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December 12, 2018

Saint Joachim, Metropolitan of Zichna (+ 1333)

St. Joachim of Zichna (Feast Day - December 12)

The Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner, located on Mount Menoikeion northeast of Serres in northeastern Greece, owes its foundation to Ioannikios, a former Athonite monk who settled here circa 1275. The original foundation was likely quite modest. He was joined by his nephew Joachim (sometimes named John in sources), an orphan and author of the typikon (rule) of the monastery, whom Ioannikios introduced to monastic life. Circa 1287–88, Joachim was chosen Bishop of Zichna, a fortified town southeast of the monastery. In 1290, his uncle Ioannikios was also honored with the episcopal see of Ezivai (Ezova), a village some distance to the south of Menoikeion, which prompted him to leave the monastery under the direction of Ioannikios Kaloudes. Upon the founder Ioannikios’ death, circa 1300, his nephew Joachim inherited the monastery.

Joachim of Zichna, though he apparently never himself served as superior of the monastery, was primarily responsible for making it an important institution. He built the still-existing katholikon and a refectory. He also continued a successful tradition, begun by his uncle, of obtaining imperial patronage for the monastery. In 1304, the monastery came under the protection of Simonis, daughter of Andronikos II and wife of Stefan Uros II Milutin of Serbia. Though damaged by the depredations of the infamous Catalan Company in 1307–1308, the monastery survived and continued to prosper.

In 1324, Joachim issued his first typikon for Menoikeion. Confirmations issued subsequently by Andronikos II and Patriarch Isaiah survive, but not the document itself. During the civil war between the old emperor Andronikos II and his grandson Andronikos III, Joachim was a supporter of the latter, so the monastery benefited when he secured the throne in 1328. In 1332, Joachim resigned his position as Bishop of Zichna and retired to Menoikeion, where he drew up the second version of the monastery’s typikon that is preserved. A ratification of this document by Andronikos III recognizes the monastery’s independence from both ecclesiastical and civil authorities. At about this same time the monastery came under the patronage of the megas domestikos and future emperor John Kantakouzenos. According to tradition, Joachim died in December 1333.

Saint Joachim writes of himself in his typikon:

'For my part, I was begotten of pious parents, but orphaned at an unseasonable age. My uncle and father, the man of whom we have been speaking, took me in with him although I had not yet reached the age of two. He met every physical need and nourished me with care. Then, vesting me with the monastic habit, he ordered me to live continuously with him and be trained in the monastic discipline although I myself was able to grasp nothing of his angelic way of life and conduct. Therefore, I settled down with him in his cell and was educated and trained by him. I was introduced to Holy Scriptures and to the right ordering of habits and the rest of the monk’s way of life.

Then, I was promoted to the order of the priesthood, a promotion which was not appropriate both because the duty of this service was so lofty, scarcely fitting the saints, and also because my own life was neglected in its moral dimension and not worthy. Thereafter, when God deemed it fitting for me to be elected to the episcopal throne [of Zichna], my uncle and father, whom we have been discussing, would not endure it nor did he wish it, but he vigorously opposed [the decision] unyieldingly, for he feared that my concern for the episcopacy would render useless and impractical my resolution to be always thoughtful of and concerned about the monastery. What follows will make clear that the old man’s opposition desired this [concern]. He did not abandon his opposition or yield to the desire of those who were pressuring me to serve before he took from me a written promise that while he lived and after his death, I would not ignore the monastery but would in all things take thought of it as was fitting. When the written promise had been completed, he straightway gave his consent and yielded to those who were pressuring me.

By judgments known to him “whose judgments are like the great deep” (Ps. 35 [36]:6), I was entrusted with the throne of Zichna, while the old man was proclaimed bishop of Ezivai. But, he still clung to that same moderation and that zeal for the good and totally supported the monastery. Moreover, he had me toiling and working with him to meet the more pressing business of the monastery and the needs of the monks.

Since, however, it was absolutely necessary for him, being a man and subject to human ailments, to put aside the dust and to cross over from here to [eternal] life, it was possible to see him lying in bed, imprisoned by old age and fierce disease, but healthy in soul and superior to all bodily suffering. Then, breathing his last and just about to hand over his soul to God, he again entrusted the care and renovation of the monastery to me, a totally lazy and careless person, and he added to this the monastery’s spiritual direction. What did he not say or do of those things sufficient to compel me to this [service]? Therefore, I accepted the job, and once I had accepted it, how many and what kind of problems I met, problems arising from the trouble and difficulty of the times, God who knows all and I who suffered them alone know. But, through the intercession of the revered prophet, [St. John] the Forerunner and Baptist, the God of my father is my helper for all to see, illuminating “in the fiery pillar” (cf. Exod. 13:21) of his gifts, leading forth and guiding [me] to the day of refreshment, and, moreover, he will rescue me from the punishment I should expect, a punishment worthy of my deeds.

First, I restored the holy church itself from its foundations, beautifying it according to the means at my disposal. We also made it brilliant with icons and with the presence of sacred vessels and the addition of various other ornaments. With God’s help we also built the refectory so that the brothers assembled for the glory of God might take bread in it. Moreover, through the mercy of the most generous masters and emperors7 I could allot to the monastery certain revenues of such a quantity and kind as I reckoned would meet the need of those who had chosen the simple, monastic life. Who will be able to count how many the benefactions, how many the aids I received from their God-guarded and God-crowned rule, those in words, those in deed, those in gifts and contributions? The holy, revered chrysobulls8 which have come from their sacred majesty to this monastery clearly testify that the philanthropic and holy masters and emperors of mine have provided great benefactions and gifts to our monastery. I pray that the Lord God, the king of the ages and giver of all good things, will bless them with every blessing and will guard them under the roof of his goodness in peace, justice, and courage. May the Lord strengthen their arm and place beneath their feet all the barbarous nations desiring to war against them. May he grant them length of days and deem them worthy of both his material and his ineffable goods in this life and of his heavenly kingdom.

Inside the city of Serres, I also restored another monastery and its church from their foundations and dedicated it in the name of [St. John] the Forerunner and Baptist. In a similar fashion I built a refectory for it and all the other useful and necessary things for a monastery, and before all else I encircled it with a wall and made every effort that, with God’s blessing and the intercession of [St. John] the Forerunner, I would be able to restore a dwelling place of holy men, consecrated to God and embracing the cenobitic way of life for themselves. I wish this monastery always to be subject to and united with the original monastery, the principal one, and the monks to consider themselves one body of the united totality of these two monasteries. They are to be subject to one head, that is, the superior of the principal monastery. From him they receive the rules of the monastic way of life and are directed to the better. They ought to conform to his law and rule.

But, who am I, Lord, my Lord, or [what is] the house of my father (cf. 1 Chronicles 17:16) that you have poured out your mercy on me, an unworthy man, and that through me—useless, of no account, pitiable though I am—these two monasteries have been built? Master, this is your work, yours from your generous, enriching right hand which is open in charity, so that your favor fills up every living creature (cf. Ps. 144 [145]:16). May you preserve this work undiminished and uninjured in its substance, and from above may you guard these [monasteries] from those who in any way whatsoever attempt to trample upon them or raise a destructive hand against them. Nevertheless, so that such things might not befall the monasteries hereafter and so that what has been established might not fade and be obscured in the abyss of forgetfulness, I knew that I should write down all these matters in a document. Having organized these monasteries and united them, I offer them to you, O God the Creator, giver of good things, for the glory of your name and that of the herald of truth, [St. John] the Forerunner and Baptist, and for the atonement of our sins. Therefore, O Logos of God the Father—accept this small offering which I, your servant, present to you. Lavish upon my emperor the superabundance of your mercies and grant to me and to the whole world salvation and the remission of sins through the entreaties of our immaculate lady, the Mother of God, who gave you birth in the flesh—by [the power of the divine] word transcending human reason—and of [St. John] the holy Forerunner and Baptist and of all your saints, Amen.'