February 14, 2017

Saint Auxentios of the Mountain (+ 470)

St. Auxentios of Mount Auxentios in Bithynia (Feast Day - February 14)


The mountain of Auxentios is like Carmel,
Where he appeared like Elias save for death.
On the fourteenth Auxentios shed this life.

Saint Auxentios was of Persian parentage but born in Syria, where his father had emigrated during the persecution of Shapur II. He came to Constantinople in the reign of Theodosius II (408-50) and obtained a commission in the imperial guard. Held in high-regard by the Emperor and by all his contemporaries on account of his piety and integrity, he enjoyed the friendship of men illustrious for their virtues and ascesis including Saint Marcian -- the future Steward of the Great Church (10 Jan.) -- Anthimos and Sittas, with whom he spent his days in fasting and prayer and nights in vigils, their faces wet with tears. They participated as often as they could in vigils at the Church of Saint Irene, which had been built by Saint Marcian, and they frequently went to the Hebdomon district to receive the counsels of John, a well-known stylite.

As his holy life and early miracles brought him fame, Saint Auxentios withdrew from the clamor of the world and even from his friends. Resigning his commission in the guards, he enlisted in the ranks of the angelic army and made his way to Mount Oxeia, where he lived in complete obscurity, clad like Saint John the Baptist in a garment of animal hair. He was eventually discovered by some children whose sheep had strayed. Their flock was found by a miracle and, in gratitude, the parents of the young shepherds built a cell for the ascetic near the mountain top. However, Saint Auxentios fixed up a small shed outside in which he enclosed himself, and attended to spiritual prayer granting no comfort to his body.

Visitors flocked in ever larger numbers to the Saint to seek direction from him or to obtain healing through his prayer. Saint Auxentios would communicate with them at set times through a small window, and he always began conversations by inviting them to give glory to God. The rest of the time they were free to listen outside to the prayers or readings with which he was occupied within. Tried and tested as he was by a ruthless daily struggle against the devil, he had acquired the power of driving him out from the possessed people who came to ask for the help of his prayers. Thus, after three days of incessant combat, he freed a girl who had been possessed as a result of her father's unbelief. On another occasion, he healed a blind lady from Nicomedia by touching her eyes while saying, 'May Christ the True Light heal you!' Many similar miracles were wrought by God at the prayer of His servant.

He was accused of heresy but was exonerated at the Synod of Chalcedon in 451, to which he had been invited by the emperor. Familiar with Holy Scripture and learned in theology, Saint Auxentios easily bested those opponents who disputed with him. Afterward he established a new hermitage atop Mount Skopas, in Bithynia, about 12km from Chalcedon. (This mountain is today called Kayışdağ in the Kadiköy subprovince of Constantinople/Istanbul, and following the repose of the Saint it became known as Mount Saint Auxentios. The hill was thickly wooded and later became a place of many hermitages and monasteries. The Monastery of Saint Auxentios was destroyed in 760 by Iconoclasts. No remains from the late Roman period have been identified today on Mount Auxentios.)

He wrote some concise hymns which united beauty of expression with usefulness to the soul, and he instructed visitors from Roufianes or from farther afield to chant them. (These are the first troparia and the earliest elements of the hymnography of the Church). He would often exhort pilgrims until evening on the practice of the virtues and on renunciation of the vain pleasures of the body.

One Saturday, he opened the window of his shed to inform the company outside that the great pillar of the Church, Saint Symeon the Stylite (1 Sept.), had just died. When news of the Stylite's decease finally arrived from Antioch, the announcement of Saint Auxentios was confirmed to the very day and hour.

Among those who came to see the Saint was one of the Empress Pulcheria's ladies-in-waiting. She had often begged him to clothe her in the monastic schema; and finally he submitted to the will of God and directed her to a place at the foot of the mountain where she would be able to practice the ascetic life. She was soon joined by other women of all classes to the number of seventy, so that Saint Auxentios had to build a church and establish a Monastery for them. It was called Trichinaria (from trikhinos, 'or hair') probably because of the rough tunics that Saint Auxentios made them wear. Every Friday and Sunday, the nuns would come up the mountain to the Saint, who would exhort them to persevere in the contest of virginity, not only of the body but above all of the soul. Sometimes he would go down to them, negotiating the steep path to the Monastery with a youthful agility which belied his old age and infirmities.

He had been down to the convent one day to look over some new buildings and had sent up fervent prayers for God's blessing on the community. On returning to his little shed, he fell ill and few days later (14 February 470) he was carried off to heaven.

A great crowd from the deserts and the cities gathered for his funeral. The monks of Saint Hypatios sought possession of his honorable, grace-bearing holy relics but they were finally committed to the care of his spiritual daughters.

Sozomen commended Saint Auxentios as follows: "Auxentius was noted for his very faithful piety, his zeal for his friends, the moderation of his life, his love of letters, and the greatness of his attainments in pagan and ecclesiastical literature. He was modest and retiring in deportment, although admitted to familiarity with the emperor and the courtiers, and possessed of a very illustrious appointment. His memory is still revered by the monks and zealous men, who were all acquainted with him" (Eccl. Hist. 7.21).

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Like a date palm thou didst grow in spiritual stature, and bring forth fruits to nourish our souls, O Father Auxentios; thou didst live a holy life and become a foundation of the Church and a miracle-worker. Thou dost ever pray that our souls may find mercy.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
With the waters of abstinence thou didst gloriously blossom, like a fruitful olive tree amongst the righteous. Thou didst deny the world's deception, and become a heaven-filled vessel of light. Wherefore thou dost enlighten by thy holiness those who honour thee, O Father Auxentios.