Seeker of God in solitude

Today, 20 Jan 2012, is the anniversary of death of St Euthymius the Great, leader and guide of those who sought God in the eremitic and semi-eremitic life in 5th century Palestine. On this day in 473 he passed from union with God in this life to the perfect union with God in heavenly eternity. For someone who thirsted after solitude so much, his life certainly had a major impact on the Church.

Euthymius began his life around 378 in Melitene, in Lesser Armenia (now Makatya in Turkey). His name means ‘good cheer’ or ‘confidence’ in Greek, and he was certainly a source of encouragement in faith to multitudes. Under the local bishop he was educated and showed such promise that was prevailed upon to accept priestly ordination and to oversee the monasteries in Melitene. When Euthymius approached the age of 30 he went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The opportunity to see the Holy Places sanctified by the presence and Passion of Jesus was exceedingly attractive, and it is not surprising that Euthymius wished to remain close to those sources of grace and meditation. Settling some 6 miles away from Jerusalam with others who were already living an ascetic life, he was able to do so, earning his living by making baskets out of rushes.

In time, his thirst for greater solitude won out, and Euthymius set out with fellow hermit St Theoctistus towards Jericho and made a cave their dwelling. Soon God sent them men to be trained in the ascetic life. At first it was only a few, but it soon grew into a thriving monastery. Euthymius delegated the day to day affairs of the monastery to Theoctistus and dedicated himself to prayer, making himself available for spiritual advice on Saturdays and Sundays and celebrating the holy Eucharist with the community. With wisdom he governed his fellow-followers of Jesus, and made sure that the monks were not tempted to pride through taking on extravagant penitential practices and encouraged monks to move from place to place infrequently . It seems that it might have been Euthymius who initiated the custom of seeking even greater solitude between Epiphany and Palm Sunday each year. He certainly practiced this himself.

The good God does not light a lamp and then set it under a bushel – so having raised Euthymius to holiness of life He caused many miracles to occur at Euthymius’ hands; childless women became fruitful, the sick were healed, devils were cast out and he was given the gift of the knowledge of the spiritual condition of souls. Attracted by the news of holiness and miracles the numbers of vistors to the monastery greatly increased. As soon as his solitude was compromised Euthymius took a companion and retired to remote places in Palestine. Because Euthymius collected a reputation for converting Arabs, the Patriarch of Jerusalem constrained him to become a bishop so that he could more effectively minister to wandering tribes of Arabs. Many of Euthymius’ disciples became saints themselves. As a result of counsel from St Simeon Stylites, Empress Eudoxia visited Euthymius. He told her that if she turned away from the current heresies her family’s troubles would go away, and that she should prepare for death. Converted back to true faith the Empress and her followers were. Of even greater importance, St Euthymius led many to accept the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon.

When death neared he advised his monks: ‘While humility exalts to a height, love prevents falling from this height,’ ‘Love is greater than humility, for it was on account of love for us that God the Word humbled Himself to become like us.’ ‘Let is make every effort to offer up to Him purity of soul, chastity of body, and pure love.’ So many people came to venerate St Euthymius’ body in death that his funeral was delayed many hours. Miracles, of course, continued at his tomb.

St Euthymius the Great, pray for us.

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