Venerable Maximus Kavsokalyvites of Mt Athos

Saint Maximus Kavsokalyvites was educated at the church of the Most Holy Theotokos at Lampsakos. At seventeen years of age he left his parental home, became a monk, and passed his obedience under Elder Mark, the finest spiritual instructor in Macedonia. After the death of his teacher, the saint pursued asceticism under the guidance of several desert Fathers of extremely strict life. Arriving in Constantinople, St Maximus was constantly at the Blachernae church of the Most Holy Theotokos, as though he had taken up his abode at the entrance.

From his youth, St Maximus had a great love for the Mother of God. He persistently entreated Her to grant him the gift of unceasing mental prayer. One day, as he was venerating her icon, he felt a warmth and a flame enter his heart from the icon. It did not burn him, but he felt a certain sweetness and contrition within. From that time, his heart began to repeat the Jesus Prayer of itself. In this way, the Virgin Theotokos fulfilled his request.

St Maximus fulfilled his obedience in the Lavra of St Athanasius on Mt. Athos. In order to conceal his ascetic deeds of fasting and prayer, and to avoid celebrity, he behaved like a fool. One day, he had a vision of the Mother of God, who told him to ascend the mountain. On the summit of the Holy Mountain, he prayed for three days and nights. Again, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to him surrounded by angels, and holding Her divine Son in Her arms.

Prostrating himself, the saint heard the All-Holy Virgin speak to him, “Receive the gift against demons... and settle at the foot of Athos, for this is the will of My Son.” She told him that he would ascend the heights of virtue, and become a teacher and guide for many. Then, since he had not eaten for several days, a heavenly bread was given to him. As soon as he put it in his mouth, he was surrounded by divine light, and he saw the Mother of God ascending into Heaven.

St Maximus told his vision to a certain Elder living by the church of the holy Prophet Elias at Carmel. He was skeptical, but the saint turned his disbelief to good. He pretended to be slightly crazy in order to conceal his prodigious ascetic deeds, privations, his hardship and solitude. St Maximus did not live in a permanent abode, but wandered from place to place like a lunatic. Whenever he moved, he would burn his hut down. Therefore, he was called “Kavsokalyvites,” or “Hut Burner.”

Those on the Holy Mountain, knowing of the extreme deprivations and sorrows of St Maximus, for a long time regarded him with contempt, even though he had attained the height and perfection of spiritual life. When St Gregory of Sinai (August 8) arrived on Athos, he encountered the holy fool. After speaking to him, he began to call him an earthly angel. St Gregory persuaded St Maximus to stop behaving like a fool and to live in one place so that others might benefit from his spiritual experience. Heeding the words of St Gregory and the advice of other Elders, St Maximus selected a permanent dwelling in a cave near the renowned Elder Isaiah.

Knowing of his gift of clairvoyance, the Byzantine Emperors John Paleologos (1341-1376) and John Kantakouzenos (1341-1355) visited him and were surprised by the fulfillment of his predictions. Theophanes, the igumen of Vatopedi monastery, wrote about St Maximus: “I invoke God as my witness, that I myself saw several of his miracles. Once, for instance, I saw him travel through the air from one place to another. I listened as he made a prediction concerning me, that first I would be an igumen, and then Metropolitan of Ochrid. He even revealed to me how I would suffer for the Church.”

St Maximus abandoned his solitude only just before his death, and settled near the Lavra of St Athanasius, where he surrendered his soul to the Lord at 95 years of age (+ 1354). After his death, as in life, St Maximus was glorified by many miracles.