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November 2, 2018

Saint Anthony the Confessor, Archbishop of Thessaloniki (+ 844)

St. Anthony the Confessor of Thessaloniki (Feast Day - November 2)

In the Life of Theodora of Thessaloniki (812-892) written by a presbyter of Thessaloniki named Gregory, which is the longest female biography in the history of Byzantium, there is embedded a short biography of Archbishop Anthony of Thessaloniki, and an anti-iconoclastic discourse spoken by him which was addressed to Emperor Leo V the Armenian (chs. 10-19).

What connects the lives of Saint Theodora with Saint Anthony is that both were from the island of Aegina and due to Arabic raids Theodora came to Thessaloniki, though there is no indication they knew each other in Aegina but they were relatives. As to why Anthony and his sister Katherine came to Thessaloniki, and when, it is not known. While in Thessaloniki, the daughter of Theodora, Theopisti, entered the Convent of the Evangelist Luke, where the sister of Anthony, Katherine, was abbess.

Anthony was highly educated for his time, and at a young age embraced the monastic life. Due to his education and virtuous manner of life, he was elected Metropolitan of Dyrrachium (Durres). During this time the second period of Iconoclasm began under Emperor Leo V, and Theodore the Studite wrote one of two letters to Metropolitan Anthony (Letters 462 and 542). The first letter was written before 815 and responds apologetically to a previous long letter from Anthony about a canonical matter. The general style of the letter is particularly warm and is distinguished by a tendency to praise the person of Anthony, with descriptions that reveal the special appreciation and respect of Saint Theodore to him.

The same spirit distinguishes the second letter, the dating of which, on the basis of internal testimonies, is determined during the reign of Michael II, and in particular some time between May 826 and November of that year, which is the date of the death of Theodore the Studite. The style of the two letters of Theodore allows for the hypothesis that the two men were associated with an old personal friendship that might have evolved during the exile of Theodore in Thessaloniki in 797. He himself, in a letter to his uncle Platon, describes in detail his arrival in the city and the warm reception received by both the executive officer of Thessaloniki and its archbishop.

In Letter 543 of Theodore to a monk named Dionysios, we are also informed that the Metropolitan of Dyrrachium sent to the monk an admonition against the heresy of iconoclasm, but from the contents of the letter it appears it resulted in nothing.

Gregory informs us that while Anthony served as Metropolitan of Dyrrachium, the iconoclastic persecution began under Emperor Leo, and records the address Anthony delivered before Leo in defense of holy icons. In response, the iconoclastic emperor had Anthony tortured, which brought him incurable wounds and shook his health, and he was condemned to exile.

However, in 820, when Michael II came to the throne, Anthony was recalled from exile, and two decades later was elected Archbishop of Thessaloniki, which allowed him to become once again an Archbishop, having been deprived of the title by Emperor Leo. His time on the throne of Thessaloniki was short-lived however. His death took place a few months after the restoration of the holy icons, on 2 November 844.

Gregory informs us that the body of Archbishop Anthony was put to rest on the left side of the Church of Saint Demetrios, in the Chapel of Saint John the Forerunner. Forty-six years later his relic, which was found to be incorrupt, was transferred into the tomb of another unknown Archbishop of Thessaloniki, though it was probably that of Methodios.

Though the name of Archbishop Anthony of Thessaloniki is not included in the synaxaria of the Orthodox Church, he is numbered in more recent lists of Saints of Thessaloniki, and is mentioned in the second Service to All Saints of Thessaloniki by the late hymnographer of the Great Church of Christ, Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis.

His only iconographic depiction can be found in the Church of Saint Gregory Palamas in Thessaloniki.