The Monk Euthymius the Great came from the city of Meletina in Armenia, near the River Euphrates. His parents, Paul and Dionysia, were illustrious people and pious Christians. For a long time they did not have children, and finally through fervent prayer a son was born to them, whose appearance into the light of day was preceded by a Divine apparition foretelling a great future for the child.
The father of the Monk Euthymius soon died, and his mother – fulfilling a vow to dedicate her son to God – gave him over for educating to her brother, the Monk Eudoxius. He presented the lad to the bishop of the Meletina Church, Otreus, who with love took upon himself caring for him. Seeing his good conduct, the bishop soon made him a reader. Saint Euthymius later accepted monasticism and was ordained to the dignity of presbyter. At the same time, he was entrusted with the stewardship of all the city monasteries. The Monk Euthymius often visited the monastery of saint Polyeuctus, and during the days of Great Lent he withdrew into the wilderness. The position of steward of the monasteries weighed heavily upon the ascetic seeking quietude, and in his thirtieth year of life he secretly left the city and headed to Jerusalem where, having prostrated himself before the holy places, he withdrew into the Tharan Lavra. Having found outside the monastery a solitary empty abode, he settled into it, securing his subsistence by weaving baskets. Nearby, the Monk Theoctistus pursued asceticism. They had both one striving for God, one will, one purpose. Usually after the feast of Theophany, they withdrew into the Kutilleia wilderness (not far from Jericho). One day though they left there, having chosen a place in the mountains difficult of access, and settled into a cave. The Lord however soon revealed their solitary place for the benefit of many people: shepherds driving their flocks came upon the cave and told about it in the village. People seeking spiritual benefit began to throng to the hermits. Gradually a monastic community grew up – several monks came from the Tharan monastery, among them Marin and Luke. The Monk Euthymius entrusted the running of the growing monastery to his friend Theoctistus, and himself became a spiritual brother. He exhorted the brethren: “Know, that one desiring to lead a monastic life ought not to have his own will, he is always to be found in obedience and humility and to be mindful of the thought of death, to fear the Judgment and the eternal fire and to desire the Heavenly Kingdom.”
The monk commanded young monastics to tackle bodily labour with an inner thought of God. He said: “If laymen work much in order to feed themselves and their families, and besides this, they give alms and offer sacrifice to God, then all the moreso ought we as monks to work, so as to avoid idleness and not be nourished by the work of strangers.” The abba demanded that the monks keep silence in church during Divine-services and at meals. He did not allow young monks, wishing to fast more than others of the brethren, to follow their own will, but urged them to partake of all the food at meals with temperance, not having over-eaten.
In these years the Monk Euthymius converted and baptised many Arabs, among whom was the military-head Aspevet and his son Terevon, whom the Monk Euthymius healed from sickness. Aspevet received the name Peter in Baptism and afterwards he was a bishop amongst the Arabs.
The fame of the miracles accomplished by the Monk Euthymius spread quickly. People began to throng from everywhere; brought with sickness, they received healing. Unable to bear human fame and glory, the monk secretly left the monastery, taking with him only his closest student Dometian. He withdrew into the Ruv wilderness and settled on the high mountain of Mardes, around about the Dead Sea. In the quests for solitude the monk explored the Zeph wilderness and settled in the cave, where formerly holy king David hid from the pursuit of king Saul. The Monk Euthymius founded there a monastery, and at the cave of David he established a church. During this time the Monk Euthymius converted many monks in the wilderness from the Manichaean heresy, he worked miracles, healed the sick and cast out devils.
Visitors to the saint disturbed the tranquillity of the wilderness; loving silence, he decided to return to the monastery of Saint Theoctistus that he had forsaken. Along the way the monk took a fancy to a solitary place on a mountain and he remained on it. There afterwards his holy body was buried.
Blessed Theoctistus went out with his brethren to the Monk Euthymius and requested him to return to the monastery, but the monk did not comply. However, he promised to come to the monastery on Sundays for community Divine-services.
The Monk Euthymius did not wish to have anyone nearby, nor to organise a general monastery or lavra, but in a vision the Lord commanded him not to drive away those who were come to him for the salvation of their souls. After some time brethren again gathered around him, and he organised a Lavra, on the pattern of the Tharan Lavra. In the year 429, when the monk Euthymius was 52 years old, the Jerusalem Patriarch Juvenalius consecrated the lavra church and supplied it with presbyters and deacons.
The lavra was at first poor, but the monk steadfastly trusted on God to send down all the necessities for people. Once there came to the lavra about 400 male pilgrims – Armenians from Jerusalem who were starving. Viewing this, the Monk Euthymius summoned the steward and ordered him to feed the wanderers. The steward answered that there was no such quantity of food in the monastery. The monk, however, persisted. Going to the room where the bread was kept, the steward found there a large quantity of bread. With this came forth wine and oil. The wanderers ate to the glory of God: they ate their fill and after this there remained a three-month supply of food for the brethren. Thus the Lord wrought a miracle through the faith of Saint Euthymius.
Once one of the monastics refused to carry out an obedience assigned to him. Despite the fact that the monk having summoned him urged him to comply, the monastic remained obstinate. The monk then shouted loudly: “Thou wilt see what the reward for disobedience is.” The monastic fell to the ground in a fit of raving. The brethren began to make entreaty to the abba for him, and then the Monk Euthymius healed the insubordinate one who, having come to himself, asked forgiveness and promised to improve himself. “Obedience,” said Saint Euthymius, “is a great virtue. The Lord loves obedience more than sacrifice, but disobedience leads to death.”
Two of the brethren in the monastery of Saint Euthymius became overwhelmed by the austere form of life and they resolved to flee. Foreseeing in spirit their intent, the monk summoned them and for a long time he urged them to give up their destructive intention. He said: “Heed not that state of mind of having sorrow and hatred for the place in which we live, and being prompted to go off to another place. Let a monk not imagine that, having gone to another place, he arrives at something better, since good deeds are realised not by a place, but by a firm will and by faith. Whence the tree, which often they transplant to another place, does not bear fruit.”
In the year 431 was convened in Ephesus the Third Ecumenical Council, directed against the Nestorian heresy. The Monk Euthymius rejoiced over the affirmation of Orthodoxy but was grieved about the archbishop of Antioch John who, being orthodox, defended Nestorius.
In the year 451 was convened at Chalcedon the Fourth Ecumenical Council against the heresy of Dioscorus who, in contrast to Nestorius, asserted that in the Lord Jesus Christ there is only one nature – the Divine – having in the Incarnation swallowed up the human nature (thus the heresy was called Monophysite).
The Monk Euthymius accepted the confession of the Chalcedon and he acknowledged it as Orthodox. News about this spread quickly among the monks and hermits and many of them, having previously believed wrongly, through the example of Saint Euthymius accepted the confession of the Chalcedon Council.
For his ascetic life and firm confession of the Orthodox faith Saint Euthymius received the title “the Great.” Having become wearied by intercourse with the world, the holy abba settled for a time into an inner wilderness. After his return to the lavra some of the brethren saw that, when he celebrated the Divine Liturgy, fire descended from Heaven and encircled the saint. The monk himself revealed to several of the monastics, that often he saw an Angel celebrating the Holy Liturgy together with him. The monk had a gift of perspicacity – he saw the innder workings of the spirit and he discerned human inclinations. When monastics received the Holy Mysteries, it was revealed to the monk who approached worthily, and who unto condemnation of self.
When the Monk Euthymios was 82 years old, there came to him blessed Sava (the future Sava the Sanctified), who was then still a youth. The elder received him with love and sent him off to the monastery of the Monk Theoctistus. He foretold, that the Monk Sava would shine in the monastic life.
When the saint had become 90 years of age, his companion and fellow Monk Theoctistus became grievously ill. The Monk Euthymius came to visit his friend and remained at the monastery; he took his leave of him and was present at the end. Having consigned the body to the grave, he returned to the lavra.
The time of his death was revealed to the Monk Euthymius through a particular mercy of God. On the day of memory of the Monk Anthony the Great, 17 January, the Monk Euthymius gave blessing to make the all-night vigil and, summoning the presbyters to the Altar, he told them that he would no more celebrate with them another vigil, because the Lord was summoning him from earthly life. All were filled with great sadness, but the monk commanded the brethren to gather together with him in the morning. He began to instruct the brethren: “If ye love me, observe my precepts, acquire love, which is an uniting of perfection. No virtuousness is possible without love and humility. The Lord Himself on account of His Love for us humbled Himself and became Man, as are we. We need therefore unceasingly to offer up praise to Him, particularly we, who have renounced the passions of the world. Never leave from church services, observe tradition and monastic rules carefully. If anyone of the brethren struggleth with unclean thoughts, unceasingly guide and instruct him, so that the devil does not carry off the brother into the pit.”
“I add likewise another command: let the gates of the monastery never be bolted to wanderers and everything that you have, offer to the needy, for the poor in their misfortune do what you can to help.” Afterwards, having given instruction for the guidance of the brethren, the monk promised to remain in spirit with all who desired to bear asceticism in his monastery until the end of the ages.
Having dismissed all, the Monk Euthymius kept about him only his one disciple Dometian and, remaining with him inside the Altar for three days, he died on 20 January in the year 473 at the age of 97 years.
At the burial of the holy abba there immediately thronged a multitude of monks from the monasteries and from the wilderness, among whom was Saint Gerasimus. The Patriarch Anastasius came also with clergy, the Nitreian monks Martyrius and Elias, who later became Jerusalem Patriarchs – about which the Monk Euthymius had foretold them.
Blessed Dometian did not leave the grave of his preceptor for six days. On the seventh day, he saw the holy abba, joyously having returned with love for his student: “I am come, my child, in preparation for thee in peace, wherefore I prayed the Lord Jesus Christ, that thou be with me.” Having told the brethren about the vision, Saint Dometian went to church and in joy offered his spirit to God. He was buried alongside Saint Euthymios. The relics of the Monk Euthymios were situated at his monastery in Palestine: the Russian pilgrim hegumen Daniel saw them in the twelfth century.