(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Antihusa, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Anthusa of Constantinople
The general Christian looks upon a nun with somewhat mixed emotions owing to the fact that on the one hand she is revered for her service to the Savior, but on the other hand she suffers from gross misconceptions as to what occasioned her choice of a cloister. To the cynics who are apt to regard nuns as social misfits who have sought to escape the harsh realities of real life inside the sheltering walls of a nunnery, the story of Anthusa of Constantinople shows that the reverse generally holds true, and that there have been women who have abandoned a life of luxury and ease for the strict regimen required of them for true service to Jesus Christ. When Shakespeare’s Hamlet admonishes, “Get thee to a nunnery,” his words go unheeded because a nun becomes such by choice, not by command or tragedy.
The nobility was the last to expect one of its ingenues to exchange her lavish surroundings for the foreboding stillness of a cloister, and such a practice was so discouraged as to be practically nonexistent. Anthusa was not only of the nobility, but she was the daughter of Emperor Constantine V (Kopronymos) who reigned over the civilized world that comprised the Byzantine Empire in the eighth century. Her father’s name is etched in the history of an empire that lasted for a thousand years, but for an eternity in the company of saints who served the King of Kings.
The envy of every maiden of her day, the lovely Anthusa knew every luxury of royalty, with servants at her bidding, free from any care in the world and admired and flattered wherever she went. With all the attention lavished upon her, she remained a level-headed girl who knew in her heart that she was no better in the sight of God than the lowliest servant of the household. Well-adjusted and at peace with herself, she was like any other
maiden of the realm whose head could be turned only in the direction of God. Thoroughly schooled, she applied her knowledge in a way that left no doubt of her sincerity and determination to find a real purpose in her life.
Anthusa attended services regularly in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia, that grand house of God erected centuries before by Emperor Justinian and by far the finest example of Byzantine architecture to this day. The services echoed through this mighty cathedral with its fabulous frescoes and ornate marble with a solemnity that seemed to transport the worshiper right into heaven. It was in this church that Anthusa felt the call to the service of the Savior, a service she was anxious to assume but hesitated for fear of displeasing her father, who was sure to frown on such a decision.
After meeting several times in private with her spiritual father, Patriarch Tarasios, who advised her to follow the dictates of her heart, she summoned her full courage and confronted her father with the news that she wished to become a nun. The incredulous emperor made it clear he would never allow her this choice, using that well-known phrase “honor thy father” which, as a dutiful daughter, she would not ignore. For months she was torn between duty to her father and her desire to become a nun.
The decision was made for her, although somewhat tragically, when the emperor died, leaving her free to do as she wished. After the traditional period of mourning, Anthusa disposed of her entire share of the estate by distributing the wealth derived from its sale to the poor of Constantinople. She then entered the Convent of St. Euthemia to begin a lifelong pursuit of glorifying the name of Jesus Christ, a task to which she applied herself with such willingness and self-denial that she came to be revered as one of the holiest women in the empire.
The name Anthusa means to blossom forth, which is precisely what this flower of Christianity did in adding her spiritual fragrance to a colony of nuns who joined her in administering to the needy and the helpless. She sought no special favor and denied her own birthright in a sacrifice which was made with no trace of regret for having gone from luxury to noble austerity. She died peacefully at the Monastery of Homonia in Constantinople on April 12, 811.