St. Anthimus the Blind, new ascetic of Cephalonia (1782)
Commemorated on September 4
Our holy and God-bearing father Anthimos was born on the island of Kephalonia in 1727, known to the world with the name Athanasios Kourouklis.
At the age of seven he became blind as a result of smallpox. His devout mother prayed for his healing, and asked her priest to serve forty Ligurgies for her son’s healing. At the fortieth Liturgy, as the priest said ‘In the fear of God and with faith and love draw near,’ Athanasius cried out that he could see the priest’s vestments and chalice. He had recovered sight in his right eye.
For a time he followed his father’s occupation as a seaman, but then took up the life of a monk, receiving the name Anthimos. At some point he went blind again, and soon thereafter had a vision: he was praying for the restoration of his sight before an icon of the Theotokos when two young men in radiant garments appeared and led him to the Mother of God herself, who told him ‘Depart, for your continual prayer that I restore your sight is not profitable to you.’ But the two young men pleaded for him, and the Theotokos said ‘Anthimos, because of your great piety and many prayers, I will restore your sight in part, but do not forget that, having gained temporal vision, you can lose that which is eternal.’ Thereafter, though Anthimos was almost completely blind, he could dimly discern the outlines of objects; but in compensation he was granted the gift of spiritual insight,and was able to predict the future and call by name those he had never met.
Saint Anthimos was about twenty when he entered monastic life, and lived on Mt Athos for awhile. Despite his blindness, he took up a life of missionary work that took him throughout the Greek mainland and islands. Traveling from place to place he preached the Gospel, healed the sick, founded several monasteries. Once he restored a blind woman’s sight by his prayers, though he himself remained blind throughout his life. Throughout his amazing labors he maintained a life of the most severe asceticism, eating little, sleeping on a plank or on the floor.
In 1782, in the course of one of his many sea journeys, he told the sailors to change course for Kephalonia, saying ‘God’s will is not that I concern myself with [the mission he had undertaken], but that I go back and die in my monastery.’ On returning he fell ill and called his spiritual children to him.
‘My children, the hour has come for me to go where the Lord ordains. Death is the common lot of us all and is nothing to be afraid of. It is important rather to do your best to keep your promises and your monastic vows. The one thing necessary in this life is to please God and save your souls.’
Having said this, he fell asleep in peace, at the age of fifty-four. He was glorified as a Saint in 1976.
Note: It is sometimes said that celebrating Divine Liturgies for special intentions is ‘not Orthodox.’ The example of St Anthimos’ mother shows that the practice is a both traditional and efficacious.