9 (22) November - ANTHONY OF APAMEA

Augustine Sokolovski

The martyr Anthony of Apamea is one of the very few ancient witnesses of the faith of Christ who suffered from the pagans decades after the Edict of Milan (313), when official persecution of Christians was completely stopped. Based on his place of origin from the ancient Syrian city on the Orontes River, the saint is called Anthony of Apamea.

In ancient menologies his name is also given as Antoninus. Even though at present the holy martyr, unfortunately, is practically forgotten by believers and is generally little known, an article is devoted to him in the modern edition of the Orthodox Encyclopedia. Apparently, this is due to the fact that in ancient times the martyr was also highly revered not only in the East, but also in the territory of modern France, Italy and Spain. In these countries, where centuries after his death his relics were transferred, the saint was considered the patron of monastics and the protector of ordinary people.

The complete life of Saint Anthony has not been preserved. However, the brief information contained in the ancient liturgical calendars, as well as in the history of the veneration of the saint, allows us to restore the key events of his biography and testimony for the faith. The veneration of the martyr is attested by one of the authoritative Syrian Fathers of the Church, Theodoret of Cyrus (393-457), as well as church councils of the 6th century.

Originally from Syria, Anthony was a stonemason by profession and a devout Christian. It was during the reign of the son of Constantine the Great, Emperor Constantius II (337-361), who supported the heretics-Arians, but, at the same time, zealously persecuted pagans. Despite the fact that by that time Christianity had actually become the official religion of the Roman Empire, idolatry, especially outside of large cities, was still strong.

Like the Apostle Paul, who, according to the Book of Acts (2:17), "was very indignant in spirit" at the sight of many idols, Anthony, seeing the continued prosperity of officially banned paganism, became a wandering preacher. Once, at the sight of a mass sacrifice, he denounced the idolaters, for which he was severely beaten.

A lonely Christian ascetic who was living in the vicinity of that place, like the merciful Samaritan from the Gospel (Luke 10:25-27), picked up Anthony and cared for him for two years until he fully recovered. The very name of the hermit Theotimus, cited by the life, and literally meaning "worshipper of God", apparently, is an epithet. Apparently, the real name of the ascetic who saved Anthony from death has not been preserved. Most likely, the ascetic himself in humility preferred to hide it.

According to the life, after recovery, Theotimus for a long time persuaded Anthony not to return to the path of preaching to the pagans. It is obvious that then, as, indeed, now, many in the Church were sure that thanks to the policy favorable to Christians, paganism and all godlessness would soon fade away by itself.

But the memory of the special grace of confessing Jesus Chirst, which he had already managed to partake of, was deeply rooted in Anthony's heart. Therefore, as soon as he regained his strength, he began to preach Christ to the Gentiles again. Being a bricklayer by profession, he knew well the places and buildings where, contrary to official prohibition, pagans could gather. So, one day, finding one of these temples, he entered it and knocked over the idols. Apparently, wanting to cool the zealous fervor of the preacher, and perhaps at the request of the Monk Theotimus himself, the local bishop instructed Anthony to "get busy" and build a church in the city.

"No one, having lit a lamp, puts it under a bushel or under a bed, but on a candlestick, and shines on everyone in the house" (Mt.5:15). These gospel words turned out to be a prophecy about the fate of Anthony himself. The bishop and the hermit wanted to "distract" the saint's attention from the evangelization, and thereby save him from an imminent clash with the pagans. Therefore, they entrusted him with the construction of the Christian temple. However, the absence of any permanent occupation was a huge advantage of itinerant preachers. They could preach the gospel and, leaving the pagans alone with their thoughts, hide in case of danger. This was often done by the Apostles themselves according to the Book of Acts (14,6). Now, constant obedience to the church pointed out to the pagans his location. Driven by malice, they entered the saint's cell at night and hacked him to death. A church was erected over the resting place of the Martyr Anthony in Apamea by the local bishop. As if fulfilling the words of the Apocalypse about the foundations of the Heavenly Jerusalem (cf.21:14), the saint himself became one of his living stones, shining brighter than the sun to people.