Saint Anthony the Great

17th January

Saint Anthony the Great lived between 251 to 360 AD. He was born in Koma, a place in Upper Egypt. He came from a Christian family and he grew up as a very respectful and obedient young man. He and his sister ended up being very wealthy when both their parents died when Anthony was twenty years old. It was at this time that during a church service he was impressed by a sentence from the Gospel of St. Matthew (Mt.19:21): “If you want to be perfect go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasures in heaven.” That sentence made him change his life.

He sold all that he owned, gave the money to the poor and put his sister in a convent so that the good women living there would take care of her. He left the city and went to live in a hut. He lived on what he could earn by making mats for his basic needs. Later he moved to live in the desert where he lived a solitary life for the rest of his life. He has become known as one of the Desert Fathers as other holy people followed him to live the solitary life in the desert. His life in the desert was characterised by penance, sacrifice and continuous silent prayer in meditation. But he suffered greatly from temptations based on doubts whether he was doing the right thing in his life, and in his efforts to maintain a pure heart. However, he did leave the desert twice for a brief time: first to offer courage to Christians who were being persecuted at the time and then to preach against a group of people, known as heretics, who were preaching the wrong doctrine about Jesus Christ.

Saint Anthony the Great is often depicted with a pig at his feet. It is said that he was accompanied by a pig that he had rescued and healed. He is honoured as the patron saint of domestic animals. In some countries, including Malta, domestic animals are blessed on his feast day.

It is quite challenging to pass on to our children the concept of the life of Saint Anthony the Great as one of the Desert Fathers. You might consider using a map to locate Egypt and the desert, that is devoid of any form of habitation, away from towns and cities. You may point out the difference between this environment and the one children are used to: lack of houses, shops, with no television, radio, mobile phones, tablets!

Anthony moved to this kind of place, leaving everything, to be in closer contact with God, living a life of what we call ‘a hermit’, leading a life of prayer, solitude (being alone) and penance. Anthony went to the desert to follow what he felt he wanted to do to be close to God.

Discuss with the children that to be like Saint Anthony we do not have to go in the desert, escaping somewhere to be alone, leaving our families, our responsibilities. We can follow Jesus wherever we are. He is always present in our lives. But, like Anthony we will find out that this is not always easy! We too will have temptations. Temptation is a fight inside us and around us, of victory of good over bad. It is a struggle, a decision to do the right thing.

Lead the children to identify situations when they feel this struggle within themselves. You may give examples relevant to the age of the children and related to practical experiences of the family:    

  • come when they are called
  • how they respond when they are corrected
  • anger control
  • carrying out responsibilities
  • behaviour with siblings and friends.

Most of the time in our Family Prayer Time, we end up being concerned about us talking to God, about what we feel, what we want.

You might consider the experience of a different kind of prayer –  

  • the first step of meditation by calling it, Special Quiet Time with Jesus
  • Prepare them beforehand, dim the light, light a candle, organise a sitting position, prepare low soft music.
  • Encourage the children to sit, closing their eyes (not more than 2 – 3 minutes!) and just say “Let us rest quietly in the presence of God.”

Saint Anthony’s parents died in his late ‘teen’ years. He had to look after his younger sister. He was so overwhelmed, and he turned to God and offered his life for Him. He left everything to the poor and started living his life alone, as a hermit, in the desert. He got inspired from Matthew Mt 19:21.

Create your own prayer corner! 

Saint Anthony lived most of his life alone, praying to God. Today, we might find it more difficult to find time to be alone and spend some time God. 

Thus, for today’s activity, we are going to encourage you to find a small spot or corner in your house and create a small tent for you to pray and read about Jesus and other Catholic Heroes! 

It could be a cardboard box, a small colourful tent, a small comfortable chair etc… Decorate it nicely by adding some pictures and a Bible and enjoy your time alone with Jesus. This will surely help you to focus more on Jesus in prayer. 

Don’t forget to share with us a photo of your very own spot! 

How to use this space

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Saints of the Church. Here you will find useful background and activities to better understand the holy life, helping you to connect the saints to daily life in a meaningful way.