Athanasia was just an ordinary eighth century Greek girl inspired to live chastely, working for the Lord. Like most would-be virgins, she was pressured by her parents to get married. They were aristocrats within the Byzantine Empire and thought it would be best all around for her to comply with Emperor Michael the Stammerer's law that marriageable girls must marry soldiers. As she was sixteen, wedding bells were ringing in the chapel.
They picked out a nice officer for her, but he only lived sixteen days. It wasn't marriage to a teenager that killed him, however; raiding Arabs took him out. Athanasia was ready to take up the life religious, but the law still applied so they found another husband. Fortunately, this one was as religiously motivated as she. [The Orthodox Church in America says that he was a Muslim whom she converted to Christianity.] He became a monk and she a nun. They gave away most of their possessions and split up to follow their vocations.
|The monastery on Aegina, built over the ruins of Athanasia's|
She converted their home into a convent. It was so successful that it eventually moved to Timia, where she became a celebrity of sorts. Crowds came to see her, to touch her, to beg her blessing. Healing was reported, and then the path to the door was beaten wide and flat. Desperate for solitude, she walled herself up in a cell in Constantinople, but even there, she had visitors. Empress Theodora herself used to swing by to ask advice. Near the end of her life, the sisters of Timia persuaded Athanasia to return.
One might expect life to be full of trouble and labor, but death should be a restful thing, right? And there was a very promising start. At her funeral, a sister had a vision of two men leading Athanasia through the gates of paradise after giving her a crown and a staff.
Athanasia had left instructions that the poor were to be fed for forty days following her death as a memorial to her. That might be asking a lot, but if your memorial feeds the poor, who's to quibble? The sisters of Timia, apparently. They thought nine days would be good enough, but on the night of the tenth day, Sister Athanasia showed up and reamed them out for their stinginess. Then she jabbed her staff into the ground and walked away. In the morning, the staff sprouted leaves, and the sisters started setting out food for the poor again.
A year later, a possessed woman was brought to Timia for healing. They took her to Athanasia's grave, but that didn't quite do the trick. They started digging, hoping that proximity to the saint would help, or maybe contact with the earth that had been so close to the blessed woman. Before long, they dug up the saint herself, who was incorrupt (of course) and exuding the scent of myrrh. The demons were expelled from the visitor and the sisters of Timia decided to fix Athanasia up a little better.
They removed her from the coffin and took her hair shirt off. When they tried to put a silk gown on her, however, the body became rigid. In spite of all their pushing and pulling, Athanasia would not budge. One of the sisters pleaded,
“O our lady, as thou didst unquestioningly obey us while thou didst live with us, so even now be well pleased to obey us and be clothed in these garments, our humble gift offered unto thee.”
Being reasonable (or maybe just hoping for a little rest), Athanasia allowed the body to relax and be clothed in silk. She was not a woman who got her way easily in life or death, but the big stuff seems to have worked out for her.
NB. The Orthodox celebrate her feast on April 12.