January 3 – Fulgentius
(533 Bishop of Ruspe, Tunisia)
Fulgentius was a follower of St. Augustine’s ideal of community life, a student of St. Augustine’s theological teachings and a Bishop in the African Church.
Born in Thelpte (now call Medinet-el-Kedima), Tunisia, in 462, Fulgentius served as a young man in the government of the Vandals in northern Africa. He was named Procurator, which gave him the duty of collecting taxes.
After reading Augustine’s Exposition of Psalm 36, and feeling a call to enter religious life, he initially planned in 499 to join a group of hermits in Egypt. He changed his mind, though, when he learned that Egyptian monasticism had fallen under the influence of theological errors.
Fulgentius was elected Bishop of Ruspe in 502. As a Bishop, he followed Augustine’s example of living in community with the clergy of his Diocese. He founded several other monasteries in Africa. When he was exiled to Sardinia, not wanting to be away from the monastic community life, he even founded monasteries there.
Because of his devotion to the Augustinian ideal of community life and his knowledge of Augustine’s writings, especially on the topic of Grace, Fulgentius was known as the Pocket Augustine. Fulgentius died in Ruspe January 1, 527.
January 10 – St. Paul the Hermit
(342 Egyptian hermit and founder of monastic life in Thebes)
St. Paul is taken as the first hermit (that is, one who chooses to live a solitary life, totally apart and usually in a desert place, for the sake of Christ). He dwelt in the Egyptian desert in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, having originally taken refuge there in the persecution of Christians ordered by the Roman Emperor Decius in 250. The Egyptian desert became a favorite place for hermits, some of which grouped together, under the influence of St. Anthony of Egypt, to become semi-monasteries. In fact, St. Anthony is regarded as the first Abbot. St. Anthony the Abbot cast a protective eye over the hermits, and certainly knew St. Paul. St. Paul died in advanced age as did St. Anthony, both being over 100.
January 17 – St. Anthony the Abbot
(356 founder of monastic life in the desert of Egypt)
Following the death of his parents when he was about 20, St. Anthony the Abbot insured that his sister would be able to complete her education. He then sold his house, furniture, and the land he owned, and gave the proceeds to the poor. St. Anthony joined the anchorites who lived nearby, and moved into an empty sepulcher. At age 35 he moved alone to the desert, living 20 years in an abandoned fort.
St. Anthony barricaded the place for solitude, but admirers broke in. He miraculously healed people, and agreed to be the spiritual counselor of others. His recommendation was to base life on the Gospel. Word spread, and so many disciples arrived that St. Anthony founded two monasteries on the Nile, one at Pispir and one at Arsinoe. Many of those who lived near him supported themselves by making baskets and brushes, and from that came his patronage of those trades.
St. Anthony briefly left his seclusion in 311, going to Alexandria to fight Arianism and to comfort the victims of Maximinus’ persecution. At some point in his life, he met with his sister again. She, too, had withdrawn from the world, and directed a community of nuns. St. Anthony the Abbot retired to the desert and lived in a cave on Mount Colzim.
January 23 – St. John the Almsgiver
(619 Patriarch of Alexandria)
St. John was a widower, probably over 50, when he was appointed, or acclaimed, Patriarch of Alexandria. He was a wealthy man whose children had also died. He sought to serve the poor through the direct giving of alms and the establishing of hospitals. He is said to have sat openly available in church on Wednesdays and Fridays so that the poor could speak with him. John opposed Monophysitism and employed Sophronius (later Patriarch of Jerusalem) and John Moschus in his battle against the followers of Severus of Antioch. When the Persians invaded Alexandria, John returned to Cyprus, where he died peacefully.