Monday, February 5, 2018

Holy New Martyr Anthony of Athens (+ 1774)

St. Anthony of Athens (Feast Day - February 5)

Verses

Anthony was slaughtered like a lamb,
He stands before Christ following Him as a lamb.

By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite
*

Saint Anthony was born in the renowned city of Athens. His parents, Demetrios and Kalomoira, were poor and obscure. The Saint was reared by them to fear God. At the age of twelve, he was taught sacred letters. Because he could not bear to witness the impoverished state of his parents, though being unskilled in labor, he hired himself out to a certain Albanian Muslim who was in Athens at the time. All his earnings went to assist his parents. When he was sixteen years of age, in 1773, the Russian navy came to Peloponnesos to fight the Ottoman Turks. When Anthony's masters went to plunder and capture the Morean Christians, Anthony followed them.

Upon arriving, Anthony was sold as a slave by his Albanian lords to certain Turkish emirs who, from the time they purchased him, attempted to convert him by submitting him to many tortures, without success. They therefore took him along as the Turkish army moved and encamped by the Danube River. The blessed Anthony was sold five times to cruel masters. Indeed, one was worse than the one before as he was being resold. Everyone one of them tried to attract the righteous youth to their religion. At times, they made promises or praised him; at other times, they used threats and punishments. Notwithstanding, they labored in vain, inasmuch as our courageous Anthony was simultaneously sold for four hundred piasters (grossia) to an Orthodox Christian. This man was a Cossack silk merchant of Constantinople, where he had his home, family and workshop. Once they arrived in Constantinople, the Saint went to a spiritual father. He confessed his sins with a heart full of compunction and contrition, and received the immaculate Mysteries in the Church of Saint Nicholas at Tzoubiali. Thereafter he served his master eagerly, as a grateful servant.

One day, the Saint had a dream which prompted and encouraged him toward martyrdom. A woman, most beautiful to behold, appeared to him. She promised to give him help and strength in all perils. She told him not to fear, but to make a brave stand. Then she covered him with her veil. Anthony arose and related the vision to the mistress of that house, concluding that he was to be martyred for Christ. She told him not to believe in dreams. In the morning, the Saint, according to his custom, left for his master's shop. As he sat on a stool, there passed by his last Hagarene master 9who was a commander of one thousand men). He instantly recognized Anthony and began to shout that he had escaped his service without permission. The Muslim even insisted that Anthony had converted to Islam but reverted to being a Christian. The commander went so far as to produce a number of false witnesses who attested to Anthony's conversion. The Muslims then fell upon Anthony and beat him savagely. He was brought to the military governor of Roumeli, Mourat Moulan, where the Muslims contended that Anthony had become a Muslim. The judge asked the Saint if the charge were true.


The Martyr of Christ, without a moment's hesitation, boldly answered, "I was born of Christian parents and am myself a Christian. I never denied Christ, but rather, I am ready to receive, if it were possible, a myriad of deaths for Christ." Consequently, the judge thought to put the young man to the test by way of plying him with promises, saying, "If you should accept Islam, you will acquire wealth and honors from the sultan."When he observed that the Saint scorned and ridiculed all these things as empty, the military governor's countenance changed to a fierce glance, as he threatened to administer unendurable torments and a merciless death. The undaunted Martyr of Christ remarked, "Do not speculate, O judge, that you can turn me away from the faith of Christ with your intimidations. Therefore punish, scourge, mutilate my flesh, and contrive the most harrowing death for me; for it is easier for you to become a Christian, than for me to deny Christ and renounce Him as the Son of God and the true God."

The judge was thoroughly astounded at Saint Anthony's fearlessness. Instead of becoming angry with the youth, he was enraged at the Turkish perjurers. He shouted at them, saying, "You are wicked liars! You harass people to convert through sham and deceit!" But the insinuators continued in their pursuit and began to cry aloud for the Martyr's death. The judge took the Saint aside from the others and said to him privately, "Young man, have pity on your youth. For the present, deny your faith; then afterward go and resume your beliefs." However, the Martyr of Christ feared the words of the Lord: "Whosoever shall deny Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in the heavens" (Matt. 10:33). Hence, not even by a single iota did he deny Christ. Instead, he lifted up his voice and declared, "I am a Christian and prefer to die for Christ." Finally, the judge perceived that neither would the plaintiff's withdraw the complaint, nor would the Martyr recant Christianity. At this juncture, the judge secretly forwarded the indictment pertaining to the case to the vizier, Mehmet Melek Pasha, with one of his trusted men, to inform the vizier of the unjust decision which he was held under duress to issue.


The Martyr was required to appear before the vizier. Predictably, he posed the same questions and encouraged Anthony's acceptance of Islamic beliefs. Sometimes, with feigned madness, the vizier made promises; sometimes he hurled threats at Anthony. Hearing the same replies as the military governor had received, the vizier understood that what the witnesses were saying was false and slanderous. He therefore decided, and justly, to release the innocent defendant. He, however, feared the savage and wild crowd of the Hagarenes that had assembled. The vizier was sensible to the fact that they could turn things upside down for the sake of their superstitious fears. Therefore, the judge confined the Saint in prison, under the pretext of scheduling a second hearing; but in actuality, he was protecting Anthony from danger. Once inside the prison, the Martyr exhorted his fellow Christian prisoners to have patience in afflictions and trials. He also urged them, for the sake of piety, to choose death.

What little money our Imitator of Christ had on him, he gave to those poor Christians in custody. To his Cossack master, he sent a letter. First he wrote and asked forgiveness from all the Christians and for the prayers of the priests, in order to be strengthened for the martyrdom that lay ahead. Second, Anthony expressed his gratitude to his master, who had paid an exorbitant sum to his barbarian captors for his purchase. Anthony acknowledged that, through his service to the Cossack, it would be impossible to reimburse him for this generous gift and benefaction. Third, the Saint bade him to have no fear, as he had not renounced the faith. He also requested that since he was ready to die for Christ, the customary memorial services for the reposed be conducted in his behalf. Finally, he asked the Cossack to inform his parents of the blessed end of their son, that such tidings might be a consolation to them.


Unquestionably, the Martyr was filled with inexpressible joy in his quest to die on behalf of the faith. The false accusers went frequently to the vizier's chambers, seeking the Saint's sentencing and execution. After an inordinate amount of time had passed for such a case to reach a determination, they believed the vizier was was disposed to show clemency in the case. They believed he had deliberately postponed taking any action, thereby denying them their day in court. After they had persuaded themselves that this was the truth, their fury impelled them to submit a petition to the sultan, Abdul Hamit. They made the following accusations in the petition: Anthony has denied the Muslim faith and had paid the vizier to bring about his release. The sultan, fearing the tumult of the mob, took into consideration the political climate of the empire, which at that time was unstable and in imminent danger from the Russo-Turkish War. As a result, he decided against the Martyr and issued the following ultimatum: "Become a Muslim or die."

The vizier, whether he wished it or not, was then constrained to remove the Saint from jail. He spoke to Anthony privately, saying, "Either accept Muhammad as a prophet of God, or else expect to be escorted by the executioner to the block." Now Christ's true martyr Anthony was gladdened at this predicament in which he found himself, just as if he had discovered a treasure. With his hands tied behind him and with a joyous countenance, he ran towards death, as to a festival, at a place called Ak-Sarai. He lowered his head and said, "Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." The executioner applied three blows of the sword to Anthony's holy neck, so as to intensify the Christian's pain, in the hope that Anthony might renounce his faith at the last possible moment. The miserable executioner then perceived that he toiled in vain; and thus, in the manner of a lamb, the ever-memorable Anthony received the imperishable crown of martyrdom in the year 1774. The Christians of the Vlaga district purchased his relics for seventy piasters. A great company boldly went out to receive the relics with hymns of triumph. Outside the Church of the Life-Giving Spring, they buried him. By Saint Anthony's salutary intercessions, may we too be granted the kingdom of the heavens.

Notes:

* The account of the martyrdom of the Neomartyr Anthony comes from Nikodemos's New Martyrology, which was incorporated in the Great Synaxaristes. The original author was Hieromonk Joachim of Parios, who also composed a divine office to the Saint.


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