A version of this was delivered at St. Stephens Anglican Church on January 17th, the feast day of St. Anthony of Egypt.
Eleven saints are known by the name of Anthony, most of whom are either named after or took their names from St. Anthony of Egypt, an early promoter of the monastic life modeled after Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. Born to wealthy parents, Anthony never received a formal education or even learned how to read, instead learning all he knew of Scripture from faithfully attending worship and listening carefully to what he heard there. His parents died when he was eighteen years old, leaving him to care for his younger sister and his parents’ estate. Dutifully, he continued to worship at the Lord’s House with his sister, and after sixth months of this he heard a reading from the Gospel: “If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor; and come and follow Me and you shall have treasure in heaven.” Convicted by these words, Anthony set aside enough money for the care of his sister, and sold the rest of his parents’ estate and gave it away to the poor. This incredible act of faith would pale in comparison to the rest of his testimony, recorded in The Life of St. Anthony by his contemporary, St. Athanasius, one of the bishops involved in the formulation of the Nicene creed which we recite still every Sunday.
Athanasius knew St. Anthony personally, and wrote “that all regard him with wonder…for not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Anthony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God.” For his devotion to the Gospel, Anthony struggled against demons, who first tempted him with sin, and then gathered around him in the darkness tormenting him with dark visions, lies, blasphemies, evil illusions, and even physical attacks. But Anthony persevered in his prayers, rebuking the demons with the bold words, “Faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us.” Athanasius reports then that as Anthony looked up, “he saw the roof as it were opened, and a ray of light descending to him.” The demons vanished.
Anthony continued to battle demons and pray for miracles by the grace of God, giving wise counsel according to Scriptures to many who sought him out. Anthony showed respect to all deacons, priests, and bishops he met, himself never seeking ordination and humbly seeking their spiritual guidance. He battled the Meletian heresy which diminished the purifying power of repentance, the Arian heresy which diminished the divinity of Christ, and the Manichean heresy which diminished the goodness of God’s creation. He astonished the Greek philosophers with how eloquently he defended the Gospel against their educated arguments, and corresponded with Emperor Constantine and other powerful members of government without fear of offering rebuke when it was needed.
Easy it must have been for St. Anthony to live free from fear of men, for he knew and had faced the full wrath of Satan and his demons, and knew those fallen angels tremble in fear of the Lord. Athanasius records one of his sermons, where he said, “Let us not have a thought of cowardice in our hearts, nor frame fears for ourselves, saying, I am afraid lest a demon should lift me up and cast me down… but rather let us be courageous and rejoice always… if they see us rejoicing in the Lord… deeming all things in his hand… we shall see the snares of the demons are like smoke, and the evil ones themselves flee.”
By Anthony G. Cirilla