Κυριακή 17 Ιανουαρίου 2016

Three Africans ancients saints: Anthony the Great (the Professor of Desert), Athanasius the Great & Cyril of Alexandria (Feast days on 17 & 18 January)

Venerable and God-bearing Father Anthony the Great

Orthodox Church of America
Saint Anthony the Great is known as the Father of monasticism, and the long ascetical sermon in The Life of St Anthony by St 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 St 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, St 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 St 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, St 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.
St 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 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, St 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, St Anthony regained consciousness and told his friend to carry him back to the tombs.
St 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?” 

St Paul of Thebes with st Anthony the Great
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 St 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, St 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.
St 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.
St 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 St Anthony and besought him to take them under his guidance. Soon St 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 labors. 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, St 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 St Anthony left the desert and arrived in Alexandria to defend the Orthodox Faith against the Manichaean and Arian heresies. Knowing that the name of St Anthony was venerated by all the Church, the Arians said that he adhered to their heretical teaching. But St 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 St 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.
St 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 St Athanasius of Alexandria (January 18), and the other to St Serapion of Thmuis (March 21). St 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 St Anthony the Great was written by St 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 St Athanasius’ writings. St John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Christian.
“These things are insignificant compared with Anthony’s virtues,” writes St 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 St 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 St Anthony).
In the year 544 the relics of St 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 St Julian. 

See also: Anthony the Great, the Philosopher of the Desert
Dream Team of the Desert

St Athanasius the Great the Patriarch of Alexandria

Orthodox Church of America

Saint Athanasius the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, was a great Father of the Church and a pillar of Orthodoxy. He was born around the year 297 in the city of Alexandria into a family of pious Christians. He received a fine secular education, but he acquired more knowledge by diligent study of the Holy Scripture. In his childhood, the future hierarch Athanasius became known to St Alexander the Patriarch of Alexandria (May 29). A group of children, which included Athanasius, were playing at the seashore. The Christian children decided to baptize their pagan playmates.
The young Athanasius, whom the children designated as “bishop”, performed the Baptism, precisely repeating the words he heard in church during this sacrament. Patriarch Alexander observed all this from a window. He then commanded that the children and their parents be brought to him. He conversed with them for a long while, and determined that the Baptism performed by the children was done according to the Church order. He acknowledged the Baptism as real and sealed it with the sacrament of Chrismation. From this moment, the Patriarch looked after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasius and in time brought him into the clergy, at first as a reader, and then he ordained him as a deacon.
It was as a deacon that St Athanasius accompanied Patriarch Alexander to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in the year 325. At the Council, St Athanasius refuted of the heresy of Arius. His speech met with the approval of the Orthodox Fathers of the Council, but the Arians, those openly and those secretly so, came to hate Athanasius and persecuted him for the rest of his life.
After the death of holy Patriarch Alexander, St Athanasius was unanimously chosen as his successor in the See of Alexandria. He refused, accounting himself unworthy, but at the insistence of all the Orthodox populace that it was in agreement, he was consecrated bishop when he was twenty-eight, and installed as the archpastor of the Alexandrian Church. St Athanasius guided the Church for forty-seven years, and during this time he endured persecution and grief from his antagonists. Several times he was expelled from Alexandria and hid himself from the Arians in desolate places, since they repeatedly tried to kill him. St Athanasius spent more than twenty years in exile, returned to his flock, and then was banished again.
There was a time when he remained as the only Orthodox bishop in the area, a moment when all the other bishops had fallen into heresy. At the false councils of Arian bishops he was deposed as bishop. Despite being persecuted for many years, the saint continued to defend the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and he wrote countless letters and tracts against the Arian heresy.
When Julian the Apostate (361-363) began a persecution against Christians, his wrath first fell upon St Athanasius, whom he considered a great pillar of Orthodoxy. Julian intended to kill the saint in order to strike Christianity a grievous blow, but he soon perished himself. Mortally wounded by an arrow during a battle, he cried out with despair: “You have conquered, O Galilean.” After Julian’s death, St Athanasius guided the Alexandrian Church for seven years and died in 373, at the age of seventy-six.
Numerous works of St Athanasius have been preserved; four Orations against the Arian heresy; also an Epistle to Epictetus, bishop of the Church of Corinth, on the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ; four Epistles to Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, about the Holy Spirit and His Equality with the Father and the Son, directed against the heresy of Macedonius.
Other apologetic works in defense of Orthodoxy have been preserved, among which is the Letter to the emperor Constantius. St Athanasius wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture, and books of a moral and didactic character, as well as a biography of St Anthony the Great (January 17), with whom St Athanasius was very close. St John Chrysostom advised every Orthodox Christian to read this Life.
The memory of St Athanasius is celebrated also on January 18 with St Cyril of Alexandria. 

See also The Orthodox Church of Alexandria & the Patriarchate of Alexandria
What do we mean by “Fathers of the Church”?
Fathers of Church & Capitalism : Interest, Usury, Capitalism 
Grace and “the Inverted Pyramid”
Église orthodoxe Pères, la richesse et le capitalisme

St. Cyril of Alexandria, the "Seal of all the Fathers" 


Our father among the saints Cyril of Alexandria was the Pope of Alexandria at the time Alexandria was at its height in influence and power within the Roman Empire. Cyril wrote extensively and was a leading protagonist in the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries. He was a central figure in the Council of Ephesus in 431 which led to the deposition of Nestorius as Archbishop of Constantinople. Cyril is among the patristic fathers, and his reputation within the Orthodox Christian world has led to his acquiring the title "Seal of all the Fathers." His feast day is celebrated on June 9 and, with St. Athanasius of Alexandria, on January 18. Cyril was born about 378 in the small town of Theodosios, Egypt, near modern day Malalla el Kobra. His mother's brother, Theophilus, was a priest who rose to the powerful position of Pope of Alexandria. His mother remained close to her brother and under his guidance Cyril was well educated. His education showed through his knowledge, in his writings, of Christian writers of his day, including Eusebius, Origen, Didymus, and writers of the Alexandrian church. He showed a knowledge of Latin through his extensive correspondence with the Bishop of Rome, Pope Celestine. His formal education appeared normal for his day: 390-392 grammatical studies at ages 12 to 14, 393-397 Rhetoric/Humanities at ages 15 to 20, and 398-402 Christian theology and biblical studies.
He was tonsured a reader by his uncle, Theophilus, in the Church of Alexandria and under his uncle's guidance advanced in knowledge and position. He supported his uncle in the removal of St. John Chrysostom as archbishop of Constantinople, although this was justified as an administrative, not doctrinal, issue, as later Cyril supported John's return as when he contrasted Nestorius' unorthodoxy to Chrysostom's purity of doctrine to the imperial court.
Theophilus died on October 15, 412, and Cyril was made pope [of Alexandria] on October 18, 412, over stiff opposition by the party for the incumbent Archdeacon Timothy in a volatile Alexandrian atmosphere. Thus, Cyril followed first Athanasius and then Theophilus as the Pope of Alexandria in the position that had become powerful and influential, rivaling that of the city Prefect.
His early years as pope were caught up in the problems of a cosmopolitan city where the animosities among the various Christian factions, Jews, and pagans brought frequent violence. In addition, there was the rivalry between Alexandria and Constantinople and a clash between Alexandrian and Antiochian schools of ecclesiastical reflection, piety, and discourse. These issues came to a head in 428 when the see of Constantinople became vacant. Nestorius, from the Antiochian party, was made Archbishop of Constantinople on April 10, 428, and stoked the fires by denouncing the use of the term Theotokos as not a proper rendition of Mary's position in relation to Christ.
Thus, Cyril and the Alexandrian party crossed swords with those of the Antiochian party in the imperial home court. After much in-fighting, Augusta Pulcheria, older sister of the Emperor Theodosius II, sided with Cyril against Nestorius. To rid himself of Cyril, Nestorius recommended to the emperor a council in Constantinople. But, when Theodosius called the council it was in Ephesus, an area friendly to Cyril. After months of manuevering the Council of 431 ended with Nestorius being removed from office and sent into exile.
Cyril died on June 27, 444, but the controversies were to continue for decades, from the Robber Council of Ephesus in 449 to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and beyond.

Legacy: As noted above, Cyril was a scholarly archbishop and a prolific writer. In the early years of his active life in the Church he wrote several exegeses. Among these were: Commentaries on the Old Testament, Thesaurus, Discourse Against Arians, Commentary on St. John's Gospel, and Dialogues on the Trinity. In 429 as the Christological controversies increased, his output of writings was that which his opponents could not match. His writings and his theology have remained central to tradition of the Fathers and to all Orthodox even up today.

Hypatia's Murder and the Innocence of Saint Cyril 

Neoplatonist philosopher Damascius (ca. 480-550) wrote his works a century after the murder of the illustrious Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia (415). Nevertheless he attempts to pass on without documentation that her death was the result of hidden jealousy on the part of St. Cyril (Suidas Y 166). The subsequent chronicler John Malalas based his information on Damascius.
Cyril could not really have an interest in the murder of Hypatia. She was not a champion of the ancient cults and did not oppose him. Indeed, she had many Christian students, including Synesius the bishop of Cyrene. It is said that she once wrote to him, saying: "I desire to die a Christian" (Fr. G. Metallinos, Pagan Hellenism or Hellenic Orthodoxy?, 2003). It is also said that she was a political adviser to prefect Orestes, which could have lead to hatred on the part of Cyril. But he would not succeed in anything by her death, except only in infuriating Orestes. Though it is true Cyril had some power, nonetheless he was not above the law. Even those who reject the sanctity of Cyril would have to admit that it would have been stupid for him to put himself in danger and in vain to tarnish his reputation or even be punished.
Hypatia was murdered by some fanatical Alexandrians who thought her to be responsible for the rivalry between Cyril and Orestes (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 7.15 and John of Nikiu, Chronicle 84.87-103). So the perpetrators were NOT the special corps under the command of the Patriarch of Alexandria known as "Parabalani". Moreover, residents of Alexandria were notorious troublemakers (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 7.7 and Cyril's Paschal Homily, 419). A contemporary source, Socrates Scholasticus (ca. 380-450), says that the murder of Hypatia was initiated by Peter the Reader, not St. Cyril. This is in agreement with the extremely fanatical John of Nikiu (late 7th century). It is worth noting that in the Alexandrian Church, readers were not necessarily priests nor baptized Christians (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 5.22).
Some people say that Socrates contradicts himself, since he writes that the death of Hypatia "brought not the least disgrace upon Cyril and the Alexandrian church." But the statement does not mean that Cyril was responsible. Rather Cyril was disgraced because of the crime by a part of his flock.
Of course, Socrates is not at all biased in favor of Cyril when he speaks of his innocence, since elsewhere he does not hesitate to point out his errors. Indeed, he had reached the point of blaming Cyril for his folly because he honored as a martyr the fanatical monk Ammonius who was killed after attacking Orestes (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, 7.14). He felt also that Cyril belonged to the heresy of the Novatians, because he showed compassion to them in his works. However, Cyril considered them as enemies (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, 7.7).
Furthermore, since everyone knew of the guilt of Peter, maybe we could assume that he did not escape punishment. The murder was a criminal offense under the applicable laws. St. Cyril was not opposed to the punishment of Peter (which could be done, given his rash nature and the arbitration he was used to doing). And it would be foolish to think that Cyril had more power than his "enemy" the prefect Orestes. Let us not forget that Cyril could not save the monk Ammonius from punishment, though he clearly showed that he was opposed to it.
The available data does not support the unfounded assumption that St. Cyril was an instigator of the murder of Hypatia. What is certain however is that the horrible murder of Hypatia is certainly against the spirit of Christianity and is condemned by the Church. We always have in mind that a saint is not born but made. So Cyril, even if he were to have had a share of responsibility for the death of Hypatia, would have became a saint in the later course of his life. Many saints were criminals even before they renounced their sinful life and became fully dedicated to God.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

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