Venerable Athanasius Of Mount Athos Athanasius was born in Trebizond of God-fearing parents. He was orphaned at an early age, but by the providence of God a military officer took him under his care and brought him to Constantinople to be educated. Because of his meekness and humbleness, he was the favorite of his peers. During their games, the children chose one to be an emperor, another a commander–and Athanasius an abbot, as though it were a prophecy! Having completed his education, Athanasius (who before tonsure was called Abraham) withdrew into the desert of Maleinos near Athos, the Holy Mountain, where he lived the life of an ascetic, as a disciple of the then renowned Michael Maleinos. Desiring a more difficult life of asceticism, Athanasius moved to Holy Mt. Athos, to live in silence (the life of a silentary). But many who were desirous of a life of asceticism began to gather around him, and he was compelled to build his famous Lavra [monastery]. He was assisted in this by the Byzantine emperors, first by Nicephorus Phocas, who himself intended to withdraw and become a monk, and then by John Tzimiskes. Countless temptations befell Athanasius, both from demons and from men–but he, as a brave soldier of Christ, resisted and conquered them all, by his immeasurable meekness and continual prayer to the Living God. Filled with the grace of God, Athanasius was found worthy to see the All-holy Birth-giver of God, who miraculously brought forth water from a rock and promised that she would always be the Abbess [Ikonomisa, the one in charge of the provisions] of the monastery. In work and in prayer, Athanasius surpassed his brethren, and he loved all with the love of a spiritual father and shepherd. Death came to Athanasius unexpectedly. He and six other monks had climbed up onto a newly built vestibule of the church to inspect a wall that was being constructed, and the wall caved in on them and buried them. Thus, this great beacon of monasticism died in the year 1003 A.D. Many times following his death Athanasius appeared to his brethren–sometimes to comfort them, and sometimes to reprimand them.
The Venerable Martyr Cyprian The New Cyprian was born in the village of Klitzos in Epirus. Following the death of his devout parents, Cyprian went to the Holy Mountain, where he was tonsured a monk, devoting himself completely to a life of asceticism in a cell near the Monastery of Koutloumousiou. He imposed upon himself labor upon labor, and asceticism upon asceticism, until he became renowned and respected throughout the Holy Mountain. But Cyprian was still not satisfied with himself. He was tormented by the thought that he could not be saved except through martyrdom for Christ. Therefore, he left the Holy Mountain and went to Thessalonica, where he went before the pasha of Thessalonica and called upon him to reject the false faith of Muhammad and to accept the true faith of Christ. The pasha ordered him scourged and driven out. Unsatisfied with such little suffering for Christ, Cyprian traveled to Constantinople and wrote a letter to the grand vizier, in which he outlined the falseness of Muhammad and the truth of the Lord Christ. Enraged, the vizier sent him to Sheik ul-Islamu, and he, after having heard all that Cyprian had to say, ordered him beheaded. Cyprian was joyful beyond measure, and he went to the scaffold as to a wedding feast. Thus this godly man suffered for Christ on July 5, 1679, and realized his burning desire.
The Venerable Lampadus Loving Christ with a fervent love from his early youth, Lampadus withdrew into the wilderness of Irenopolis, where he gave himself up to a life of asceticism. Since he had overcome all the passions and desires of the flesh, his soul was radiant with heavenly light and an unspeakable, otherworldy peace. Lampadus was a miracle-worker both during his life and after his death. He lived the ascetic life probably in the tenth century.
Hymn Of Praise
To The Most-Holy Theotokos (Birth-Giver Of God)
On Mt. Athos a Lavra shines,
The wondrous monastery of Athanasius.
One thousand years have passed it by,
But the spirit and bread did not run out:
It was lacking neither spirit nor bread
Nor the shining vision of God’s heaven.
Thus it was written in books of old:
The Abbess provides,
As Mount Athos is her realm–
The mighty fortress of Orthodoxy;
That mystical Abbess (Ikonomisa)–
Is it not the All-pure Birth-giver of God?
The Lavra she upholds, and Iveron nourishes
Hilandar protects, Rusikon defends;
Karakallou and Zographou, Simonopetra,
And Pandocrator–them all she protects.
She is the fortress of their inhabitants,
But peace and defense to all she is.
How did Moses, with a blow from his rod, bring forth water from the rock? How did God send down manna from heaven and feed the people of Israel in the wilderness? Thus ask those who have a very weak conception of the might of the Omnipotent God–and still they are perplexed as to why such miracles do not take place again, in order that all peoples might believe in God. But the Israelites witnessed countless miracles of God with their own eyes, and still they did not believe. Meanwhile, God repeats the wondrous miracles of old, wherever and whenever it is needed. Once, when there was a famine in the Lavra of Athanasius, all of the brethren dispersed in all directions. Dejected, Athanasius set off to seek out another place. A woman on the road asked him: “Where are you going?” And because she was a woman on the Holy Mountyain–where no women are granted access–he asked in wonder: “Who are you?” She answered: “I am she to whom you have dedicated your community. I am the Mother of your Lord.” Athanasius said: “I am afraid to trust you, for even demons can manifest themselves as angels of light. How will you prove to me the truthfulness of your words?” Then the Holy Birth-giver of God said to him: “Strike your rod upon this rock, and you will know who it is that speaks to you. Know that I will always remain the Abbess–Ikonomisa–of your Lavra.” Athanasius then struck the rock with his rod. At that, the rock shook and cracked as if from thunder, and water gushed forth from the shattered rock. Frightened, Athanasius turned to prostrate himself before the Holy All-pure One, but she had already vanished. He returned to his Lavra and, to his even greater amazement, found all the barns (storehouses) overflowing with wheat. Here, then, is a recapitulation of great wonders, which confirm the miracles of old, and by which the faithful are strengthened in the Faith.
To contemplate the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites (Exodus 14):
- How Moses waved the rod according to the command of God, and the sea was divided, and the people of God passed over on the dry bottom of the sea;
- How the Egyptians pursued the Israelites along the same path, but Moses waved the rod, and the sea closed over them;
- How this teaches me that God can do whatever He wills and that He saves His faithful servants from the greatest dangers, but punishes the unfaithful.
About sobriety of mind
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
Brethren, the mind is the guide of the soul and adviser to the soul. God gave the animalsonly a soul [an irrational soul], and that is why He did not give them freedom, but guides them with His mind. God gave man a soul [a rational soul] and a mind–and with the mind, freedom. The mind and freedom are inseparable. Thus all the tales of certain philosophers–concerning how man truly has a mind but does not possess freedom–are vain. It is clear from daily experience that freedom is an inseparable companion of the mind. Yet, as man does not possess a perfect mind, so he does not possess perfect freedom, but stands under the direction and guidance of God. God alone has a perfect mind and perfect freedom. We, therefore, are only the “image and likeness” of the mind and the freedom of God. We possess a mind sufficient to know the will of God and enough freedom to be able to decide to fulfill the will of God. When the mind loses its absolute guiding power over the soul, then there arise in the soul many disparate guiding principles–which bring about confusion, chaos and destruction. What is the meaning of the apostle’s words: Gird up the loins of your mind and be sober? They mean: “Do not allow your mind to fantasize, but concentrate the mind on contemplating the Law of God.” They also mean: “Do not allow your mind to abuse your God-given freedom, by plunging the soul into slavery to the flesh, the world and the devil; but nail the mind to Christ as to a cross, so that your soul may resurrect in Christ.” Further, they mean: “Close your mind off from all self-willed imaginations, by which it becomes intoxicated and falls prey to the devil; and keep the mind girded in the narrowness of your heart, where it will become sober through prayer, and pure through tears.” It means, in essence: “Train your mind not to misuse your freedom by reviling the Living and Merciful God and by deadening you soul through the passions.” O Lord Jesus, Mind of God and Wisdom of God, help us to gird our minds, that we may think only of what is from You and what is Yours–that our minds may lead our souls soberly to salvation. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.