Antony of the Caves

Dan Graves, MSL

Antony of the Caves

In medicine, the healthiest transplants are from tissues that are most closely matched to the body that they are being grafted into. A similar principle holds in religion. When Christianity took root in Rus (the Ukraine) in 988, after the baptism of Prince Vladimir, rich men donated funds for monasteries. Institutions opened that followed Byzantine ways. Somehow, they didn't "click" with the Russian temperament.

One young man who investigated these monasteries was Antip from the town of Liubech. When he had come of age, he traveled to Mount Athos, Greece, and became a monk, taking the name Anthony. After Anthony had spent several years in Greece, his abbot sent him back to his own land, saying "The Lord has given you strength in the way of holiness and you must now lead others." Anthony made the rounds of local monasteries, found he did not like any of them, and settled in a cave near Kiev.

There he lived alone, subsisting on a frugal diet of bread and water with a few vegetables that he grew himself. During a time of trouble after the death of Vladimir, he returned to Athos. In 1015, when matters had settled down, the abbot again sent Anthony back home.

This time, Anthony stayed. He found himself another cave near Kiev. People began coming to ask his blessing. They brought him gifts which he never kept, but gave to the poor instead. He took only a little bread from their hands. Soon his self-sacrificing life attracted followers. He was credited with gifts of healing, prophecy and spiritual discernment. He welcomed all who came, and allowed them to dig new caves in the hillside.

A priest named Nikon joined Anthony. He made new monks, including two from among wealthy families. Prince Izyaslav, who was reigning at that time, became furious and demanded the sons of these favorites be expelled to return home. Nikon refused. Anthony decided he had better move on for safety sake, and left. Eventually the prince calmed down and asked Anthony to return. When his following had grown to twelve monks, Anthony turned its leadership over to a monk named Barlaam and dug himself a new cave about 600 feet away from the others. He wanted greater solitude. Prince Izyaslav soon tapped Barlaam to head another monastery. Anthony appointed a meek and obedient monk named Theodosius to take Barlaam's place.

More young men came. The hillside became crowded. Anthony petitioned the Prince for the land above the caves. It was granted and they began work on a stone church and monastic cells. Anthony did not live to see them completed. He died on this day, July 10, 1073, at the age of ninety. He is known as the Father of Russian Monasticism. The monastery he founded survived for a thousand years. "Many monasteries were built with the wealth of princes and nobles," says a Russian chronicle, "but this was the first to be built with tears and fasting and prayer."

Bibliography:

  1. Rabenstein, Katherine I.; edited by James Keifer. "Antony of the Caves." http://www.hillsdale.edu/dept/Phil&Rel/ Biography/07/11b.html
  2. "St. Anthony of the Kiev Caves." Orthodox America. http://www.roca.org/OA/78/78g.htm.

Last updated July, 2007

  • Editors' Picks

    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
  • Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
    Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
  • So You Think Theology Is Impractical?
    So You Think Theology Is Impractical?