May 2, 2010

Saint Athanasios Patellarios of Lubensk and His Seated Relics

St. Athanasios of Lubensk, Patriarch of Constantinople (Feast Day - May 2 & August 21)

Saint Athanasios III Patellarios, Patriarch of Constantinople, Wonderworker of Lubensk, in the world known as Alexis, was born in 1560 on the island of Crete, into the pious Greek family Patellarios. Despite his education and position in society, Alexis was attracted by the life of Christian ascetics. After his father's death, he became a novice in one of the monasteries of Thessaloniki with the name Ananias. From there, he he later went to the Monastery of Esphigmenou on Mount Athos, where he fulfilled his obedience in the trapeza (dining area).

From Athos he journeyed to the monasteries of the Holy Land, and he was tonsured with the name Athanasios. Upon his return to Thessaloniki he was ordained presbyter and spread the gospel of Christ among the Vlachs and the Moldovians, for whom he translated the Psalter from the Greek. Sometimes, the Saint went to Mount Athos for solitude, and to ask God's blessing on his pastoral work. The holiness of his life attracted many Christians who wished to see a true preacher of the Orthodox Faith.

By his remarkable abilities and spiritual gifts he attracted the attention of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril I Loukaris (1621-1623). Summoning the ascetic, Patriarch Cyril appointed him a preacher of the Patriarchal throne. Soon Saint Athanasios was consecrated bishop and became Metropolitan of Thessaloniki.

At this time Patriarch Cyril was slandered before the sultan and imprisoned on the island of Tenedos. Saint Athanasios assumed the Patriarchal throne on March 25, 1634, on the day of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos.

Patriarch Athanasios led an incessant struggle against heretics, Jesuits, and Muslims. After only forty days on the Patriarchal throne, he was deposed through the intrigues of the enemies of Orthodoxy, and Cyril I was returned.

The Saint went to Athos, where for a certain time he pursued asceticism in solitude. Then he became Patriarch again, but was deposed after a year. After this, he returned to Thessaloniki and renewed his connections with the Holy Mountain. In view of the intolerable persecution of Christians by the Muslims, Saint Athanasios was repeatedly (from 1633 to 1643) obliged to send petitions to the Russian tsar Michael (1613-1645) seeking alms for the hapless Church of Constantinople.

When living at Thessaloniki it became impossible for the Saint, so he was forced to journey to Moldavia under the protection of its sovereign, Basil Lukulos, and he settled there in the Monastery of Saint Nicholas near Galats, but he longed for Mount Athos. He visited it often and hoped to finish his life there, but God ordained something else for him.

In 1652 after the death of Patriarch Cyril I, Saint Athanasios was returned to the patriarchal throne. He remained only fifteen days, since he was not acceptable to the Muslims and Catholics. During his final Patriarchal service he preached a sermon in which he denounced papal pretensions to universal jurisdiction over the whole Church.

Persecuted by the Muslims and Jesuits, physically weakened, he transferred the administration of the Church of Constantinople to Metropolitan Paisios of Laureia, and he withdrew to Moldavia, where he was appointed administrator of the Monastery of Saint Nicholas at Galats.

Knowing the deep faith and responsiveness of the Russian nation, Saint Athanasios undertook a journey to Russia. In April 1653 he was met with great honor in Moscow by Patriarch Nikon (1652-1658) and Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich. While in Russia he set forth the procedure for the Divine Liturgy celebrated by a bishop that is still in use in Russia. Having received generous alms for the needs of the monastery, Patriarch Athanasios left for Galats in December 1653. On the way he fell ill and stayed at the Transfiguration Mgarsk Monastery in the city of Lubno in February 1654.

Sensing his impending death, the Saint wrote his last will, and he fell asleep in the Lord on April 5, 1654, which was the Wednesday of Saint Thomas Week. Abbot Petronios and the brethren of the monastery buried the Patriarch. By Greek custom the Saint was buried in a sitting position in full vestments, which is why in Russia they call him "the Sitting". Eight years after his death they uncovered his relics and found them to be incorrupt (only two fingers were missing from the right hand in which he held his staff), even though his clothes and chair had rotted. He was placed in new robes and a shrine was built to him. On February 1, 1662 Saint Athanasios was glorified as a Saint and his feast day was designated as May 2, the Feast of Saint Athanasius the Great. After this event the Saint began to appear in many peoples dreams, blessing, teaching and healing the sick, and many healings took place at the tomb of the Saint. In 1672 news began to spread concerning the miraculous healings through the relics of Saint Athanasios, and eventually reached Moscow. To investigate the matter, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich immediately sent to the Ukraine the clerk M. Savin. Learning of four cases of miracles, Savin returned to the Tsar and made his report.

In 1922 Bolsheviks were in power and Commissar Sereda came from Kharkov with a letter from Petrovsky to remove the coffin on which Saint Athanasios was seated which was made of pure silver. In response, people not only in Luben, but also in other regions of Poltava threw themselves into the monastery so as not to allow the atheists to approach the Saint's relics. Surrounding the church was a ring of tens of thousands of people. The church services went on around the clock, the priests succeeded each other every 3-4 hours, and people arrived daily. Then the authorities began military exercises in the monastery with machine-guns and artillery fire and shouting "Hurrah", sending up to 3,000 soldiers and cadets, but the maneuvers were unable to disperse the people. The monks put the relics of Saint Athanasios in a wooden coffin, and the silver coffin was taken to Kharkov by the atheists.

The relics of holy Patriarch Athanasios, glorified by numerous miracles and signs, rest in the city of Kharkov, in the Annunciation Cathedral church till this day.

Annunciation Cathedral (early 20th century)

Annunciation Cathedral

Interior of Annunciation Cathedral in 1903

Shrine of St. Athanasios

An icon of Saint Athanasios from 1809