‘He looked upon the angels who came to him as friends’
The Death of St Antony
According to his custom Antony had gone to visit the monasteries of the mountain, deep in the desert. Alerted by Providence that his end was not far off, he said to the brothers, ‘This is the last visit I am making to you, and I will be very surprised if we meet again in this world. The time of my departure is near, and I am like a traveller in a strange town, ready to return to his own world. My departure is near, for I am almost a hundred and five years old’. When they heard these words his disciples burst into tears; they took the old man in their arms and covered him with kisses while he spoke to them. He spoke to them happily. He exhorted them never to relax their efforts, never to be discouraged in their exercises of piety, to live as though each day were their last.
His brothers wanted to force him to remain with them to conclude his sacrifice but he would not agree. He returned to the deserted mountain where he had fixed his dwelling, and little more than a month afterwards fell ill. He called the two brothers who looked after him in his old age and said to them, ‘I am going to follow the way of my fathers, as the scripture says, for I see that the Lord is calling me. So bury my body yourselves, hide it in the earth and be faithful to my instruction: no one but yourselves is to know the place where my body will be. On the day of the resurrection of the dead I shall receive it incorruptible from the hands of the Saviour. You are to divide my clothes in this way: you are to give to Bishop Athanasius one of my two sheepskins with the cloak on which I was lying: he gave it to me new, and it has grown old from the use I made of it. Give my other sheepskin to Bishop Serapion; as for you, you may keep my leather tunic. Good-bye, my children, Antony is going away and will no longr be with you’. When he had spoken these words the two disciples embraced him. Antony drew up his feet and looked at the angels who were coming to meet him as friends, and their presence filled him with joy. So he gave up his spirit and rejoined his fathers.
The two disciples faithfully observed his instructions: they buried him and dug him into the earth, and to this day no one knows where he is hidden except these two disciples. As for those who received the sheepskins and the worn-out cloak which he had bequeathed to them, they preserved these relics as infinitely precious, for in looking at them they thought they were still seeing Antony, and when they dreamt of him it seemed to them that he was joyfully giving them his lessons and counsels.