May 13 – Euthymius of Athos; John the Silent

Euthymius of Athos (ca. 955–1028) (ექვთიმე ათონელი), the son of a Georgian military commander-turned-monk, was taken hostage by the Byzantine army when still a lad. His dad John left his monastery on Olympus and traveled to Constantinople to plead for his son’s release. By the time he returned with Euthymius in tow, however, the latter had completely forgotten his native Georgian. They soon left Olympus for Athos*.

One day, Euthymius fell deathly ill. John went to look for a priest to bring him communion, and in his absence Euthymius was visited by a magnificent queen. He told her he was dying, and she said, in Georgian, “Pish-tosh. Get up, and start speaking Georgian again.” So he did, and he did. John, consulting his Big Book of Dream Interpretation (Athonite Edition), said, “This clearly means you need to translate books into Georgian!” So Euthymius translated oodles (to use the Georgian technical term) of philosophical, theological, and legal works into Georgian. He also translated (perhaps from Arabic) a selection of stories from the life of the Buddha, which as Barlaam and Josaphat became widely popular reading in medieval Europe (see Nov 27). Later he became abbot of Iveron, but continued his translation work at night.

Miracles? We’ve got your miracles. He once brought rain during a terrible drought by serving an all-night vigil, and one year on the Feast of Transfiguration he was seen to be shining with uncreated light. He escaped assassination attempts by a pseudomonk and a gardener, healing the instantly-shriveled hand of the latter upon his repentance.

He was summoned to Constantinople by Emperor Constantine VIII, although my sources don’t say why. Once there he went to collect an icon he had commissioned earlier, and en route met a beggar on the road. He reached for his wallet to get something to give him just as his mule took fright. He was thrown to the ground and died, and all the city mourned for him. His relics were taken back to Iveron and buried in the Church of St. John the Baptist.

John the Silent (452/454–558) loved silence, as his parents had hoped when they named him[1]. He became both a monk and an abbot at twenty, and his high levels of work and devotion and low levels of sonic output soon caught the attention of the archbishop, who made him (all unwilling) bishop of Colonia in Armenia. After nine years of bishopping, during which he sometimes went hungry through giving his own rations to the poor, he tendered his resignation, desiring a quieter life (being a fan of quiet as you might expect) and also being unable to “stop certain evils” (as to whether this means evils going on in his diocese or evils in his own life, my sources are quite ambiguous, and that’s exactly where we’re going to leave them).

He set out towards Jerusalem, because Jerusalem. One night while camping he saw a cruciform light in the sky and heard a voice say, “Salvation can be yours if you follow this light.” He followed it to St. Sabas’ lavra*, signed the guestbook, and stuck around for the rest of his life. He was so industrious, devout, and silent, that in time Sabas wanted to make him a priest, and dragged him to the bishop. “Can we have a quiet word in private, your grace?” he asked. “You might not want to priest me when you hear what I have to say.” When he got the bishop alone, he said, “I’m kinda sorta already a bishop.” When they rejoined Sabas, the bishop said, “I can’t priest him, sorry.” Sabas was very sad, thinking John must have committed some horrible sin, but God later revealed the truth to him. John spent a few years as a hermit in a cell near the monastery, and was protected from wandering nogoodniks by a local lion. But eventually he moved back to the lavra and became a spiritual guide for many, finally breaking his silence in the service of his fellow monks.

[1] Kidding! Sheesh.