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Saint Dionysius of Zakinthos, the Wonderworker of Forgiveness

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December 17

Memory of our Holy Father DIONYSIUS the NEW from ZAKINTHOS, who became Bishop of EGINA

 

Saint Dionysius was born in 1547 on the island of Zakinthos (Zante) into a pious and distinguished family.  A lively intelligence and a leaning towards the contemplative life were to be seen in him from childhood.  In order to wage war against the Devil, the world and the flesh, he early renounced all that he held dear and became a monk at the Monastery of Strophades isles, some miles to the south of Zakinthos.  Not withstanding his youth, he became, even for experienced monks, a pattern of virtue and of monastic observance.  His fasts and vigils which he kept during the greater part of each night, his prayers and constant meditation, led to his being raised to the priesthood.

 

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Some time later, while in Athens awaiting a boat to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Places, he was urged by the Archbishop, who appreciated his shining virtues, to accept the bishopric of Egina.  Relinquishing his pilgrimage and sacrificing his love of solitude, the humble monk assumed the Episcopal throne in obedience to the will of God, and led his spiritual flock with wisdom and fatherly care along the paths of Grace.  His renown grew as the years went by; and, in the end, he decided to resign in order to escape vainglory and the dispersion that comes with living in the world.  Having returned to his native island in 1579, he was required by the Patriarch of Constantinople to act as locum tenens of the see of Zakinthos, whose bishop had died.  As soon as a new pastor was elected, the Saint made haste to withdraw to the Monastery of the Mother of God Anaphonitria in the mountainous part of the island, and there he became the spiritual father.  Once more alone with God, he resumed, with all the zeal of his youth, fasting, ascesis and prayer.  He allowed no one to enter his cell, which he left only to distribute alms to the poor or to give unsparingly of his illumined teaching to his disciples. 

 

He excelled above all in love of neighbour and in meekness.  One day the murderer of the Saint’s own brother, fleeing the law and the members of his victim’s family, arrived at the monastery and begged Dionysius for asylum, little knowing to whom he was speaking.  On gathering the reason for his flight and that his own brother was the victim, the man of God resisted with all his strength his natural grief and the temptation to avenge the crime.  Imitating Christ, who pardoned his enemies and prayed for his persecutors, he received the fugitive with compassion, comforted him, exhorted him to repent and hid him in an out-of-the-way cell.  When his pursuing kinsmen reached the monastery with the dreadful news, the Saint did not reveal that he knew it already, but did his best with words of peace to allay the wrath of his relatives and their desire for vengeance.  As soon as they moved off, he let out the murderer (who was amazed and terror-struck before such superhuman goodness) and having provided him with victuals and money for his journey, he sent him away to work freely at the salvation of his soul.

 

Since he was adorned with virtues to such a high degree, Saint Dionysius received from God the power of working miracles.  On a day of torrential rain, he stopped a river in flood from flowing, while he and his disciples crossed it.  When a dead woman’s body would not decompose because of a curse, he had her grave opened and read the prayer of absolution, whereupon the body fell to dust in the usual way.  By the strength of his prayer, he enabled some unfortunate fishermen, who were blaspheming God and his servant, to make a miraculous catch and thus to repent of their impiety.  God also gave him the gift of insight and discernment of hearts, so that he would remind those who confessed to him of sins that they had forgotten or were concealing.

 

The holy bishop lived in this manner until he was seventy-five years old, spreading about him miracles, joy, peace and love for all mankind.  Worn out by a painful illness and long years of ascesis, he gave back his soul to God on 17 December 1622, as he had predicted to his disciples some days before.  His body was immediately taken to the Monastery of the Strophades for burial as he had wished, accompanied by the hymns and prayers of a great crowd.  Some time later, after the Saint had appeared on numerous occasions to the Abbot and to the brethren of the monastery, they decided to proceed to the uncovering of his relics.  They were surprised to find his whole body miraculously incorrupt and exhaling a fragrant perfume of everlasting life.  Clothed in Episcopal vestments, it was placed in the narthex of the church.  After the devastation of the monastery by Turkish pirates in 1717, his precious relics were translated to the cathedral of Zakinthos where it is venerated with devotion by all the inhabitants of the island.  Saint Dionysios has shown to this day that he is well and truly alive by a multiplicity of signs, miracles and apparitions, so that he is regarded as the principal protector and patron of Zakinthos.

 

-From The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Volume 2: November, December by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, translated from the French by Christopher Hookway, Holy Convent of The Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia (Chalkidike), 1999.

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