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.
OUR VENERABLE AND GOD-BEARING FATHER ANTHONY THE GREAT
Apolytikion (Dismissa) Hymn of the Saint. Fourth Tone
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 intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion. Second Tone
Thou leftist 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.
Saint Anthony the Great is known as the Father of Orthodox Monasticism, and the long ascetical sermon in The Life of Saint Anthony by Saint Athanasius (Sections 16-34), could be called the first Monastic Rule.
He was born in Egypt in the village of Coma, near the desert of the Thebaid, in the year 251 A.D. His parents were pious Christians of illustrious lineage. Saint Anthony was a serious child and was respectful and obedient to his parents. He loved to attend church services, and he listened to the Holy Scripture so attentively, that he remembered what he heard all his life.
When Saint Anthony was about twenty years old, he lost his parents, but he was responsible for the care of his younger sister. Going to church about six months later, the youth reflected on how the faithful, in the Acts of the Apostles (4:35), sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the Apostles for the needy.
Then he entered the church and heard the Gospel passage where Christ speaks to the rich young man: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me" (St. Matthew 19:21). Saint Anthony felt that these words applied to him. Therefore, he sold the property that he received after the death of his parents, then distributed the money to the poor, and left his sister in the care of pious virgins in a women's monastery.
Leaving his parental home, Saint Anthony began his ascetical life in a hut not far from his village. By working with his hands, he was able to earn his livelihood and also alms for the poor. Sometimes, the holy youth also visited other ascetics living in the area, and from each he sought direction and benefit. He turned to one particular ascetic for guidance in the spiritual life.
The manifold temptations he endured continually for the space of twenty years are incredible. The Enemy (Satan) 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 St. 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 and his temptations. His ascetical struggles by day and by night, whereby he mortified the uprisings of the passion 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 threatened 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.
Realizing that the devil would undoubtedly attack him in another manner, Saint Anthony prayed and intensified his efforts. Saint Anthony prayed that the Lord would show him the path of salvation. And he was granted a vision. The holy ascetic beheld a man, who by turns alternatively finished a prayer, and then began to work. This was an Angel of God, which the Lord had sent to instruct His chosen one.
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. Here he remained, as mentioned above for twenty years. Saint Athanasius 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." He 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 holy monk, he appeared under the guise of monstrous phantoms. The Saint however protected himself with the Life-Creating Cross. Finally the Enemy (Satan) 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 with prayer.
For even greater solitude, Saint Anthony moved farther away from the village, into a graveyard. He asked a friend to bring him a little bread on designated days, then shut himself in a tomb. Then the devil pounced upon the Saint intending to kill him, and inflicted terrible wounds upon him. By the Providence of the Lord, Saint Anthony's friend arrived the next day to bring him his food. Seeing him lying on the ground as if dead, he took him back to the village. They thought the Saint was dead and prepared for his burial. At midnight, Saint Anthony regained consciousness and told his friend to carry him back to the tombs.
Saint Anthony's staunchness was greater than the wiles of the Enemy. Taking the form of ferocious beasts, the devils tried to force the Saint to leave the 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 wanted to see your struggle. Now, since you have not yielded, I shall always help you and make your name known throughout the world." After this vision Saint Anthony was healed of his wounds and felt stronger than before. He was then thirty-five years of age.
People from all walks of life loved the Saint and sought his advice. Pagan philosophers once came to Abba (Father) Anthony intending to mock him for his lack of education, but by his words he reduced them to silence. Emperor Constantine the Great (May 21st) and his sons wrote to Saint Anthony and asked him for a reply. He praised the Emperor for his belief in Christ, and advised him to remember the future judgment, and to know that Christ is the True King.
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 the Great 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 nor breadth was he conspicuous above others, but in the serenity of his manner and the purity of his soul."
Saint Anthony spent 85 years in the solitary desert. Shortly before his death, he told the brethren that soon he would be taken from them. He instructed them to preserve the Orthodox Christian 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."
The Saint instructed two of his disciples, who had attended him in the final fifteen years of his life, to bury him in the desert and not in Alexandria. He left one of his monastic mantles to Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (+January 18th), and the other to Saint Serapion of Thomuis (+March 21st). Saint Anthony fell asleep in the Lord peacefully in the year 356 A.D., at the age 105, and he was buried in the desert by his disciples.
The Life of the famed ascetic Saint Anthony the Great was written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. This is the first biography of a Saint who was not a martyr, and is considered to be one of the finest of Saint Athanasius' writings. Saint John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Orthodox Christian.
"These things are insignificant compared with Anthony's virtues, "writes Saint Athanasius, "but judge from them what the man of God Anthony was like. From his youth until his old age, he kept his zeal for asceticism, he did not give in to the desire for costly foods because of his age, nor did he alter his clothing because of the infirmity of his body. He did not even wash his feet with water. He remained very healthy, and he could see well because his eyes were sound and undimmed. Not one of his teeth fell out, but near the gums they had become worn due to his advanced age. He remained strong in his hands and feet...He was spoken of everywhere, and was admired by everyone, and was sought even by those who had not seen him, which is evidence of his virtue and of a soul dear to God."
The following works of Saint Anthony have come down to us:
Twenty Sermons on the virtues, primarily Monastic (probably spurious).
Seven Letters to various Egyptian Monasteries concerning moral perfection, and the monastic life as a spiritual struggle.
A Rule for Monastics (not regarded as an authentic work of Saint Anthony).
In the year 544 A.D. the holy relics of Saint Anthony the Great were transferred to Alexandria, and after the conquest of Egypt by the Seracens in the 7th century, they were transferred to Constantinople. The holy relics were transferred from Constantinople in the 10th-11th centuries to diocese outside Vienna. In the 15th century they were brought to Aries (in France), to the church of Saint Julian.
SOME OF THE TEACHINGS OF SAINT ANTHONY
One who knows oneself, knows God: and one who knows God is worthy to worship Him as is right. Therefore, my beloved in the Lord, know yourselves." (Letter IV, from the authentic collection of Seven Letters).
[Saint Anthony speaks here of the intellect, nous, our highest faculty, not mere reason, but that which can understand the Divine via immediate experience, intuition, or 'simple cognition'] "Holiness is achieved when the intellect is in its natural state." "The soul realizes its integrity when its intellect is in that state in which it was created." "Let us purify our nous, for I believe that when the nous is completely pure and is in its natural state, it gains penetrating insight, and it sees more clearly and further than the demons, since the Lord reveals things to it." (Quoted by Saint Hesychios the Priest, in Philokalia).
Some elders (gerontes) came to Saint Anthony and asked him, "Which is the greatest of all virtues?" Each one then gave an opinion, some saying that "fasting and keeping of vigils" best help one come near to God; other said "voluntary poverty" and "detachment"; others said "compassion." Last of all, Saint Anthony gave his reply: "All that you have said is both necessary and helpful for those who are searching for God and wish to come to Him. But we cannot award the first place to any of these virtues; for there are many among us who have endured fasting and vigils, or have withdrawn into the desert, or have practiced poverty to such an extent that they have not left themselves enough for their daily sustenance, or have performed acts of compassion so generously that they no longer have anything to give; and yet these same monks, having done all this, have nevertheless fallen away miserably from virtue and slipped into vice. What was it, then, that made them stray from the straight path? In my opinion, it was simply that they did not possess the grace of discrimination (discernment); for it is this virtue that teaches a man to walk along the Royal Road, swerving neither to the right through immoderate [excessive] self-control, nor to the left through indifference and laxity. Discrimination (Discernment) is a kind of eye and lantern of the soul, as is said in the Gospel passage: "The light of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is pure, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness" (St. Matthew 6:22-23). And this is just what we find. For the power of discrimination (discernment), scrutinizing all the thoughts and actions of man, distinguishes and sets aside everything that is base and not pleasing to God, and keeps him free from delusion...Holy Scripture also refers to it as 'discernment' without which we must do nothing--not even drink the spiritual wine that 'makes glad the heart of man' (Psalm 104:15), for it said, 'Drink with discernment' (Proverbs 31:3), and 'he that does not do all things with discernment is like a city that is broken down and without walls' (Proverbs 25:28). Wisdom, intellect and perceptiveness are united in discrimination (discernment) and without these our inner house cannot be built, nor can we gather spiritual wealth (cf. Prov. 24:3-4)...These passages show very clearly that without the gift of discrimination no virtue can stand or remain firm to the end, for it is the mother of all of the virtues and their guardian." (Quoted by Saint John Cassian in his Conferences).
Saint Anthony writes to his dear spiritual children...Truly my children, the love that is between you and me is no bodily love but a spiritual, religious love. For this cause I grow not weary of praying to God day and night for you, that you may be able to know the grace which He has wrought toward you...Now, my children, neglect not to cry out day and night to God, constraining the bounty of the Father, and in His bounty He will give you help from heaven, teaching you until you know what is [spiritually] good for you..."
"Except through great humility in your whole heart and mind and spirit and soul and body, you will not be able to inherit the Kingdom of God...For he who knows his own disgrace, seeks again his elect grace; and whoever knows his own death, also knows his life Eternal." (Letter VI)
"The Holy Spirit comforts us and brings us back to our beginning, to recover our inheritance and the dominion of that same comforting Spirit. Therefore, 'as many as have been baptized into Christ [The Divine anointing], have put on Christ: there is neither male nor female, there is neither bond nor free." (Gal. 3:27-28) [Letter VII]
"I no longer fear God; I love Him. For perfect love cast out fear." (Sayings of the Fathers, Alphabetical Collection)
"A man asked Abbot Anthony, 'What shall I keep, that I may please God?' St. Anthony said: 'Wherever you go, have God ever before your eyes. In whatever you do, hold by the example of the Holy Scriptures; and in whatever place your abide, don't be swift to leave [out of restlessness]. These three things keep, and you will be saved."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God