August 17, 2015

Saint Elias the New of Sicily (+ 903)

St. Elias the New (Feast Day - August 17)

Saint Elias was born in Enna, Sicily in 823 where he was given the name Giovanni. His anonymous biographer reports that at the age of twelve he wisely taught those who were older than him, having himself the mind of an old man, and they listened to him like a prophet. His childhood coincided with the first period of the Arab occupation of Sicily, and he himself suffered its disturbance.

Twice he was captured as a prisoner, once in a Saracen raid and another time by Hagarenes who sold him to someone that transported him to Africa, to Tunisia and Algeria. There he was resold to a wealthy tanner, who held him in honor and trusted him. Then the life of Giovanni seems to imitate the life of Joseph in the Old Testament. John refused to give in to the invitations of the wife of his master and this caused a conspiracy against him. The injustice was corrected when the master caught his wife with another man. Therefore he payed for his release, and leaving that house he went to live alone in prayer.

He decided to go to Palestine to receive the monastic schema. He arrived in the Holy City in April 878, and Patriarch Elias of Jerusalem dressed him in the monastic schema giving him the name Elias.

From there he visited the places of the Holy Land and Mount Sinai, where he remained as a monastic for three years. From Mount Sinai he went to Alexandria, then to Persia in order to venerate at the place where the Three Youths and the Prophet Daniel struggled. Due to a barbaric revolution, however, he had to change course and went to Antioch. There he was informed from above that he was to return to his homeland to construct an ascetic arena. On his return he passed through Africa and came to Sicily to Panormo (Palermo). Going to the city of Taormina, he was approached by an illustrious young man who asked him to make him a monk. Elias foresaw that he was going to excel in the monastic life, so he received him and changed his name to Daniel. Elias was then informed that the city would suffer much at the hands of the Hagarenes, so he departed with his faithful disciple Daniel and came to the Peloponnese. From there he went to Laconia in Sparta where they lived as ascetics where the Monastery of the Holy Unmercenaries is today.

Mount Saint Elias is in the background

Then they went to Buthrotum in Epirus where they risked hard punishment due to slander, so they fled to Kerkyra, and from there to Calabria where they established their ascetic dwelling in 884 on Mount Aulinas (now Mount Saint Elias).

With the invasion of Arabs in Reggio the Saint left his monastery for Patras, but then returned to Calabria. where he lived till he reached old age and attained such fame that he was known in Constantinople, to which he was invited by the emperor Leo the Wise (886-912). Foreseeing his end he informed Daniel that they would undertake the journey, but would not arrive to behold the emperor. Therefore they departed Calabria for Constantinople going through Nafpaktos and then on to Thessaloniki. There he became ill and gave Daniel his final words of advice. The venerable Elias reposed at the age of eighty on the 17th of August in 903. His body remained in Thessaloniki for ten months, and before the fall of the city on July 7, 904 which he foretold, he was brought to his monastery in Palmi. This monastery no longer exists. He is called Saint Elias the New to distinguish him from the Prophet Elias in the Old Testament.

Apoytikion in the First Tone
The boast of monastics bearing the same name as the Tishbite, who appeared from Sicily and lived as an ascetic in Laconia, a converser with the Physicians, you saved us from temptations, divinely foreseeing the betrayal, let us praise Elias: Glory to Christ Who glorified you, Glory to Him Who worked wonders through you, Glory to Him Who through you heals all things.