January 13, 2011

Saint Maximos the Hut-Burner (+ 1365)

St. Maximus of Kavsokalyva, or the Hut-Burner (Feast Day - January 13)


Maximos surpassed all in virtue,
Although in time he labored now he is in the eschaton.

Saint Maximos Kavsokalyvites was educated at the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos at Lampsakos. At seventeen years of age he left his parental home, became a monk, and passed his obedience under Elder Mark, the finest spiritual instructor in Macedonia. After the death of his teacher, the Saint pursued asceticism under the guidance of several desert fathers of extremely strict life. Arriving in Constantinople, Maximos was constantly at the Blachernae Church of the Most Holy Theotokos, as though he had taken up his abode at the entrance.

From his youth, Maximos had a great love for the Mother of God. He persistently entreated her to grant him the gift of unceasing noetic prayer. One day, as he was venerating her icon, he felt a warmth and a flame enter his heart from the icon. It did not burn him, but he felt a certain sweetness and contrition within. From that time, his heart began to repeat the Jesus Prayer continuously. In this way, the Virgin Theotokos fulfilled his request.

Saint Maximos fulfilled his obedience in the Great Lavra of Saint Athanasios on Mount Athos. In order to conceal his ascetic deeds of fasting and prayer, and to avoid celebrity, he behaved like a fool. One day, he had a vision of the Mother of God, who told him to ascend the mountain. On the summit of the Holy Mountain, he prayed for three days and nights. Again, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to him surrounded by angels, and holding her divine Son in her arms.

Prostrating himself, the Saint heard the All-Holy Virgin speak to him, "Receive the gift against demons... and settle at the foot of Athos, for this is the will of my Son." She told him that he would ascend the heights of virtue, and become a teacher and guide for many. Then, since he had not eaten for several days, a heavenly bread was given to him. As soon as he put it in his mouth, he was surrounded by divine light, and he saw the Mother of God ascending into Heaven.

Saint Maximos told his vision to a certain Elder living by the Church of the Holy Prophet Elias at Carmel. He was skeptical, but the Saint turned his disbelief to belief. He pretended to be slightly crazy in order to conceal his prodigious ascetic deeds, privations, his hardship and solitude. Maximos did not live in a permanent abode, but wandered from place to place like a lunatic. Whenever he moved, he would burn his hut down. Therefore, he was called "Kavsokalyvites," or "Hut Burner."

Those on the Holy Mountain, knowing of the extreme deprivations and sorrows of Maximos, for a long time regarded him with contempt, even though he had attained the height and perfection of spiritual life. When Saint Gregory of Sinai (August 8) arrived on Athos, he encountered the holy fool. After speaking to him, he began to call him an earthly angel. Saint Gregory persuaded Saint Maximos to stop behaving like a fool and to live in one place so that others might benefit from his spiritual experience. Heeding the words of Saint Gregory and the advice of other Elders, Saint Maximos selected a permanent dwelling in a cave near the renowned Elder Isaiah.

Knowing of his gift of clairvoyance, the Roman Emperors John Palaiologos (1341-1376) and John Kantakouzenos (1341-1355) visited him and were surprised by the fulfillment of his predictions. Theophanes, the abbot of Vatopaidi Monastery, wrote about Maximos: "I invoke God as my witness, that I myself saw several of his miracles. Once, for instance, I saw him travel through the air from one place to another. I listened as he made a prediction concerning me, that first I would be an abbot, and then Metropolitan of Ochrid. He even revealed to me how I would suffer for the Church."

Saint Maximos abandoned his solitude only just before his death, and settled near the Great Lavra of Saint Athanasios, where he surrendered his soul to the Lord at 95 years of age in the year 1365. After his death, as in life, Saint Maximos was glorified by many miracles.

St. Maximos of Kapsokalyvia

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

In the fourteenth century, Maximos led an ascetical life as a monk on Mt. Athos in his own unique way. That is to say, he pretended to be a little crazy and constantly changed his dwelling place. His place of abode consisted of a hut made from branches. He built these huts one after the other and then burned them, for this he was called Kapsokalivitos, i.e., "hut-burner". He was considered insane until the arrival of St. Gregory Sinaites to Mt. Athos, who discovered in Maximos a unique ascetic, a wonder-working intercessor and "an angel in the flesh." He died in the Lord in the year 1320 A.D.


Prayer in the heart beats as a heart,
Prayer in the heart, together with breathing,
Internal prayer, the light from within,
On Athos, was manifested by Maximos.
As a spirit without a body, Maximos was uplifted,
From prayer, completely radiated with light;
From prayer, was filled with joy
From prayer, was filled with satisfaction
Through prayer, saw the heavens opened.
Through prayer, the human being was glorified,
By prayer, felt the nearness of Christ,
The Holy All-Pure One openly appeared to him.
With heaven the soul of Maximos was sated.
Gregory of Sinai once asked him:
"Tell me, O righteous Maximos, from where do you know
That you have good and not evil visions,
And that all of these are not illusions of the devil,
False temptations and Satan's deceptions?"
"From this, I know," says he, "that they are not lies,
That these visions, the spirit and body console,
That my spirit always yearns after them
That, from the sign of the cross, they will not vanish,
By sweet joy, a temptation, I know it is not,
By blessed joy that warms me completely."

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
From your mother’s womb, O Venerable Maximos, you were chosen as a treasury by God, were made worthy of the divine darkness as Moses, and to see things far off as Samuel; you are the divine wonder of Athos, the initiate of the Theotokos, O Father, who intercedes for us.