For sixty full years, this saintly hermit had lived in the desert when the monk Paphnutius visited him. His hair and beard reached to the ground and his body, due to a long period of nakedness, was covered with long hair. All the hairs on him were as white as snow and his entire appearance glistened, sublime and awesome. Seeing Paphnutius, Onuphrius called him by name and related to him his life in the wilderness. His guardian angel appeared to him and brought him to this place in the wilderness. For a long time he fed only on vegetables which could rarely be found in the wilderness and after that, when he endured violent combat by the temptations of the demons and when his heart was completely strengthened in the love of God, an angel of God brought him bread for nourishment. Besides that, by the good Providence of God, a palm tree grew next to his cell which brought forth an abundant fruit of dates and a spring of living water began to flow there. However, Onuphrius said: "I mostly feed and quench my thirst on the sweet words of God." To Paphnutius' question: "How do you receive Communion?" The hermit answered that an angel of God brings him Holy Communion every Saturday and communicates him. The next day, the elder said to Paphnutius that this is the day of his departure from this world; he knelt on his knees, prayed to God and gave up his spirit to God. At that moment, Paphnutius saw a heavenly light as it illumined the body of the deceased saint and heard the singing of angelic hosts. Having honorably buried the body of Onuphrius, Paphnutius returned to his monastery that, as a living witness, he narrate to others, for their benefit, the wondrous life of this man and the greatness of God's Providence about those who have completely given themselves over to the service of God. Onuphrius died in the year 400 A.D.
2. VENERABLE PETER THE ATHONITE
Peter was a Greek by birth and a soldier by profession. Once, in battle against the Arabs, Peter was captured, bound by chains and cast into prison. Peter remained imprisoned a long time in the town of Samara on the Euphrates river and he constantly prayed that God free him from prison and take him to some wilderness where he would dedicate himself completely to a life of prayerful asceticism. St. Simeon, the Receiver of God, with St. Nicholas, appeared to him in prison, touched his iron chains with his staff and they melted like wax and Peter suddenly found himself in a field outside the town. He immediately set out for Rome where he was tonsured a monk by the pope himself at the tomb of St. Peter. After this he again departed by boat for the east. The All-Holy Birth-giver of God along with St. Nicholas appeared to him in a dream and the Birth-giver of God said to St. Nicholas that she designated Mt. Athos for a life of asceticism for Peter. Up to this time, Peter had never heard of the Holy Mt. Athos. Disembarking, therefore, on the Holy Mountain, Peter settled in a cave where he remained for fifty-three years in difficult mortifications, in a struggle with hunger and thirst, with heat and cold and mostly with the powers of the demons until he overcame all with the help of God. After he endured the first temptations and successfully passed the first difficult tests before God, an angel of God began to bring him bread every forty days. On several occasions, the tempting devil appeared to him under the guise of an angel of light, but Peter repelled him with the sign of the cross and the name of the All-Holy Birth-giver of God. About a year before his death he was discovered by a deer hunter around Athos and from the mouth of the saint heard his life story. He died in the year 734 A.D. His relics were translated to Macedonia.
3. VENERABLE TIMOTHY, THE EGYPTIAN HERMIT
Timothy first lived a life of asceticism in Thebaid and then withdrew into the wilderness where he lived for thirty years. Pleasing God, he died peacefully.
4. THE VENERABLE BASSIAN AND JONAH
Bassian and Jonah were monks of the Solovetz Monastery. They drowned and were washed ashore in the year 1651 A.D. Over their graves a sign appeared and because of that a church was built. Later on, Petrominsk Monastery was established there. Once when Emperor Peter the Great was saved from a tempest, he remained there for three days and made a cross and implanted it on the shore.
HYMN OF PRAISE
SAINT PETER OF ATHOS
Saint Peter in the awesome wilderness,
Of all earthly riches, deprived
And the rich illusions of the devil,
Through tearful prayers, overcame all,
The heart he harnessed and to God raised it,
The mind he straightened and to heaven uplifted it,
Immobile as a rock among the cliffs,
Wearied by hunger and all-night vigils,
Directed himself toward every good
As bodiless in an earthly body.
On Mt. Athos, half a century
In prayer speaks only with God,
From age he turned as white as snow,
Neither man he saw, neither wanted he to.
To him, God revealed the window of heaven,
Countless miracles, Peter saw,
The Mother of God, God's angels.
And the all-wonderful saints of God.
To him the Lord an angel sent,
To him, gave Holy Communion from heaven,
Until, a spiritual giant Peter of himself created
As a certain city on a high mountain.
To be a teacher throughout the ages,
To the holy monks, a wonderful example.
Great and wonderful is the Mystery [Sacrament] of Holy Communion. Even the anchorites [recluses] and hermits craved for nothing else as much as to be given the possibility to receive Holy Communion. St. Mary the Egyptian begged St. Zosimus to bring her the Holy Mystery on the Jordan and to communicate her. Returning from visiting St. Onuphrius, Venerable Paphnutius found a humble community of four young ascetics in the desert. When Paphnutius asked them whether and how do you receive Holy Communion, they replied that an angel of God visits them every Saturday and Sunday and administers them Holy Communion. Paphnutius remained until the first following Saturday and was personally convinced. When Saturday dawned, the entire community was filled with an indescribable wonderful fragrance and while they were at prayer, an angel of God in the form of a handsome young man, as bright as lightning, appeared with the All-pure Mysteries. Paphnutius became frightened and out of fear fell to the ground. But they raised him up and brought him to the angel that he, along with them, receive Communion from the hand of the angel. According to his own testimony, St. Onuphrius received Holy Communion from the hand of an angel as did many other anchorites and hermits. Therefore, it is completely erroneous to think that solitaries and hermits did not receive Holy Communion. God Who provided for their bodily nourishment did not leave them without the Life-giving nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ the Lord.
To contemplate the miraculous multiplying of the bread in the wilderness: "And when it was evening, his disciples came to Him saying: This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals" (St. Matthew 14:15):
1. How the Lord fed five thousand people with the five blessed loaves;
2. How He is that Living Bread who alone can miraculously feed my hungry soul, which the whole of the rest of the world together cannot feed.
About the palace and the hut
"The house of the wicked shall be overthrown but the hut of the righteous shall flourish" (Proverbs 14:11).
The palace of Herod lay in ruins and the cave of the Child of Bethlehem remains. The crowns of the Casesars have been lost but the bones of the martyrs have been preserved. The palaces of the pagan kings have been transformed into piles of stone and dust but the caves of the ascetics have grown into most beautiful churches. The golden idols have been scattered into nothing and the chains of the Apostle Peter are preserved as a holy relic. The powerful Roman Empire is now only a tale of the dead, while the hut of Christianity, the Holy Church, is today the most powerful empire in the world. Where are the Jews, the murders of God? They are dispersed throughout the world. Where are the powerful Romans? In the grave. Where is the power of bloody Nero? Where is the power of the evil Diocletian and the depraved Maximian? Where is the success of Julian the Apostate? Where are those high towers? They are where the tower of Babel is - beneath the dust and ashes, beneath shame and damnation.
Go about your own city and inquire how many homes of the godless are excavated? How many huts of the righteous grew into beautiful houses? Brethren, heaven and earth are founded on justice, on God's steadfast justice. That is why every pagan creation is as arrogant air bubbles, which burst and are trampled on by passers-by. The palaces of the pharaohs and Babylonians are as trampled bubbles and the tent of the righteous Abraham flourishes and blossoms in eternity. O my brethren, how all-powerful and long lasting is justice and how rumbling and transient is injustice like a storm on a summer's day!
O Righteous Lord, how magnificent and consistent are You in the exercising of Your justice.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.