Anthony of Optina
Our venerable father Anthony of Optina was among the group of monastics of Optina Monastery in the nineteenth century known as the Optina Elders. Elder Anthony is venerated on August 7 and with all the Optina Elders on October 11.
Alexander Ivanovich Putilov was born on March 9, 1795 into the family of John Putilov in the town of Romanov in Yaroslavl province of Russia. He was one of five children. With his great-grand father Joel. who had been an hierodeacon at the Serpukhov Monastery, and his cousin Maxilmilla, who was a nun at the Moscow Annunciation Monastery, as examples, he inclined toward monasticism at an early age.
His brothers Timothy and Jonah entered the Sarov Monastery when Alexander was ten years old and sent with their letters spiritual books for him to read. His enjoyment reading these books led him to express his wish to become a monk when he was thirteen years old. As he grew, Alexander also experienced a number of accidents and misfortunes, of illness, near drownings, and a fractured skull, from which his recovery foretold something better for him.
In 1809, after his father's death, Alexander went to work for three years in Moscow for a merchant named Karpishev. On September 2, 1812 during Napoleon's invasion of Russia he was caught in the city and was robbed by the invading Poles and French soldiers of his money and belongings before they held him captive. While captive he consoled himself with the words of St. John Chrysostom that the worst suffering on earth did not compare to the least suffering in hell. On September 12, he escaped from them in the rain and reached Rostov where he began to work again. There he visited St. James Monastery.
Later in 1815, Alexander left Rostov for Moscow on a journey of discovery as he visited various churches and monasteries praying to the Holy Theotokos and the saints asking their blessing on his becoming a monk. His travels took him to Kaluga and the Roslavl forests in Smolensk province where his brother Moses had lived for five years. There he stayed, becoming a novice on January 15, 1816. After searching many monasteries, the novice Alexander decided to remain with his brother and stayed with him for the next twenty four years.
The brothers followed ascetic labors that seemed impossible. They followed the cycle of services without exception. Having become familiar with the church Typikon, Alexander copied patristic texts and with his brother compiled extracts from different sources to form a system of rules for the Christian life. These labors with the spiritual books they did while standing, such that in later life Alexander suffered pains in his legs for the rest of his life.
After four years of labor as the junior member of the monastic community, Alexander was tonsured on February 2, 1820 with the name Anthony by Fr. Athanasius and placed under the spiritual guidance of Fr. Moses.
In 1821, Bishop Philaret of Kaluga (later metropolitan of Kiev) became to the Roslavl forests and proposed to the monks that he was planning a skete at Optina Monastery for experienced monastics who wished to live in silence and offered them the opportunity to move to Optina in his diocese to establish the skete. After Fr. Moses accepted, he, Fr. Anthony, and the monks Hilarion and Sabbatius left the forest on June 3, 1821.
Fr. Anthony and the other monks arrived at Optina on June 6 and began to establish their skete on the eastern side of the monastery. There, they built a cell and a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Fr. Moses was elected Igumen, and Anthony was ordained a deacon on August 23, 1823.
In 1825, Fr. Moses was elected Superior of Optina Monastery, and Fr. Anthony was placed in charge of the skete. The skete flourished under Fr. Anthony over the next fourteen years as Elders and experienced ascetics came to Fr. Moses' Hesychast skete. In 1829 at the invitation of Fr Moses, St. Leonid came from St. Anthony of Svir Monastery with five of his disciples and, in 1834, Fr. Macarius came from Ploschansky Monastery. These monastics joined together in introducing the ancient monastic tradition of eldership at the skete and monastery in which Fr. Anthony was an example of obedience to others. Though the Superior of the skete, he never made any decisions or gave any orders without the blessing of his own Elder, Fr Moses.
At first life in the skete was very difficult. The work was greater than the number of monks to do it. Thus, Fr. Anthony carried his own water and firewood. He worked clearing the paths on the grounds, took his turn serving in church, and greeted visitors. The hard work made him appreciate the simple food served in the trapeza. His afflictions continued throughout his life. His legs pained him from continual standing. He had eye trouble and even lost his sight for a brief time. His legs, sore from years of standing, developed open sores after he stubbed his right foot on a tree stump. For six months, the inflammation in his legs prevented him from leaving his cell.These ailments he bore with patience and humility, believing that illness is sometimes given to us by God in order to heal the infirmities of the soul.
Although he had hoped to remain at the skete for the rest of his life, Bp. Nicholas of Kaluga appointed him Igumen of St. Nicholas Monastery in Maloyaroslavets, a monastery that needed renovation. After twenty three years in the forest and the skete, Fr. Anthony found life at Maloyaroslavets difficult. The monks did not share the same oneness of mind as the Optina monks and his illness meant issuing directions though others. After St. Metrophanes of Voronezh appeared to him in a dream and blessed him, saying "You have been in Paradise and you know it. Now work, pray, and don't be lazy" Fr. Anthony devoted himself to improving the spiritual life of the monastery, but he was still not happy and wrote to his bishop asking for retirement. The bishop would not hear of it. When he then wrote to his brother, Fr. Moses rebuked him saying that in seeking deliverence from his sorrows, he placed his own will in opposition to the will of God.
After the rebuke from his brother, Fr. Anthony bore his cross with meekness, and place all his trust in God. In 1853, Bp. Gregory of Kaluga permitted him to retire to Optina.
On February 12, 1853, Fr. Anthony arrived back at Optina and was given a cell near Fr. Moses. Still suffering from physical ailments that he bore with patirnce, he joined in the activities of the monastery, attending the services and taking his meals with the community. He never complained about his sufferings, even though they prevented him from leaving his cell for weeks at a time. Fr. Anthony devoted himself to his favorite occupation - reading. He loved the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers. He also enjoyed other books of a spiritual or historical nature. He gave over 2,000 of his books to the monastery library.
Fr. Anthony's retirement at Optina lasted for twelve years. When Fr. Moses reposed in May 1862, Fr. Anthony was stricken with grief. In 1863, Fr. Anthony went on a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of the newly-glorified St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and St. Metrophanes of Voronezh. He also visited several other monasteries. After returning to Optina, Fr. Anthony began to prepare for his departure from this world.
On March 9, 1865, at the age of seventy, he received the Great Schema. On June 24, 1865, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist and the Skete's Feast Day, Igumen Anthony attended Divine Liturgy in the skete church for the last time. The Elder received Holy Unction on July 21 and received Holy Communion every day thereafter. After Liturgy on August 6, some of the brethren came to his cell to sing the troparion and kontakion for the Transfiguration. The next day he asked to be clothed in the full habit of a schemamonk. Due to his weakness, however, this could not be done. So, they placed the schema over him, which satisfied him. One of the spiritual Fathers of the monastery blessed him three times with a hand cross. The holy Schema-Igumen Anthony sighed three times, then departed to the Lord, August 7, 1865.
The Patriarchate of the Church of Russia approved local veneration of the Optina Elders on June 13, 1996. The work of uncovering the relics of Ss. Leonid, Macarius, Hilarion, Ambrose, Anatole I, Barsanuphius, and Anatole II began on June 24, 1998 and was concluded the next day. However, because of the church Feasts (Nativity of St John the Baptist, etc.) associated with the actual dates of the uncovering of the relics, Patriarch [[Alexei II (Ridiger) of Moscow|Alexei I designated June 27 as the date for commemorating this event. The relics of the holy Elders now rest in the new church of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.