August 3, 2010

Saint Anthony the Roman of Novgorod (+ 1147)

St. Anthony the Roman (Feast Day - January 17 and August 3)

St. Anthony was born in Rome in 1067, soon after the Church of Rome had separated itself from the Universal Church. His parents remained faithful to the Orthodox teachings of the Eastern Churches, and raised their son in a spirit of Orthodox piety. St. Anthony was given a good education, and was able to read the Holy Scriptures in both Latin and Greek.

His parents died when he was seventeen, and he had already determined to dedicate his life to serving God. He took no interest in his material inheritance and, distributing it among the poor, left the noisy city with its many distractions in search of solitude. In a remote area of the country the youth joined a small community of monks who had likewise preserved their Orthodox faith. He spent twenty years there in ascetic labors, until the community was discovered by the Latins who demanded that the monks submit to the authority of the Papal Church. The persecuted monks were forced to disperse.

St. Anthony settled on a large rock at the very edge of the sea. There he labored for more than a year in solitary prayer, nourishing himself with wild grasses and roots. On September 5, 1105 a violent storm arose. An enormous wave lifted the rock on which the Saint was standing and miraculously transported it--as if it were a light boat-- across the sea, north to the river Neva, across Lake Ladoga, then upstream along the river Volkhov, until it arrived, by God's will, at Great Novgorod. On the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, the stone halted 3 versts from Novgorod on the banks of the River Volkhov near the village of Volkhov. This event is testified to in the Novgorod Chronicles.

The Saint was overjoyed to learn from a Greek merchant that he was among Orthodox people. He gradually learned the language and was warmly received by the ruling bishop, St. Nikita the Hermit (January 31 and May 14). The bishop, hearing of St. Anthony's miraculous voyage, marveled and looked upon him as an angel of God. "The Lord has granted you great gifts, like unto those bestowed upon the ancient God-pleasers. God transported Elijah in a fiery chariot, the holy apostles flew through the air on clouds, and you have come to us across the waters on a rock. Through you the Lord has visited and blessed these newly-converted peoples."

There on the shore where the Saint had landed the bishop blessed him to build a church. In 1117, the saint built a stone church in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos (in memory of the feast on which he miraculously arrived there). The church, built during the lifetime of St Anthony in the years 1117-1119 by the renowned Novgorod architect Peter, and adorned with frescoes in the year 1125, has been preserved to the present time.

St. Nikita's successor, the bishop St. Niphon, persuaded St. Anthony to become a priest and elevated him to the rank of abbot in 1131. St. Anthony wisely guided the monks in his care, without relaxing his ascetic labors. His cell and cell-chapel were so small that his spiritual struggle could be compared to that of the stylite saints.

In another year, fishermen recovered the barrel containing St Anthony's inheritance, cast into the sea many years before. The saint recognized his barrel, but the fishermen did not want to give it to him. Before a judge, St Anthony described the contents of the barrel, and it was returned to him. The saint used the money to buy land for the monastery. Spiritual asceticism was combined at the monastery with intense physical labor.

In his humility, St. Anthony had begged Bishop Nikita never to reveal the story of his miraculous voyage, but, nearing the end of his life, the Saint related the story to one of his monks, Andrew, and after his repose, on August 3, 1147, the miracle was made known to the glory of God and the edification of the faithful.

The monastery preserved St. Anthony's cenobitic rule, the rock on which he had been miraculously transported to Novgorod, a reed which he had held during his voyage, his vestments, and six icons dating from the Saint's lifetime.

St. Anthony's relics lay incorrupt in an open reliquary in the cathedral. His glorification in 1597 was promoted by Archimandrite Cyril of Trinity - St. Sergius Lavra, who received healing after praying before the Saint’s relics.

His memory is also celebrated (uncovering of his relics) on the first Friday after the Feast of the Foremost Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29), and on January 17, on the same day that St Anthony the Great is commemorated. The first Life of St Anthony the Roman was written soon after his death by his disciple and successor as igumen, the hieromonk Andrew. A Life, with an account of the uncovering of the relics, was written by a novice of the Antoniev monastery, the monk Niphon, in the year 1598.

St. Anthony the Roman is considered the father of monasticism in the Novgorod region.