By Saint Athanasios of Paros
John, the Honorable Forerunner of Christ, performs many miracles from time to time, one of which is the following. In 1740 the great Forerunner and wondrous right hand of the Highest wrought a superb and wonderful miracle, which is commemorated and heralded everywhere, as it was recorded with the utmost exultation by those who were eyewitnesses and participated in the events of that time.
On the outskirts of the city in the vicinity known as Atzike, a short distance from the countryside, there was a church dedicated to the honorable and glorious Prophet John the Forerunner and Baptist. In the surrounding area there were many minarets of the Ottomans, near which there was no mosque. By necessity, the Muslims were made to travel to the countryside, where there were mosques, in order to say their prayers. In Islam, one is compelled to fulfill this, especially at the times of Ramadan and Bairam. This presented a hardship to them, especially during the winter, when the weather was very cold and the rains heavy.
Therefore, what did these wicked neighbors of the divine Baptist scheme in their minds? The foolish ones plotted to take the holy church by force, for the purpose of converting it into their own sacrilegious mosque. These were not common or insignificant citizens belonging to the lower class. They were among the foremost of the Ottoman citizenry, better known as aghas (military and civil officers) and beys (district governors), totaling seven in number. They slyly determined that the lawless deed, which they were about to perpetrate, should not be executed arbitrarily. In order to have the seizure appear legitimate, they sought imperial support by decree.
They sent letters to the Kapitan-Pasha and to other prominent Chiotes (citizens of Chios) who were members of the royal court, in order to obtain with their cooperation the desired firman (mandate) to suit their insidious purpose. However, two of the aforementioned seven beys did not concur with the method. They even attempted to dissuade their coreligionists, admonishing them, "Do not commit such an act. You might suffer ridicule in the end." Furthermore, they refused to sign the letters, which the others drafted, but their objections went unheeded. The letters were sent by sea with a trusted passenger. It seemed as if these accursed ones would have succeeded in their impious endeavor had not God intervened from on high; for He is the Helper of the helpless and of victims of injustice. Moreover, He is the Protector of our Holy Faith, Who foiled the desecrator's godless scheme in the following paradoxical manner. (Therefore, I pray thee, brethren, give proper attention.)
It was the evening of the sixth of January, which is the Synaxis of the great Forerunner and the feast day of the aforesaid church which was under attack. When this Christian holy day coincided with a religious holiday of the Turks, the above-mentioned beys rode to the countryside on horseback, in order to observe the festival according to their custom. That very night, there was a frightening earthquake. This caused great panic in the church of the divine Baptist, so that the priest, sacristans, and congregation were utterly terrified; for it seemed to them that the roof of the church would surely collapse. With these fearful signs the great Forerunner demonstrated that he would zealously guard his sacred church from defilement on that night of his hallowed feast. As the beys returned from the country, six of them stopped at the tower, the one near the bridge, where they conducted all their meetings. This time, however, it was the seventh dignitary who did not share in their opinion. He continued on this way, even though the others pressed him to ride along with them. Though not persuaded, he yet answered them, "I will go to my house, leave my horse, and return."
The tower was three stories high. The severe winter cold forced them to stay on the first floor, which was the warmest. In the company of those six dignitaries was the other one who objected to the original plans of the five to confiscate the church. They sat pridefully and joyfully inside the tower as they boasted about what they had done. One of them dared to brag in a haughty tone that he would climb to the top of the church and deliver the impious sermon of their religion. At that moment, before the first objector came back - behold, thy great and mighty power, O honorable Forerunner! - the three floors suddenly collapsed and fell on top of the five audacious ones, crushing them to death. They all descended into Hades alive, perishing on account of their iniquities, while no one else was harmed in that building. (According to Islamic custom, the women's quarters were kept separate.) It is obvious, therefore, that the collapse of that building was the work of divine wrath in that only the men's side collapsed and not the women's (which was filled with innocent women and children). More paradoxical than this (apparently the work of divine wrath), two great slabs of stone fell edgewise, joining to form a vault. Beneath these, the one who had been opposed to the impious plan of the others was preserved unscathed. When rescue efforts began to recover the bodies, the man shouted from beneath the rubble that he was still alive. He was rescued and found to have suffered no harm, not even the slightest damage to his clothing.
What evidence is greater that this? The divine Forerunner sent the five impious ones to destruction, while the innocent Turk, who took his horse home, lived for thirty more years. The other Turk, whose name was Toptzibasis, was also spared. He was found safe in the tower and lived to a venerable old age. Toptzibasis was hailed by all that he had escaped miraculously. As for the other villainous ones, divine justice dealt with them. The godless letters were lost at sea, and the messenger was drowned. Thus, the divine Forerunner completed his work. It would have been an easy task for the enemies of the Faith to distort the truth, for they could have said that he was drowned by the Christians. To this end, divine providence plunged the entire ship to the bottom of the sea with its crew, extinguishing the hopes of the godless ones. The following day, news reached the countryside concerning the fate of those grossly irreverent ones, thereby causing two emotions to emerge. Among the infidels there could be found great mourning, lamentation and sorrow, mixed with intense shame and humiliation; while amidst the Christians the contrary truly existed - happiness, joy and exultation.
The result of all this was that the words of the Psalter came to pass: "For wrath is in His anger, but in His will there is life; at evening shall weeping find lodging, but in the morning rejoicing" [Ps. 29:5]. The designs of the infidels were evident, as they revealed their plan with haughtiness; but the divine Forerunner frustrated and thwarted them, since it was impossible to prevent the schemes of the lawless ones by human means. Divine wrath was so pronounced that to this very day the tower remains desolate with only four walls standing in testimony to the Scriptural verse: "The Lord scattereth the plans of the heathens" [Ps. 32:10]. Likewise, the Davidic prophecy, or imprecation, was made manifest: "Let their habitation be made desolate, and in their tents let there be none to dwell" [Ps. 68:30]. For the pious Christians this was a pleasant and welcome sight; yet, at the same time, mourning and everlasting shame befell the unbelievers. There are additional indications which attest to the truth of this splendid miracle. Nevertheless, we do not wish to exceed our bounds. Hence, after confining our account to the details already mentioned, which have been proven irrefutable, we bring this account to a close, glorifying the Worker of wonders, Jesus Christ, and His great Forerunner and Baptist John, to the ages of ages. Amen.
From the New Leimonarion.