Monday, October 11, 2021

Saint Athanasios the Demon-Destroyer, Archbishop of Trebizond

St. Athanasios the Demon-Destroyer (Feast Day - October 11)

On October 11, 2020 the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Oraiokastro, a municipality in Thessaloniki, revived the celebration of the memory of a long-forgotten saint who is known as Saint Athanasios the Demon-Destroyer, the Wonderworker, the Archbishop of Trebizond. (You can read the account of how this Saint was rediscovered here.)

To prepare for this first celebration, a Hierarch familiar with Pontian history, Metropolitan Paul of Drama, wrote the results of his research and with this had composed a Service of Praise in honor of the Saint. In the Prologue he tells us about the source of his information on Saint Athanasios, who was the Archbishop of Trebizond in the 9th century (specifically 867-886). He writes:

"For many years I have dealt with the history of Pontus, in particular the ecclesiastical, and I was also involved with Saint Athanasios, having studied him. In my investigation I found that in 1884 the late Athanasios Papadopoulos-Kerameus discovered in Trebizond, in the home of the nobleman John Domninos, an old service of praise to three Saints from Trebizond together with synaxaria that were copied between the years 1765 and 1768. This booklet included the services and synaxaria of the Holy Great Martyr Theodore of Gavras (October 2), Saint Athanasios the Demon-Destroyer (October 11) and Saint Basil the Archbishop of Trebizond (October 20).

Thus, Kerameus rescued the synaxaria of these three Saints of Trebizond and published these in the Byzantine Chronicles under the title 'A Contribution to the "History of Trebizond"', volume 12, in 1906. Having not preserved the service of praise, we were directed to the Sacred Monastery of Tatarnas, where there lived in asceticism a most venerable German monk, a novice hymnographer, who with the blessing of the much-respected abbot Archimandrite Dositheos, composed the service for the feast and celebration of this great Hierarch of the Church."

Besides the synaxarion of Saint Athanasios, we are also informed that he was responsible for the canonization of Saint Eugenios of Trebizond, he wrote a history of Trebizond as well as that of Soumela Monastery, his hierarchical vestments were preserved in the main church of the Metropolis of Trebizond (and are now preserved in the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Oraiokastro), and that he earned the epithet "the Demon-Destroyer" because of a miracle attributed to him that resulted in the banishment of a demon.

Saint Athanasios came from Trebizond and from a very young age became a monk in the Monastery of Saint Phokas of the Passage, in which he also served as abbot, under the Archbishopric of Nikephoros of Trebizond. He was virtuous and pious and received from God the gift of banishing evil spirits with his word, from which he also received the nickname "Demon-Destroyer". The fame of his miracles spread to Byzantium, when he was invited by Emperor Theophilos (829-842) to heal his demonized daughter. For his wisdom and his famous miracles, he ascended to the Metropolitan throne of Trebizond.

He was ordained Metropolitan in Constantinople by Patriarch Methodios the Confessor (843-847) and returned to Trebizond with riches bestowed on him by Empress Theodora, festivity and honor. When he arrived, he distributed all the riches to the poor and needy. He settled in the Monastery of Saint Phokas. Twice a week only, on Saturday and Sunday, he would leave the monastery and go to the Metropolis Cathedral Church of Chrysokephalos in order to teach the people. In this way he lived a God-pleasing life and reposed in peace. He was buried at the Monastery of Saint Phokas, which later became known as the Monastery of Saint Athanasios the Demon-Destroyer. Later, due to invasions from the Hagarenes, his relics were brought within the walls of the city for security reasons and were buried at the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, where many miracles took place.

Among his miracles are the following:
1. The Monastery of Saint Phokas had land where iron could be mined.  One day a monk was sent to gather the iron, and among those who carried the iron was a woman who was pregnant. However, due to the heaviness of the iron, the woman went into labor before her time and gave birth to a dead child. When Saint Athanasios found out about this, he was upset with the monk and said: "In the name of my God, may there never be iron mined from this place ever again!" And indeed, iron could no longer be mined from there, even till this day.

2. Saint Athanasios had the gift of banishing demons by his word alone. Emperor Theophilos, the iconoclast, had a daughter who was tormented by a demon. She would confess: "The demon will never come out of me unless the abbot Athanasios of the Monastery of Saint Phokas in Trebizond comes here!" When her father heard this, he had him brought to Constantinople. Upon his arrival the emperor and the empress Theodora fell at his feet and begged him to release their daughter of the wicked spirit. The Saint then approached the daughter of the emperor, and having said a prayer the demon immediately was banished from her. It is said that the demon came out of her mouth in the form of a black dog. After this, the Saint remained in Constantinople for a short time, during which he performed a large number of miracles for the people.

3. When the relics of Saint Athanasios were transferred to the Church of our Jesus Christ, we are informed that there was a large serpent in that area that caused problems to the people and which was known to even kill and devour people. As the relics of the Saint were in the process of being transferred there, the serpent saw the people and approached them. When those who were carrying the relics of the Saint saw the serpent, they dropped the coffin of the Saint out of fear and ran off to hide. Then the serpent approached the relics of the Saint, and the Saint lifted up his dead hand, or we should say living hand, and made the sign of the cross over the beast, upon which the beast immediately died.

4. During the reign of Emperor Manuel Komnenos (1238-1263), one of the wives of the governor of Sebaste was possessed by a wicked spirit. Although the governor was a Muslim, he sought help for his wife from Emperor Manuel, hoping that the prayers of a Christian might help. Emperor Manuel gave the matter over to Metropolitan David of Trebizond, who told the governor and his wife to go to the Monastery of Saint Phokas and to pray all night before the relics of Saint Athanasios. Having done this, the evil spirit was immediately banished from his wife.