Saint Antony of the desert is considered to be the father of the monastic family.
He was born about 251 A.D. in Kemn-el-Arouse in Egypt. At the age of 18 his parents died. Antony sold the family's lands and possessions and gave the money to the poor.
At first, he studied with a holy man on the outskirts of town. When the holy man died, Antony went into the desert and lived in an ancient tomb carved into the side of a mountain. Many years later, he moved to another mountain near the east bank of the Nile, living in complete solitude within an abandoned fort, confronting temptations and demons. Word of his holiness spread and many sought him as their spiritual leader.
Dawn's faint light etched deep shadows on a barren mountain. Nocturnal creatures scurried to their dens as birds ruffled their feathers, restlessly awaiting the full light of sunrise. A young man, exhausted by countless days wandering the desert until he found the mountain, slowly took the final steps to the place he long sought and the man many spoke of but few people saw.
Now that he finally arrived, the young man was unsure. He was tired. His feet were bleeding. Worse, he was stricken with doubt and fear.
He stood in the shadow of a crumbling old fort, its walls outlined in the faint light of daybreak. The place looked haunted by ghosts and devils. He had heard stories. It was said the old man within often battled with hell's creatures.
A huge boar with fiery eyes and sword-sharp tusks, a lion with a snake for a tail and stinking of rancid meat and a winged demon with long talons took turns tormenting the holy man, grasping him by the beard and lifting him into the air. When he was hungry, they presented a feast of costly foods. When cold, the demons presented blankets of soft fur. When he felt lonely, they offered him the warm embrace of a woman's soft arms and legs.
Each time the holy man refused, resuming his prayers and hours of meditation as the demons howled in frustration.
It was also said the holy man spent the past twenty years in self-imposed solitude. He never left the fort and never invited anyone in. Nevertheless, men and women gathered on the mountain, living in caves and flimsy huts. They sought his advice and guidance even if spoken through a barred wooden door.
The young man was the latest to cross the desert and climb the mountain. At that moment in the pre-dawn light, with the ground still cold and damp beneath his sore bleeding feet, the young man could no longer remember why he had traveled so far. He wanted to turn around and return home but he was hungry and tired so he knelt at the door and wept.
Through wet, red eyes, the young man saw the pale golden light of the sun slowly climb the walls of the fort. He slept a little or imagined he did. He dreamt a little or it just seemed like a dream when the door opened and an old face peered at him.
A subtle breeze stirred long white hair and beard the way the wind causes clouds to drift. The face looking through the door was lined and dirty like sandy driftwood but the eyes were young and gentle, the smile as sweet as a mother's compassion. Yet there was also a serious wildness to the face, a primal strength radiating in the air with pulsating waves like the shimmering heat of the desert.
"What troubles you, young soul?" The voice. A wind blowing through a canyon. A dove calling. The sharp rolling crash of a rock falling down the mountainside.
The young man wiped tears and dust from his face.
"I've come to see the holy man Antony but I am afraid."
"I don't know." The words suddenly rushed out of him, a torrent carried along with his tears. "I've traveled far but I didn't mind. My feet compelled me to keep going. I couldn't stay where I was, couldn't live not knowing. I want to know God. I want to know the truth. I prayed and prayed. Then I walked and walked. Always searching but never finding. Now I think my quest is impossible."
The old man stepped through the open door and helped the young man to stand.
"Fear not," Antony said. "The goodness you seek is not an impossible thing. Nor is it set at a great distance from you. It hangs upon your own determination."
Antony reluctantly left the fort. He knew it was time.
It is written, "The Lord gave Antony grace in speech so that he comforted many in sorrow. Others who were at strife, he made friends and through him the Lord healed many who were suffering and freed others from evil spirits."