On the feast of St Anthony of the desert, founder of monasticism
From the readings of tomorrow’s Matutinum
Paul the first hermit, and model of all others, was a native of the lower Theba’id in Egypt. At the age of fifteen years he lost both his parents. In order to escape from the persecution of Decius and Valerian, and to serve God in quietness, he betook himself to a cave in the desert. Here there was a palm-tree, on the fruit of which he lived, and of whose leaves he made his raiment until he attained the age of 113 years. At that time * Anthony, being now himself aged
90 Years, received a command from God to go and see him. They met without knowing one another’s names, and saluted one another, after which they fell straightway into a long discourse concerning the kingdom of God. Now it so happened that a raven had of a long time brought Paul every day half a loaf, but on this day while they spake together he brought a whole one.
When the raven had flown away Well, quoth Paul, the Lord hath sent us our dinner. Truly He is gracious; truly He is merciful. It is now sixty years that I have had half a loaf of bread every day, but now that thou art come, Christ giveth His soldiers double rations. Then they asked a blessing, and ate together, sitting by a spring. When they were refreshed, they returned thanks, as is the custom, and afterwards spent the whole night praising God. At break of day Paul felt the approach of death, and desired Anthony to bring the cloak which Athanasius had given him, to use for his winding-sheet. While Anthony was on his way back from this journey, he saw in a vision the soul of Paul ascending to heaven, surrounded by choirs of angels, and accompanied by the Prophets and Apostles.
When Anthony reached the cell of Paul, he found the dead body of the Saint in a kneeling posture, with the head thrown up and the hands stretched out towards heaven. He immediately began to chant the psalms and hymns ordained by Christian tradition, while he wrapped the body in the cloak of Athanasius. He had no spade to dig a grave, but two lions came roaring from the desert, as though to attend the burying, and scratched a hole big enough to hold a man’s body, with their paws, showing meanwhile such signs of grief as their nature alloweth. When they were gone away, Anthony put the holy body in this hole, covered it with earth, and arranged it like a Christian’s grave. He took away for himself Paul’s tunic, which he had woven out of the palm-leaves somewhat after the manner of basket-work, and this tunic Anthony was in the habit of wearing on the great days of the Passover and Pentecost as long as he lived. – Fr. Stephen, o.f.m.