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SAINT ANTIPA OF CALAPODEŞTI - A FRAGRANT FLOWER OF THE DESERT
St Antipa of Calapodesti is a Romanian saint who should be better known in Romania. Commemorated on 10 January and especially loved by the Fathers of Mt Athos and the Valaam monastery in Russia, St Antipa is virtually unknown to his compatriots, even to those who live near his home village of Calapodesti in the Bacau region.
The road that climbs up and down the eastern hills of the Bacau region takes the traveller into another world, very peaceful and far from the cares of daily life. The simplicity of the people and the picturesque surroundings invite the pilgrim to take himself back to the time of the saint’s childhood. The only obstacle to this inward movement is the noise of vehicles transporting materials and workers to build the skete dedicated to St Antipa and all the saints of Romania.
For it was only a few years ago that the Archdiocese decided to build a monastery to the saint whose relics are at Valaam monastery. This is a praiseworthy initiative that should have happened a very long time ago. It is happening today, but only slowly, because of a shortage of money and manpower. We can only hope that in the future, through the prayers of St Antipa, this place will become a true hermitage, where monks and hermits will offer up their prayers to God.
Managing to venerate a small piece of bone from his very fragrant relics and his monk’s cross, brought by monks from Valaam who wanted to retrace St Antipa’s earthly footsteps and came to his village, I was as sad as they were to see such a lack of interest in St Antipa. God has blessed us with so many things that make us strong in our faith and help us in our spiritual struggles, but it is up to us to find them and appreciate them. We hope that this short article will revive interest in this great Saint who does not deserve to remain unknown.
Childhood and the desire to live as a hermit.
The future Hieroschemamonk Antipa was born to a pious family at the beginning of the twentieth century. His was baptised Alexander. His father, George, the choirmaster of the village church, and his mother, Catherine, who later became nun Catherine, had ardently desired a child. For a long time God had not granted their prayers. But when He did, not only did He grant them a child, but He blessed them with a child who would one day climb the spiritual heights. It is said that the young Alexander was a slow and clumsy boy, but God, who hates the things of this world, glorified him, placing him among His saints.
Although Alexander tried to study at school, he was not very successful. As a result, his teacher advised him to leave and learn a trade. But the young Alexander, with his gift of prayer, persisted in his studies. He vowed that if he succeeded he would dedicate himself to spiritual reading, the Gospels and the Holy Fathers. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Alexander did succeed, but then came another misfortune. While Alexander was at school, his father passed away, leaving him in poverty. As a result he decided to leave and learn bookbinding.
Soon after this, his money problems were solved. Although it seemed that order had been restored, yet he was sad at heart. Something was missing, he was empty inside. He was unable to find his place among the things of this world. So he fell down on his knees in front of God, begging for His help. It is said that when he was praying at the age of twenty, his heart was filled with a great joy and his mind was illumined. He felt ‘something’, he heard God calling. Deep down inside, a voice was calling him and from that moment on, everything became clear. Hearing the call of the Gospel, he put aside the sweet but passing things of this world and he took on himself ‘the yoke of Christ’, ‘ploughing’ his ‘land of salvation’. From now on, his delight would be in abstinence and ascetic life, his wealth would be in his poverty, his food in his prayers and his tears would drive away the passions.
The time had come for his spiritual ascent to the Kingdom of Heaven. One night he left home secretly, heading for the monastery in Neamt. When he arrived, he went to pray in front of the wonderworking icon of the Virgin Mary there. As he prayed, the curtains that screened the icon on both sides opened, even though nobody else was in church. It was the first sign of the protection of the Mother of God, who had accepted the tears shed by Alexander’s parents, especially those of his mother. But the ways of the Lord are mysterious. Alexander would not find his place at the monastery in Neamt, the Abbot would not yield to his request.
Forced to leave, his steps took him to a monastery in Wallachia1 where he lived in absolute poverty and asceticism. His austere life, total self-renunciation, fasts, vigils, together with the prayer of the heart learned from a Schemamonk called Ghedeon, illumined him. His confessor guided him towards Mt Athos. However, needing the confirmation of an older confessor, the young Alexander went to see Fr Dimitrie, the Abbot of Brazi monastery, then known as an experienced monk. Usually the Abbot dissuaded those who wanted to leave for Mt Athos, but in this case, to the surprise of many, he was favourable. But before letting Alexander go, he tonsured him and changed his name to Alimpie. From now on, Alimpie, the future Hieroschemamonk Antipa, would develop his virtues in a foreign land, but his heart was still in the same place, in heaven, our common destination.
Alimpie arrived on Mt Athos a stranger, but in the care of the Virgin Mary, the guardian of the whole of Mt Athos and of him personally. When he arrived, he first thought of joining two Romanian monks, Hieroschemamonks Nifon and Nectarie. However, they decided that Alimpie should go to a Greek monastery and live in community. Thus, for four years monk Alimpie completed his noviciate in the kitchen of the Monastery of Esphigmenou. But we should not think that he did not suffer temptation all those years. On the contrary, he suffered many worries and cares, but his great devotion to his guardian the Virgin Mary kept him from despair.
After his time as a novice at Esphigmenou, Fr Nifon took him as a disciple, giving him the schema and changing his name to Antipa. But this was not by chance. Fr Nifon had long been troubled by the idea of building a Romanian skete on Athos2. To do this he needed help. Trusting in the young Fr Antipa, he thought that he would be just the monk to help him in this noble goal. However, Fr Nifon was forced to let Fr Antipa go into the desert, so that his original dream could come true. However, Fr Nifon did not give Antipa anything to live on, neither money, nor food. Fr Antipa also experienced other troubles and sorrows, overcoming them only through the help of the Virgin Mary. This is how it happened.
Penetrating deeply into the mountain, he found a ramshackle hut, the walls of which were barely standing. Here he found an icon of the Virgin Mary, but as it was old and in poor condition, he could only just make out her face. Fr Antipa was overcome with joy at finding it and hurried to an icon-painter he knew called Hierodeacon Paisie. He told Fr Antipa to clean the icon carefully. Scarcely had he begun to do this when the icon cleaned itself and it shone more brightly than a new one. With time it would be revealed as miracle-working3.
As we have already said, no-one could live in the ramshackle hut, but the Most Holy Mother of God arranged a ‘chance’ encounter between Fr Antipa and another hermit, from whom he received five gold coins: ‘Father, some good people gave me five gold coins to give away to a poor hermit and, praying to the Lord, I thought I would give them to the first hermit I met. So you take them, maybe they will be of use to you’. Fr Antipa accepted them gladly and praising the Lord for such a wonderful event, he asked a carpenter to repair the hut. But a few weeks later the carpenter became ill, falling down near the hut. As Fr Antipa did not have the physical strength to lift him up and take him inside, he placed the icon of the Virgin Mary near the sick man and went deep into the forest to pray. ‘O, Holy Virgin Mother of God, who would not bless thee and who would not praise thy wonders, thou who art most helpful to those who flee unto thee and deliverest from troubles those who call on thee, Queen of Heaven, guardian of monks and all people, pray for us!’
Fr Antipa must surely have uttered such words, for when he returned from prayer, he found the carpenter already at work, fully recovered. ‘Your icon is miracle-working and she healed me. I was lying down as if I were dead, when suddenly I felt a hot, life-giving breeze coming from the icon of Virgin Mary. That warmed me up and restored my health. I got up and went on with my work’, confessed the man, who just before had been sick unto death. As a result of this miraculous event which had happened through the direct intervention of the Mother of God, Fr Antipa had a hut ready for him where he could fast, weep, pray and give himself up to asceticism, as he had dreamed of.
Or so it seemed, because all this time the efforts of Fr Nifon to build a Romanian skete on Mt Athos had started to bear fruit. First, a dependency had been bought in Iasi. (A dependency is a place in a town under the jurisdiction of a monastery, which provides food and money for the monastery’s needs). Then, building land was obtained on Athos and the number of monks increased. It was then that the Romanian elder thought of asking Fr Antipa to help them. He accepted. He was put in charge of the administration and was responsible for the stores in the monastery. Later, when Fr Nifon left for Romania to gather materials and support, Fr Antipa was appointed confessor and was in charge of the whole skete. After a while, the dependency in Iasi needed an administrator and it was decided that Fr Antipa should do this. But nobody realised that as a result of this appointment, Fr Antipa would leave Mt Athos forever and head in another direction.
Back in Romania, at the dependency in Iasi
So Fr Antipa left the peace of Mt Athos for the agitated or, as we would say nowadays, stressful, city. But though he had changed places, Fr Antipa did not change his ways; in his heart he kept his zeal for spiritual life as well as a love of solitude. Obeying Fr Nifon’s advice, he did not give up the schema rule and continued to live as a schemamonk in the city. His strict fasting (he would not eat for days on end), seriousness, zeal, love, kindness and humility (which he kept even in the midst of arguments which still happened) drew people to him. He gained everyone’s love, no matter their social background. Everybody was glad to accept his advice in humility, for they knew that he was a great hermit.
It is said that Metropolitan Sofronie (Miclescu) of Moldavia particularly respected him and that that respect was mutual. The love and care shown by Fr Antipa could be seen not only in the love and respect shown to him by the many around him, it was also obvious from the prosperity of the dependency. The gain was twofold. Fr Antipa not only managed to raise funds and raw materials to build up the Romanian skete, he also built up the souls of those who visited him. Though he was in obedience there, with the blessing of his confessor and abbot his heart found rest in his love of solitude. Thoroughly satisfied with the efforts of his disciple, but at the same time seeing that what he had raised was insufficient, Fr Nifon had the idea of going to Russia to get help, taking with him none other than the humble and wise Fr Antipa. Hearing this news, Fr Antipa felt inside himself that once he had arrived in Russia, he would stay there forever….
Among other strangers in Russia, but still close to God
Lodged by some pious Russians, Fr Antipa soon found a quiet spot, a small hut in an orchard, where he could pray. He rarely left it. Even so, fund-raising went well, many pious people from the region discovered him and brought him gifts and money. Particularly when they heard that it was for a new church, they brought the most beautiful gifts.
However, a great misfortune was about to take place. For reasons that only God knows, the boat that took the gifts from Russia sank in the Black Sea. That night, Fr Antipa was in prayer. He heard the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, the one from the Holy Mountain, fall down with a loud thud for no reason. In this way he understood that some misfortune was about to happen, as indeed it did.
Everyone was bitter. Only he kept his faith. In a short while he raised another large sum of money to send to Greece. However, the money had to be changed into gold and at that time this was forbidden. Not knowing what to do, he knelt down in front of the icon of the Virgin Mary, the hope of the despairing, the help of the afflicted. While he was praying he heard a voice inside him saying: ‘Go to the Metropolitan’. Indeed, on the Metropolitan’s intervention with the Ministry of Finance, the money was changed into gold. Soon after it had been sent, people forgot all about the boat which had sunk and started collecting new gifts.
The austere life which Fr Antipa had led from the start could not keep away the curious, who were impressed by his fasting and abstinence as well as his love of prayer and spiritual life. He was honoured especially by Metropolitans Isidore of St Petersburg and Philaret of Moscow. They were themselves spiritual men, the second was canonised as a saint and is celebrated on 19 November. Fr Antipa was found worthy to take part in the finding of the relics of St Tikhon of Zadonsk and invited to take part in the procession by Metropolitan Isidore in person.
Solitude in Valaam
Wherever he went, Fr Antipa was accompanied by his longing for solitude. The thought of being alone haunted him. This is why, on the very first day he arrived in Russia, he visited Valaam Monastery. With all his heart he loved the untroubled cells which formed that desert. After he had finished fund-raising for Fr Nifon, what could stop him from devoting himself to the ascetic life there?
He performed his schemamonk rule in Romanian, adding two akathist hymns to the Most Holy Mother of God and praying for those whose names were written in his diptychs, which were very long. His thirst for prayer was so great that he always complained of lack of time. He was always in church, thinking: ‘I have seen many monasteries in Russia and abroad, built with many worries and sorrows, but worry and building are for laypeople. The life of the monk should be in the church and his ‘work’ should be his rule of prayer’. So, although praying in church is a great thing, it will not happen if we do not complete our rule in our own cell, as he himself showed. Another time, when asked what the most important thing in prayer is, he answered: patience.
However, Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord, is the fundamental teaching for every Christian and the Lenten services are unique. Lent is unique for its asceticism as well as for the beauty of the services. In the first week of Lent, Fr Antipa neither ate nor drank. It was the same every Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the year and on the eves of Christmas and the Baptism of the Lord. On other days he ate only once.
As he lived in the skete, he went to the monastery of Valaam only three times a year. There he obeyed the monastery rules, which were less austere. And although it may have been a waste of time, he received all who wished to talk to him. Once, one of the novices of the monastery asked him how he reconciled the ascetic life in the skete with the less strict life in the monastery. In answer he quoted the Epistle of St Paul to the Philippians, 4,12 - I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
His hut was completely empty. He had only a chair and, instead of a bed, a rough blanket on the floor. With no need for any earthly things, he devoted himself to prayer, weeping for his sins, which made him loved by God and also by his fellow-monks, who greatly respected him.
Approaching his earthly end
On Great Saturday in the year St Antipa left our passing world, he saw some unknown monks in the church. Their faces shone brightly, in a way that St Antipa could not describe because he had never seen anything like it before. In the autumn of the same year, while he was at prayer, the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God left its place all by itself and settled on his chest. The other icons fell down. Fr Antipa put the icon back in its place and just three days before his repose he spoke of this wonderful event, but only to one of his closest disciples.
The spiritual summit that Fr Antipa had climbed is illustrated not only by this earlier event but also by the next: lying on his death bed, two days before leaving this world, surrounded by those close to him, monks and laypeople too, he learned in his spirit that a peasant, who lived as brother in the monastery (Fr Antipa lived in the skete, three miles from the monastery), had had an apoplectic attack. This event was later confirmed by a monk who had just arrived at the skete.
On 10 January 1882, at the age of 66, Fr Antipa, the lover of the desert, a son of Romania, reposed.
This, in short, is the wonderful life of St Antipa, who, together with Fr Nifon and Fr Nectarie, can be regarded as the founders of the Romanian skete of the Forerunner on Mt Athos, where many monks and laypeople, both Romanians and others, have found salvation. In his life St Antipa showed, as the Romanian proverb says, that a man sanctifies the place where he lives, and he also confirmed the universal value of Orthodoxy, unity in diversity, as a Russian thinker said4. God is the same everywhere and listens to our prayers, wherever we are. His fasting, unshakeable faith in the Virgin Mary and prayer were the weapons St Antipa used to defeat the many temptations which come from both people and from the devil. These were the tools with which he made his way through life’s many sorrows.
Of all that we can offer God, only love is beyond compare. It is said by the holy Apostle Paul in the well-known Chapter 13 of his first epistle to the Corinthians that without love we are nothing, that love never fails and that the greatest of faith, hope and love is love. Fr Antipa showed this true, authentic, unfeigned love. He showed this when he took up the ‘yoke’ of Christ, when he left his home to become a monk, when he saw to the administration of the skete. In all things, his whole life was love of prayer, love of the commandments, love of God, love of his fellow-men, love of every good thing.
God rewarded him a thousand times over, granting him relics which are fragrant. St Antipa sowed love and harvested eternity in God, the Absolute Love; he gave up his will and harvested strength, he gave up selfish and passing pleasures and now he rejoices in Divine glory and at the voices of the angels, with whom he praises the Lord in heaven. Prayer is not of this world and through prayer St Antipa gradually moved to the other world. First, he moved by thought and desire, then his soul inherited the everlasting life that comes after this one.
In memory of St Antipa a small monastery is being raised up where he was born. The Abbot, Fr Pahomie, himself lived for a while on Mt Athos. Helped by other Orthodox, he managed to cover St Antipa’s cross in silver, thus giving it due honour. This is the cross that was brought there by Russian monks. This cross belonged to various people before through his prayers St Antipa blessed the site for the monastery to be built. A priest who had the cross revealed that he had carried it with him in several processions (especially under the Communist regime) and that it brought relief to many. There was the happy case of a woman from a nearby village who was healed by the cross from a mist that had covered her eyes.
Fr Pahomie also revealed that from the beginning he sensed the presence of the Saint in that area and hopes that in future this place will be filled with a great many monks who love the ascetic life like St Antipa, or at least by laypeople who will visit to pray to God, Who is wonderful in His Saints. Surely St Antipa of Calapodesti is a Romanian saint whose life must be told and devotion to him increase, especially among people in the local area, in Bacau, Adjud and Barlad, whose people are bound to discover the Saint who is near them.
Article written by Monk Justin
and published in ROST magazine, December 2009.
Translation and adaptation into English: Fr Andrew Phillips
1 Brazi Monastery, Vrancea county.
2 Throughout history, many Romanian princes made significant donations to the Holy Mountain of Athos. Entire monasteries were rebuilt, while others were freed of paying tribute to the Turks. But in spite of this, the Romanians still do not have a monastery of their own, the Skete of the Forerunner being dependent on the Greek monastery of the Great Lavra.
3 St Antipa kept this icon all his life. After his repose it remained in Valaam, where it still is today.
4 ‘Catholicism represents unity without freedom; Protestantism freedom without unity, while Orthodoxy is freedom and unity in love’. Alexei Khomiakov
Tropar, gl. 5
Peste pământ arcuindu-te ca un curcubeu, ai ajuns din Sfântul Munte în Athosul de la miazănoapte, Valaam. O, Sfinte Părinte Antipa, mult lăudatule, asemenea mult minunaţilor bătrâni ai Moldovei te-ai făcut; şi acum, locuind în slava cerescului Valaam, roagă-L pe Hristos Dumnezeul nostru să ne povăţuiască pe calea îngerească.
Icoana Maicii Domnului, găsită de Cuviosul Antipa, de care se face pomenire în viaţa lui.
Condacul, gl. 4
Din frământătura ostenelilor înmuiate cu lacrimile milostivirii tale, ai dospit rugăciunea cea mult roditoare, Părintele nostru Antipa. Adu-ţi aminte şi de neamul nostru din care ai odrăslit, Preafericite, şi ocroteşte patria ta cu mijlocirile tale către Dumnezeu, ca să-ţi cântăm ţie: Bucură-te, odraslă a Moldovei, iubitorule de pustnicie.
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