Saint Anthony was born around 250 in the city of Coma in Upper Egypt to wealthy and pious parents. He lived under the reign of Roman emperors, such as Diocletian (284-305), Maximian (285-305) and Constantine the Great.
From a very young age, he was spartan and self-sufficient and showed interest in the worship life of the church.
At the age of 20, he lost both his parents. Six months later he distributed his wealth to the poor, in accordance with the evangelical pericope of the rich young man, and retired to a desert cave, where he lived as an ascetic for 25 consecutive years. He soon became known to the local churches, and many Christians went to the same area to practice and listen to his teachings.
In 311, during the persecution of Emperor Maximinus (307-313), he traveled to Alexandria, to encourage and help the faithful of the local church. When the persecution ceased, Saint Anthony returned to the desert. However, he was disturbed by the fact that many believers traveled to meet him and so he sought a new refuge on Mount Colzim near the Red Sea.
However, many Christians came to his new refuge to receive his blessing and to be healed. His fame reached even the emperor. Constantine the Great and his sons, Constantius and Constans, had correspondence with him and the consulted him on various matters.
During his ascetic life, he never changed his clothes, nor did he wash his body or feet with water. He taught his disciples that the love of Christ is the most important thing and that they should not think that they lost something worthy because they abstain from worldly goods. Leaving the earthly goods, he said, is like despising a drachma of copper to earn a hundred gold.
He stressed that we must not forget that human life is temporary compared to eternal life and that we must not strive to garner temporary goods but eternal goods, that is, prudence, justice, wisdom, bravery, thoughtfulness and love.
In the desert, he educated his soul and tamed his passions, reaching the heights of practice so that the saint’s soul could leave his body while he was still alive.
Saint Anthony reposed in the Lord in 356 at the age of 105. Shortly before his passing, he gave to his two most distinguished students, Serapion and Athanasios the Great, his staff, a coat and two sheepskin cloaks.
Although, according to Athanasius the Great, one of the last wishes of Saint Anthony was to keep his burial place secret, the monks who practiced with him said that they owned his holy relic, which during the reign of Justinian (561 AD) was placed in the Church of St. John the Baptist in Alexandria and later, in AD 635, was transferred to Constantinople.
In the 11th century, the French Count Jocelin transferred and placed the relics in the Abbey of Saint Anthony in the homonymous city, Saint-Antoine-l’Abbaye, in France.