This is not the feast of St. Anthony of Padau, a twelfth century Franciscan who helps you find your keys and glasses. No, today we honor St. Anthony the monk, who lived from the middle of the third century to the middle of the fourth century.
A wealthy young Alexandrian, Anthony distributed his wealth to the poor, but desirous of growing very close to the Lord, he took to living alone with God in an abandoned Roman fort on the Red Sea.
Subsisting there on scraps of food that admiring Bedouins flung over the wall to him, Anthony made it a daily practice to pray the Psalms aloud.
In 315 when Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, he constituted each bishop as a Roman official, and he favored Christians for government advancement. For the heroic children of early martyrs the Gold rush was over, and the bums rush was on.
With Christian gatherings being crowded out by job seekers, a number of men and women, following the example of Anthony, took to the Egyptian desert to be alone with God. Hearing Anthony praying the Psalms, these new hermits began doing the same; and hermitages sprung up all over the desert.
One of those newer hermits, Pachomius, began meeting with the other hermits, reminding them that Jesus had said, “In this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one an other.” The others, seeing the need to be together for practicing mutual love, began moving in together, asking Pachomius to right a rule for them to follow.
Pachomius had a sister Mary who then became the nucleus of the world’s first convent.
At times, when an anti-Christian Arian descendent of Constantine took over the eastern half of the Roman Empire he would send Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria into exile in the desert. Athanasius, deeply fascinated with those first monasteries and convents, wrote a detailed book on their way of life, calling it simply “The Life of St. Anthony.”
That volume was the inspiration for St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Benedict, and his twin sister Scholastica, and for millions since their time: men and women who seclude themselves from the world, chanting the Book of Psalms.
When Anthony was dying after a hundred years, he still possessed the fresh skin of a boy.