On the third day of this month, we commemorate the Holy Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite
Your head is cut off from the rest, and as one who is great,
Dionysius, you run to her who prays.
On the third you were beheaded, and ran with your head in your hands, Dionysius.
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You were inflamed with eros for your Master,
And in the flames you departed to Him in a well-pleasing manner.
On the third of October Dionysius died.
He was one of the nine counselors of the high court of Athens, which was known as Mars Hill (Areos Pagos), exceeding all the others in wealth and glory and wisdom and intelligence, and at the same time was favorable to the Lord and the holy Apostles. When he heard the great Paul discoursing on Christ to the high court of Mars Hill, he estimated all that Paul said, and recalled the solar eclipse he observed, which took place at the Crucifixion of the Lord, when the moon by nature covered the sun. And having been persuaded by the words of Paul, he believed in Christ and was baptized. Having been taught the secret doctrines of theology by the blessed Hierotheos, he was made worthy, as the renowned one himself says, of the same grace of the Holy Spirit had by Hierotheos. Wherefore, because the entire nous of this most divine Hierarch ascended on high to the heavens, he was able to philosophize and write: On the Heavenly Hierarchy of the Angels Beyond this World, On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, On the Divine Names, On Cataphatic and Apophatic Theology, and on other matters both heavenly and secret. Having been ordained Bishop of Athens, he shepherded his flock well. And when the lady Theotokos reposed and went to her Son, then the great Dionysius in a strange manner was present at her Dormition, having been snatched up by a cloud with the holy Apostles and divine Hierarchs.
Later he went to Rome, spreading everywhere the message of piety. There he met Saint Clement, the Bishop of Rome, who urged him to go to western Galata, namely to the Gauls, known today as France, together with two of his disciples, Rusticus and Eleutherius. Having spread the word of faith there as well, he went to Paris, the capital city of France.1 And having built a house, oratory and small church, there one would find him teaching and bringing to piety with words and works and miracles, and with the cheerfulness of his soul, all the Greeks there, both glorious and inglorious, and those who were notable. His fame became known to Emperor Domitian in the year 82, and this enraged him. Therefore he had him beheaded, together with his two disciples Rusticus and Eleutherius, outside the city of Paris. And a most sweet and extraordinary miracle took place for the great Dionysius. When the Saint was beheaded, he took up his holy head in his hands, and walked two miles. And having not arrived at his destination, he encountered on the road a woman named Catula, standing there by divine Providence, and he placed it in her hands as a treasure.
Because his honorable relic was cast to be devoured by wild beasts and birds, certain Christians took it secretly, and under the circumstances, they hid it in an hidden location for fear of the soldiers. When the soldiers departed, then the blessed Catula passed through there, and she treasured it in her house. Later Christians built over that spot a church in the name of the Saint.3
According to his physical description, Saint Dionysius was of middle height, thin and white in color, though slightly yellowish. His nose was slightly small, his eyebrows were thick, his eyes were deep, his ears were large and his hair was white and long. His beard was also long and thin. His hands were long and slightly big. His synaxis is celebrated in the most holy Great Church.
Because the story told by this divine Dionysius in his Epistle to Demophilus the Therapeutes (or Monk) is penitential,2 for it shows how much philanthropy God has for sinners, and it is beneficial, we will include it here. Thus the divine Father says to Demophilus:
"When I was once in Crete, the holy Carpus (one of the Seventy Apostles) entertained me, — a man, of all others, most fitted, on account of great purity of mind, for Divine Vision. Now, he never undertook the holy celebrations of the Mysteries, unless a propitious vision were first manifested to him during his preparatory devout prayers. He said then, when some one of the unbelievers had at one time grieved him (and his grief was, that he had led astray to ungodliness a certain member of the Church, whilst the days of rejoicing were still being celebrated for him); that he ought compassionately to have prayed on behalf of both, and taking God, the Savior, as his fellow-helper, to convert the one, and to overcome the other by goodness, and not to have ceased warning them so long as he lived until this day; and thus to lead them to the knowledge of God, so that the things disputed by them might be clearly determined, and those, who were irrationally bold, might be compelled to be wiser by a judgment according to law. Now, as he had never before experienced this, I do not know how he then went to bed with such a surfeit of ill-will and bitterness.
In this evil condition he went to sleep, for it was evening, and at midnight (for he was accustomed at that appointed hour to rise, of his own accord, for the Divine melodies) he arose, not having enjoyed, undisturbed, his slumbers, which were many and continually broken; and, when he stood collected for the, Divine Converse, he was guiltily vexed and displeased, saying, that it was not just that godless men, who pervert the straight ways of the Lord, should live. And, whilst saying this, he besought Almighty God, by some stroke of lightning, suddenly, without mercy, to cut short the lives of them both. But, whilst saying this, he declared, that he seemed to see suddenly the house in which he stood, first torn asunder, and from the roof divided into two in the midst, and a sort of gleaming fire before his eyes (for the place seemed now under the open sky) borne down from the heavenly region close to him; and, the heaven itself giving way, and upon the back of the heaven, Jesus, with innumerable angels, in the form of men, standing around Him.
This indeed, he saw, above, and himself marveled; but below, when Carpus had bent down, he affirmed that he saw the very foundation ripped in two, to a sort of yawning and dark chasm, and those very men, upon whom he had invoked a curse, standing before his eyes, within the mouth of the chasm, trembling, pitiful, only just not yet carried down by the mere slipping of their feet; and from below the chasm, serpents, creeping up and gliding from underneath, around their feet, now contriving to drag them away, and weighing them down, and lifting them up, and again inflaming or irritating with their teeth or their tails, and all the time endeavoring to pull them down into the yawning gulf; and that certain men also were in the midst, co-operating with the serpents against these men, at once tearing and pushing and beating them down. And they seemed to be on the point of falling, partly against their will, partly by their will; almost overcome by the calamity, and at the same time resigned. And Carpus said, that he himself was glad, whilst looking below, and that he was forgetful of the things above; further, that he was vexed and made light of it, because they had not already fallen, and that he often attempted to accomplish the fact, and that, when he did not succeed, he was both irritated and cursed.
And, when with difficulty he raised himself, he saw the heaven again, as he saw it before, and Jesus, moved with pity at what was taking place, standing up from His supercelestial throne, and descending to them, and stretching a helping hand, and the angels, co-operating with Him, taking hold of the two men, one from one place and another from, another, and the Lord Jesus said to Carpus, whilst His hand was yet extended, 'Strike against Me in future, for I am ready, even again, to suffer for the salvation of men; and this is pleasing to Me, provided that other men do not commit sin. But see, whether it is well for thee to exchange the dwelling in the chasm, and with serpents and demons, for that with God, and the good and philanthropic angels.' These are the things which I heard myself, and believe to be true."
1. The account of the missionary journey of St. Dionysius and his martyrdom outside Paris seems to really refer to another St. Dionysius, or Denis, the first Bishop of Paris, who is celebrated on October 9th. The confusion of the two saints probably took place when a manuscript of the writings of the Areopagite were brought to France by an embassy from Constantinople to the court of Louis the Pious in 827. The legend was taken up by an unknown hagiographer who modeled his account on a panegyric composed by St. Michael the Syncellus (c. 834), in which the date of the martyrdom is transferred from the reign of Domitian to that of Trajan. St. Symeon the Translator then included this in his Menology. Therefore, it should be mentioned that another tradition states St. Dionysius the Areopagite was burnt alive in Athens, and this is how he died a martyric death, hence the difference between the first and second iambic verses.
2. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite marvels over the fact that some scholars dare to doubt the authenticity of the writings of the Areopagite, and he cites not only various patristic confirmations for their authenticity, but even two Ecumenical Synods, namely the Sixth (in its Act 6) and Seventh (in its Canons 2 and 4), which confirm his writings and refer to him as "the great".
3. St. Dionysius' skull is now venerated in the Athonite Monastery of Docheiariou, to which it was given by Emperor Alexios Komnenos in the eleventh century. A small portion of his finger with its flesh is in the Athonite Monastery of Pantokratoros. Other portions of his relics can be found in the Athonite Monasteries of Simonopetra, Dionysiou and Gregoriou. As well, in the Monasteries of Venerable Dionysios in Litochoro of Pieria, Ntaou Penteli in Athens and Voulkanou in Messenia.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Since thou hadst been instructed in uprightness thoroughly and wast vigilant in all things, thou wast clothed with a good conscience as befitteth one holy. Thou didst draw from the Chosen Vessel ineffable mysteries; and having kept the Faith, thou didst finish a like course, O Hieromartyr Dionysius. Intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In spirit, thou dist pass through Heaven's gates, instructed by the great Apostle who attained to the third Heaven's heights, and wast made rich in all knowledge of things beyond speech; and then thou, O Dionysius, didst illuminate them that slumbered in the darkness of their ignorance. Hence we all cry out: Rejoice, O universal Father.
First of the Hierarchs of Athens, you were also made worthy to be the first of its martyrs, entreat to God on behalf of all, with your fervent supplications, O Dionysius.