January 17-The Feast of St. Anthony the Great

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.

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ON JANUARY 17TH OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH COMMEMORATES OUR HOLY FATHER SAINT ANTHONY THE GREAT, THE ANCHORITE OF EGYPT, AND THE FATHER OF ALL MONKS.

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Life of Saint Anthony the Great

Most of what we know about the life of Saint Anthony the Great is from the Greek Life of Antonios by Saint Athanasios.

Saint Anthony was born near Herakleopolis Magna in Upper Egypt in 251 A.D. to wealthy parents. When he was eighteen years old, his parents died and left him with the care of his unmarried sister. In 285 A.D., he decided to follow the words of Jesus who has said: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me" (St. Matthew 19:21). Anthony gave his wealth to the poor and needy, and placed his sister with a group of Christian virgins.

At the age of twenty, consecrated himself to the life of asceticism that he had desired from childhood. At first he lived near his own village but then, in order to escape the disturbance of men, went off into the desert, on the shores of the Red Sea, where he spent twenty years as a hermit in company with no-one but God, in unceasing prayer, pondering and contemplation, patiently undergoing inexpressible demonic temptations.  

According to Saint Athanasius, the devil fought Saint Anthony by afflicting him with boredom, laziness (akedia), and the phantoms of women, which he overcame by the power of prayer, providing a them for Christian art. After that, he moved to a tomb, where he resided and closed the door on himself, depending on some local villagers who brought him food. When the devil perceived his ascetic life and his intense worship, he was envious and beat him mercilessly, leaving him unconscious. When his friends from the local village came to visit him and found him in this condition, they carried him to a church.

After he recovered, he made a second effort and went back to the desert, further out, to a mountain by the Nile, called Pispir, now Der El Memun, opposite Arsinoe in the Fayyum. There he lived strictly enclosed in an old abandoned Roman fort for some twenty years. According to Saint Athanasius, the devil again resumed his war against Saint Anthony, only this time the phantoms were in the form of wild beasts, wolves, lions, snakes and scorpions. They appeared as if they were about to attack him or cut him into pieces. But the Saint would laugh at them scornfully and say, "If any of you have any authority over me, only one would have been sufficient to fight me." At his saying this, they disappeared as though smoke, and God gave him the victory over the devil. While in the fort he only communicated with the outside world by a crevice through which food would be passed and he would say a few words. Saint Anthony would prepare a quantity of bread that would sustain him for six months. He did not allow anyone to enter his cell: whoever came to him, stood outside and listened to his advice.

Then one day he emerged from the fort with the help of villagers to break down the door. By this time most had expected him to have wasted away, or gone insane in his solitary confinement, but he emerged healthy, serene, and enlightened. Everyone was amazed he had been through these trials and emerged spiritually rejuvenated. He was hailed as a hero and from this time forth the legend of Saint Anthony began to spread and grow. Around him gathered many disciples whom he, by word and example, placed on the path of salvation.

In 85 years of ascetic life, he went only twice to Alexandria: the first time to seek martyrdom during a time of persecution of the Church, and the second at the invitation of Saint Athanasius, to refute Arian heresy. 

The back-story of one of the surviving epistles, directed to Constantine I recounts how the fame of Saint Anthony spread abroad and reached Emperor Constantine. The Emperor wrote to him, offering him praise and asked him to pray for him. The brethren were pleased with the Emperor's letter, but Saint Anthony did not pay any attention to it, and he said to them, "The books of God, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, commands us every day, but we do not heed what they tell us, and we turn our backs to them." Under the persistence of the brethren who told him, "Emperor Constantine loves the Church," he accepted to write him a letter blessing him, and praying for the peace and safety of the empire and the Church.

When Saint Anthony felt that the day of his departure from this life had approached, he commanded his disciples to give his staff to Saint Macarius, and to give one sheepskin cloak to Saint Athanasius and the other sheepskin cloak to Saint Serapion, his disciple. He further instructed his disciples to bury his body in an unmarked, secret grave, lest his body become an object of veneration.  He stretched himself to the ground and gave up his spirit. Saint Anthony the Great lived for 105 years and departed on the year 356 A.D.  

His biography was written by Saint Athanasius and titled Life of Saint Anthony the Great.  Many stories are also told about him in various collections of sayings of the Desert Holy Fathers.

Saint Anthony (Antonios) and Saint Paul the Hermit are seen as the founders of Christian Monasticism. Saint Paul the Hermit is lauded by Saint Anthony as the first hermit. The Monastery of Saint Paul the Hermit exists to this day in Egypt. Saint Anthony himself provided the example that others would follow (i.e., Saint Pachomius). And, although Saint Anthony the Great was illiterate he was, as a counselor and teacher, one of the most educated men of his age, as also was Saint Athanasius the Great.

SAYINGS (APOPHTHEGMATA) OF FATHER ANTHONY

  1. When the same Abba (Father) Anthony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, 'Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age?  Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men prosper and why are the just in need?' He heard a voice answering him, 'Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.'

  2. Someone asked Saint Anthony, 'What must one do in order to please God?' The Geronda (Elder) replied, 'Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the Holy Scripture; in whatever place your live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.'

  3. Saint Anthony said to Abba (Father) Poemen, 'this is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.'

  4. Abba (Father) Anthony said, 'I saw the snares that the enemy (devil) spreads out over the world and I said groaning, "What can get through from such snares?" Then I heard a voice to me, "humility."

  5. Saint Anthony said "if we make every effort to avoid death of the body, still more should it be our endeavor to avoid death of the soul. There is no obstacle for a man who wants to be saved other than negligence and laziness of soul.

  6.  Saint Anthony taught: "The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the god of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His Providential ordering of all things. For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His Providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul."

  7. Furthermore he taught "Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Without temptation no-one can be saved."

  8. Saint Anthony said: "What is slander? It is every sort of wicked word we would dare not speak in front of the person whom we are complaining about."

  9. Saint Anthony also said: "Do not have a single thing to do with schismatics and absolutely nothing with heretics...As you know I myself have avoided them due to their Christ hating and heterodox heresy."

  10. He also said, "Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ." (Source: Synaxaristes)

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DIVINE SERVICES FOR THE FEAST-DAY OF SAINT ANTHONY:

Vespers Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. (Chapel of Saint Nektarios).

Orthros at 9:00 a.m. and Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m. at the Chapel of Saint Nektarios.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George