The rare title, "Man of God," was bestowed on St. Alexios for the manner in which he gave himself over to Jesus Christ, forsaking a bride even at the altar in order to fulfill to the letter the admonition read to him while he was contemplating enlistment in the service of the Lord. He kept his true identity a secret for an entire lifetime rather than run the risk of betraying the Master through his own emotions and there is no telling how much mental anguish he suffered in silence for the sake of his commitment. When he felt the call he answered with a hesitation for which he judged himself too harshly and which he bore in mute secrecy.
Alexios was born in 380 AD in the eternal city of Rome during the reign of Theodosios the Great and was raised in a royal household by his parents, Ephemios and Aglaia, who discerned a predilection for the Church in their son, a religious fervour they could not share and which they sought to discourage for fear they would lose him. They lost no time in arranging for his marriage and in impressing upon him the debt he owed to his parents, for which he should respect their wishes in all things. He had reluctantly suppressed the call he felt to the Lord's service and had agreed to the marriage when he had a vision one day of St. Paul, who said he should answer the call to God at all costs, reading to him the passage in Matthew which says: "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me."
The bewildered Alexios was torn between his sense of duty to his parents and that urging to serve the Lord, and swayed between both, at long last deciding to go through with what he had promised his family. The feeling that he should go the other way gnawed at him even as he stood at the altar, and when the ceremony had been completed he looked upon the Cross of Jesus and without a word walked away from bride, family and friends to do what he had to do.
He stepped into the anonymity of a Syrian monastery where for the next eighteen years he assumed another identity, and never looked back at Rome. Having made a choice they had opposed, he suspected his parents had disinherited him and that his bride had had the marriage annulled, but this was not the case. As a matter of fact, the bride had gone to live with his parents in the fond hope that Alexios would someday return, and the parents spared no expense in trying to locate their son, but after eighteen years with no word from him they presumed him to be dead.
In his eighteen years in the monastery, Alexios was transformed into a respected holy man whose solemn dedication to Jesus was the subject of many discussions among not only the monks but the community which he served. Unlike other monks, he was a man of few words and left the preaching and sermonising to other brother monks while he concentrated on writing on many issues concerning the faith. The vision that he had had many years before of St. Paul still haunted him and he had a burning desire to go to Tarsus, Paul's birthplace. He boarded a boat bound for the short trip up the coast, but while at sea a violent storm arose and blew the vessel miles off course also leaving her a derelict at the mercy of the wind and tides. They were finally picked up by a ship bound for Rome and Alexios found himself back in the city of his birth. Nostalgia seized him and he went to the family estate, primarily to get a glimpse of his folks, but when they failed to recognise him he felt compelled to remain and was given the task of spiritual counsellor, not only to the estate, but to the neighbouring families as well. The abandoned bride was still living with the parents and she also failed to recognise him, for which he was grateful, for he found contentment in being able to serve the Lord while not revealing his true identity, which he considered would be a disservice to the Saviour after all the years of anonymity. He went about his duties with grace acquired and enjoyed the respect of families for miles around. When he felt death drawing near, Alexios wrote a letter to his family in which he expressed his love for them, which he could not do in life. The letter was read posthumously not only by his family but by the bishop of Rome, who had him interred in the chapel of St. Peter's. He died for Christ on 30 March 440AD, after thirty-four years of celibacy and anonymity.
St. Alexis the Man of God
In the fourth century, there lived in Rome the wealthy spouses, Euthymianus and Aglaia, who were known for their kindheartedness and compassion. They would receive the poor, orphans, widows and strangers in their home daily and feed them. If, on any day, only a few paupers came to the table, Euthymianus would say with sadness: "I am unworthy to walk on the earth of my God."
Everyone loved Euthymianus and his wife, but they had no children. Euthymianus and Aglaia regretted this and daily begged the Lord that for comfort in old age He would send to them a son. Finally, God heard their prayer, and a son was born to them, whom they called Alexis at baptism. The parents exerted every effort so that their son would grow up good and pious.
Directed by his pious parents, Alexis loved the Lord from his early years. He fasted strictly, dressed modestly, and prayed often. When Alexis attained maturity, his parents found a bride for him and married him. [Translator's note: Literally, "crowned him" — a reference to the placing of crowns on the heads of the bride and groom during the Orthodox wedding service.]
On the first day of their marriage, when the young spouses were left alone, Alexis came up to his virgin-wife, gave her a gold ring and a precious belt and said: "Preserve this, and may God be between thee and me until the time that His grace will arrange something new for us." Having said this, Alexis withdrew.
Having taken off from himself his rich wedding garments, he put on the garments of a village dweller, took a little money and left his parents' home. Alexis was drawn by Christ's words: "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Mt. 19:29). One may suppose that before leaving his father's house, St. Alexis had agreed to marry in order to assure a future for his bride.
Wandering from land to land, Alexis finally reached the city of Edessa. Here he found the ancient Image of the Savior Not-Made-by-Hands. In Edessa, Alexis distributed his last money to the poor and began to live on alms near a church in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos. Alexis passed day and night in prayer, while on Sundays he would partake of the Holy Mysteries. Thus, he passed seventeen years in poverty and spiritual struggles.
Gradually, many of the inhabitants of Edessa became acquainted with the pauper who sat by the church, and they valued his high spiritual qualities. One of the ministers of the church saw in a dream the Most Holy Virgin Mary, who said to him: "Bring into my church the man of God: for his prayer reaches unto God, and as a crown upon a king's head, so is the Holy Spirit upon him." The church minister wondered to whom these words applied, but the vision was repeated, and the Mother of God pointed to the pauper who was sitting at the doors of the church.
From that time, esteem for Alexis grew still more, and he began to be praised and openly set forth as an example. Alexis, fleeing vainglory, left Edessa. Having reached the Mediterranean Sea, he boarded a ship in order to get to some other land. While sailing on the sea, a terrible storm arose, which after several days threw the damaged ship onto the shores of Italy — not far from Rome, where Alexis had lived formerly.
Reaching the shore, Alexis made for his home, and on the road met his father, who was returning from church. Bowing before him, Alexis said: "Have mercy on me a sinner and give me a corner in thy house. May the Lord bless thee for this and grant thee the Kingdom of Heaven, and if thou hast any of thy near ones wandering, may He return him safely." These words reminded Euthymianus of his lost son. He shed tears and commanded that the pauper be given a small little house on his property.
Thus, Alexis began to live on his father's property, unrecognized by anyone because he had changed so greatly in his outward appearance after having lived so long in deprivations. At home, Alexis led the same manner of life as he had earlier in Edessa: he constantly prayed to God, communed each Sunday, endured poverty, and was satisfied with the very least. It was difficult for Alexis, living near his father, mother and wife, to see their sorrow over their lost son and husband. Thus, seventeen more years passed.
When Alexis felt the approach of his death, he described his life on a parchment, beginning from the day of his parting from his kin, and began to prepare for death.
On the following Sunday, Bishop Innocent of Rome was serving the Liturgy in church, in the presence of the Emperor Honorius. There were many people praying. During the divine service, a voice rang out in the church: "Seek the man of God in the house of Euthymianus." The Emperor, having turned to Euthymianus, asked: "Why hast thou not informed us that the man of God is living with thee?" Euthymianus replied: "God sees that I know not of whom thou speakest."
Then the Emperor Honorius and Pope Innocent decided to visit Euthymianus' home personally to meet with the man of God. Coming to his property, they learned from the servants that in the little house lived a pauper who passed all his time in prayers and strict fasting. Entering, they saw an emaciated man lying without breath on the floor. His face shone, and his body was fragrant.
The Emperor, having seen the parchment in Alexis' hand, took it and read it aloud. Then, at last, Euthymianus and all those present learned that the pauper, who had lived there for so many years, was his lost son. Mother and father sorrowed greatly that they had learned about their beloved son so late, but at the same time were comforted by the fact that he had attained to such great holiness.
The saint's body, which performed many miracles, was placed in the middle of the square, where all Rome gathered. The Emperor and the Pope themselves bore the body of the saint into the church, where it remained for a whole week, and which was then placed in a marble sepulchre. From the holy relics a fragrant myrrh began to flow forth which granted healing to the sick.