Thursday, October 15, 2015

Saint Euthymios the New of Peristera Monastery (+ 894)

St. Euthymios the New (Feast Day - October 15)

Our Holy God-bearing Father Euthymios was born in the reign of the iconoclast Emperor Leo V the Armenian (813-820) in a village near Ancyra (Ankara) in Galatia. He was named Niketas at Baptism and, since his father died when he was seven, was brought up in the Orthodox faith and to venerate the holy icons by his pious mother. In early manhood, he served in the army for a while and then, at the entreaty of his mother, agreed to marry the daughter of a rich and pious family of those parts, with whom he had a little girl named Anastaso. But, since childhood, Niketas had fervently desired to set out upon the strait and narrow way that leads to the Kingdom of God by becoming a monk.

When one of their horses ran off by itself, Niketas, now eighteen years old, seized the opportunity of taking leave of his family to go in search of the animal, but really to take flight himself to the wilderness in search of the "waters of quietude." Going from place to place, he found his way to Mount Olympus in Bithynia which, adorned with such men as Saint Ioannikios, Saint Peter of Atroa and Saint Theophanes the Confessor, at that time it was the most noteworthy monastic settlement in the Roman Empire. Thousands of monks lived there around the large monasteries, either in complete seclusion, or with an elder, or in a small community. Niketas wanted, above all, to receive the blessing of Saint Ioannikios (Nov. 4), the wonderworker and confessor of the Orthodox faith and, if possible, to be given a place among his many disciples. When Ioannikios saw him coming, he detected a great love of virtue in the young man and wanted to test him. He exclaimed to his disciples, "That young man coming towards us is a robber and a criminal. How dare he! Hold him fast and tie him up!" Niketas bowed his head and did not try to defend himself in the greatness of his joy at coming near the renowned Saint. When Ioannikios had done justice to Niketas' honesty, they all wondered at how disposed he was to humility and to the cutting off of his own will. But fleeing praise, Niketas left them to put himself under the direction of a holy father, beloved of God, named John, who lived in solitude.

In 842, John clothed him in the small schema giving him the name Euthymios and, after some time, sent him to the nearest cenobitic monastery, at Pissades, to complete his training in obedience and the daily renunciation of his own will. Euthymios did everything he was given to do with alacrity. He regarded himself as the least of the brethren and the most unworthy, and made haste to obey, not only the Abbot, but evey other monk also, as if in them he heard the word of God. But around the year 858, Euthymios who, above all, desired peace and solitude, left the monastery because of the discord and perplexity of consciences by the election of Saint Photios (Feb. 6) to the Patriarchal Throne of Constantinople. Fleeing the turmoil, he took ship with Theosteriktos, one of his fellow brethren, for Mount Athos which, at the time, was inhabited only by hermits leading a very austere life. But before withdrawing finally to the wilderness of Athos, he spent several years with Theodore, a renowned ascetic of Olympus, to complete his monastic initiation, and received from his hands the great schema.

In all Euthymios had spent fifteen years on Mount Olympus when he again embarked for Athos, where he found a spiritual father in Joseph, an Armenian of such great virtue that, after his death, his body distilled a fragrant oil. They encouraged one another in the contests of virtue, and decided to spend three years in a cave, near where New Skete is today, without ever going out, and taking no thought for what they should eat, but relying entirely upon the goodness of the heavenly Father. They emerged from this superhuman trial victorious and illumined by grace.

Cave of St. Euthymios in Vrasta

Euthymios returned, after some time, to Mount Olympus to see Theodore again. When he told him of the angelic life they led on Athos, Theodore asked him to take him there. But because of his old age and the illness brought on by a whole life of asceticism, Theodore was unable to remain on Athos. Euthymios settled him near Thessaloniki, in Makrosina near Vrastamon, while he returned to the Holy Mountain of Athos to taste of the honey of quietude. It was not long before he learnt of Theodore's death and went back to Thessaloniki to venerate his tomb in 865. At this time he attempted to live the life of a Stylite atop a column, but there gathered such a large crowd at the base of his column that he decided to withdraw for a third time to Mount Athos. On this occasion he received priestly ordination, which he sought, not vaingloriously, but in order that the Athonite ascetics might partake more often of the Holy Mysteries.

On his return to the Holy Mountain, he was unable to find the untroubled calm he so desired, for he was much visited by ascetics who knew well the holiness of his life. He decided to leave for the island of Saint Eustratios with two companions, John Kolovos and Symeon (founder of the Monastery of the Great Cave in Kalavryta); but on their way, they were captured by Arab pirates who infested the Aegean Sea at that time. On their release, they went back to Athos, but due to the frequency of pirate raids, they left once more for a safer place.

Church of the Apostle Andrew in Peristera Monastery, built by St. Euthymios.

Euthymios, Joseph the Armenian and some of their disciples settled in Vrastamon (Vrasta or Brasta), a village in the region of Halkidiki, belonging to Thessaloniki. There they led an angelic life in separate cells, establishing a Lavra. Euthymios went to Athos from time to time where, stationed between heaven and earth, he could enter into closer communion with God. One day there, he was told by revelation to restore the abandoned monastery on Mount Peristera near Thessaloniki, so that the pious inhabitants of the region might be blessed by the presence of men of God. He and two disciples, Ignatios and Ephraim, made their abode in its ruins around the year 866 to 871 and, overcoming numberless obstacles put in their way by the malice of demons, succeeded in rebuilding the monastery dedicated to the Apostle Andrew. Before long, disciples from Thessaloniki and the surrounding district flocked to him, to place themselves under his wise guidance. In 888, he founded a female monastery nearby and placed at its head Euphemia, one of his sisters who, like all the other members of his family (his mother, wife and two grandchildren), had become a monastic.

In 898, forewarned of the day of his death and wishing to spend his last moments in solitude, he called together all his disciples for a festive meal in the refectory of the monastery, gave them his final admonitions and his blessing, and was then taken to the uninhabited island of Hiera where he gave up his soul in peace to the Lord in the presence only of the angels and saints.

Tomb of St. Euthymios

In 899 his sacred relics were brought to the Metropolis of Thessaloniki for a blessing. Lost for many centuries, his sacred relics were found in 1986 in the Monastery of Peristera and today rest in this Monastery in Thessaloniki in the Church of the Apostle Andrew. Emperor Nikephoros Phokas in 964 placed the Monastery of Peristera under the Monastery of Great Lavra on the Holy Mountain as a dependency. The life of Saint Euthymios was compiled by his disciple, Basil, who also composed a Service in his honor. A Supplicatory Canon was composed by Haralambos Bousias.

According to Basil, his biographer, Euthymios was a great ascetic whose fame early on went well beyond Mount Athos, where together with Saint Peter the Athonite he became one of the first two well known ascetics of the Holy Mountain. When he came to Thessaloniki, the people received him as if he was Elijah the Prophet, embracing him with the belief that his embrace brought on heavenly blessings. He helped many to progress in virtue and inspired many to become monastics. His disciples were distinguished for similarly living angelic lives, and were received as if they were angels from heaven. Among his disciples that continued to live and pass on his ascetic spirit, were Theosteriktos, Onouphrios, Ignatios, George, Ephraim, Paul, Basil, his grandchildren Methodios and Euphemia (who lived in different monasteries the Saint established), his biographer Basil who became Archbishop of Thessaloniki, and the two brothers Saints Symeon and Theodore.

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