Saint Theophanes of Athos
Had it not been for the practice of exhuming one’s remains after three years, a common practice in Greece because usable soil is so precious, Theophanes of Mt. Athos might never have been venerated as a saint. It was not until his earthly remains had been unearthed that he was discovered to have a likeness to the divine. In his lifetime, his intimacy with God, evident through his dedication to the spirit of Christ, assured him a place in church history among the spiritually great men and women of Christianity. Yet it was not until after his death that his true greatness came to light.
During the seventeenth century, at a time when Greece was still plagued by her Turkish conquerors, Theophanes was born in the picturesque city of Ioannina, where he also received his education. He was reared by devout parents in an atmosphere of love for Christ and his fellow man, teachings which he made evident throughout his lifetime. While still a youth, he felt the call to monasticism and with credentials that showed him to be destined for spiritual greatness he was admitted to a monastery on Mt. Athos.
Theophanes progressed through the ranks of these holy men with unusual advancement, solely on his own merits, and soon he was elected abbot. This honor was later set aside in order to save a man’s life. Shortly after his ascendance to the directorship of Athos, he was informed by his sister that her son had been taken prisoner by the Turks and was facing possible torture and perhaps even death. He did not hesitate to put the life of his nephew above the glory of his office, and left word that if he succeeded in saving his nephew, he would not bring him back to Mt. Athos lest the monastery itself be threatened by the Turks.
Theophanes traveled to Constantinople, where he contacted sources close to the state and asked them to arrange his nephew’s escape. Despite the great risk, Theophanes’ friends completed the escape and safe return of his nephew to Greece. Forced to forsake his post on Mt. Athos, Theophanes selected a site in Macedonia, just outside the city, where he founded a monastery and a chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Afterwards, he established another monastery in the name of the Archangels, located within the limits of the city of Naousa, a community whose magnificent waterfalls and abundant fruit trees provided a proper setting for the solemn spiritual work of the monks.
When death approached him, Theophanes summoned his fellow monks, all of whom assured him that his work would be carried on with the same excellence that he had assumed throughout his lifetime of service to God. Theophanes died on August 19, 1690. Respected in life, he was greatly revered by those who came to pay their respects. Although some prayers that had been offered at his burial site were answered, these were not taken seriously until he was exhumed after the customary three-year waiting period.
The skull of Theophanes was placed in the Chapel of the Archangels. Once there, miraculous healing powers were manifested by touching the skull of this holy man. So great in number were these manifestations that Theophanes was afterwards made a saint in the Orthodox Church. The city of Naousa was destroyed by the Turks during the Greek War of Independence in 1822. It has since been restored, even to the waterfalls and fruit trees, as a reminder that Theophanes lost his Mt. Athos position to save his nephew, but found eternity in a village which now honors him as a saint, as does all Orthodoxy, particularly so since he is a saint of recent vintage and, although not forced to endure ancient tortures, is a man with whom many can identify because the oppression of the Turks is fresh in the mind of Greeks, particularly when the plight of Crete is remembered. Of all the charnel houses that are the final resting-place of the remains of countless men of God, it was, among others, the exhumed remains of St. Theophanes that were kept from becoming dust amidst dust because of the divine power that had been unearthed.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.