Saint Athanasios of Athos, in Holy Baptism named Abraham, was born in the city of Trebezond. He was orphaned at an early age, and being raised by a certain good and pious nun, he imitated 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 Byzantine emperor Romanus the Elder, and was enrolled as a student under the renowned rhetorician Athanasios. 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 strict and abstinent life, he slept little and then only sitting upon a stool, and barley bread and water were his nourishment. When his teacher Athanasios through human weakness became jealous of his student, blessed Abraham gave up his teaching position and went away.
During these days there had arrived at Constantinople Saint Michael Maleinos (commemorated July 12), igumen of the Kyminas monastery. Abraham told the igumen 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 his nephew, Nicephorus Phocas, a military officer and future emperor, visited Saint Michael. Abraham’s lofty spirit and profound mind impressed Nicephorus, 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 Kyminas monastery and, falling down at the feet of the holy igumen, he begged to be received into the monastic life. The igumen fulfilled his request with joy and tonsured him with the name Athanasios.
With long fasts, vigils, bending of the knees, with works night and day Athanasios soon attained such perfection, that the holy igumen blessed him for the exploit of silence in a solitary place not far from the monastery. Later on, having left Kyminas, he made the rounds of many desolate and solitary places, 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 live an ascetical life in works and in prayer, proceeding from exploit to exploit towards higher monastic attainment.
The enemy of mankind tried to arouse in Saint Athanasios 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 Athanasios set about to prayer, a 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 Athanasios received the gift of tenderness , and he became as strongly fond of the place of his solitude as he had formerly loathed it. During this time Nicephorus Phocas, having had enough of military exploits, remembered his vow to become a monk and from his means he besought Saint Athanasios to build a monastery, i.e., to build cells for him and the brethren, and a church where the brethren could commune of the Divine Mysteries of Christ on Sundays.
Tending to shun cares and worries, Saint Athanasios at first would not agree to accept the hateful gold, but seeing the fervent desire and good intent of Nicephorus, 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 a hill, in the name of the Most Holy Theotokos. Around the church were the cells, and a wondrous monastery arose on the Holy Mountain. In it were a trapeza (dining area), a hospice for the sick and for taking in wanderers, and other necessary structures.
Brethren flocked to the monastery from everywhere, not only from Greece, but also from other lands, simple people and illustrious dignitaries, desert-dwellers having laboured in asceticism for long years in the wilderness, igumens from many monasteries and hierarchs wanting to become simple monks in the Athos Lavra of Saint Athanasios. The saint established at the monastery a cenobitic monastic Rule on the model of the old Palestinian monasteries. Divine services were served with all strictness, and no one was so bold as to talk during the services, nor to come late or leave the church without necessity.
The Heavenly Patroness of Athos, the All-Pure Mother of God Herself, was graciously disposed towards the saint. Many times he was privileged to see Her with his own eyes. By God’s dispensation, there once occurred such a hunger, that the monks one after the other quit the Lavra. The saint remained all alone and, in a moment of weakness, he also considered leaving. Suddenly he beheld a Woman beneath an ethereal veil, coming to meet him. “Who are you and where are you going?” She asked quietly. Saint Athanasios from an innate deference halted. “I am a monk from here”, Saint Athanasios replied, and spoke about himself and his worries.
“Would you forsake the monastery which was intended for glory from generation to generation, just for a morsel of dry bread? Where is your faith? Turn around, and I shall help you”. “Who are you?” asked Athanasios. “I am the Mother of the Lord”, She answered, and bid Athanasios to strike his staff upon a stone. From the fissure there gushed 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 Lavra continued. Saint Athanasios, 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 disposes otherwise than as people judge”. The brethren were perplexed and pondered the words of the saint. After giving the brethren his final guidance and comforting all, Saint Athanasios entered his cell, put on his mantiya and holy kukolion (head covering), which he wore only on great feasts, and emerged after prolonged prayer. Alert and joyful, the holy igumen went up with six of the brethren to the top of the church to inspect the construction. Suddenly, through the imperceptible will of God, the top of the church collapsed. Five of the brethren immediately gave up their souls to God. Saint Athanasios and the architect Daniel, thrown upon the stones, remained alive. All heard the saint call out to the Lord, “Glory to You, O God! Lord, Jesus Christ, help me!” The brethren with great weeping began to dig out their father from the rubble, but they found him already dead.
Dismissal Hymn (Third Tone)
The Angels’ ranks were awed by your life in the flesh, how, though corporeal, and clad with earthly clay, you set forth with courage to invisible wars and wrestling and boldly smite the hordes of the demons with mortal wounds. Therefore, Christ rewarded you with abundant gifts in return. Entreat Him that our souls find salvation, O most renowned Father Athanasios.
Kontakion (Second Tone)
You took on yourself with faith the yoke of your Christ, while bearing your cross upon your shoulders as a true and unrivalled emulator of His dread Passion and sharer of His great glory, partaking of divine and unending joy, O Athanasios.
Uncovering of the Holy Relics of Our Righteous Father Sergius of Radonezh
Our righteous Father Sergius was born in Rostov, north of Moscow, about the year 1314. Named Bartholomew in Baptism, he was brought up in Radonezh, and at the death of his parents he withdrew to the wilderness to become a monk. It is notable that without having been trained in a monastery, he was of such a spiritual stature as to be able to take up the perilous eremitical life from the beginning, without falling into delusion or despondency. When he had endured with courage the deprivations of the solitary life, other monks began to come to him, for whom he was made abbot against his will. On the counsel of Philotheus, Patriarch of Constantinople, he organized his monks according to the cenobitic life, appointing duties to each. While Anthony and Theodosius of Kiev, and the other righteous Fathers before Sergius, had established their monasteries near to cities, Sergius was the leader and light of those who went far into the wilderness, and after his example the untrodden forests of northern Russia were settled with monks. When Grand Duke Demetrius Donskoy was about to go to battle against the invading Tartars, he first sought the blessing of Saint Sergius, through whose prayers he was triumphant. Saint Sergius was adorned with the highest virtues of Christ-like humility and burning love for God and neighbour, and received the gift of working wonders, of casting out demons, and of discretion for leading souls to salvation. When he served the Divine Liturgy, an Angel served with him visibly; he was also vouchsafed the visitation of the most holy Theotokos with the Apostles Peter and John. He was gathered to his Fathers on September 25, 1392. At the recovery of his holy relics on July 5, 1422, his body and garments were found fragrant and incorrupt. His life was written by the monks of Epiphanius, who knew him.
Apolytikion of Relics of Saint Sergius of Radonezh in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Thou didst receive Christ in thy soul from thy youth, O Saint, and above all didst desire to be quit of the turmoil of the world. Thou didst courageously settle in the wilds, and there thou didst raise children of obedience, fruits of humility. Thus, as an abode of the Trinity, thou didst enlighten with thy miracles all who came to thee with faith, and didst grant healings abundantly to all. O our Father Sergius, pray to Christ our God that He save our souls.
Kontakion of Relics of Saint Sergius of Radonezh in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Having risen from the earth, thou didst shine today like the sun; for thy precious and incorrupt relics were found like a fragrant flower, shining with a multitude of miracles, and pouring various healings on all the faithful, and gladdening thy chosen flock, which thou didst gather so wisely and tend so well. And now as thou standest in the presence of the Trinity, pray for them and for all Orthodox Christians to be granted victory over their enemies, that we all may cry to thee: Rejoice, O divinely wise Sergius.
We Also Celebrate Today:
Kyprianos the New Martyr of Koutloumousiou Monastery
Righteous Father Lampadus the Wonderworker