June 24, 2017

Saint Athanasios Parios the Kollyvas and Teacher of the Nation

By Lambros Skontzos

The Kollyvades Movement of the 18th century was an important historical milestone in our ecclesiastical history, since it played a strong role in the renewal of our Orthodoxy, which suffocated under the interventions of heretical Western Christianity. One of the main figures of this movement was Saint Athanasios Parios. He was a great Saint of our Church and Teacher of the Nation.

Born in 1722 in the village of Kostos on the island of Paros, his father's name was Apostolos Toulos and his mother's name was Kostiani, and they taught him piety and took care to have him educated. He was taught his first lessons in Kostos and then either attended the School at the Monastery of Saint Athanasios in Naousa of Paros or the School of the All Holy Sepulchre in Sifnos.

At the age of 23, in 1745, he went to Smyrna for higher studies where he attended the famous Evangelical School for six years. Then in 1751 he went to Mount Athos and enrolled in the famous Athoniada School, where two famous teachers were teaching - Neophytos Kavsokalyvitis and later the great Eugenios Voulgaris. There he studied Theology, Philology and the Positive Sciences.

Having an endless thirst for learning, he would also visit the libraries of the monasteries and there he enriched his knowledge. During this time, Athanasios was also living the Orthodox spirituality of Mount Athos, especially through Divine Worship. He furthermore engaged in rhetoric and homiletics in order to be able to offer his services to the enslaved Nation. His teachers and fellow students admired him. Eugenios Voulgaris considered him his partner.

In 1757 he became a professor at Athoniada School. His reputation reached beyond the borders of Mount Athos. Several schools asked for him to come and teach at their school. From 1758 to 1762 he taught and became the director of the School of Thessaloniki. Unfortunately however in 1762 this School was forced to close due to an epidemic.

From there he went to Kerkyra to complete his studies near the famous teacher Nikephoros Theotokis. Then, when he was 40 years old, he was invited to teach in Messolonghi by his friend Panagiotis Palamas, in the Palamia School he had founded in 1760.

In 1771 Athanasios received a letter from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, appointing him as director of Athoniada School in Mount Athos as the successor of Eugenios Voulgaris. Athanasios accepted and until 1777 he shined at the famous School. These were the most fruitful years of his life.

There he met Makarios Notaras, a great spiritual personality of that time and pioneer of the Kollyvades Movement. He urged him to be ordained a presbyter, which he accepted at the age of 55. At that time the Kollyvades Movement at Mount Athos was at its peak.

The members of the Kollyvades were persecuted due to the stubbornness of the anti-Kollyvades. Athanasios was distressed by this and resented their persecution. After he joined the Kollyvades Movement, a persecution was initiated against him. Therefore he resigned Athoniada School and returned to Thessaloniki where he taught from 1777 until 1783. At the same time he was preaching from the pulpits of various churches.

In 1783 he received a letter from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to take over the direction of the Patriarchal School in Constantinople, but he did not accept the position.

In 1786, at the age of 64, he decided to return to his hometown of Paros, but he failed to reach his destination. Due to the Russian-Turkish war, the ship that carried him was forced to change course and anchored in Chios for a long time. Athanasios therefore retired to the Kathisma of the Holy Trinity Monastery. There he sank deep into prayer, meditation and spiritual exercise, waiting for the war to end.

When the people of Chios were informed about his presence there, and because the School of Chios was without a head, they urged him to take over its direction. Athanasios refused because he had other plans. In the end, however, he accepted when he realized their relationship with Makarios Notaras and his friendship with Metropolitan Gabriel of Chios.

Athanasios taught with passion at the School, and gave it a reputation and prestige. There he wrote his most important works, such as the Treatise on Rhetoric of Hermogenes, the Dogmatics of Saint John of Damascus, and the Logic of Eugenios Voulgaris.

Having lived in Chios for thirty years until 1812, he arrived at the age of 90, and asked that he would be relived of his teaching and managerial duties. He also would receive a salary from them for the rest of his life. It was finally time to go back to Paros.

But the people of Chios blocked his way and would not allow him to leave their island. Athanasios succumbed to their will, which he took as the will of God, and made the decision to stay forever in Chios.

He retired to the Monastery of Saint George in Resta of Chios, in a remote place. Together with him there lived in quietude his student and friend Nikephoros and Deacon Joseph from Fourna of Euratania, who he had made a teacher at the School. There Athanasios, despite his old age, worked hard, prayed, kept vigils and fasted.

At the same time he continued his writing of theological works. When he began to write his book On the Holy Faith of God and On True Philosophy, he fell into a stroke. When he somewhat recovered, he began writing again. But then a second stroke took place, stronger, and he became bedridden.

Realizing that the end of his life was near, he began to prepare for his great departure. With nods he asked to commune of the Immaculate Mysteries, and a day later he delivered his soul to the Lord, on 24 June 1813. His fellow ascetics buried him in the courtyard of the monastery. However, most of his relics were burnt in the great fire of 1822. He was proclaimed a Saint and is honored on June 24th, the day of his venerable repose.

Saint Athanasios had a positive impact in his troubled time through his personality and work. He was a rare ecclesiastical and spiritual figure, with an extremely Orthodox and Greek character, a bright landmark and example for us today!

: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.