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A Visit with a Coptic Monk

[Ancient Faith Radio; August 29, 2007]

Frederica: I’m in Spokane, Washington, with a conference titled ‘To the Ends of the Earth,’ sponsored by St. Gregorios Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church here in Spokane, and they’ve brought people from all backgrounds and traditions here. I’m delighted to be talking to Fr. Anastasi St. Anthony, who is the abbot of the St. Anthony monastery in, what is it, Newberry Springs, California? Where is that located in California?

Fr. Anastasi: North of Ontario, it’s in between Los Angeles and Los Vegas, on the I-5.

Frederica: Oh, so it’s not on the coast; it’s in the desert, I guess, which is where the monks want to be.

Fr. Anastasi: Just like the monastic life started in the desert. So I guess they purchased the land there in the desert so they can have the impression of the monastic life in Egypt.

Frederica: That sounds very good. When I first met you, a couple of years ago, I was speaking at a church in Honolulu, you were the pastor of a church in Honolulu. We met there, and you said your name was Fr. Anastasi St. Anthony, and I said, ‘How wonderful for you to have the last name St. Anthony! What a great coincidence!’ And you explained that all monks associated with the tradition of St. Anthony take his name as their surname.

Fr. Anastasi: Well, yes, they take the name of the monastery which they entered. So I entered St. Anthony monastery, so my name is Fr. Anastasi St. Anthony. The monks in St. Bishoi monastery in Egypt, there in that monastery is a monk named Anastasi, so his name is Fr. Anastasi St. Bishoi.

Frederica: And you entered St. Anthony monastery in Egypt? Or the one here in Newberry Springs?

Fr. Anastasi: Yes, the one here. We have St. Anthony monastery on the Red Sea, the original monastery where St. Anthony lived on the mountain, and we have his cave until now. And there’s a church there, in the monastery. There’s a book called Monastic Visions , which Yale University produced. This book is about the restoration of the church and how there’s a group from Europe that came and restored it because, when the monastery was inhabited by barbarians for many centuries and Bedouins, they used to destroy it. So the icons were covered with soot.

Frederica: Oh my.

Fr. Anastasi: So we had a group from Europe come and restore the church. And it’s breathtaking, you can see that book, it’s called Monastic Visions .

Frederica: Monastic Visions . And I hope I can get to see the paintings in person someday as well. Just a little while ago, during your presentation, you sang for us one of the Coptic hymns, and showed how you can sing it in the original language and then translate it into English and fit the same melody. You know, we Orthodox who are converts, we tend to know other people who are converts like us, but there’s so much we don’t know about the Coptic tradition, and I think your music and your melodies are one example. What else would you like people from an Eastern Orthodox tradition, such as I am, to know about the Coptic tradition?

Fr. Anastasi: A very important element is that we are united in thought about Christology.

Frederica: Yes.

Fr. Anastasi: Which was the point of difference. We are called Monophysite. We are not Monophysite, because the word ‘mono’ means absolutely one. And we do not believe that Jesus Christ is of absolutely one nature, meaning either divine or human, but according to the formula which was said by St. Cyril of Alexandria, that there is one nature and one hypostasis to God the Logos. We believe in the unity of the divine nature and the human nature into one. Into one nature, which we say is the one nature of the incarnate Logos.

Frederica: So a united nature.

Fr. Anastasi: It’s a united nature.

Frederica: But you’re not saying, as the misunderstanding was, that the divine nature obliterates or overwhelms the human nature, like a drop in the ocean.

Fr. Anastasi: We say in the Liturgy, at the end of the liturgy the priest holds the Body next to the Blood and says, ‘Amen, amen, amen. I believe, I believe, I believe and confess to the last breath that this is the life-giving flesh which your only begotten Son our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ took from our Lady, the Queen of us all, the Holy Mother of God, St. Mary. He made it one with his divinity, without mingling, without confusion, without alteration. He confessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate; He offered it for us upon the holy wood of the Cross, for us all. Truly I believe that His divinity parted not from his humanity for a single moment nor a twinkling of an eye. Given for us for salvation, remission of sins, and eternal life, I believe, I believe, I believe that this is true, amen.’

Frederica: That’s a beautiful prayer. I think that’s an example of the kind joys that await us as we come to know the tradition of people in the Coptic Church. Earlier you said a prayer for healing that I’d never heard before, could you say that prayer again?

Fr. Anastasi: I could say it with a tune.

Frederica: All right. Great.

Fr. Anastasi: [Singing] Again, let us ask God the Pantocrator, the Father of our Lord God and Savor Jesus Christ, we pray and entreat your goodness, O lover of mankind. Remember, O Lord, the sick among your people. You have visited them with mercies and compassions, hear them. Take away from them and from us all sickness and all disease. The spirit of sickness, chase away. All those who have longing and sickness raise up, and comfort those who are afflicted by unclean spirits, set them all free. Those in prisons and dungeons, those who are in exile or captivity, those who are held in bitter bondage, O Lord, set them all free, and have mercy upon them. For you are He who loosens the bound and uplifts the fallen. The Hope of those who have no hope, and the help of those who have no helper. The comfort of the fainthearted, the harbor of those in the storm. All souls that are distressed or bound, grant them mercy, O Lord. Grant them rest, grant them refreshment, grant them grace, grant them help. Grant them salvation; grant them forgiveness of their sins and their iniquities. As for us, O Lord, the maladies of our souls heal. And those of our bodies too, O you the true physician of our souls and our bodies, the bishop of all flesh, visit us with your salvation. Through the grace, mercies and love for mankind of your only begotten Son, our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, glory, honor, dominion and worship is due unto you, with Him in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who is of one essence with you, both now and forever and unto the age of all ages, amen.

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