Saint Anthony the Great of Egypt

Anthony of Egypt – Founder of Monasticism

A black man born in 251 AD of wealthy parents in Egypt, he inherited their wealth when his parents died. But his desire to imitate the poverty of Jesus led Anthony to sell all he had and withdraw from civilization and live a life devoted to prayer, fasting and piety.

He was the first to withdraw in such a way, and gradually became famed for his spiritual wisdom and battles with the devil. Other people came to join him eventually, and Anthony spent time training them in the monastic life. He was a renowned preacher and teacher, and is considered today the father of monasticism and religious life. Few Christians have had the impact of the black monk Anthony of Egypt.

The New Testament of the Bible speaks of a “Simon from Cyrene [in Africa]” carrying the cross of Jesus (Luke 23:26). Acts 8 refers to a man from Ethiopia who was converted to Jesus at the preaching of the Apostle Phillip. From these Biblical events (and later missionary preaching), the Good News of Jesus spread quickly to Africa.

The black Christian presence in Africa would later become divided over doctrinal issues, and then all but disappear when Islam swept through Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries. However, remnants of black African Christianity continued on, as evidence from the slave trade days of the Middle Ages later revealed. For further information, read Cyprian Davis’ book History of Black Catholics in the United States (Crossroads -1992).

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