The Monk Maxim the Greek

Commemorated on January 21

      The Monk Maxim the Greek (XV-XVI Centuries), was the son of a rich Greek dignitary in the city of Arta (Albania), and he received a splendid education. In his youth he travelled widely and he studied the languages and sciences (i.e. intellectual disciplines) in the European lands he spent time at Paris, Florence, Venice. Upon returning to his native land, he went to Athos and accepted monasticism at the Batopedeia monastery. And with enthusiasm he studied ancient manuscripts, left on Athos by monasticised Byzantine Greek emperors (Andronikos Paleologos and Ioannes Kantakuzenos). During this period the Moscow Greatprince Vasilii Ioannovich (1505-1533) wanted to have insights into the Greek manuscripts and books of his mother, Sophia Paleologa, and he recoursed to the Constantinople patriarch with a request to send him a learned Greek. The Monk Maxim received the commission to go to Moscow. Upon his arrival, he was entrusted to render into Slavonic translation a Commentary on the Psalter, and somewhat later a Commentary on the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and also certain other Divine-service books.
      The Monk Maxim tried zealously and accurately to fulfill everything entrusted to him. But in view that Slavonic was not his native language as a translator, there essentially arose certain imprecisions in the translations.
      The Metropolitan of Moscow Varlaam highly valued the work of the Monk Maxim. But when the Moscow throne came to be occupied by metropolitan Daniel, the situation changed.
      The new metropolitan demanded that the Monk Maxim translate into the Slavonic language the Church history of Theodorit. Maxim the Greek resolutely refused this commission, pointing out that "in this history are included letters of the heretic Arius, and this might present danger for the semi-literate". This refusal caused a rift between the monk and the metropolitan. Despite their differences, the Monk Maxim continued zealously to toil in the field of the spiritual enlightenment of Rus'. He wrote letters against the Mahometans, Papism and the pagans. He translated the Commentaries of Saint John Chrysostom on the Gospels from Matthew to John, and likewise he wrote several works of his own.
      When the Greatprince set out to dissolve his marriage with his spouse Solomonia because of her infertility, the dauntless confessor Maxim sent the prince his "Chapters Instructive towards Initiating Right-Belief", in which he persuasively pointed out, that the situation obliged the prince not to yield to beast-like passions. For this they locked up the Monk Maxim in prison. And from this moment there began a new period in the life of the monk, filled with much suffering. Inaccuracies found in his translations were imputed to the Monk Maxim as deliberate and intentional corruptions of the text. It was difficult for the monk in prison, but amidst his sufferings the saint gained also the great mercy of God. An Angel appeared to him and said: "Endure, elder! These torments deliver thee of torments eternal". In prison the monastic starets (elder) wrote in charcoal upon a wall a Canon to the Holy Spirit, which even at present is read in the Church: "Wherefore with manna having sustained Israel in the wilderness of old, and my soul, O Lord-Vladyka, is filled of the All-Holy Spirit, through Which vouchsafe that I shalt serve Thee always..."
      After six years the Monk Maxim was set free from prison and sent off under church interdict to Tver. There he lived under the supervision of the good-natured bishop Akakii, who dealt kindly with guiltless sufferer. The monk then wrote his autobiographical work: "Thoughts, by which a Monk in Woe and Imprisoned, did Console and Strengthen himself with Patience". Here are some several words from this vivid text: "Neither grieve, nor sorrow, nor be saddened, beloved soul, of this, that thou hast suffered unjustly, from which it becometh thee to accept all to benefit, and wherefore thou employ it spiritually, proffering it as sustenance, filled of the Holy Spirit..." Only after twenty years of dwelling at Tver did they decide to let the monk live freely, and remove from him the church interdict. The Monk Maxim the Greek spent the final years of his life at the Trinity Sergiev Lavra. He was already about 70 years of age. Oppression and work took their toil on the health of the monk, but his spirits remains vigorous, and he continued on at his work. Together with his cell-attendant and student Nil, the monk with zeal translated the Psalter from Greek into the Slavonic language. Neither oppression nor prison discouraged the Monk Maxim.
      The Monk Maxim reposed on 21 January 1556. He was buried at the northwest wall of the Spirit church of the Trinity Sergiev Lavra. Graced manifestations were to no little extent witnessed at the grave of the Monk Maxim, and a tropar and kondak to him was compiled. The image of the Monk Maxim is often depicted on the icon of the Sobor (Assemblage) of Radonezh Saints.

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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The Monk Maxim the

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