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 we commemorate St. Romylos, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
The ominous misadventures of a devout fourteenth-century monk presaged the fall of the Byzantine Empire less than a century after his death, after a full lifetime devoted to the defense of Christianity. The saint known as Romylos was among the leaders of the Christian community, which managed to retain its identity through long centuries in which the Byzantine Empire crumbled into extinction at the hands of a relentless enemy known as the Ottoman.
Romylos was born with the given name of Raikos, the son of a Greek father and Bulgarian mother, in the city of Vidinion, Bulgaria. They expected that he would achieve the intellectual level of his father, who was a respected civic leader but hardly a devout Christian. Given an education denied most of his peers, he not only achieved his father’s intellectual level, but surpassed it by far when he was still a youngster, coming to be known as “the boy genius of Bulgaria.” His learning capacity was boundless, and his enthusiasm equally so, to the delight of his parents, who foresaw a great career for him in a country whose degree of literacy was pitifully small.
Having mastered the courses of study offered at the best of schools, Raikos, at the age of twelve, turned to theology with a thirst for a knowledge of Christianity that exceeded all others. His parents watched in dismay as he evinced a piety which could be fulfilled only with a complete dedication to Jesus Christ. Like so many other proud parents, they did not wish to see a son drop out of the general community to serve the Lord, unaware that his noble choice was aimed at helping others without regard for his own welfare. Their emphasis on the temporal potential of the son obscured the greater meaning attached to his spiritual fulfillment.
When the firm commitment of Raikos was made clear, his parents stepped aside. When he had reached maturity and he left his home town to seek admission to the Monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary Hodegetria in the province of Tirvono, they wished him well. Admitted without question, he was given the name of Romanos, serving with a rare dedication and brilliance for a period of three years, ordinarily scarcely more than enough time for the basics in monastic training. The monk Romanos, however, had in three years’ time acquired a knowledge and wisdom rarely found in a lifetime of an ordinary monk.
He went to Panoria near the Black Sea to assist the renowned Gregory of Sinai in the establishment of a new monastery, a spiritual bastion which he helped to build with his own hands. Under Gregory, he received advanced tutoring and, at the suggestion of the tutor, adopted the name of Romylos in honor of the second-century monk martyred during the reign of Emperor Trajan. After the eminent Gregory had passed on, Romylos assumed temporary leadership of the monastic community until he was forced to flee an invasion of the Muslim hordes.
Romylos went with another monk to the city of Zagora, where they joined in the spiritual leadership of a harassed Christian community throughout the area of Vongrin. Not content with the destruction of the Monastery of Gregory, the Muslims pressed their assault on Zagora. The two monks took refuge in the distant monastery of Mt. Athos, that prestigious citadel that seemed impregnable on its virtually inaccessible and precipitous site on a rugged promontory jutting out to sea.
The considerable army of monks was impressed by the erudite Romylos, whose compelling presence was exhilarating, but the holy men were no match for the marauders who stormed the holy mountain, looting it of many of its treasures and striking down those who resisted. Once again, Romylos found himself taking flight. He made his way to an area known as Avlona in Albania, but it was like going from the frying pan to the fire. The enemies of Christianity were pouring in with a vengeance, and Romylos was lucky to escape with his life.
With unyielding faith Romylos went to Serbia, establishing a monastery in Raventsa, which was out of reach of the hostile mob from whom he had been in seemingly constant flight. He found peace in Raventsa, where he remained until his death on September 18, 1375.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.