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Anthony the Great, called ‘The Father of Monks’, was born in central Egypt about A.D. 251, the son of peasant farmers who were Christian.  In c.269 he heard the Gospel read in church and applied to himself the words: “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and come…”  He devoted himself to a life of asceticism under the guidance of a recluse near his village.  In c. 285 he went alone into the desert to live in complete solitude.  His reputation attracted followers, who settled near him, and in c. 305 he came out of his hermitage in order to act as their spiritual father.  Five years later he again retired into solitude.  He visited Alexandria at least twice, once during persecution of Christians and again to support the Bishop Athanasius against heresy.  He died at the age of one hundred and five.  his life was written by Saint Athanasius and was very influential in spreading the ideals of monasticism throughout the Christian World.

19.The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, “Speak a word; how are we to be saved?”  The old man said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures.  That should teach you how.”  but they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.”  Then the old man said to them, “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” (Matt. 5:39).  They said, “We cannot do that.”  The old man said, “If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil.” and they said, “We cannot do that either.”  Then the old man said to his disciple, “Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids.  if you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you?  What you need is prayers.”

20.A brother renounced the world and gave his goods to the poor, but he kept back a little for his personal expenses.  He went to see Abba Anthony.  when he told him this, the old man said to him, “If you want to be a monk, go into the village, buy some meat, cover your naked body with it and come here like that.”  The brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore at his flesh.  When he came back the old man asked him whether he had followed his advice.  He showed him his wounded body, and Saint Anthony said, “Those who renounce the world but want to keep something for themselves are torn in this way by the demons who make war on them.”

21.It happened one day that one of the brethren in the monastery of Abba Elias was tempted.  Cast out of the monastery, he went over the mountain to Abba Anthony.  The brother lived near him for a while and then Anthony sent him back to the monastery from which he had been expelled.  When the brothers saw him they cast him out again, and he went back to Abba Anthony saying, “My Father, they will not receive me.”  Then the old man sent them a message saying, “A boat was shipwrecked at sea and lost its cargo; with difficulty it reached the shore; but you want to throw into the sea that which has found a safe harbour on the shore.”  When the brothers understood that it was Abba Anthony who had sent them this monk, they received him at once.

22.Abba Anthony said, “I believe that the body possesses a natural movement, to which it is adapted, but which it cannot follow without the consent of the soul; it only signifies in the body a movement without passion.  there is another movement, which comes from the nourishment and warming of the body by eating and drinking, and this causes the heat of the blood to stir up the body to work.  that is why the apostle said, “Do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery.” (Ephes. 5:18) And in the Gospel the Lord also recommends this to his disciples: “Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness.” (Luke 21:34) But there is yet another movement which afflicts those who fight, and that comes from the wiles and jealousy of the demons.  You must understand what these three bodily movements are: one is natural, one comes from too much to eat, the third is caused by demons.”

23.He also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much.”

24.It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city.  He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.

25.Abba Anthony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.'”


Excerpt from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicta Ward, SLG. Published by Cistercian Publications in Trappist, KY 1984.