Orthodox America

  Elder Anthim the Bulgarian

+December 9, 1867

The spiritual world is such a realm into which the wisdom of this world does not penetrate. Bishop Theophan the Recluse

Father Anthim was born in Sofia, and in the world he was a priest. After the death of his wife, about 1830, he withdrew to the Holy Mountain, where he at first settled in the monastery of Simona-Petra, and there entered monasticism. In 1841 he began manifesting signs of foolishness-for Christ's sake. Just why he decided upon such a dangerous and difficult path of spiritual life remained unknown. Fr. Anthim liked the monastery of St. Panteleimon, he liked the Russian services, and often went there, sometimes spending a whole week at the monastery, even longer. His favorite shelter was the church porch.

       Fr. Anthim always tried to conceal his inner life, making himself out to be dim-witted; he often spoke incoherently, as if senselessly, and sometimes he would even use foul language. When he noticed that people were beginning to understand his parables and express respect, he would deliberately go on and on about something ludicrous and flee into the wilderness where he would wander about, living in silence for two or three months. Eventually, he would again show up at the monastery.

      From the beginning of his foolishness-for Christ's-sake, some monks in Russiko [St. Panteleimon's monastery] took note of him and carefully observed his way of life. For about the first five years, he wore ordinary clothes; he ate at the common trapeza and did not withdraw for long periods of solitude. But gradually he became emboldened and grew in self-denial. He began to change his apparel; at first he wore ragged clothes; later he scorned this and would go about half-naked, dressed only in a cloth bag in which he had cut holes for his head and arms, and in this manner walked about everywhere. Later he sewed up the bag and simply draped it over his shoulders, for which reason he was nicknamed "the bag man." When he went off into the wilderness, he denied himself even this protection and went about completely naked.

      Many received from him spiritual benefit, observing his supernatural patience, but Others became irritated, considering him to be a halfwit. He edified many, corrected and encouraged them, and convicted [ them [of their sins]. Concerning his own life, he was extremely reticent; he was open with very few, but many recognized that he had the gift of discernment.

      In his later years, although he continued to come sometimes to Russiko, he rarely entered the monastery. He usually stayed in the workers' kitchen, where in cold weather he would warm himself and fortify himself with Something to eat. The monk in charge of the trapeza was told by the superior to receive the elder and feed him. This monk, who gladly fulfilled this service, won Fr. Anthim's particular confidence and was able to learn about some of his secret podvigs.

      Fr. Anthim received from God a great gift--to fast for extended periods of time. Although he concealed this carefully from everyone, sometimes circumstances compelled him, unintentionally, to reveal his podvigs and the gifts of grace of which he had been found worthy. Thus it was that once during the Apostles' Fast the elder came to Russiko utterly wasted. The monk who served him received him joyfully and offered him to eat. The elder began to eat, and the monk walked back and forth in the trapeze, glancing from time to time at the elder, The latter, as if paying no attention to him, continued eating, consuming more than usual. This tempted the monk, and he began to mentally judge the elder: how could such a withered and exhausted monk eat so much! Upset by these thoughts, he left the trapeza annoyed. The elder, after finishing the meal, came out of the trapeza and sat at the door. On seeing his friend, he invited him to sit down and, taking his hand, asked, "And you, brother, do you know what humility of wisdom means?" The monk, out of meekness, replied, "I do not know." Then the elder said to him, "Humility of wisdom consists in not judging anyone, and in considering oneself worse than everyone else. Here you have fallen into temptation and judged me for eating so much, but do you know how many days I have eaten nothing? Do you remember the last time I was here with you and ate?" "I remember, father," replied the monk. "You were here on Palm Sunday; since then t haven't seen you." The elder said to him, "You see how many days I have not eaten? And you judged me for eating so much. Brother, God's gifts are various: each person is given something from God. To me God gave the strength to endure hunger and cold. Can you endure what I endure? Just try. Take off your clothes and walk with me, if only to the neighboring monastery. You might be a singer, but how do you sing to God? Your thoughts are more often diverted, scattered, but listen to how I sing." The elder raised his hands towards the heavens, and with loud groans sang, "Alleluia," tears streaming from his eyes. The monk became terrified and burst out weeping. Then the elder said to him, "And so, brother, do not judge anyone, for you do not know to whom is given what gift; rather, pay more attention to yourself." The monk bowed to the elder and asked his forgiveness. From that time the elder became more open with his friend.

        Another brother once was tempted by the elder's behavior and said to himself: "What kind of a clairvoyant is he? Do clairvoyant elders eat so much?" The elder, discerning his thoughts, summoned the monk and said, "You, brother, want to be a monk, but all your thoughts are in Russia. You will go there and fulfill your desire, but you will return, and then your spiritual father will tonsure you." The words of the elder came to pass precisely. The monk became carried away by his thoughts; he left the monastery and returned to Russia, but within a year he came back to Athos and was found worthy of the monastic tonsure.

        One hieromonk related that once, having grown homesick for his native land, he took it into his head to leave the Holy Mountain. As he was pondering this thought, Fr. Anthim suddenly came into his cell--something he had never done before--and said to him: "The Mother of God sent me to tell you not to go to Russia; if you leave the wilderness and go into the world, you will fall into sin."

        Once, when Fr. Anthim had spent quite a long period of time in silence somewhere on the heights of Mt Athos, the monk who looked after him missed the consolation of his conversations, and prayed that God would inspire him to come down, at the same time thinking to himself, "Perhaps my elder has become worn out by his ascetic feats in the wilderness. I could comfort him with some food, a cup of tea." The next morning the elder came to his friend and said with a smile, "Well, as you desired, I have come down from the mountain· I am tired and I cut my feet on the rocks· Is that worth your cup of tea?" The brother was amazed by his clairvoyance and asked his forgiveness for having disturbed him.

       Once, during the All-night Vigil in honor of the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, Fr. Anthim ran into the monastery, tired and out of breath. On seeing his brother-acquaintance, he said to him, "Tonight I was in the wilderness near Zographou, standing on a rock and praying, when I saw the Mother of God descending from heaven to your monastery. I rejoiced and hastened here that she might also cover me, a sinner, together with her other slaves, with her protection. But no sooner had I started on my way than suddenly a snake appeared and attacked me, biting my foot. I guessed, however, that this hindrance was sent by the evil one, at God's allowance, in order to deprive me of spiritual benefit and consolation, and therefore I paid no attention to it and continued running to your monastery." The monk looked at his foot; the sole had a deep puncture and blood flowed from the wound· The elder's great love for God made him oblivious to physical suffering.

      There was a time when, for five months, Fr. Anthim did not come to Russiko. The elders grew sorrowful: perhaps someone had offended him? The spiritual father, Fr. Jerome, knew a hermit with whom Fr. Anthim was open, and he asked him to find the elder and discover the reason for hi5 long absence· When the hermit saw Fr. Anthim and asked why he had stopped going to Russiko, the elder replied: "As long as they did not glorify me there and did not regard me as a saint, I went there; but now it is no longer not only not beneficial but even harmful. The last time I was there, one hieromonk fell at my feet and said, 'Pray, holy father, for me, a sinner, that I may be saved by your prayers!' No sooner had I left him than another hieromonk came up to me with the same request· How can I go there? Although I very much like that monastery, from now on I will visit less often·"

      Nevertheless, even after this, Fr. Anthim would occasionally come to Russiko, but he would not go inside the monastery; rather, he would come as if secretly. He stayed at his friend's, behind the monastery. He conversed with him about everything, and even revealed to him some of his secrets. Once the elder came and a dinner was served. Afterwards the elder said, "Last night Saint John the Almsgiver visited your monastery." It was a feast day, and many hermits had come to the monastery, and everyone had been fed and given bread and alms.

      Fr. Anthim had no permanent dwelling place anywhere; the whole mountain of Athos was his home. In the last years of his life he lived near Zographou. He frequently came to work on the monastery construction, where he would carry rocks and water· In August 1867 the great ascetic visited Russiko for the last time. He went inside, right into the guesthouse and there conversed for a long time with his brother/acquaintance, instructing him how to overcome bad thoughts and passions and finally said to him directly, "I won't be coming to see you any more. I am going to die soon."

      That same year, at the end of November, he came to Zographou and there he fell ill. They put him in the infirmary, where he lay for twelve days. On 9 December, Fr. Anthim left this difficult life and peacefully departed to the Lord. 

Translated and abridged from Lives of Athonite Ascetics of the 19th century by Hieromonk Anthony (Sviatogorets); Jordan ville, 1988.

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