Saint Anthony the Great and the Demon Who Came To Him in Repentance
As told by St. Justin Popovich
On the feast day of my patron, our venerable and God-bearing Father Saint Anthony the Great, I wanted to share this story that is found in the Lives of the Saints, as told by St Justin Popvich.
Apart from this Life of Saint Anthony, written by his holy disciple, Saint Athanasius the Great, there is also information contained in books of the Holy Fathers about other miracles and experiences of Saint Anthony. Here we will put forward another of these miraculous experiences of the truly Great Anthony:
Venerable Anthony, great among the perfect, was clairvoyant. Having experienced demonic temptations, he no longer succumbed on their cunning. And many times he saw with his bodily eyes both angels and devils working around people, to draw them each to their side. He was so great and powerful in virtues, that he mocked unclean spirits and ridiculed them. Sometimes he infuriated them, reminding them of how they had been cast out of heaven, and how they had to suffer eternally in the fire.
And this happened once: Two demons agreed on how to approach the famous elder Anthony. And they talked among themselves about how neither of them should approach him, fearing that the elder would inflict severe wounds on them. Because the elder had achieved great fearlessness and a perfect life, and he had acquired the Holy Spirit. And one of those two demons said to the other:
"Brother Serefer (because that was the name of this demon), if either of us repented, would God accept our repentance? Could it be or not?"
The other answered: "Who can know that?"
And Serefer said: "Do you want us to go to Elder Anthony, who is not afraid of us, and to find out about it from him?"
The other answered him: "Go, go, but be careful, because the elder is clairvoyant, and he will see that you are tempting him, so he will not want to ask God about it. Still, go, if only you so you could find out what you want."
And Serefer turned into a man, and went to Elder Anthony, and began to weep before him and lament. And God, wanting to show that He does not turn His face away from anyone who repents, but accepts all who resort to Him, and wanting to give an example to a sinner person that He would not to turn His face away even from the devil, the chief of evil, if he truly repents, temporarily hid from the elder the intentions of this demon. And the Saint, seeing a man in front of him and not a demon, asked him:
"Why, man, do you weep and cry from the heart, and shake my soul with your tears?"
And the cunning demon answered: "Holy Father, I am not a man but a demon, and that because of the multitude of my iniquities."
The elder asked him: "What do you want me to do for you, brother?" (Because the Saint thought that out of great humility he called himself a demon. And God had not yet revealed anything to him about this).
The demon answered: "Holy Father, I pray for one thing only: pray fervently to God to tell you, would He receive the devil if he repents or not? Because if He received the devil, He would receive me, because I have done deeds that he did."
The elder said: "I will fulfill your will. But go to your house today, and come here tomorrow, and I will tell you what the Lord says about it."
And the demon left. And when night fell, the elder raised his holy hands to heaven, and prayed to the One who loves mankind, to tell him whether He would receive the devil if he repents. And immediately an Angel of the Lord stood before the elder and said: "
Thus saith the Lord our God: 'Why do you ask Me for a demon? He came to test you cunningly.'"
And the elder said to the Angel: "Then why didn't the Lord God reveal it to me, but hid it from me, so that I wouldn't see the demon's cunning?"
The Angel answered: "Let it not trouble you, for this is the wonderful providence of God for the benefit of sinners, so that sinners, who have committed many iniquities, do not despair but repent, knowing that the all-merciful God does not turn His face away from anyone who resorts to Him, even if it was the cunning devil himself, if he really did it. Besides, God did not reveal it to you, in order to reveal the stubbornness and despair of demons. So when the tempter comes to you and asks you, do not cut him off immediately, but tell him this: 'God is so merciful that He does not turn His face away from anyone who resorts to Him, even if he is the devil himself. Here, He promises that he will receive you too, only if you fulfill what He orders you to do.' And if he asks you: 'What is He ordering me?' say unto him, 'Thus saith the Lord God: I know who you are, and from where you have come. You are an ancient evil and you cannot be a new virtue; you have long been the chief of evil, and you will not stop doing evil now. Accustomed to pride, how can you humble yourself to repentance and find mercy? But, in order not to have this excuse on the Day of Judgment, that you wanted to repent but God did not receive you, here, the gentle and merciful Lord also determines (only if you agree) repentance, because He says: Standing in one place for three years, and facing the East, cry out and say this day and night: God, have mercy on me, the ancient evil! - Say this a hundred times. And again another prayer: God, save me, who am darkened by delusion! - And say the same thing a hundred times. And again: God, have mercy on me, the abomination of desolation! - Say this also a hundred times. So cry out to the Lord constantly, because you don't have a body to get tired or weak. And when you do it with humility, then you will be accepted into your original dignity and included among the Angels of God.' And if he promises to do this, you accept him for repentance. But I know that ancient evil cannot become new good. And let this be written for the last generations, so that sinners who want to repent do not despair. Because from this, people will easily be convinced that they should not despair for their salvation."
When the Angel said this to the Venerable Anthony, he ascended to heaven. And when the dawn came, the demon, who from afar began to cry and weep like a man, he approached the elder, and he bowed. The elder did not rebuke him at first, but he said in his mind: "At the wrong hour you came liars, devils, scorpions, creators of evil, ancient evil, snake-eater!" Then the Saint said to him: "As I promised you, I prayed to the Lord my God. He will receive you to repentance, if you adopt what my powerful and almighty Lord commands you through me."
The demon asked: "And what is it that God has commanded me to do?"
The elder answered: "God commands you like this: Facing the East, you are to stand motionless in one place for three years, crying out day and night: 'God, have mercy on me, the ancient evil!' - You are to say this a hundred times. Then you are to say a hundred times like this: 'God, have mercy on me, the abomination of desolation!' - And after that again a hundred times this: 'God have mercy on me, who am darkened by delusion!' - And when you do all that God commands you, you will be included among the Angels of God, and you will be in the original dignity in which you were before."
Serefer immediately threw off that false form of repentance, laughed out loud, and said to the elder: "O monk! if I wanted to call myself the ancient evil, and the abomination of desolation, and the one darkened by delusion, I would have done it earlier, in the beginning, to be saved. Should I call myself an ancient evil now? Not at all! And who says that? Oh, I am wonderful in my glory until this hour, and all cowards obey me! And why would I call myself the abomination of desolation or the one darkened by delusion? Not at all, monk, not at all! For I still rule over sinners, and they love me, and I am in their hearts, and they live according to my will. Does repentance make me an unnecessary and wicked servant? Never, evil old man, never, never will it be that I push myself from such a great honor into such disgrace!"
Having said that, the devil became invisible. And the elder stood in prayer, and thanked God, saying: "You have told the truth, Lord, that ancient evil cannot become a new virtue; the creator of evils cannot be the creator of new goods."
We have endeavored, brethren, to tell you this not in vain, but that you may know the gentleness and mercy of the Lord. Are you sinful - repent! If you do not repent, then you will suffer more terribly than demons in hell, not because you have sinned - (because we all sin, and no one is without sin except one God) - but because you did not want to repent and pray to the Judge before your death. For in the state death finds us, so will we be sent there. If you die without repentance, serving the devil with various and different sins, you will be completely with him and you will be condemned to eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And if before death you flee from sin, and please the Lord with repentance and faith, oh! how many treasures you will enjoy after death! For you will find a merciful Judge, and you will be worthy of bliss, and you will dwell with the bright Angels, where for all who have pleased God, there is inexpressible beauty and eternal joy and gladness. May we all receive this in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and through all the ages, Amen.
From Lives of the Saints. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
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