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St. Antṓnios -- Anthony the Great, Anthony of Egypt, Anthony of Thebes, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of the Des biography, written by Athanasius of Alert, Anthony the Anchorite, "the Father of All Monks" -- whose biography, written in Greek ca. 360, shortly after Anthony's death by Athanásios Alexandrías the Great (St. Athanasius the Confessor, Athanasius the Apostolic) -- the bishop of Alexandria, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism -- helped spread the concept of Christian monasticism, and his letters (to emperor Constantine I and others) are the earliest Coptic writings. The scion of a wealthy family in Lower Egypt, Anthony gave part of his family's holdings to his neighbors, sold the rest and donated the proceeds to the poor, and left his unmarried sister in the care of a group of virgins in order to begin an ascetic life as the disciple of a local hermit. Jewish ascetics (the Therapeutae) as well as loosely organized cenobitic communities were already common in the harsh environment of Lake Mareotis and in other less accessible regions, and Christian hermits such as Thecla had lived in isolated locations on the outskirts of cities. But Anthony entirely abandoned civilization for the alkaline Nitrian Desert about 95 km (59 mi) west of Alexandria, living there 13 years before he closed himself in a tomb in order to pray in even more silence. Then he went further into the dessert to Pispir (modern Der-el-Memun) and lived in an abandoned Roman fort for a score of years, communicating with the outside world via a crevice through which he received food and offered advice. Beginning in 303, emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issued a series of edicts rescinding Christians' legal rights, demanding that they comply with traditional Roman religious practices, targeting the clergy, and ordering all subjects to sacrifice to the Roman gods. In 311, seeking martyrdom, Anthony went to Alexandria, visited imprisoned Christians, and engaged in public disputes with the city's governor. But when emperors Constantine and Licinius's 313 Edict of Milan ended the persecution, Anthony retreated even further into the Eastern Desert, though in 338 he returned briefly to Alexandria to refute the Arian heresy (that Jesus was the Son of God and thus distinct from and subordinate to the Father that created him).
But long before then Anthony had attracted disciples, whom he organized into a worshipful community which in turn inspired similar withdrawn communities throughout the Greco-Roman world, especially after his biography was translated into Latin by Evagrius of Antioch before 374. Various monastic communities of the Maronite, Chaldean, and Orthodox churches still follow his monastic rule. He was said to have faced a series of supernatural temptations during his pilgrimage, which became a prominent subject for art and literature. In one of the many legends that grew around him, Anthony was told in a dream to find the first Christian hermit, St. Paul of Thebes (Paul the Anchorite), who had fled as a young man to a cave in the Theban desert during the persecution of Decius and Valerianus around 250. He wore palm leaf clothing and subsisted on palm fruit until he was 43, when a raven started daily bringing him half a loaf of bread every day. En route to finding Paul, Anthony encountered two demons, one of which said, "I am a corpse, one of those whom the heathen call satyrs, and by whom they are snared into idolatry." However, the centaur acknowledged the overthrow of the traditional gods and gave Anthony directions, and the satyr eventually asked for a blessing. When Anthony found Paul, still living in the cave at 113 years old, they conversed for a day and a night. Anthony visited him again, only to find that he had died, so he clothed Paul in a tunic, which was a present from Athanasius, and buried him with the digging assistance of two lions. On another occasion, demons beat Anthony to death, but he revived and returned to the cave where he had been killed. When the demons came back as wild beasts to rip him to shreds, a bright light drove them away. Anthony asked why God had not protected him the first time and was told, "I was here but I would see and abide to see thy battle, and because thou hast mainly fought and well maintained thy battle, I shall make thy name to be spread through all the world." When he was 105 he felt death approach and commanded that he be buried in a secret, unmarked grave and that his staff be given to his chief assistant, St, Macarius, one of his sheepskin cloaks be given to another disciple, St. Serapion, and his remaining possession, his other sheepskin cloak, be given to Athanasius. His remains were discovered in 361 and in the 11th century were transferred to France, where they miraculously healed the son of Gaston of Valloire. In 1095 the pair founded the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony, who specialized in nursing the victims of "St. Anthony's fire" (skin diseases like ergotism, erysipelas, and shingles). The Antonines wore black habits with the Greek letter Tau ("St. Anthony's cross") in blue.
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