Reprinted from The Prologue from Ochrid by Bishop (St.) Nikolai Velimirovic
Antony was an Egyptian, born about 250 in a village called Quemen-el-Arons near Heracleopolis. After the death of his rich and noble parents, he shared his inherited possessions with his sister, who was still in her minority, made sure that she was cared for, gave away his half of the inheritance to the poor and, at the age of twenty, consecrated himself to the life of asceticism that he had desired from childhood. At first he lived near his own village but then, in order to escape the disturbance of men, went off into the desert, on the shores of the Red Sea, where he spent twenty years as a hermit in company with no one but God, in unceasing prayer, pondering and contemplation, patiently undergoing inexpressible demonic temptations.
His fame spread through the whole world and around him gathered many disciples whom he, by word and example, placed on the path of salvation. In eighty-five years of ascetic life, he went only twice to Alexandria: the first time to seek martyrdom during a time of persecution of the Church, and the second at the invitation of St. Athanasius, to refute the Arians’ slanderous allegations that he too was a follower of the Arian heresy. He departed this life at the age of 105, leaving behind a whole army of disciples and followers.
And, although Antony was unlettered he was, as a counselor and teacher, one of the most learned men of his age, as also was St. Athanasius the Great. When some Hellenic philosophers tried to test him with literary learning, Antony shamed them with the questions: “Which is older, the understanding or the book? And which of these is the source of the other?” The shamed philosophers dispersed, for they saw that they had only book-learning without understanding, while Antony had understanding.
Here was a man who had attained perfection insofar as man is able on earth. Here was an educator of educators and teacher of teachers, who for a whole eighty-five years perfected himself, and only thus was able to perfect many others. Full of years and great works, Antony entered into rest in the Lord in the year 356.