By Archimandrite Nicholas Arkas
The Parian Athanasios Toulios, out of great love for his motherland, replaced his surname with Parios. He was born in 1722 in the village of Kostos in Paros. His father Apostolos came from Katavati in Sifnos, where also today there live the Toulios or Tolides family. His mother was from Paros, from the Damia family. His pious parents placed him on God’s path from a young age. According to Athanasios, during his tender years he showed an inclination toward the divine, which shows how he was a chosen vessel of God. Moreover he had established a rare physiognomy, a scintillating mind, a sparkling clean soul, exemplary morals, original and irresistible ideas. He was established as a lifelong defender of the sacred and the venerable, which Jesus the God-man Himself established as a compass for mankind. In this way he glorified Christ, his Church and Greece like few others.
In his motherland he attended the first lessons “in everything primary”, surprising students and teachers with his bright mind, but also his exemplary morals. In 1745 he went to Smyrna and enrolled there in the famous “Evangelical School”. He was distinguished and preeminent in everything, even in the thorough mastery of three foreign languages. Craving, though, like a thirsty deer “for the springs of waters” of higher studies, he went to the Holy Mountain in 1752. There he enrolled in the famous and renowned Athoniada Academy, which was run by the then famous “New Aristotle”, the famous theologian and philosopher Evgenios Voulgaris, who, admiring the deep learning and blameless character of Athanasios, promoted him from student to professor, compelling him to become a deacon.
The reputation of Athanasios went beyond the Holy Mountain. Those in Thessaloniki requested Voulgaris to send him to run their own School. Athanasios went and elevated it to importance. However, he was interrupted for two years on account of an epidemic of the plague. He went to the School of Messolonghi. He was not restricted in teaching from this center. The enlightenment of the enslaved simple people by the Holy Spirit occupied him. He assisted and enlightened them religiously and nationally with his fiery sermons in every town and city.
Meanwhile Voulgaris retired from the Athoniada Academy. The Holy Mountain, then, unanimously called on Athanasios to be its director. He went giving it new life. After two years the Anti-Kollyvades movement began. As a Kollyvas, Athanasios left the Holy Mountain and returned for several years to the School of Thessaloniki.
But a vision fascinated him and a desire shook him. Those things which he gave others for many years, he wanted also to offer to Paronaxia. He then departed by boat for his special homeland. But just as they drew near to the island of Chios, the Russo-Turkish War erupted and prohibited the voyage. He was forced to disembark in Chios. The Chiotans viewed him as an angel from heaven. Hierarchs, priests, notable persons, and the people begged him to take the direction of their School. He did not accept. But as much as he refused, they persisted.
Finally he accepted to teach one course until the war ended. So he remained there for two years. But during this time he created many volumes and works which were not possible to be continued anywhere else. Then he understood that it was God’s will that he remain there. He consented to this and turned the School into a university which enrolled young people from all parts of the earth, and they acquired pure wisdom, faith and Hellenism.
He labored nineteen years day and night, teaching and writing rare books that were original and full of wisdom, serving the Holy Mysteries, preaching to the people and sending teachers to all parts of Greece for a Christian education befitting a Greek. Father Kosmas, a student of Athanasios, took from them and established his schools.
Athanasios directed the University robustly and firm until he was 89 years old, so that his student Maoukas said how he was upright like a cypress tree, with an appearance of grandeur, like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, stately while holding the plates with the commandments.
And what shall we say of his ascetic and philanthropic life? As his compensation for directing the School he was able to live in a mansion and have a diet rich and varied with servants and maids. But no, Athanasios was an ascetic. He lived in a meager cell belonging to the Holy Trinity Monastery, as a very poor monk. The things belonging to him he distributed to the poor. He considered it an inexcusable sin to enter the new year with even a penny from the previous year. He could have dressed in expensive and princely clothes. Yet when he passed away on June 24, 1813 he left a shredded rason, some books, an inkwell and a lamp. Then he was living in an even poorer monastery and more meager cell at the Hermitage of St. George in Reston of Chios.
We will stop here and offer some words of many that were spoken of him by many of his praisers.
* "Athanasios was the most famous after Evgenios Voulgaris." - L. Petit
* "He belongs among the most famous theological writers of the Greek Church, while at the same time he was a capable philosopher." - Meyer
* "He was among the most prolific writers." - Amantos
* "The most important and prolific writer of his time." - Balanos
* "Justly and deservedly considered the most prominent great teacher of the Nation during the years of Turkish occupation." - D. Economides
* "For his Orthodox Faith and struggles on its behalf, without exaggeration, he may be considered the Athanasius the Great of the 18th and 19th century." - K. Sardellis
* "This man offered himself to the work of his mission, teaching and nurturing, a tireless author and striver, he lived a humble, simple, quiet, modest and holy life." - Metropolitan Ambrose of Paronaxia
* "After Saints Makarios and Nikodemos the Hagiorite (a student of his), zealous and holy men, he worked to enliven piety and education in the Nation." - Metropolitan Nikodemos of Patras
Due to all of these unique elements of the holy personality of Athanasios, with the very welcome efforts and recommendation of His Eminence Metropolitan Ambrose of Paronaxia and the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate, Athanasios was strongly proclaimed a Saint in 1995.
"We have adopted, from now and hereafter, to all eternity, the Venerable Hieromonk Athanasios the Parios, and number him among the saints of the Church, being honored among the faithful with hymns and praises."
He is celebrated in his motherland of Kostos in Paros on June 24th, where a majestic church has been erected in his honor.
He is also celebrated on the first Sunday of September, on the recently established Synaxis of the Five Saints of Paronaxias, which is celebrated in the newly-built Holy Church of the Naxian Saints Nikodemos the Hagiorite and Nicholas Planas, in the city of Naxos.
Source: Translated by Hugh Cyril Donohoe. Edited by John Sanidopoulos.