July 5: Monk Athanasias of Athos
The Monk Athanasias of Athos, baptized as Abraham, was born in Trapezund. Orphaned as a child, he was raised by a good and pious nun, and from whom he learned the discipline of the monastic life, that is, fasting and in prayer.
After his adoptive mother died, Abraham was taken to Constantinople (now Istanbul), to the court of Emperor Romanos the Elder, and enrolled as a student under the rhetorician Athanasias. He led a life strict and abstinent: he slept little and then only sitting upon a stool; he ate only barley bread and water. Eventually, he himself became an instructor. When his teacher became jealous of him, he quit teaching and went away.
At Constantinople, Abraham met the Monk Michael Maleinos (commemorated 12 July), hegumen (see Definitions) of the Kimineia monastery. Abraham told the hegumen about his life, and revealed to him his secret desire to become a monk. The hegumen fulfilled his request with joy and gave him monastic vows with the name Athanasias.
Later on, having left Kimineia, he made the rounds of many a desolate and solitary place, and guided by God, he came to Melanos, at the very end of Mount Athos, settling far off from the other monastic dwellings.
Eventually, Monk Athanasias became tempted to leave his hermitage, but he decided to suffer it out for a year, and then wherever the Lord should direct him, he would go. On the last day of that year, when Monk Athanasias was praying, a Heavenly Light suddenly shone upon him, filling him with an indescribable joy. From that moment, he received the gift of tenderness ["umilenie"], and the hermitage he had hated became the place he loved.
At this time, Nicephoros Phokas--military officer and future emperor--had had enough of military exploits, and came to Monk Athanasias asking him to build a monastery and a church.
Athanasias at first would not agree to accept Nicephoros' money since it was gotten through war, but, finally, seeing the fervent desire and good intent of Nicephoros, and discerning in this the will of God, Athanasias set about the building of the monastery. He erected a large church in honour of John the Baptist, and another church at the foot of an hill, in the name of the Virgin Mary. Around this church were monastic cells, a refectory, an hospice for the sick and for taking in wanderers, and other necessary structures.
Monks and would-be monks flocked to the monastery from everywhere, not only from Greece, but also from other lands--simple people and illustrious dignitaries, wilderness-dwellers, and hegumens and hierarchs who wanted to become simple monks in the Athos Laura (Megisti Lavra) of Monk Athanasias.
At this monestary monastic rule was life-in-common ["coenobitic"--see Definitions] on the model of the 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.
The Heavenly Patroness of Mount Athos, the All-Pure Mother of God Herself, the Virgin Mary appeared several times to Athanasias. One time during a famine, many monks left the monestary, leaving Athanasias alone wondering whether he should also leave. But as he started to go, he saw a woman coming to meet him.
"Who are you and where are you going?" She asked him quietly.
Athanasias answered, "I am a monk from this monestary." Then he told her about himself and his worries.
"And because of a morsel of dry bread you are going to abandon this monastery? Where is your faith? Turn round, and I will help you," she said.
"Who are you?" asked Athanasias.
"I am the Mother of your Lord" She answered. Then, she told Athanasias to strike his staff upon a stone--which broke when he struck it--and from the stone a spring of water shot out, and that spring exists even now in remembrance of this miraculous visitation.
The monks returned and many more monks came, so the construction work at the monestary continued.
Near the end of his life, Monk Athanasias, foreseeing the time of his departure to the Lord, told the monks about his impending end and asked them not to be troubled. "For Wisdom disposes otherwise than people do judge."
Having bestown on the monks his final guidance and comforted all, Monk Athanasias entered his cell, put on his mantle and holy kukol'-headpiece (see Definitions), which he wore only on great feasts, and after prolonged prayer he emerged. Alert and joyful, the he went up with six of the monks to the top of the church to look over the construction. Suddenly the top of the church collapsed, killing the monks and Athanasias.
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