My beloved spiritual children 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.
ON JANUARY 17TH OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHURCH COMMEMORATES THE
VENERABLE AND GOD-BEARING FATHER ANTHONY THE GREAT
Apolytikion (Dimissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone
O Father Anthony, you imitated the zealous Elijah. You followed the straight paths of the Baptist and became a desert dweller. By prayer you confirmed the universe. Wherefore, intercede with Christ our God to save our souls.
Kontakion Hymn. Second Tone
Forsake the uproars of life O venerable one, you completed your life in quiet, fully imitating the Baptist. Therefore, we honor you with him, O Anthony, Father of Fathers.
The Venerable Anthony was born in Egypt of noble parents known for their piety. He was brought up at home and had no dealings with outsiders. Because he disliked the rough company of other boys, he was unwilling to go to school, but burning with divine desire, cultivated purity of heart in solitude. Childish games held no attraction for him, and whenever his parents went to church, he accompanied them. He heeded what was read there, applying it to his own life. Unlike most worldly youths, Anthony had no interest in sweets or savory foods, but was content with anything given him.
When our saint was about twenty years old, his parents died, leaving him in charge of the house and his sister. He did not alter his habit of attending church frequently, and while listening to the Holy Scriptures, often meditated on how the Holy Apostles renounced everything to follow the Savior. He kept turning over in his mind how, the Books of Acts, many had sold their possessions and "brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts, ch. 4), to provide for the poor. One day, while reflecting on the earnest faith of the first Christians and the "hope which was laid up for them in heaven" (Col. ch. 1), he went to church and heard Christ's words to the rich young man: "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, give to the poor, and come and follow Me; and thou shalt have treasure in heaven" (St. Matthew ch. 3). Anthony considered this an admonition directed to him personally by the Savior, and straightway sold his inheritance. The proceeds were considerable, and the poor received nearly all, since Anthony kept back only a small sum for his sister, who was young and sickly. To his neighbors he gifted three hundred rich producing date palms, so that he and his sister would be free of concern for them. Not many days later, Anthony returned to church and heard the saying from the Gospel: "Take no thought for the morrow;" (St. Matthew ch. 6), whereupon, he gave the remaining money to the poor as well. Not wishing to stay any longer at home, he committed his sister to the care of virgins whose character and way of life was well known to him, with the understanding that they would betroth her to Christ and rear her in piety. Then, free of the world and it snares, he devoted himself to a life of asceticism.
In those days there were as yet few monasteries in Egypt, and no solitary had penetrated the trackless desert, but whoever wished to serve Christ and save himself retired to some solitary place near his own village to practice virtue. Near the settlement where Anthony lived, there was an old recluse who had retired from the world in his youth. Anthony was edified by him, decided to emulate his way of life, and began withdrawing to various isolated locations nearby. Whenever he heard of other solitaries, he sought them out as a bee seeks flowers, and finding them, never left until he had collected the sweet nectar of edification.
Having made a good beginning , the blessed one daily intensified his labors. He toiled at his handicraft, basket-weaving, in obedience to Saint Paul, who said, "If any will not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thes., ch. 3). With his earnings he bought bread for the poor. From the Holy Scripture he knew how much it behooves us to "pray without ceasing;" (1 Thes., ch. 5) therefore, he sent up continuous entreaty to the Lord. So deeply impressed in his mind were the words of the Gospel, that his memory served him instead of books.
Saint Anthony's evident holiness quickly won him the love of the ascetics whom he visited. He observed and imitate the virtues of each. From one he learned self-restraint, from another how to console the brethren, from another meekness, from another how to keep vigil, from another to heed holy books with the utmost attention, from another who too fast, from another to sleep on bare earth, from another patience, and from another humility. Having derived as much profit as possible from all the monks in the region, St. Anthony finally secluded himself in a cell an applied himself wholeheartedly to putting into practice what he had seen. So doing, he soon became well-known in the vicinity, and the neighbors and other monks began visiting him frequently. The elderly regarded him as a beloved son, the young as an esteemed brother, and all agreed that he had early attained a high level of sanctity.
Saint Anthony's success incited the envy of the hater of Christians, the devil, who devised schemes to prevent our saint from achieving salvation. Satan called to the blessed one's remembrance his former possessions, care of his sister, and nobility of origin, as well as various tasty foods and other vain pleasures of the world. He also point out the difficulty of attaining virtue, the arduousness of the path to holiness, the frailty of the body, and the long struggle that lay ahead. In a word, he confused Anthony's understanding with subtle reasonings, hoping that the venerable one would abandon the contest; but to no avail. The Saint redoubled his prayers and by faith and patience prevailed over the thoughts besetting him. Defeated in the first round, the devil did not remain idle, but stirred up carnal longings in the young Saint, appeared to him in terrifying dreams, and assumed the form of various specters. At no time could the godly one let down his guard. The fiend suggested lascivious thoughts, but St. Anthony rebutted them with unceasing prayer; he aroused the Saint's flesh, only to find the Lord's favorite protected by faith, vigil, and fasting. The devil went so far as to appear in the form of a beautiful, enticing woman; St. Anthony, however, at once called to mind the flames of Gehenna and the "worm" that "dieth not" (St. Mark ch. 9). Remembering the endless torments that follow the Dread-Judgment, the venerable one preserved his purity in the face of every attempt by the Adversary to lead him onto the hazardous path that has been the downfall of so many young men.
After initials defeat, the dragon (Satan) changed tactics and assumed the form of a repulsive-looking black boy." "I have deceived many, but your asceticism is my downfall," he whined... The devil was compelled to admit, "I am the spirit of fornication and know many ways to destroy the young. It is impossible to count my successes against those who had vowed to remain pure or renounced shameless vices. The Prophet Hosea declares, "The spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err," (Hos., ch. 4), and truly, I have taken them in. I have done my best to beguile you as well, but you always ignore me."
Some years passed, and Saint Anthony decided to take up his abode in a tomb outside the village. He arranged for one of his friends to bring him food at long intervals, and then shut himself in the sepulcher. The devil was outraged by this invasion of the desert, which he had always regarded as his own, and was well aware of the danger to him posed by the blessed one's asceticism, so he obtained God's permission to assemble his lackeys and beat St. Anthony until he lay speechless with pain. The Saint testified said that the blows the demons delivered surpassed man's ability to endure, but that the compassionate God, Who never forsakes those that hope in Him, intervened to save him from death...
The Lord was looking down on Saint Anthony's struggle and wished to reassure the godly one of His care. By chance the Saint looked up and, behold, the root opened and light beamed upon him. Suddenly the friends were gone, the sepulcher was restored to its former condition, and St. Anthony no longer felt pain. Elated by the Lord's visitation, the Venerable one sighed from the bottom of his heart, and gazing at the light, cried, "Where wast Thou, my compassionate Jesus? Why didst Thou tarry in healing my wounds?"
A voice replied, "I was ever at your side, Anthony, but wanted to see you prevail. Now that you have proved your bravery, I will be with you always and spread your fame throughout the world." Saint Anthony rose, feeling much stronger than before the assault. This temptation occurred when the blessed on was thirty-five years old...
The Venerable one also reminded his hearers that we must labor ceaselessly and diligently for Christ God, saying: "Never forget that it was the Lord Who made you, that we are Christ's servants, and that we must toil for Him. A slave (δούλος) dares not refuse to work on the grounds that yesterday's chores tired him. He returns to his tasks every morning, hoping to please his master and avoid a thrashing. Likewise, let us obey the Commandments given by God, Who justly rewards all for their deeds. He shall judge us according to the state in which He finds us...
The Saint explained that the remembrance of death assists powerfully in combating sloth. He said:
"Meditate upon the Apostle's words: "We stand in jeopardy every hour and die daily" (1 Corinthians, ch. 15). Recalling death constantly, we should correct ourselves and abstain from sin. Rising from sleep, we ought not think we shall live till evening; lying down to rest, we must not expect to see morning. We cannot know what lies in store for us, but one thing is certain: that we are in God's hands. If we are mindful of this, we shall never sin, either by surrendering to some ruinous desire, or by getting angry, or by laying up treasures on earth…"
He said this about the Kingdom of heaven:
"The Greeks think nothing of sailing to faraway lands to study letters and tickle their ears with the doctrines of foreign teachers, but we have no need to wander abroad, for our Lord Jesus Christ said in the Gospel, "The Kingdom of God is within you" (St. Luke, ch. 17).
To attain it we only need desire it fervently."
Regarding the struggle with the demons, Saint Anthony said:
"God Himself teaches us to watch over our souls carefully, for our adversaries, the demons, are extremely crafty. According to the Apostles, the battle with them never ends. They fill the air, hovering around us. It is beyond my ability to describe them in all their variety, but I will tell you something about the ruses they employ...They lay snares everywhere and try to corrupt their hearts by implanting in them impious and unclean thoughts. Do not be frightened by this, for evil spirits are thwarted by prayer and fasting...Their tactics are varied. When we steadfastly reject their initial suggestions, they attempt to beguile us by appearing in the form of alluring women, or to terrify us by assuming the shapes of scorpions or giants. Sometimes whole armies of them approach, only to vanish when we make the sign of the cross. Failing to panic us, they present themselves as soothsayers. Eventually, they must call upon their leader, the devisor of all evil, for assistance in battle..."
Although Saint Anthony held no titles or position, his holiness marked him as one whose wisdom commanded respect. When the Synod of Nicea was convened, he was invited to participate. His eloquent defense of the Orthodox Christian doctrine concerning the Person of Jesus Christ was instrumental in weakening the position of heretical Arianism. His witness led to the eventual and complete elimination of Arianism.
He instructed his followers to bury his body in an unmarked, secret grave, lest his body become an object of veneration. The monastic rules of Saint Anthony, the "patriarch" of monastic life, have served as the basis for countless monasteries.
Saint Anthony spent eighty-five years in 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 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 Thmuis (+March 21st). Saint Anthony died peacefully in the year 356 A.D. at age 105, and he was buried in the desert by his disciples. (Source: The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, vol. 5)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God