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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Saint George the Arselaites of Sinai

St. George Arselaites (Feast Day - March 11)

Verses

How did you swiftly make such a long journey?
If you weren't fleshless, then what were you in life Father?

Our Venerable Father George was an ascetic of Sinai who lived in the remote area known as Arselaou (or the Lavra of Arsela), which today is known as Wadi Remhan (or Rumhan, Rimhan), a tributary valley of Wadi Isla (which is why he is sometimes called Saint George the Islaelites). In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, Saint John Climacus mentions him as being a contemporary of his and even a spiritual father, who advised him before he embarked on holy solitude as follows (Step 22.57):

"He who is gripped by passions and lives in the desert allows his mind to listen to their chatter. So the holy elder, I mean George Arselaites, who is not entirely unknown to your reverence, once told me and taught me. He once directed my worthless soul and, guiding me towards solitude, he said: ‘I have noticed that in the morning it is usually the demons of vainglory and concupiscence who make assaults upon us; at midday the demons of despondency, repining and anger; and in the evening, those dung-loving tyrants of the wretched stomach!"

We are further informed of him from Saint Anastasios of Sinai, in his Narrations Concerning the Holy Fathers in Sinai (8-12), where it says:

"In the previously mentioned Arselaou there also dwelt Abba George who was called Arselaites. He had a great reputation in our wilderness for the many and great wonders that were told about him.

There being a barbarian incursion once on the road to Palestine, oil became very scarce on the holy mountain. The abbot went down to Arselaou and asked the divine man George to come up to the holy mountain. Not being able to disobey the abbot, he went with him. Entering the storeroom of the oil the abbot requested him to make a prayer for the jars of oil which were empty. The blessed Abba George said to the abbot, 'Father, let us make a prayer only for one jar, because if we bless all the jars there will be a pool of oil here.' Therefore making the prayer on one jar, immediately the oil welled up as from a spring and the elder said to the servers, 'Take it and transfer it to the remaining jars.' And all were filled as the jar of the widow was long ago by Elisha. The abbot wanted to dedicate the jar in the name of Abba George but the elder said to him, 'If you do that the oil will run out.' Thus they dedicated it to our Lady the holy Theotokos, and the jar remains and is preserved until now in the highest lamp, to hang unextinguished in the name of the holy Theotokos.

Eight hungry Saracens once visited the venerable George and he had nothing whatever to give them, for he lived on wild fruits that even a camel could not eat for their bitterness. Seeing them terribly hungry, he said to one of them, 'Take your bow and go to that mountain where you will find a flock of wild goats. Shoot one, whichever you wish, but don’t try to shoot a second.' The Saracen going as the elder told him and shooting and killing one, tried to shoot another. Immediately his bow broke. Coming and bringing the meat he told his companions what had happened to him.

This thrice blessed man saw his own disciple struck by an asp and about to die. Sealing the sign of the cross on the disciple he got up. Grasping the asp in his hands like a grasshopper he crushed it. And he asked his disciple to say nothing to anyone until his death.

It is necessary to tell about when it was time for the death of the great father, or rather for his transfer by death to eternal life. Being sick in his cave, resting on a rush mat, he sent a certain Saracen to Aila in order to call a certain friend whom he loved, saying, 'Come that I might see you before I depart to the Lord.' The road was a distance of some two hundred miles. After twelve days the elder, as he lay on his mat, said to his disciple, 'Hasten and make a light, behold the brothers have arrived.' And as the brother was preparing the censer, behold the Saracen and the beloved friend of the elder who had come from Aila entered the cave. The elder offering a prayer and greeting him and receiving the holy mysteries, laid himself down and departed to the Lord."

Arselaou is about 1.5 hours by jeep through the desert from the Monastery of Saint Katherine, and then another 1.5 hours on foot to a very beautiful location in a valley with a little greenery surrounded by cliffs. There can be found a chapel, or kathisma, dedicated to the Holy Abba George. The oil storeroom from the miracle mentioned above was made into a chapel dedicated to the Mother of God of the Life-Giving Spring, where a Divine Liturgy is still celebrated until today on Wednesday of every week in commemoration of the miracle.

It is not clear if this Saint George should be identified with Saint George of Sinai who is also commemorated today on March 11th. It seems likely they are the same person. In his synaxarion we read how he was miraculously transported in an instant from Sinai to Jerusalem where he participated in a Divine Liturgy at the Holy Sepulchre, then was miraculously returned in an instant to Sinai.

A Divine Office was composed in his honor by the Reader and Lawyer of Areos Pagos, George Galanopoulos, from which all the hymns are translated in this post.

St. George of Sinai (left), St. John Climacus (right)

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Let us the faithful celebrate with songs George Arselaites, who lived venerably on the peninsula of Sinai, praying all night long, to the Lord and Master, with tears of distress, and fasting, laboring with faith, wherefore now we have all obtained an intercessor in him.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The memory of George, shines today, therefore O lovers of feasts, let us brilliantly extol him, rejoicing let us cry out with longing: Arselaites, the ornament of the Fathers.

Megalynarion
Let us praise with odes, the wondrous Arselaites and Siniaite, Venerable Father, George the divine, rejoice in him aloud, the divinely-inspired Father.

Sinai Icon at the Monastery of Saint Katherine of the Virgin of the Burning Bush in the center flanked by four Sinai monastic saints. From left to right, they are George Islaelites, Neilos Sinaites, Anastasios Sinaites the abbot, and
John Climacus the abbot. Painted by Peter c. 1230.

The area of Arsala

The area of Arsala

Kathisma of Saint George the Arselaites in Arsala

* I would like to thank Sr. Joanna of Sinai, Archbishop Damianos of Sinai and Raithu, Dr. Konstantinos Mitroussoudis and Fr. Justin from http://www.fatherjustinsblog.info/ for all the photos and icons in this post and for helping to identify them.


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