(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, Dionysios, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
Saint Dionysios of Zakynthos (Zante)
The children and youth of America, privileged to spend a part of their summer vacation in the splendor of the Ionian shore of Greece through the auspices of the Greek Archdiocese of North America’s “Ionian Village” program, return home with a sense of aesthetic and spiritual fulfillment they would otherwise never have known, and chief among the memories they can look back to in later years is the sight of the remarkably preserved body of a sixteenth-century saint who reposes for eternity in a chapel on a tiny island not far from the summer campsite. To many young tourists this venerated saint presents a spectacle far more memorable than even the awe-inspiring Acropolis of Athens, and the wide-eyed wonder with which he is beheld is evidenced again when young campers tell of it after returning home.
The saint, who seems to be among the living through the miraculous preservation of his holy body, is a man who has come down to us as St. Dionysios, a spiritual giant who was born on the Greek island of Zakynthos in 1546 but whose ancestry is traced back not to the Greek civilization responsible for the Acropolis, but through the Venetian conquerors in a family tree whose roots lay in part in Italy and in part Normandy. Born into the ruling class at a time when Venice was a dominant force in the area, Dionysios is said to have been baptized into the Christian faith with the name Draganinos by no less a godfather than Gerasimos of Kephalonia, who was himself destined to become a venerated saint of the Church.
Dionysios came of the royal household of the Venetians through his mother, but he led no one to believe – from childhood through maturity – that he was anything but a child of God. He formed lasting friendships with his fellow islanders from all walks of life. He refused to take advantage of his social position other than to avail himself of a full education which brought out the power of his extraordinary intellect. By the time he was twenty-one he had not only established himself as a deep thinker and profound theological scholar, but had also mastered several languages.
With the encouragement of the entire population of the island, he set a course of service to Jesus Christ which was to bring him sainthood.With the death of his parents, Dionysios entered the Monastery of Strophades, where he was in due course tonsured a monk with the name of Daniel. By the time that he was ordained a priest in 1577, he was already a seasoned campaigner for Christ and was highly respected not only for his piety but also for his wisdom and beneficence. He had long since given his entire worldly goods to the poor and had earned a reputation for kindness and charity which had carried to the mainland among the clergy and laity alike.
On a mission to the Holy Land, where Dionysios anticipated the exhilaration of walking where Jesus had trod, he stopped over in Piraeus to book passage to Palestine but never completed his journey. Greeted warmly by church dignitaries, he was prevailed upon by Archbishop Nicanor of Athens to assume the episcopacy of the island of Aegina, an appointment that was heartily approved by the Ecumenical Patriarch. In 1572 he assumed the post and with it the name of Dionysios. The saintliness of this prelate had been evidenced in many ways throughout his service to the Messiah, but as Archbishop it took on greater proportions. As a result he was sought out by pilgrims from all around seeking his blessing and benediction that seemed to produce true miracles. While he found these manifestations gratifying, he was overwhelmed by his immense popularity, and after much soul-searching asked for and was given permission to return to the comparative tranquility of his native island.
Dionysios seemed to have the favor of the Lord and emerged from the seclusion of his monastic retreat from time to time to share this divine spark with his fellow Christians. He died peacefully at the age of seventy-five and reposes in the Church of Dionysios on the island of Zakynthos in the sparkling Ionian Sea.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from this source.