The Departure Of The Great Saint Ava Antonious
The Lamp of Monasticism and Father of the Monks
The Twenty-Second Day of the Blessed Month of Tubah
In the year 355 AD, departed the star of the desert, the father of all monks, the great saint Ava Antonios.
This righteous man was born in the year 250 AD in the city of Keman from Christian parents who raised him in the fear of God. When he was 29 years old, his parents departed, so he had to take care of his sister.
One day he went to the church according to his custom, and he heard the saying of our Lord, "If thou will be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shall have a treasure in Heaven, and come and follow Me." (Matt. 19:21) He went home and he considered that this saying was directed to him personally, so he decided to fulfill it. He sold all the good land his father had possessed and he gave the money to the poor and needy. Also, he entrusted his sister to a community of virgins.
The monastic life had not appeared in those days, and if any man desired solitary life, he would go a little way outside the city and dwell by himself, and that is what St. Antonios did. He devoted himself to solitary life and asceticism.
The devil fought with boredom, laziness and imagination of women, but he overcame all these things by the help of the Lord Christ. After that he went to a tomb and he dwelt therein and closed his door on himself and his friends used to visit him and bring him food. When the devils saw his asceticism and his intense worshipping, they were jealous of him and they attacked him and beat him severely and left him unconscious.
When his friends came to visit him, they found him lying on the ground like a dead man. They carried him to the church. When he woke up, he insisted to be taken back to the tomb. The devils came back to attack him in different forms, like the form of the wild beasts, lions, wolves, serpents, and scorpions; and each one of them would rear itself up against him to terrify him. But St. Antonios would laugh at them saying, "If you have dominion over me, one of you would be enough to fight me." Straight away, they would disappear before him like smoke. God gave him victory over the devils, and he used the sing the 68th psalm saying, "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let them also that hate Him, flee before Him."
Twice a year he made enough bread for his food. He allowed no one to come into his cell, but the people stood outside to listen to his words. He continued to devote himself to the ascetic life and the spiritual struggle for a period of twenty years. God commanded him to go to Fayyum to visit and confirm the monks there and then he returned back to his monastery.
During the days of persecution, he wished to become a martyr. He left his monastery and departed to the city of Alexandria. He visited the believers who were in prison for the Name of Christ, and he comforted them. When the governor saw that St. Antonios was not afraid of him, he commanded the saint to stay away from the city. However, those threats did not prevent St. Antonios from facing the governor and speaking to him so that he might torture him and become a martyr. But God preserved him for the benefit of many.
According to the will of God, he returned to his monastery and many people came to listen to his teachings. That kept him away from his worshipping. He started a journey into the Eastern Desert, with some Arabs, for three days, until they came to a high mountain where there was a spring of water and palm tress. He chose this location to dwell in. This is the present location of St. Antonios Monastery near the Red Sea. The Arabs nearby used to bring him food. At this location, there were many wild beasts, but God drove them away for his sake.
He used to go to the outer monastery from time to time and visit the brethren there and comfort them. Then he would return to the inner monastery in the desert.
Constantine, the righteous emperor, heard the report of St. Antonios so he wrote him a letter praising him and asking him to remember him in his prayers. The brethren rejoiced at the emperor’s letter, but St. Antonios told them, "The letter of the King of Kings is read to us every day, but we neither submit to its commands nor hearken to hear it." They answered him saying that the emperor is a lover of the church and it is meet for him to comfort the emperor. He wrote him a letter to bless him and praying for the peace of his kingdom and the church.
One day he was taken by boredom. He heard a voice telling him to get out and look. He went out and he saw an angel who wore the garb of the monastic life and had a cover on his head (kalansowa), weaving palm leaves then rising to pray, then after some time sitting down again to work. The voice told him, "Antonios, do this and you will have comfort." St. Antonios used the same uniform since then, and as the angel told him, he was never bored again.
When St. Macarius visited him, he confirmed him and dressed him with the monastic garb and told him what would happen to him.
When the days of St. Paul the first anchorite was near, St. Antonios visited him and it was he who buried him in the garment given to him by St. Athanasius the Apostolic and twentieth Pope.
When he felt that his departure was near, he ordered his disciples to hide his body, to give his staff to St. Macarius, his sheepskin overcoat to St. Athanasius, and his slippers to St. Serapion his disciple. Then he laid down on the floor and delivered his soul into the hand of God, and all the angels took his soul up to the everlasting rest in Heaven.
He lived for one hundred and five years, striving for holiness and purity.
May his prayers be with us, and glory be to God forever, Amen.