Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
DISMISSAL (ΑΠΟΛΥΤΙΚΙΟΝ) HYMN OF SAINT ANTONIOS THE GREAT
Emulating the ways of Elias the zealot, and following the straight paths of the Baptist, O Father Anthony, thou madest of the wilderness a city, and didst support the world by thy prayers. Wherefore inter-cede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion. Second Tone
Thou leftest behind all earthly cares and turbulence, and leddest a life of stillness and tranquility, emulating John the Baptist in every way, O most righteous one. Wherefore, we acclaim thee with him, O first of the Fathers, Father Anthony.
OUR RIGHTEOUS AND GOD-bearing Father Anthony the Great
Saint Anthony, the Father of monks, was born in Egypt in the village of Coma, near the desert of the Thebaid in 251 A.D. of pious Christian parents of illustrious lineage. St. Anthony was a serious child and was respectful and obedient to his parents but who departed of this life when he was twenty years old. He became responsible for the care of his youngest sister. He loved to attend church services, and he listened to the Holy Scripture so attentively, that he remembered what he heard all his life. On hearing the words of the Gospel: "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast and give it to the poor" (St. Matthew 19:21), he immediately put it into action. Distributing to the poor all he had, and fleeing from all the turmoil of the world, he departed to the desert. Saint Anthony the Great is known as the Father of Monasticism, and the long ascetical sermon in The Life of Saint Anthony by Saint Athanasiu (Sections 16-34), could be called the first Monastic Rule. The manifold temptations he endured continually for the space of twenty years are incredible. His ascetical struggles by day and by night, whereby he mortified the uprising of the passions and attained to the height of dispassion, surpass the bounds of nature; and the report of his deeds of virtue drew such a multitude to follow him, that the desert was transformed into a city, while he became, so to speak, the governor, lawgiver, and master-trainer of all the citizens of this newly-formed city. But the cities of the world also enjoyed the fruit of his virtue. When the Christians were being persecuted and put to death under the pagan Roman Emperor Maximinus in 312 A.D., he hastened to their aid and consolation. When the Church was troubled by the heretic Arians, he went with zeal to Alexandria in 335 A.D. and struggled against them in behalf of Orthodoxy. During this time, by the grace of his words, he also turned many unbelievers to Christ.
He began his ascetical life outside his village of Coma in Upper Egypt, studying the ways of the ascetics and holy men there, and perfecting himself in the virtues of each until he surpassed them all. Desiring to increase his labors, he departed into the desert, and finding an abandoned fortress in the mountain, he made his dwelling in it, training himself in extreme fasting, unceasing prayer, and fierce conflicts with the demons. In this period of his life Saint Anthony endured terrible temptations from the devil. The Enemy of the race of man troubled the young ascetic with thoughts of his former life, doubts about his chosen path, concern for his sister, and he tempted Saint Anthony with lewd thoughts and carnal feelings. But the Saint extinguished that fire by meditating on Christ and by thinking of eternal punishment, thereby overcoming the devil. Here he remained, as mentioned above, about twenty years. Saint Athanasios the Great, who knew him personally and wrote his life, says that he came forth from that fortress "initiated in the mysteries and filled with the Spirit of God." Afterwards, because of the press of the faithful, who deprived him of his solitude, he was enlightened by God to journey with certain Bedouins, until he came to a mountain in the desert near the Red Sea, where he passed the remaining part of his life. Saint Athanasius says of him that "his countenance had a great and wonderful grace. This gift also he had from the Savior. For if he were present in a great company of monks, and anyone who did not know him previously wished to see him, immediately coming forward he passed by the rest, and hurried to Anthony, as though attracted by his appearance. Yet neither in height not breadth was he conspicuous above others, but in the serenity of his manner and the purity of his soul."
Saint Anthony partook of food only after sunset, he spent all night praying until dawn. Soon he slept only every third day. But the devil would not cease his tricks, and trying to scare the monk, he appeared under the guise of monstrous phantoms. The Saint however protected himself with the Life-Creating Cross. Finally the Enemy appeared to him in the guise of a frightful looking black child, and hypocritically declaring himself beaten, he thought he could tempt the Saint into vanity and pride. The Saint, however, vanquished the Enemy through prayer.
Saint Anthony's staunchness was greater than the wiles of the Enemy. Taking the form of ferocious beasts, the demons tried to force the Saint to leave that place, but he defeated them by trusting in the Lord. Looking up, the Saint saw the roof opening, as it were, and a ray of light coming down toward him. The demons disappeared and he cried out, "Where have You been, O Merciful Jesus? Why didn't You appear from the very beginning to end my pain?"
The Lord replied, "I was here, Anthony, but I wanted to see your struggle. Now, since you have not yielded, I shall always help you and make your name known throughout all the world." After this vision Saint Anthony was healed of his wounds inflicted upon him by the demons and felt stronger than before. He was then thirty-five years old.
Saint Anthony was uneducated but he was, as a counselor and teacher, one of the most learned men of his age i.e., Patriarchs and Royals etc. When some Hellenic philosophers attempted to test him with literary learning, Saint Anthony shamed them with the question: "Which is older, the understanding or the book? And which of these is the source of the other?" The shamed philosophers dispersed, for they saw that they had only book-learning without understanding, while Saint Anthony had understanding. Here was a man who had attained perfection insofar as man is able on earth. Here was an educator of educators and teacher of teachers, who for a whole eighty-five years perfected himself, and only thus was able to perfect many others.
Saint Anthony teaches: "Learn to desire humility, for that will cover all your sins. All sin is hateful to God, but the most hateful of all is pride of heart. Do not consider yourself educated or wise, or all your toil will be lost and your ship will arrive empty at the shore…If you have great power, threaten no man with death; know that according to nature you also are subject to death and that each soul takes off its body as its final clothing."
In Byzantium there was a strange and instructive custom at the coronation of the Emperor in Saint Sophia's. This was that, when the Patriarch placed the crown on the Emperor's head, he at the same time placed in his hand a silk purse filled with grave-dust, that the Emperor might be mindful of his death, flee all pride and be humble.
Shortly before his death, he told the brethren that soon he would be taken from them. He instructed them to preserve the Orthodox Faith in its purity, to avoid any association with heretics, and not to be negligent in their Monastic struggles, "Strive to be united first with the Lord, and then with the Saints, so that after death they may receive you as familiar friends into the everlasting dwellings."
So passing his life, and becoming an example of virtue and a rule for Monastics, he reposed on January 17 in the year 356 A.D. having lived altogether some 105 years.
SAINT ANTHONY SAYS:
"Wherefore, children, let us not faint nor deem that the time is long, or that we are doing something great, 'for the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward' (Romans 8:18). Nor let us think, as we look at the world, that we have renounced anything of much consequence, for the whole earth is very small compared with all the heaven. Wherefore if it even chanced that we were lords of all the earth and gave it up, it would be naught worthy of compassion with the Kingdom of heaven. For as if a man should despise a copper drachma to gain a hundred drachmas of gold; so it a man were lord of all the earth and were to renounce it, that which he gives up is little, and he receives a hundredfold. But if not even the whole earth is equal in value to the heavens, then he who has given up a few acres leaves as it were nothing; and even if he have given up a house or much gold he ought not to boast nor be low-spirited. Further, we should consider that even if we do not relinquish them for virtue's sake, still afterwards when we die we shall leave them behind--very often, as the Preacher says, to those to whom we do not wish. Why then should we not give them for virtue's sake, that we may inherit even a kingdom? Therefore let the desire of possession take hold of no one, for what gain is it to acquire these things which we cannot take with us? Why not rather get those things which we can take away with us--to wit, prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, kindness to the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from wrath, hospitality? If we possess these, we shall find them of themselves preparing for us s welcome there in the land of the meek-hearted.
Wherefore, children, let us hold fast our discipline, and let us not be careless. For in it the Lord is our fellow-worker, as it is written, 'to all that choose the good, God works with them for good. But to avoid being heedless, it is good to consider the word of the Apostle, "I die daily"' (1 Corinthians 15:31). For if we too live as though dying daily, we shall not sin. And the meaning of that saying is, that as we rise day by day we should think that we shall not abide till evening; and again, when about to lie down to sleep, we should think that we shall not rise up. For our life is naturally uncertain, and Providence allots it to us daily. But thus ordering our daily life, we shall neither fall into sin, nor have a lust for anything, nor cherish wrath against any, nor shall we heap up treasure upon earth. But, as though under the daily expectation of death, we shall be without wealth, and shall forgive all things to all men, nor shall we retain at all the desire of women, or of any other pleasure. But we shall turn from it as past and gone, ever striving and looking forward to the day of Judgment. For the greater dread and danger of torment ever destroys the ease of pleasure, and sets up the soul if it is like to fall.
The demons, therefore, if they see all Christians, and monks especially, laboring cheerfully and advancing, first make an attack by temptation and place hindrances to hamper our way, to wit, evil thoughts. But we need not fear their suggestions, for by prayer, fasting, and faith in the Lord their attack immediately fails. But even when it does they cease not, but knavishly by subtlety come on again. For when they cannot deceive the heart openly with foul pleasures they approach in different guise, and thenceforth shaping displays they attempt to strike fear, changing their shapes, taking the forms of women, wild beasts, creeping things, gigantic bodies, and troops of soldiers. But not even then need you fear their deceitful displays. For they are nothing and quickly disappear, especially if a man fortifies himself beforehand with faith and the sign of the Cross.
So then we ought to fear God only, and despise the demons, and be in no fear of them. But the more they do these things the more let us intensify our discipline against them, for a good life and faith in God is a great weapon. At any rate they fear the fasting, the sleeplessness, the prayers, the meekness, the quietness, the contempt of money and vainglory, the humility, the love of the poor, the alms, the freedom from anger and of the ascetics, and, chief of all, their piety towards Christ. Wherefore they do all things that they may not have any that trample on them, knowing the grace given to the faithful against them by the Savior, when He says, 'Behold I have given to you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy' (St. Luke 10:19)."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God