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The monastery of Saint Anthony

Saint Anthony is often called "the Father of the Monks". He is credited with the founding of Christian monasticism, and many of his ideas are still used to this day by modern monks and nuns. Most of what we know about Anthony comes from the writings of Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, a disciple and close friend of Anthony's. Anthony was born about AD 251 and was the son of a well-to-do family from middle Egypt. When he was eighteen his parents died, leaving him sole guardian of his younger sister Dious. Six months later, while attending a church, he heard the scripture passage of Jesus and the rich young man, in which Jesus says, "If you would be perfect, go, sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me (Matt. 19:21)." He took this as a personal invitation from God and sold most of his inherited property, gave much of the money to the poor and the rest to his sister and placed his sister in the care of a community of holy women. He sought guidance from a holy man near Coma in the ways of the Christian ascetic: prayer, fasting, and holiness. After a time of study, Saint Anthony left on his own and began living in the manner of a mountain hermit, living in a cave and praying for the salvation of the world. At the age of thirty-five, he moved to Pispir and remained there in solitude for twenty years. During that time, many came to live near him and copy his holy life. He became their spiritual leader, teaching them by word and by example the life of the ascetic. Anthony also taught them to perform manual labor between prayer times as an additional contribution to society.

When the persecutions began again against the Christians in Egypt at the hands of Maximinus Daia in the early 300s, he went to Alexandria and ministered to those in prison. After the persecutions ended, he returned to his life of solitude. He returned to Alexandria once more to support Pope Athanasius against the Arian Heresy in 352, and many came to see the aged holy man as he walked through the city, but he returned to his desert soon after, society no longer having any hold on him. Contrary to popular belief, Anthony founded no formal monastery and his Rule was simply work and prayer. Anthony also designed the first monastic uniform, an all-purpose robe of white linen fastened about the waist with a sturdy leather belt. This has become the basic pattern for monastic garb all over the world and in all times since. Many came to Saint Anthony for advice, spiritual help, and healing. Saint Anthony died in 356 at the age of one hundred and five and was buried secretly by Macarius and Amatas, two of his most loyal monks.

St. Anthony's Monastery (Deir Mar Antonios), and its neighbor St. Paul's, are the oldest monasteries founded in the Egyptian desert . Hidden deep in the Red Sea Mountains and relying on springs for their water supply, both still observe rituals that have hardly changed in 16 centuries.

St. Anthony's was founded in 356 AD, just after the saints death. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, the monastery flourished but was plundered in 1454 by Bedouin servants. Today it is a self-contained village with gardens, a mill, a bakery and five churches with exceptional wall paintings of holy knights in3 bright colors and the hermit founders of the monastery in subdued colors and icons. There is also a library with over 1,700 handwritten manuscripts, but the Bedouin servants who plundered the monastery used many manuscripts for cooking fuel. At one time, there must have been a much more extensive library. St. Anthony's Cave (magharah), where he lived as a hermit, is a 2 km hike from the monastery and 680 m. above the Red Sea. It offers stunning views of the mountains and the sea, and the chance to see a wide range of bird life.

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