(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, St. Maximos, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Maximos (Kafsokalyvitis)
The incredible saga of the monasteries of Mount Athos is the summation of the life’s work of some of the most noble spirits of Christianity. Among the many holy men of Mount Athos whose affinity to God has led to their sainthood, and perhaps the most noteworthy and certainly the most unique, was Maximos, a man whose asceticism and peculiar lifestyle set him apart from his peers. A confi rmed nonconformist, Maximos epitomized the rugged individualism of the monks whose behavior was generally considered eccentric by the outside world. Sensual society that deemed monasticism irregular at best would undoubtedly have seen Maximos as hopelessly deranged. And yet, if it had seen his pure spirit it would have knelt before him.
Admitted to the sacred confines of Mount Athos at the age of seventeen, Maximos, over a span of nearly eighty years, evinced a piety and wisdom that endeared him to countless pilgrims seeking his counsel and blessing. He never ceased to inspire those about him. Although decline had set in on Athos after it was plundered in the thirteenth century during the Fourth Crusade, a revival occurred during the following century. Maximos, part of the revival, along with such stalwarts as St. Gregory Palamas, upheld the doctrine of hesychasm. In fact, he carried hesychasm to the extreme that became his trademark.
Maximos availed himself of the vastness of the Athos peninsula – a promontory stretching twenty miles out into the Aegean Sea, with a width of more than six miles. When he found it impossible to communicate with God in the monasteries, even in any of the sketes or caves, he fashioned a crude hut in which to meditate and pray. When the hut seemed no longer impervious to anything but purity, he would burn it and build another. This habit caused him to be dubbed Maximos Kafsokalyvitis (hut-burner). Living in his hut, enveloped in prayer, Maximos thus experienced a greater form of self-denial than simply the solitude and austerity of an anchorite.
Just as Moses had gone up to Mount Sinai and Elijah to Mount Carmel, Maximos ascended the holy mountain of Athos – which rises abruptly out of the Aegean for nearly seven thousand feet – an ascent which few have dared to venture. Heedless of the dangers and the biting cold, he scaled the lofty peak, and in the stark seclusion that can be found only on a mountaintop, he prostrated himself before the Lord. After a week passed, a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to him. The Theotokos told Maximos that he would henceforth know spiritual perfection through the Holy Spirit.
Maximos descended the sacred mountain with the wisdom of ages stored within him, and with the sweet serenity of the Holy Spirit in his heart. It was as though he had been reborn, glowing with a presence that suggested an intimacy with the Divine. Word of his transformation brought scores seeking his blessing and healing through the Holy Spirit. As a result, he was so besieged that he sought the refuge of his dismal hut.
Maximos withdrew to the seclusion of his hut and would have lived out his days there, but he was prevailed upon to grace the community with his presence. Instrumental in drawing him out of seclusion was a noted hermit, Gregory of Sinai, who like many others had gone to Mount Athos for the express purpose of seeing the holy Maximos. Mount Athos contains many miracle-working icons. In the fourteenth century, Maximos was a living icon. This gentle link with divinity lived to be ninety-five years old. Even after his death he continued to serve those of the faithful seeking comfort at his gravesite. The fires of his huts have long since gone out, but the flame of his holy spirit will never be extinguished.The Church remembers St. Maximos Kafsokalyvitis on January 13.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikimedia.