Friday, August 26, 2016

The New Aristocracy of the South: From Plantations to Monasteries, Part 4th

What would this monastic aristocracy look like in practice?  We may get some idea by looking back at a couple of very influential monks in the West, St Anthony the Great of Egypt (+356), who is called the Father of Monks (though monasticism has been in the Orthodox Church from the beginning; he and others helped give it an organized life that allowed it to flourish all the more, however.  Thus, he is a pillar of both the East and the West), and St Illtyd of Wales (reposed early 6th hundredyear).  Both were men of great holiness, so not all monastics will be able to achieve quite what they did.  But overall there will be a likeness between their lives and the life of all monks and nuns.  So let us see how monastics have raised to a higher plane the good works begun by the gentlemen-planters. 

St Anthony:

All quotes about St Anthony below are from the Life of St Anthony (by St Athanasius the Great),, accessed 24 Aug. 2016.

Of his fierce battles with the passions and the demons:

7. This was Antony's first struggle against the devil, or rather this victory was the Saviour's work in Antony , 'Who condemned sin in the flesh that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit.' But neither did Antony, although the evil one had fallen, henceforth relax his care and despise him; nor did the enemy as though conquered cease to lay snares for him. For again he went round as a lion seeking some occasion against him. But Antony having learned from the Scriptures that the devices of the devil are many, zealously continued the discipline, reckoning that though the devil had not been able to deceive his heart by bodily pleasure, he would endeavour to ensnare him by other means. For the demon loves sin. Wherefore more and more he repressed the body and kept it in subjection , lest haply having conquered on one side, he should be dragged down on the other. He therefore planned to accustom himself to a severer mode of life. And many marvelled, but he himself used to bear the labour easily; for the eagerness of soul, through the length of time it had abode in him, had wrought a good habit in him, so that taking but little initiation from others he showed great zeal in this matter. He kept vigil to such an extent that he often continued the whole night without sleep; and this not once but often, to the marvel of others. He ate once a day, after sunset, sometimes once in two days, and often even in four. His food was bread and salt, his drink, water only. Of flesh and wine it is superfluous even to speak, since no such thing was found with the other earnest men. A rush mat served him to sleep upon, but for the most part he lay upon the bare ground. He would not anoint himself with oil, saying it behooved young men to be earnest in training and not to seek what would enervate the body; but they must accustom it to labour, mindful of the Apostle's words, 'when I am weak, then am I strong.' 'For,' said he, 'the fibre of the soul is then sound when the pleasures of the body are diminished.' And he had come to this truly wonderful conclusion, 'that progress in virtue, and retirement from the world for the sake of it, ought not to be measured by time, but by desire and fixity of purpose.' He at least gave no thought to the past, but day by day, as if he were at the beginning of his discipline, applied greater pains for advancement, often repeating to himself the saying of Paul :'Forgetting the things which are behind and stretching forward to the things which are before.' He was also mindful of the words spoken by the prophet Elias 1 Kings 18:15, 'the Lord lives before whose presence I stand today.' For he observed that in saying 'today' the prophet did not compute the time that had gone by: but daily as though ever commencing he eagerly endeavoured to make himself fit to appear before God, being pure in heart and ever ready to submit to His counsel, and to Him alone. And he used to say to himself that from the life of the great Elias the hermit ought to see his own as in a mirror.

8. Thus tightening his hold upon himself, Antony departed to the tombs, which happened to be at a distance from the village; and having bid one of his acquaintances to bring him bread at intervals of many days, he entered one of the tombs, and the other having shut the door on him, he remained within alone. And when the enemy could not endure it, but was even fearful that in a short time Antony would fill the desert with the discipline, coming one night with a multitude of demons, he so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain. For he affirmed that the torture had been so excessive that no blows inflicted by man could ever have caused him such torment. But by the Providence of God— for the Lord never overlooks them that hope in Him— the next day his acquaintance came bringing him the loaves. And having opened the door and seeing him lying on the ground as though dead, he lifted him up and carried him to the church in the village, and laid him upon the ground. And many of his kinsfolk and the villagers sat around Antony as round a corpse. But about midnight he came to himself and arose, and when he saw them all asleep and his comrade alone watching, he motioned with his head for him to approach, and asked him to carry him again to the tombs without waking anybody.

9. He was carried therefore by the man, and as he was wont, when the door was shut he was within alone. And he could not stand up on account of the blows, but he prayed as he lay. And after he had prayed, he said with a shout, Here am I, Antony; I flee not from your stripes, for even if you inflict more nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ. And then he sang, 'though a camp be set against me, my heart shall not be afraid. ' These were the thoughts and words of this ascetic. But the enemy, who hates good, marvelling that after the blows he dared to return, called together his hounds and burst forth, 'You see,' said he, 'that neither by the spirit of lust nor by blows did we stay the man, but that he braves us, let us attack him in another fashion.' But changes of form for evil are easy for the devil, so in the night they made such a din that the whole of that place seemed to be shaken by an earthquake, and the demons as if breaking the four walls of the dwelling seemed to enter through them, coming in the likeness of beasts and creeping things. And the place was on a sudden filled with the forms of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, serpents, asps, scorpions, and wolves, and each of them was moving according to his nature. The lion was roaring, wishing to attack, the bull seeming to toss with its horns, the serpent writhing but unable to approach, and the wolf as it rushed on was restrained; altogether the noises of the apparitions, with their angry ragings, were dreadful. But Antony, stricken and goaded by them, felt bodily pains severer still. He lay watching, however, with unshaken soul, groaning from bodily anguish; but his mind was clear, and as in mockery he said, 'If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord has made you weak, you attempt to terrify me by numbers: and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.' And again with boldness he said, 'If you are able, and have received power against me, delay not to attack; but if you are unable, why trouble me in vain? For faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us.' So after many attempts they gnashed their teeth upon him, because they were mocking themselves rather than him.

10. Nor was the Lord then forgetful of Antony's wrestling, but was at hand to help him. So looking up he saw the roof as it were opened, and a ray of light descending to him. The demons suddenly vanished, the pain of his body straightway ceased, and the building was again whole.  . . .

Of his kindness to neighbor and kinship with creation:

50. Antony then, as it were, moved by God, loved the place , for this was the spot which he who had spoken with him by the banks of the river had pointed out. So having first received loaves from his fellow travellers, he abode in the mountain alone, no one else being with him. And recognising it as his own home, he remained in that place for the future. But the Saracens, having seen the earnestness of Antony, purposely used to journey that way, and joyfully brought him loaves, while now and then the palm trees also afforded him a poor and frugal relish. But after this, the brethren learning of the place, like children mindful of their father, took care to send to him. But when Antony saw that the bread was the cause of trouble and hardships to some of them, to spare the monks this, he resolved to ask some of those who came to bring him a spade, an axe, and a little grain. And when these were brought, he went over the land round the mountain, and having found a small plot of suitable ground, tilled it; and having a plentiful supply of water for watering, he sowed. This doing year by year, he got his bread from thence, rejoicing that thus he would be troublesome to no one, and because he kept himself from being a burden to anybody. But after this, seeing again that people came, he cultivated a few pot-herbs, that he who came to him might have some slight solace after the labour of that hard journey. At first, however, the wild beasts in the desert, coming because of the water, often injured his seeds and husbandry. But he, gently laying hold of one of them, said to them all, 'Why do you hurt me, when I hurt none of you? Depart, and in the name of the Lord come not near this spot.' And from that time forward, as though fearful of his command, they no more came near the place.

How he influenced rulers:

81. And the fame of Antony came even unto kings. For Constantine Augustus, and his sons Constantius and Constans the Augusti wrote letters to him, as to a father, and begged an answer from him. But he made nothing very much of the letters, nor did he rejoice at the messages, but was the same as he had been before the Emperors wrote to him. But when they brought him the letters he called the monks and said, 'Do not be astonished if an emperor writes to us, for he is a man; but rather wonder that God wrote the Law for men and has spoken to us through His own Son.' And so he was unwilling to receive the letters, saying that he did not know how to write an answer to such things. But being urged by the monks because the emperors were Christians, and lest they should take offense on the ground that they had been spurned, he consented that they should be read, and wrote an answer approving them because they worshipped Christ, and giving them counsel on things pertaining to salvation: 'not to think much of the present, but rather to remember the judgment that is coming, and to know that Christ alone was the true and Eternal King.' He begged them to be merciful and to give heed to justice and the poor. And they having received the answer rejoiced. Thus he was dear to all, and all desired to consider him as a father.

How he influenced the plain folk:

44. While Antony was thus speaking all rejoiced; in some the love of virtue increased, in others carelessness was thrown aside, the self-conceit of others was stopped; and all were persuaded to despise the assaults of the Evil One, and marvelled at the grace given to Antony from the Lord for the discerning of spirits. So their cells were in the mountains, like filled with holy bands of men who sang psalms, loved reading, fasted, prayed, rejoiced in the hope of things to come, laboured in almsgiving, and preserved love and harmony one with another. And truly it was possible, as it were, to behold a land set by itself, filled with piety and justice. For then there was neither the evil-doer, nor the injured, nor the reproaches of the tax-gatherer: but instead a multitude of ascetics; and the one purpose of them all was to aim at virtue. So that any one beholding the cells again, and seeing such good order among the monks, would lift up his voice and say, 'How goodly are your dwellings, O Jacob, and your tents, O Israel; as shady glens and as a garden by a river; as tents which the Lord has pitched, and like cedars near waters.'

 . . .

88. For this was the wonderful thing in Antony's discipline, that, as I said before, having the gift of discerning spirits, he recognised their movements, and was not ignorant whither any one of them turned his energy and made his attack. And not only was he not deceived by them himself, but cheering those who were troubled with doubts, he taught them how to defeat their plans, telling them of the weakness and craft of those who possessed them. Thus each one, as though prepared by him for battle, came down from the mountain, braving the designs of the devil and his demons. How many maidens who had suitors, having but seen Antony from afar, remained maidens for Christ's sake. And people came also from foreign parts to him, and like all others, having got some benefit, returned, as though set forward by a father. And certainly when he died, all as having been bereft of a father, consoled themselves solely by their remembrances of him, preserving at the same time his counsel and advice.

St Illtyd:

In the life of St Illtyd, one of the great saints of Wales whose influence together with that of other Welsh Orthodox Christians helped evangelize Wales, Cornwall, Ireland, and Brittany and later along with the Roman Orthodox missionaries helped to enlighten the heathen English, we see some of the same aspects of plantation life mentioned above as well as others:  education in the classics, communal life, poetry, Christian piety, and so on.

 . . . St. Illtyd is referred to in many sources as a disciple of St. Germanus of Auxerre (possibly a distant relative), who instructed and trained him either during one of his two visits to Britain or (which is less probable) in Gaul, where Illtyd came to gain experience in monastic life. St. Illtyd later became a monk and was ordained to the priesthood by Germanus, together with a number of other future saints. In the following years he founded many churches, monasteries and schools in Wales, the most famous of which was the monastery in Llantwit, named Llanilltud Fawr in Welsh, or Llantwit Major in English, literally meaning “the great church of Illtud”.

It was an angel who more than once directed Illtyd to the location of this monastery—in a beautiful wooded valley. The monastery was situated in Glamorgan in the south-east of Wales and today it is in the Vale of Glamorgan county borough. Illtyd became the first abbot of the monastery and ruled it for many years. Most of the saints of that period came from it. Hundreds of monks lived in Llantwit Major simultaneously and one early source says that at various points altogether some 3,000 brethren led the ascetic life there under the holy abbot Illtyd. Monastic life in this great center flourished until the Norman Conquest, and it gained fame for teaching Greek, Latin, theology, philosophy, grammar, poetry, rhetoric and mathematics. Indeed, it was one of the finest educational centers in Western Europe at that time and possibly the first center on such a scale in Britain. At the monastic church under St. Illtyd prayer never ceased—100 monks prayed and held vigil inside the church day and night.

St. Illtyd was venerated in his lifetime as a great wonderworker on whom the Lord also bestowed the ability to foresee future events. As was the case with many other Celtic saints who imitated the Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian desert fathers, Illtyd led a severe ascetic life. It was recorded that the man of God used to go deep into cold water at night and to repeat the Lord’s Prayer there till the morning. As his life reads, the holy abbot of Llantwit devoted his time to manual work, fasting, abstinence, watching, kneeling and praying. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick and visited prisoners. He was filled with hospitality, compassion and humility, and he had no pride in spite of his numerous talents. It was said that solitude was dear to his heart and he spent almost three years absolutely alone in a secluded cave in prayer.

Among the disciples of St. Illtyd we can mention such illustrious early Church Fathers of Wales as St. David of Mynyw, St. Samson of Dol, St. Gildas the Wise, St. Tudwal, St. Paul Aurelian, and St. Maglorius. Many of his disciples later moved to enlighten Brittany and other Celtic regions like Devon and Cornwall. The great abbot-bishop St. Deiniol of Bangor can also be regarded as one of his disciples. A large number of spiritual children of Illtyd were to become celebrated teachers and missionaries. A multitude of young men from all over Wales, south-west England, Brittany and other regions of France, flocked to his monastery to study and live a holy life, with several princes among them. According to some sources (though it is not always chronologically correct), among close friends and spiritual companions, or perhaps rather spiritual descendants, of this great saint of God were such important figures as St. Cadoc (with whom Illtyd led the ascetic life in seclusion for some time) and Dyfryg (Dubricius). The noted bard of that era, named Taliesin, reputedly went there as well.

The Life of St. Samson, mentioned above, describes St. Illtyd as “the most prominent teacher of the Britons and of the whole of Britain.” This is a very important testimony and indeed the influence of this saint greatly contributed to the formation of monastic life, culture, education and learning in the Wales of that era. St. Illtyd closely communicated with wild animals. Thus, once he rescued a stag from King Meirchion who was hunting it. This stag became tame and even delivered timber for the saint on a cart in order to build his church.  . . .

Source:  Dmitry Lapa, ‘Venerable Illtyd, Abbot of Llantwit Major in Wales and the Teacher of the Welsh’,, accessed 22 Nov. 2015

Holy Saints Anthony and Illtyd, pray for us wretched sinners at the South!

No comments:

Post a Comment