10 January 2021

Venerable Antipa de la Calapodești, Schemamonk of Valaam

Saint Antipa de la Calapodești

Today is the feast-day in the Holy Orthodox Church of another of the great Romanian hesychasts – this time, one from the nineteenth century: Saint Antipa de la Calapodești, better-known as Saint Antipas of Valaam. Saint Antipa is much beloved on the Holy Mountain, and is well-known among the monks of Valaam Monastery in the oblast’ of Karelia in Russia. (He is also celebrated among the Orthodox believers in neighbouring Finland.) It is somewhat unfortunate that up until recently he had remained relatively unknown in his own native land, though this appears to be changing quickly.

Saint Antipa was born Alexandru Luchian, the son of deacon and choir director of the village church Gheorghe Constantin Luchian and his wife Ecaterina Manase, in the year 1816 in the village of Calapodești in Moldavia. His parents, who were both good decent working-class folks of peasant stock, struggled to conceive a child, and for many years God did not answer their prayers. When God saw fit to grant them Alexandru, his mother felt no pangs during the childbirth, and both parents were overjoyed with him.

Alexandru was not, however, the most ‘promising’ of children after the ways of the world. He was, so his hagiography says, slow and clumsy – and his marks in school were not particularly good. His teacher, who was frustrated with Alexandru’s poor performance, advised him to drop out of school and learn a trade. However, Alexandru was gifted with kindness and a meek and gentle heart. Animals did not fear him, and he was even able to pick up venomous snakes without risk of being bitten. He was also doggedly persistent, and with prayers to God and through hard work he continued to apply himself to reading and push himself through school. He particularly loved reading the lives of the saints, the Holy Fathers, the Gospels and the books of the Church. He had very nearly completed his course of study when he learned the news that his father Deacon Gheorghe had passed away, and his family was thrown into poverty.

To support himself and his widowed mother Ecaterina, Alexandru did learn a craft: the art of bookbinding. This trade gave him additional opportunity to learn wisdom and holiness from the Holy Fathers and the saints who loved Christ. His money problems were solved, but he was not satisfied with this life in a trade. At the age of twenty, however, while he was at prayer, he had a conversion experience and a sudden moment of clarity, being bathed in a miraculous divine light, and he left his home in secret to go to Neamț Monastery, and prayed before an icon of the Theotokos which was within the monastery chapel there. As he prayed, the Theotokos heard his prayers, and the curtains that shielded the icon from view drew themselves back although no one else but Alexandru was in the chapel. However, the abbot at Neamț Monastery refused to receive Alexandru as a postulant. His mother Ecaterina, at this time, also became a nun with the monastic name of Elisabeth.

Young Alexandru was therefore compelled to seek a monastic vocation elsewhere. He came to Vrancea, and he was admitted to a monastery nearby. Some sources say that this was Mănăsterea Căldărușani near Bucharest, but the more likely possibility appears to be that he entered the nearby Brazi Skete in Vrancea. (Some accounts have it that he spent some time first at one and then at the other.) At Brazi he witnessed the uncovering of the relics of the hieromartyr Saint Teodosie de la Brazi (22 Sep), and was ordained a novice (or rassaphore) by the Abbot Dimitrie with the name of Alimpie. He stayed in Vrancea for two years. At this time he became acquainted with an Athonite elder named Ghedeon, a recluse who lived close by the monastery, who taught him about the practice of hesychasm and instilled in the young monk Alimpie a desire for the life of inward prayer. He went to Abbot Dimitrie and made a request to visit Athos.

Normally the abbot, who was a monk of vast experience in spiritual striving and profound in his discernment, frowned upon such requests, seeing in them the seeds of spiritual vainglory. But in Alimpie’s case he astonished the brethren by allowing his request. Thus the rassaphore Alimpie departed for the Holy Mountain in Greece, seeking the wisdom of God in a foreign land but with his eyes ever on the homeland of all true Christians – the kingdom of God.

On Athos, at the Skete of Lacu, he met with two Romanian schemamonks named Nifon and Nectarie, but they would not allow him to join them in the wilderness, thinking it instead better for him to seek a cœnobitic community and live alongside other brethren of his own age and spiritual maturity and struggle against the passions together with them. He obeyed them readily, and he went to Esphigmanou Monastery, where he laboured in the kitchens preparing with his hands the brethren’s daily bread. Here he found himself struggling in particular against spiritual sloth and despondency, and found his inner prayer life to be dry and lifeless. Yet with trust in the Mother of God he endured.

Schemamonk Nifon took Alimpie as his spiritual son and entrusted him with the status of a full monk. As is customary for schemamonks, Alimpie was once more given a new name in Christ – Antipa. Nifon had long harboured a desire of building an Romanian monastery on Athos, and sought to enlist his new disciple Antipa in this worthy goal. However, Antipa was dedicated to living a hesychastic life in the desert, and he would not be deflected from his own purpose. Nifon, seeing that Antipa was insistent upon living a hermit’s life, gave his permission reluctantly. But he sent Antipa off with nothing to live on – no money, no food. Nevertheless, Antipa directed his prayers to the Mother of God and survived.

Saint Antipa took refuge in the ancient debris of another hermit’s hut, long since moved on, deep within the Holy Mountain. The walls were barely standing and there was no roof. There was nothing within of any value, except for one priceless thing. The hermit who had abandoned the hut had left, amid the rubble, a long-disused, blackened and weatherworn icon. Only a small undamaged portion of the face showed it to have been an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Saint Antipa took up this icon, and went and found a certain deacon named Paisie, who was well-versed in iconography. Paisie told him that the best he could do was to teach him how to clean it. Saint Antipa made an effort, but he soon found that the icon fairly began to clean itself, and soon all of its features were not only restored, but this icon of the Mother of God shone even brighter than one newly painted!

In this way the Most Holy Theotokos showed her favour upon her devoted servant Saint Antipa. It so happened that on the road back to the hut he met a stranger, who greeted him cheerfully in Christ’s name and dropped five gold coins into Antipa’s hand, telling him that they had come from some good people who had besought him to make a gift of them to the first hermit that he met – that perhaps they would be of some use to him. And so Antipa went and used them to hire a carpenter to repair the old hut. The carpenter set about his work, but soon slipped and injured himself so that he couldn’t stand or even speak. Fr Antipa was not able to lift the stout worker into the hut, and so he left his icon of the Theotokos near the carpenter’s head and went off by himself to pray. When he returned he found the carpenter well and fully recovered and hard at work. Saint Antipa asked him what had happened, and the carpenter cheerfully replied that the icon had healed the wounds upon his body and his head, and restored him to health. The hut was soon finished, and Saint Antipa was able to lead his solitary life of prayer and quietude for a time.

However, Father Nifon’s plans to build a Romanian skete on Athos began to bear fruit. He had obtained the rights to a metochion at Bucium (essentially a monastic holding for rent or directly providing income) in Iași, and set to work building a monastery – the Prodromou Skete – from the funds he obtained. Antipa was given charge, firstly, of the monastery cellars. Later, as the monastery grew and Nifon’s duties became greater, Antipa was given charge of acting as confessor and spiritual father to the new monks and novices. At length, Father Nifon sent Saint Antipa to Iași in person, to be steward over the metochion there.

Saint Antipa no longer had the solitude he had sought, but he was obedient to Father Nifon in all things. He returned home to his native Romania, to Iași. Despite being thrown into the tumult and the busy-ness of the city, Antipa did not alter one bit his way of life, but instead kept strict fasts and vigils, owned nothing, prayed constantly, and wherever he went greeted all who appeared before him with kindness and meekness and humility. He soon became known as a holy man, and his self-effacing manner, even temper and excellent patience drew many people to him for advice. He was trusted by both rich and poor within the city, both men and women, both Romanians and non-Romanians. Under his care, the metochion prospered, the monastery prospered, and many in Iași were enlightened and drew benefit from Saint Antipa’s great wisdom and love of God. He enjoyed a particularly close relationship and spiritual friendship with Metropolitan Sofronie of Moldavia.

Fr Nifon soon called once again on the services of his faithful disciple, and asked Antipa to accompany him on a voyage into Russia to collect funds for the Romanian skete. Again Saint Antipa dutifully did what he was bidden to do – but soon Nifon’s other duties caught up with him and he left Antipa alone in the midst of a country whose language and ways he did not know. Even so, with faith Antipa continued what he had come to do. He was kept at a small hut on the edge of an orchard where he could quietly pray during the day and the night, and he rarely left it.

He raised a large sum of money, with many great gifts from the generous Russians, and sent it by ship to Athos. However, the ship went down in a storm on the Black Sea, and the entire treasure was lost. Saint Antipa did not lose faith, but continued to pray to the Theotokos for aid. He raised another large sum of money, which had to be converted into gold before it could be shipped abroad, and he was told by a voice in a vision to seek the aid of the Metropolitan of Kiev. The Metropolitan, who had the ear of the Minister of Finance, was able to convert the sum into gold and have it shipped to Athos. At this success, the sunken ship was forgotten and again Saint Antipa was able to raise funds for Prodromou. During all this time, much to the amazement of the monks who came to his cell, Saint Antipa continued his prayers both in Greek and Romanian, such that he was never at rest but continually praying the entire day.

Saint Antipa again attracted others to him by his humble and holy way of life. He was revered in particular by Saint Filaret of Moscow, and by Saint Isidor of Petersburg. Indeed, the latter invited him personally to participate in the uncovering and translation of the relics of the great Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk.

However, Saint Antipa still desired solitude with his whole heart, that he might devote himself entirely to God. In 1865 he retired to Valaam, on the shores of Lake Ladoga in far northwestern Russia, near Finland. He lived in a lonely cell some ways removed from the Valaam Monastery, there to pursue his solitary life of prayer. His cell was entirely bare, having only a chair and a rough blanket on the floor, and of course the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos which he had brought with him from Athos. Here he prayed and wept for his sins constantly. However, he came to the monastery three times a year and, while there, conversed freely with the pilgrims and made himself available to all who would come for advice. When he was questioned about this by one of the postulants, who was not sure what to make of a hermit who could so freely and jovially converse with laymen, he answered with the words of St Paul: ‘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.

Saint Antipa was given to know of the end of his earthly life several days before it happened. Several unknown monks came to the monastery while he was there, and their faces shone in a way he was not able to describe. When he went back to his cell, the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos came down from his wall and settled upon his chest, while the other icons all fell to the floor. He was also given to know of events that were happening in the monastery, even as he lay upon his deathbed. He reposed peacefully in the Lord on the tenth of January, 1882. Holy father Antipa, constant in prayer and constant in faith, through your prayers to Christ our God beseech Him to have mercy upon us!
Apolytikion for Saint Antipa de la Calapodești, Tone 8:

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,
And your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!
O our holy father Antipa, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!

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