Commemorated on April 12
The Nun Athanasia
was hegumeness of a monastery on the island of Aegina. She was born into a
pious Christian family of parents named Nikita and Marina. Already at seven
years of age the maiden studied the Psalter, which she read constantly and with
feeling. Once, during the time of work at the weaver's loom, Saint Athanasia
saw coming down to her from above a shining star, which touched her bosom and
lightened all her being, and then disappeared. From that moment the maiden was
illumined in soul and she firmly resolved to enter a monastery.
When Saint Athanasia
reached age 16, her parents entreated her to marry. The maiden consented, but
lived in wedlock all of only 16 days: her husband was taken into the army and
Left a widow, Saint
Athanasia decided to fulfill her old wish. But at this time was promulgated a
decree of the emperor Michael the Stammerer (820-829), in accord with which
young widows were to enter into marriage with young soldiers. Saint Athanasia
married again. In marriage she led a pious and virtuous life: she toiled in the
house, helped the sick and those in need, and took in wanderers. On Sundays and
feastdays she invited over family and acquaintances and read the Holy Scripture
to them. Under her influence, her husband went off to a monastery and gave his
wife permission to take monastic vows.
The saint gave away
her property, accepted monasticism and together with some devout women she
withdrew into a solitary place. After a certain while the sisters besought the
Nun Athanasia to become hegumen of the small community. The saint looked upon
her being hegumeness as an especial service to God and her sisters. She gave
example by meekness and humility. All infractions of the sisters were asked
about with love, without anger.
Athanasia had the title of hegumeness, she accounted herself least among the
sisters and always had in mind the commandment of the Saviour: "Whoso
amongst you would be first, let them be servant to all" (Mt. 20: 27). The
saint never permitted the sisters to wait upon her, even though it be to pour
water over her hands.
The Nun Athanasia
wore an hair-shirt, and over it her clothes were of coarse sheep's wool. She
slept little, and the better part of the night she prayed. By day she toiled
together with the sisters. She partook of food only in the evening, which
consisted of morsels of bread and water. Butter, cheese and fish she permitted
herself only on the Nativity of Christ and Holy Pascha. During lent she ate
once or twice a day only some moist greens. The Nun Athanasia spent four years
at this monastery.
On the island of
Aegina lived a certain monk-elder, Matthew, who earlier had been an hegumen. He
took upon himself a great exploit: each night he read through the Psalter,
together with reading also prayers. The saint slept sitting and only very
little. During the singing of the Psalms, reading prayers or offering the
Bloodless Sacrifice the monk could not refrain from tears. He wore only a
coarse hair-shirt and by great temperance and exertions he became completely
withered of body. He had an especial love for Saint John the Theologian, and
one time during the making of the Divine liturgy he was vouchsafed to see this
apostle, standing at the altar-table. The monk with his mantle healed a
paralytic, by the sign of the cross he corrected the face of a man distorted by
the working of the devil, he cast out demons and worked many other miracles.
The Monk Matthew gave blessing to Saint Athanasia to go with her sisters to a
still more remote place. She built a monastery on a desolate hill of the island
near an ancient church of the FirstMartyr Stephen.
The Nun Athanasia was
granted of God the gift of healing. After she healed a man afflicted with a
malady of the eyes, a throng of people began to flock to her, to receive
healing from infirmities of both soul and body. From the abundant gifts brought
to the monastery, the nun built at the monastery three churches: one in the
name of the Most Holy Mother of God, another in the name of the holy Prophet
John the Forerunner, and the third in the name of Sainted Nicholas the
celebrity distressed the saint, and she took the two sisters closest to her in
spirit (Maria and Eupraxia) and withdrew in secret to Constantinople. There, as
a simple monastic, the nun entered one of the women's monasteries, where she
dwelt for 7 years.
But her holy life
again attracted attention. The sisters of the Aegina monastery learned whither
their hegumeness had gone, and they set off to her imploring her to return.
Submitting to the Will of God, the nun returned to the monastery founded by
her. Soon after this she was granted a vision of two radiant men, bestowing
upon her a document with the words: "Here is thine freedom, take and
The twelve days
before her death the Nun Athanasia spent at unceasing prayer. On the eve of the
feast of the Dormition (Uspenie) of the Most Holy Mother of God she summoned the
sisters and said, that she was able to read the Psalter only up to the twelfth
psalm. The saint asked them to continue reading the Psalter for her in church.
The sisters went to church and there fulfilled her request, and then they came
to take their farewell from the saint. She blessed them and besought them to
solemnly and joyfully make the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of
God, and also to give a meal for the poor and destitute, and after Divine
liturgy to give burial to her body. With these words the Nun Athanasia expired
to the Lord (+ 14 August 860).
On the fortieth day,
after Divine liturgy two devout sisters were granted to see, how Saint
Athanasia appeared before the royal doors. Two radiant men adorned her head
with a crown beset with crosses, they entrusted to her a gleaming staff and led
her through the royal doors into the altar.
Before her death,
Saint Athanasia gave orders to feed the poor in her memory through the 40 days.
The sisters, however, did not fulfill her request and they set out the memorial
meal for only 9 days. The saint appeared to certain of the sisters and said:
"In vain ye fulfilled not my last wish – the forty day commemoration of
the dead in church and the feeding of the poor would have been much help for
sinful souls, and from righteous souls would have been sent down Heavenly mercy
upon those making remembrance". With this she thrust her staff into the
ground and became invisible. The staff left behind sprouted the next day and
became a live tree. A year after the death of the saint, they led to the grave
a demoniac woman. When they dug up the ground, they then perceived a fragrance
and took out the coffin. Having touched it, the demoniac was immediately
healed. Then they opened the lid of the coffin and beheld the undecayed body of
the nun, from which flowed myrh. The Nun Athanasia was as though asleep, her
face shone brightly, all her body was preserved incorrupt and soft, and even
her hands were supple. The priests decided to place the body of the saint in
church. When they transferred the body into a new coffin, the nuns took hold
the hair-shirt from her holy remains and wanted to dress her in silken clothes,
but the hands of the Nun Athanasia were so firmly clasped to her bosom, that
the nuns could not dress her in the silken garb. Thus even in death the saint
displayed her love for poverty. Thereupon one of the sisters, having bent down
on her knees, began to pray to the saint, saying: "Our lady, as undeniably
thou didst hearken to us when thou lived with us, so now also be graciously
pleased to hearken to us and be dressed in these clothes, our humble gift
offered unto thee". The Nun Athanasia, as though alive, lifted and
extended her hands into the clothing.
The holy relics of
the Nun Athanasia were put into a constructed crypt and became a source of
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.