If someone asks you to name five saints, chances are, St. Anthony of Egypt (feast day January 17) might not come to mind right away. However, he is considered to be the father of Christian monasticism.
He chose to live in complete solitude for many years of his very long life (he lived from 251-356), and under harsh physical conditions. His holiness was apparent for those who did know him.
Today his choices may be incomprehensible to us, but Anthony shows how knowing God is a joyful experience and life can be happy even without a great deal of material possessions. Help children identify some simple pleasure your family or class enjoys, such as eating popcorn together, so they can begin to see the beauty in the uncomplicated. Talk also with them about taking ‘quiet time’ to help them hear the voice of God. Then introduce them to Anthony with this story:
LIVING WITH GOD
Anthony was a wealthy child. He could have everything he wanted. Anthony’s parents taught him about God and when he was eighteen, he decided he wanted to get to know God really well. He would focus his life on God.
Nice clothes, warm beds and good food would keep him from thinking about God. Living in a city and having fun with friends would do this too. So he gave away everything he owned, left everyone he knew, and walked far into the desert.
Anthony lived in caves or small huts. He had to watch out for lions, snakes and scorpions. Mostly he ate only bread, water and dates. He slept on the ground. He worked in his small garden, read Holy Scriptures and prayed. He did this for many, many years. All that time, he rarely saw any people.
He did come to feel God with him so often he became very happy. He became joyful! God was so amazing, so wonderful, and so magnificent! Anthony felt God’s love so strongly that he smiled and smiled. His face shone with this happiness.
Some people learned about this holy man. They told others, who told others. They walked out into the desert to find him. Some asked to stay and learn to live like Anthony. Anthony understood God wanted him to teach others now. So, they stayed, living in little huts and praying together.
More people came and they could tell which one was Anthony by his shining smile.
Years passed and Anthony helped and taught many people. Now he was very old. He walked further into the desert and found another place to live. There he stayed, wrapped up in the wonder of God. He died peacefully at the age of 105, very ready to meet God.
Ways to celebrate Anthony:
- Serve food that is simple and reminiscent of Anthony’s life: cold water, a loaf of good bread and a dish of pitted dates, or a date bread.
- Keep the centerpiece simple too. In a pie plate or cake pan, place sand or cornmeal, a few stones and small cross. Consider sitting on the floor.
- After the celebration, give children a small experience of St. Anthony’s decision to give away his material goods. Provide children with an assortment of small objects (e.g. bottles of bubbles, stickers, shiny pencils, glitter pens, Silly Putty, and hair barrettes), several of each kind. Have enough objects so each child can take four things. Give each child a lunch-sized paper bag. Tell them to each put four items into their bags. These are not for them to keep, but to give away as Anthony did. The next time you are with the children, ask them who they gave these objects to, how the other person reacted, etc.
- Prayer: Because Anthony found so much joy in knowing God, sing a joyful ‘alleluia’ with which the children are familiar.