|St. Athanasius of Brest (or Bretsk) (Feast Day - September 5 and July 20)|
The hieromartyr Athanasius was born in the province of Minsk about the year 1597 into a pious Belorussian family named Philippovich. His secular name is not known, as well as the social status of his family. He received a serious upbringing and was educated at a school run by the Orthodox Brotherhood. He came to know well the theological and historical literature, as evidenced in his diary that has been preserved. Later, he graduated from a Jesuit College in Vilnius. He was fluent in four languages, Polish, Latin, Greek, and the local Slavic dialect.
As a young man, Athanasius was a teacher in the houses of Polish merchants, before he accepted tonsure in 1627 from Igumen Joseph of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius and received the name Athanasius. He was ordained hieromonk in 1632, and appointed head of the Dubovsk Monastery near Pinsk. However, in 1636 the Monastery was seized by the Jesuits and Fr. Athanasius, with the monks, moved to Kupiatits Monastery near Pinsk. There, he became acquainted with the monk Macarius (Tokarevsky) who had been given by Metropolitan Peter Mogila a universal certificate authorizing his collecting of offerings. With St. Macarius, Fr. Anthanasius was tasked with collecting donations for rebuilding the Church of Kupiaticka and its icon of the Theotokos.
Going to the Church of Kupiaticka, Fr. Athanasius prayed before the Kupiaticka icon of the Mother of God for aid in identifying generous donors. In reply to his prayers, the Theotokos directed him: "Go to the tsar. He will build the church for me." Following Her words and with Her protection, Fr. Athanasius made the difficult and dangerous war time journey to Moscow where Tsar Michael Feodorovich welcomed him warmly and made a generous donation.
In 1640, the monks from St. Symeon Monastery in Brest elected Fr. Athanasius the Igumen of the Monastery, where he continued his fight against the Union of Brest. In his struggle against the Union, Fr. Athanasius traveled to Warsaw in 1641 and 1643, reaching king Władysław IV, who favored tolerance. But, his attempt to get a decree of tolerance was unsuccessful against the influences of the Jesuit and Greek Catholic authorities. He was imprisoned three times during these years for his stand against the Union. While imprisoned he wrote a letter to the king describing the persecutions and noting his promise to improve the situation of the Orthodox Church.
Upon receiving the letter, the king ordered his release on the condition that Metropolitan Peter in Kiev take responsibility for him. Sent to Kiev, he was forced to remain in the Pechersk Lavra. Athanasius remained at Kiev-Piechersk Lavra until Metropolitan Peter reposed in December 1647.
Back in Brest in 1648, as the uprising of Bohdan Khmelnytsky broke out, Fr. Athanasius was arrested on July 1, 1648 and accused of taking part in the uprising. After his release when no evidence was found, Fr. Athanasius was accused of profaning the Union when he responded that "It is cursed" to the question from Roman Bishop Andrew Gębicki of Lutsk if he opposed the union. Fr. Athanasius was again arrested and imprisoned in the castle in Brest. After the Jesuits were unable to get him to renounce his Orthodox faith and join the Union, he was summarily taken to the forest near Brest and shot on September 5, 1648 without any official order, and was buried there.
For eight months the body of Fr. Athanasius lay in the ground without a church funeral. On May 1, 1649, a boy pointed out the place of the igumen's burial to the brethren of the Simeonov Monastery. At the time the ground where the martyred Fr. Athanasius was buried belonged to the Jesuits. Therefore the monks had to work secretly. At night the monks dug up the incorrupt body of the igumen and immediately transferred it off to another place from where In the morning they brought it to their Monastery. After several days, they buried him with honor, on May 8, at the right kleiros (choir) in the main church of the Monastery dedicated to St Symeon the Stylite.
On November 8, 1815, St. Symeon Church at the Bretsk Simeonov Monastery burned down together with the relics of St. Athanasius. The remains of the relics were found in the ashes and placed under the altar in the Monastery trapeza church. In 1823, they were put in the sarcophagus so that people could pray to St. Athanasius. On September 20, 1893, the relics were taken to the newly built St. Athanasius of Brest Church in Grodno. The next year part of the relics was given to the Convent in Leśna Podlaska. When nuns were evacuated to Russia as World War I began, the relics were taken to Siberia and then later to Provemont in France.
In the late 1990s, with the blessing of the then Primate of ROCOR, Metropolitan Vitaly, the relics were brought by Archbishop Seraphim (Dulgov) of Brussels and Western Europe (ROCOR) to the Orthodox Diocese of Lublin-Chełm in Poland at the request of Archbishop Abel (Poplavsky) of Lublin-Chełm. St. Athanasius is the patron saint of the Diocese of Lublin-Chełm.
On October 27, 1996, an icon of St. Athanasius, with part of his relics, consecrated at the Monastery of the Theotokos in Leśna, was brought to Biała Podlaska and placed in St. Athanasius Orthodox Church.