January is a month in which the Church celebrates the memory of many monastic saints including St. Theodosios the Cenobiarch, St. Efthymios the Great, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Macarios of Egypt, St. Paul of Thebes, St. John the Hut-dweller, St. Ephraim the Syrian and many more. Fittingly, as most of you may be aware, earlier this month Elder Paisios (+1994) was added to the registry of saints.
On the 17th of January the Church celebrated the memory of one of the greatest desert fathers St. Anthony the Great (c. 251-356), who is known as The ‘Father of Monks’. Below we provide a very moving story from the life of St Anthony with an invaluable practical lesson on humility.
At some time, St. Anthony the Great thought to himself “I wonder with whose spiritual achievements my spiritual life can be compared with”. God, however, in order to humble this thought revealed to him in a dream that superior to him was a shoe-maker who had a store in the back streets of Alexandria.
Once it was daybreak, the saint took his staff and headed off to the city. He wanted to meet in person this famed shoe-maker and see his virtues. With great difficulty he discovered his store, sat down at the counter and began asking about his life.
The man was simple and didn’t even occur to him who this elderly monk was that had come so unexpectedly into his store querying him. The man, while continuing to work and without taking his eyes off the shoes he was working on replied gently;
“Elder, I don’t know if I have ever done anything good. Every morning after waking up, I pray and then I start work. First, I think to myself how every person in this city, from the smallest to the greatest will be saved, and only I will be condemned due to my countless transgressions. And in the evening when I go to sleep I have the same thoughts.
The Elder rose with wonder and embraced and kissed him and said emotively:
“You, my brother, like a good merchant, have gained the priceless pearl without toil. I have grown old in the desert, sweated and toiled but have not reached your level of humility.”