November 22, 2022

Holy New Confessor Anthimos, Metropolitan of Athens and Euripus and President of Crete (+ 1371)

The Frankish Occupation (1204–1489) was a dark and at the same time tragic time for the Church of Greece. After defeating Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, the Latins went on to occupy other former remnants of the Roman Empire, where they tried to impose papal authority on Orthodox Christians. One of then was the Duchy of Athens (1205–1458), with its two capitals Thebes and Athens, and encompassing Attica, Boeotia, and parts of southern Thessaly. In 1311, the Duchy was conquered by the Catalan Company, and in 1388, it passed into the hands of the Florentine Acciaiuoli family, which kept it until the Ottoman conquest in 1456. One of the great confessors of the Orthodox faith during this time was a virtually unknown saint, Metropolitan Anthimos of Athens and Euripus.

He was born in Crete, at the beginning of the 14th century. For reasons which we do not know, he found himself in Athens, where he was appointed Metropolitan of the then insignificant Metropolis of Athens and Euripus (Evia), shepherding between the years 1339-1366.

The city of Athens was ruled by the Catalans, who did not allow an Orthodox Metropolitan to exist, but only a papal one, or an Orthodox one with a Latin mindset. Thus they dethroned and expelled Anthimos, who was firm in Orthodoxy and a fierce opponent of papal heresies. He, after wandering in many places, ended up in Constantinople, which had been recovered by the Romans from the Latin occupiers in 1261. He attached himself to the holy Patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos (1364-1376) and became a member of the Holy and Great Synod. He embraced the Hesychast teachings of Saint Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), becoming a supporter of the Hesychast movement and fought vigorously against the heretical anti-hesychasts.

In 1363, the well-known Saint Titus Revolution took place in Crete, where the Orthodox Cretans rose up against the tyrannical Venetian conquerors, whom they defeated and then they proclaimed the Independent State of Crete. At the same time, the revolutionaries defined as the official religion of the state that of the " most sacred of the indigenous Greeks", i.e. Orthodoxy, abolishing the Latin bishoprics which had replaced the Orthodox ones and declaring them as illegal. This was considered by the Pope as a "rebellion against God" and therefore he declared a "Holy War" against the Cretans. Since the Venetians could not use their own troops to suppress the revolution, they also called in Muslim mercenaries, who inflicted unheard-of brutalities on the island, with the tolerance of the papal Venetians, but without any substantial result. The following year saw the revolution of the Kallergides, led by the Kallergides, descendants of the Phokadians, the heroic emperor Phokas (912-969), who had liberated the island from the Muslim Saracens in the 10th century. The Phokades had changed their surname to Kalergides.

In order to complete their work, the Cretan rebels asked the Ecumenical Patriarchate to send them an Orthodox Metropolitan. They even asked for their compatriot Anthimos. The Ecumenical Patriarchate responded positively to their request and in 1366, sent Anthimos to Crete, appointing him President of the Metropolis of Crete, appreciating him for his holiness, his love for the Church and his confessional attitude.

His arrival in Crete filled the Cretans with enthusiasm, who had flocked to the port to welcome their new shepherd with honors and placing their hopes in this heroic Bishop. A multitude of people, clergy and laity, rich and poor, with lighted candles in their hands, welcomed him, singing thanksgiving hymns to God, considering him as a gift from God.

The active Hierarch, with fire and faith unquenchable in his heart and a patriotic attitude, appointed his collaborators and began the reorganization of the Church, which had been broken up by the papal Venetians. But he did not have time to complete his work, because a year later, in 1367, the Venetians, with the help of other westerners and the help of the Pope, marched on Crete, occupied it, arrested the rebels, whom they put to death after horrible tortures, and they brought down the young Cretan free state. A new period of Venetian rule began in Crete. The life of the Orthodox became much worse than before. They lost all their freedoms and of course the Orthodox faith. Orthodox bishops were deposed and Latin ones were appointed in their place. Among those deposed was Metropolitan Anthimos.

The heroic Metropolitaan undertook to support his martyred flock. He variously assisted the strong resistance of the Cretans and at the same time exercised a merciless hammer against the Latin (papal) heresy. According to the "Chronicle" of the time: "He urged the Cretans to abstain from the society of the Latins, because of these heterodox teachings." And this is because they forced the faithful to submit to the Latin bishops and to liturgize in papal churches with their priests. This was also his "crime". The Venetian authorities arrested him and led him bound to the papal "Bishop" of Candia (Heraklion) to be held accountable, because he exercised substantial authority on the island.

The deceitful papal "bishop" thought that perhaps he could take him on his side, in order to Latinize him. Thus, he was advised to accept the papal doctrines and "to embrace their society". In return, he promised him wealth and honors, as well as his remaining on his throne. But he refused and with a heroic and confessional attitude he proclaimed the truth of Orthodoxy as the only saving faith. Full of anger and vengeful fury, he ordered that Anthimos be thrown into a deep pit, with the aim of "paralyzing the tone of his protest" by making him afraid of this torture and to comply with the exhortations of the papal clergy.

The pit was a narrow and deep natural hole in the earth, where in order to go down and up one had to tie oneself with ropes. So the tortured Bishop was cast into the pit naked and without supplies. It was also narrow, so that he could not lie down and was forced to either stand or kneel. He was given little food and water at infrequent intervals. The torture was horrible and the saint endured praying and thanking the Lord, Who found him worthy to suffer for His love.

He stayed in the pit for a year. The papal pseudo-bishop believed that, after these sufferings, he would have relented and accepted to be Latinized. Because he had some reservations, he thought of a fraudulent scam. As soon as the Saint was brought before him and he replied that he remained faithful to Orthodoxy, he implemented his demonic plan, saying to him: “Why do you not accept my proposal? Did you not learn that while you were in the pit, the union of the Churches took place? Will you alone remain separated?" Anthimos understood the papist's deception. He rebuked him for the deceitful lie and assured him that he would never deny the truth of the Orthodox Faith. The papal "bishop" became furious with his anger and ordered him to be thrown back into the pit.

He remained there now two years, and again he was led before the papal pseudo-bishop. The Saint again refused and vehemently rebuked the errors of the papacy. He again ordered him to be thrown into the pit. After a while, the third time, the papal bishop went to the pit and ordered Anthimos be brought up to the mouth to speak to him. The half-dead heroic bishop yelled at the papal bishop, able only to move his tongue: "Even if you shut me up in the pit a hundred times, you will not persuade me to deny my true faith. You will not convince me to change my mind from the traditional doctrines of the Holy Fathers and the Holy Synods. Because we keep them as words from God, me and the other Christians, and we must keep to each of them at all costs"! The papist bishop, filled with rage and seeing the steadfastness of the Saint, ordered that he be thrown into the pit forever and that no one should deal with him anymore.

There he died as a confessor and martyr in 1370 or 1371. But the papal bishop could not rest even after the death of the Saint, because the blessed pit had become a place of pilgrimage for the pious Orthodox Cretans. That is why he gave the order to retrieve the holy relic and destroy it, refusing to hand it over to the Orthodox for burial. We do not know the date of his martyrdom, nor the place where the Latin occupiers hid his holy remains. In the consciousness of the faithful people he became a saint and it was decided to celebrate his memory on November 22.

Saint Anthimos, despite his adventures and his martyrdom, also wrote a few but noteworthy works, mainly refuting papal cacodoxies (Against the Authority of the Pope, On the Procession of the Holy Spirit, Discourse on the Birth of Christ, etc.). He also wrote two important letters from the pit, to his fellow-struggler for Orthodoxy, Joseph Filagris. His life was written by the famous scholar Patriarch Neilos the Kerameus (+ 1388).

Saint Anthimos was described as a "New Confessor" because he did not succumb to the debilitating pressures to join the Roman Catholic Church.