Monday, 17 January 2022

St Anthony the Great, Another Bi-Ritual Saint

St Anthony, Patriarch of Cenobitic Monks, is honoured today in both East and West.

From the West:

Antony was born in Egypt of noble and Christian parents who left him an orphan at an early age. Having one day entered a Church, he heard these words of the Gospel being read: “If you will be perfect, go and sell all you have and give to the poor.” He took them as addressed to himself and thought it his duty to obey these words of Christ his Lord. Selling therefore his possessions, he distributed all the money among the poor. Being freed from these obstacles, he resolved on leading on Earth a heavenly life. But at his entrance on the perils of such a combat, he felt that besides the shield of faith with which he was armed, he must needs fortify himself with the other virtues, and so ardent was his desire to possess them that whoever he saw excelling in any virtue, him did he study to imitate.

Nothing, therefore, could exceed his continence and vigilance. He surpassed all in patience, meekness, mercy, humility, manual labour and the study of the Sacred Scriptures. So great was his aversion for the company of, or conversation with, heretics, especially the Arians, that he used to say that we ought not even to go near them. He lay on the ground when necessity obliged him to sleep. As to fasting, he practised it with so much fervour that his only nourishment was bread seasoned with salt, and he quenched his thirst with water. Neither did he take this his food and drink until sunset, and frequently abstained from it altogether for two successive days. He very frequently spent the whole night in prayer. Antony became so valiant a soldier of God that the enemy of mankind, ill-brooking such extraordinary virtue, attacked him with manifold temptations. But the Saint overcame them all by fasting and prayer. Neither did his victories over Satan make him heedless, for he knew how innumerable are the devil’s artifices for injuring souls.

Knowing this, he took himself into one of the largest deserts of Egypt, where such was his progress in Christian perfection that the wicked spirits whose attacks grew more furious as Antony’s resistance grew more resolute became the object of his contempt, so much so, indeed, that he would sometimes taunt them for their weakness. When encouraging his disciples to fight against the devil and teaching them the arms with which they would vanquish him, he used often to say to them: “ Believe me, Brethren, Satan dreads the watchings of holy men, and their prayers, and fasts, and voluntary poverty, and works of mercy, and humility, and, above all, their ardent love for Christ our Lord, at the mere sign of whose most holy Cross, he is disabled, and put to flight.” So formidable was he to the devils that many persons in Egypt who were possessed by them were delivered by invoking Antony’s name. So great, too, was his reputation for sanctity, that Constantine the Great and his Sons wrote to him, commending themselves to his prayers.

At length, having reached the hundred and fifth year of his age and having received a countless number into his institute, he called his monks together. And having instructed them how to regulate their lives according to Christian perfection, he, venerated both for the miracles he had wrought and for the holiness of his life, departed from this world to Heaven, on the sixteenth of the Calends of February (January 17).

Dom Prosper Gueranger:
The East and West unite today in honouring Saint Antony, the Father of Cenobites. The Monastic Life existed before his time, as we know from indisputable testimony. But he was the first Abbot because he was the first to bring monks under the permanent government of one Superior or Father. Antony began with seeking solely his own sanctification. He was known only as the wonderful Solitary against whom the wicked spirits waged an almost continued battle: but in the course of time men were attracted to him by his miracles and by the desire of their own perfection. This gave him disciples. He permitted them to cluster round his cell and monasteries thus began to be built in the desert. The age of the Martyrs was near its close. The persecution under Diocletian, which was to be the last, was over as Antony entered on the second half of his course, and God chose this time for organising a new force in the Church. The Monastic Life was brought to bear upon the Christian world. The Ascetics, as they were called, not even such of them as were consecrated — were not a sufficient element of power. Monasteries were built in every direction, in solitudes and in the very cities, and the Faithful had but to look at these communities living in the fervent and literal fulfilment of the counsels of Christ, and they felt themselves encouraged to obey the precepts.
The apostolic traditions of continual prayer and penance were perpetuated by the monastic system. It secured the study of the Sacred Scriptures and theology, and the Church herself would soon receive from these arsenals of intellect and piety her bravest defenders, her holiest Prelates and her most zealous Apostles. Yes, the Monastic Life was to be and give all this to the Christian world, for the example of Saint Antony had given her a bias to usefulness. If there ever were a monk to whom the charms of solitude and the sweetness of contemplation were dear, it was our Saint. And yet, they could not keep him in his desert when he could save souls by a few days spent in a noisy city. Thus we find him in the streets of Alexandria when the pagan persecution was at its height. He came to encourage the Christians in their martyrdom. Later on, when that still fiercer foe of Arianism was seducing the Faith of the people, we again meet the great Abbot in the same capital, this time, preaching to its inhabitants that the Word is consubstantial to the Father, proclaiming the Nicene faith, and keeping up the Catholics in orthodoxy and resolution. There is another incident in the life of Saint Antony which tells in the same direction, inasmuch as it shows how an intense interest in the Church must ever be where the Monastic Spirit is. We are alluding to our Saint’s affection for the great Saint Athanasius who, on his part, reverenced the Patriarch of the Desert, visited him, promoted the Monastic Life to the utmost of his power, used to say that he considered the great hope of the Church to be in the good discipline of nonasticism, and wrote the Life of his dear Saint Antony.
But, to whom is due the glory of the Monastic Institute with which the destinies of the Church were, from that time forward, to be so closely connected as that the period of her glory and power was to be when the monastic element flourished and the days of her affliction were to be those of its decay? Who was it that put into the heart of Antony and his disciples the love of that poor and unknown, yet ever productive, life? It is Jesus, the humble Babe of Bethlehem. To Him, then, wrapped in His swaddling clothes, and yet the omnipotent God, be all the glory!
*****
We unite, great Saint, with the universal Church in offering you the homage of our affectionate veneration, and in praising our Emmanuel for the gifts He bestowed on you. How sublime a life was yours, and how rich in fruit were your works! Verily, you are the Father of a great people and one of the most powerful auxiliaries of the Church of God. We beseech you, therefore, pray for the Monastic Order, that it may re-appear in all its ancient fervour, and pray for each member of the great Family. Fevers of the body have been often allayed by your intercession and we beg for a continuance of this your compassionate aid — but the fevers of our soul are more dangerous and we beg your pity and prayers that we may be delivered from them. Watch over us, in the temptations which the enemy is unceasingly putting in our way. Pray for us that we may be vigilant in the combat, prudent in avoiding dangerous occasions, courageous in the trial and humble in our victory.
The angel of darkness appeared to you in a visible shape, but he hides himself and his plots from us. Here again, we beg your prayers that we be not deceived by his craft. May the fear of God’s judgements and the thought of eternity penetrate into the depth of our souls. May prayer be our refuge in every necessity, and penance our safeguard against sin. But above all, pray that we may have that which you counselled above all —the love of Jesus — of that Jesus who, for love of us, deigned to be born into this world so that He might merit for us the graces with which we might triumph — of that Jesus who humbled Himself even so far as to suffer temptation that so He might show us how we were to resist and fight.

From the East: 

Saint Anthony the Great is known as the Father of 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. His parents were pious Christians of illustrious lineage. 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” (Mt.19:21). 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 convent.

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.

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 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.

Realizing that the devil would undoubtedly attack him in another manner, Saint Anthony prayed and intensified his efforts. Anthony prayed that the Lord would show him the path of salvation. And he was granted a vision. The ascetic beheld a man, who by turns alternately finished a prayer, and then began to work. This was an angel, which the Lord had sent to instruct His chosen one.

Saint Anthony tried to accustom himself to a stricter way of life. 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 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 small dark figure, 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 devils pounced upon the saint intending to kill him, and inflicted terrible wounds upon him. By the providence of the Lord, 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 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 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 and felt stronger than before. He was then thirty-five years of age.

Having gained spiritual experience in his struggle with the devil, Saint Anthony considered going into the Thebaid desert to serve the Lord. He asked the Elder (to whom he had turned for guidance at the beginning of his monastic journey) to go into the desert with him. The Elder, while blessing him in the then as yet unheard of exploit of being a hermit, decided not to accompany him because of his age.

Saint Anthony went into the desert alone. The devil tried to hinder him, by placing a large silver disc in his path, then gold, but the saint ignored it and passed by. He found an abandoned fort on the other side of the river and settled there, barricading the entrance with stones. His faithful friend brought him bread twice a year, and there was water inside the fort.

Saint Anthony spent twenty years in complete isolation and constant struggle with the demons, and he finally achieved perfect calm. The saint’s friends removed the stones from the entrance, and they went to Saint Anthony and besought him to take them under his guidance. Soon Saint Anthony’s cell was surrounded by several monasteries, and the saint acted as a father and guide to their inhabitants, giving spiritual instruction to all who came into the desert seeking salvation. He increased the zeal of those who were already monks and inspired others with a love for the ascetical life. He told them to strive to please the Lord, and not to become faint-hearted in their labours. He also urged them not to fear demonic assaults, but to repel the Enemy by the power of the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord.

In the year 311, there was a fierce persecution against Christians, in the reign of the emperor Maximian. Wishing to suffer with the holy martyrs, Saint Anthony left the desert and went to Alexandria. He openly ministered to those in prison, he was present at the trial and interrogations of the confessors and accompanying the martyrs to the place of execution. It pleased the Lord to preserve him, however, for the benefit of Christians.

At the close of the persecution, the saint returned to the desert and continued his exploits. The Lord granted the saint the gift of wonderworking, casting out demons and healing the sick by the power of his prayer. The great crowds of people coming to him disrupted his solitude, and he went off still farther, into the inner desert where he settled atop a high elevation. But the brethren of the monasteries sought him out and asked him to visit their communities.

Another time Saint Anthony left the desert and arrived in Alexandria to defend the Orthodox Faith against the Manichaean and Arian heresies. Knowing that the name of Saint Anthony was venerated by all the Church, the Arians said that he adhered to their heretical teaching. But Saint Anthony publicly denounced Arianism in front of everyone and in the presence of the bishop. During his brief stay at Alexandria, he converted a great multitude of pagans to Christ.

People from all walks of life loved the saint and sought his advice. Pagan philosophers once came to Abba Anthony intending to mock him for his lack of education, but by his words he reduced them to silence. Emperor Constantine the Great (May 21) 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.

Saint Anthony spent eighty-five 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 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 18), and the other to Saint Serapion of Thmuis (March 21). Saint Anthony died peacefully in the year 356, at 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 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, the relics of Saint Anthony the Great were transferred to Alexandria, and after the conquest of Egypt by the Saracens in the seventh century, they were transferred to Constantinople. The holy relics were transferred from Constantinople in the tenth-eleventh centuries to a diocese outside Vienna. In the fifteenth century, they were brought to Arles (in France), to the church of Saint Julian.

Troparion — Tone 4

By emulating the ways of Elias the zealot, / and following the straight paths of the Baptist, / O Father Anthony, you made the desert a city, / and upheld the world by your prayers. / Therefore, entreat Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion — Tone 2

(Podoben: “You sought the heights...”)
You rejected the tumults of this life and lived a life of stillness, / emulating the Baptist in every way, most righteous one. / Therefore, we honour you with him, Father Anthony, / the foundation of the Fathers.

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