Anatolius I of Optina
Our venerable father Anatolius I (Zertsalov) of Optina, also Anatole I of Optina, was a Hieroschemamonk among the group of monastics of Optina Monastery in the nineteenth century who were known as the Optina Elders. The Elder Anatolius is venerated on January 25 and with all the Optina Elders on October 11.
Alexis Moisevich Kopev was born on March 24, 1824 in the village of Bobolya. His parents, Deacon Moses and Anna, were very devout Christians who hoped that their children would enter the monastic life. Alexis was taught to read by the time he was five years old. He studied first at the St. Boris Theological Seminary, then entered the seminary at Kaluga. At the seminary his last name was changed to Zertsalov, then a common practice at seminaries. Wanting to be a monk, Alexis thought of going to the Roslavl forests to live with the hermits. When he was fourteen, Alexis became ill with tuberculosis of which he was miraculously healed.
After his recovery he traveled to Optina Monastery with his mother where he was introduced to Fr. Macarius. Fr. Macarius praised his mother for setting Alexis on a good path and took Alexis under his wing, instructing him in the Jesus Prayer and in the principles of the spiritual life. He had a demanding novitiate, working in the kitchen and sleeping there on a woodpile. He was frequently transferred from cell to cell, and he experienced many sorrows and trials that taught him the virtues of humility and patience. He was soon tonsured a monk with the name Anatolius.
After Fr. Macarius reposed in 1860, Fr. Anatolius became very close to Fr. Ambrose. When Fr. Ambrose noticed that Fr. Anatolius was mature enough to guide others, he began to train him for this service, just as Fr. Macarius had trained him.
In 1870, he was ordained a deacon, and then a priest. On August 3, 1871, he was assigned as Superior of the Spassky-Orlov Monastery and raised to the dignity of archimandrite. However, Fr. Anatolius did not want to leave Optina. Fr. Ambrose then made a formal request to have him assigned as his assistant, an appointment that was made.
In 1874, at the urging of Fr. Ambrose, Fr. Anatolius was appointed Superior of the Skete. Fr. Anatolius accepted these duties out of obedience to his Elder, and fulfilled them to the best of his ability. Even in his new position, Fr. Anatolius continued to respect and obey Fr Ambrose.
When Fr. Ambrose became ill, he relied greatly on Fr. Anatolius in maintaining an ordered life at the Shamordino Convent. He told the nuns that he visits to them became rare because of his confidence in Fr. Anatolius. Fr. Ambrose called him a great practitioner of the Jesus Prayer, who had received grace and the gift of unceasing prayer. He informed the nuns that only one in a thousand received such grace.
After Fr. Ambrose's repose in 1891, the bishop (who did not approve of Fr. Ambrose) forbade Fr Anatolius to visit Shamordino. This caused him deep sorrow, which came to affect his health. In 1892, he traveled to St. Petersburg where he met St. John of Kronstadt. On October 10, the anniversary of Fr. Ambrose's repose, they served together.
While in the Capital, doctors examined him and found that his heart and lungs were in poor condition. During 1893, Fr. Anatolius' health continued to grow worse. On October 10, 1893, he was secretly tonsured into the Great Schema.
On January 25, 1894, Hieroschemamonk Anatolius fell asleep in the Lord. He was buried near his beloved instructors Ss. Ambrose and Macarius at Optina Monastery.
Elder Anatolius of Optina was glorified with all the Elders of Optina by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in 1990. The feast day for St. Anatolius of Optina is January 25.