June 25, 2019

Saint Dionysios, Builder of the Athonite Monastery of the Forerunner, Now Known as Dionysiou (+ 1388)

Sts. Dionysios and Dometios the Athonites (Feast Day - June 25)


To Dionysios.
As a builder of the Monastery of the great Forerunner,
You show yourself to now dwell in celestial mansions.

To Dometios.
Dometios passed in dwellings here below,
Now he dances in the palaces above.

Our Venerable Father Dionysios was born in 1316, in the village of Koressos, near Kastoria. His pious and virtuous parents were simple farmers. As a child he had a meager education, but he was intelligent by nature, and being wise, he fled from temporal pleasures while contemplating on that which is heavenly and eternal.

Dionysios had an older brother named Theodosios, and they bore a strong resemblance to each other. Their resemblance was not only physical, but they also bore a resemblance when it came to virtue and character. When Theodosios was eighteen, he hoped to go to Constantinople to meet virtuous men and benefit from their words. Therefore, while Dionysios was still a child, Theodosios set off for the Queen City.

While in Constantinople, Theodosios stayed at the patriarchate where excellent and virtuous monks excelled in chanting and asceticism. By them he very much benefited, and there he received also an education in theology. Seeing that he excelled in virtue, he was ordained a Deacon then a Priest.

Desiring to go to a secluded place away from the city, Theodosios went to Mount Athos. Having journeyed to all the cells and monasteries there, he decided to settle at Philotheou Monastery. There he excelled in obedience and service, and when in time the abbot of Philotheou died, the brotherhood chose him as his successor. He reluctantly took the position, out of love for the brotherhood, and soon his name became renowned throughout the Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, back in Koressos, Dionysios was still young, but he desired to follow in his brother's footsteps and go to the Holy Mountain. However, knowing that beardless youth are prohibited from entering Mount Athos, he still went knowing the risk of being turned away. Upon arriving at Philotheou, he was embraced with joy by his brother, and within a few days he was tonsured a monk.

Because Dionysios had a little bit of an education, he was taught to read sacred letters by his brother. Having studied the Scriptures, he was appointed by his brother the abbot to serve as an ecclesiarch, serving the holy temple with the utmost diligence. Not long after, seeing that Dionysios was a pure vessel of the Holy Spirit, he had him ordained a Deacon by the Bishop of the region, and when he was thirty years old, he was ordained a Presbyter.

St. Dometios

Even as a Presbyter, Dionysios struggled in asceticism to a greater degree, fasting more and keeping vigil more. He possessed only one garment, and noetically he was in constant communication with God. Not wanting to be disturbed by the turmoils of the monastery any longer, he left the monastery and sought quietude elsewhere.

Seeing the summit of a mountain called Little Athos, he ascended it, and at the southern flank, he found a cave within an arrow's shot of a spring of water. Rejoicing in his soul, he decided to settle there. Life was difficult, but it was conducive to uninterrupted communion with God. When he was hungry, he ate wild grass, sweet chestnuts or fruits. When he wanted bread, he got it from a nearby monastery or cell.

Soon various ascetics discovered Dionysios, and took him as their elder. They also built various cells nearby his own. Dionysios accepted them all with love, however he informed them that since it was a rugged and harsh place, they should ascend further up the mountain to the northern side, and he promised he would visit them as often as he could. They obeyed. And as he promised, he visited them every Saturday to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, and every Sunday evening he would descend back to his cell with some bread and fruits.

The drawback of his cell was that it was very cold in the wintertime. Therefore the monks built cells on the western side of the mountain at a lower altitude. Vineyards were planted, a boat was built, and the community became established. Then one day, during Matins, Dionysios beheld a brilliant light in the distance, and this was indicated to him by divine revelation as the site of his monastery. At first he kept this a secret, not knowing what to make of it, but seeing this vision night after night, he disclosed his secret to a Spirit-bearing and clairvoyant elder named Dometios, who lived in a church dedicated to the Theotokos. Together they went to the appointed place, and three nights in a row they both saw the brilliant light to confirm the sign. They went and informed the brethren about this, and after investigating the sight to confirm it was not a material light they saw but rather an immaterial one, preparations began for the building of the monastery.

Dionysiou Monastery

The building of the monastery began around 1362, with the donations of wealthy donors from the world who had come to admire Dionysios. It was decided that they would dedicate it to Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist, with a feast day on June 24th, which celebrates his Nativity. Around this time his brother Theodosios was appointed by the emperor to be the Metropolitan of Trebizond. When Dionysios learned of this, he decided to visit his brother, and he embarked for Trebizond. Together they went to meet Emperor Alexios III Komnenos (1349-1390), who promised to help Dionysios in the building of his monastery. In exchange, the emperor wanted his name to be commemorated by the monastery forever. A chrysobull was thus issued by the emperor in 1374. And as a special gift, besides fifty gold coins for the new monastery, the emperor gave Dionysios the sacred icon known as the Panagia of the Akathist, which according to tradition was painted by the Apostle Luke.

With all these treasures Dionysios returned to Mount Athos. The monastery was completed in 1380. However, more money was needed to complete certain projects, so he returned to meet the emperor in Trebizond, who donated to him more money. But when Dionysios returned to his monastery, it was completely deserted, for Hagarene pirates had come and plundered it. This brought him great sorrow, so he visited Elder Dometios, who counseled him to return to Trebizond and get more money from the emperor to rebuild. In his absence, Dionysios made Dometios the abbot of the monastery, and Dometios accepted the position and prophesied that they would never see each other again in this life.

Dionysios again departed for Trebizond with members of his brotherhood, and secured the aid of the emperor for the monastery. However, while there, he took ill and reposed on February 25, 1388, assuring the brethren of the emperor's assistance. The brethren then returned to the monastery, and some years after this, in 1405, Elder Dometios reposed in the Lord.