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AthanasiusThe Life of Antony
By MacKenzie HarperCollins Spiritual Classics
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 MacKenzie HarperCollins Spiritual Classics
All right reserved.
The Life of Saint Antony
Antony was an Egyptian by race. His parents were well born and prosperous, and since they were Christians, he also was reared in a Christian manner. When he was a child he lived with his parents, cognizant of little else besides them and his home. As he grew and became a boy, and was advancing in years, he could not bear to learn letters, wishing also to stand apart from friendship with other children. All his yearning, as it has been written of Jacob, was for living, an unaffected person, in his home. Of course he accompanied his parents to the Lord's house, and as a child he was not frivolous, nor as a youth did he grow contemptuous; rather, he was obedient to his mother and father, and paying attention to the readings, he carefully took to heart what was profitable in them. And although he lived as a child in relative affluence, he did not pester his parents for food of various and luxurious kinds, nor did he seek the pleasures associated with food, but with merely the things he found before him he was satisfied, and he looked for nothing more.
He was left alone, after his parents' death, with one quite young sister. He was abouteighteen or even twenty years old, and he was responsible both for the home and his sister. Six months had not passed since the death of his parents when, going to the Lord's house as usual and gathering his thoughts, he considered while he walked how the apostles, forsaking everything, followed the Savior, and how in Acts some sold what they possessed and took the proceeds and placed them at the feet of the apostles for distribution among those in need, and what great hope is stored up for such people in heaven. He went into the church pondering these things, and just then it happened that the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man, If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. It was as if by God's design he held the saints in his recollection, and as if the passage were read on his account. Immediately Antony went out from the Lord's house and gave to the townspeople the possessions he had from his forebears (three hundred fertile and very beautiful arourae), so that they would not disturb him or his sister in the least. And selling all the rest that was portable, when he collected sufficient money, he donated it to the poor, keeping a few things for his sister.
But when, entering the Lord's house once more, he heard in the Gospel the Lord saying, Do not be anxious about tomorrow, he could not remain any longer, but going out he gave those remaining possessions also to the needy. Placing his sister in the charge of respected and trusted virgins, and giving her over to the convent for rearing, he devoted himself from then on to the discipline rather than the household, giving heed to himself and patiently training himself. There were not yet many monasteries in Egypt, and no monk knew at all the great desert, but each of those wishing to give attention to his life disciplined himself in isolation, not far from his own village. Now at that time in the neighboring village there was an old man who had practiced from his youth the solitary life. When Antony saw him, he emulated him in goodness. At first he also began by remaining in places proximate to his village. And going forth from there, if he heard of some zealous person anywhere, he searched him out like the wise bee. He did not go back to his own place unless he had seen him, and as though receiving from him certain supplies for traveling the road to virtue, he returned. Spending the beginning stages of his discipline in that place, then, he weighed in his thoughts how he would not look back on things of his parents, nor call his relatives to memory. All the desire and all the energy he possessed concerned the exertion of the discipline. He worked with his hands, though, having heard that he who is idle, let him not eat. And he spent what he made partly for bread, and partly on those in need. He prayed constantly, since he learned that it is necessary to pray unceasingly in private. For he paid such close attention to what was read that nothing from Scripture did he fail to take in--rather, he grasped everything, and in him the memory took the place of books.
Leading his life in this way, Antony was loved by all. He was sincerely obedient to those men of zeal he visited, and he considered carefully the advantage in zeal and in ascetic living that each held in relation to him. He observed the graciousness of one, the eagerness for prayers in another; he took careful note of one's freedom from anger, and the human concern of another. And he paid attention to one while he lived a watchful life, or one who pursued studies, as also he admired one for patience, and another for fastings and sleeping on the ground. The gentleness of one and the long-suffering of yet another he watched closely. He marked, likewise, the piety toward Christ and the mutual love of them all. And having been filled in this manner, he returned to his own place of discipline, from that time gathering the attributes of each in himself, and striving to manifest in himself what was best from all. Even toward those of his own age he was not contentious, with the sole exception of his desire that he appear to be second to none of them in moral improvements. And this he did so as to . . .
Excerpted from Athanasius by MacKenzie HarperCollins Spiritual Classics Copyright © 2006 by MacKenzie HarperCollins Spiritual Classics. Excerpted by permission.
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