Today, January 17, is the Feast of St. Antony of Egypt. We remember with thanksgiving his life and seek his prayers and guidance for our own lives. His biography, The Life of Antony, was written by St. Athanasius.
St. Antony’s desert journey began one Sunday morning in a small Egyptian village in the year 270 or 271 when he heard these words: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mt. 19:21).
Antony took these words literally; giving his land to neighbors, selling his remaining property, and entrusting his sister to the care of some Christian women. Antony became a disciple of a local hermit. As time went on Antony moved further into the desert geographically and spiritually.
The desert is not just a place of serenity and solitude. It is also the place in which we struggle with the demons, the disturbers of peace. The demons are not only those forces hostile to us they are also the sum of all that is anomalous and incomplete within us. To struggle with the demons is to also struggle with the self. It means, in part, determined and fearless self-interrogation and self-scrutiny. In this regard Antony lived
as one always establishing a beginning, he endeavored each day to present himself as the sort of person ready to appear before God – that is, pure of heart and prepared to obey his will, and no other. And he used to tell himself that that from the career of the great Elijah, as from a mirror, the ascetic must always acquire knowledge of his own life (Life of Antony, p. 37).
A life such as that transcends time and geography. Speaking across the ages Antony’s own words challenge and invite us, “If you consider me wise, become as I am, for we must imitate what is good” (Life of Antony, p.84). For those bold enough to approach him Antony unfailingly has the same message for us today as he offered in his own day:
- “Have faith in the Lord and love him.”
- “Guard [yourselves] from lewd thoughts and pleasures of the flesh” so as not to be deceived by the feeding of the belly.
- “Flee vanity.”
- “Pray constantly.”
- “Sing holy songs before sleep and after.”
- “Take to heart the precepts in the Scriptures.”
- “Keep in mind the deeds of the saints, so that the soul, ever mindful of the commandments, might be educated by their ardor.”
- “Practice constantly the word of the Apostle, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
- “Daily let each one recount to himself his actions of the day and night, and if he sinned, let him stop. But if he has not sinned, let him avoid boasting; rather, let him persist in the good, and not become careless, nor condemnatory of a neighbor, nor declare himself righteous until, as the blessed apostle Paul said, ‘the Lord comes who’ searches out ‘the hidden things.’”
- “Yielding judgment to the [Lord] let us treat each other with compassion, and let us bear one another’s burdens.”
- “Let us examine ourselves, however, and those things we are lacking let us hurry to complete.”
- “Let each one of us note and record our actions and the stirrings of our souls as though we were going to give an account to each other.”
(Life of Antony, pp. 72-73)
St. Antony has given us a rule of life, a guide for the formation of our lives. “Patterning our lives in this way, we shall be able to enslave the body, as well as please the Lord and trample on the deceptions of the enemy” (Life of Antony, p.73).
Related post: The Feast of St. Antony 2009