St Athanasius the Athonite
(Commemorated 5th July)


St Athanasius the Athonite is attributed the honour of being the founder of monastic (Κοινοβιακό) life on the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) in Greece. He was born in Trepezond (or Trabzon) in modern North East Turkey around 920AD, and was given the name Abraham. Orphaned at a young age, Abraham was adopted by a pious nun who taught him ascesis through fasting and prayer. Finding himself at the Byzantine court, and under the tutelage of the great orator Athanasius, Abraham excelled in his studies surpassing even the expertise of his tutor.

Recognising that the mystical life was what he should strive to excel in, he only ate barley bread and water, slept only on a stool, leading a strict and abstinent life. When St Michael Maleinos, abbot of Kyminas monastery, arrived at Constantinople, Abraham opened his heart to him, and expressed his desire to become a monk. St Michael taught Abraham much in the quest for salvation. Abraham was tonsured a monk and given the name Athanasius. Vigils, fasting, long daily and nightly toils led to St Athanasius attaining greater holiness and he received the blessing to find solitude away from Kyminas. Finding himself one day at an extremity on Mt Athos, he directed all his focus to the ascetical life, battling countless attacks from the adversary.

With financial assistance from Nicephorus Phocas, and later on emperor John Tsimiskis, the few cells that St Athanasius built grew into the Holy Monastery of Great Lavra, with many desiring the monastic life flocking there. He developed a cenobitic monastic rule along the discipline of the old Palestinian monasteries, which was underpinned by strictness and structure. St Athanasius was privileged to encounter the Holy Theotokos many times, and she greatly assisted him in his endeavours. St Athanasius reposed in the Lord around 1030 AD. His feast day is greatly celebrated in Mount Athos.

Source: Lychnos July-August 2019