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December 29, 2017

Saint Athenodoros the Leper, Disciple of Pachomios the Great

St Athenodoros the Leper (Feast Day - December 29)


My gift to Athenodoros is a discourse,
For a divine man who is dead a discourse is fitting.

The following account comes from the Paralipomena of Saint Pachomios (ch. 16):

We ought to mention another holy man from among the brothers who practiced the life of virtues thoroughly and, for the sake of edification, to narrate a few facts of his life. This brother of blessed memory, being a leper in his body, had his cell separate from the brothers. All his life he lived only on bread and salt. He used to make one mat a day and often, when he was plaiting the ropes that go into the mats, his hands would be pierced by the rushes and covered with blood, so that the mats he was doing were stained with his blood. Although he had such an illness, he never missed the assemblies of the brothers and never slept in daytime until his departure from this life. And it was his habot to recite by heart some section from the Scriptures every night before going to sleep; and then he would sleep until the signal was given for the nightly assembly.

One day a brother came to him and saw his hands covered with blood from plaiting mats, and he said to him: "Brother, why do you toil and work like this when you have such a disease? Do you think you will be charged with idleness before God if you do not work? The Lord knows you are sick, and nobody with such a disease has ever touched work; especially when nobody compels you to work. We feed others, strangers and paupers; and you who are one of us and such a holy man - ought we not to serve you from all our soul and with much joy." He answered: "It is impossible for me not to work." And the brother said to him: "If it pleases you, then I beg you at least to anoint your hands with oil every evening that you may not be weary." He listened to the brother and anointed his hands as he had told him. But his hands, being softened, were hurt all the more by the rushes that pierced him.

The Great Man [Pachomios] came to visit him in his cell and told him: "Do you think, Athenodoros, that the oil is helping you?Who has compelled you to work, that on pretext of work you have put your hopes for health in the oil rather than God? Was God not able to heal you?But providing for the profit of your soul, He permitted that you should have this disease." He answered and said to the Great Man: "Father, I have sinned and I know my fault. But I beg you to pray for me, that God may forgive me this sin." And according to the fathers who were with him affirmed, he spent a full year mourning for himself over this act, and eating every other day.

In the beginning, before this brother was too much overcome by his suffering, the Great Man used to send him to each monastery to provide an example and foundation to all the brothers by the way he bore thankfully the grievous* suffering of his disease.