July 10, 2018

Saint Athanasios the Pentaschoinitis

St. Athanasios of Pentaschoinon (Feast Day - July 10)

What we know of Saint Athanasios the Pentaschoinites comes to us from Saint Anastasios of Sinai (Apr. 21), who was from Amathous and lived not too long after the events described. He learned of Athanasios while visiting Pentaschoinon, where he venerated his relics. Anastasios tells us that Athanasios hailed from the south coast village of Pentaschoinon (by the homonymous stream south of Agios Theodoros) near Amathous in Cyprus. He was the son of a godly old man whose wife had died when their son was still young, so he remarried (Anastasios calls the father a "presbyter", but due to the fact that he remarried, which is forbidden to a priest, we must assume by "presbyter" that he meant an "old man"). His father likewise raised his son in the admonition and fear of the Lord, and the love Athanasios had for the Lord issued over towards love for his neighbor, which his father taught him to display.

When Athanasios was twenty he was wrongly accused by his stepmother of stealing from his father’s storerooms. When the father asked, the son replied that he had wasted nothing, unless he considered as waste the hospitality he taught him to display by giving to the poor and needy, therefore what was in the storerooms he gave to the poor and needy. Still, Athanasios miraculously replenished the oil and wine jars and the wheat containers whose contents he had previously distributed among the poor, to show his father that what he had done was pleasing to the Lord. When he invited his father therefore to inspect, he found the storerooms of corn, wine and oil all full.

Soon after this Athanasios died at a young age, shortly before the first Arab raid on Cyprus (which occurred in 649). Then it was reported that a ship off the nearby coast found herself in grave danger during the winter time. The crew was saved by the timely and miraculous intervention of a young man who identified himself as Athanasios from Pentaschoinon and then disappeared. Having made it to shore and assuming him to be a local saint, the sailors proceeded to the village intending to offer a gift of oil to the church of their savior. They quickly were informed that no such shrine existed, and upon asking about Athanasios they were eventually led to his tomb by his own father. When they arrived the father asked: "Athanasios, was it you?" "Yes; the Lord sent me to them so they would know that there is no evil in our area." "Sleep once again, my child, until you are resurrected by Christ." Thus the dead boy spoke to confirm that it was indeed he who had helped them. Saint Anastasios of Sinai adds that there were numerous witnesses to his story, including the Metropolitan of Damascus, who had recently visited the village.

Soon after his death and the miracle described above, a large church was built and there his miraculous relics could be venerated. Leontios Machairas, who wrote around 1458, confirms the survival of the veneration of Saint Athanasios eight centuries later, for he observes that Athanasios’ relic still performed many miraculous cures in his own day. From this report it is confirmed that his shrine still contained his relic in the fifteenth century, therefore it was probably stolen not too long after this. In Cyprus today, no one claims to even have a portion of his relic.

The numerous depictions of the Saint, curiously as a deacon from the thirteenth century and on, testify to his popularity in medieval times and later on. It is believed he is depicted as a deacon because of his service to his fellow man and it symbolizes his dedication to God. The now ruinous church where the memory of Athanasios was preserved down to modern times was excavated recently by the Department of Antiquities. The preliminary report places its earliest building phase in the eighth or ninth century. Built as a vaulted pier basilica, it was restored after a severe earthquake in 1491 caused its collapse, and remained in use into the Ottoman period, perhaps as late as the seventeenth century. Beneath its nave floor a burial chamber was revealed, accessible through a staircase in the western part of the nave and housing at least two tombs. The northern arcosolium was decorated with imported marble panels and painted crosses, and may represent the original tomb of Athanasios, according to the excavation report. Fragmentary inscriptions and ceramic finds attest to the site’s continuous use through the late medieval period.