Friday, January 18, 2008

St. Euthymios the Great

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Today the Orthodox Church remembers a remarkable 5th-century Armenian saint known as St. Euthymios the Great. Like many familiar stories from the bible, this one begins with a righteous Christian couple named Paul and Dionysia who, even after many years of marriage had remained barren and childless. Despite their sorrow, their faith in God remained sure, and their prayers were constant. One day they heard a voice from heaven announcing, “Be of good cheer! God will grant you a son, who will bring joy to the churches!” Soon, Dionysia conceived and in due time brought forth a son, whom the thankful parents named Euthymios, which means “good cheer”.

Euthymios was educated by his godly uncle, the priest Eudoxios. In time the boy grew to become a reader in the church, then a monk, and finally a priest. Because of his monastic zeal and great piety which soon became evident to his bishop, he was appointed to oversee all the monasteries in that region. This great responsibility weighed heavily upon Euthymios, whose deepest desire was to live a life of solitude and uninterrupted prayer. Eventually he left that country and moved, first to Jerusalem, and from there into the wilderness beyond Jericho to live amongst the desert fathers. Seeking even greater solitude, Euthymios and his close friend, the monk Theoktistos, soon moved even further into the desert, and finally found a hidden cave high on the side of a river’s gorge where they thought they could finally pray undisturbed.

God had other plans for St. Euthymios, however. It was not long before the monks’ “secret hideout” was discovered by passing shepherds, who reported the news of their discovery in the village. Soon, many people seeking spiritual guidance came out to the gorge to visit the saints. After this came many monks from nearby monasteries, also seeking wisdom. In just a short while, an entire monastic community began to be built right on the spot. Finding that he simply could not escape the will of God, Euthymios finally accepted the role of spiritual director to all those who came to him seeking salvation.

I must leave out many details to condense the story of his nearly century-long and most remarkable life. His spiritual wisdom became great, and his love for all those who sought his guidance was pure and genuine. His teaching was simple and direct. "Whoever desires to lead the monastic life,” he once said, “should not follow his own will. He should be obedient and humble, and be mindful of the hour of death. He should fear the judgment and eternal fire, and seek the heavenly kingdom." All of us would do well to heed this word.

Once, a monk named Auxentios refused to carry out his assigned obedience. Despite the fact that St. Euthymios summoned him and urged him to comply, he remained rebellious. The saint then shouted loudly, "You will be rewarded for your insubordination!" A demon seized Auxentios and threw him to the ground. The brethren asked Abba Euthymios to help him, and the saint immediately healed the unfortunate one, who came to himself, asked forgiveness and promised to repent. "Obedience," said St. Euthymios, "is a great virtue. The Lord loves obedience more than sacrifice, but disobedience leads always to death."

Euthymios was also granted the power to heal all infirmities and all illnesses among the vast numbers of people who came to him. Many other miracles came through him as well. Once, on an occasion when 400 pilgrims had descended upon his monastery and Euthymios was told there was no food for them, the saint insisted that the monks should feed their visitors anyway, and that God would surely provide. The monks returned to the storeroom expecting to see it nearly empty as before. To their astonishment, the wine and oil jars were filled, and the boxes were overflowing with bread. For the next three months the pilgrims remained and ate their fill every day, yet the food in the storeroom continued to multiply at such a pace that it blocked the doors from shutting. God had provided.

Euthymios also converted and baptized many Arabs, turning them from their error to true faith in Jesus Christ. He built lavras, which are monastic churches, and aided countless souls to find their salvation. When he served the Divine Liturgy, witnesses reported that a sort of fire often descended from heaven and surrounded him as he prayed. He himself admitted that he often saw the angels serving with him at such times. He was granted the gift of clairvoyance and could determine a person’s spiritual condition—and whether or not they took communion worthily—by merely looking at their faces.

In 451, following the Fourth Ecumenical Council which took place in Chalcedon, there remained many dissenters who would not accept the Council’s decision. St. Euthymios reviewed the decision and accepted it as completely Orthodox. When word of this got out, a great many of these people who had at first rejected Chalcedon, completely reversed themselves and accepted it, solely on the word of Euthymios—so deep was their love and respect for this saint. Thus he saved many people from error and division.

As we can see from even these few examples, he truly deserves the title bestowed upon him by the Church of “Euthymios the Great”.

At the age of 97, and informed by God that he would soon lay aside his earthly life, Euthymios gathered his spiritual children and told them, "Look to yourselves, and preserve your souls and bodies in purity. Do not fail to attend the church services, and keep the traditions and rules of our community. If one of the brethren struggles with unclean thoughts, correct, console, and instruct him, so that he does not fall into the devil's snares. Never refuse hospitality to visitors. Offer a bed to every stranger. Give whatever you can to help the poor in their misfortune."

After he had given much more guidance, he dismissed everyone and remained at the altar for three more days, until he finally reposed in the Lord on this day, January 20th, in the year 473.

What a blessing it is to remember that while the earthly portion of the lives of such saints may indeed have ended long ago, they continue to live in Christ. Remember: there is no such thing as a “dead saint”. Did not the blessed Paul assure us that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ, not even death? Thus all the saints who have reposed are very much alive in Christ—alive in fact on a level infinitely greater than our own—and dwell in union with Him wherever He Himself dwells, which by the way, is everywhere.

Thus while we commemorate St. Euthymios the Great and remember his life from so long ago, in truth, he is with us here today. If Christ is here, then all His saints are here; they could not be any other place than where He is! Furthermore, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy this morning in the company of them all. What a great and fearful blessing this is! May we never forget this most basic teaching on the mystery of Christ’s Church.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.