#2 Antony of Egypt: 50 Figures in Church History that You Need to Know

By Ricky Njoto

Having known Justin Martyr from the second century in the first article, we now turn our gaze to a third century figure. Antony of Egypt, also known as Anthony of Egypt, Anthony the Great, or Antony of the Desert, lived from 251 to 356 AD. He is called the Father of Monasticism (monasticism: a religious lifestyle where someone completely renounces worldliness and dedicates oneself to a spiritual, often secluded, life as a monk). These are 10 important facts about Antony:

  1. Antony was born in Coma, a village in Egypt, to wealthy parents who owned lands. When his parents died when he was 20 years old, Antony received everything as an inheritance.
  2. About this same time, he learnt about Jesus’s command to the young rich man in Matthew 19:21, “If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower.” Antony saw himself as the young rich man, so he decided to give some of his lands to his neighbours, sold the rest, and gave everything to the poor.
  3. Antony began living a secluded life near his village. He only ate bread, salt, and water. And even then, he only ate once a day and fasted through 2 to 4 days. He remained there for 13 years.
The popular site of ‘Antony’s Cave’ in Egypt
  1. After that, he moved to living in the tombs. Here, he was assaulted both spiritually and physically by demons and wild beasts. His only defence mechanism, of course, was prayer. Then he moved again to an abandoned Roman fort in a desert mountain. This time, he stayed there for 20 years in solitude.
  2. During this time, many pilgrims visited him and wanted to learn from him. Antony refused to see them at first, but as time went by, many settled nearby and formed a monastic community. In the year 305, Antony finally came out and agreed to see these pilgrims. When people saw him, they were surprised that he looked healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually.
  3. Almost everything we know about Antony comes from Athanasius of Alexandria, a bishop who knew Antony personally. We will learn about Athanasius in 2 articles time.
  4. Antony only came out of his seclusion twice. 
    • First was when the Emperor Diocletian was persecuting and capturing Christians. Antony came out and served the Christians in the prisons. The Emperor and his soldiers had heard about Antony and respected him so much that they didn’t capture him. Once, Antony surrendered himself for being a Christian to Emperor Maximian, but Maximian refused him. 
    • Second was when the Arian controversy broke out. Arius was an Egyptian who insisted that Christ was a created god, thus not equal to the Father. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria called Antony to preach in the capital city.
Del Mar Antonios
  1. Antony spent the rest of his life in the desert. That spot is now a monastery called Del Mar Antonios. 
  2. In 356, when Antony was about 105 years old, he felt his death was approaching. He called his disciples to wait for his death and commanded them to bury him in an unmarked tomb so that people wouldn’t make his grave a place of worship.
  3. The Emperor Constantine sent Antony a letter once. His disciples were amazed by this huge honour. Antony wasn’t awed. He replied by encouraging Constantine not to esteem this world but the next.

Wherever you find yourself, do not go forth from that place too quickly. Try to be patient and learn to stay in one place.

Antony of Egypt

Ricky Njoto is a pastor of Church on the Corner, an English congregation of Camberwell Methodist Church, Melbourne.