September 11, 2017

Saints Elias the Cave-Dweller (+ 960)

St. Elias the Cave-Dweller (Feast Day - September 11)

Saint Elias was born to a wealthy family of nobles in Reggio of Calabria in the year 864. One day a monk approached him in church and upbraided him for his rich clothes and frivolous life. The young man changed at once and at the age of eighteen ran away to Taormina to escape marriage. From here he traveled to Rome to venerate the tombs of the Apostles, but seeing the dissoluteness in the city and its clergy, he returned to Reggio.

Here he found a spiritual father, Arsenios, who tonsured him as a monk. Elias worked very hard and spent his nights in chanting, prayers and prostrations. He said: "He who works with his hands and prays in his heart becomes doubly rich, for he serves Christ both as Mary and as Martha." The two holy fathers always avoided disputes with others and when God revealed to them the forthcoming Saracen/Arab invasion, they both left for Greece. Here, near Patras, they lived for eight years, expelling demons and working wonders.

When the Saracen danger was over, they returned to their Hermitage of Saint Eustratios in Calabria and joined with two other ascetics in forming a monastery in a cave. Arsenios became the Abbot but, foreknowing his death, reposed in 904, having chosen Elias as the new Abbot. Later, Saint Arsenios' tomb was opened by the Saracens, who found his relics not only incorrupt but also indestructible.

Advised in a dream to take on new disciples, Elias soon found himself at the head of a large brotherhood. The cave of these troglodytes was now too small for them, but they discovered a much larger cave which they made into a monastery with a church dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Soon the nearby caves also filled with monks, who followed the example of the life of their Abbot, who taught them how to defeat the demons.

Once he worked the miracle of changing water into wine in order to serve the Divine Liturgy. Another time he scolded a bear who was destroying the monks' crops: the bear walked away chastened. He gave wise advice to his monks, teaching them obedience by example and protecting them though his prayers. He also did much to improve the customs of the local people and delivered the possessed from demons. Many poor and the sick were drawn to his monastery.

When the Arabs attacked, as they often did, Saint Elias would either flee into the mountains, hardly eating or drinking, or else would go into the town, upbraiding the inhabitants for their loose morals which had incurred such disasters. In old age, the Saint received the gift of tears, but spent the nights before feast days singing to God in joy. Having predicted his death a year in advance, he went on pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Elias of Sicily. He returned, tonsured many novices and then withdrew to his own cave. Here he suffered great pain in silence for twenty-five days, before entering into the heavenly kingdom on 11 September 960, at aged 96. He was buried in his cave in the presence of the local Bishop and a great throng of the faithful.