January 20, 2018

Saint Euthymios the Great (+ 473)

January 20

Saint Euthymios, Abbot

By Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73)

From his life, faithfully written forty years after his death, by Cyril of Scythopolis, a monk of his monastery, one of the best writers of antiquity, and author of the life of Saint Savvas.

The birth of this saint was the fruit of the prayers of his pious parents, through the intercession of the martyr Polyeuktos. His father was a noble and wealthy citizen of Melitene in Armenia. Euthymios was educated in sacred learning, and in the fervent practice of prayer, silence, humility and mortification, under the care of the holy bishop of that city, who ordained him priest, and constituted him his vicar and general overseer of the monasteries. The saint often visited that of Saint Polyeuktos, and spent whole nights in prayer on a neighboring mountain; as he also did all the time from the octave of the Epiphany till towards the end of Lent. The love of solitude daily growing stronger in his breast, he secretly left his own country, at twenty-nine years of age; and, after offering up his prayers at the holy places in Jerusalem, chose a cell six miles from that city, near the Lavra of Pharan. He made baskets, and procured, by selling them, both his own subsistence and alms for the poor. Constant prayer was the employment of his soul. After five years, he retired with one Theoktistos, a holy hermit, ten miles further towards Jericho, where they lived together on raw herbs in a cave. In this place he began to receive disciples about the year 411. He committed the care of his monastery to Theoktistuos, and continued himself in a remote hermitage, only giving audience on Saturdays and Sundays to those who desired spiritual advice. He taught all his monks never to eat so much as to satisfy their hunger, but strictly forbade among them all singularity in fasts or any other common observances, as savoring of vanity and self-will. According to his example, they all retired into the deserts, from the octave of the feast of the Epiphany till the week before Easter, when they met again in their monastery, to celebrate the office peculiar to Holy Week. He enjoined them constant silence and manual labors: they gained their own subsistence, and a surplus, which they devoted as first-fruits to God in the relief of the poor.

Saint Euthymios cured, by the sign of the cross and a short prayer, Terebon, one half of whose body had been struck dead with a palsy. His father, who was an Arabian prince, named Aspebetes, an idolator, had exhausted on his cure, but to no purpose, the much boasted arts of medicine and magic among the Persians, to procure some relief for his son. At the sight of this miracle Aspebetes desired baptism, and took the name of Peter. Such multitudes of Arabians followed his example, that Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, ordained him their bishop, and he assisted at the Synod of Ephesus, against Nestorius in 431. He built Saint Euthymios a Lavra on the right hand of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, in the year 420. Euthymios could never be prevailed upon to depart from his rules of strict solitude; but governed his monks by proper superiors, to whom he gave his directions on Sundays. His humility and charity won the hearts of all who spoke to him. He seemed to surpass the great Arsenios in the gift of perpetual tears. Cyril relates many miracles which he wrought, usually by the sign of the cross. In the time of a great drought, he exhorted the people to penance, to avert this scourge of heaven. Great numbers came in procession to his cell, carrying crosses, singing Kyrie eleison, and begging him to offer up his prayers to God for them. He said to them: “I am a sinner, how can I presume to appear before God, who is angry at our sins? Let us prostrate ourselves all together before him, and he will hear us.” They obeyed; and the saint going into his chapel with some of his monks, prayed prostrate on the ground. The sky grew dark on a sudden, rain fell in abundance, and the year proved remarkably fruitful.

Saint Euthymios showed great zeal against the Nestorian and Eutychian heretics. The turbulent empress Eudocia, after the death of her husband Theodosius, retired into Palestine, and there continued to favor the latter with her protection. Awaked by the afflictions of her family, particularly in the plunder of Rome, and the captivity of her daughter Eudocia, and her two granddaughters, carried by the Vandals into Africa, she sent to beg the advice of Saint Symeon the Stylite. He answered, that her misfortunes were the punishment of her sin, in forsaking and persecuting the Orthodox faith; and ordered her to follow the direction of Euthymios. She knew that our saint admitted no woman within the precinct of his Lavra, no more than Saint Symeon suffered them to step within the enclosure of the mandra or lodge about his pillar. She therefore built a tower on the east side of the desert, thirty furlongs from the Lavra, and prayed Saint Euthymios to meet her there. His advice to her was to forsake the Eutychians and their impious patriarch Theodosius, and to receive the Synod of Chalcedon. She followed his advice as the command of God, and returning to Jerusalem, embraced the Catholic communion with the Orthodox patriarch Juvenal; and an incredible number followed her example. She spent the rest of her life in works of penance and piety. In 459, she desired Saint Euthymios to meet her at her tower, designing to settle on his Lavra sufficient revenues for its subsistence. He sent her word to spare herself the trouble, and to prepare herself for death; for God summoned her before his tribunal. She admired his disinterestedness, returned to Jerusalem, and died shortly after.

One of the last disciples of our saint was the young Saint Savvas, whom he tenderly loved. In the year 473, on the 13th of January, Martyrios and Elias, to both whom Saint Euthymios had foretold the patriarchate of Jerusalem, came with several others to visit him, and to conduct him into his Lenten retreat. But he said he would stay with them all that week, and leave them on the Saturday following, meaning, by death. Three days after he gave orders that a general vigil should be observed on the eve of Saint Antony’s festival, on which he made a discourse to his spiritual children, exhorting them to humility and charity. He appointed Elias his successor, and foretold Domitian, a beloved disciple, that he would follow him out of this world, on the seventh day, which happened accordingly. Euthymios died on Saturday the 20th day of January, being ninety-five years old, of which he had spent sixty-eight in the deserts. Cyril relates his having appeared several times after his death, and the many miracles that were wrought by his intercession; to several of which he declares himself an eye-witness. Saint Savvas kept his festival immediately after his death; which is observed both by the Latins and Greeks. The latter always style him the Great. It appears from his life that he was ordained priest before he embraced an eremitical state, and that he founded two monasteries, besides a Lavra, which was also converted into a monastery after his death.

From The Lives of the Saints. Volume I: January. 1866.