Saint Arsenios the Great
Date of celebration: 08/05
Saint Arsenios the Great was born in Rome, in the Church of which he was a deacon, of rich and pious parents and lived during the time of the emperor Theodosius the Great (379 – 395 AD). He was distinguished for his wisdom, impeccable morals and various virtues. He passed his life with prayer, devotional life, study and observance of the divine commandments and he also learned the “unknown knowledge”. That is, the knowledge that cannot be understood with the human mind, but is revealed by God to the purified heart. In other words, he immersed himself in his study and lifestyle in the mysteries of the Kingdom of God and became a wise teacher and an excellent teacher. Because of this, at the suggestion of the king Gratian and Pope Innocent, he was hired by the emperor Theodosius as a tutor to the sons of Arcadius and Honorius.
In Constantinople he was received with great honors, he was given the title of patrician and honored as patriarch, and everyone admired him for his erudition and the modesty of his morals. Avoiding the noises of the city and the luxurious life in the palaces, he begged God to help him free himself from his high duties and lead him to a path of salvation. The Saint’s pleas were heard and one day he heard a supernatural voice urging him to leave the world. Eftys immediately threw off his brilliant clothes and, after disguising himself, fled to Egypt, entered Scete and became a monk. There he received information from God to practice more in silence and stillness. His superiority in education and the sacred letters and ascetic ethos, his humility and godly virtues, made him a spiritual leader among his fellow practitioners in the desert. The fame of his sanctity spread throughout the region, and many from the cities flocked to hear his teaching, benefit spiritually, and receive his blessing. Even the Patriarch of Alexandria Theophilos visited Saint Arsenios many times, to consult on theological and ecclesiastical issues.
During one of his visits, Theophilos of Alexandria, along with some others, begged Osios to tell them something, so that they would benefit spiritually. “If I tell you a reason, will you apply it?” And when they answered in the affirmative, he answered them: “Wherever you hear that Arsenius is, do not approach him.” This incident shows his great humiliation. He lived in his daily life the saying “as great as you are, so humble yourself”.
The Blessed One, in order to avoid sociability and the frequent barbarian invasions and to devote himself unceasingly to prayer and a pure ascetic life, left Scetis and, accompanied by his disciples Alexander and Zoilos, fled to Petra, near Memphis, and then to Canopy where in 445 AD slept in peace. When the time of his departure from this temporal life approached, his disciples asked him, in what place and how he would like to be buried, and that blessed one answered them: “My children, tie a rope around my feet and drag me to the mountain”. And this answer is indicative of his humiliation.
St. Nicodemus the Agiorite also describes the external appearance of the Saint and says that Saint Arsenios was “thin in body and tall in size, his beard was long down to his belly, the type of his face was angelic and venerable, like that of Patriarch Jacob”.
The three quotes he left us are noteworthy. First the reminder, which he used to give himself never to forget the reason for which he lived and for which he went into the desert. And this reason is none other than deification, which is also the purpose of the life of all Christians. Secondly, “My God, do not forsake me, because I have not done anything good in your sight, but give me first place for your goodness.” That is, Saint Arsenius considered himself very sinful, felt that he had done no good in his life, and begged God not to abandon him, but to demand that he begin to repent. Thirdly, the advice “make your whole study a poem, for your inner work was according to God, and you will conquer the outer passions”. That is, the Blessed One exhorts us, as St. Nicodemus the Saint interprets, that all our study should be in doing the inner work of holy prayer and washing purely and only for God, because if this is done purely, we will defeat the external passions of the body. The above advice of Saint Arsenios is mentioned many times in his sermons by the great Father and Teacher of our Church, Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki.