January 10, 2024

Saint Antipas of Calapodesti, the Romanian Ascetic and Hesychast in Tsarist Russia

By Ionuț-Daniel Barbu

Saint Antipas (1816-1882), first canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1906, was then included in the calendars of the Romanian and Russian Orthodox Churches in 1992 and 2000. He appears in the three synaxaristes - Greek, Romanian and Russian - named after the places where he was born (St. Antipas of Calapodesti) or after the monasteries where he lived (St. Antipas the Athonite, St. Antipas of Valaam).

The first biography of the Saint was compiled by the Russian hieromonk Pimen and published in 1893 by the Valaam Monastery (cf. Lidia Meșkova, Taina veacului ce va sa bi: Viata si nevointele Cuviosului Parintelui nostru Antipa de la Calapodesti).

Completely desirous of the sheltering peace that only unceasing prayer can offer, the conditions on the Russian island of Valaam, favorable to its acquisition, led the pious Romanian from the Holy Mountain to settle permanently in Russia, in November 1865, in a land evangelized, according to tradition, by Saint Andrew the Apostle. That is why, as a sign of the apostolic preaching, the great bell of the monastery on the island, which rang as far as Finland and Karelia, was called "Andreevskiy Kolokol" (Andrew's Bell). Within the famous Valaam Monastery, probably not by chance, he chose the All Saints Hermitage or the "Great Hermitage", as it was also known, as the place of his repentance, since in exactly the same place, at the turn of the 18th-19th centuries, there came to live monks who had known Saint Paisius Velichkovsky of Neamț, such as the Hieroschemamonks Cleopas and Teofan (1739-1819), the latter the bearer of the Paisian hesychastic tradition in the northern parts of Russia.

With the blessing of his Athonite abbot, after obtaining fundraising permission approved by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, Saint Antipas collected important material aid for the Athonite Prodromu Romanian Hermitage to which he belonged in Moscow and Petersburg for years. Fulfilling this obedience well, at one point he permanently retired to the island of Valaam, on November 6, 1865, presenting the following document to the management of the monastery, for their approval:

"Certificate. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Hereby it is confirmed that the resident of our Prodromu Hermitage, of the Holy Mount Athos, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, the hieromonk Alypios, who in the great schema was later called Antipas, was in Russia between the years 1860-1864, with the obedience of collecting donations for the benefit of our hermitage, and we testify that everything he collected arrived safely at the hermitage; at the end of these collections, he, with great zeal, asked for our blessing to settle in one of the sacred monasteries of Orthodox Russia, a request for which we, with all love, granted him our blessing to settle where he wants. For their authentication I have signed and confirmed with the seal of the sacred hermitage. Amen. Abbot Damian, Hieromonk Ignatius - the priest of the hermitage -, Epitropes: monk Nektarios, monk Isaiah and monk Conon" (cf. L. Meșkova, Taina veacului..., pp. 95-96).

Since the years when he had been busy collecting aid for the Prodromu Romanian Hermitage in the great cities of the Tsarist Empire, he had been deeply impressed by the solemn celebration of the canonization of Hierarch Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-1783), an event that would also have weighed heavily in his choice to stay in Russia. Before he had settled in Valaam, he was already recognized and respected as a spiritual personality, the Romanian ascetic being sought for teaching even by the Russian hierarchs. Asked by one of the two contemporary metropolitans who particularly appreciated him - either Isidor Nikolskiy (1799-1892) of Petersburg, or the well-known canonized hierarch-theologian Philaret Drozdov (1782-1867) of Moscow -: "What does someone who is engaged in the Prayer of the Heart need?", Saint Antipas simply answered: "Patience" (cf. L. Meșkova, Taina veacului..., pp. 81-82).

In the 1960s, several tombs of the monks of Valaam were desecrated by so-called treasure hunters, dislodging and throwing the tombstones throughout the monastery premises. The same happened with the burial place of Saint Antipas. On his funeral slab, the contemporary fathers had written: "Venerable Antipas, lover of peace and silence." Today, the original burial site where his holy relics were found is marked by a cenotaph which consists of the original grave slab guarded by a cross and surrounded by a metal fence.

Thus, through the work of God, attracted in their lives especially by prayer, many saints crossed the borders of the cultural and national space, becoming eternal missionaries, who were no longer considered strangers anywhere in the world, since they preached the One and the Same God. They, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Hebrews 13, 14), help all those who pray to them, regardless of nationality. The saints always remain alive and, thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit, acquired through effort and, above all, through prayer and humility, they are pleasing before God and at the same time before people and history. Saints not infrequently looked for the place where they could bring the best fruits of their ascetic work, as is the case of Venerable Paisius Velichkovsky (1722-1794). This historical and spiritual reality, common to the Russian and Romanian Orthodox Churches, can be considered a very valuable bridge of communion. Looking at the history of the relations between the two sister Orthodox Churches, it can be said that the most important and significant link is centered around the Paisian movement which, through hundreds of monks - living in Moldova - contributed considerably to the Hesychast revival in the Romanian and Slavic countries. Along with the great Paisius of Neamț, there should be remembered also Venerable Antipas of Calapodesti, who, born in Moldavia, went, in turn, to the Caldarusani Monastery, then to Mount Athos at Prodromu and Esphigmenou, then finally settling permanently at Valaam Monastery, where he trained many believers and trained disciples. The geographical and spiritual path of the two Saints appear in history as a mutual gift between the two Christian-Orthodox peoples as a synthesis between Slavic, Greek and Romanian traditions. Saint Paisius was born in Poltava, Ukraine, lived for a while in Wallachia and Athos, and then completed his work in the Dragomirna and Neamt monasteries, from where he went to his eternal rest. Like him, Venerable Antipas left his native Bacău for Athos, to finally complete himself in Russia's Valaam, returning, in a way, the gift made by Saint Paisius to the Romanians. This is how two Saints of hesychast formation show the historical and spiritual communion between the two sister Orthodox Churches, this collaboration being a common anchor in the soil of the Christian tradition in Eastern Europe.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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