Before the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, back in the days when Christianity was still a persecuted religion, the act of becoming a Christian involved turning one's back on the pursuit of security, of fashionable prestige and popularity, of success as the term is widely understood. After the Emperor had changed Christianity from a persecuted religion into a fashionable one, many earnest Christians felt the need to make such a renunciation in the service of Christ, and did not see mere Church membership as any longer enough to constitute such a renunciation. Accordingly, many of them sought Christian commitment by fleeing from society into the desert, and becoming hermits, devoting themselves to solitude, fasting, and prayer. Although this trend was much accelerated and reinforced by the conversion of Constantine and attendant changes, it had already begun earlier. An outstanding early example is Antony of Egypt, often reckoned as the founder of Christian monasticism.
Antony of Egypt, the son of Christian parents, inherited a large estate. On his way to church one day, he found himself meditating on the text, "Sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and come follow me." When he got to church, he heard the preacher speaking on that very text. He took this as a message for him, and, having provided for the care of his sister, he gave his land to the tenants who lived on it, and gave his other wealth to the poor, and became a hermit, living alone for twenty years, praying and reading, and doing manual labor. In 305, he gave up his solitude to become the head of a group of monks, living in a cluster of huts or cells, devoting themselves to communal singing and worship, to prayer and study and manual labor under Antony's direction. They did not simply renounce the world, but were diligent in prayer for their fellow Christians, worked with their hands to earn money that they might distribute it as alms, and preached and gave personal counseling to those who sought them out.
In 321, Christians in Alexandria were being persecuted by the Emperor Maximinus (the rule of Constantine was not yet universal), and Antony visited Alexandria to encourage those facing the possibility of martyrdom. He visited again in 335, when Arianism was strong in the city, and converted many, by his preaching and testimony, and by prayer and the working of miracles. His biography was written by Athanasius, who said of him: "Who ever met him grieving and failed to go away rejoicing?"
Propers for Anthony - 17 January - Abbot in Egypt
O God, who by thy Holy Spirit didst enable thy servant Antony to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Give us grace, with pure hearts and minds, to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Epistle - Philippians 3:7-14.
HOWBEIT what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffer the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The Gospel - St. Luke 12:32-34.
FEAR not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
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