Holy Mothers of the Church-St. Athanasia of Aegina

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

HOLY MOTHERS OF THE CHURCH
Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints' Lives in English Translation Published by Dumbarton Oaks, Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C.

LIFE OF SAINT ATHANASIA OF AEGINA

INTRODUCTION

In contrast to the virginal Saint Elizabeth who became a nun at a youth age, after successfully resisting her father's efforts to marry her off, Athanasia entered a women's monastery (convent) following a period of married life. Her vita (life), like that o St. Matrona, St. Theodora of Thessaloniki, and several other holy women in this volume, demonstrates that in Byzantium marriage was not viewed as an impediment to future sanctity. Indeed, St. Athanasia was married not once but twice, although involuntarily in both instances according to her hagiographer. After she and her second husband reached a mutual agreement of separation in order to adopt the monastic habit, her saintly qualities were manifested in her leadership of her monastery, in her teaching, asceticism, and visions; and by the miraculous cures effected by her holy relics.

The daughter of Niketas and Irene, Christian nobles on the Greek island of Aegina, Athanasia received a standard education consisting of readings in the psalter and Holy Scripture. Her parents forced her into a marriage that proved to be short-lived, as her husband soon fell victim to an Arab raid against the island. Subsequently, an imperial edict was issued ordering unmarried women and widows to marry foreigners, and for a second time her parents forced her to wed. After some years of married life she persuaded her husband that they should withdraw from the world and take monastic vows. Her second husband died in this holy state. Meanwhile Athanasia assembled a group of pious women of the island, and they were tonsured by a Presbyter who provided them a monastery. After about four years she reluctantly accepted the office of Egoumenissa (Abbess), but continued to maintain an ascetic way of life with regard to food, sleep, and dress. Four years later the Egoumenissa of a local monastery, with the permission of the bishop, offered the women a new site for their monastery called Timia, where there was an ancient church of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr (First-Martyr).

Athanasia's future sanctity was manifested in heavenly visions of a man gleaming in a cloud and a voice told her to pursue humility and meekness. Her ascent to the heights of virtue was proved by the only healing miracle of her lifetime, the cure of a man with an eye disease, an affliction from which she herself had also suffered previously.

Athanasia built three churches on Aegina: one of the Theotokos, one to St. John the Baptist, and one to St. Nicholas of Myra. This construction activity provides evidence of a flourishing economy on the island before its eventual abandonment sometime in the second half of the ninth century as a consequence of Arab raids.

At an unspecified date Athanasia went on business to Constantinople where she stayed in a monastery for nearly seven years. A dream sent her back to Aegina and she fell ill shortly after arriving home. She died within twelve days on the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, 15 August, which was to become her original day of commemoration. Her tomb was thereafter the source of many healing miracles. One year after her death her holy relics were exhumed and transferred to a coffin in open view. It is possible that there was yet another transfer of the holy relics, originally commemorated on 13 April.

Saint Athanasia is known only from this vita (life), which is presented in a single manuscript, Vaticanus Graecus 1660.

"...This praiseworthy woman, who bears the name of immortality (Athanasia), who lived her life admirably and showed herself to be a handmaiden of the Lord of all, was born of a father named Niketas, and a mother named Irene. They were of noble family and very God-fearing people who resided on the island of Aegina. Being born of and reared by these parents, she truly earned her designation as a useful vessel of the All-Holy Spirit. When she was seven years old, she learned the psalter in a short time and eagerly studied all the Holy Scriptures.

One day while sitting and weaving at the loom by herself, she saw a shining star descend as far as her chest. It shed abundant light on her and then disappeared from her sight. By this light, therefore, she was abundantly enlightened in her soul and came into an absolute way of life, but her parents very forcibly joined her to a husband, though she was unwilling and adamantly refused. After living with him for only sixteen days, she suddenly came into the state of widowhood. For, when the barbarian Maurousioi swept into those parts, her husband went out to join battle and (by the judgments that only God knows) became a casualty of war.

"...Wherefore this praiseworthy woman was much loved by all who knew her good ways. She so distinguished herself in almsgiving that her household goods did not suffice, even though they were very abundant, for the generous distribution to the poor from her hand. She graciously received monks visiting from all over, and she plentifully provided widows and orphans and all the needy with the necessities of life.

Once after a famine arose and everyone was reduced to destitution, she generally donated food not only to her fellow believers, but also compassionately distributed food to the so-called Athinganoi, who were then hard-pressed by the famine and approached her. For she fulfilled that saying of the Lord which states, "Be ye merciful as your heavenly Father, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (St. Luke 6:36 and St. Matthew 5:45). Not only did she provide them food, but also clothed them with garments and comforted them with other gifts...

"...And abiding quietly in one place at the invitation of a virtuous and blessed man who tonsured them, after three or four years she unwillingly accepted the leadership of the assembled women, called first by them but in her mind considering herself the last, and fulfilling that saying of the Lord which states, "Let the one wishing to be first among you be the last of all and the servant of all" (cf. St. Mark 9:35).

So what account could explain, what tongue could present the loftiness of her great humility? For she would never allow herself to be served by anyone of them nor allow water to be poured over her hands by anyone during her lifetime, as all her fellow nuns assured everyone following her holy dormition. Considering herself unworthy to be with them, let alone be served by them (even though she was Gerondisa) and engaging in great abstinence, she used to partake of a little bread and a modest amount of water after the ninth hour, refraining entirely from cheese and fish, but only on the feast of Pascha tasting them with thanksgiving; and during the holy days of Lent, she used to eat every other day, subsisting on raw greens alone, not partaking of any drink whatsoever during all those sacred days. And for her rest, she partook of little sleep, not on her side, but leaning on a rock that was prepared for this purpose...For since the love of God abundantly inflamed her from within, she also used to shed abundant tears both in chanting the psalms and in prayers, so that one would be more likely to see a spring without streams of water than to see without tears her holy eyes, which continually looked to Christ.

From the day she became a nun until her departure to God, she never tasted any fruit whatsoever. Although enduring many tribulations, inasmuch as she was the leader of her sisters and was concerned about them, she never upbraided any of them because of the great humility she had attained. No abuse emerged from her venerable mouth, neither against the small, nor the great, neither against a slave, nor a free person, and all this even though she was often disobeyed by her subordinates through diabolical influence. But she was tolerant of everyone in meekness of opinion and in rectitude of heart, continually "looking forward to her future reward" (cf. Hebrews 11:26).

Please note: The holy Mothers of the Church taught by example and profound faith, humility and love. The lives of the holy Mothers inspired countless Orthodox Christians and who sacrificed so much for Christ and the Church. Saint Athanasia not only was given the gift of healing while she was living, but even after her death, her holy relics brought about many miracles and continued to restore and cure the possessed and people with various diseases.

Saint Athanasia fell asleep in the Lord on August 14, 860 A.D. Her holy feast-day is celebrated on April 18th.

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George