Today the Church honors St. Anthony, not calling to mind the innumerable key chains and wallets he has located for us, but rather for the role he played in giving its shape to our early church. Let’s look at his story.
As a wealthy young Egyptian in the year 265 A.D., Anthony fell so in love with Christ that he began giving away his wealth to the poor. Then, twenty years further on, in 285, he felt a strong desire to be alone with God. In pursuit of that dream, he hid himself in an abandoned Roman outpost on the banks of the Red Sea.
To implement his desire for talking with God, he gave each day to the chanting of the whole of the Book of Psalms. In those years passing Bedouins kept him alive by tossing scraps over the wall to him. Through the next forty years other men and women took up living alone in hermitages near Anthony’s outpost, and going along with his practice, they took to chanting of the Psalms as their way of praying.
One such hermit, a man named Pachomius, kept recalling how Jesus had said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” That had him urging the nearby hermits to come together for a community life in which they would need to practice mutual tolerance.
Now, up to that time the Church had made no provision for Christians to go to confession. The Sacrament was there, but people were not using it until Anthony and Pachomius began urging their followers to use frequent confessions as a means of rooting out sinful ways.
In their time their bishop was Athanasius of Alexandria, and on his frequent visits to the new monasteries and convents in his diocese he became so impressed by their way of life, that he wrote an account of it; and bringing his book to Europe, it became the blueprint for all the monasteries and convents that were to become a vital part of Catholicism for the next seventeen hundred years.