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.
THE SEVENTHEENTH DAY OF THE MONTH OF JANUARY: The Life of Our Holy Monastic Father Anthony the Great
[Abbreviated from the account written by Saint Athanasius Archbishop of Alexandria]
The venerable Anthony was born in Egypt of noble parents known for their piety. He was brought up at home and had no dealing 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 Scripture, often meditated on how the Apostles renounced everything to follow the Savior. He kept turning over in his mind how, in the book of Acts, many had sold their possessions and "brought the money, and laid it at the Apostles' feet" to provide for the poor (Acts, Ch. 4). 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, and give to the poor, and come and follow Me: and thou shalt have treasure in heaven" (St. Matthew 3). Saint 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 St. Anthony kept back only a small sum for his sister, who was young and sickly. To his neighbors he gifted three hundred richly producing date palms, so that he and his sister would be free of concern for them. Not many days later, Saint Anthony returned to church and heard the saying from the Gospel: "Take no thought for the morrow;" (St. Matthew 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 its 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 St. Anthony lived, there was old recluse who had retired from the world in his youth. St. 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" (II Thes., Ch. 3). With his earnings he bought bread for the poor. From the Scripture he knew how much it behooves us to "pray without ceasing;" (I Thes., Ch. 5) therefore, he sent up continuous entreaty to the Lord. So deeply impressed in is him 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 imitated 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 how to 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 and 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...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 passions in the young Saint, appeared to him in terrifying dreams, and assumed the form of various specters. By night Saint Anthony heard noises, strange voices, and blood-curdling cries; by day the foe (Satan) attacked him physically. At no time could the godly one let down his guard. The fiend suggested lascivious thoughts, but Saint 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...
"...Some years passed, and St. 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, 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 he compassionate God, Who never forsakes those that hope in Him, intervened to save him from death...
"...The Lord was looking down on Anthony's struggle and wished to reassure the godly one of His care. By chance the Saint looked up and, behold, the roof opened and light beamed upon him. Suddenly the fiends were gone, the sepulcher was restored to its former condition, and 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 even 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." Anthony rose, feeling much stronger than before the assault. This temptation occurred when the blessed one was thirty-five years old...
"...Although people came to see the godly one and sometimes remained outside for days, they always left disappointed because he would let no one in. They heard unclean spirits screeching at Anthony, "Why have you invaded our home? What business do you have in the desert? Be off, or we will force you out! You are powerless to withstand us."
"...One day, the brethren came to our father and asked him to deliver a discourse on the monastic life. He began, "The Holy Scripture are sufficient for instructing us in the fulfillment of God's Commandments, yet monks do well by encouraging one another. You, children, should tell me whatever you have learned, and I, your father, will impart to you the lessons long experience has taught me. To begin with, let no one ever relax his labors. We must all maintain our original zeal, or rather, increase it daily."
"...One night, while St. Anthony was laboring for the Lord in prayer and vigil, all the hyenas in the region emerged from their lairs and encircled him, snarling viciously and threatening to tear him to pieces. The Saint knew that their ferocity was incited by the devil and issued this challenge: "If God has delivered me into your power, then make a meal of me. If the Satan has sent you, then be off, for I am Christ's servant." Demonstrating his power, the Lord at once scattered the hyenas...
"...On another occasion Saint Anthony was sitting on the mountain and happened to look up. He saw a soul ascending into heaven, escorted by Angels. Astonished by this, he turned to prayer, in the hope of learning what the vision meant. A voice announced, "It is the soul Ammon of Nitria." Ammon was a righteous elder who had led a life of the strictest asceticism since his youth, and Nitria was a thirteen-day's journey from Saint Anthony's mountain.
Seeing their elder rejoicing, St. Anthony's disciples were curious and asked why he was so happy. "Ammon fell asleep today," he said. They knew Ammon, since he frequently visited Saint Anthony. Thirty days later, brethren came from Nitria, and St. Anthony's disciples were amazed to learn that Ammon had died on the very day and at the very hour when the elder (Geronda) saw his soul being carried up to heaven. They marveled at Saint Anthony's purity of heart and his ability to see things happening far away.
The venerable Anthony, great among the Holy Fathers, overcame every demonic temptation. He regarded the wicked spirits as beneath contempt and never succumbed to their tyranny. Frequently he beheld Angels and devils with his physical eyes, witnessing how they concerned themselves with human affairs, each striving to incline men to their side. Being extremely advanced in virtue, he heaped scorn upon the wicked spirits and taunted them for having fallen from heaven and become inheritors of eternal hell-fire...
"...Not in vain do we relate this story, brethren, but so that you may be assured of God's goodness and compassion. If He is ready to accept the devil's repentance, then how much more that of man, for Whom He allowed His Blood to be shed? Are you a sinner? Then repent. Do you consider that you are not a sinner? Then you will be tormented forever in Gehenna, more severely than the demons, not because you have indeed sinned (for we have all transgressed, except God alone), but because you refuse to repent. Beseech the Judge to show mercy before it is too late, for death awaits us all. If you die without repentance, having pleased Satan by iniquities of every sort, you will be hurled into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. If, however, you flee sin and please God by repentance and confession before your end, you shall inherit indescribable blessings. Turn to the Merciful Judge and render yourself worthy of exaltation and a dwelling with Angels, where ineffable felicity abounds and there is eternal joy. May this be the lot of us all, through Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Source: The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints)
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
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 learned 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 Sofia'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. (The Prologue from Ochrid)
Orthros (Matins) at 9:00 a.m.
Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.
Place of Worship: Saint Andrew
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!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God