Antony of Egypt vs. Mary of Egypt

Today's saintly drama revolves around Egypt. As in "Who will emerge victorious in the holy battle for Egyptian domination." Antony (don't call me Anthony or even Tony for that matter) of Egypt takes on Mary (you can just call me Mary) of Egypt. These two have a lot in common both being hermits and spending much spiritual energy on resisting temptation. Nonetheless, only one will seize the title "Pharaoh of Lent Madness" and make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen to square off against Basil the Great.

In yesterday's matchup Anna Cooper bested (upset?) Joseph of Arimathea 60% to 40% which is unfortunate since Joseph already gave away his burial plot.

And if you missed yesterday's exhilarating edition of Monday Madness click here to see Tim and Scott hold forth on all things Lent Madness. As usual it's epic and compelling with high production values.

Saint AnthonyAntony of Egypt

Antony was born in about 251 to wealthy Christian parents in Middle Egypt. When he was not yet twenty years old, his parents died and left their large estate and his young sister to his care. Shortly thereafter, Antony was convicted by Jesus’ words to the rich man to sell everything and give the money to the poor. Antony parceled out his land, giving it away to his neighbors, and sold all his family’s belongings. He gave the money to those who were poor around him, keeping a small portion to provide for him and his sister. A short while later, he heard the gospel command to not worry about tomorrow. He promptly gave away what remained of his money, put his sister in a house of virgins, and took up a life of solitude.

Antony moved to an old tomb and survived on only bread and water, never eating or drinking before sunset, and often fasting for days in between. During this time, he wrestled with demons that assaulted him for his wealth and tempted him with lustful thoughts. He was successful in his resistance, being assured in a vision from God that he had won the victory. Encouraged by this vision, Antony moved further out into the desert.

Antony lived alone for over twenty years. Although he was drawn to the life of a hermit and constantly tried to retreat further into the wilderness, he eventually acquired some renown, and pious men sought to imitate him. Eventually, a sort of monastery was formed, a community of disciples attracted to his lifestyle. The monastery of Saint Antony the Great now stands at that site.

In 311, when the emperor Maximinus began persecuting Christians, Antony went to Alexandria hoping to be martyred. He publicly wore his white habit—the sign of a Christian monastic—and visited Christians in prison and labor camps and testified on their behalf before tribunals. He did not, however, try to impugn himself. In 312, when the persecution ebbed, Antony again returned to the desert and, alone in his cell, committed to become what Saint Athanasius called “a daily martyr to his conscience, ever fighting the battles of faith.” In his old age, Antony participated in the Arian controversy alongside his friend and biographer, Bishop Athanasius. This doctrinal debate claimed that Jesus was subordinate and distinct from God. In 355, Antony was invited to Alexandria to debate the Arians, many of whom were convinced by his arguments and changed their thinking. After the debates, he returned to the desert where he died in 356 at the ripe old age of 105.

Collect for Saint Antony of Egypt
O God, by your Holy Spirit you enabled your servant Antony to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Give us grace, with pure hearts and minds, to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- David Creech

Mary_of_Egypt_Mary of Egypt

Mary of Egypt is recognized as the patron saint of penitents. This is because of her conversion from life as a sex addict to that of a desert hermit. Her life story or Vita, reportedly first told by Mary to a monk, was later put in writing by Saint Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (634-638).

Born in the fourth century in an unknown region of Egypt, Mary ran away to the city of Alexandria at the age of twelve. As a young woman in Alexandria, she lived a life her biographer labeled as public prostitution. Reportedly she often refused payment for sexual acts because of her insatiable desire and instead subsisted mostly by begging and handiwork. Around the age of thirty, she traveled to Jerusalem with a group of pilgrims, hoping to find new sexual partners in the crowds. There she pursued gratification of her desires for a short time. Then, her life changed when she tried to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place where Jesus was crucified. But she was unable to pass through the door due to an invisible force.

At this strange occurrence, Mary had an epiphany of sorts and was filled with remorse for her sexual sins. At the sight of an icon of the Virgin Mary, she prayed for forgiveness and renounced her worldly ways. Finding new freedom from her previously insatiable desires, she was able to enter the church. Inside, a voice guided her into the desert. She obeyed, journeying to the monastery of Saint John the Baptist to receive absolution and Holy Communion. Then she crossed the Jordan to live in the desert as a hermit in penitence. She is often depicted in iconography with three loaves of bread, the only food she took into the desert. Once she ate them, she lived off what she could forage in the wilderness.

She lived alone in the desert for forty-seven years, until she met a monk named Zosimus, and told him the story of her life. He agreed to bring her communion on Maundy Thursday of the following year. She appeared to him on the opposite bank of the Jordan River, made the sign of the cross, and walked across the water to receive the body and blood of Christ. She asked him to meet her again one year later, at which time he found her corpse. An inscription told him that she had died shortly after his first visit, though her body was preserved. With the help of a lion, Zosimas dug a grave and buried her. When asked if this was true, Zosimas said, “I’m not lion about any of this!”

Collect for Mary of Egypt
Almighty God, in the early life of Mary, you give us an example of how our incarnate bodies can be sources of both pleasure and destruction. Make us aware of your never-failing love and forgiveness, that we, like her, might love and serve you in body, mind, and spirit. Through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

(Collect written by Nancy Hopkins-Greene.)

-- Amber Belldene


Antony of Egypt vs. Mary of Egypt

  • Antony of Egypt (51%, 2,981 Votes)
  • Mary of Egypt (49%, 2,818 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,794

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288 comments on “Antony of Egypt vs. Mary of Egypt”

    1. I think both of them were somewhat fanatical....why have we not ever heard that
      someone other that Jesus walked on water?..... or have I completely missed that
      story? I too am abstaining from voting....

  1. Sex addiction has been debunked as a condition. Perhaps she was seeking union with another - once she found the true love of God in Christ - she did not need human lovers. Interesting juxtaposition - one who denied the body and one who fully engaged the body. I wonder what happened to Anthony's sister after he gave away everything - you'd think he would have given it to her. Oh well.

    1. Sexual addiction or sexual compulsion may be overused as an excuse for misbehavior, but it is a very real problem that afflicts a lot of people. Anything that generates a chemical "high" in the brain and distracts the mind and soul from coping with feelings can be abused and can become the focus of addiction. It doesn't matter whether the object is alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating, or sex - the spiritual experience is the same: the attempt to fill the emptiness in the soul with something material and external.

    2. I think that sex addiction is real and one can seek psychiatric help for overcoming it.

    3. I share Ann Fontaine's concern about Antony's sister. She got a pretty rotten deal, from the look of it. Did she *want* to go to the House of Virgins? I suppose we should be grateful she didn't try Mary of Egypt's path!

      1. I was struck by Antony making the choice for his sister. How does taking away someone's free will reflect saintly behavior?

  2. I am not impressed with Antony's treatment of his sister. Did she want to be committed to the House of Virgins? I am voting against an unfeeling brother.

      1. So glad to hear this hit others the same way. It will cost him my vote, too. And especially as the mother of a son and daughter who I pray would care for one another should we as their parents not be able to. That is one of the most important things I have tried to do with my life -- create an environment that encourages loving siblings.

    1. Exactly, perhaps his sister could have gone on to do amazing things herself, instead of being relegated to minor character in her brother's saintly story.

      1. Maybe she did go on to do amazing things, and they just aren't recorded. Anything is possible....

    2. I was already to vote for him until that, too! I need to do some background reading -- or read downthread to see if anyone has addressed this.

    3. me too. And, also, why was he being assaulted for his wealth when he gave it all away??? Although, that 'lion' pun for Mary also cost points. I voted down people already who I'd rate higher than Mary, who I voted for.

    4. Yep, at least Mary of Egypt made her own decision. Anthony imprisoned his sister. Not getting my vote.

      1. I'd like to know about this "House of Virgins". Were the women there in positions as the Vestal Virgins in the Roman Empire? Could it have been some type of religious community, responsible for ...oh, no! It's starting to sound like Altar Guild...

    5. C'mon!

      One, none us of know the sister's feelings on the matter, so even if you suspect, it's hardly fair to simply assume it was against her will.

      Two, at that time in early Christian history, at least as interpreted by the hagiographers and interpreters of hagiographers, the option of Virginity was actually a freeing and amazing option; one most women at the time didn't have. Of course, this would be countered if in fact Antony's sister did not want to enter the house; but again, we simply don't know this.

      Why assume the worst? Stop judging 3rd century people by 21st century cultural mores.

    6. 1st of all, saints are not perfect, they are human. And secondly, has anyone yet mentioned the cultural distinctions of the 3rd century and cautioned about judging with a 21st century western lens? For most of western history up to Antony, and thereafter until the mid-20th century, women were financially and physically dependent on their families/spouses. An independent woman of Antony's time would have been seen as vulnerable in that society. Antony wasn't being arrogant, it really was his job to make sure his sister was protected and cared for. To leave her on her own would have been considered negligence or abandonment. Antony knew he wouldn't be around, he knew he was leaving her vulnerable to exploitation. We do not know if this was totally his decision, or she had input, or it was totally up to her. I'd like to think that if there was a discussion, and it would have gone something like, "Hey sis, do you want a husband, or to go to the convent?" If she shared even a portion of her brother's fervor, I would expect that she would go for the abbey.

  3. Tough choice, but the "pun"ishment inflicted by Mary's celebrity blogger tipped the scales in favor of Antony, although one wonders if he gave his sister a choice between the "house of virgins" or a house of non-virgins.

      1. you mean that wasn't a direct quote?!
        terrible as it was, that pun weighed in favor of Mary on my scales....
        brothers will be brothers and bloggers will be bloggers.
        but what did brother's sainthood do to sister's faith??...imagine THAT heavenly tableau: "they made you a WHAT?!"

    1. Ouch! Really, I didn't write that quote. I swear on the Bible and all my romance novels that someone at Forward Movement redacted my text! When it comes to the lowest forms of humor, I am way more likely to make Monty Python jokes than puns.

  4. I have a hard time admiring a brother who put his sister in a house of Virgins. Perhaps she had to be protected but this seems pretty unfeeling to me. This is a tough vote as it is hard to identify with either of them. The lessons to learn from them maybe are to learn to give away more material things and be freed from all addictions.

  5. I am going with Mary, we all have many faults that we wish to be forgiven of. I can not cast stones.

      1. I suspect that -- of the two -- Mary's story has been twisted more to stress the nasty bits of her addiction and that her penitance is more genuine than Antony's conviction of his own righteosness. I voted for her.

      2. I agree... Mary's story seems wildly exaggerated (women are either whores or saints?) and Anthony betrayed the trust of his parents by abandoning his sister. I can't vote for either.

        1. Connie and Stephen, I couldn't agree more about this. As a feminist, I am highly skeptical of how this story was recorded. I attempted to qualify and question those accounts with what information I had. As I've mentioned in reply to other comments, I think someone got a kick of out assigning Mary to me--a person who writes racy romance novels and believes sexuality can be a window into divine love. I do like the interpretations of her story by several commenters below!

    1. I respectfully disagree. I believe hermits and monastic faith expressions help the world through their prayers and public witness against the world's tendency for, well, worldliness. These individuals and later communities often served as advisers and sources of healing or education. They seek to imitate Christ's own withdrawal into the desert. Places like Iona and Taize' and people like Julian of Norwich or Thomas Merton grow out of that tradition and have blessed the world in many ways. Still, that kind of witness isn't for everyone.

      1. I agree with Lou. Different people are called to do different things so that the entire mystery of God can be reflected.

      2. I agree with Lou and Jenny. There are indeed different ways to serve God, and to respond to the call to give up all - ALL - your stuff, not even keeping a bit to tide you and your sis over, is to reject an idol/demon many of us struggle with yet today.

      3. Amen. And now I struggle against the demon of judgment that judges other beloved Lent Madness participants for their remarks. That does not help minister or evangelize. Just not used to such jaw-dropping judgmental comments about people of faith.

    2. Agree! Had to vote for the lesser of two disappointments today. That almost never happens in lent Madness.

    3. Yes, this one was tough and far removed from our modern sense of social justice, etc. I just keep thinking that anyone who starves themselves obsessively will see "visions." Then again, Amthony spent his life as a solitary....

  6. I bet Antony's sister was not too happy about having her inheritance given away, then being shut away in a nunnery. Frankly, I don't find either of these saints very appealing.

    1. In many societies through the ages, a nunnery was the only refuge for a woman. But I agree with you Robert, can't get excited about either one of these saints.

    2. On the upside, women who remained unmarried and celibate had a much better chance of reaching old age. Marriage was very risky both because of death from childbirth and domestic violence.

  7. Thinking about those who are freed from addictions and those willing to give up worldly possessions. Brave souls, all, whose lives are changed forever through faith and God's grace. Hard choice again today. Going with Anthony today. But will remember Mary as I meet her in the streets and the pews of my life.

  8. I guess these two balance the choices of yesterday- then it was hard to choose because I was drawn to both; today I'm repelled by both.

  9. What a tough crowd! My vote is for Antony...leaving a legacy (a monastery) is key. A Christian hermit seems to be a contradiction of terms, but Antony left behind something.

    1. Good luck to the Sunday school classes, youth groups, families with children on this one!
      Our homeschool has been voting each day, but I think we will just skip it today - altho it could be quite a conversation about mental health issues, addiction, spirituality, what is a vision vs. hallucination . . . . Neither of these saints do anything for me!

  10. Seriously, both of these Saints leave little to admire.... Antony's poor nameless sister loses her inheritance and future possibilities because of her brother's selective piety.

    1. Another "repelled"
      JUST SAY NO!!!

      I hereby accuse the mad Lent Madness selection committee of providing us with no choice today.

      Don't waste your click !! Let your non-voice be heard !!

        1. So the truth is out - saints are selected by the Ouija board.

          Thank you Tim for your honesty.

          My post was inspired by (to me) Saint Edward Snowden.

    2. Seriously? I brought the rocks...would someone care to throw the first stone at Antony and Mary?

  11. Putting his sister in a house where she would be safe was probably the kindest thing Antony could do for her since it appears there was no other brother with whom he could entrust her and he certainly could not leave her unprotected. He could have used some of the wealth for her dowry but he didn't. Did he run out of time to arrange her marriage? Was there no one who would marry her? Was the dowry or lack of one a sticking point? I still don't really care for the idea that he stashed her in a convent, but it was probably the greatest safety and protection he could have given her, since his departure was imminent.

    1. Putting his sister in a convent would have ensured her safety -- from likely death at a young age from childbirth at best, and from the perils of the street at worst. To suggest he wasn't giving her a choice, or that it was unfeeling is to place 21st century values into his world. We don't know the backstory - perhaps she was devout and wished to go, or was special needs. No excuses here for St. Antony - but without further evidence I'm not ready to condemn him. All I am sure of is that going to a convent was a sure way to NOT die young. With respect to Mary, why are women always the prostitutes and full of lust they can't contain? Feels like a setup to prove a point. Antony gets my vote - I don't condemn for how he acted with his sister, and I admire his penitence and his monastic legacy.

  12. I have second thoughts about a man who goes to a city so he can be a martyr. Isn't that just another form of suicide? Mary took herself away from her temptations, which is like the verse if your right hand offends...cut it off. Just a thought.

    1. Thank you, Dale! I was turned off at once by his leaving his sister in that "House of Virgins" (and hoping it wasn't a cover for a "House of ill repute!), but I was knocked speechless by the (to humble moi) utter arrogance of deliberately setting out to become a Martyr! Really?

  13. Didn't know about the House of Virgins thing. When heard of Antony before, learned that he retained enough of the family wealth to care for his sister. Had pictured her leading a "normal" life. How to vote? Antony gave up wealth. Mary gave up sex. Antony served as an example and -apparently - brought others to Christ. Mary gave up sex. My Martha side wishes Mary had used her new life to help others instead of avoiding them. Guess it will have to be Antony.

  14. The positive aspect of two less than engaging participants in today's brackets is that Basil is a shoe in the next round.
    But I agree with all the others who mentioned Antony's treatment of his sister. Obviously his official biographer (not our Lenten Madness writer) is not in tune with our current beliefs that women are more than chattel. Being as family is so important to me, in good conscience I could not vote for Antony.

  15. Coming from a family with a history of addictive disorders and behavior patterns as well as having worked with and befriended folks in recovery for many years, I voted for Mary. I with many others believe addiction of any kind has a spiritual component - a thirst for true love (perhaps not fully recognized) which people attempt to quench with something that doesn't last. Also, sexual addiction is indeed debated, but one study doesn't fully debunk anything. As the article says, the study has to be replicated. Even then, I'm sure sexual addiction will continue to be debated as much as the efficacy of AA in treating alcoholism. I'm no doctor, but from personal experience and training, I believe addictive behavior patterns can present themselves in many forms, including sexual and non-sexual relationships.

    1. I agree with Lou - addictive behaviour manifests in stranger behaviours than sex. And sexual addiction has presented itself all through history, hence the terms "nymphomania" and "satyriasis"..... just sayin'.
      Mary got my vote because she, like St. Paul, was chief among sinners, experienced conversion and repentance and lived out her faith.
      I think Antony was probably acting in his sister's best interests, and who knows - the convent was perhaps her choice.

  16. Not sure I quite agree that one study proves sex addiction is not real.
    In any case,I'd like to hear the story of her life from Mary herself as it might differ significantly from her biographers.

    In defense of Antony's treatment of his sister, I'd like to know what his options were. Maybe his choice was the best place available.

    None of this brings me closer to a decision about voting, so I await further enlightenment.

    1. Part of me wonders if these two abstemious saints were placed in opposition precisely to promote abstinence (from voting) in the voting public ?

  17. I found Antony to be a very off-putting figure. As someone noted, perhaps he put his sister into a House of Virgins for her own safety, but it also seemed that he was just tidying up loose ends so he could go off and live as SuperChristian. Similarly, the description of him pointedly wearing his white robes and s desperately seeking martyrdom made me wonder whether he was really letting God's will be done or whether this behavior was another form of obsession. As I think about it, you could almost argue that both Antony and Mary had addictive tendencies and while Mary sought to overcome them through her faith, Antony found another outlet for them

  18. I'd rather vote for Sophronius. Or even Zosimas. Or possibly the helpful lion ....

      1. I like both these saints and could happily vote for either - kind of puzzled by the reaction against them. But I always love the lions - gotta vote with them, and A Lion of Egypt thought Mary was keen so she gets my vote today.

        1. I wish there was a "none of the above" choice. I don't condem Anthony for dealing with his sister the way he did. There were not many choices for a young, single, woman/girl in her culture without the protection of a male parent or strong sibling. His desire for martyrdom returning to the city reveals a serious spiritual flaw. As for Mary, I am often put off by the hyperbolic hagiograghy of later biographers, yet what is posted reveales a gir with a simple, authentic spirituality that was in no way self-serving.
          The lion would be a good choice. If I must make a choice, Mary gets my vote.
          BTW-Mary is commenorated on the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Churches... and, I believe the orginal church (of the Holy Sepulchur) was called the Church of the Resurrection in the time of Mary and still is by the Orthodox.

          1. "His desire for martyrdom returning to the city reveals a serious spiritual flaw."

            Perhaps, since we are so spiritually well-attuned in our progressive and modern age (sarcasm.) But it was a desire shared by a great many in the early Church...none the least, Ignatius, who most likely could have gotten out of facing the Coliseum if he had wished.

            Let's learn a little history and give our early brothers and sisters in the faith a little bit of the benefit of historical context, please!

  19. At first reading it is really hard to "like" these two. Why couldn't Antony share his new faith with his sister and help her to become a strong woman for Christ and then go about his own business. Mary's story reminds me of Mary Magdalene on further thought.......can we treat her any differently than the other Mary..........Christ saw her potential. Guess I will go with her.

    1. While it is true that Mary Magdalene had 7 demons cast out of her, they were never specified. She was not, as is the popular misconception, a prostitute. That comes from the conflation of Mary with the sinful woman who washes Jesus' feet with her tears and was propagated by a Pope around the 600s (I believe that's the correct date).

  20. I'm voting for Mary because I suspect that she may be the victim of the same bad press that Mary Magdalene experienced. The bible never says that she is a prostitute but "tradition" says she is so that's her rep. Not to be all Dan Brown or anything but sometimes tradition seems to make some women out to be less appealing. She may have been a prostitute but the other stuff sounds more like something from the Enquirer. Or she might have had some early abuse or mental illness. At least she didn't shut someone else up in a house of virgins!

  21. When I was reading Antony's bio, I thought, "Gee, this might be what Mr. Darcy would be like if he never met Elizabeth." Then I decided I needed a little more coffee. Then we got to the put-his-sister-in-a-house-of-virgins part, and I thought, Hm... Mary impresses me with her amazing turn away from wickedness. She almost got the vote until I thought about Antony's decision to venture into the world and wrestle with ideas and risk real danger to comfort believers and share his understanding. Mary told her story and withdrew from the world. It's Antony today. And about locking away his sibling, I'm assuming the house of virgins was the safest place for her as Antony took on the life he felt called to lead. It's not like he sold her into slavery or married her off to a stranger. Overall, early Egypt does not sound like much fun.

    1. I want to add that I respect Mary's choice of moving out of a world only too happy to exploit her weaknesses to feed their own. And for those who are withdrawing from the voting world of Lent Madness in protest, I guess I have to respect your choices, too. Holy Hermits, SEC, this is a challenging day!

    2. This is almost exactly the same thought process I went through (minus the coffee part). I expect he would have married her off if he'd found a husband he liked for her or if she had desired that. Maybe she was a snooty rich girl who hated her brother's piety. But if that were the case, couldn't she have registered her desire to be married off to some other rich dude? So maybe she felt convicted as her brother did, and wanted to live a life of piety in one of the few ways women could at that time. It seems like a lot of time would have passed between being uber-wealthy and owning nothing, so she would have had time to assess the information and lobby her brother. If he was so saintly, surely he would have taken her desires into account? Still, it's kind of fun to try to imagine a spoiled girl in an extreme case of riches-to-rags story.

  22. I have always wondered at people who leave the world to conquer their demons. Isn't the idea that we serve Christ in the world around us, by showing His love to others thru our actions and words? I cannot connect with either of these saints. I'm going to vote for Mary though, because her actions only affected her. Antony put his sister in a house of virgins? Given the male-dominated society of the time, I have to wonder if she was given a choice.

    1. Any one who has ever struggled with addiction knows that recovery is a miraculous gift of God. And how can anyone say that Mary's choice did not have any impact on others. She may have withdrawn from the world but we are still talking about her in 2014. Makes me wonder how many have identified with her confession and have found the courage to do the same. In AA they call that Step 4!