June 24 – Athanasius Parios; Bartholomew of Farne

Athanasius Parios (1721/1722–1813) received instruction in the “common letters” (β through μ) on Paros, then went to the school in Smyrna that later came to be known as the “Evangeliki School.” What Athanasius called it, my sources do not say. He studied there for six years, then moved on to the Athonias Academy on Athos*, studying under names that my sources thought merited dropping. While there he got caught up in the Kollyvades movement, monks opposed to the Enlightenment teachings drifting down from that Europe place, which they considered “unwarranted innovations.” In particular the Kollyvades favored frequent communion and unceasing prayer of the heart, and opposed memorial services on Sundays. My sources do not mention how they felt about tofu.

Unfortunately, the unwarranted innovators had the upper hand. They also had a mean right hook, and managed to get Athanasius condemned as a heretic, defrocked, and excommunicated. Five years later, he pleaded his case before the new patriarch, and was reinstated, refrocked, and recommunicated. Later he moved to Chios to become headmaster of the gymnasium, teaching logic, rhetoric, metaphysics, and theology. He “revived the art of eloquent speech” there, leading one to wonder just how people were talking.

Athanasius was a prodigious writer on theological topics and the lives of saints, as well as a hymnographer, although none of my sources supplied any of his hymns. He retired from teaching at age 90 and moved to the cell of St. George the Refston, where he passed away the next year. The only references I could find to George the Refston were in biographies of Athanasius, so I can’t tell you who he was. I assume he had a nice cell, though.

Bartholomew of Farne (d. 1193) was born with the name “Tostig,” which worked swell in Norway, but when his family moved to England, he got so much grief from his peers he changed it to “William.” He had a “dissolute” youth, then wandered Europe for some years to avoid an arranged marriage. While wandering he had a conversion experience and returned to Norway, where he was priested.

He then went back to England and was monkified at the Benedictine monastery at Durham, where he found the name “Bartholomew” unattended and nabbed it when nobody was looking. A vision of St. Cuthbert convinced him he needed to move to Cuthbert’s cell on Inner Farne Island. When he got there, he was greeted by Brother Ebwin, who was not at all pleased to have company. He did his best to pester Bartholomew into leaving, but when it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, he left himself. Later a certain Thomas came from Durham to the island, but he got along with Bartholomew about as well as Ebwin had. He particularly objected to Bart’s diet (he ate too little), and charged him with being a hypocrite. That was one too many for Bartholomew, who packed his bags and caught the next coracle home. Thomas came back at some point and apologized until he was hoarse, but Bart wouldn’t hear it. After a year of this, the bishop ordered them to make up and return to the island, which they did. Bartholomew died and was buried on Farne.

We end with a sweet story. Once one of the many seabirds on the island came to Bartholomew and tugged at the hem of his cloak with her beak. Bart stood up, thinking he was sitting on her nest. But the bird tugged again, then waddled off, looking over her shoulder. So he followed her to the cliffside, where the mother bird pointed with her bill to a cleft in the rock. Bartholomew carefully climbed up, and saw that there was a baby bird stuck there. He gently lifted it and carried it back to its mama, who was ecstatic. As she swam out into the sea with her babies, Bartholomew, dumb with amazement, walked back to his cell.