From Timothy Barnes’ Cosntantine and Eusebius, a brief summation of the life of Saint Antony, the forefather of Christian monasticism…
When his parents died, the young Antony gave away his patrimony and entrusted his only sister to a community of virgins. When he began the ascetic life, he copied an old hermit from a neighbouring village who had spent many years in a solitary existence. Antony, too, took up his abode just outside the village. He cut all ties with his family. He labored with his hands to earn enough to buy his daily bread, and he gave any surplus to the needy. He lived alone, practicing self-discipline and praying incessantly. At the age of almost thirty-five, Antony withdrew to the edge of the desert, where he lived in an abandoned fort in total isolation. After nearly twenty years – about 305, on the chronology of the Life of Antony – the door was broken down and Antony emerged like an initiate from the Shrine, full of God. He healed the sick, cast out demons, comforted the sorrowing, reconciled enemies, and urged all to put the love of Christ before anything in this world.
I love the almost superhero feel to this story – Antony spends 20 years in a dilapidated old fort, alone, refining his powers, before breaking down his door and emerging into the light. It was a trying time for Christians, who were being tortured and killed for their religion. Antony takes up the campaign to end persecution.
When the persecution ended, Antony returned to his monastery, where crowds of visitors, among them a Roman army commander, thronged his door seeking cures for their ills. Antony decided to escape, fell in with a Saracen caravan, and came to the remote mountain near the Red Sea where he spent the rest of his life.
And so, after Antony had so dramatically emerged from his solitude, he slipped back into it under cover of nomadic travelers, before spending the rest of his life in the remote mountains. He died, apparently, at the age of 105.