saint Atanazy - patron of the diocezeThe date of birth of saint Atanazy Filipowicz is assumed between 1595 and 1600, however the exact year is unknown. His father was a nobleman or a town craftsman. Atanazy attended the religious school, which prepared him well to defend the Orthodox faith against Greek Catholics and Roman Catholics. He knew four languages: Polish, Russian, Latin and Greek. The Saint was working at Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s Chancellor’s, Lew Sapieha, court for seven years and was teaching Luba, Maryna Mniszek’s son. However, Atanazy did not feel happy at the court and wanted to focus on spiritual life.
Atanazy left Sapieha’s court in 1627 and joined The Holy Spirit Monastery in Wilno. However, he decided to leave this monastery and started to look for the best place for himself. At first he joined Monastery in Kutielsk near Orsza and then Miezyhgrski Monastery near Kiev.
Having sthreghten his vocation, Atanazy returned to Wilno. On his way back he met a lame man, whom Atanazy took on his back and carried. The stranger talked about the idea of Christian life and the importance of the prayer. When the man disappeared, Atanazy thought that it was God’s sign for him to struggle for the Orthodox faith.
In 1632 he was ordained hieromonk and took the position of the head of Dubovsk Monastery. However, he was not there long as in 1636 the monastery was taken after by the Jesuits. St. Atanazy went with monks to Kupiaticki Monastery near Pińsk, which was established on November, 15, 1182 at the place where the miraculous icon of the Theotokos appeared. The Orthodox church was built there, but in 1240 it was burned by Tatars and the icon was hidden in the ashes for over 250 years. The icon was found in the 15th century and the monastery was rebuilt. In 1655 the monastery was seized by Greek Catholics and the icon was taken to the Sofia God’s Wisdom cathedral. That icon of the Theotokos played an important role in St. Atanazy's life.
St. Atanazy got acquainted in the monastery with the monk Makary Tokarewski. The Saint got soon a task to collect donations for rebuilding the Church of Kupiaticka icon of the Theotokos. Before entering the church Saint Atanazy prayed to Kupiaticka icon of the Mother of God for pointing generous donors. The Theotokos replied to his prayers, saying: ‘Go to the tsar. He will build the church for me.’ St. Atanazy, following Her words, went to Moscow. However the journey at that time was difficult and dangerous because of the war. Nevertheless, the Saint got to Moscow safely thanks to the protection of the Theotokos. The tsar Mikhail Fiodorowicz welcomed him warmly and made a generous donation.
After his mission had been completed, St. Atanazy received a new task that he was conducting till the end of his life. In the year 1640 monks from St. Simeon Monastery in Brest nominated two candidates for the position of igumen: Makary Tokarewski and Atanazy Filipowicz. Atanazy was chosen for that post and he went to Brest.
He was struggling for better situation of the Orthodox community in that town. He preached Orthodox Christians to be strong in their faith. St. Atanazy was trying to oppose various forms of proselytism from the Catholic Church. Not only did he preach but also participated actively in the political life. One of his major successes was that king Wladislaw IV promised a decree confirming all the privileges of the Brest brotherhood and granting autonomy to the Orthodox Church. However the decree was never validated due to the Jesuits’ and Greek Catholics’ influences. When St. Atanazy asked Lew Sapieha for help, he heard: ‘If you were Uniats than you would receive privileges’.
The Orthodox clergy in Warsaw did not want to help either. Nobody was willing to talk about well-being of the Church. St. Atanazy wrote in his diary: ‘O, righteous God, nobody cares about the Orthodox faith or Your glory anymore; everybody seems to be ashamed of it…’
He very often during tough days prayed to Kupiaticka icon of the Mother of God. Once, while reading akaphist, the Saint heard the Theotokos: ‘Atanazy you should stand before the Sejm and show everyone my Kupiaticka icon put on the cross. Preach the king and Polish people that they should change their attitude otherwise they will be punished. Firstly, they have to stand against the Union, this is the most important and can help them’. Saint Atanazy followed the directions and in 1643 he went to the Sejm meeting in Warsaw. On his journey he stopped at St. Onufry’s Monastery in Jabłeczna and prayed to the saint for help. At the Sejm session St. Atanazy gave magnates and senators the Kupiaticka icons of the Mother of God together with the Theotokos’ warning of God’s anger for approving the Union and persecuting the Orthodox people by the Jesuits and Uniats. He also threatened the Polish king with God’s anger if the Union was not ended and the Orthodox Church did not regain its rights.
The Saint was put in prison for the time of the session because of those words. To fulfill the Theotokos’ will St. Atanazy became ‘fool for Christ’. On the Day of the Baptism of Christ the Saint escaped from the prison wearing only klobuk (headdress) and mantia (the monk’s outer cloak). He was running across the streets of Warsaw and went into the churches, yelling: ‘The infidels will be punished!' Atanazy was punished for such a behaviuor by being thrown into a deep muddy ditch. He was bitten, kicked and then judged. He was deprived of the position of the igumen and he was prohibited to be the priest at all. Metropolitan Piotr Mohyla was asked to confirm the judgement. However, after the scrutinized research, the metropolitan made St. Atanazy the priest and igumen again and sent him to Brest.
The situation of the Orthodox community in Brest was getting worse. Orthodox Christians were persecuted by Latin and Uniat clergy. The Orthodox churches were ruined; the services had to be interrupted because of the crowd entering the church.
Saint Atanazy was praying to Kupiaticka icon of the Mother of God. During one of his prayers he again heard the Theotokos: ‘Atanazy go one more time to the Sejm meeting and ask the king and Polish country to end the Union. If they listen to me, they will live happily’. However the Saint was not able to fulfill the will as he was arrested and sent to prison in Warsaw. He was charged with the accusation that during his stay in Moscow he had conspired against Poland.
The Saint wrote the letter to the king describing how the Orthodox Church in Poland was persecuted. He also explored on the Universal Church, explained the importance of the Universal Councils. St. Atanazy also wrote about the Union and the bishops’: Pociej, Terlecki, Rahozy actions. He reminded as well about king’s promise to improve the situation of the Orthodox Church. After receiving the second St. Atanazy’ letters, the king ordered to release the Saint on the condition that Kiev metropolitan would take responsibility for him. The Saint stayed at Kiev-Piechersk Lavra until the year 1647 when Piotr Mohyla died.
In 1648, when St. Atanazy had already came back to Brest, the Chmielnicki uprising broke out. On July, 1 Atanazy was arrested and accused of bringing gunpowder to the participants of the uprising. However no proof against the Saint was found during the inspection of the monastery. He was then accused of profaning the Union. Asked by Andrew Gębicki, the Bishop of Lutsk: 'Did you oppose the union?’ he said: ‘It is cursed!’ He was arrested and put into the prison in the castle in Brest. The Jesuits threatened St. Atanazy and tried to force him to renounce the Orthodox faith and join the Union. They promised to grant him freedom but the Saint did not want to take the offer. At dawn on September, 5 Atanazy was taken to the forest which was 2 kilometers from Brest. He was tortured by singeing and then the grave was dug in front of his eyes. He was given one more chance to change his opinion on the Union. However, the Saint firmly confirmed his previous utterance. One of the soldiers was given the order to shoot Atanazy in the head. However, the soldier saw the Saint’s great courage and kneed before him asking for forgiveness and blessing. After that he shot twice into Atanazy's head, nevertheless the Saint stood still. He was thrown into the grave but managed to cross arms on the chest and straighten the legs. The Saint was buried alive.
That night nobody slept in the town. Atanazy’s students, who were observing the whole situation hidden in bushes, wrote: 'The night when the Saint was murdered evoked fear in us. The sky was cloudless but it was thundering and lightening’.
On May, 1, 1649 students dug out the body of Atanazy, which after eight months was not decayed at all. The relics were put into the tomb located in the main church of the St. Simeon Monastery in Brest.
The cult of the Saint has started at that time. There was a light above the relics and people by his tomb were healed. In 1856 10-year-old boy, Aleksander Poliwanow, was healed from the paralysis and in 1860 priest Wasilij Sołowiow was healed from the fatal disease. However, there were many more instances of miraculous healings.
On November, 8, 1815, St. Simeon Church was burned down together with the relics of Saint Atanazy. The remains of the relics were found in the ashes and put under the altar in the rebuilt church. In 1823 they were put in the sarcophagus so that people could prey to St. Atanazy. On September, 20, 1893 the relics were taken to the newly built St. Atanazy of Brest Church in Grodno. Next year part of the relics was given to the convent in Leśna Podlaska. However, when nuns were evacuated to Russia the relics were taken to Siberia and then to Provemont in France.
The relics were brought by Serafim, Archbishop of Brussels and whole West Europe to the Orthodox Lublin- Chełm Diocese at the request of Abel, Archbishop of Lublin- Chełm Diocese and with J.E. Witalij, Russian Emigration Orthodox Church head’s blessing.
On October, 27, 1996 St. Atanazy icon with part of his relics consecrated at the Monastery of the Theotokos in Leśna were brought to Biała Podlaska and put in the St. Atanazy Orthodox Church.