St Anthony of Egypt. Born Egypt 251 AD. Died 17 January 356.
Not the first monk, but the first to go off into the Egyptian wilderness. His parents died when he was 18 years old. Following Jesus’ advice to the young man in the Gospel, he gave away to the poor all the money he had inherited in order to devote his life to coming closer to God. He is famous for the many temptations he endured. A community of followers grew up around him and he is one of the most famous of the Desert Fathers He is famous for visiting and comforting those Christians in prison during the Persecution of Diocletian. He was a supporter of Athanasius who defended the Nicene Creed (in particular that the Son is consubstantial with the Father, as against the Arians who maintained that Jesus was human and less than the Father). Athanasius consecrated the first bishop for Ethiopia.
Anthony is venerated by the Catholic, the Orthodox, the Oriental, the Anglican, and the Lutheran Churches.
He is particularly dear to the Copts of Egypt. It is likely that the only language he spoke was Coptic. Despite hundreds of years of alternating toleration and persecution under Islam, the Copts (ni rem en kimi en khristianos – “the Christian people of Egypt”) still amount to 12% - 15% of the population of Egypt).
Recently there have been several attacks on Copts (Churches, pilgrims and homes) by militant Muslims with the loss of many Coptic lives. There have even been beheadings of Copts working in Libya. New churches cannot be opened nor old ones repaired without special permission from the civil authorities. This is often refused. Recently new American backed Protestant churches have been permitted, although many Coptic churches have still been refused.
This Christmas, the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attended Midnight Mass (celebrated by the Coptic Patriarch Tawodros II) as a sign of solidarity with his Coptic countrymen. Thousands of troops were deployed to protect the churches during the Christmas celebrations.