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February 7, 2022

The "Ignorant and Boorish Saint" Luke of Steirion (Photios Kontoglou)

 By Photios Kontoglou

On February 7, the memory of Saint Luke of Steirion is celebrated. The monastery that honors his name is located near the village of Steiri and hence he is called Saint Luke of Steirion or the New, to set him apart from Luke the Evangelist, who lived 890 years earlier. This monastery is famous and its church is the largest of those that have survived from that time, decorated with mosaics and colored marbles. One goes to the monastery from Distomo. It is built in a beautiful place, near the mountain that was called in ancient times Elikonas and today is called Paliovouna.

The family origins of Saint Luke are from Aegina. But his grandparents left the island, at a time when it was ravaged by the barber pirates, and went to the parts of Itea. His father Stephen was born there, and then he went and got married in the village of Kastri, which was close to ancient Delphi. Saint Luke was born there, in 896 AD. That is why his troparion says: "The city of Delphi and its borders rejoices, indeed in your swaddling clothes, and the seven-gates of Thebes, proclaims your great wonders." Of the five siblings, three were monastics, Luke, his sister Kali and his brother Epiphanios. Before he became a monk, he was a shepherd and a good-natured man, but even then he became more and more religious. His heart was simple, his mind clear of foolish wisdom, which is why his troparion says: "You stood, Luke, ignorant of words, but wise in divine works. You placed within your breast, blessed one, God as the beginning of all wisdom, hence you lived godly." He called himself "ignorant and boorish." He was very humble, simple, innocent, his face was very sweet. He felt sorry for the poor and hurt for them. Still as a shepherd, when he met a poor man, he gave him his bread and his clothes, while he was left hungry and naked. The seed he used for sowing was shared with other poor couples. In short, he lived more for others than for himself.

Many times his parents argued with him, and that blessed man endured them but did not change his mind. When his father died, he devoted himself more to religion, and learned the alphabet without a teacher, in order that he may read the Psalms. His mother listened to him during the night as he prayed, kneeling until dawn. One day he left to go to Thessaly to become a monk but some soldiers caught him, thinking him to be a slave that escaped from his master, and they beat him and imprisoned him, then they let him go and he returned to his house. It was not long before two monks who were going to the Holy Sepulcher stayed at his house and Luke secretly went with them and came to Athens. Long story short, an abbot took him to his monastery, after many pleas, because he was only fourteen years old. His mother did not know where he was and was crying and begging God to send her child back to their home. And the Lord heard her mourning and gave him to her. Three times the abbot saw in his dreams Luke's mother crying and asking him for her child. For this reason he removed him from the monastery and sent him home.

He sat with his mother for three or four months, begging her all the time to become a monk. And she finally wished him well and Luke went to a desert mountain called Ioannitzis, and built a hut and lived as an ascetic. After a while, two or three other ascetics went to him and cleared a small area and planted an orchard, to treat the passers-by with the cabbages they produced. Saint Luke worked during the day and prayed all night. The fathers who were with him wondered how he sat awake, without knowing how to read the Psalms and the other prayers. One of the them hid one night to hear what he was saying, and all night he heard him kneeling and saying, "Lord have mercy." From what he took from his orchard, he ate nothing and gave it to the poor. As natural as it is for other people to take and acquire, it was just as natural for Saint Luke to give of his own to others. And not only did he feed them, but he loaded them on his donkey and took them to the poor who were in need, the poor things. Not only did he love people but he also loved animals and felt sorry for them. Some deer would go and eat the cabbages and he would calmly be stern with them and talked to them as if they understood him. Once, one of these deer broke its leg and some hunters ran to kill it, but the Saint begged them with tears to let it live and they admired his mercy. From fasting and vigilance his body had become like unconscious wood in cold and heat, hunger and thirst. And although he was a monk sitting in the wilderness, his face did not become wild, but his face shone with the goodness and grace of the Holy Spirit, and he willingly welcomed the travelers, and no one saw him gloomy or bored. He ate herbs and legumes and barley bread all his life, but he treated others richly, with good food and everything in his hut. From a lot of asceticism he became as if intangible. He had dug a hole in his hut and would lie in there to remember his grave. As soon as his sleep was disturbed, he got up and began to pray, chanting through the Psalter with much mourning. From how simple he was at first, he became even simpler and formless, since he talked to the birds as if they were humans and he had bred two snakes and fed them. His heart was burning with the compassion he felt for every creature. Above all, his faith in God shone, simple, like a tree rooted in his heart. For this he was found worthy of the prophetic gift, and predicted that the Bulgarians would plunder Roumeli and Morea. He performed many miracles and word of his holiness spread throughout Greece.
The Saint had been on this mountain for seven years, when the Bulgarians went down with their tsar Symeon and plundered the place. As soon as they heard that they approached the lower parts, Saint Luke left his hermitage and went to some islets that are near that beach and from there he went to Corinth. There he learned a few letters, but did not want to live in the world. That is why, as soon as he heard that a holy stylite was in the parts of Patras, he went to be blessed by him. But passing through Zemenos, he found another ascetic who was also sitting on a pillar and he became submissive to him and sat next to him for ten years and served him and the elders who were with him, carrying wood and water, cooking, knitting nets, fishing and always struggling with fasting and prayer. From there he returned to the mountain of Ioannitzis. But because the people did not leave him alone, he went and built his hut in Antikyra. There he became a fisherman and distributed all the fish he caught to the poor. Shortly afterwards, because the Saracens were plundering the world, he went to an island called Ampelona, where he stayed for three years with his sister Kali. When the people had calmed down a bit, he went ashore and went and built his hut near the village of Steiri, in the place where his monastery is located. But even there he did not rest, because every now and then the Bulgarians and other barbaric peoples roamed the place, and hid in caves and on steep cliffs. His whole life was spent in persecution and bloodshed. Three months before he reposed, he visited all the villages and hermitages and received forgiveness from everyone. He reposed on February 7, 953, at fifty years old. Saint Luke is one of the Saints of Orthodoxy who lived like the birds of heaven, "measured, innocent, meek, simple, silent."

Source: Humble Giants, (Akritas 2000). Translated by John Sanidopoulos.