December 9, 2010

Hieromonk Anthimos the Fool for Christ (1 of 2)

By Elder Paisios the Athonite

Father Anthimos (+ December 9, 1867) was from Sofia in Bulgaria, where he was a married parish priest. After the death of his wife, in about 1841, he came to the Garden of the Mother of God and took root like a good plant, as we shall see below, blossoming with a sweet fragrance.

His first place of repentance was in the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petra, where he was tonsured a monk. Afterwards, he began to act as a fool for Christ, in order to hide the inner wealth of his spiritual experience. He made the whole of Athos his place of repentance; he continually travelled about in the desert, sometimes staying in caves and at other times in the hollows of trees. Now and again, he would also appear at the Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon, because he could understand the services which were in Russian. He usually hid in the narthex and followed the service from there. Whenever he saw one of the fathers watching him and regarding him with reverence, he would start behaving stupidly, talking to himself or making jokes, and so he would spoil their thoughts. He would stay at the monastery for varying lengths of time, sometimes a few days, sometimes a little longer. Then he would disappear again into the mountain of Athos entirely alone for two or three months, before making his appearance again at the Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon.

At the beginning of his divine madness, he wore an old habit for five years, and later patched up garments. Later still, he ended up wearing an old sack in which he had made three holes, one at the top to put his head through and two more for his arms. He appeared in it everywhere. It was for this reason he was known as "Sacky". When he returned to the forest, however, he took off his sack as a precaution against tearing it, and instead he tore his body on the twigs. Those who had no spiritual depth, but only judged from external appearance, called him "Dotty". But Father Anthimos amazed them when he would tell them their innermost thoughts. This way, he spiritually benefited those with good intentions, revealing their innermost thoughts to them.

You notice about fools for Christ that because they have such great humbleness, they also have great purity, that is spiritual clarity, so that they know the hearts of men and even the mysteries of God. Such a man was Father Anthimos, who had covered his own pure heart with an old sack.

Whenever he went to the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon, he wouldn't go in but stayed with the monastery workers and sat and ate with them in the same refectory. It seems that the abbot of the monastery got word of this and asked the monk on duty to take care of the ascetic, Father Anthimos. From then on, the monk who was assigned to take care of the worker's refectory held him in great reverence, helped him and watched over him. In this way, he acquired greater confidence and was able to understand some of Father Anthimos' hidden virtues.

One of his great virtues was the gift he had in the matter of fasting: he could fast for days on end! He went once to the Russian monastery before the Fast of the Holy Apostles utterly exhausted. The monk on duty received him with great joy and prepared something for him to eat. The elder began to eat, while the monk who was waiting at table went in and out. He looked at the elder, who was munching away all the time, and thought badly of him: "Such a withered up and weak monk and yet he can eat so much!" All upset with these thoughts of condemnation, the monk went to his cell. When Father Anthimos had finished his food, he went and sat at the door of the monk's cell. Seeing his friend troubled by these thoughts, he took pity on him. In order to help him, he was forced to tell him why he had eaten so much, so that he would be more careful about judging other people. We can also learn from this and avoid judging people. Taking him by the hand, he asked him:

"Brother, do you perhaps know what humbleness is?"

The brother felt constrained to answer: "No, I don't."

Then the elder said to him: "Humbleness consists in this - not judging anybody and thinking yourself worse than everybody. See, just now you were deceived and judged because I was eating so much. But what you don't know is how many days I have gone without eating at all. Do you remember the last time I was here and had something to eat?"

The brother replied: "I remember, father. You were here with us on Sunday of Thomas and you ate. But I havn't seen you since."

The elder said to him: "Well, now you see how many days I spent without eating.[1] Yet, you were judging me because I was eating so much. My brother, not all God's gifts are the same. Everyone is given something by God. Well, to me God has given the strength to bear cold and hunger. Do you think you could put up with so much? Are you able to humble yourself, take off the habit and come with me to the next monastery, and then spend the winter at the peak of Athos with only those clothes? You, being a chanter, how do you chant to god? Your mind is elsewhere, on distractions, rather than on God. Just you listen to how I chant."

Father Anthimos raised his hands to the heavens and with heaving sobs chanted Alleluia, tears streaming from his eyes. The monk assigned to the refectory was astonished and felt great contrition. The elder then said to him:

"So you see, my brother, don't judge anyone, because you don't know who has been given what gift. You must pay more attention to your own self."

The brother made a prostration to the elder and asked his forgiveness, admiring the latter's spiritual foresight. From then on, Elder Anthimos began to confide in him more of his personal life.

1. In other words, he had not eaten from Sunday of Thomas until the beginning of the Fast of the holy Apostles, about 7 weeks!

From the book Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters.