The Venerable Onuphrius The Great This saintly hermit had been living in the desert for sixty full years when the monk Paphnutius visited him. His hair and beard reached to the ground and his body, due to a long period of nakedness, was covered with long hair. All his hair was white as snow and his entire appearance was brilliant, sublime and awesome. Seeing Paphnutius, Onuphrius called him by name and recounted to him his [Onuphrius’s] life in the wilderness. His guardian angel had appeared to him and brought him to this place in the wilderness. For a long time he had eaten only vegetables, which could rarely be found in the wilderness. After he had endured violent combat with the temptations of the demons, and his heart had been completely strengthened in the love of God, an angel of God brought him bread for nourishment. Besides that, by the good providence of God, there grew up next to his cell a palm tree that brought forth dates abundantly, and a spring of living water began to flow there. “However,” Onuphrius said: “I mostly nourish myself and quench my thirst with the sweet words of God.” To Paphnutius’s question as to how he received Holy Communion, the hermit answered that an angel of God brought him Holy Communion every Saturday. The next day the elder told Paphnutius that it was the day of his departure from this world; he knelt down, prayed to God and gave up his spirit unto God. At that moment Paphnutius saw a heavenly light illuminating the body of the reposed saint and heard the singing of angelic hosts. Having honorably buried the body of Onuphrius, Paphnutius returned to his monastery, that as a living witness he might narrate to others, for their benefit, the wondrous life of this man and the greatness of God’s providence toward those who have completely given themselves over to the service of God. Onuphrius died in the year 400 A.D.
Venerable Peter The Athonite Peter was a Greek by birth and a soldier by profession. Once, in battle against the Arabs, Peter was captured, bound in chains, and cast into prison. Peter remained imprisoned a long time in the town of Samara on the Euphrates River, and he constantly prayed that God would free him from prison and take him to a wilderness, where he would dedicate himself completely to a life of prayerful asceticism. St. Simeon the Receiver of God, together with St. Nicholas, appeared to him in prison and touched his iron chains with his staff; they melted like wax and Peter suddenly found himself in a field outside the town. He immediately set out for Rome, where he was tonsured a monk by the pope himself at the tomb of St. Peter. After this he again departed by boat for the east. The All-Holy Birth-giver of God, along with St. Nicholas, appeared to him in a dream, and the Birth-giver of God told St. Nicholas that she had designated Mt. Athos for Peter to live on in asceticism. Up to this time Peter had never heard of Mount Athos. Disembarking therefore on the Holy Mountain, Peter settled in a cave, where he remained for fifty-three years in difficult ascetic labors, in a struggle with hunger and thirst, with heat and cold, and especially with deomonic powers, until he had overcome all with the help of God. After he had endured the first temptations and had successfully passed the first difficult tests before God, an angel of God began to bring him bread every forty days. On several occasions, the tempter–the devil–appeared to him under the guise of an angel of light, but Peter repelled him with the sign of the Cross and the name of the All-Holy Birth-giver of God. About a year before his death he was discovered by a hunter who was hunting deer around Athos, and from the mouth of the saint heard his life’s story. He died in the year 734 A.D. His relics were translated to Macedonia.
The Venerable Timothy The Egyptian Hermit Timothy first lived a life of asceticism in the Thebaid and then withdrew into the wilderness, where he lived for thirty years. Having pleasing God, he died peacefully.
The Venerable Bassian And Jonah Bassian and Jonah were monks of the Solovki Monastery. They drowned and were washed ashore in the year 1651 A.D. Over their graves a sign appeared, and because of this a church was built. The Petrominsk Monastery was subsequently established there. Once, when Tsar Peter the Great was saved from a tempest, he remained there for three days, made a cross, and erected it on the shore.
Hymn Of Praise
The Venerable Peter The Athonite
Saint Peter in the fearful wilderness
Of all earthly riches was deprived,
But through tearful prayer he overcame
All the rich illusions of the devil.
His heart he bridled and to God raised it;
His mind he set upright and to heaven uplifted it.
Immobile as a rock among the cliffs,
Wearied by hunger and all-night vigils,
He directed himself toward every good,
As a fleshless one in earthly flesh.
On Mt. Athos, for half a century,
In prayer he spoke only with God.
From age he turned as white as snow;
No man he saw, nor did he desire to.
To him God revealed the window of heaven;
Countless miracles he saw,
The Mother of God and God’s angels,
And the all-wonderful saints of God.
To him the Lord an angel sent
Who gave him Holy Communion from heaven,
Until Peter made himself a spiritual giant,
A city on a high mountain,
To be a teacher throughout the ages,
To the holy monks, a wonderful example.
Great and wonderful is the Mystery [Sacrament] of Holy Communion. Even anchorites [recluses] and hermits craved for nothing so much as to be given the possibility to receive Holy Communion. St. Mary of Egypt begged St. Zosimas to bring her the Holy Mysteries by the Jordan and commune her. Returning from visiting St. Onuphrius, the Venerable Paphnutius found a humble community of four young ascetics in the desert. When Paphnutius asked them whether and how they received Holy Communion, they replied that an angel of God visited them every Saturday and Sunday and gave them Holy Communion. Paphnutius remained until the following Saturday and was personally convinced. When Saturday dawned the entire community was filled with an indescribable, wonderful fragrance, and while they were at prayer, an angel of God in the form of a handsome young man, as bright as lightning, appeared with the All-pure Mysteries. Paphnutius became frightened and fell to the ground in fear. But they raised him up and brought him to the angel, so that he, along with them, received Communion from the hand of the angel. According to his own testimony, St. Onuphrius received Holy Communion from the hand of an angel, as did many other anchorites and hermits. Therefore, it is completely erroneous to think that solitaries and hermits did not receive Holy Communion. God, Who provided for their bodily nourishment, did not leave them without the Life-giving nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ the Lord.
To contemplate the miraculous multiplying of the bread in the wilderness: And when it was evening, his disciples came to Him saying: This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals (St. Matthew 14:15):
- How the Lord fed five thousand people with the five blessed loaves;
- How He is that Living Bread Who alone can miraculously feed my hungry soul, which all the rest of the world together cannot feed.
About the palace and the hut
“The house of the wicked shall be overthrown but the hut of the righteous shall flourish” (Proverbs 14:11).
The palace of Herod lies in ruins, but the cave of the Child of Bethlehem remains. The crowns of the caesars have been lost, but the bones of the martyrs have been preserved. The palaces of the pagan kings have been transformed into piles of stone and dust, but the caves of the ascetics have grown into most beautiful churches. The golden idols have been scattered into nothing, but the chains of the Apostle Peter are preserved as a holy relic. The powerful Roman Empire is now only a tale of the dead, while the hut of Christianity, the Holy Church, is today the most powerful realm in the world. Where are the Jews, the murderers of God? They are dispersed throughout the world. Where are the powerful Romans? In the grave. Where is the power of bloody Nero? Where is the power of the evil Diocletian and the depraved Maximian? Where is the success of Julian the Apostate? Where are those high towers? They are where the tower of Babel is–beneath dust and ashes, beneath shame and damnation. Go about your own city and inquire how many homes of the godless are excavated? How many huts of the righteous have grown into beautiful houses? Brethren, heaven and earth are founded on justice, on God’s steadfast justice. That is why all the pagan creations are like arrogant bubbles, which burst and are trampled on by passers-by. The palaces of the pharaohs and the Babylonians are like trampled bubbles, while the tent of the righteous Abraham flourishes and blossoms in eternity. O my brethren, how all-powerful and long lasting is justice, and how noisy and transient is injustice, like a storm on a summer’s day! O Righteous Lord, how magnificent and consistent You are in the exercise of Your justice. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.