Friday 14 July 2017

Saints celebrated in July

July falls neatly between the Apostles’ Fast, which ends after the Liturgy on 29th June / 12th July, and the Dormition Fast which begins on 1st / 14th August.  (Remember, though, that this year the day of the Saints Peter and Paul is also a fast day because it falls on a Wednesday).  Although the month falls in mid-summer, when generally the services are a little shorter – undoubtedly because the nights are shorter and because in agricultural societies there was much more work to do  –  yet we celebrate many of the most beloved saints in July.  Saints Cosmas and Damian of Rome, the Great Martyr Procopius, the Great Martyr Marina, the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, the holy Prophet Elias (Elijah), the Righteous Anna the mother of the Theotokos, and the Great Martyr Panteleimon are among them.

    Among the other saints celebrated in July we have:-

    The Venerable Athanasius of Athos (5th / 18th July), whose feast day coincides with the renowned Russian monastic father, Sergius of Radonezh, was named Abraham in holy Baptism, and was born in the city of Trebizond.  He was orphaned early in life, and was raised by a certain good and pious nun. He imitated his foster mother in the disciplines of monastic life, and he also progressed well in his studies.  After the nun’s death, Abraham went to Constantinople, to the court of the Emperor Romanus, and was enrolled as a student under the renowned rhetorician Athanasius.  In a short while he attained the mastery of skill of his teacher and himself became an instructor.  Reckoning asceticism to be the true way of life, Abraham led a strict and abstinent life; he slept little and then only sitting upon a stool, and barley bread and water were his nourishment.  However his teacher Athanasius, succumbing to temptation, became jealous of him, and Abraham resolved to leave.  Just at that time the Venerable Michael Maleinos (feast day: 12th / 25th July) arrived in Constantinople.  Abraham sought his counsel and revealed to him his desire to become a monk.  

The holy elder, discerning in Abraham a chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit, instructed him in the ways of salvation. Once, during their spiritual talks, Saint Michael was visited by his nephew, Nicephorus Phocas, a renowned military officer and future Emperor.  The lofty spirit and profound mind of Abraham impressed Nicephorus, and all his life he regarded the saint with reverent respect and with love.  Having forsaken everything, Abraham went to the Saint Michael’s monastery, seeking to take up the monastic life.  He was tonsured with the name Athanasius.  With severe fasts, long prayer vigils and prostrations, struggling night and day, Athanasius attained such perfection, that he was blessed to live as a solitary.  Subsequently, having left the monastery at Kimineia, 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, far distant from other monastic habitations.  Here he built himself a cell and began to struggle.  The enemy of mankind tried to arouse in Saint Athanasius hatred for the place he had chosen, and bombarded him with constant suggestions to leave.  Saint Athanasius decided to suffer it for a year, and then wherever the Lord should direct him, he would go.  On the last day of that year’s duration, when he started his prayer rule, a Heavenly Light suddenly shone upon him, filling him with an indescribable joy, all the thoughts dissipated, and from his eyes welled up grace-filled tears. From that time Saint Athanasius received the gift of tenderness, and he became as strongly fond of the place of his solitude as before he had been tempted to loathe it.  

At this time Nicephorus Phocas, having had his fill of military exploits, remembered a vow he had made to become a monk and he sought out Father Athanasius to build a monastery and a church where the brethren could commune of the Divine Mysteries of Christ on Sundays.  Trying to shun cares and worries, the Venerable one would not at first consent, but seeing the fervent desire and good intent of Nicephorus, and discerning in this the will of God, he set about building a monastery.  He built a large church in honour of the holy Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist, and another church at the foot of the hill, in the name of the All-Holy Virgin Theotokos. Around the church were cells, and thus the first monastery was founded on the Holy Mountain. Brethren flocked there from far and wide, desiring to become monastics in the Laura of Saint Athanasius on Athos.  The saint established the cÅ“nobitic rule based on the ancient Palestinian monasteries.  

The Heavenly Protectress of Athos, the All-Pure Mother of God herself, was graciously disposed towards the saint. Many times he was granted to behold her. By the sufferance of God there once occurred such a dearth of food, that the monks one after the other left the monastery. The saint remained alone and in a moment of weakness he also considered leaving.  Suddenly he beheld a Woman, coming to meet him. “Who art thou and whither goest thou?” she asked quietly.  Saint Athanasius from an innate deference halted. “I am a monk here,” he answered, and told her about his plight. “And on account of a morsel of dry bread thou would forsake thy monastery, which was intended for glory from generation to generation?  Where is thy faith?  Turn back, and I shall help thee”. “Who art thou?” asked Athanasius. “I am the Mother of thy Lord,” she replied and bade Athanasius strike a rock with his staff, such that from the fissure there gushed forth a spring of water, which continues to this day in remembrance of that visitation.  

Thereafter brethren again gathered, and the construction work at the Laura continued.  Father Athanasius, foreseeing the time of his departure to the Lord, foretold his impending end and besought the brethren not to be troubled over what he had foreseen. “For Wisdom disposeth in ways other than people do judge.” The brethren were perplexed and pondered over these words of their father. He gave the brethren his final guidance and comforted all. Saint Athanasius entered his cell, and after prolonged prayer he emerged.  Alert and joyful, the holy hegoumen went up with six of the brethren to the dome of the church to inspect the construction work.  Suddenly, through the imperceptible will of God, the dome collapsed.  Five of the monks immediately gave up their souls to God.  Saint Athanasius and the architect Daniel were thrown down under the debris but remained alive. All heard him call out to the Lord: “Glory to Thee, O God!  Lord, Jesus Christ, help me!” The brethren with great weeping began to dig their father out from the rubble, but when they found him he had already given up his holy soul.  This occurred in the year 1003.  Thus even in the manner of his dying he gave us a lesson in not judging according to the perceptions of our fallen human state.
Our Holy Father Willibald, Bishop of Eichstatt (7th / 20th July), was born about the year 704 in Wessex, probably near where Southampton now stands. When he was three years old he was stricken with a sickness and his life was despaired of, but his parents laid him at the foot of a great cross which had been erected near their house. There they prayed with great fervour, and made a vow to God that should the child recover they would consecrate him to divine service. God accepted their pious offering, and the child was immediately restored to his health.  In fulfilment of their vow his parents kept the child until he was a little older at home, and when he was five years old placed him under the Abbot Egbald in the monastery at Bishops Waltham.

The young saint in all his thoughts and actions seemed to aspire only to heaven, and his heart seemed full only of God and His holy love.  He spent his childhood at Bishops Waltham and left the monastery when he was seventeen years old, and his brother Winibald nineteen, only to accompany his father and brother in a pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles at Rome and to the Holy Land.  They visited many churches in France on their way; but the father, who is venerated as Saint Richard and is called a king (though there seems to be no historical record of a king with that name at that time, perhaps he was a nobleman thought to be a king and his name has been modified from its original form), died at Lucca, where his relics are still venerated in the church of Saint Fridian. The two sons went on to Rome, and there took monastic vows.  

Subsequently Winibald was obliged to return to England, and Saint Willibald and some companions continued to visit the holy places which Christ had sanctified by His sacred presence on earth.  They added most severe mortifications to the fatigues of their journey, living only on bread and water, and when on land using no other bed than the bare ground.  They sailed to Cyprus and thence into Syria.  At Emesa the saint was taken by the Saracens for a spy, was loaded with irons, and suffered much in confinement for several months, till certain persons, who were moved with compassion for him, satisfied the caliph of his innocence and procured his freedom. The holy pilgrims then pursued their journey to the holy places, sanctified by the earthly life of our Saviour.  They likewise visited all the monasteries, lavras, and hermitages in that country, and with an ardent desire to learn they imitated all the most perfect practices of virtue, and whatever might seem most conducive to the sanctification of the soul.  After seven years spent on this pilgrimage the saint and his companions arrived safely in Italy.  There the celebrated monastery of Mount Cassino had been lately repaired by Pope Gregory II, and the saint chose that house to further his monastic endeavours.  He was first appointed sacristan, afterwards dean or superior over ten monks, and during the last eight years porter, which required his dealing with the lay people that visited.  

It happened that in A.D. 738 Saint Boniface of Crediton, the Apostle of Germany, came to Rome, and he begged Pope Gregory III that Willibald, who was his cousin, might be sent to assist him in his missions in Germany.  The pope desired to see the monk, and was much delighted with the history of his travels, and edified by his virtue. At the close of their conversation, he told him of Bishop Boniface’s request. Willibald desired to go back to his monastery to obtain the blessing of his abbot; but the pope told him his order sufficed, and commanded him to go without more ado into Germany. The saint did so in obedience. Accordingly he set out for Thuringia, where St. Boniface then was, and by whom he was ordained priest.  His labours in the country about Eichstatt, in Franconia and Bavaria, were crowned with success.  

In A.D. 746, he was consecrated by St. Boniface as Bishop of Eichstatt. This dignity made trial of his humility, but he used it to increase his zeal. The cultivation of so rough a vineyard was a laborious task, but patience and invincible meekness overcame difficulties. His charity was most tender and compassionate, and he had a singular talent for comforting the afflicted. He founded a monastery which resembled in discipline that of Mount Cassino, to which he often resorted. But his love of solitude did not diminish his pastoral solicitude for his flock. He was attentive to all their spiritual necessities, he often visited every part of his charge, and instructed all his people with indefatigable zeal and charity. His fasts were most austere, nor did he allow himself any indulgence in them or in his labours on account of his great age, till his strength was entirely exhausted.

Having laboured almost forty-five years in setting in order and sanctifying his diocese, he died at Eichstatt in A.D. 790, being eighty-seven years of age, and was buried in his own cathedral.  Since his repose he has been glorified as the worker of many miracles.  The two brother Saints Winibald and Willibald also had a sister, Walburga, who is greatly venerated in Bavaria and her sacred relics were later laid besides those of her brother, Saint Willibald.

Excerpt from the July issue of The Shepherd

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