St. Athanasius of Mount Athos icon (1)

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Orthodox icon of Saint Athanasios the Founder of the Great Lavra Monastery and Coenobitic Monasticism in Mt. Athos. Copy of an icon of 13 cent. from the Church of Protato, Mount Athos.

Commemorated July 5.

Born in the city of Trebezond, he was orphaned at an early age, and being raised by a certain good and pious nun, he imitated his adoptive mother in the habits of monastic life, in fasting and in prayer. After the death of his adoptive mother, he was taken to Constantinople, to the court of the Byzantine emperor Romanus the Elder, and was enrolled as a student under the renowned rhetorician Athanasius. During these days there had arrived at Constantinople St Michael Maleinos who taught him much in questions of salvation. He went to the Kyminas monastery and, falling down at the feet of the holy igumen, he begged to be received into the monastic life.

The igumen (Abbot) fulfilled his request with joy and tonsured him with the name Athanasius. With long fasts, vigils, bending of the knees, with works night and day Athanasius soon attained such perfection, that the holy igumen blessed him for the exploit of silence in a solitary place not far from the monastery. Later on, having left Kyminas, he made the rounds of many desolate and solitary places, and guided by God, he came to a place called Melanos, at the very extremity of Athos, settling far off from the other monastic dwellings.

Here the monk made himself a cell and began to live an ascetical life in works and in prayer. Emperor Nicephorus sought him tobuild a monastery. He built a large church in honor of the holy Prophet and Forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, and another church at the foot of a hill, in the name of the Most Holy Theotokos. Around the church were the cells, and a wondrous monastery arose on the Holy Mountain. In it were a trapeza (dining area), a hospice for the sick and for taking in wanderers, and other necessary structures.

The saint established at the monastery a cenobitic monastic Rule on the model of the old Palestinian monasteries. Many times he was privileged to see The Most Holy Theotokos with his own eyes. By God's dispensation, there once occurred such a hunger, that the monks one after the other quit the Lavra. The saint remained all alone and, in a moment of weakness, he also considered leaving. Suddenly he beheld a Woman beneath an ethereal veil, coming to meet him. Would you forsake the monastery which was intended for glory from generation unto generation, just for a morsel of dry bread? Where is your faith? Turn around, and I shall help you. "Who are you"? asked Athanasius. "I am the Mother of the Lord" She answered, and bid Athanasius to strike his staff upon a stone.

From the fissure there gushed forth a spring of water, which exists even now, in remembrance of this miraculous visitation. St Athanasius, foreseeing the time of his departure to the Lord, prophesied about his impending end and besought the brethren not to be troubled over what he foresaw. Alert and joyful, the holy igumenos went up with six of the brethren to the top of the church to inspect the construction. Suddenly, through the imperceptible will of God, the top of the church collapsed. Five of the brethren immediately gave up their souls to God. St Athanasius and the architect Daniel, thrown upon the stones, remained alive. All heard the saint call out to the Lord, Glory to Thee, O God! Lord, Jesus Christ, help me! The brethren with great weeping began to dig out their father from the rubble, but they found him already dead.

Reference: O.C.A.