The Monastic Martyr Athanasius of Bretsk (Uncovering and Transfer of Relics 1649): The martyric death of the holy Passion-bearer Athanasius, igumen of Bretsk, occured on September 5, 1648. For eight months the body of the sufferer for Orthodoxy lay in the ground without a church funeral. On May 1, 1649 a boy pointed out to the brethren of the Simeonov monastery the place of the igumen’s burial. The ground in which the martyr was buried belonged at the time to the Jesuits, and therefore they had to go to work secretly. At night the monks dug up the incorrupt body of the igumen and immediately took it off to another place. In the morning, they brought it to their monastery, where after several days, on May 8, they buried him with honor at the right kleiros (choir) in the main church of the monastery dedicated to St Simeon the Stylite.
The earthly life of the monastic martyr Athanasius had come to an end, but the remembrance of him remained always alive and sacred among the Orthodox inhabitants of the west Russian frontier. The profound veneration of believers here for his holy name. His incorrupt relics, placed in a copper reliquary, were glorified by grace-filled gifts of wonderworking, and attracted a vast number of believers.
On November 8, 1815 at the time of a fire at the Bretsk Simeonov monastery, the wooden monastery church burned, and the copper reliquary, in which the relics of the martyr were kept, melted in the flames. The day following the fire, an unharmed portion of the relics were found by the priest Samuel of Lisovsk and placed by the pious inhabitants of the city of Bretsk beneath the altar of the monastery trapeza church. In the year 1823, with the blessing of Archbishop Anatolius of Minsk, the holy relics were placed in a wooden vessel by the head of the monastery and put in church for veneration.
Thus, it pleased God to preserve a portion of the relics of the holy Martyr Athanasius.
Rising up before us is this great champion of Orthodoxy, with his great faith and love of neighbor. Deeply religious, inexorably devoted to the faith of the holy Fathers, he became bold and expressed by word and by deed his priestly indignation against the oppression of Orthodox Christians by the haughty Uniates. With fervent faith in his calling by God, he entered into the struggle for his oppressed brethren. “I am not a prophet, but only a servant of God my Creator, sent because of the times, in order to speak the truth to everyone. He has sent me, so that I might proclaim beforehand the destruction of the accursed Unia.” Such were the words of the fervent, unyielding and inspired struggler for Orthodoxy, who deeply believed in the victorious power of the true Faith.
St Athanasius saw the complete affirmation of Orthodoxy and the final and total undoing of the Unia as his single goal. He dedicated his whole life to this end. Having submitted to the will of God, he had no thought of danger, nor did he consider the obstacles, in fulfilling his holy duty. St Athanasius used His daring, spiritually-inspired speeches and writings, his published grievances, and voluntary folly in Christ for the attainment of his sacred goal: the affirmation of Orthodoxy in the ancient Russian land.
Having repudiated the Unia, he was inspired with a deep sense of pity and love towards those who had become the victims of Uniate proselitism. The righteousness and sincerity of St Athanasius in relation to those nearby defined the course of all his deeds. By his existence in the solitary life, surrounded by open and hidden enemies, the holy ascetic remained a steadfast defender and pillar of Orthodoxy. He constantly repeated his prediction: “The Unia will die out, but Orthodoxy will flourish.”