Antony set one of the early Christian norms for what it meant to be a Christian. Before Antony, there was the model of Biblical martyrs like St. Stephen, whose last words as he was stoned echoed Christ’s, even as Stephen saw Christ standing at the right hand of the Father in heaven. In the early church, many Christians believed that literally dying for their faith was the truest way of living into the fullness of Christ.
Then Antony entered the picture; another saint, Athanasius, wrote about him; and there was now a new model for true holiness, which came to be called ‘bloodless martyrdom.’ The ‘way of the cross’ to which Jesus calls everyone who wants to follow him was shown to be a way that certainly costs everything (Antony himself was a rich heir who sold all he had and gave it to the poor), but which also did not necessarily involve the violent spilling of one’s blood.
Read Athanasius’ Life of Antony (really, read it, as it’s worth your time and honestly fairly accessible if you’ll give it a chance) and you find Antony more and more entering into the form of Jesus’ life. While the author was certainly writing as someone in awe of the desert saint and the story is not historical by today’s understanding of history, the basic message is still clear: the life of Antony (and the life of every saint) looks like the life of Jesus.
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.