The Nun Athanasia

Commemorated on April 12

      The Nun Athanasia was hegumeness of a monastery on the island of Aegina. She was born into a pious Christian family of parents named Nikita and Marina. Already at seven years of age the maiden studied the Psalter, which she read constantly and with feeling. Once, during the time of work at the weaver's loom, Saint Athanasia saw coming down to her from above a shining star, which touched her bosom and lightened all her being, and then disappeared. From that moment the maiden was illumined in soul and she firmly resolved to enter a monastery.
      When Saint Athanasia reached age 16, her parents entreated her to marry. The maiden consented, but lived in wedlock all of only 16 days: her husband was taken into the army and there died.
      Left a widow, Saint Athanasia decided to fulfill her old wish. But at this time was promulgated a decree of the emperor Michael the Stammerer (820-829), in accord with which young widows were to enter into marriage with young soldiers. Saint Athanasia married again. In marriage she led a pious and virtuous life: she toiled in the house, helped the sick and those in need, and took in wanderers. On Sundays and feastdays she invited over family and acquaintances and read the Holy Scripture to them. Under her influence, her husband went off to a monastery and gave his wife permission to take monastic vows.
      The saint gave away her property, accepted monasticism and together with some devout women she withdrew into a solitary place. After a certain while the sisters besought the Nun Athanasia to become hegumen of the small community. The saint looked upon her being hegumeness as an especial service to God and her sisters. She gave example by meekness and humility. All infractions of the sisters were asked about with love, without anger.
      Although Saint Athanasia had the title of hegumeness, she accounted herself least among the sisters and always had in mind the commandment of the Saviour: "Whoso amongst you would be first, let them be servant to all" (Mt. 20: 27). The saint never permitted the sisters to wait upon her, even though it be to pour water over her hands.
      The Nun Athanasia wore an hair-shirt, and over it her clothes were of coarse sheep's wool. She slept little, and the better part of the night she prayed. By day she toiled together with the sisters. She partook of food only in the evening, which consisted of morsels of bread and water. Butter, cheese and fish she permitted herself only on the Nativity of Christ and Holy Pascha. During lent she ate once or twice a day only some moist greens. The Nun Athanasia spent four years at this monastery.
      On the island of Aegina lived a certain monk-elder, Matthew, who earlier had been an hegumen. He took upon himself a great exploit: each night he read through the Psalter, together with reading also prayers. The saint slept sitting and only very little. During the singing of the Psalms, reading prayers or offering the Bloodless Sacrifice the monk could not refrain from tears. He wore only a coarse hair-shirt and by great temperance and exertions he became completely withered of body. He had an especial love for Saint John the Theologian, and one time during the making of the Divine liturgy he was vouchsafed to see this apostle, standing at the altar-table. The monk with his mantle healed a paralytic, by the sign of the cross he corrected the face of a man distorted by the working of the devil, he cast out demons and worked many other miracles. The Monk Matthew gave blessing to Saint Athanasia to go with her sisters to a still more remote place. She built a monastery on a desolate hill of the island near an ancient church of the FirstMartyr Stephen.
      The Nun Athanasia was granted of God the gift of healing. After she healed a man afflicted with a malady of the eyes, a throng of people began to flock to her, to receive healing from infirmities of both soul and body. From the abundant gifts brought to the monastery, the nun built at the monastery three churches: one in the name of the MostHoly Mother of God, another in the name of the holy Prophet John the Forerunner, and the third in the name of Sainted Nicholas the Wonderworker.
      The spreading celebrity distressed the saint, and she took the two sisters closest to her in spirit (Maria and Eupraxia) and withdrew in secret to Constantinople. There, as a simple monastic, the nun entered one of the women's monasteries, where she dwelt for 7 years.
      But her holy life again attracted attention. The sisters of the Aegina monastery learned whither their hegumeness had gone, and they set off to her imploring her to return. Submitting to the Will of God, the nun returned to the monastery founded by her. Soon after this she was granted a vision of two radiant men, bestowing upon her a document with the words: "Here is thine freedom, take and rejoice".
      The twelve days before her death the Nun Athanasia spent at unceasing prayer. On the eve of the feast of the Dormition (Uspenie) of the MostHoly Mother of God she summoned the sisters and said, that she was able to read the Psalter only up to the twelfth psalm. The saint asked them to continue reading the Psalter for her in church. The sisters went to church and there fulfilled her request, and then they came to take their farewell from the saint. She blessed them and besought them to solemnly and joyfully make the feast of the Dormition of the MostHoly Mother of God, and also to give a meal for the poor and destitute, and after Divine liturgy to give burial to her body. With these words the Nun Athanasia expired to the Lord (+ 14 August 860).
      On the fortieth day, after Divine liturgy two devout sisters were granted to see, how Saint Athanasia appeared before the royal doors. Two radiant men adorned her head with a crown beset with crosses, they entrusted to her a gleaming staff and led her through the royal doors into the altar.
      Before her death, Saint Athanasia gave orders to feed the poor in her memory through the 40 days. The sisters, however, did not fulfill her request and they set out the memorial meal for only 9 days. The saint appeared to certain of the sisters and said: "In vain ye fulfilled not my last wish the forty day commemoration of the dead in church and the feeding of the poor would have been much help for sinful souls, and from righteous souls would have been sent down Heavenly mercy upon those making remembrance". With this she thrust her staff into the ground and became invisible. The staff left behind sprouted the next day and became a live tree. A year after the death of the saint, they led to the grave a demoniac woman. When they dug up the ground, they then perceived a fragrance and took out the coffin. Having touched it, the demoniac was immediately healed. Then they opened the lid of the coffin and beheld the undecayed body of the nun, from which flowed myrh. The Nun Athanasia was as though asleep, her face shone brightly, all her body was preserved incorrupt and soft, and even her hands were supple. The priests decided to place the body of the saint in church. When they transferred the body into a new coffin, the nuns took hold the hair-shirt from her holy remains and wanted to dress her in silken clothes, but the hands of the Nun Athanasia were so firmly clasped to her bosom, that the nuns could not dress her in the silken garb. Thus even in death the saint displayed her love for poverty. Thereupon one of the sisters, having bent down on her knees, began to pray to the saint, saying: "Our lady, as undeniably thou didst hearken to us when thou lived with us, so now also be graciously pleased to hearken to us and be dressed in these clothes, our humble gift offered unto thee". The Nun Athanasia, as though alive, lifted and extended her hands into the clothing.
      The holy relics of the Nun Athanasia were put into a constructed crypt and became a source of graced healings.

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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