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May 8, 2017

Saint Arsenios Varnakovites, Founder of Varnakova Monastery (+ 1111)

St. Arsenios of Varnakova (Feast Day - May 8)


With the zeal of Angels, you built Arsenios,
A fold for the Virgin with unwearied labor.

Saint Arsenios the Varnakovites was born in the first half of the 11th century in the village of Karyes of the prefecture of Phokida. He was the founder of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Varnakova in the year 1077, on a small hill which lies within a vast forest of oaks and wild chestnuts. This monastery was built nearby where Saint Arsenios had lived as an ascetic in a cave, but after gathering a number of disciples it soon evolved into a monastery. The primary feast day of the monastery is September 8th, when we celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos, since the central church of the monastery is dedicated to the Nativity of the Theotokos. The Komneni emperors of Byzantium assisted the monastery financially and granted it extensive holdings in the Mornos valley, stretching as far as the sea and islands in the Gulf of Corinth. The Komnenoi emperors Alexios, John and Emmanuel are considered to be benefactors and founders of the monastery as well, and their tombs were discovered underneath the floor of the inner narthex in 1919 and the monastery has kept the grave-stones. Saint Arsenios reposed in peace in the year 1111, and was succeeded by his disciple Timothy as abbot.

After the repose of Saint Arsenios, his disciples made his original cave, located northwest of the monastery, into a chapel. By doing this, they made it into an eternal place of prayer. The altar is deep in the cave, and you must descend fifteen steps to get to it, while the rest of the cave consists of the chapel. The cave is in a beautiful place with a stunning view, and it is a place of silence and serenity.

The Monastery itself played a significant role in the history of the region and of the people. Among its many abbots was Saint David of Evia. Unfortunately in January 2017, fire broke out in the boiler room and quickly spread throughout the entire monastery. Eleven fire trucks showed up to quickly extinguish the fire, but not before it caused considerable damage, including to the monastery’s archives. Thankfully, all the brothers managed to evacuate the monastery and saved their miraculous icon of the Theotokos.

In the village of Velliani of Paramythia, there is another cave that is said to have belonged to Saint Arsenios. Whether or not this is the same Saint Arsenios is not known, however locals do celebrate his feast on May 8th. (The cave photos below are of this cave.)

Miracles of Saint Arsenios

1. George Theocharopoulos informs us that when he was nine years old, before World War 2, and he lived in the village of Karyes with his mother, he became very sick and died in his mother's arms. With deep sorrow and tears his mother laid his dead body on the ground, and turned towards the Chapel of Saint Arsenios, to whom she prayed with tears:

"Saint Arsenios, I have no one to help me. I'm alone, help me, and save my child."

As soon as she finished her prayer, the child began to breathe, then he stood up and walked.

Years later, in his old age, George recalled with emotion:

"My mother constantly told me about this miracle of the Saint."

2. In the cave of the Saint there is holy water, and one time John Andreopoulos, who was blind, washed his eyes with this holy water. Immediately after this, he was cured of his blindness and was able to see. With gratitude he would confess this miracle of the Saint.

3. A miracle was narrated by a shepherd of the area, who said that the Saint rescued him from certain death, preventing him from using his gun when he was out hunting, after he forgot that he had placed a napkin in the barrel of the gun while he was cleaning it. If he had used it before he realized this, the gun would have exploded in his face.

4. Another miracle takes place every year on the feast of the Saint on May 8th in his cave. During the Divine Liturgy, at the edge of the Holy Altar, holy water drips from a rock. And as soon as the Divine Liturgy is completed, the water stops dripping. Everyone in attendance sees this.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Lover of quitude and builder of Varnakova, the bright torch of piety, and unyoked leader, let us the faithful honor Arsenios, imitating his pure love for the Lord, and with honey-sweet hymns let us cry out: Glory to Christ Who glorified you, glory to Him Who crowned you, glory to Him Who grants the faithful through you fervent healing.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Beautified by the beauty of your asceticism, and purified by the streams of your tears, you were seen to be a solitary and decorous lamp, shining with the fire of your virtues, most-sacred ascetic of Varnakova, to those who cry: Rejoice blessed Arsenios.

Rejoice, you who by prayer and fasting, approached the heights, and made it difficult to look at your face by your virtues, rejoice most-divine builder of Varnakova, the glorious fold, O blessed Arsenios.