Saint Romilus the Hesychast was the disciple of Saint Gregory of Sinai (August 8). He was born in Vidin, Bulgaria of a Greek father and a Bulgarian mother. As a child, he possessed a maturity beyond his years, and disdained childish games and pursuits. His friends, and even his teacher, admired him for his learning and piety.
His parents wanted to marry him to a woman, but he longed for the monastic life. When he learned that they planned to force him into marriage, he fled to the Hodigitria Monastery at Trnovo. The abbot accepted him and tonsured him with the name Romanus. From the beginning of his life as a monk, Romanus was known for his virtue and for his humility.
The monk Romanus, hearing of the monastery established by Saint Gregory of Sinai in the wilderness of Paroria, longed to dwell there. Although the abbot realized that the young man wished to live in a more remote area far from worldly distractions, he was reluctant to let him go. The desire of Romanus to go to Paroria grew stronger day by day. He spoke to the abbot again, and the Elder was grieved at the thought of losing the exemplary and well-loved Romanus. He realized, however, that keeping Romanus there might not be according to the will of God. Therefore, he blessed Romanus to depart, and gave him provisions for his journey.
Romanus traveled to Paroria with another monk named Hilarion and explained to Saint Gregory who they were and that they had come to be his disciples. Saint Gregory received them and assigned them to their obediences in the monastery. Since Hilarion was weaker, he was given lighter duties. Romanus, who was strong, received heavier labors. He would carry wood from the mountain, or sometimes stones. He also carried water from the river, and helped in the kitchen and in the bakery. He even tended the sick, who seemed to improve under his care. Seeing his humility, his cheerful obedience, and his piety, the other monks called him “Romanus the Good.”
Romanus received instruction in the spiritual life from Saint Gregory, who trained him to be a great ascetic. When Saint Gregory fell asleep in the Lord, Romanus grieved for him day and night. He did not wish to remain in that place without being subject to an Elder. He found another instructor who had already accepted Romanus’s fellow-traveler Hilarion as a disciple. Romanus subjected himself to this Elder, obeying him as he had obeyed Saint Gregory.
Because the three monks were assailed by robbers who deprived them of the necessities of life, they left Paroria and went back to Zagora. They settled at a place called Mogrin, about one day’s journey from Trnovo. For some reason, Romanus left the Elder to dwell in a remote place by himself. Hearing of the Elder’s death, he returned and fell upon his grave with tears, filled with regret that he had deserted his instructor. Then he fell at Hilarion’s feet and said, “Since I disobeyed the Elder’s order and left this place, I place myself under you from this day forward.” Hilarion, knowing that Romanus surpassed him in virtue, would not agree to this. Romanus insisted saying, “Unless you accept me under your authority, I shall not get up from the ground.” Seeing his great humility, Hilarion finally agreed to accept Romanus.
Hearing that the robbers had been subdued by Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, Romanus and Hilarion decided to go back to Paroria, where they could live in solitude and contemplation. Later, Romanus was tonsured into the Great Schema with the name Romilus.
The incursions of the Moslems forced Romilus to return yet again to Zagora, where he built a hut in a remote place. Other monks in the area, through envy or jealousy, resented Romilus, so he traveled to Mt. Athos. There many monks came to him for spiritual counsel, and they disturbed his quietude. Fleeing human glory, he went from place to place until he came to Mt. Melana near Karyes. Even there, monks gathered around him, and he was able to console and instruct them for their profit. He taught them to wage war against the passions, and against the demons who seek the destruction of the soul. He also taught them to love God and their neighbor, seeking the good things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard (I Cor. 2:9).
Not only did he correct his own disciples, but sometimes an Elder would send his disciples to Saint Romilus for correction. He urged them not to question or contradict their Elder’s orders, but to obey him just as Christ obeyed the will of the Father (John 6:38). He warned them that those who refuse to submit to authority are easily led astray by the Enemy. He also urged the Elders to be gentle with their disciples, and to avoid harsh treatment.
Once again, the number of monks who sought spiritual conversation with him hindered his own spiritual struggles and prayer. Therefore, he moved to the northern part of Mt. Athos and built a cell where he could live in solitude. The more he fled worldly glory, however, the more this glory found him. When the location of his cell became known, they flocked to him just as before.
The Serbian despot John Ugljela was killed by the Turks at the Battle of Marica on September 26, 1371. This allowed the Moslems to attack Mt. Athos, so many of the monks (including Saint Romilus) fled to other places. Saint Romilus went to Valona in Albania. He thought that in this obscure place he would find solitude, but he was mistaken. Many monks and laymen came to him, afflicted with ignorance, enslaved to base passions, with no shepherd to guide them. Through his words and his example, he led many from darkness into the light of Christ.
Saint Romilus left Valona with his disciples and moved to Ravenica in Serbia, where there was a monastery dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos. He settled near this place with his disciples. In 1375, he surrendered his soul to God and went to the heavenly Kingdom. It is said that his grave emitted an ineffable fragrance.
Even after his death, Saint Romilus performed great miracles, casting out demons, and healing all sorts of diseases and suffering. Through his holy prayers, may we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and great mercy from Christ our God, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and the Most Holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.