An Overview of the Life and Veneration of Saint Phanourios
by Fr. George Poulos
The flexibility of the Orthodox Church in its selection of saints is made evident in the canonization of a saint about whom next to nothing is known.
What little there is remains shrouded in mystery, all of which makes this particular saint the most unique, certainly, in the annals of Christendom. His name is known, at least, but even if it were not, the same reverence could be accorded him because, like the unknown soldier at whose grave a wreath is placed annually, he lies in honored glory “known but to God.”
This saint’s name, however, is known. It happens to be Phanourios, which, though it may not be a household word, is much better remembered by the faithful of Orthodoxy and the Eastern sector of Christianity than a good many more obscure saints whose biographies have been written in detail and who fill mere pages in Church literature than the mysterious Phanourios.
Phanourios has been revered as a saint (his feast day has been celebrated for more than 500 years) considerably longer than the lesser saints, and his name invoked in prayer quite possibly as often as some of the major saints. This is all the more remarkable when it is considered that it is not known when or where he was born, what he did in his lifetime, in what manner he served the Lord, or what he did for his fellowman. But there is mute testimony that he died the death of a martyr after having been horribly tortured, and in addition to mystery there is a aura of divine manifestation in the man whom nobody knows.
A fortuitous discovery by nomadic pagans, not Christians, brought to light this unheralded saint when a roving band of Arabs, who had pillaged the island of Rhodes, uncovered amid the ruins of an ancient church a group of icons, among other artifacts. All of the icons were in a state of decay or near ruin with the exception of one, which appeared as new and as fresh as though it had been painted the day before. This icon was discarded by the Arabs, who failed to attach any importance to it. At a safe distance a group of monks hiding in the rubble observed this phenomenon and waited patiently until the Arabs had left the scene, whereupon they rushed to reclaim this fantastic image in its remarkable state of preservation.
They beheld a clearly outlined face of a saint with the name inscribed in what appeared to be fresh lettering that spelled out “Phanourios” and on closer examination fell on their knees at what they saw. Drawn about the saint were twelve distinct frames in each of which Phanourios was shown enduring a cruel form of torture in a realism that suggested the artist must have been witness to the atrocity. They rushed back to see if any of the other icons were in as perfect a state, but although they were all of the same basic design, size, and shape, all of them were quite ancient and quite indistinct. After careful scrutiny it was finally concluded that this icon of Phanourios had, indeed, been one of a group that had been exhumed after untold centuries and that its freshness was a divine manifestation of the complete saintliness of this man about whom they were now determined to learn more.
But years of research, scanning the archives of centuries and questioning the leading authorities of the day, yielded nothing, and no more was known about Phanourios than the day on which his icon was snatched from the ruins of that ancient Greek church. The torture scenes of the icon provided no clues, and examination of which showed Phanourios being stoned, on the rack, being slashed, behind bars, standing before a judge, tied to a frame, being burned with candles, tied to a post, thrown to wild animals, crushed by a boulder, holding hot coals, and a demon hovering against a background of flames. All of these horrors conveyed that Phanourios was an apparently indestructible instrument of God and that in itself was sufficient evidenced of his sainthood.
Archbishop Milos of Rhodes concluded that the unblemished icon itself was testimony enough to prove that Phanourios was a man of divine grace, and he petitioned the Patriarch to convene a synod which would officially proclaim Phanourios a saint, after which there was erected in the saint’s memory a cathedral which enshrined the holy icon.
Phanourios, lost for centuries in the ruins of a church, became the patron saint of things lost. To this day his name is invoked when prayers are asked for the recovery of lost items. He is commemorated on August 27th, the day his icon was found.
The Folk Cult of St Phanourios in Greece and Cyprus, and Its Relationship With the International Tale Type 804
This paper discusses, from a historical perspective, the basic elements of the folk cult of St Phanourios in Greece and Cyprus - namely, the custom of preparing phanouropita (literally, "St Phanourios pie"), which is connected with the belief that one can find something lost or obtain good luck in general - and the oral narratives associated with St Phanourios and his mother, which seem to constitute the Greek adaptation of the international folktale type 804. The investigation is based on recently collected material as well as the manuscript collections of the public folklore archives.
Read the entire study here.
Who Really Is St. Phanourios?
Is St. Phanourios really St. George, and is his identification a misreading of the inscription of the icon, such as was that of St. Salsa of Typasa and St. Philomena? It could be that the word "phanourios" is just a surname of St. George that expresses a certain quality or story, much like as was done to the ancient Greek gods or the Virgin Mary. In my opinion, this just adds to the fascinating mystery that we should all celebrate, though no definite opinion can really be sure either way. More can be read in the study above, and also here.
In his 1948 book Αγιος Φανούριος, Ezekiel Velanidiotis writes of a conflict between the Holy Synod of Greece and certain pious faithful in Pagkrati, Athens in 1947. Metropolitan Methodios of Syros decided to dedicate a chapel to St. Phanourios. In response to this, the Holy Synod decided to issue an encyclical that St. Phanourios does not exist and that houses of worship should not be dedicated to him. As a result of this encyclical, Metropolitan Meletios of Messinia changed his mind about dedicating a chapel at the Holy Monastery of Velanidias (of the Oak) to St. Phanourios and instead dedicated it to St. George. However, in Pagkrati the people insisted in honoring the memory of St. Phanourios and hence his memory is still honored there today.
How about the relics of St. Phanourios in Cyprus?
It seems like this folk custom, not authorized by the Church, is in reality the bones of the Cyprus Dwarf Hippopotamus. Read more here.
The Church of St. Phanourios in Rhodes
The Life and Miracles of Saint Phanourios From The Great Synaxaristes
"Phanourios bestoweth light upon all the faithful,
even though he long lay in the darkness of the earth."
From whence Phanourios, the splendid athlete of the Lord and invincible marty, came, and of what parentage he was, and even in what age he lived and under the reign of which emperors he waged his struggle and fought his fight, we have been unable to ascertain, for the account of his life has been lost owing to the vicissitudes of time, as many other things also have been lost or become obscure or unclear. This only do we know, that when the Hagarenes (Muslims) ruled the renowned island of Rhodes, having conquered it because of our sins, he that became ruler of the island wished to rebuild the ramparts of the city that past sieges had ravaged. On the outskirts of the fortress were several ruined dwellings that had been abandoned by reason of their association with the old fortress, which was located a furlong to the south. From these ruins the Hagarenes were wont to gather stones for their construction.
It so happened that, while excavating and reinforcing that place, they discovered a most beautiful church, which was partly buried in ruins. Excavating as far as the floor of the temple, they found many holy icons, all decayed and crumbling, yet the icon of the holy Phanourios was whole and entire; indeed, it seemed as though it had been painted but that very day. And when this all-venerable temple was uncovered, together with its sacred icons, the hierarch of that place, Nilus by name, a man of great sanctity and learning, came and read the inscription of the icon, which said, "The Holy Phanourios."
The saint was depicted upon the icon as follows: He was shown as a young man, arrayed as a soldier, holding a cross in his right hand, and at the upper part of the cross there was a lighted taper. Round about the perimeter of the icon were twelve scenes from the holy one's martyrdom, which showed the saint being examined before the magistrate; then in the midst of soldiers, who were beating him about the mouth and head with stones; then stretched out upon the ground while the soldiers flogged him; then, stripped naked while they rent his flesh with iron hooks; then incarcerated in a dungeon; and again standing before the tyrant's tribunal; then being burned with candles; then bound to a rack; then cast amidst wild beasts; then crushed with a great rock; then standing before idols holding burning coals in his hands, whilst a demon nearby wept and lamented; and finally he is shown standing erect in the midst of a fiery furnace, his hands, as it were, uplifted towards Heaven.
From these twelve scenes depicted upon the icon, the holy hierarch perceived that the saint was a martyr. Then straightway that good and pious man sent deputations to the rulers of that place, asking that they consign to him that temple for restoration, but this they declined to do. Therefore, the hierarch traveled to Constantinople alone and there obtained a decree empowering him to rebuild the church; thus it was restored to that state in which it can be seen even to this day, outside the city. And is has become the source of many miracles, of which I shall relate one for the profit of many, that all who love and venerate the saint may rejoice.
At that time the isle of Crete had no Orthodox hierarch, but a Latin bishop, for it was ruled then by the Venetians, who had shrewdly refused to permit an Orthodox hierarch to be consecrated whenever one died. This they did with evil intent, thinking that with time they could thus convert the Orthodox to the papist dogmas. If Orthodox men wished to obtain ordination, they had to go to Cythera. It came to pass that there went forth from Crete three deacons, traveling to Cythera to be ordained priests by the hierarch there; and when this had been accomplished, and they were returning to their own country, the Hagarenes captured them at sea and brought them to Rhodes, where they were sold as slaves to other Hagarenes. The newly-consecrated priests lamented their misfortune day and night.
But in Rhodes, they heard tell of the great wonders wrought by the Great Martyr Phanourios, and straightway they made fervent supplication to the saint, beseeching him with tears to deliver them from their bitter bondage. And this they did each separately, without knowing ought of what the others were doing, for they had each been sold to a different master. Now, in accordance with the providence of God, however, they were all three permitted by their masters to go and worship at the temple of the saint, and, guided by God, they came all together and fell down before the sacred icon of the saint, watering the ground with the streams of their tears, entreating him to deliver them out of the hands of the Hagarenes. Then they departed, somewhat consoled, each to his own master, hoping that they would obtain mercy, which in fact did come to pass; for the holy one had compassion upon their tears and hearkened unto their supplication. That night he appeared to the Hagarenes who were the masters of the captive priests, and commanded them to permit the servants of God to go and worship in his temple lest he bring dreadful destruction upon them. But the Hagarenes, thinking the matter sorcery, loaded them with chains and made their torments more onerous.
Then the Great Martyr Phanourios went to them that night and brought them forth from their bonds, and encouraged them, saying that the following day he would, by all means, free them. He then appeared to the Hagarenes and, reproaching them with severity, said: "If by tomorrow ye have not set your servants at liberty, ye shall behold the power of God!" Thus saying, the holy one vanished. And, O, the wonder! As many as inhabited those houses all arose blind and paralyzed, tormented with the most dreadful pangs, the least with the greatest. But, though bedridden, with the help of their kinfolk they considered what to do, and finally decided to send for the captives. And when the three wretched priests were come, they inquired of them if they were able to heal them; and they answered, "We shall beseech God. Let His will be done."
But the saint appeared again to the Hagarenes on the third night and said to them: "If ye do not send to my house letters of manumission for the priests, ye shall have neither the health, nor the light [of sight] which ye desire." And when they had again conferred with their kinfolk and friends, each one composed a letter of emancipation for his own slave, which were left before the icon of the saint. And O, the wonder! Even before the messengers sent to the temple returned, those, who before were blind and paralyzed, were healed; and marveling they set the priests free and dispatched them to their homelands amicably. The priests, though, had a copy of the icon of St. Phanourios painted and took it with them to their own country, and each year the memory of the holy one is piously celebrated amongst them. By the prayers of the martyr may Christ God have mercy upon us. Amen!
Source: Orthodox Life, Vol. 32, No. 4 (July-August 1982). Translated by George Lardas from the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church (in Greek), 4th Ed. (Athens, 1974), Vol. VIII, pp. 470-474.
About Prayers to the Saint and for His Mother
There is a tradition concerning him and his mother, who was a harlot and great sinner. His love for his mother caused him to pray for her incessantly. At the time of his martyric death by stoning, he could not even then forget his mother, and with the boldness that is peculiar to athletes of Christ, prayed: "For the sake of these my sufferings, Lord, help all those who will pray to Thee for the salvation of Phanourios' sinful mother".
St. Phanourios in turn prays for the salvation and enlightenment of heterodox relatives and friends.
Many to this day pray for his mother, and have her listed in their personal diptychs used for commemorations in the Divine Liturgy as "The Mother of St Phanourios" since her name is not known.
On the day of the Saint, there is a tradition that the faithful bake a special bread, and according to some accounts, give it to the poor as alms in the name of his mother, and others, share it with at least seven other people.
The Saint of Lost Things
St Phanourios' name gives a hint about another tradition concerinign the Saint. "Phanourios" comes from the Greek word, φανερώνω "phanerono", meaning "I reveal". He is know to help people find lost things. Some have therefore also referred to him as the "Saint of lost and found"!
This is not just an idle story repeated without basis, as the editor of this piece has experienced incidents himself, and know many people who have also been helped by St Phanourios to find lost items. After the lost item is found, one should bake a Phanouropita, (basically a loaf of sweet bread) in memory of St. Phanourios' mother, and give to the poor, as above.
If the bread is first brought to church to be blessed, a Litya blessing service with a prayer specially composed for the Saint may be used.
Φανουρόπιτα - Phanouropita: St. Phanourios' Bread
The following recipes are supplied by the kindness of Presvytera Anna Lardas, who posted them to a mailing list some time ago.
The fasting bread (with oil for those days that a a little less strict) actually tastes very good, and whose preparation makes an excellent father-daughter "special time" that the whole family benefits from. In other words, the recipe is quite easy and forgiving, and kitchens can always be cleaned.
Easy St. Phanourios Bread Fasting (with oil)
Preheat oven to 350.
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups orange juice
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. baking soda
4 cups flour
Mix oil and sugar, and beat until it's a creamy yellow. This may take a long time.
Put the baking soda IN the orange juice, and stir until dissolved. [NB: this can be spectacularly dramatic if you use a two cup measuring cup with two cups of o.j. in it. (Please don't ask how I found out.) It might be easier to hold a two cup measuring cup OVER the bowl full of oil and sugar and pour in *one* cup of o.j., mix in 1/2 tsp. baking soda, watch the fireworks, pour it into the bowl, and again mix *one* cup of o.j. with 1/2 tsp. baking soda, stir and pour again. If you don't dissolve the baking soda completely, you get lumps of it in the cake. So, stir well.]
Add the flour, then the raisins and nuts.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 9"x13" pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes (or until a clean toothpick dipped in the cake emerges clean.)
I use a bundt pan instead of one 9" x 13", and my kids prefer this with chocolate chips in the place of the raisins and nuts. It doesn't really need a frosting, but if you wanted to drizzle a stiff glaze made out of, say, powdered sugar and lemon juice and a little water over it, that would be okay, too.
If you wanted to put spices in the batter, I'd go with a tiny amount (1/4 tsp. or less) of ground cloves.
Modified from a recipe in Greek Traditions and Customs in America, by Marilyn Rouvelas
Fancy St. Phanourios Bread (Phanouropita - Φανουρόπιτα)
Not even close to fasting!
This recipe originally came from a cookbook for a Greek parish in Chicago, but I've tampered with it, mostly by editorializing.
Doubles well; the recipe given is for one loaf pan worth, but Doubled it makes a bundt pan's worth.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine:
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brandy
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups golden raisins
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for exactly ten minutes -- any longer, and you'll have a good caramelized smelling door stop instead of a cake.
Set pot in cold water to cool mixture completely.
Sift into cooled syrup:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda.
Beat vigorously for eight to ten minutes (Takes muscles! We use a wooden spoon for this) or until batter is smooth and bubbly.
Stir in: 2 Tablespoons grated orange peel
Turn into well greased 7" fluted pan or 8" loaf pan.
Sprinkle with 1/2 sesame seeds (optional; skip if you like).
Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Sprinkle with 1/4 cup brandy and cool cake in pan.
Bring to church to have blessed, and then share with parishioners or the poor.
Smells amazingly wonderful while cooking.
The Twelve Scenes on the Icon of St. Phanourios
1. The Saint is present in front of the Roman magistrate, standing and looking like he is boldly testifying and defending his Christian faith.
2. Here the soldiers are intervening and striking Phanourios’ head and the mouth with stones to force him to succumb and deny the Lord.
3. The soldiers have thus far become enraged by the persistence of Phanourios, throwing him to the ground and beating him mercilessly with sticks and clubs to break his steadfast resistance.
4. Phanourios is in jail and is being tortured in a most abominable way. He appears totally naked and the surrounding soldiers are tearing his flesh with sharp metal instruments. The Saint is silently enduring his frightful martyrdom.
5. Phanourios is back in jail praying to God to strengthen him to the end of his tortures.
6. The Saint is again brought before the Roman magistrate to give a defense for his position. By the peaceful expression on his face it appears that neither the tortures he suffered nor the future threats of the tyrant can shake his faith, and thus being undeterred he is waiting for further tortures.
7. The torturers of Phanourios with rage and cruelty are burning his naked body with lit torches, thus showing his insuperable sacrifice for the Crucified One. The Saint wins again with his indomitable will and fortitude for the Lord.
8. Here his savage torturers are making use of mechanical means to achieve the worse of his tortures. They have tied the Saint on a press which crushes his bones when rotated. He is suffering without grumbling, but on his beautiful face there is an inexpressible exultation since he is suffering for the sake of the Lord.
9. Phanourios is cast into a pit to become prey to wild beasts and his torturers are watching from above to witness his end. The beasts, however, are totally docile through the grace of God and silently surround him like lambs to enjoy his magnificent company.
10. The torturers were not satisfied by the latest result so they removed him from the hole and are crushing him under a huge rock, convinced that they will finish him off. However, even this time they do not succeed.
11. The scene presents the Saint in front of an altar, where the torturers are urging him to sacrifice, placing burning coal in his hands. Phanourios also passes this test victoriously and a devil in the form of a dragon is shown flying in the air and crying over its failure.
12. The last scene is the end of his martyrdom, with Phanourios being cast into a large furnace standing on a stool and surrounded by flames and smoke. The Saint seems to be praying intently to God, without complaining or grumbling, and thus unwavering and without giving in, he flew to heaven, full of contentment for all the tortures he had suffered for the sake of the Lord.
Apolytikion in Tone Four
A heavenly song of praise is chanted radiantly upon the earth; the company of angels now joyfully celebrateth an earthly festival, and from on high with hymns they praise thy contests, and from below the Church doth proclaim the heavenly glory which thou hast found by thy labors and struggles, O glorious Phanourios.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
From a vile captivity, thou didst deliver the Lord's priests, and, O godly-minded one, didst break their bonds by divine might; thou didst bravely shame the tyrants' audacious madness, giving joy unto the Angels, O thou Great Martyr. O Phanourios most glorious, we all revere thee as a true warrior of God.
To those who embrace your sacred icon with faith and asking your assistance, Martyr, heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom, Fanourios, to all your entreaties provide.