19 February 2009

'His Faith in God Shone'—St Luke the Younger

Today, 7 February on the Church’s calendar, we commemorate the Venerable Luke the Younger (896-953), also known as St Luke ‘of Mt Steirion’, ‘of Steiris’, and ‘of Hellas’. He is perhaps best remembered as the founder of the Monastery of Osios Loukas (Venerable Luke), on the slopes of ‘the great and godly mount / Of Helicon’ (Hesiod, ‘Theogony’, Hesiod and Theognis, trans. Dorothea Wender [Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1976], p. 23) between Delphi and Levadia near the coast of the Gulf of Corinth in Boeotia, Greece. Born quite close to Delphi and baptised ‘Stephen’, at a young age (14) St Luke secretly left home with some monks to join a monastery in Athens—according to this article from Road to Emmaus, thought to have been ‘the Monastery of Atheniotissa on the Acropolis, the formerly pagan Parthenon’, though the Vita of St Luke on the monastery’s website identifies it as Pantanassa, in Monastiraki.

The great emphasis, however, of most of the accounts of St Luke’s life that I’ve looked at—the Prologue, Bulgakov’s Handbook, and the RTE article I mentioned above—is the lesson St Luke soon learned in filial devotion. According to the latter article, which gives the fullest account of this incident:

His mother [Euphrosyne], already a widow, entreated God day and night to bring Luke back to her. Far from intending to hinder his calling, this pious woman had taught him to value God’s service above all else, but she had not expected him to leave her at such a young age and his disappearance brought her to despair. The Lord heard her prayers and for three continuous nights the abbot of the Athenian monastery was discomfited by a dream of Stephen’s mother begging for her son’s return. Finally, the abbot called Stephen to him and curtly sent him home, suggesting that he pursue a life of quiet somewhere else with the words, ‘Under the present circumstances it is quite impossible that you fail to return to your mother. . . Her prayer, it seems, is exceedingly persuasive to God and able to overpower you own . . . Depart then from us, and from the borders of Attica, and give yourself back to the person who gave you birth, and from whom, for three nights now, I have undergone ten thousand harrassments.’

Thanks to God, however, St Luke’s mother, as was said, had no intention of preventing his tonsure into the monastic life. After living ‘with her in complete humility and obedience for four months, and, asking her blessing for his ascetical efforts of monasticism, he left his parental home, intending to lead a life of a hermit’ (Bulgakov). It seems he lived in various locations around southern Greece, spending most of his time—a 7-yr stretch, and then, 10 years later, a 12-yr stretch—in ‘Ioannitzi’, where he was tonsured by some elders on pilgrimage. During his first seven years there, according to a brief life of the Saint by Photios Kontoglou, ‘Above all his faith in God shone, simple, like a tree rooted in his heart.’ St Nicholas (Velimirović) tells us, ‘At night he prayed to God and during the day he worked in the garden and in the field, not for his sake but for the sake of the indigent and the visitors. However, Luke fed only on bread made of barley.’

In 945, St Luke finally settled at the present site of the monastery, which, being near the village of Steiri, earned him the name of ‘Steirites’. According to this account: ‘Here brethren gathered to the monk, and there emerged a small monastery, the church of which was dedicated to the Great Martyress Barbara. Dwelling in the monastery, the monk worked many miracles, healing sicknesses both of soul and of body.’ Finally, he received the foreknowledge of his coming repose, and, in Kontoglou’s words, ‘Three months before his falling asleep he went round to all of the villages and places of asceticism and asked forgiveness of all.’

St Luke went to be with the Lord on 7 February 953 (there is a discrepancy on this year—I have gone with Kontoglou and the monastery). His relics were myrrh-gushing and bestowed grace and healing on all who venerated them, and the Venerable one’s disciples built a new church over them shortly after his repose. Unfortunately, sometime in the later Middle Ages they were taken elsewhere and, there being two different stories of how they came to be there (see the monastery website), ended up in Venice. Thanks be to God, in 1986 they were correctly identified and returned to the monastery, where they reside to this day.

I made a pilgrimage to Osios Loukas in May of 2004, driving there from Athens by myself. The location of the monastery on the slopes of the mountain, with a view of the distant gulf, coupled with the beautiful architecture and the absolutely stunning mosaics, made this the most beautiful monastery I have ever seen. There are some photos here, plus links to others. Also, there is a modern edition of a Byzantine Bios kai Politeia of St Luke here. Unfortunately, I discovered it rather late in the writing of this post, and this, coupled with my abysmal knowledge of Ancient Greek, precluded its use in this post. But those whose skills in that noble language exceed my own may wish to avail themselves of this source.


Anonymous said...

For those interested in having the Byzantine 'life' in book form, it has been translated into English in a dual-language format by Robert & Carolyn Connor, published by Holy Cross (Brookline). It seems to be currently out of print, but I have recently obtained a copy from St. Nectarios Press here:


Scroll down; Saint's lives are alphabetized by name of Saint.

Aaron Taylor said...

Thanks for pointing this out! I knew of the book, but didn't know it was out of print. If it's dual-language, it's twice as interesting!

Anonymous said...

You're quite welcome. For a while, Holy Cross was on quite a roll with these combined Greek & English editions of classic Byzantine Saints' Lives. I'm not sure why this project lost steam, but all of the completed editions I know of are quite invaluable. The other titles are 'The Life of Saint Nikon' (the Metanoite) trans. Denis Sullivan, and 'The Life of Saint Nicholas of Sion' trans. Ihor & Nancy Sevcenko. They're all worthwhile, and I think at least the last is still more readily available.