June 26, 2017

Life of our Holy Father David the Dendrite of Thessaloniki (+ 540)

St. David the Dendrite of Thessaloniki (Feast Day - June 26)


With David of old art thou now united, O new David,
For thou didst kill the carnal passions like Goliath. 
On the twenty-sixth, David passed through the gates of life.

David, our Father of great renown, the earthly angel and heavenly man, was born and reared in the east and came to the illustrious and great city of Thessaloniki. Renouncing the world and worldly things, he abandoned friends and relatives, temporal honor and glory, money, possessions, and every other passing joy and even his own life, according to the evangelical exhortation. Following the Master, he took up the Cross from his youth; for his heart was deeply pierced with divine love.

He was tonsured and remained in the Monastery of the Holy Martyrs Theodore and Mercurius, which was known as Koukouliaton, and there he struggled in sacred silence in the a manner surpassing the limits of human nature. He observed every virtue most diligently; above all, he kept the virtues of temperance and humility, knowing well that satiety of the stomach drives away spiritual vigilance and chastity, and that vainglory totally obliterates every virtue. Because of this, like a wise man, he was diligent to acquire humility.

Reading the Sacred Scriptures by day and by night, the venerable one marveled at the virtues of the Saints, both those who were before the Law and those who were after the Law. He observed how God glorified them because they obeyed His commandments and were pleasing to Him as was meet. He made Abel wondrous by his sacrifices, Abraham by his faith, Joseph by his chastity, Job by his patience, He showed forth Moses as Lawgiver, and preserved Daniel and the Three Youths unharmed from the fire and lions. Reflecting upon the examples of these men, the marvelous David was diligent to emulate them with his whole heart and strength, so that, together with them, he might become co-heir of the Heavenly Kingdom.

While reading the lives of the righteous ones who struggled after the saving Incarnation of the Savior and who accomplished such marvelous struggles, he marveled - especially at the life of Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain, and of the other Symeon, with Daniel and Alypios the Stylites, who spent their lives living in the open, without shelter, tormented by the winds, rains, and snows. As he read the lives of these men, he wept and came to such compunction that he decided to undergo a similar life of affliction for as long as he, the ever-memorable one, could, so that he might find rest with the Saints after death.

One day, therefore, he became so fervent with zeal and his heart so filled with compunction, that he climbed up an almond tree that was by the left side of the church. He remained there upon a branch of the tree where he made a small bench as well as he could, and there he struggled in ascetic labors with wondrous patience, tormented by the winds, the rains and the snows, burned by the searing heat of the sun in summer, and suffering many other afflictions. O the fortitude of this much-suffering martyr, that the ever-memorable one should undergo such hardship! The other stylites had some security, for their pillars were constructed and stood fast, and what is more, when they slept or had some other need, the pillars were immobile. But this adamantine man swayed always in the branches of the tree, and never had any repose, but was tormented by the rains and the winds and suffered greatly from the snows.

In enduring all these things, the stouthearted one did not let up in his discipline, neither did he become fainthearted in any way, neither was he overcome by tedium, nor did his angelic face become transformed or changed, but remained as comely as a rose. Indeed, in this thrice-blessed one was there fulfilled that prophetic saying: "The righteous man shall blossom like a palm tree, and like a cedar in Lebanon shall he be multiplied." For in his deeds he too blossomed forth like a palm tree, and rendered unto God an acceptable fruit sweeter and more beneficial than the almond or the date palm. For the tree gives forth corruptible blossoms and fruit for man's delight and enjoyment; but the righteous one gladdened our good God with the fruits of divine vision and a holy life, and he praised and glorified Him unceasingly.

The venerable one had some disciples who were exceedingly pious and Christ-loving, and they labored and toiled together with him in the monastic discipline. Many times they begged and entreated him to come down from the tree so that they could build him a cell he would like, in some quiet place, so that he could guide them and tend them as his sheep and bring them into the pastures of salvation. But he answered saying, "My brethren and children, I am a sinner and an unworthy man; but Christ the Master, the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for His sheep, will protect you from the plots of the devil, and as He is supremely good, He will account you worthy of His Eternal Kingdom. But as for me, as the Lord my God Jesus Christ, the Son of God lives. I will not come down from this tree until three years are accomplished, and even then I will come down only by His command; for if it is not His will, I will never come down from here." When they saw that his mind could not be changed, they did not trouble him any longer in this matter.

When the three years had passed, a holy angel appeared unto him saying, "David, the Lord has heard your supplication and grants unto you this favor for which you have asked many times, that is, that you be humble-minded and modest, and that you fear Him and worship Him with proper reverence. Come down, therefore, from the tree and live in sacred silence in your cell, blessing God until you accomplish one other act of love; then shall you find comfort of soul and rest from bodily travail." During the whole time that the Angel spoke with him, the venerable one listened with fear and trembling. When he that appeared disappeared, the venerable one gave thanks unto God, saying, "Blessed is God who has had mercy on me."

Then calling together his disciples, he revealed the vision and told them to prepare the cell, as the Master had commanded. Straightway they did as they were ordered and they informed the most holy Metropolitan Dorotheos also. The Metropolitan rejoiced to hear these tidings and took the more pious clerics with him. Going up to the venerable one, he kissed him and they brought him down from the tree with great reverence. After the Divine Liturgy, they placed him in his cell and celebrated this great feast. Thus they returned rejoicing and the venerable one remained in his cell struggling in sacred silence. Even as before, he perpetually and ceaselessly blessed the Lord Who had granted him such grace, that he put demons to flight, gave sight to the blind and healed every incurable disease by calling upon the name of Christ. Out of many signs which he did we mention only two or three as proof of the others; for the lion is known from his claws and the cloth from its hem.

A certain youth had a demon, and one day he came to the cell of the venerable one. Standing, therefore, outside the door, he cried out saying, "Release me, O David, servant of the eternal God, for fire comes froth from our cell and burns me." Then the Venerable one stretched forth his hand from a small window and held the youth and said, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, commands you to go forth from His creature, O unclean spirit!" Saying this, he sealed the youth with the sign of the Honorable Cross and immediately the demon went forth from the youth and he became well. On seeing such a marvel, all who were present glorified God Who glorifies those who glorify Him with God-pleasing works.

Whoever had a any illness would come unto him, and no sooner would the Saint lay his right hand upon the sick man when straightway malady would depart and be dispersed, even as darkness is dispersed by the light. Having performed innumerable miracles, he was glorified by men and was revered by all.

After many years, Dorotheos, the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, reposed, and one other Aristides by name - a man equally virtuous - took his place. At that time, great loss and much confusion was caused by the barbarians in the whole of Thessaly. Hence, the eparch of Illyricum wrote to the Metropolitan, asking him to intercede with the Emperor, or to send him to elect an eparch for Thessaloniki, because of the confusion caused by the barbarians; for at the time, there was no eparch in Thessaloniki, but only a locum tenens who was under the eparch of Sirmium. When the most holy Aristides, the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, had read the letter of the eparch in the presence of the clergy and the nobility of the city, he told them to choose a capable and erudite man to send to the Emperor for this matter.

When all, therefore, had gathered in the church, they cried out with one accord that the venerable David should be sent, for the most pious Emperor would reverence him as a virtuous and holy man, and thus would carry out their request. This was done by the dispensation of Divine Providence, that the prophecy of the angel might be fulfilled; for the angel told the venerable one to come down from the tree that he might perform one other act of love also, and then he would depart for the Lord.

The bishop, then, took the most pious clergy and the people and went to the righteous one and told him of the matter and entreated him to go to the Emperor with the aforementioned request. At first, the venerable one excused himself, saying that he could not go because of old age. Afterwards, seeing that all constrained him to go, he agreed so that he might not appear disobedient to the bishop and to the Christ-loving people who were urging him.

The venerable one then remembered the prophecy of the angel, and he said these words to the Metropolitan: "May the Lord's will be done, holy master. Yet, be it known unto you that, through your prayers and with God as my helper, the Emperor will grant me whatever I request of him; but as for David, you will not see him alive again to speak with him. For on my return to you from the palace, when I am yet one-hundred and twenty-six stadia from my poor cell, I shall depart for my Master."

Taking that the venerable one was saying this as an excuse, so that they would not force him to go, the Metropolitan admonished him saying: "Then imitate our Shepherd and Master Who gave Himself over unto death as a man and died for us, give your life for your people that you may receive thanksgiving from men and glory and boundless praise from Christ the Master, as an emulator of His Passion."

Then the thrice-blessed one went forth from his cell and all venerated him; for his countenance was a marvelous sight; the locks of his hair fell down to his belt and his beard down to his feet; his venerable face was handsome and comely, just like Abraham's, and everyone who saw him marveled. He took with him two of his disciples, Theodore and Demetrios; these men were pious and virtuous, and were like David, not only in the comeliness of the soul, but also in that of the body.

When they reached Byzantium, the report of the venerable one was heard throughout the whole city. At that time, the Emperor was the pious Justinian. Since the Emperor was absent when the Saint arrived, the Empress Theodora sent chamberlains and escorts to welcome him and she received him with much honor and reverence. On beholding his radiant and angelic face and his venerable white beard, she marveled and venerated him with much humility, and asked for his prayers and his blessing. The Saint, therefore, prayed for the Emperor, the imperial city and every city. The pious Empress received him with such gladness and with such friendly hospitality that I am not able to describe fully the reverence which the ever-memorable one showed him; for she thought that she had received an angel of the Lord and not a man. When the Emperor returned, the august Empress told him of the venerable one, saying, "The supremely-good God has taken compassion on us, Master, and has sent His angel unto your majesty on this day from the city of Thessaloniki; and in truth, it seemed to me that I saw Abraham."

On the following day, when the whole Senate had gathered, the Emperor gave orders for the venerable one to be brought in. When the Saint entered, he placed live coal and incense in his hands and, together with his disciples, he censed the Emperor and the whole Senate without his hands being burned at all from the fire, even though he took more than an hour censing, until he had censed all the people. All were astonished as they beheld this wonder. Rising from his throne, the Emperor received him gladly and with much reverence, and he, in turn, received the gifts of the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki from the hands of the Saint. The pious and Christ-loving Emperor listened to the Saint's request and voted that the seat of the eparch be changed from Sirmium to Thessaloniki. Not only did he fulfill the written requests of the Thessalonians, but with great willingness, he carried out the venerable one's other requests as well, and, in accordance with the custom, signed them in vermilion. With his own hand, he gave them to the venerable one and told him, "Pray for me, venerable Father." Afterwards, he dismissed him and sent him on his way with a great escort, even as it was meet.

As soon as the venerable one had fulfilled his mission, he set sail to Thessaloniki. But even as he had prophesied, he did not reach the city. When they were passing near a lighthouse he said these words to his disciples: "My children, the time of my end has come. See that you bury my remains in the monastery where I dwelt. Take care for your souls, that you find eternal rest." Saying these and other edifying words, they arrived at the promontory which is called Emvolos, from where his monastery could be seen. He looked towards it and prayed, and after he had kissed his disciples, the thrice-blessed one surrendered his soul to God.

When the venerable one reposed a strong wind was blowing; and though they had been sailing most swiftly, at that very moment, the boat stopped for a long time in spite of the wind (O the wonder!) and did not move at all. Furthermore, there came forth a wondrous fragrance as of indescribable incense, and voices were heard in the air melodiously chanting praises to the Lord. After a long time the voices stopped. Immediately the boat began to sail again, but it did not go to the harbor as usual; but rather it sped to the west side of the city, at the place where the impious had cast the holy relics of Saint Theodoulos and Saint Agathopodos.

When the people heard of the venerable one's repose and arrival, the whole city came forth with the Metropolitan. Carrying his holy relics with much reverence, they came to the monastery, and they made him a coffin of wood in which they placed him and buried him with honor. Afterwards, in accordance with the imperial decree, they changed the seat of the eparch from Sirmium to Thessaloniki. As for the venerable one, his memory was celebrated by all the people each year in the aforementioned monastery.

After 150 years had passed, the abbot of the monastery was a certain virtuous man, Demetrios by name. He had much reverence for the venerable one. Moved by a desire to take a portion of the Saint's holy relics in order to have them for sanctification, he took men and had them begin digging at the grave. Immediately the slab broke into four pieces. Seeing that the Saint did not wish them to go on, the abbot abandoned his plan. A disciple of this abbot, a man named Sergios who likewise became abbot, and through his virtues, later Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, revered the Saint greatly. Many times he besought him in prayer to allow him to take a small portion of his holy relics. When he was informed by God that the Saint agreed to it, he opened the tomb and there came forth a wondrous fragrance. Seeing that the Saint's relics were whole and unharmed he did not dare to take any part except for a few strands of hair from his head and beard. These were kept with care and are kissed on the Saint's feast by the Christ-loving peoples. The feast is celebrated annually on the 26th of June with much joy, in praise of the venerable one, and to the glory of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
O David, thy love for God the Word gave thee wings, and thou didst live an angelic life in a tree. Thou didst produce for us fruits of grace, and we partake of them spiritually, crying to thee with faith: Pray for us to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
We bless thee, O David, servant of God; thou art like the Angels and estranged from things earthly. Thou dost now rejoice in divine gifts: Grant us to share in them also, O holy and venerable Father.