Onuphrius and Onufriy
“Come up to me, man of God! I’m the same human being like you; I live in this desert, struggling in the cause of God. Stand up, my son! For you are a servant of God and a friend to His saints”.
Today is a special day for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – the Name Day of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy. The name our Primate bears perfectly matches his life and ideals: this is the name of the ancient Egyptian hermit who lived in a remote IV century and whose great deeds are benchmarks for the hermit of the XXI century.
Let us add more details to our story.
Icon of the Venerable Onuphrius the Great
Ancient Egypt used to be a regular habitat of many hermits. Monk convents were located both in the Low and Middle Egypt. The inland Nitrian Desert in the Low Egypt beyond the Nile River was particularly famous in Egypt. An internal desert or Scetis could be found several days and nights’ journey further to the Pachomian monasteries. It was a savage sand desert with random wells; with no beaten track to lead to this place – the only itinerary was a star flow.
Namely in such desert lived for 60 (!) years humble hermit Onuphrius.
Being a young conventual of Thebes monastery, he heard the monks speaking of Saint Elijah Prophet. Strengthened by God, Elijah lived in a desert fasting. Besides, they spoke of Saint John, the Forerunner of Christ. Young conventual Onuphrius wished to learn more about these saint men and their desert feat. Having inquired the brethren further about the desert, he got to know the life was so rigorous there not everyone was able to live it, suffering losses and pursuing with deeds. Devils’ temptations, carnal afflictions, no amenities at all look incomparably hard. (For this reason God sends Angels to them who bring them food, get water out of stones, and encourage them).
It should seem all this couldn’t go after the young man’s heart, yet monk Onufriy felt an irresistible desire to go to a desert. Having woken up at night and taken some bread, he left the monastery, laying all his hopes on God. He was making for the desert, guided by the beaming sunray, similar to ancient Jews.
The beatific elder had been making such painful efforts that fell into despair many times in his life, thinking he was within a hair of death being hungry and thirsty. But God, seeing such a zeal and love of the young hermit, ordered His Angel to take care of him. For 30 years the Angel was feeding Onuphrius. Afterwards God supplied him with better nourishment – a date palm with 12 branches; each branch yielded fruits separately from the others every month until all 12 months were over.
The God’s Angel gave Onuphrius the Holy Communion. The Venerable Onuphrius died in IV century. This Saint Man is honored today. And the ideals of this Saint are what our Primate Onufriy is striving for.
What a huge time gap: the 4th and the 21st century, an ascetic monk in the Egyptian desert and His Beatitude Metropolitan in Ukraine… There can be drawn lots of similar comparisons. Still, there is a principal thing in common: love for Christ and His Church! This is precisely what each of us must learn from both honored fathers!
On 13 August 2014 Metropolitan Onufriy was elected Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. His first and primary service in Ukraine is peace service. The vladyka has repeatedly called for the war termination in South-East of Ukraine.
Looking at the man celebrating his Name Day, one may involuntarily remember a story from Paterik about a man who was elected bishop. It was an experienced monk, a faster, who on having come to the city from the desert, told his pupil, “well, brother, we were fasting in the desert till 6 p.m., and now we must fast even more strictly till 9 p.m. and take safeguards against all offences, since the temptation is even more considerable…”
The above words were uttered not because of the fear to eat red caviar, but out of concern about saving human souls. For a bishop is a man of fervent prayer and bleeding heart in his native land, a guardian of the city and the Church, a vigilant advocate with God for his nation. How much important it is for him not to tempt his flock, how important it is to be able to prepare his own soul for an incessant spiritual feat.
This is what our Primate appears – amazing everybody by his life style, his great deed. On top of that – he is an ocean filled with love. His eyes are well-disposed for a near one, his mouth sealed with continual praying. This explains why acathistos to Boyanskaya Icon of Godmother was created by his hand.
Nearly every day Vladyka Onufriy receives the clergy and laymen – nobody is refused to have an appointment with him. Every year he goes on a pilgrimage to Athos indulging in fasting and praying – like his celestial protector Abba Onuphrius.
Let’s ascend today our conscientious prayers about the two Christ-loving persons: Onuphrius the Great who is our Intercessor with God on behalf of the Celestial Church, and Metropolitan Onufriy who is a father of our Earthly Church. Let’s support His Beatitude in his hard service with our fervent prayers, since he is truly a luminary of the Ukrainian land and an Angel of our Church!
Ad Multos Annos to our Primate!