Anthony’s is another life deeply coloured by grief. He was born in 1477 in a Russian village near Archangel. From an early age he devoted himself to reading sacred books and making icons. When his parents died, he worked for a wealthy lord in Novgorod, eventually marrying the lord’s daughter. Less than a year later, however, he was widowed. The hagiography then writes: “Despairing of earthly consolations, he gave his wealth to the poor and, owning only the clothes that he wore, went to become a monk at the Monastery of St Pachomius.”
Anthony is clearly deep in grief and maybe in depression. He found solace in a life of prayer, vigil and ascesis. He prayed for most of the night, took on the heaviest work by day, and (in a time when this would be praised as a virtue, not questioned as an eating disorder) ate only every second day. After a short time he was ordained to the priesthood.
Some years later he and two companions, seeking a still more secluded life for prayer, travelled to the frozen shores of the White Sea and established a small monastic brotherhood where the River Siya enters Lake Mikhailov. They lived in utter poverty, staying alive by gathering mushrooms and wild berries. This phenomenal lack of worldliness impressed and intrigued others that were seeking deeper relationships with God. In time, therefore, other brethren were attracted to the site, and a monastery was founded with the help of the Grand Prince of Moscow.
Anthony’s response was to withdraw into the forests, living alone for many years. God however, who exists in the community of the Trinity, is always calling us back into community to share our lives with our neighbours as well as in communion with the divine. Anthony’s spiritual children called him back to serve as the monastery’s abbot.
Let us give thanks to God for taking even our most distressing experiences and using them to shine light into the world.
On this day, lift before God:
- those who are widowed.
- all who cannot imagine being happy.
- all who find visual arts helpful in exploring faith, whether as onlookers or creators.