September 18, 2015

Saint Romylos of Ravanica (+ 1375)

St. Romylos (Feast Day - September 18)

By Fr. Makarios of Simonopetra

Saint Romylos was born in 1300 in the Danubian town of Vidin to pious parents, a Greek [Roman] father and a Bulgarian mother. In holy Baptism he was named Rajko [‘Man of Paradise’]. From his early years he displayed a desire for learning and his teachers, amazed at his wisdom and prudence, called him ‘child elder’. When he became a man, in order to avoid the marriage his parents had planned for him, he departed in secret to a monastery in the region of Trnovo. There, after the canonical testing, he was clothed in the small schema with the name Romanos, and served with great reverence in the church as ecclesiarch.

At the same time Saint Gregory of Sinai (Apr. 6) withdrew with his disciples from the Holy Mountain and came to reside at Paroria (Strandzha), at the Byzantine-Bulgarian border. When Romanos heard about this teacher of noetic prayer and the hesychastic life, he asked for a blessing from his abbot to place himself under his guidance. He took with him another brother, Hilarion.

Saint Gregory received them with great joy and, since Romanos was powerful, with a strong constitution, he assigned to him the hardest and most burdensome duties, which he fulfilled with absolute obedience. He hauled wood and rocks from the mountain, water from the river which flowed in the foothills, and prepared clay for the dwellings. At the same time he served in the kitchen and the cellar of the monastery and had the care of the infirm brothers. The nursing of one aged monk was entrusted to him, sick and cranky, who because of his illnesses had to eat only fresh fish. Romanos served that difficult elder with wondrous meekness and long-suffering, and fished in the river for him. In wintertime, when the water was frozen, he would brake the ice and with bare feet in the frigid water he would fish with a net. In this way Romanos became a martyr in will, since he sacrificed his life at each moment for the love of neighbor.

With the death of the sick elder and of Saint Gregory, Romanos, whom everyone called ‘Kaloromanos’ [‘Good Romanos’], submitted together with Hilarion to another elder. Bandits, however, who pillaged in those parts and tyrannized the monks, obliged them to withdraw to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, where their elder soon reposed.

From that time Romanos submitted to Hilarion, because he was greater in years. When the Bulgarian Tsar John Alexander (1331-1371) prosecuted the bandits, they returned to the desert quietude of Paroria, in order to converse with God through noetic prayer. By the virtues, which had become to them second nature, and unceasing prayer Romanos was vouchsafed by God to receive many gifts, particularly the gift of ever-flowing tears.

Later with the blessing of Hilarion he withdrew into perfect solitude, in order to indulge without distraction in divine visions. Since he lived for many years in this way, he was clothed in the great schema with the name Romylos. The Turks however in their raids destroyed the monastery, and Saint Romylos with his disciple Gregory fled to the Holy Mountain, where they settled at Melana, near the Great Lavra. The Athonite monks soon recognized his virtues and visited him for the profit of their souls. They cut off however his beloved hesychia, and he was obliged to withdraw to a more secluded cell, in the foothills of Athos.

At that time, after the defeat of the Serbo-Bulgarian general John Uglesha by the Ottomans and his death at the Battle of the Hebrus (also know as the Battle of Maritsa [or Chernomen], 1371), there followed the invasion of irregular Ottoman troops into Thrace and Macedonia. Then many monks, fearful of the general insecurity of the times, left the Holy Mountain. Thus spurred on, Saint Romylos too departed to Avlona [Valona or Vlorë], Alabania. During the time that he lived there he reformed the perverted morals of the inhabitants and taught them the true Faith, because they had departed far from Christianity. Longing however for hesychia, he departed for the Monastery of the Theotokos, at Ravanica in Serbia. This place was his final earthly residence, because after a little time he went to the Lord. His tomb, in which his disciples placed his much-exercised body, gives off an unspeakable fragrance, for it continually produces many miracles and healings for those who approach in faith.

From The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, vol. 1.

Spiritual Counsels of Saint Romylos

My brothers and fathers, let us keep a pure conscience toward our neighbor, and let us preserve a heart pure from evil thoughts which tend to corrupt the miserable soul. But we cannot obtain this unless we have the soul’s three parts according to nature. I speak of these three parts: Reasonable, Spirited and Appetitive. For the all-good God has put these things into the soul of man, just as if they were a fortress or citadel, so that man, using them according to nature and as it pleases God, may live his life peacefully and without passion, as our holy fathers instructed us through their wise and holy teaching and even more so through their deeds.

The Theologian said to set your spirit only against the Serpent through which you fell. Direct all your desires toward God, not toward anything treacherous or perilous. Let reason preside over all, and do not let the better be drawn down by the worse. Rather, whenever we arm the Spirit against its perceptible enemies, that is, against demons or passions, as the holy man said, but also against all those things which go contrary to the salvation of the soul, then we act according to nature. In this way we are able to love God and our neighbor with our entire soul as the Holy Gospel teaches (Mk 12:30-31).

When Reason moves contrary to nature, we grow angry with our brothers, giving precedence to an earthly desire within us, hedonism perhaps, or glory or greed. Hence, there arises anger, vindictiveness, envy of one's neighbor and, in the end the product of envy, murder.

And when we preserve the Appetite according to nature and as it was given to us by God, we eagerly desire the eternally good things which no eye has ever seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of impassioned and bodily man conceived, and which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9). And for these things we endure all bodily and spiritual suffering, undertaking with delight such virtuous acts as fasting, vigilance, poverty, purity of the body, and incessant prayer. To put it simply, day and night we practice everything which contributes to the salvation of the soul. When the Appetite moves contrary to nature and in a beastly fashion, we behave most irrationally, as the Scriptures say: “But man abideth not in honor: He is like the beasts that perish” (Ps 48:12). And from this we desire earthly and ephemeral things, luxury and glory, gold and silver, and the impurity which comes from them, and because of these we grow angry with men, as it has been said, and going astray we are always vindictive.

Since Reason, which is the rational part of the soul, was set over everything to preside over them as if it was the ruler, when it guards the gift: given to it by God according to His image and likeness, man lives his life always thinking good things. He chants and prays, he studies and reads, and his delight lies in the law of the Lord (Ps 1:2), day and night, thinking good things about every pious man. But if Reason should turn aside from the better things, need one speak of what irrationality fills man? Talkativeness, slander, abuse and all kinds of sinful acts will dominate the insensibility of his reason, even if one, in his insensibility, believes that he is living sinlessly.

He who has the said three parts of the soul according to nature possesses a safe and sound conscience which indicates good and evil to him, like a natural law given to man from the beginning. And it advises man to preserve good and to throw off evil. Because of this we will be (rewarded for our good deeds and) justly punished for the evil ones as rational and free men. Therefore, every demonic assault customarily attacks these three things. We are not blamed because of the attack; rather, we receive a reward from God for being virtuous if we, from the beginning, cast away the seeds sown by the devil. But if we, from the first assault, accept these hostile seeds, we will come to an alliance with the devil, and from there to a pact. From this we are led to evil acts, and therefore we shall be justly condemned, as has been foretold.

Prayer to Saint Romylos by His Disciple Gregory of Constantinople

O father of fathers, adornment of ascetics, trainer of solitaries and fairest nursling of the desert, summit of quietude and ardent worker of contrition, observer of the divine and author of wonders, endlessly intercede, as a most true servant and friend of God, for the peace and health of the pious emperors and the entire Christian people, and for this flock in which your precious remains lie, for those who dwell in it and all those who attend your holy coffin. Moreover, I beseech you to intercede for me your unworthy servant (and if in something I caused you sorrow as a man, disregard it and be forgiving, imitating the philanthropic and merciful God), and for those who served your greatness in body, so that we may, through your mediation and welcome entreaties, obtain the mercy and favor of Christ our God, to whom belongs all glory, honor and worship, along with His eternal Father and the all­-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and forever, for all eternity. Amen.

For a translation of the complete Greek Life of Saint Romylos by his disciple, Gregory of Constantinople, see here.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The streams of thy tears made fertile the barren wilderness, and thy deep sighing from thy struggles produced fruit a hundred-fold, as thou becamest a star of the universe sparkling with miracles, O our Father Romylos; therefore, pray to Christ God to save our souls.

Kontakion in the First Tone
O Holy Father Romylos, jewel of the Holy Mountain, pillar of true Orthodoxy, divine follower of Venerable Gregory, and glory of Ravanica, come and heal us who in faith run to thee, for we celebrate thy memory in love.