Skip to content

SAINT ANTHONY THE GREAT ON THE DISPLAY OF BODIES OF THE DEAD: HE WHO DID NOT BURY THE BODIES OF THE DEAD AFTER DEATH TRANSGRESSED THE LAW, EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE SACRED

October 6, 2017

A35

Saint Anthony the Great (c. 251 – 356), the greatest ascetic and the light of monasticism across the world, had a strong view on the custom that was prevalent in Egypt in his days according to which Egyptians honoured the bodies of their dead, particularly of the holy martyrs, with funeral rites, wrapped their bodies in linen clothes, placed them on couches, and kept them in their houses. His opinion was that the bodies of the dead should not be displayed but be buried under ground. It seems that the custom was widespread, and we know from the Life of St. Anthony[1] by St. Athanasius the Great (patriarchate, 328 – 373), the 20th Patriarch of the Coptic Church, that Anthony often urged the bishops to teach against it:

The Egyptians are wont to honour with funeral rites, and to wrap in linen cloths at death the bodies of good men, and especially of the holy martyrs; and not to bury them underground, but to place them on couches, and to keep them in their houses, thinking in this to honour the departed. And Antony often urged the bishops to give commandment to the people on this matter.

He himself preached the laity directly telling them to stop this custom, and calling it ‘transgression against the law’, making no distinction between the way the bodies of the dead were treated whether they belonged to ordinary people or the holy and sacred, even martyrs:

In like manner he taught the laity and reproved the women, saying, ‘that this thing was neither lawful nor holy at all. For the bodies of the patriarchs and prophets are until now preserved in tombs, and the very body of the Lord was laid in a tomb, and a stone was laid upon it, and hid it until He rose on the third day.’ And thus saying, he showed that he who did not bury the bodies of the dead after death transgressed the law, even though they were sacred. For what is greater or more sacred than the body of the Lord? Many therefore having heard, henceforth buried the dead underground, and gave thanks to the Lord that they had been taught rightly.

When Anthony was 105 years old, and he knew that his time had come, he made sure that his body wasn’t taken to the urban areas of Egypt to be treated as per the custom of the Egyptians:

But he, knowing the custom, and fearing that his body would be treated this way, hastened, and having bidden farewell to the monks in the outer mountain entered the inner mountain, where he was accustomed to abide. And after a few months he fell sick. Having summoned those who were there— they were two in number who had remained in the mountain fifteen years, practising the discipline and attending on Antony on account of his age— he said to them, ‘I, as it is written [Joshua 23:14], go the way of the fathers, for I perceive that I am called by the Lord. And do you be watchful and destroy not your long discipline, but as though now making a beginning, zealously preserve your determination. For you know the treachery of the demons, how fierce they are, but how little power they have. Wherefore fear them not, but rather ever breathe Christ, and trust Him. Live as though dying daily. Give heed to yourselves, and remember the admonition you have heard from me. Have no fellowship with the schismatics, nor any dealings at all with the heretical Arians. For you know how I shunned them on account of their hostility to Christ, and the strange doctrines of their heresy. Therefore be the more earnest always to be followers first of God and then of the Saints; that after death they also may receive you as well-known friends into the eternal habitations. Ponder over these things and think of them, and if you have any care for me and are mindful of me as of a father, suffer no one to take my body into Egypt, lest haply they place me in the houses, for to avoid this I entered into the mountain and came here. Moreover you know how I always put to rebuke those who had this custom, and exhorted them to cease from it. Bury my body, therefore, and hide it underground yourselves, and let my words be observed by you that no one may know the place but you alone. For at the resurrection of the dead I shall receive it incorruptible from the Saviour. And divide my garments. To Athanasius the bishop give one sheepskin and the garment whereon I am laid, which he himself gave me new, but which with me has grown old. To Serapion the bishop give the other sheepskin, and keep the hair garment yourselves. For the rest fare ye well, my children, for Antony is departing, and is with you no more.’

St. Anthony’s commanded two of his disciples to treat his body in this way and to conceal his grave so that it would be unidentifiable. And they faithfully followed his command:

Having said this [the above], when they had kissed him, he lifted up his feet, and as though he saw friends coming to him and was glad because of them— for as he lay his countenance appeared joyful— he died and was gathered to the fathers. And they afterward, according to his commandment, wrapped him up and buried him, hiding his body underground. And no one knows to this day where it was buried, save those two only. But each of those who received the sheepskin of the blessed Antony and the garment worn by him guards it as a precious treasure. For even to look on them is as it were to behold Antony; and he who is clothed in them seems with joy to bear his admonitions.

A24

Here we have an old custom that has metamorphosed into different forms in our history. One can envisage St. Anthony having an opinion of disapproval on many of these practices.

_____________________________

[1] Translated by H. Ellershaw. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY, Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892).

 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Egiziane permalink
    October 6, 2017 10:53 pm

    So true, not only in Egypt but also in many churches around the world , relics of Saints are kept in expensive containers, venerated and worshipped by Christians, a form of Ancient Egyptian mummification, or worst of pegan tradition, Jesus Christ our Lord is the only center of our worship, preserved relics can be burried underneath the Churches that carry their names as just a memorial to their saintly lives, if necessary, otherwise and preferably be burried like all of us mortals in their home town (Dust to dust and ashes to ashes)

Trackbacks

  1. THE REASON ST. ANTHONY THE GREAT COMMANDED HIS DISCIPLES TO CONCEAL HIS BODY AFTER HIS DEPARTURE ACCORDING TO THE COPTIC SYNAXARIUM | ON COPTIC NATIONALISM في القومية القبطية
  2. EVIDENCE THAT SAINT ANTHONY THE GREAT DID NOT HAVE A QUALM ABOUT BURIAL OF MARTYRS AND SAINTS IN CHURCHES | ON COPTIC NATIONALISM في القومية القبطية

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: