Elder Anatolius the Younger of Optina was born Alexander Potapov. From
his youth he wanted to become a monk, but his mother did not give her
consent, and he entered the monastery only after her death. There he became
the cell-attendant of Elder Ambrose, and after his death he functioned as an
elder, first in the cell of the Vladimir icon of the Mother of God in the
monastery skete and then in the main monastery.
Archimandrite Ambrose Konovalov writes of his meeting with Elder Anatolius in 1903: "He received us with love. As we conversed with him his gift of clairvoyance was revealed to us. This first meeting remained in our memory for life..."
The elder gave himself over completely to the Jesus Prayer, and would hardly sleep at all, only dozing off a little during the reading of the Psalms in Mattins. Through this inward activity he preserved an unshakeable calm even though thousands of people from all over Russia came to visit him. He would often give his visitors On True Christianity by St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, telling them to take it and live according to its directions.
The monks would come to him to reveal their thoughts twice a day. After receiving his advice they would depart from cleansed and full of peace and joy.
His way of treating visitors was as follows. Usually the saint would come out into the vestibule and bless everyone with a short, quick sign of the cross. He would lightly tap with his fingers on the forehead of the man several times, as if pushing in and sealing the sign of the cross. He was short, exceptionally quick and lively in his movements. As he went round everyone, he would answer the questions posed to him, and then receive certain people individually for a conversation in his cell. The love and tenderness of his manner always attracted crowds of people to the elder. Once, when he was ill, without leaving his cell he only went up to the window and blessed the people who had gathered outside through the window. On seeing him, the whole crowd fell to the ground.
"Next to the cell of Anatolius," writes Prince N.D. Zhevakov, "the people crowded together. They were mainly peasants who had arrived from the surrounding villages and neighbouring provinces. They brought with them sick and crippled children, and complained that they had spent a lot of money on their treatment with no benefit... Their one hope was Batyushka Anatolius, that he would pray to the Lord win health for the innocents."
Archpriest Sergius Chetverikov writes: "In 1905 I visited him in his narrow little cell deep within the skete. He was a short, slightly hunchbacked man; his speech was extraordinarily rapid; he was enthusiastic and loving, and even then left an indelible impression on me. Six years later, I saw Fr. Anatolius again, though by that time he had been made a hieromonk. Around him there had formed that particular spiritual atmosphere of love and honour which surrounds true elders, and in which there is neither sanctimoniousness nor hysteria. In his lovingly joyful and humble attitude, the elder brings to mind the venerable Seraphim of Sarov, whose particularly reverent manner of making a blessing with his hand near the forehead of the one being blessed was often remarked. In him the spirit and power of the first Optina elders is clearly felt."
One day, there came to the elder a peasant who found himself in a difficult situation: he and his whole family had no roof over their heads, and possessed only fifty rubles to their name. No matter where he went, he did not find any help. In his grief he fell into despair and took to drink, resolved first of all to abandon his wife and children, and then to go off to Moscow to become a labourer. Yet the old proverb "Morning is wiser than the evening" is true. In the morning, the first thought that entered his mind was: "Go to Elder Anatolius," and he went.
"When I bowed down for a blessing, he blessed me, striking me, as it were, twice on the skull, making the sign of blessing slowly, carefully. Then I said:
"'I am perishing, Batiushka, I really want to die.'
"'What's this?' he asked.
"'Well, it's this way...'
"And I repented before him. You know, if you want to receive a good answer, you have to tell him everything. He blessed me again and said:
"'Be not downcast in spirit. Three days from now you will enter your new home.'
"And that's the way it happened. I became another person entirely."
"In 1916," writes Helen Kontzevich, "I was informed that Elder Anatolius was expected in St. Petersburg..; and so three of us, my brother, sister and I, went there. On the way my brother and sister both declared that all they actually needed from the elder was his blessing, but I said that I would like very much to talk with him. After some time he came out into the vestibule to all the people who were waiting for him and began giving his blessing, saying a few words to each... When our turn came, the elder blessed my brother and sister, but to me he said:
"'But you wanted to talk to me, didn't you? Right now I can't; come to me in the evening.'
"The elder read my fervent desire, although I had not expressed it in words."
In one of the many popular books about Optina monastery that appeared just before the revolution, On the Bank's of God's River, is a touching description of a holy child, the five-year-old son of Fr. Anatolius' spiritual daughter. When pregnant with him she fervently prayed to her beloved St. Sergius of Radonezh, promising to dedicate the child to him. However, while attending St. Seraphim's canonization in Sarov in 1903, she felt the child leap in her womb, and she began to wonder whether she shouldn't name the child Seraphim instead; but because of a dream she named the child Sergius (Seryozha) after all.
Five years later, "when Vera and Seryozha were leaving our monastery and bowed down to take his blessing, Seryozha, putting his little hands forward, said,
"'Bless me, batyushka.'
"Instead, the old monk himself bowed down low to Seryozha, touching the ground with his hand, saying:
"'No, you first bless me.'
"And to our astonishment the child put his fingers into the proper position and blessed the old monk with a priest's blessing. What does the future hold for this boy?" concluded the author.
The answer to this question was provided by Natalya Vladimirovna Urosova some twenty-five years later: "When my boys were arrested in 1937 and banished by the GPU for ten years without right of correspondence, one can well imagine my sorrow. I shed many, many bitter tears, but not even in a single fleeting thought did I complain, but only sought consolation in church; and this could be only in the Catacomb Church, which I sought out everywhere, and by God's mercy I always found it very quickly; and I poured out my grief to the true God-pleasing priests who celebrated catacomb services. And so it was also when, after the arrest of my sons, I left Siberia for Moscow. My sister - who to my horror recognized the Soviet church - had not been arrested, despite the fact that she had been a Lady-inWaiting to the Empress. She directed me to a childhood friend of ours with whom she differed on church questions, since this friend was a fervent participant in catacomb services. This woman and other members of this holy Catacomb Cahurch greeted me with open arms... I lived with my sister periodically and visited all the services, which took place in private houses in various parts of Moscow. There was a certain Father Anthony, an old hieromonk, who was our priest and spiritual father. I constantly heard him say:
"'As the elder commands, whatever the elder says,' and the like.
Whenever he was mentioned it was with great reverence, and he was called an extraordinarily holy man.
"I asked Fr. Anthony where I might see this elder in order to pour out my grief to him and receive comfort.
"'No,' Fr. Anthony said, 'that's out of the question. I will tell him everything that you need from him.'
"In 1941 I became acquainted with a lady in Mozhaisk who had been banished from Moscow because of the arrest of her husband and her only daughter. She was also a member of the Catacomb Church and had been the spiritual daughter of this elder from the very first years of his priesthood. She told me that the elder (she didn't give his name) was staying now in a village two miles from Mozhaisk and that she secretly visited his services. To my question whether she couldn't ask him to receive me, she replied:
"'No, that isn't possible. All the faithful have been denied this, since the GPU has been looking for him for 25 years, and he travels over the whole of Russia from one place to another, being evidently informed by the Holy Spirit whenever it is necessary to go.'
"Of course I was saddened by this, but there was nothing I could do about it. The feast of the Holy Trinity that year was on June 7. Just as nothing in life is due to chance, so was it now: I could not go to Moscow, and in sorrow I sat in my room alone on the eve of the feast. And then I heard a light tapping at my window. I looked and was dumbfounded. An old nun was tapping, and she was dressed as a nun, in spite of the fact that it was strictly forbidden to wear such garb. It was towards evening. I opened the door and she came in to me with the words:
"'The elder, Father Seraphim, invites you to come to him early tomorrow morning, and if you wish you can confess and receive the Holy Mysteries.'
"She showed me which road to take and told me to be careful. Before the village itself there was a rye field already in full ear, and she advised me to walk bent down. The back road through this field led right up to the hut where the elder was staying, and right opposite, across the road, was the GPU station. One can imagine my feelings after the nun, so affable with her radiant face, left. She was called Mother N. There were two nuns with the elder; the other one was called Mother V. They were always with him. The elder would stay peacefully at one place for as long as two months or so, and then, entirely unexpectedly, at any hour of the day or night, would suddenly say:
"'Well, it's time to go!'
And he and the nuns would put on rucksacks, which contained all the objects for church services, and immediately leave in any direction, until the elder would stop and enter some hut or other, evidently by inspiration from Above.
"Early in the morning I set out, walking not on the street but, as had been indicated to me, on the dirt road which led to the back door. Before me was a wondrous monk, not at all old. I have no words to describe his holy appearance; the feeling of reverence before him cannot be communicated. I received confession and it was wonderful. After the Divine service and my reception of the Holy Mysteries, he invited me to eat with him. Besides myself there were the lady I mentioned above, the two nuns, and another of his spiritual daughters who had come from Moscow. O, the mercy of God! I shall never forget the discourse of which he deemed me worthy, and which continued for several hours. Two days after this spiritual happiness which I experienced while visiting Father Seraphim, I found out from the lady that on the next day, while they were still sitting at table, Father Seraphim stood up and said to the nuns:
"'Well, it's time to go!'
"They instantly gathered themselves and left, and within half an hour, no more, the GPU came looking for him; but the Lord had hidden him. Three months passed; the Germans were already in Mozhaisk when, suddenly, there was again a light tapping on the window and the same Nun N. came in to me with the words:
"'Father Seraphim is in the town of Borovsk (forty miles from Moscow), and he sent me to give you his blessing. And he ordered me to reveal to you that he is the very Seryozha before whom Father Anatolius bowed down.'"
Elder Anatolius said: "Pride comes in various forms. There is worldly pride: this is knowledge; and there is spiritual pride: this is self-love. This is exactly so: people will truly go insane if they expect their intellect to cope with everything they hope to receive from it. But how can our mind get down to its own business, since it is insignificant and infected? Take from it that which it is able to give, and make no further demand upon it. Our teacher is humility. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble: and the grace of God is everything... That's your greatest wisdom. Humble yourself and say to yourself: 'Although I'm a speck of earthly dust, still God cares for me, and may the will of God be done in me.' If you say this not only with your mind, but also with your heart, and really boldly, as becomes a true Christian, rely on the Lord with a firm intention to submit to the will of God, whatever it may be, without murmuring, then the clouds will disperse before you and the sun will look out, and will enlighten and warm you, and you will know true joy from the Lord and everything will seem clear and transparent to you, and you will cease tormenting yourself, and it will become light in your soul."
The elder prophesied that the organizational unity of the Russian Church would break up into a number of branches or splinters, when on February 27, 1917 he compared the Russian Church to a ship: "There will be a storm. And the Russian ship will be destroyed. Yes, it will happen, but, you know, people can be saved on splinters and wreckage. Not all, not all will perish..." But he also prophesied that canonical unity would be restored: "A great miracle of God will be revealed. And all the splinters and wreckage will, by the will of God and His might, be gathered together and united, and the ship will be recreated in its beauty and will go along the path foreordained for it by God. That's how it will be, a miracle manifest to all..."
Again he prophesied: "Heresies will spread everywhere and deceive many people. The enemy of the human race will act with cunning in order to draw into heresy, if possible, even the elect. He will not begin by crudely rejecting the dogmas of the Holy Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus Christ and the virtue of the Theotokos, but he will begin imperceptibly to distort the teachings and statutes of the Church and their very spirit, handed down to us by the Holy Fathers through the Holy Spirit. Few will notice these wiles of the enemy, only those more experienced in the spiritual life. Heretics will seize power over the Church and will place their servants everywhere; the pious will be regarded with contempt. He (the Lord) said, 'by their fruits ye shall know them', and so, by their fruits, as well as by the actions of the heretics, strive to distinguish them from the true pastors. These are spiritual thieves, plundering the spiritual flock, and they will enter the sheepfold (the Church), climbing up some other way, as the Lord said: They will enter by an unlawful way, using force and trampling upon the Divine statutes. The Lord calls them robbers (cf. John 10.1). Indeed, their first task will be the persecution of the true pastors, their imprisonment and exile, for without this it will be impossible for them to plunder the sheep.
"Therefore, my son, when you see the violation of patristic tradition and the Divine order in the Church, the order established by God, know that the heretics have already appeared, although for the time being they may conceal their impiety. Or they will distort the Divine Faith imperceptibly, in order to succeed better in seducing and enticing the inexperienced into their net. The persecution will be directed against not only pastors but against all servants of God, for all those ruled by heresy will not endure piety. Recognize these wolves in sheep's clothing by their proud dispositions and love of power. They will be slanderers, traitors, everywhere sowing enmity and malice. Therefore the Lord said that by their fruits you will know them. True servants of God are humble, love their neighbour and are obedient to the Church. Monastics will be greatly oppressed by the heretics and monastic life will be scorned. Monasteries will become scarce, the number of monastics will decline, and those who remain will endure violence. These haters of monastic life, however, having only the appearance of piety, will strive to attract the monks to their side, promising them protection and worldly goods, and threatening those who oppose them with expulsion. These threats will cause great despair among the fainthearted, but you, my son, rejoice that you have lived until that time, for then the faithful who have not shown any other virtues, will receive crowns merely for standing firm in the faith, according to the word of the Lord (cf. Matt. 10.32). Fear the Lord, my son. Fear to lose the crown prepared (for you), fear to be cast by Christ into the outer darkness and eternal torment. Stand bravely in the faith, and if necessary, endure persecution and other sorrows, for the Lord will be with you... and the holy martyrs and confessors, they will look upon you and your struggle with joy. But woe to the monks in those days who will be bound by possessions and riches, who because of love of peace will be ready to submit to the heretics. They will lull to sleep their conscience, saying, 'We are preserving and saving the monastery and the Lord will forgive us.' The unfortunate and blind ones do not at all consider that through heresy the demons will enter the monastery and then it will no longer be a holy monastery, but merely walls from which grace will have departed. God, however, is more mighty than the enemy, and He will never abandon His servants. True Christians will remain until the end of this age, only they will choose to live in secluded, deserted places. Do not fear sorrows, rather fear pernicious heresy, for it strips us of grace and separates us from Christ. This is why the Lord commanded us to consider the heretic as a pagan and a publican. And so, my son, strengthen yourself in the grace of Jesus Christ. Hasten to confess the faith, to endure suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (cf. II Tim. 2.1-3), Who has said, 'Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life' (Rev. 2.10). To Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be honour, glory and dominion unto the ages of ages. Amen."
Concerning the Tsar the elder said: "There is no greater sin than resistance to the will of the Anointed of God... Keep him, for it is by him that the Russian land and the Orthodox Faith are maintained... But...the destiny of the Tsar is the destiny of Russia. If the Tsar rejoices Russia will also rejoice. If the Tsar weeps Russia will also weep... Just as a person with a cut off head is no longer a person, but a stinking corpse, so Russia without the Tsar will be a stinking corpse..."
After the revolution, soldiers of the Red Army subjected the elder to mockery, tormented him and shaved off his beard. He endured much suffering, but continued to receive his spiritual children.
On the evening of July 29, 1922 (old style), they came to arrest him. But he asked for a little time to prepare himself. The following morning, the committee of soldiers arrived in a military vehicle. They asked the saint's cell-attendant, Fr. Barnabas whether he was ready.
"Yes," Fr. Barnabas replied, "he is ready!"
And, opening the door, they entered the venerable one's cell. Imagine their surprise when their eyes took in the following scene: in the middle of the cell the elder, all "prepared", lay dead in his coffin! Thus did the Lord not permit His faithful servant to be further mistreated, and that very night had taken him to Himself.
A few days before the elder's repose, one of his spiritual daughters received a letter from him inviting her to come and stay at the monastery for a while. She delayed in going, and she arrived only on the ninth day after his repose. There she met other people who had likewise been called by the elder, either by letter or in a dream. One person received word through the elder of his own repose several hours before it occurred. The body of Elder Anatolius was buried next to that of Elder Macarius, whose relics were then found to be incorrupt.
(Sources: Zhitiya Prepodobnykh Startsev Optinoj Pustyni, Jordanville, 1992; Living Orthodoxy, vol. XIII, no. 4, July-August, 1991, pp. 11-12; Andreyev, Russia's Catacomb Saints, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1982, pp. 293-302; The Orthodox Word, July-August, 1971; Russkij Palomnik, N 7, 1993, p. 38; Orthodox Life, vol. 43, no. 2, March-April, 1993, pp. 48-49; Sergius Fomin, Rossiya pered Vtorym Prishestviyem, Sergiev Posad, 1993, p. 144)