St. Anthony, Demon Fighter
(January 17 - St. Anthony, Abbot)
The following is based on the life of St. Anthony the Abbot. I wrote it for Catholic-Link with my friend Britney Platt. I wrote the content and then she brought it to life as an actual story - thanks for the editing assist, Brit!
There was once a young man named Anthony who lived with his sister in a village called Coma in Egypt. The hills around the village were dry and brown against the pale blue sky. However, inside the village was lush and green. Palm trees dotted the horizon and water flowed through the canal. Anthony’s parents had left them with wealth, land, and anything they could ever want.
One day at Church, Anthony heard this reading: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven (Mt. 19:21).”
The Word of God spoke to his soul, and he listened. He gave away everything he owned and his sister went to live with a group of Christian women.
Anthony moved to the desert and became the disciple of a hermit. Life was hard, but Anthony knew he was where he was meant to be. He stayed with the hermit, as a student, for a few years before striking out on his own.
As a hermit, Anthony lived in a cave by himself. He cared for pigs and then sold them at the market to make a living. He only ate one meal of bread, salt, and water each day. His way of life was difficult, but it made it easier to focus and rely on God.
Now, the Enemy of man, the Devil, hated Anthony. He hated how devoted the man was to God. The Devil believed that if he could cause Anthony to be sad and make bad choices, then he could get him to abandon his devotion to God, but unbeknownst to Anthony, God was preparing him for battle.
As usual, the Devil prefers to be unseen and sneaky. One day, while tending his pigs, the Devil caused Anthony to become dreadfully bored. This almost led Anthony to ignore his prayers and his pigs. If the pigs wandered off, they would be eaten by wild beasts. Realizing the Devil’s trick, Anthony called to God for strength and his boredom left him and he had the energy to get everything done.
The next day, Anthony, was sitting and praying at the mouth of his cave when he saw a twirl of fabric flash from around the corner. When Anthony went to investigate, a beautiful woman was standing before him and she began to sing. The sound was pleasing to his ears and started to draw him away from his prayers. Then Anthony remembered the boredom and laziness that struck him the day before. Perhaps this too was a trick of the Devil? Anthony closed his eyes and began to pray to God to clear his mind. When he opened his eyes again, the woman had vanished, and everything was quiet.
In order to focus more on God, Anthony was led to a tomb. Anthony lived in the tomb and relied on the local villagers to bring him food. Being at the mercy of the villagers, Anthony continued to grow in humility and perseverance. The Devil’s hatred for Anthony also continued to grow, especially because of the witness that Anthony the Hermit (as he was now called) was giving to the villagers.
Still longing for a closer relationship with God, Anthony moved further into the desert to an old Roman fort. While there, the Devil continued to attack Anthony. This time, he sent the image of wolves, snakes, lions, and scorpions to scare him, but Anthony would mock the illusions, pray to God, and the visions would disappear like smoke.
During this time, people from the village would bring him food, passing it through a small place in the stone wall of the fort. They would also seek him out to ask him for advice, but for twenty years, no one ever entered the fort and Anthony never left. The villagers were sure that Anthony would be old, frail, wasting away, and possibly have gone insane from the loneliness but much to everyone’s surprise, Anthony stepped out of the fort a healthy, peaceful, strong, and happy man.
Though he had no family, community, or money, Anthony became Great and was known far and wide as the first of the Desert Fathers. St. Anthony the Great teaches us the importance of preparing for battle and recognizing temptation for what it is: a trick of the Devil. By practicing our prayers, our spiritual muscles will be ready to do battle. Perhaps we will not fight the demons like St. Anthony, but when temptation comes, we can ask him to fight with us too.
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