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St. Anthony of the Desert, a father of monasticism and co-patron of animals

St. Anthony of the Desert was born in Egypt on Jan. 12, 251, into a family of wealthy farmers in the Heracleopolis Magna, which was a part of Egypt that was assimilated into the Roman Empire.

When he was about 18 or 19 years old, Anthony was at Mass when he heard the Gospel of St. Matthew being read and was captivated by the words of Jesus: “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mt 19:21).

The desert: dying to the world and living in Jesus Christ

When Anthony was 20 years old his parents died, and he decided to put into practice the command of Jesus that had marked his soul. He distributed his inheritance among the poor and went into the desert where he lived as a hermit, in complete solitude, dedicated to penance and a life of prayer.

For years he lived in a hermitage that he himself built, which was described as being in a pit located next to a cemetery. This “closeness to death” — as he liked to think of it — awakened in his heart many reflections on the life of Jesus. He often contemplated the truth about Jesus, the conqueror of death. Some of these reflections were put down in writing and providentially have survived the passage of time.

Father of monasticism and defender of the faith

Anthony, who goes by many titles — Anthony of Egypt, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony the Anchorite, Anthony the Hermit, Anthony of Thebes, and Anthony the Great — founded communities of men with similar callings to his own, seekers of God in renunciation of the world. Many of these monks lived the same ascetic style in the desert.

For this reason, St. Anthony of the Desert is considered one of the precursors of monasticism, if not the initiator per se. The form of monastic life that he put into practice spread widely during the first millennium of Christianity, leaving an indelible mark on the history of the Church. According to St. Jerome of Stridon (342–420), Anthony also knew St. Paul the Hermit, an Egyptian anchorite who lived in the desert of Thebes.

Today, after centuries, desert monasticism still exists in various parts of the world.

St. Anthony, together with St. Athanasius, was also known for his defense of the Christian faith and the doctrine against Arianism, the heresy that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ and compromises the nature of the Holy Trinity.

Read more at Catholic Exchange 

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