The setting for the remarkable Life which is the subject of this book is Pharasa, in Cappadocia in Asia Minor. Now in Turkey, Asia Minor was part of the Greek Commonwelth from about 2000 B.C., as were areas along the Black Sea coast, the Crimea, Georgia and Armenia.
Settled by Greeks, it was later home to Early Christians as Saint Paul' s epistles to the Ephesians and the Galatians bear witness, and then to the great Fathers of the Orthodox Church, among them Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. Many of the most paoular Saints are associated with Asia Minor, including Saints George, Nicholas and Charalambos, and in Byzantium it provided much of the enormous wealth of the State, both in material terms and also spiritually, through the ascetic labours of the monks for which the region was renowned. These areas were gradually lost to Byzantium and finally the unthinkable occurred, the Queen od Cities itself fell to the Turks in 1453, AND THE Emperor, Constantinos XI Palaiologos, was slain at its gates in the last defence.
Under the harsh, barbarian yoke of the Turks, the Christian population was forced to find a modus vivendi in their appalling new situation. A very small number submitted to Islam, while others lived as secret Christians. Other again renounced all contact with the conquerors and lived a despised and deprived existence. Many of them were martyred for the love of Christ, after undergoing dreadful torments.
These Christian formed small nuclei of Orthodoxy, scattered around different parts of Asia Minor. They were at once the proud heirs of Byzantium, and through Byzantium, of Greece. One of these oases of Orthodoxy consisted of the Christian who were blessed by the presence of Saint Arsenios as their teacher, spiritual Father and healer of their souls and bodies in the latter half of the last century. An indication of the as astounding tenacity with which they held on to their Greek identidy is given by the fact that Saint Arsenios would often give children at baptism the name of the capital of Greece, Athens, as well as Eleftherios/ Eleftheria (=Freedom), as a reminder of their enslaved homeland.
And it was in Greece that they evetually had to settle under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which made provision for the exchange of populations, following the disastrous Greek military campaign in Asia Minor in 1922. Harassed by the Turks (cf. the numerous references to the Turkish irregulars in the book), stripped of their possessions, they undertook the long trek to a country where the land was much less hospitable than the rich acres they had left behind and where the resources of the still embryonic State were hopelessly inadequate fore the task of receiving them in such numbers. The effort was made, however, and somehow these hopeless people found the strength in adversity to start again and to rebuild lives.
It was into this backround, then, that the future Saint Arsenios was born in about 1840. He lived there all his life, leaving only to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land and, finally, to make the painful trip to Greece, where he died, as he had foretold, forty days after his arrival.
The book which describes his remarkable Life falls into three parts. In the first, the author tells how it came to be written: how he first became attracted to the subject, how we was actually baptised by the Saint, who foresaw his monastic future, and how he meticulously gathered and sifted material before finally committing in to paper. This involved a great deal of travelling, since, as Saint Arsenios had forewarned long before in Cappadocia, the inhabitants of Pharasa were scattered far and wide throughout Greece. Reference is also made in this part of the book to the first appearances of the Saint after his falling-asleep.
The secont part is the Life proper, a more or less chronogical account of the Saint' s activities and miracles, ending with his falling-asleep in Corfu, with illuminating insights into both his personality and the way in which the Grace of God acted within him.............