July 27, 2013

Saint Anthousa the Confessor of Mantineou Monastery

St. Anthousa the Confessor (Feast Day - July 27)

"If one could measure the sand of the shore, the drops of rain, the depths of the sea, the height of the sky and the width of the earth, then he could also document the miracles which the great and holy Anthousa has performed or will perform in the future."

With these words her biographer evaluates the miraculous acts of Saint Anthousa of Mantineou. And the achievements of this servant of God are truly worthy of wonder, who was granted to pastor hundreds of souls, of women and men, since she presided over two very populous monasteries, one female and one male! And the most important thing, with her martyric contest she put the harshest persecutor of the sacred icons, the Emperor Constantine V the Isaurian, to a stop.

Saint Anthousa lived in the 8th century in Paphlagonia and was the daughter of Strategios and Fevronia, virtuous and wondrous people. From her infancy she chose the life of piety, purity and asceticism. Faith and love for the Lord were her precious adornments, which drew near to her with their brilliance other souls also.

Divine Providence led to her homeland the God-bearing Elder Sisinios. The young Anthousa with her godly zeal hastened to meet him, for she admired his virtues and wanted to imitate them. And he, however, knew with the grace of the Holy Spirit to what height of virtue the pious maiden had already risen to, and she governed her soul with higher spiritual measures. His clairvoyant eye discerned that he had before him a receptive soul, which he could introduce to the gates of holiness with the mystery of obedience. For this reason he gave the strange command that she enter into a fiery furnace.

Anthousa without the slightest thought of doubt or hesitation, but also with absolute trust in the word of her spiritual father, proceeded and entered into the fiery furnace! Her obedience was rewarded. The fire left her untouched, and did not have the power to harm her, who had the immaterial fire of love of God in her heart. Her spiritual father, with hidden wonder, foretold then that she would found a sacred monastery, where she would have under her protection nine hundred brethren.

With the urging of Elder Sisinios the Saint settled in the small little island of Lake Perkile, in her homeland. There she gave herself over to great asceticism, continence and hardship. There she manages to become a dwelling place of the Holy Trinity.

The Saint asked from Elder Sisinios permission to erect a church in honor of Saint Anna, the mother of the Mother of God. He gave her permission together with many counsels and revealed what she would encounter in the future. Everything happened as the man of God foretold. The church was constructed and became the nucleus for the foundation of the famous Monastery of Mantineou, which Saint Anthousa first pastored. Subsequently it gave forth many Saints to the Church.

When the time for the Venerable Sisinios came to depart to the Lord he left calmly, because his spiritual children would have in the person of the Saint an infallible counselor and governor. Many who had him as a spiritual guide continued by coming to the Saint and seeking her advise. As the sisterhood grew, the Saint decided to build two larger churches, one in honor of the Mother of God for the nuns and one in honor of the Holy Apostles for the monks.

The great saints are tried through the multitude of trials, of persecutions, and of afflictions. In this way the gold of their virtue shines more. And Saint Anthousa, who had from her youth defeated the material fire of the furnace, was tried also in the harsher fire of martyrdom, receiving one more crown next to the many other ones she obtained. This was the brightest one, the crown of her confession of the Orthodox faith!

It was the time when the Church was being shaken by the harsh storm of Iconoclasm. Constantine V was sitting on the imperial throne, the son of Leo III the Isaurian, he who had begun the fearful war against the sacred icons. His son Constantine, who has remained in history with the mocking name of Copronymos (Dung-named), showed even greater rage than his father against the venerable icons and their pious venerators. He led many to prison, exile, and even to a martyric death.

Saint Anthousa’s attachment to the Orthodox tradition was familiar to everyone, since she did not cease supporting during this the multitudes of believers who surrounded her with their trust. This reached up to the emperor. Blinded by the darkness of heresy, he made his aim to convert her, and through her to sway the whole eparchy of Paphlagonia.

What a vain aim! The Saint, who had discipled with a holy Elder, who had been brought up with the sweetness of the teaching and the power of his prayer, who had tasted miraculous salvation in the burning furnace, who had come to know the love and the almightiness of God, who had lived His crucifictional sacrifice within her own self-sacrifice, how could she possibly deny Him? How could she place above His own supreme will the command of a darkened tyrant?

The emperor sent one of his like-minded officers to go and convince Anthousa to embrace his viewpoints. And if she was convinced, all would be fine. If however she refused, he should force her to yield through violence. He also took many others with him and arrived implacable at the Monastery of Mantineou. First they seized the very many sacred icons which were in the Monastery. Then they captured the Saint and her nephew to whom she had entrusted the protection of the men’s monastery. He interrogated them and, because they would not agree with the delusion, he proceeded according to the commands he had to tortures.

The Saint experienced the bitter cup of seeing her nephew tortured with the abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Apostles, whom they whipped mercilessly. She supported them with her words to remain unshakable in the confession of the truth and to accept bravely the pains for the love of Christ. Only when they saw their victim ready to die did the harsh soldiers cease beating them.

Then the turn of the Saint came. She was likewise wildly whipped. They put fire to the sacred icons and while lit up they threw them at her head. And beneath her feet they put lit charcoals. They were toiling in vain however! The fire, with Christ’s grace, left His chosen servant untouched, just as when in the furnace its burning quality was restrained. The fanatic iconoclasts, blind before the miracle but also incapable of converting the steel Orthodox mindset of the Saint, exiled her.

Later on Emperor Constantine V arrived in Paphlagonia, as he was attempting a campaign against the Arabs, who had invaded the eastern borders of the Empire. He ordered then that they bring the Saint before him, so that he himself could try to change her mind, otherwise he would submit her to harsher tortures. He came to know however the almightiness of God. He was blinded, and thus not able to perform his iniquitous plans.

With the Saint’s prayers he found his sight again. Thus he accepted her grace and, not only set her free, but also asked her to tell him about the empress, who was in danger with a difficult childbirth. She answered him with kindness that the empress would suffer no harm and will give birth to two healthy infants, one boy and one girl. And she foretold furthermore what would be the life of each child.

Her words were completely fulfilled. The empress was saved from the difficult birth and, when she learned of the prophecy of the Saint she felt great reverence for her person. She dedicated to her Monastery many estates and gifts. And the emperor ceased persecuting her. They gave her name furthermore to the daughter they obtained. Thus once more it was proven that virtue tames even the wild beasts and alters enemies to friends, as the Saint’s biographer comments.

Princess Anthousa, when she grew up, faithfully followed the steps of Saint Anthousa. She lived an ascetical life in the palace, with a hair shirt beneath the royal garments. After her father’s death, she became a nun by the Holy Patriarch Tarasios and underwent the rest of her life in the Monastery of Omonoia, working in obscurity the works of holiness of the only true glory. And she was granted to be numbered among the choirs of the Saints. Her memory is celebrated on April 18th.

Saint Anthousa continued her blessed journey at the Mantineou Monastery. She taught, consoled, and benefactored all those who sought refuge near her, until the day the Lord called her, to give her rest from her toils and to render to her the rewards of her virtues. It was the day of the memory of Saint Panteleimon, June 27, as she herself had asked from God to repose on the day of his commemoration. Our Church commemorates her on this day.

She enjoys however the great praise in the heavens. Her name has been written in the book of life among the great spiritual mothers, who in every age work for the salvation of souls, for the sake of God’s glory.