August 30: Saint Fantinos of Calabria

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Fantinus was born to a pious Calabrian family in about 902 AD. From his earliest childhood, Fantinus showed great devotion to meditating upon the Holy Scriptures, and always striving towards the eternal good things, while disdaining the pleasures and distractions of children of his age. Seeing these tendencies within him, his parents commended him to God at the age of eight, by placing him in the care of St Elias the Cave-Dweller. The elder immediately discerned the charismatic gifts which Fantinus possessed, and foresaw his future holiness and greatness. As a consequence, St Elias entrusted Fantinus’ education and spiritual formation to his best disciples. Where in time, Fantinus manifested the wisdom of a holy elder far beyond his own years, and so St Elias tonsured him a monk at the age of thirteen.

His first obedience was as cook and as such he acquired the grace of compunction. For as it is said, when he stood in front of the oven each time to perform his monastic duty of cook, he would observe all the fierce flames emanating from the oven, and his thoughts would invariably begin contemplating the eternal fire prepared for sinners.

Yet from the beginning of his entrance into monastic life, Fantinus ate only vegetables and bread once every two or three days at most. Later on, he would set aside a very meagre portion of vegetables and bread for his entire week’s consumption. At the same time he made every concerted effort to drive away all desires for pleasure from his soul, thus progressing greatly in the virtues, purifying his heart and acquiring within it the grace of the Holy Spirit. When St Elias gave his soul into God’s hands (960), Fantinus who had dwelt some twenty years within the monastery, attaining sufficient experience in the ascetic discipline, decided to become a hermit and enter into reclusion in the region of Mt Mercurion in the north of Calabria, where there were a great many monasteries and hermitages. In that time Mount Mercurion, situated within the valley of Lao, was at its spiritual height and was a veritable Thebaid of both coenobitic and hermetic monasticism (St Nilus of Calabria received his spiritual formation from Fantinus at Mt Mercurion).

Nevertheless Fantinus lived with very strict austerity, in virtual nakedness, he survived by eating only roots and was tormented by demons who tried to make him return to the world by taking the form of his weeping parents, or else frighten him in the form of wild animals. Whatever the case may have been, he triumphed over them through invoking continually the Sign of the Cross and long prayerful vigils, particularly at night. After eighteen years, he was discovered here by his aged parents, whom he persuaded to enter the monastic life, whereby he placed his mother and sister in the care of a monastic community of nuns, while he tonsured his father and his two brothers, Luke and Cosmas who dwelt close to him. The deserted mountains surrounding Fantinus soon became the abodes of men and women living the angelic life on earth, following his example and guidance, and to whom Fantinus became a father, interpreter of the Law and living model of evangelical virtues.

However, the ever-increasing responsibility for so many souls left the Saint without any opportunity to devote his undistracted attention to God, and since he hungered for further progress in contemplation, handed the direction of the principal monastery under his care to his brother Luke, and appointed stewards to all the other communities. He then withdrew to a new location unknown to his disciples and the inhabitants of nearby settlements. Yet it was in this new place that he was arrested by the local inhabitants as a spy and placed in a cell infested with insects and vermin without any due care being given to him. Of course by God’s grace, Fantinus loved this solitude afforded to him and even delighted in this awful situation of suffering and remaining unknown and estranged to all. However, in time his captors realised their mistake and freed him, falling to his feet they beseeched him for forgiveness of their error.

Fantinus then sought out a new place appropriate for the hesychast life far from the place of his captivity, since his piety and holiness had become known there. This new place which was blessed with abundant water and lush vegetation, became in time, a noisy place due to the interruption caused by visitors seeking his help. Yet with visitors often come troubles, and so there were those who sought to cause problems and so without abandoning his asceticism, he returned to the common life of his monastery. He continued to eat raw vegetables, sleeping on hard ground and living virtually naked. He dedicated himself to the manual work of calligraphy and spending his time within unceasing prayer, with the view to attain this as a gift that would be as natural as breathing. With these rigours, he acquired a high level of dispassion and impassibility, for his love for God grew with each day to such an extent that he could never be satisfied. As a result, Fantinus was given power to cast out demons, heal all forms of sicknesses and weaknesses (body and soul), and, like a new Adam, control wild animals, supplying the needs of the monastery through these miracles.

It is said that one morning after exiting church after the conclusion of matins, Fantinus entered into a state of ecstatic prayer, remaining immobile with his eyes and hands turned towards heaven till vespers in the evening. When asked by his disciples what he had been contemplating, he could only reply: “What you want to know is inexpressable”. With these words, he let his habit (garments) fall to the ground, rushed out of the monastery and hid naked in the mountain, where he remained without food or drink for twenty days. After this event, Fantinus spent the next four years of his life with his hair and beard shaved, eating only wild herbs for food. Of course the ignorant and many of the monks of his monastery were given the impression that he had gone mad. Yet the holy elder, just like the Prophet Jeremiah had in Jerusalem, foretold the coming invasion of the Muslims, who would ravage the land because of the local Christians’ lack of commitment to God’s calling and their decadent lifestyle.

Fantinus also foretold the monks that his former disciple, St Nilus, will come to seek him out and settle within the monastic community. When St Nilus did come as had been prophesized, Fantinus related an incident whereby he had been carried off by the angels to contemplate the places of eternal punishment and of felicity, St Nilus then went and reprimanded the monks for considering mad one who had a vision of heaven and hell, having been taken like the Apostle Paul into the third heaven.

Sometime after this, an angel appeared to Fantinus and told him to go to Thessalonica in order to preach the word of God there and to bring souls to salvation through the practice of virtue. He thus gathered the monks together in the church, urging them not to waste the time that God has given them for repentance in vain concerns and earthly attachments, but exhort one another to struggle in preparation for meeting the Lord when He comes to judge the world. After bidding farewell to the brotherhood, he left for Greece, taking with him his disciples Vitalis and Nikephorus. They arrived in the Peloponesse after a safe crossing, during which the Saint turned salt water into fresh water so as to quench the thirst of the sailors, and they continued on to Corinth and Athens.

Many were the souls that sought salvation and hastened for just a glimpse of these divine men, who spread around them the fragrance of the Holy Spirit. Fantinus, however, fell gravely ill and everyone awaited for him to breathe his last, but he stated that he was to die in Thessalonica. Once recovered, he went on to Larissa and lived for a time near the Church of St Achilles, profusely spreading his spiritual teaching around. The three ascetics journeyed onto Thessalonica, where they settled in the environs of the Church of St Menas. The most eminent men of the city at that time, including the city’s archbishop, were drawn by St Fantinus’ fame and sought an audience with him in the hope to receive the blessing of his words and prayers. Yet St Fantinus served as a physician of all who were enduring trials, the protector of the afflicted and the leader of all whose desire it was to walk in the way that led to God.

After three months, he moved to new living quarters, but the flow of visitors did not cease nor ceased growing, and so he healed many of them. One day though, when the three ascetics were near the Kassandra Gate, St Fantinus suddenly rushed towards the Church of St Anysia and found two monks who had come from Mt Athos and were journeying towards Athens. One of the monks was a venerable old man and the other was a eunuch. St Fantinus bowed low at their feet and requested their blessing, to which the two went on without stopping. The Saint revealed to his disciples who were perplexed by the behaviour of these passing monks, that one of them was the great Saint Athanasius, the founder of the Lavra (Mt Athos), and the other was Saint Paul of Xeropotamou, who shone as two great lights. Upon their return to Thessalonica, the two Athonites were presented to St Fantinus, the fame of whose miracles they had heard, and they realised in some confusion that he was the monk they had scorned on their journey.

Nevertheless St Fantinus continued to spread and manifest God’s mercy through his countless miracles, and it was through his prophetic gift that the city of Thessalonica was saved from the Bulgarians. After dwelling for some eight years within Thessalonica, he reposed in peace on 14 November 974, aged of 73.

Saint Fantinos. Chilandarion Monastery. Mount Athos

Saint Fantinos. Chilandarion Monastery. Mount Athos