Commemorated on July 5
Athanasias of Athos, in holy Baptism named Abraham, was born in the city of
Trapezund. He was early left orphaned, and being raised by a certain good and
pious nun, he copied his adoptive mother in the habits of monastic life, in
fasting and in prayer. Doing his lessons came easily and he soon outpaced his
peers in study.
After the death of
his adoptive mother, Abraham was taken to Constantinople, to the court of the
then Byzantine emperor Romanos the Elder, and was enrolled as a student under
the reknown rhetorician Athanasias. In a short while the student attained the
mastery of skill of his teacher and he himself became an instructor of youths.
Reckoning as the true life that of fasting and vigilance, Abraham led a life
strict and abstinent, he slept little and then only sitting upon a stool, and
barley bread and water were his nourishment. When his teacher Athanasias
through human weakness became jealous of his student, blessed Abraham quit his
teaching and went away.
During these days
there had arrived at Constantinople the Monk Michael Maleinos (Comm. 12 July),
hegumen of the Kimineia monastery. Abraham told the hegumen about his life, and
revealed to him his secret desire to become a monk. The holy elder, discerning
in Abraham a chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit, became fond of him and taught
him much in questions of salvation. One time during their spiritual talks Saint
Michael was visited by his nephew, Nicephoros Phokas, a reknown military
officer and future emperor. The lofty spirit and profound mind of Abraham
impressed Nicephoros, and all his life he regarded the saint with reverent
respect and with love. Abraham was consumed by his zeal for the monastic life.
Having forsaken everything, he went to the Kimineia monastery and, falling down
at the feet of the holy hegumen, he besought to be received into the monastic
form. The hegumen fulfilled his request with joy and gave him monastic vows
with the name Athanasias.
With long fasts,
vigils, bending of the knees, with works night and day Athanasias soon attained
such perfection, that the holy hegumen blessed him for the exploit of silence
in a solitary place not far from the monastery. Later on, having left Kimineia,
he made the rounds of many a desolate and solitary place, and guided by God, he
came to a place called Melanos, at the very extremity of Athos, settling far
off from the other monastic dwellings. Here the monk made himself a cell and
began to asceticise in works and in prayer, proceeding from exploit to exploit
towards higher monastic attainment.
The enemy of mankind
tried to arouse in Saint Athanasias hatred for the place chosen by him, and
assaulted him with constant suggestions in thought. The ascetic decided to
suffer it out for a year, and then wherever the Lord should direct him, he
would go. On the last day of this year's length of time, when Saint Athanasias
set about to prayer, an Heavenly Light suddenly shone upon him, filling him
with an indescribable joy, all the thoughts dissipated, and from his eyes
welled up graced tears. From that moment Saint Athanasias received the gift of
tenderness ("umilenie"), and the place of his solitude he became as
strongly fond of as before he had loathed it. During this time Nicephoros
Phokas, having had enough of military exploits, remembered his vow to become a
monk and from his means he besought the Monk Athanasias to build a monastery,
i.e. to build cells for him and the brethren, and a church where the brethren
could commune the Divine Mysteries of Christ on Sundays.
Tending to shun cares
and worries, Blessed Athanasias at first would not agree to accept the hateful
gold, but seeing the fervent desire and good intent of Nicephoros, and
discerning in this the will of God, he set about the building of the monastery.
He erected a large church in honour of the holy Prophet and Forerunner of
Christ John the Baptist, and another church at the foot of an hill, in the name
of the MostHoly Virgin Mother of God. Around the church were the cells, and a
wondrous monastery arose on the Holy Mount. In it were arrayed a refectory, an
hospice for the sick and for taking in wanderers, and other necessary
Brethren flocked to
the monastery from everywhere, not only from Greece, but also from other lands
– simple people and illustrious dignitaries, wilderness-dwellers having
asceticised long years in the wilderness, hegumens from many a monastery and
hierarchs wanting to become simple monks in the Athos Laura of Saint
The saint established
at the monastery a life-in-common ("coenobitic") monastic-rule on the
model of the old Palestinian monasteries. Divine-services were made with all
strictness, and no one made bold to chatter during the time of service, nor to
come late or leave without need from the church.
Patroness of Athos, the All-Pure Mother of God Herself, was graciously disposed
towards the saint. Many a time he was granted to behold Her wondrous eyes. By
the sufferance of God there once occurred such an hunger, that the monks one
after the other quit the Laura. The saint remained all alone and in a moment of
weakness he also considered leaving. Suddenly he beheld a Woman beneathe an
aethereal veil, coming to meet him. "Who art thou and whither goest?"
– She asked quietly. Saint Athanasias from an innate deference halted. "I
am a monk from here", – answered Saint Athanasias and told about himself
and his worries. "And on account of a morsel of dry bread thou would
forsake the monastery, which was intended for glory from generation unto
generation? Where is thy faith? Turn round, and I shalt help thee".
"Who art Thou?", – asked Athanasias. "I am the Mother of thy
Lord", – She answered and bid Athanasias to strike his staff upon a
stone, such that from the fissure there shot forth a spring of water, which
exists even now, in remembrance of this miraculous visitation.
The brethren grew in
number, and the construction work at the Laura continued. The Monk Athanasias,
foreseeing the time of his departure to the Lord, prophesied about his
impending end and besought the brethren not to be troubled over what he
foresaw. "For Wisdom disposeth otherwise than people do judge". The
brethren were perplexed and pondered over the words of the saint. Having
bestown on the brethren his final guidance and comforted all, Saint Athanasias
entered his cell, put on his mantle and holy kukol'-headpiece, which he wore
only on great feasts, and after prolonged prayer he emerged. Alert and joyful,
the holy hegumen went up with six of the brethren to the top of the church to
look over the construction. Suddenly, through the imperceptible will of God,
the top of the church collapsed. Five of the brethren immediately gave up their
spirit to God. The Monk Athanasias and the architect Daniel, thrown upon the
stones, remained alive. All heard, as the monk called out to the Lord:
"Glory to Thee, O God! Lord, Jesus Christ, help me!" The brethren
with great weeping began to dig out their father from amidst the rubble, but
they found him already dead.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.