October 28, 2019

Saint Athanasios I, Patriarch of Constantinople (+ 1310)

St. Athanasios I of Constantinople (Feast Day - October 28)


Who will not glorify you Athanasios,
For the Trinity has glorified you everywhere?

Saint Athanasios I, Patriarch of Constantinople (1289-1293; 1303-1311), in the world Alexios, was born in Adrianople around 1235. While still in his youth, his father died and he was brought up by his mother. One day, while reading the life of Saint Alypios the Stylite, who was an orphan like himself, he left his home and went to Mount Ganos in Thrace, where he was tonsured in one of the monasteries with the name Akakios. He soon withdrew to Mount Athos, where he lived in a cave near Iveron Monastery (that still exists today), and then joined the brotherhood of Esphigmenou Monastery, where for three years he served in the refectory.

He always went barefoot and never washed his head or his feet. He only wore one garment under which he wore a coarse hair shirt. For food he only ate bread and water and crumbs from the table of the refectory. While at Esphimenou, he refused to have his own cell, so he would take naps in the corner somewhere and spend the rest of the night in psalmody and prayer. In his works and his ascetic deeds he acquired the gift of tears, and by his virtuous acts he won the overall goodwill of the brethren.

Shunning praise, Akakios humbly left Mount Athos at first for the holy places in Jerusalem, and then to Mount Latros, where for a long time he lived ascetically as a hermit. From there the ascetic transferred to the Mountain of Saint Auxentios, and then to Mount Galesion to the Monastery of Saint Lazarus, where he accepted the great angelic schema with the name Athanasios, was ordained a priest and became ecclesiarch (in charge of the sacred relics and vessels in the church). Here the Saint was granted a divine revelation: he heard the voice of the Lord from a crucifix, summoning him to pastoral service.

Wishing to strengthen his spirit still more in silence and prayer, Saint Athanasios again settled on Mount Athos after ten years. But because of disorders arising there he went to Mount Ganos in Thrace. Here also he was not long to remain in solitude. Many people thronged to him for pastoral guidance, and so he organized a women’s monastery there.

During this time the throne of the Church of Constantinople fell vacant after the disturbances and disorder of the period of the Patriarch John Bekkos. At the suggestion of the pious emperor Andronikos Palaiologos, a synod of hierarchs and clergy unanimously chose Saint Athanasios to the Patriarchal throne of the Church in 1289.

Patriarch Athanasios began fervently to fulfill his new services and did much for strengthening the Church. He opposed the reunion efforts between Rome and Constantinople current at the time. His strictness of conviction and ecclesial reforms roused the dissatisfaction of influential clergy, and in 1293 he was compelled to resign the throne and to retire again to his own monastery, where he lived an ascetic life in solitude. In 1303 he was again entrusted with the staff of patriarchal service, which he worthily fulfilled for another seven years. In 1308 Saint Athanasios established Saint Peter as Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia.

Again, because of the dissatisfaction of pro-union clergy, and not wanting to be the cause of Church discord, Saint Athanasios resigned the governance of the Church in 1310. He departed to his own monastery, devoting himself fully to monastic deeds.

Toward the end of his life, the Saint was again found worthy to behold Christ. The Lord reproached him because Athanasios had not carried out his pastoral duty to the end. Weeping, the Saint repented of his cowardice and received from the Lord both forgiveness and the gift of wonderworking. Saint Athanasios reposed in peace on October 28 around 1310.

His zeal for the edification of the people is evident from his surviving letters. Not long after his death, miracles became frequent at his tomb, so that his veneration was recognized by the Church in 1368. His life was written by Theoktistos the Studite and Joseph Kalothetis.

His relics can be found today in the Church of San Zaccaria in Venice. They were brought to Venice from Constantinople in 1455 by the Venetian shipowner Domenico Zottarello after the Fall of Constantinople and were falsely labelled as the relic of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, which is how they are erroneously venerated today in Venice. In 1705 the head of the Saint was destroyed in a fire, and it was replaced with a gold-plated head. In 1807 the relic was transferred to the Church of San Zaccaria in Venice. On October 29, 1967 a portion of his relic was transferred to Esphigmenou Monastery, at the instigation of Metropolitan Chrysostomos II of Messinia.