July 5, 2010

Saint Athanasios of Athos and the Panagia Economissa

St. Athanasios of Athos and Panagia Economissa (Feast Day - July 5)

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Athanasios was born in Trebizond of God-fearing parents. He became orphaned at an early age but, by the Providence of God, a commander took him under his care and brought him to Constantinople to be educated. Because of his meekness and humbleness, he was the favorite of his peers.

During the children's games, the children chose one to be an emperor, one a commander and Athanasios as abbot as though it was some kind of foretelling!

Having completed his education, Athanasios (who before tonsuring was called Abraham) withdrew into the desert of Maleinos near Athos, the Holy Mountain, where he lived the life of an ascetic as a disciple of the then renowned Michael Maleinos.

Desiring a more difficult life of mortification, Athanasios settled on Holy Mount Athos to live in silence (the life of a hesychast). But many who were desirous of a life of asceticism began to gather around him and, therefore, he was compelled to build his famous Lavra. In that, he was assisted by the Byzantine emperors: at first, Nikephorus Phocas, who himself thought to withdraw and to become a monk and, after him, John Tzimiskes.

Countless temptations befell Athanasios both from demons and from men but he, as a brave soldier of Christ, resisted and conquered all by his immeasurable meekness and continual prayer to the Living God.

Filled with the Grace of God, Athanasios was made worthy to see the All-holy Birth-giver of God who miraculously brought forth water from a rock and promised that she would also be the abbess [Economissa, the one in charge of the provisions of the monastery].

In work and in prayer, Athanasios surpassed his brethren and loved all with the love of a spiritual father and shepherd.

Death came to Athanasios unexpectedly. At one time, he with six other monks, climbed upon a newly built vestibule of the church to inspect the wall which was being constructed and the wall caved in on them and buried them. Thus, this great beacon of monasticism died in the year 980 A.D.

Many times following his death Athanasios appeared to his brethren either to comfort them or to reprimand them.

Reflection on the Miracle of the Panagia Economissa

By striking the rod, how did Moses bring forth water from the rock? How did God send down manna from heaven and feed the people of Israel in the wilderness? Thus ask all those who have a very weak conception of the might of the Omnipotent God. And still they are perplexed why such miracles do not take place again in order that all peoples may believe in God. But the Israelites, with their own eyes, witnessed countless miracles of God and still they did not believe. Meanwhile, God repeats the old great miracles wherever and whenever it is needed.

One time, when a famine ensued in the Lavra of Athanasios, all of the brethren dispersed wherever. Dejected, Athanasios began to move about and to seek out another place. A lady on the road asked him: "Where are you going?"

"Who are you?" Athanasios asked bewildered because he sees a woman on the Holy Mountain, where access to women is not permitted.

"I am she to whom you have dedicated your community. I am the Mother of your Lord."

Athanasios said: "I am afraid to trust you, for even demons can manifest themselves into angels of light. With what shall you prove to me the truthfulness of your words?"

Then the Holy Birth-giver of God said to him: "Strike your rod upon this rock and you will know who I am that speaks to you. Know that I am always remaining the Abbess - Economissa of your Lavra."

Athanasios then struck the rock with his rod. At that moment the rock shook and cracked as thunder and water gushed forth from the shattered rock. Frightened, Athanasios turned so as to prostrate before the Holy All-pure One but She had already vanished. He returned to his Lavra and even to his greater amazement, found all the barns (storehouses) overflowing with wheat.

Here, then, is a repetition of the great miracles by which the miracles of old are confirmed and by which the faithful are strengthened in the Faith.


On Mount Athos, a Lavra glows,
Wondrous monastery of Athanasios
One thousand years have slid by it
But the spirit and bread did not run out
It was neither lacking in spirit or bread
Nor the glowing vision of God's heaven.
Thus it was written in books of old:
About the Lavra, the Abbess - Economissa worries,
Mount Athos is her state,
The most fortified wall of Orthodoxy;
That mystical Abbess - Economissa
Is it not the All-pure Birth-giver of God?
The Lavra, She upholds and Iveron feeds,
And Hilandari protects and Rusikon defends,
Karakallou and Zographou, Simonpetra,
And Pantokratora, all She protects
Those fortifications, to Her citizens they belong
But peace and defense to all She is.

The Economissa (or Stewardess) Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos depicts the Mother of God seated on a throne, with Her Son on her left knee. St Athanasios of Mt Athos (July 5) stands on her right, holding a model of the Great Lavra. On her left is St Michael of Synnada (May 23). Two angels hold a crown above her head.

To this day, the Lavra does not have a steward. There is, however, a monk who serves as an assistant steward (“para-oikonomos”), to the Mother of God. The Economissa Icon rests on a throne in the narthex of the main church, and She remains the Stewardess of the Lavra. Pilgrims venerate the Icon, which shows in all 14 figures with a connection with the Monastery and its foundation, before entering the side chapel with the saint's tomb.

The spring of St Athanasios still flows with healing water.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
The Angels' ranks were awed by thy life in the flesh, how, though corporeal, and clad with earthly clay, thou didst set forth with courage to invisible wars and wrestlings and didst boldly smite the hordes of the demons with mortal wounds. Wherefore, Christ rewarded thee with abundant gifts in return. Entreat Him that our souls find salvation, O most renowned Father Athanasios.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
The yoke of thy Christ, thou tookest on thyself with faith, while bearing thy cross upon thy shoulders as a true and unrivalled emulator of His dread Passion and sharer of His great glory, partaking of divine and unending joy, O Athanasios.