Today’s the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt, the 3th century hermit who, through his biography written by St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, became one of the most important sources of spirituality in the Christian churches of the east and west.
He played a role in the conversion of St. Augustine, who was deeply moved by reading his life. He’s called the father of monasticism because of his influence on the monastic movement in the church after his death.
If you look at his life, you see a simple, ordinary man who took the gospel seriously. Artists love to dramatize Anthony fighting temptations, which he did. But his temptations, when you look at them, are remarkably like our own–if we look at them.
They were constant and varied, sometimes to pride, to crippling anxiety, to lust, to pleasure. They were complex, shifting and troublesome.
For him temptation meant, not only confronting some sudden evil choice, but struggling through life with recurring doubts and deeply held illusions that weigh down the human heart. Temptation for Anthony was a part of human experience, and he showed it was also part of the experience of a saint.
He found, too, that temptation, far from being a time when God abandons someone, is a time when God is near. Beyond increasing self-knowledge, which it does, the experience of temptation reveals to the human heart the power of God’s grace. As he got older, he got increasingly optimistic. His constant message to others was:”Don’t be afraid.”
That’s one of the reasons people were attracted to this ordinary man: he was real, and he shared that experience with others. Speaking to him, they saw themselves as they were and as they could be.
St. Athanasius writes: “Seeing him, the villagers and those who knew him called him a friend of God, and they loved him as a son and as a brother.”