Young Anthony was born in Egypt in the year 251 A.D. His well-to-do parents died when he was just eighteen years of age, and left him three hundred acres of fertile farmland. They also entrusted his young sister to his care.
Anthony was a Christian and took the words of the Gospel to heart. He was concerned about how he should administer the considerable wealth his parents had left him.
On his way to Mass one day he was thinking about how the early Christians gave their goods to the Apostles for distribution among the needy. As he entered the church the reader was proclaiming the Gospel words, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19, 21)
That was enough for Anthony. He sold all the family property, set aside enough money to entrust his young sister to a community of Christian women, and distributed all the rest among the poor. He himself went to live in a little hut at the edge of town, where he cultivated a small garden for his own food, and to earn enough so that he could buy bread.
He quickly acquired a reputation for holiness, and soon others wanted to join him. Anthony wanted to be alone, so he moved out much further into the desert. Other people still followed him, and set up their little huts near to where he was, so that they could be inspired by his life of prayer and penance.
For this reason Anthony got the reputation of being the founder of the monastic life, though that was never his intention. He eventually allowed the other hermits to call themselves his disciples, as they imitated his way of life, cultivating their little gardens, and weaving reeds and rushes into little mats and baskets, which they sold in town so that they could buy bread.
Bread and water with his garden vegetables constituted the daily meal of Anthony, which he took only after sunset. Anthony’s diet does not impress as an exciting culinary experience, but it obviously was good for him. He finally left this world in the year 356 A.D., at the ripe old age of 105.