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January 19, 2021

Holy Brothers Maximos and Dometios at Nitria

Sts. Maximos and Dometios the Brothers (Feast Day - January 19)

You were sanctified, young men, by prayer,
Maximos and Dometios, brothers.

Saints Maximos and Dometios were brothers according to the flesh, raised with all the comforts, prosperity and honors given to them by the imperial position of their father, Roman Emperor Valentinian I. Though handsome in appearance, within them they were adorned with the divine virtues. These young men loved God above all else and wanted to dedicated their lives completely to pleasing the Lord, so they left all that the world had to offer them and fled to Egypt to become disciples of Saint Makarios the Great in Nitria.

When the young men arrived in Nitria and presented themselves before Saint Makarios the Great, the Saint doubted that these brothers who came from such nobility could withstand the harsh life of the desert and endure the ascetic struggle necessary to become worthy vessels of the Holy Spirit, so he discouraged their choice. But instead of turning them away and risk offending them, he offered them a chance to prove themselves and if they were to leave they would reconsider and leave on their own. With this in mind he indicated to them where to build a stone cell for themselves, and supplied them with an ax, a bag full of bread and salt, showed them how to weave baskets with bay leaves from a nearby swamp, and instructed them to give them to the guards, who would then sell them and thus secure a living for themselves.

For three whole years the young brothers struggled in a superhuman fashion and attained a high measure of virtue. During this time, Saint Makarios never saw the young brothers emerge from their cell, except to attend church in order to receive Holy Communion, but even then they remained silent. Their secret life was therefore known only to Christ. Abba Makarios thus went to visit them, in order to evaluate their progress and understand what they did in secret. Arriving at their cell, Abba Makarios was received by the brothers and they embraced in silence, then the younger brother, with a nod from the older one, continued weaving baskets. After the ninth hour they presented a little bit of food and three pieces of dried bread. In silence they invited Abba Makarios to the table, then he was asked if he would be leaving or if he would be staying the night.

Abba Makarios was intrigued by their silence, and it brought to his mind the wise Sirach: "A wise man will be silent until the right moment" (Sirach 20:7). Thus, in his desire to know more about their secret life, he replied in the affirmative. They then laid out some straw for their visitor and they slept on the other side of the cell. As soon as they fell asleep, Abba Makarios prayed to God to reveal to him their works. Immediately the roof opened up and a bright light could be seen, as if it was day time. Meanwhile the brothers, who could not see this light, thought Abba Makarios was asleep, so they got up and began to pray. Abba Makarios then saw flies trying to approach the younger brother, who was surrounded by an Angel of the Lord holding a fiery sword. The older brother was not approached.

In the morning they all started praying together. And again during this time, Abba Makarios saw, at every verse of the Psalm that they said, fire come out of their mouth that reached the sky like a "flame of fire" (Rev. 2:18). After the end of the prayer, Makarios the Great, surprised by the supernatural spectacle, asked them to pray for him and they again silently took his blessing and bid him farewell. The Elder left, having found that the older brother had reached perfection, while the younger was still under attack from the wicked demons, from which, however, he was protected by an Angel for his supernatural asceticism and his desire for spiritual perfection.

A few days later the older brother reposed in the Lord, then three days after that the younger brother reposed also. Abba Makarios presented them as models of asceticism, and would show other monks their cell, saying: "Come and see the place of martyrdom of the young men, who were sanctified by unceasing prayer and silence."  A year after their departure, Saint Makarios the Great consecrated their cell by building a chapel, and told the monks: "Call this place the Cell of the Romans."

These holy brothers are still honored in Scete, where the Coptic Paromeos Monastery stands today, probably the oldest among the four existing monasteries of Scetes. It was on the site of this monastery that the cell of the two brothers stood. The name Pa-Romeos, or Monastery of the Romans, may refer to the fact that Saints Maximus and Domitios, children of the Roman Emperor Valentinian I, were Romans.

The late Fr. Eusebios Vittis, who had a special reverence for these Saints, at his hermitage in Fea Petra, a village in Serres, built a chapel in their honor in the forest.

In 2006, Dr. Harlambos Boussias, Great Hymnographer of the Church of Alexandria, composed Services in their honor (see here).

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
Heavenly-minded disciples of Makarios, you appeared as God-like young men, through unceasing prayer, having shined forth in Nitria, as brothers, Maximos the light of silence, and Dometios the most-bright lamp of quietude, fervently intercede to Christ that He may scatter the darkness of our passions.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Let us praise the pair of young brothers, who were sanctified through prayer, in Nitria under obedience to Makarios the Great, as a heavenly-minded father, the divine Maximos and all-revered Dometios, to whom we cry: Rejoice, blessed pair.

Rejoice, venerable pair of young brothers, sanctified through prayer and silence, thrice-blessed Dometios and divinely-minded Maximos, bulwarks of faith.