St Antony of Egypt, also known as Antony the Great and Abbot Antony, lived between 251 and 356. He was not the first Christian monk, but he is considered to be the Father of all Christian Monasticism and his writings are regarded as the first monastic rule. Most of what we know about him today is from the 4th century manuscripts of St Athanasius the Great.
Antony was born into a wealthy Christian family and inherited the family fortune at the death of his parents when he was just 20 years old. He heard the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler speaking directly to him: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21). After providing for his younger sister, he sold everything, gave the proceeds to the poor, and set out for the desert, where he lived in total solitude for the next 20 years. There he fervently prayed, fasted, rarely slept, and faced many fierce attacks and temptations from the devil, fighting physical, as well as spiritual, battles with evil spirits. Eventually word of Saint Antony’s holiness spread and drew crowds of pilgrims to seek him out and without trying to organize a community, he soon had a following of monks. Under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Maximinus in 311, Antony offered himself as a martyr, but he was so respected that he was refused! Although considered basically unlearned, Antony was invited to participate in the Council of Nicaea and he was influential in stopping the Arian Heresy.
Despite his extreme bodily asceticism and his intense desire to die for his faith as a martyr, Antony was strong of body and of soul and lived to be 105 years old!