Document: Letter 16
Date: 383
Addressee: Anysius, bishop of Thessalonica
English Translation: FC 26.67-69
Summary of Contents: Exhortation to Anysius to be as good a bishop as Acholius

I have been quite sure for a long time of what I have just now read; you were mine by your deeds even though I had not laid eyes on you. I grieve over that which has happened, but I rejoice over the later happy succession of events. I did not wish that to happen while I lived, yet I did hope after his death that only one of this merit might possibly be his successor. And so we have you, the disciple for a long time of Acholius of blessed memory, now his successor and the heir of his rank and of his grace. You have been given a great recompense, brother, and I rejoice on your account that there was not a moment’s doubt regarding the successor of one so great. It is also a great burden, brother, to support the weight of so great a name, of so great esteem, of so great a scale. Men are looking for Acholius in you, and as he was held in affection by you, so in the performance of his ministry there is needed a replica of his virtue, of his learning, and the vigor of mind in so aged a body.

I saw him, I say; and I owe it to him that I had this glimpse of him. I saw him in the body in such a way that I thought he was not of the body; I saw the image of him [Paul] who, not knowing whether in the body or out of the body, saw himself raised to paradise. He used to travel everywhere on frequent trips to Constantinople, to Achaia, to Epirus, to Italy in such fashion that younger men could not keep up with him. Men of more sturdy physique yielded to him, for they knew that he was free from the hindrance of the body; he used his body only for a covering, not an instrument, surely a means of servitude, not of companionship. He had exerted such influence on his body as to crucify the world in it and himself to the world.

Blessed was the Lord, and blessed was the youth of this man spent in the tabernacle of the God of Jacob, living in a monastery where, to his parents or relatives in search of him, he used to say: “’Who are my brethren, and who is my mother?’ I do not know my father or mother or brethren, unless they are those who hear the Word and keep it.” Blessed also were his mature years when he was raised to the office of high priest, deemed worthy of an early recompense for virtue. He came like David to restore peace to the people; he came like the ship carrying with him pure gold, cedar woods, and precious stone, and that dove with rings of silver with which amid the lots he slept the sleep of peace and the repose of tranquility.

Sleep is the workman of the saints according to what has been written: “I sleep and my heart watches,” and according to holy Jacob who while asleep saw divine mysteries which he had not seen when he was awake a path in the heavens for the saints, leading from sky to earth, and the Lord looking down upon him and promising him the possession of that land. Asleep in this way for a short while, in his dream he asked and obtained what his descendants later acquired with great toil. The sleep of the saints is free from all pleasures of the body, from all disturbance of the mind; it brings calm to the mind and peace to the soul, so that, released, as it were, from the ties of the body, it raises itself aloft and clings to Christ.

This sleep is the life of the saints such as blessed Acholius lived, whose old age also was blessed, for old age is truly venerable when it grows hoary not with grey hairs but with good deeds. This hoariness is revered, hoariness of soul, gleaming with shining thoughts and deeds. What truly is old age if it is not a spotless life which is measured not by days or months, but by ages whose durability knows no end, whose longevity knows no weakness? The older it is, the stronger it is, and the longer he has lived that life, the more vigorously does he grow into the perfect man.

May the Lord, therefore, set His approval upon you, his successor, not only in honor, but also in character, and may He see fit to establish you in great grace so that to you also the people may run and you may say of them: “Who are those who fly about like clouds and like doves with their young?” Let them come, too, like the ships from Tharsis and bring in grain which the true Solomon gives, the twenty measures of wheat. Let them receive oil and the wisdom of Solomon, and let there be peace between you and your people, and may you guard well the covenant of peace.

Farewell, brother, and love us, because we also love you.

Translation from FC 26.67-69, adapted by SMT

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