Saint Hierotheos was born in Athens, and eventually became a justice of the Supreme Court at Areios Pagos, as did his disciple, Saint Dionysios.
When Saint Paul the Apostle went to Athens, he catechized Hierotheos, baptized him, and ordained him first Bishop of Athens. Then Saint Hierotheos taught the doctrines of our Lord Jesus Christ to Saint Dionysios the Areopagite.
Saint Hierotheos was present at the Dormition of the holy Mother of God. He ascended on a cloud along with the other Apostles and hierarchs. Hierotheos was totally beside himself when he beheld the Mother of our Lord.
Tradition says that, his divine singing and heartfelt joy proved him to be greatly inspired. The holy Apostles admired his words and kept them in their memory.
An encomium by Saint Hierotheos to our Panagia is presented here: “When was such a wonder of wonders ever seen by men? How does the Queen of all lie breathless? How has the Mother of Jesus reposed? Thou, O Virgin, wast the preaching of the prophets; thou art heralded by us. All the people venerate thee; the angels glorify thee. Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee, and through thee, with us. With Gabriel we hymn thee; with the angels we glorify thee; and with the prophets we praise thee, for they announced thee.
Abbakoum beheld thee as an overshadowed mountain, for thou art covered with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Daniel beheld thee as a mountain from whom, seedlessly, the solid and strong King, the Christ,, issued forth. Jacob saw thee as a ladder upon Whom Christ came down to eat and drink with us. And although we, His slaves, contemplate ascending into the Heavens, yet thou hast ascended before all. Rejoice, O Virgin, for Gideon beheld thee as a fleece. David saw thee as the virgin daughter of the King. Esaias called thee Mother of God, and Ezekiel a gate. All the prophets prophesied thee!
“What shall we call thee, O Virgin? Paradise. It is meet, for thou hast blossomed forth the flower of incorruption, Christ, Who is the sweet-smelling fragrance for the souls of men. Virgin? Verily, a virgin thou art, for without the seed of man thou gavest birth to our Lord Jesus Christ. Thou wast a virgin before birth, and virgin at birth, and still a virgin after. Shall we call thee Mother? This is meet too; for as a Mother thou gavest birth to Christ the King of all. Shall we name thee Heaven? This thou art also, for upon thee rose the Sun of righteousness. Therefore, rejoice, O Virgin and hasten to thy Son’s rest and dwell in the tents of His beloved. Hasten there and make ready a place, and remember us and all thy people also, O Lady Mother of God, for both we and thyself are of the race of Adam. On account of this, intercede on our behalf; for this supplicate thy Son Whom thou hast held in thine embrace and help us in our preaching, and that afterward we may find rest in our hopes. Go forward, O Virgin, from earth to Heaven, from corruption to incorruption, from the sorrow of this world to the joy of the Kingdom of the Heavens, from this perishable earth to the everlasting Heaven. Hasten, O Virgin, to the heavenly light, to the hymns of the angels, to the glory of the saints from all the ages. Hasten, O Virgin, to the place of thy Son, to His kingdom, to His power, where the angels chant, the prophets glorify and the archangels hymn the Mother of the King, who is the lit lampstand, the firmament above, more spacious than the Heavens, the protection of Christians, and the mediatress of our race.” With these words of praise to our Panagia, Saint Hierotheos said his farewell and embraced the body of the all-holy one.
Saint Hierotheos was a teacher, after the Apostles, supervising the divine hymns. Everyone who knew and heard him assumed he had been inspired by our Lord.
An Encomium to Saint Hierotheos, by the most wise Efthymios Zigabenos, revised by Monk Agathon:
“To Hierotheos, the holy man of God, I offer this encomium, for it is meet and fitting to extol him. Just as he was the bearer of the name “Hierotheos,” which means “one sacred or holy to God,” thus did he possess deeds which were deserving of God, by which he was sanctified and dedicated to the Almighty. His acts were in total accordance with his name. He was a companion and patron of the Apostles, who were devout servants of God, and was a recipient of the same gifts as they: that is, the apostolic ministry, and apostolic rank and authority, becoming an apostle himself, not only in name but also in deed. It is, therefore, proper to honor and praise him with the Apostles, for he spent his entire life on the same mission as they. He is then deserving of the same respect, the same honors and accolades, for it is fitting that rewards be according to the labors, and the wages equal.
Those who fulfill their sacred obligation, and honor and exalt with respect this holy man of God Hierotheos, shall have the following reward and recompense: They shall become worthy of the same respect and honor as the saint, and shall be lauded and praised by all. For this, all those who are God-loving should gather together and sing hymns of praise to him, and gather benefit from his teachings. Particularly this is so on this day of his celebration, when all the beloved of God are called to attend.
Concerning the birth and heritage of this saint, and his upbringing and training, and how he became so prominent that he exceeded even the most noted men of his day in fame, none of the historians has recounted. From his writings, however, and from his great knowledge, it is possible to discern something about his noble background and superior education, for a man’s expression is the most vivid image of his character. This, therefore, indicates that his heritage, upbringing, and education were of the highest order. The quality of his writings was so high that he surpassed not only the other hierarchs and theologians in wisdom, but also even the very Apostle Timothy, the disciple of Saint Paul, as the latter states.
Hierotheos was a performer of good works and deeds from childhood. At an early age, he combined his natural intelligence with his good and noble intentions, so that he became expert in almost every type of knowledge and science. He was not concerned about personal gain. Indeed, he was much more concerned with acquiring virtue and knowledge, which he did not conduct in a negligent way. With a zealous heart and fervent soul, he still preferred, in his own person, the possession of virtue over that of knowledge. On the one hand, he strove to obtain virtue, and on the other hand, he studied to master every science and general knowledge, knowing that the study of philosophy and science is guarded by good and high morals. “In a wicked soul, wisdom does not enter (Wisdom of Solomon 1:4).
Those who wish to adorn their souls with the garment of virtue know what degree of study and effort is required to accomplish these ends. For he who learns by experience has firsthand knowledge, and his word is true and reliable. In order to possess a certain virtue or to comprehend knowledge, years of rigor are required, for the fruit of learning is sweet, but the roots are bitter and painstaking. A serene and tranquil mind is needed, and one that does not wander, as well as one that is vigilant in many hardships and afflictions. Our holy father, Hierotheos, knew all these things and made every effort to surpass all the prominent men in his day. Thus our holy father, Hierotheos, using his practical virtue as a base for his theory, reached the highest degree of virtue and learning possible for a human being, even before he believed in our Lord Jesus Christ and was Baptized. Having thus cleansed himself, he became worthy of our blameless and holy Faith.
During that time, Saint Paul the Apostle was evangelizing the nations. He arrived in the renowned city of Athens. As he taught about Jesus and the resurrection, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers assumed that his teaching was contrary to the gods or of a hostile deity, and blasphemous. They urged him to appear at the famous tribunal of Areios Pagos to be judged and condemned for his blasphemies. Then Saint Paul stood before the justices and delivered his magnificent oration, using as a starting point the epigraph on the platform of the altar “To an unknown God”, by which he attracted some of the most noted philosophers to the Faith. Among these were Dionysios the Areopagite and a woman by the name of Damaris, and also others, as Saint Luke relates in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:7).
Our holy father, Hierotheos, having been trained by Saint Paul, was baptized long before Dionysios. It is evident, that had he become a believer at the same time as Dionysios, Saint Luke would have mentioned him, for he was better known than the former.
When Hierotheos and Dionysios accepted Christ, Saint Paul taught them the doctrines of the Faith and ordained them bishops for the faithful who had been converted. Dionysios was a disciple of Hierotheos, in both secular and sacred knowledge. We can understand the greatness of Hierotheos’ secular and theological education, for according to the Lord’s decree no student is superior to his teacher. “But this student of Hierotheos surpasses every eloquent teacher; so how much more so his instructor Hierotheos,” says Efthymios Zigabenos. This is evidence that Dionysios who was taught by Saint Paul and Saint Hierotheos, was initiated into the wisdom of Heaven and earth.
In his work Concerning Divine Names, Saint Dionysios offers many words of gratitude to his teacher and praises his immortal writings, calling him a luminous sun, a celebrated leader, a divine teacher, a holy mystic, an hymnologist inspired by our Lord, and other things. Dionysios declares that his sacred writings were highly spiritual, that he composed them with the sobriety of an elder, and that they should be considered as part of Holy Tradition. He considered his words second only to those of the Scriptures, and similar to those of the holy Apostles. In a certain chapter devoted to the Apostle Timothy, Saint Dionysios reveals that Saint Timothy, having received from Saint Dionysios the most difficult of all of Saint Hierotheos’ writings and being unable to understand its content, gave it back to Saint Dionysios and asked him to interpret it for him, and to put it into a more simple form, since it was one of the writings of his teacher. This shows the wisdom of Saint Hierotheos, since his books were beyond the understanding of even the Apostle Timothy.
Saint Hierotheos was present at the Dormition of the most Holy Theotokos. He had been carried on a cloud. He chanted hymns to the glory of our Panagia, which were so far superior to those of the other hierarchs that the Apostles retained them in their memory. They recited them to others, as Saint Dionysios tells us, addressing the Apostle Timothy: “I recall, O Timothy, that numerous times I heard from your mouth remnants of those divine hymns and praises.” Even if we call him a haven, a luminous sun and moon, it is proper; for by his enlightening words and deeds, he shone as brightly as a star, proclaimed the glory of God and the providence of the Logos, and dissolved the darkness of idolatry by God’s wisdom, reviving all the earth. Even if we call him an elect vessel, the same as Saint Paul, or a son of thunder as Saint John the Theologian, we would not be praising him in excess. He had a zeal for preaching no less than Saint Paul, and he was no less a theologian than Saint John. It is impossible to extol that soul which has gathered all the merits and virtues. Our holy father Hierotheos reached a very old age and then reposed, attaining the same state as the patriarchs, prophets, martyrs, hierarchs, and all the saints, interceding tirelessly before the Lord that we cross the sea of life without peril, reaching safely the calm harbors of Heaven.
Receive, O righteous father, our reverent encomium, and give us thy blessing by thine intercessions; that is, well-being of body and soul, remission of sins, deliverance from temptation, and an end pleasing to God. In the afterlife, grant us assurance that we shall stand among the saints at the right hand of Christ our God, to Whom we give glory, honor, worship, and thanksgiving, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Dismissal Hymn. Fourth Tone
Since thou hadst been instructed in uprightness thoroughly and wast vigilant in all things, thou wast clothed with a good conscience as befitteth one holy. Thou didst draw from the Chosen Vessel ineffable mysteries; and having kept the Faith, thou didst finish a like course, O Hieromartyr Hierotheus. Intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion. Plagal of Fourth Tone
As Athens’ Hierarch, we acclaim thee, since through thee we have received instruction in things awesome and ineffable; for thou wast a God-inspired writer of divine hymns. O Hierotheos all-blessed, do thou pray to God, so that we may be redeemed from all calamities, that thus we may cry: Rejoice, O Father wise in things divine.