What is it about Antony of Egypt (251–356)that has inspired so many Christians to pursue holiness and catapulted many into the monastic life? although this desert hermit wasn't the inventor of monasticism, Antony is acclaimed as its father, and his influence spans Eastern and Western Christendom. The great Western theologian Augustine of Hippo converted to Christianity shortly after learning about Antony and his followers from a friend who had read The Life of Antony by fourth-century bishop Athanasius. Augustine said, "These men have none of our education, yet they stand up and storm the gates of heaven while we, for all our learning, lie here groveling in this world of flesh and blood."

The following excerpts from Athanasius'Life of Antony describe how Antony, after having spent 20 years living alone in desert cave, unwittingly gained his first followers and what he taught them about the Christian life.

The fruits of Antony's solitude

And so for nearly twenty years he continued training himself in solitude, never going forth, and but seldom seen by any. After this, when many were eager and wishful to imitate his discipline, and his acquaintances came and began to cast down and wrench off the door by force, Antony, as from a shrine, came forth initiated in the mysteries and filled with the Spirit of God.

Then for the first time he was seen outside the fort by those who came to see him. And they, when they saw him, wondered at the sight, for he had the same habit of body as before, and was neither fat, like a man without exercise, nor lean from fasting and striving with the demons, but he was just the same as they had known him before his retirement. And again his soul was free from blemish, for it was neither contracted ...

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