St. Anthony the Great
In the Orthodox Church we have a one year lectionary (many other Christians have a three year lectionary). This means we hear the same Epistles, Gospels and Old Testament readings on the same days every year. It is probably true to say that most people (including priests) who hear these readings do not pay as much attention as we should. But sometimes a particular word or phrase may really stick out and this can lead to a life-changing experience.
This is the case with one of the saints we are considering today – St. Anthony the Great. St. Anthony lived approximately 251AD to 356 AD in Egypt. His parents, who were quite wealthy, died when St. Anthony as a young man. He had to care for his unmarried sister. One day in church he heard the following Gospel verse, “Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21-22). Hearing this, St. Anthony was so struck that he sold all his family’s property and donated the proceeds to the poor and placed his sister with a group of Christian virgins. For the next 15 years he remained in the area of his former home as a disciple of a hermit. Later he moved into the desert and lived as a hermit himself for many years. During this time St. Anthony was frequently tormented ty the devil.
Although St. Anthony lived alone he heard about the persecution of Christians under Diocletian in 311AD, and he went to the city of Alexandria hoping to become a martyr. Although St. Anthony was openly practicing Christianity, the governor did not dare to make him a martyr. In 338 AD St. Anthony visited Alexandria again to speak about the false teaching of the priest Arius who denied that Jesus was God. When St. Anthony knew his life was drawing to a close he willed his sheepskin coat to St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria, who also wrote St. Anthony’s life.
Through his own personal example and through the medium of the Life St. Anthony has had a great influence on Christian monks and also on all Christians who struggle to live a truly Christian life.
St. Athanasius the Great
St. Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt to a Christian family. He received a good secular education. St. Athanasius was ordained a deacon in 319 AD. He accompanied Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria to the first ecumenical council of Nicea.
This council was called because a priest named Arius and his followers were teaching that Jesus Christ was not God. They said that Jesus was the most perfect creature that god had created but not God Himself. This teaching caused such an uproar that the Roman Emperor called for the council to settle this issue. The council condemned Arius and wrote the first part of the Creed we sing at every Divine Liturgy. Five months after the council ended Patriarch Alexander died and St. Athanasius was chosen to succeed him. Although the Arian heresy had been condemned by the council it still had many followers. St. Athanasius spent many years writing defenses of the council of Nicea showing that Jesus Christ is truly God. His most famous book is “On the Incarnation”.
St. Athanasius also wrote the life of St. Anthony the Great whom he knew. Also St. Athanasius was the first patriarch to write in the Coptic language, as well as in Greek. St. Athanasius was Patriarch for 45 years but he was exiled five times, for a total of 17 years. He became an exile because successive Roman Emperors influenced by some bishops, actually went on the side of Arius. However, he finally returned to Alexandria in 366 AD and spent the last years of his life rebuilding church life in Alexandria.
St. Athanasius is known as a Father of Orthodoxy who in the face of fierce opposition from church and state, defended the fundamental truth of Orthodox Christianity. That is, that Jesus Christ is “true God of true God” without which Christianity would collapse.
Venerable and God-bearing Father Anthony the Great
Commemorated – January 17th
Troparion — Tone 4
You imitated the ways of zealous Elijah, and followed the straight path of John the Baptist. You became a desert dweller and strengthened the world by your prayers. Father Anthony, intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion — Tone 2
You rejected the tumult of this life and lived your life to the end in solitude, imitating the Baptist in every way. With him we honor you, most venerable Anthony, foundation of the Fathers.
St Athanasius the Great the Archbishop of Alexandria
Commemorated on January 18
Troparion — Tone 3
You shone forth with works of Orthodoxy and quenched all heresy, and became victorious trophy-bearers, hierarchs Athanasius and Cyril. You enriched all things with piety and greatly adorned the Church, and worthily found Christ God, who grants His great mercy to all.
Kontakion — Tone 4
Athanasius and Cyril, great hierarchs of true piety, and noble champions of the Church of Christ, preserve all who sing: “O Compassionate Lord, save those who honor You.”