Elder Anthony of Optina

Elder Anthony of Optina
Commemorated October 11/24

The prayerful calling upon the sweetest name of Jesus
must be the breath of our soul,
must be more frequent than the beating of our heart….

It is known from experience that the beginning of the monastic life is very important, and success in this endeavor very much depends upon how strong in the very beginning is the desire to become an ascetic. After he had chosen his brother [the future Abbot Moses] for his elder and spiritual director, Alexander [the future Elder Anthony] committed himself to obedience to him with complete faith and burning determination, which also showed in his ascetic labors. “I wholly surrendered myself to unremitting obedience to my Elder, Fr. Moses, and, thanks to the Lord God, I have never regretted once having done so.”

Alexander sincerely loved his older brother and elder as a father, yet at the same time feared him as the Superior. In his presence he always remained absolutely silent, and this silence made him a lover of wisdom and helped him to acquire great spiritual discretion. Once while he was still a novice, at a meeting of elders who were discussing a subject known to him, in listening to them he became carried away and spoke several words. He collected himself immediately and, feeling ashamed of his audacity, blushed and became silent. See how strict and attentive he was to himself! He also fled conversations with strangers. As he related afterwards, from his entrance into the monastic life over the course of fourteen years, that is, until the time he left the Raslavl forests and had already lived in the Optina Skete, he never allowed himself to engage in conversations with strangers visiting the Monastery. “And when someone asked me where a certain cell was,” Alexander said, “I used to point at it with my finger and keep silent….”

Elder Anthony wrote to one of his spiritual children when sending him a prayer rope: “Pray fervently to the Lord God and your cold heart will be warmed by His sweetest Name, for our God is Fire. Calling upon His Name destroys impure thoughts and also warms our hearts to fulfill all His commandments. For this reason the prayerful calling upon His sweetest name must be the breath of our soul, must be more frequent than the beating of our heart.” He said frankly to one close spiritual son that he was always praying, praying for each and everyone, and that when he was a superior he did not even come out to talk to workers who arrived for monastery business without preparing first by prayer. Some people noticed that while he was talking to visitors, he was also praying inwardly….

All who saw Fr. Anthony celebrating Divine Liturgy remember the unusual expression on his face, especially during the Great Entrance with the chalice. His was the face of a man full of grace. It happened that, by merely looking at him at such times, several felt in their soul a moral transformation. There are substantial grounds on which to maintain that Fr. Anthony had great boldness in his prayers to God and was granted spiritual visions and other grace-filled visitations.

A novice of Optina Monastery, P., Fr. Anthony’s spiritual son, told us: “On November 8th, 1862, on the commemoration of the Archangel Michael, before Matins I heard in a dream an unknown voice telling me, ‘Your Elder, Fr. Anthony, lives a holy life and is a great Elder of God.’ Right after that the bell rang, and therefore all the words said by the mysterious voice became clearly imprinted in my memory. Mediating upon what I heard, I went to Matins. I passed by close to the building where the Elder lived and saw the cell where Fr. Anthony prayed. Out of nowhere there appeared a bright white, fiery cloud nearly eight feet long and about five feet wide; quietly and slowly it began to rise from the roof and disappeared in the heavenly region of the sky. This appearance startled me, and returning from Matins I wrote it down for remembrance. I didn’t dare tell the Elder about it, but considered the vision as teaching me, the unworthy one, to have faith, devotion and obedience to my Elder, and as clear evidence of his pure, flaming and God-pleasing prayers.

He had such flaming zeal and pious love for the Mother of God that, especially in the last years of his life, when he began to say something about her life or even when he remembered the name of the most blessed Virgin Mary, his voice changed from the abundance of his tears and he would be unable to finish his story. However, he carefully hid his spiritual gifts from everyone….

From Elder Anthony of Optina (St. Herman Press, 1994)
For more on the Optina Elders, click here.
For printable version of the opening quote of Elder Anthony, click here.