St Athanasia heralded from the island of Aegina, a short half-hour ferry ride away from Pireaus. Born to pious Orthodox parents in the 9th century. At that time, Aegina was under constant attack by Arab marauders who had taken over the island of Crete and were using it as a naval base to wage attacks along the Aegean and Saronic Gulf. From very early childhood, she wanted to become a nun; however, due to the strict obedience to parental will she was forced to marry a young man from her social level. Unfortunately, she was a bride for only sixteen days after the wedding as her husband was killed in one of these Arab raids on the island. After this, she was forcefully married to one of the “barbarians” the Arab conquerors of the island yet another time. Athanasia, however, had a strong will of her own, and never gave up believing in her destiny to the monastic calling. She listened to her parents and was respectful and attentive to her “barbarian” husband. The biographical record does not show how, but Athanasia accomplished the impossible—she converted her Muslim husband to Christianity, and not only that, but she convinced him to become a monk! ( Think about what a hard sell that might have been!)
In an age that did not allow divorce, she managed to do the next best thing—dissolve her marriage by having both partners become monastics. She eventually entered a convent on the island of Aegina. She was known for her extreme acts of ascetism, such as the practice of eating hardly anything except bread and water, throwing a leaf of cabbage every other day for variety. After four years, she was elected abbess of the convent. But instead of seeming superior, she humbled herself even more, sleeping on a stone instead of a pillow. However she wanted even more solitude than the convent offered and withdrew to a hermitage in an even more remote part of Aegina.
St Athanasia reposed peacefully during a special service she had called in premonition of her death. While her nuns sang and chanted from the Book of Psalms, her spirit gently ascended like a song to the Lord. Many sick and demon-possessed people were healed during her funeral. Forty days after her death, as she had foretold her nuns, she appeared in a purple, bejeweled gown accompanied by two youths in shining robes, as a promise of the glory that awaited those who love the Lord.
St Athanasia serves as an example to young women to stay true to their own deep-hearted desires while still staying obedient to parents to greater societal demands.