teach that unless Christians impoverish themselves they can’t be good Christians, we do a disservice to the church and its members living in today’s world and in economic systems other than communistic economies, who indeed are taught about tithing and/or stewardship (by order of Canon Law, no less!) as the Biblical norm for responsible use of one’s so-called “material substance.” — not poverty.
    .All this is to say that it is bad theology, bad faith, bad pastoral care, and bad Biblical teaching to end this gospel selection at verse 21, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”
    That circumstance may have applied to that individual’s becoming a follower of Jesus in a literal (peripatetic) sense, but that is not the teaching of the church for all Christians, nor for all circumstances.
    AT LEAST extended the gospel selection by its next two verses (22-23) in order to conclude the story (22) and allow for Jesus’ pronouncement (23) about the place of wealth in the Christian life in general:
    22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
    23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
    The Old Testament lesson, I would hazard to guess, is chosen today because it illustrates God taking care of Elijah in a drought as a suggestive allegory of God similarly taking care of Antony in the desert, while devoid of resources, with precious little in the way of sustaining himself, and in the harshest, driest, most trying of circumstances. If that’s the case, I can’t argue with it. It does show Elijah in just that kind of total dependence on God in faith. Manna in the wilderness might make the same point, but Elijah does, too. There’s an ironic element in the Elijah passage, in that God sends him to the wadi because God is initiating a drought. So Elijah goes, and the wadi dries up because — indeed — God initiated a drought. Sending him to the widow has a sort of “okay, so life is NOT a sandwich” punch line quality to it – a second thought, or afterthought, an incongruity. I can’t say this reading doesn’t work, but I wonder if there is a better one. – showing dependence and faith but without the incongruity.
    The psalm, strikingly, is the psalm we know better from the gospels’ temptation story than we know it from the Psalter. It sounds like a promise (even a charm) of invulnerability, and is meant that way for the messiah or for the nation as a whole (but even there the temptation stories put us on notice that its grand promises invite psychological or spiritual self-inflation for the messian!). It is not meant to be a “carte blanche” against any and all evils for the average believer, unless taken eschatologically in the Christian framework. As a psalm of response to the Elijah story, I dread its being taken in a reckless way. I’d prefer to see it either in response to an OT lesson chosen with better circumspection, or else see some other psalm paired with the Elijah story.
    Psalm 91:9–16
    9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
    10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
    11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
    12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
    13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. 14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
    15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. 16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

  7. The statement ‘for a time, he was tormented by demons in various guises. He resisted, and the demons fled’ obscures a couple of important things about Antony. What he discovered in these experiences was that there was as much temptation to corruption and decadence in the desert as there was in the city, and his ‘rule’ seems to have been mostly about coping with temptation.

    The statement also suggests that Antony resisted because of his own spiritual strength, whereas his biographer, who had known him personally, knew that couldn’t have been the case: ‘this victory was the Saviour’s work in Antony’. In all the temptations Antony faced he knew that faith in Christ was his only hope, or, as his biographer says Antony himself put it, ‘faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us’.

    It is this aspect of his life that is helpful to Christians today.

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