June 13, 2013

Saint Anna of Larissa and Her Son John


Mother and son, Anna and John,
Both appeared to be inhabitants of Heaven.

In the Middle Byzantine period, 9th century to mid-10th century, we have yet another holy figure of the city of Larissa, Venerable Anna and her son John. The life of Saint Anna came from the Director of State Archives, Mr. Stavros Galoulis, from Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1558 (ff. 71v-73r), which is a Menaion for June from the 16th century. Her memory is celebrated on June 13th. In the Synaxaria Selecta of the Church of Constantinople it is written: "Our Venerable Mother Anna and her son John." St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite writes in his Synaxaristes: "On this day our Venerable Mother Anna and her son John. Mother and Son, Anna and John; they both appeared dwelling in heaven." It goes on to give a narrative from Paul of Monemvasia (10th cent.) from his work A Narrative of Virtuous and Godly Men and Women. Lastly, her life is also included in the New Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church for the month of June.

The occasion for the writing of the Life as told by Mark, founder of a monastery in Constantinople, was a meeting he had with a hieromonk and all that this hieromonk confided in him regarding this Saint. This hieromonk traveled by sea from Rome to Constantinople. The ship that carried him was forced at one point, because of the winds, to stop at an uninhabited island of the Adriatic. The hieromonk took advantage of this forced docking of the ship to walk around the island.

He had not gone far when, as the same confessed, he saw the "shadow of a naked person" telling him: "Man of God, if you wish to see my insignificance and to accord my humility the benefit of your prayers, throw me one of your garments; for I am a woman and naked, as you can see. It would be quite improper for me to show myself to your priestly perfection." The hieromonk obeyed the wishes of the Saint and offered her a garment. Then the Saint turned towards the East, knelt, and upon getting up she thanked God for making her worthy to meet a priest. The hieromonk did not lose the opportunity to ask who she was: "Where are you from, my lady? How did you come here and how long have you been living on this island?" The Saint willingly responded to this question: "I am from the country of Greece, most worthy Father, from the city of Larissa, the daughter of poor parents. When they died and left me an orphan, one of the ruling class took pity on me and received me into his house. He nourished me and raised me with care as though I were his own daughter. When I came of age that Christ-loving man married me to his only son as his wife, paying no attention to my poverty and lowly birth."

The choice of the husband for his bride was not favorable to his relatives and friends. Their reactions to the marriage with a poor and insignificant woman was fierce. He, of course, tried in every way to repel it. He would say: "I am pleased with whatever my holy father has done for me. Since he raised her and knew her to be of great value and beauty, his first considerations were not riches and noble birth, but virtue which is attractive to God; and that is what he gave me." His relatives continued to revile him daily. Anna, seeing her husband suffering, decided to leave secretly. In this way she departed Larissa, "taking nothing but the clothes I stood in," and "with God's guidance," as she says, "I came to this island - without having realized that I was pregnant."

Nobody was beside her to support her. Her son was born on the deserted island of the Adriatic. She says: "When the nine months had passed I gave birth to a male child. I cut up the clothes I was wearing to make swaddling clothes for him and I raised him.... The child is now thirty years old and naked, as am I. Everyday, together with me, he offers hymns to God with his thoughts turned toward heaven, himself a reflection of divine beauty. Every day I have implored God to have mercy on my humility and to send a priest to illuminate my son by holy baptism." For this reason she pleads with the hieromonk: "I beseech your holiness, Reverend Father, go back to the ship and bring your priestly vestments and some bread to illuminate my son, and to celebrate the Liturgy so that you can permit us to communicate of the worthy and honorable body and blood of Christ our God."

From this pious priest she also asked the following: "I ask this also of your holiness: that you would bring a tunic for my son to put on after holy baptism, and also that you not tell anybody about me." Upon hearing this, the hieromonk made a prostration and went to the ship to prepare for the Mystery of Baptism and Holy Communion without telling anyone anything. She waited for him and in turn led him to the place where her son was found. She asked her son to appear before the priest of God, saying: "Come out, child, and reverence the one who has come to illumine you." Her son obeyed, and having appeared he reverenced the priest. The priest did the same to him.

At a nearby spring the hieromonk catechized and baptized the son, giving him, according to the Synaxaria Selecta and the Synaxaristes of St. Nikodemos, the name John. The Narrative of Paul of Monemvasia and the New Synaxaristes do not mention the giving of a name following the Mystery of Baptism. Rather, it says in the words of the hieromonk: "When I had celebrated the divine mystery, both of them partook of the spotless body and blood of Christ our God."

As the two holy figures were leaving, St. Anna asked the hieromonk for a final favor: "When you go back to the ship, for the Lord's sake, say nothing of what you have seen. When (with God's help) you return to Constantinople, if you want to speak of what the Lord has revealed to you, then do so; but withhold the [name of the] island, lest by hearing the story, some persons might come and find us." How did the pious hieromonk react? Let us listen to what was said to Paul of Monemvasia: "With tears in my eyes I worshipped the God who works strange and remarkable things beyond number and makes provision for those who seek Him with their whole heart and keep His divine precepts. Thus I returned to the ship and said nothing to a soul until I came back to this great City."

According to the Life in Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1558, Anna and and her son, having thanked the priest, "surrendered their holy souls into the hands of God."

Source: "Μια άγνωστη Λαρισαία Αγία", Περιοδικό Το Τάλαντο, Σεπτέμβριος-Οκτώβριος 2009. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Note: On April 10, 2011, the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent, the Great Hymnographer of the Holy and Great Church of Christ, Fr. Athanasios of Simonopetra, presented to His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatios of Larissa, during Vespers in the Sacred Church of Saint Nicholas in Larissa, the Life of Saint Anna, together with a Service of Praise in honor of St. Anna the Ascetic of Larissa and her son John.