Athanasius was born in Trebizond of God-fearing parents. He was orphaned at an early age, but by the providence of God a military officer took him under his care and brought him to Constantinople to be educated. Because of his meekness and humbleness, he was the favorite of his peers. During their games, the children chose one to be an emperor, another a commander – and Athanasius an abbot, as though it were a prophecy! Having completed his education, Athanasius (who before tonsure was called Abraham) withdrew into the desert of Maleinos near the Holy Mountain, where he lived the life of an ascetic, as a disciple of the then renowned Michael Maleinos. Desiring a more difficult life of asceticism, Athanasius moved to Mount Athos, to live in silence. But many that were desirous of a life of asceticism began to gather around him, and he was compelled to build his famous Lavra. He was assisted in this by the Byzantine emperors, first by Nicephorus Phocas, who himself intended to withdraw and become a monk, and then by John Tzimiskes. Countless temptations befell Athanasius, both from demons and from men – but he, as a brave soldier of Christ, resisted and conquered them all, by his immeasurable meekness and continual prayer to the Living God. Filled with the grace of God, Athanasius was found worthy to see the All-holy Theotokos, who miraculously brought forth water from a rock and promised that she would always be the Abbess of the monastery. In work and in prayer, Athanasius surpassed his brethren, and he loved all with the love of a spiritual father and shepherd. Death came to Athanasius unexpectedly. He and six other monks had climbed up onto a newly built vestibule of the church to inspect a wall that was being constructed, and the wall caved in on them and buried them. Thus died this great beacon of monasticism, in the year 1003. Many times following his death Athanasius appeared to his brethren – sometimes to comfort them, and sometimes to reprimand them.
From The Prologue of Ohrid by St. Nikolai Velimirovic
The Angels’ ranks were awed by thy life in the flesh, how, though corporeal, and clad with earthly clay, thou didst set forth with courage to invisible wars and wrestlings and didst boldly smite the hordes of the demons with mortal wounds. Wherefore, Christ rewarded thee with abundant gifts in return. Entreat Him that our souls find salvation, O most renowned Father Athanasius.
The yoke of thy Christ, thou tookest on thyself with faith, while bearing thy cross upon thy shoulders as a true and unrivalled emulator of His dread Passion and sharer of His great glory, partaking of divine and unending joy, O Athanasius.