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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Saint Anthimus of Chios, a Modern-Day Saint

 

February 15
Memory of our Venerable Father ANTHIMUS of CHIOS

Our holy father Anthimus was born in 1869 into a devout peasant family on the island of Chios.  In several childhood visions of the Mother of God, he learnt of the favour which in due season she would manifest toward him.  He left elementary school early to take up the shoemender's trade. 
He was nineteen when, one day, his mother gave him an old icon of the Mother of God 'of Good Help' to take for restoration to the Monastery of the Holy Fathers on Mount Probation, recently founded by the holy monk Pachomius, the spiritual counselor of Saint Nectarius of Egina (9 Nov.).  Anthimus was much taken with the heavenly life of the monks and, on returning to his village, he built himself a hut in an out-of-the-way spot.  He was exact in fulfilling everything laid down for him by Father Pachomius, who, impressed by his obedience, silence and zeal for prayer, said to his monks, 'That young novice is already a mature monk, and he is destined to become an eminent Father.'

 The icon of the Mother of God, which he always kept by him was, from that time, his only 'Help', his inspiration in contests well-pleasing to God, and his consolation in trials and temptations.  Miracles began to be wrought through the icon for the benefit of neighbours who visited his hermitage.  In the end, he retired to the Monastery of the Holy Fathers where he received the Little Habit under the name of Anthimus. 

Although moved by an increment of divine love and mortifying every desire of the flesh, he was ready and able to undertake practical tasks of all kinds, and so was put in charge of building-works at the newly-founded convent of St Constantine.  But, he soon fell sick and his Abbot decided that he should return to his parents for the sake of his health.  Anthimus continued his life of asceticism at home as though still at the monastery.  He took up the shoemender's trade again, looked after his aged parents and gave alms to those in need.  Despite poor health, his love of God enabled him to accomplish great feats of ascesis, to the unbridled rage of the demons.  With a dreadfull din, they would hurl themselves at him while he prayed at night, as was his habit, in the hollow trunk of an old olive tree near his cell.  He gave himself no rest, 'not even for a minute,' he said later, and thus, with the help of the Mother of God, he was able to spend ten day and nineteen nights awake in prayer, taking nothing but a small amount of bread and water every two days.  At the end of this feat, he was rapt in ecstasy and his spirit was carried up into paradise amid the angelic choirs, while he repeated without cease: Kyrie eleison.

More and more visitors came to his hermitage, attracted by his virtues and by the miracles wrought by the icon of the Mother of God.  In the year after he received the Great Habit (1910), it was decided, in response to the wishes of the people, to ask the Bishop of Chios to ordain him priest; but the Bishop refused, alleging the Saint's lack of education.  Anthimus was then invited to the diocese of Smyrna by his godfather.  At the moment of his ordination, an earth tremor, accompanied by lightning and claps of thunder testified to the divine favour; and, shortly afterwards, Father Anthimus freed a man of an unclean spirit.  Since his virtues and miracles provoked the jealousy of certain priests, he had to leave the region; and, after a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, he returned to Chios, where he was appointed chaplain of a leper hospital.  In a short time, this place, in which physical misery had given rise to spiritual corruption, was transformed into an image of paradise where life was lived in community as in a monastery.  He himself visited all the sick, tended the worst afflicted with his own hands and, by his meekness and good counsels led them to turn to God, so that not a few became monks and nuns.  Through his mediation, the divine loving kindness was also poured out on the many faithful who came from outside to seek the man of God's intercession and counsel.  Thirty-eight people were freed of evil spirits through his fasts and his prayers before the icon of the Mother of God.

  

The persecution of the Greek population of Asia Minor, which ended in the great exile of 1922-4, brought many refugees to Chios, particularly nuns and girls, who, without protection, would have been destitute.  Ever since his youth, Saint Anthimus had dreamt of founding a monastery on a certain steep uninhabited site that he knew of.  Now, encouraged by a vision of the Mother of God, he sought to make this dream a reality for the sake of the forty or so young women who gathered around him.  In 1927, he received permission to found a monastery there, and this was confirmed by God after lots were drawn thrice at the end of the Divine Liturgy.  The Saint himself put the plans into effect, anticipating everything that would be necessary to the life of a great monastery.  It was owing to his sweat, to his tears and to his prayers that the building-works were able to proceed, despite the opposition of some who regarded setting up such a community as useless and out-of-date.  After only two years, the icon of the Mother of God of Good Help was solemnly transferred to the monastery church, which received the same name.  Saint Anthimus ordered the conventual life of the nuns (thirty at first) according to the principles of the Holy Fathers, and he lived there for the rest of his life.  The community soon numbered eighty nuns, and was regarded as the most exemplary religious house in Greece.  But while he was the founder and spiritual father of the monastery, the Saint did not cease to be the consoler, intercessor and spiritual father of the whole population of Chios.  He would never leave a sick or penitent visitor without having comforted him, either with spiritual teaching or with medicinal herbs, but, above all, with his prayer accompanied by tears before the icon of the Mother of God.  On some days, sixty or seventy sick folk would present themselves at the monastery to ask for the help of the Saint and of the Mother of God.

For more than years, Saint Anthimus carried on his ministry for the salvation of souls and the relief of bodily ills.  When he was too old to work with his hands, he retired to his cell and begged the Lord to enable him to serve his neighbour, whoever he might be and in whatever way, until his last breath.  He gave up his soul to God on 15 February 1960 at the age of ninety-one, having entrusted his community with his finals counsels, full of divine wisdom and fatherly love.  He was mourned by the whole island of Chios.  He continues to remain present and to extend heavenly consolation and healing of different illnesses to Christians who have recourse to his intercession.

-From The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Volume 3: January, February by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, translated from the French by Christopher Hookway, Holy Convent of The Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia (Chalkidike), 2001.

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