Today we commemorate Saint Dionysius the Areopagite. We first read of Dionysius in Acts 17, just after Saint Paul delivered his amazing speech to the Athenians at the Areopagus (Acts 17: 22-31). Paul had preached the Resurrection of Christ but many Greeks still held the “Platonic view that the body was a prison for the soul and unworthy of salvation” and so they scoffed and brushed him off.¹ But there were a few who responded positively:
“However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” (Acts 17: 34)
We later read about him in Eusebius’ Church History (Book III, Ch.4), where the author describes the first successors to the apostles:
“Besides these, that Areopagite, named Dionysius, who was the first to believe after Paul’s address to the Athenians in the Areopagus (as recorded by Luke in the Acts) is mentioned by another Dionysius, an ancient writer and pastor of the parish in Corinth, as the first bishop of the church at Athens.”
Dionysius is often presented in the Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos along with fellow bishop Hierotheos (Oct. 4th). Both men were disciples of the Apostle Paul and some believe that the first bishop of Athens was actually Hierotheos, followed by Dionysius. Ancient tradition holds that Dionysius was martyred in Athens around AD 97.
There are also a number of works written under the name Dionysius the Areopagite which scholars today believe were written by a fifth-century author now known as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Of course, the anonymity of the author in no way diminishes the quality or influence of his writings. These works are available online at Christian Ethereal Classics. As noted on their site, the works are “The Mystical Theology, The Divine Names, The Celestial Hierarchy, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and ten epistles. In these treatises Pseudo-Dionysius develops his apophatic or negative theology, which was to have an immense influence on Christian mysticism in the East and West.”
Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission.
1. Orthodox Study Bible, footnote for Acts 17: 32.