Thursday, May 1, 2014

Venerable New Martyrs Akakios of Neochorion, Euthymios of Peloponnesos and Ignatios the New

Saints Akakios of Neochorion, Euthymios of Peloponnesos and Ignatios the New (Feast Day - May 1)

The Holy Mountain has for centuries been a source of Repentance and Salvation for thousands. During the difficult years of the Turkish yoke, many turned to the Monasteries for spiritual direction. This was most evident in the numerous Neomartyrs, many of whom converted to Islam, but having realized the gravity of their sin, repented, and sought a way to prove their love for Christ. Three of these New Martyrs, Sts. Euthymios, Ignatios and Akakios are commemorated together on May 1st, likely because they lived in similar times, abandoned Christ for Islam, but repented and lived in asceticism on the Holy Mountain (specifically the Skete of the Honorable Forerunner of Iveron Monastery), and finally witnessed for Christ in martyrdom.

Saint Euthymios of Peloponnesos (+ 1814)

This holy New Martyr of Christ was born in Demitsana in the Peloponnesos. His parents were Panagiotes and Maria, and he was given the name Eleutherios in Baptism. Eleutherios was the youngest of five children (the others were George, Christos, John, and Katerina).

After attending school in Demetsana, Eleutherios and John traveled to Constantinople to enroll in the Patriarchal Academy. Later, they went to Jassy, Romania where their father and brothers were in business. Some time afterwards, Eleutherius decided to go to Mt. Athos to become a monk. Because of a war between Russia and Turkey, he was able to travel only as far as Bucharest. There he stayed with the French consul, then with an employee of the Russian consul.

Eleutherios began to pursue a life of pleasure, putting aside his thoughts of monasticism. When hostilities ceased, Eleutherios made his way to Constantinople in the company of some Moslems. On the way, he turned from Orthodoxy and embraced Islam. He was circumcised and given the name Reschid. Soon his conscience began to torment him for his denial of Christ. The other Moslems began to notice a change in his attitude, so they restricted his movements and kept a close watch on him.

One day Eleutherios was seen wearing a cross, so the others reported him to the master of the house, Rais Efendi. The master favored Eleutherios, which made the others jealous. He told them it was still too early for Eleutherios to give up all his Christian ways.

Rais Efendi and his household journeyed to Adrianople, arriving on a Saturday. Metropolitan Cyril, who later became Patriarch of Constantinople, was serving Vespers in one of the city's churches. Eleutherios pretended to have letters for Metropolitan Cyril, but he send someone else to receive them. When Eleutherios told this man that he wanted Christian clothes, he became suspicious and sent him away.

Back in Constantinople, Rais Efendi gave Eleutherios costly presents, hoping to influence him to remain a Moslem. Eleutherios, however, prayed that God would permit him to escape. He ran off at the first opportunity, seeking out a priest from the Peloponnesos who lived near the Patriarchate. After relating his story, Eleutherios asked the priest to help him get away. The priest refused to assist him, fearing reprisals if he should be caught. He gave Eleutherios some advice, then sent him away.

With some assistance from the Russian embassy, Eleutherios boarded a ship and sailed to Mt. Athos. At the Great Lavra Eleutherius was chrismated and received back into the Orthodox Church, and also became a monk with the name Euthymios.

Euthymios read the NEW MARTYROLOGION of St Nikodemos (July 14), and was inspired by the example of the New Martyrs. He then became consumed with a desire to wipe out his apostasy with the blood of martyrdom.

St Euthymios went to Constantinople with a monk named Gregory, arriving on March 19, 1814. A few days later, on Palm Sunday, he received Holy Communion. Removing his monastic garb, he dressed himself as a Moslem and went to the palace of the Grand Vizier, Rusud Pasha. St Euthymios, holding palms in his hand, confessed that he was an Orthodox Christian, and wished to die for Christ. He denounced Mohammed and the Moslem religion, then trampled upon the turban he had worn on his head, which led the Vizier to believe that he was either drunk or crazy.

The valiant warrior of Christ assured the Vizier that he was in his right mind, and was not drunk. Euthymios was thrown into a dark cell and bound with chains. After an hour or so, they brought him out again. With flattery and promises of wealth, the Vizier tried to convince Euthymios to return to the Moslem faith. The saint boldly declared that Islam was a religion based on fables and falsehood, and that he would not deny Christ again even if he were to be tortured and slain.

The Grand Vizier ordered the saint to be beaten and returned to prison. After three hours, St Euthymios was brought before Rusud Pasha, who said to him, "Have you reconsidered, or do you remain stubborn?"

Euthymios replied, "There is only one true Faith, that of the Orthodox Christians. How can I believe in your false prophet Mohammed?"

Now the Vizier realized that he would never convince Euthymios to return to Islam, so he ordered him to be put to death by the sword. When the executioner attempted to tie the saint's hands he said, "I came here voluntarily, so there is no need to bind my hands.Allow me to meet my death untied."

St Euthymios was allowed to walk to the place of execution unbound. He went joyfully and unafraid, holding a cross in his right hand, and palms in his left. When they arrived at the site, Euthymios faced east and began to pray. He thanked God for making him worthy of martyrdom for His sake. He also prayed for his family and friends, asking God to grant all their petitions which are unto salvation.

Then St Euthymios kissed the cross he was holding, then knelt and bent his neck. The executioner struck a fierce blow with the sword, but this did not behead him. He struck again, and failed to kill him. Finally, he took a knife and slit the martyr's throat.

St Euthymios was killed about noon on March 22, 1814 in Constantinople, thereby earning a place in the heavenly Kingdom where he glorifies the holy, consubstantial, and life-creating Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, forevermore.

The head of St Euthymios is in the Monastery of St Panteleimon on Mt. Athos.


Saint Ignatios the New (+ 1814)

The holy New Martyr Ignatios was born in the village of Eski Zagora in the Trnovo region of Bulgaria, and was named John in Baptism. While he was still a young child, his parents George and Maria moved to the city of Philippopolis and enrolled him in a school there.

Although he did well at school, he had a strong desire for the monastic life. Upon reaching adulthood, he entered the Rila monastery in western Bulgaria. There he was assigned to an Elder, with whom he lived in obedience for six years. When the Elder's strictness became unbearable, John returned home.

About that time the Serbs rose in revolt against the Moslem government. John's father was asked to take command of an Ottoman brigade, but he refused to fight against other Orthodox Christians.

The Moslems attacked George with furious anger. He was stabbed and then beheaded. John's mother and sisters were also taken by the Hagarenes, and they ultimately agreed to convert to Islam.

John fled and hid in the home of an elderly Orthodox woman. His mother and sisters learned where he was hiding, and they told the Moslems. Those sent to capture him did not know what he looked like, so the old woman told them she did not know him. The woman helped him escape to Bucharest, Romania, where he became acquainted with St Euthymius, who would also endure martyrdom.

John did not wish to stay in Bucharest, however, and so he left for Mt. Athos. On the way he visited the village of Soumla, where he ran into his friend Fr Euthymios again. Learning that Euthymios had denied Christ and become a Moslem, John became very sad and left the village.

He had not gotten very far when Turkish soldiers stopped him and took all his possessions. They demanded that he convert to Islam, and in his fright he told them that he would do so. Satisfied with this reply, they let him go.

John reached the village of Eski Zagora, where he met an Athonite monk from the monastery of Grigoriou. They journeyed to the Holy Mountain together, and John settled in the Skete of Saint Anna. There he met Fr Basil.

One day John and Fr Basil traveled to Thessalonica on monastery business. While they were there the monks David and Euthymios of Demetsana suffered martyrdom because they were Christians. John was inflamed with the desire for martyrdom. Fr Basil, however, urged him to postpone his intention, and so they returned to the Holy Mountain. A short time after this, Fr Basil died.

When a monk from the Skete of Saint Anna told him of the martyrdom of the New Martyr Euthymios (March 22), John was once more filled with zeal for martyrdom. He was placed under the spiritual direction of the Elder Akakios, who prescribed for him prayer, prostrations, and reading the Gospel.

In time, John was found worthy of monastic tonsure, and was given the new name Ignatios. The Elder Akakios blessed him to travel to Constantinople with the monk Gregory in order to bear witness to Christ. After receiving the Holy Mysteries in Constantinople, Ignatios felt he was ready for his ordeal.

Dressed in Moslem garb, Ignatios went before the kadi and proclaimed his faith in Christ. He told him how he had promised to become a Moslem when he was younger, but now he threw his turban at the kadi's feet and said that he would never deny Christ.

Thinking that Ignatios was insane, the kadi warned him that if he did not come to his senses he would endure horrible torments before being put to death. On the other hand, if he embraced Islam, he would receive rich gifts and great honor from them.

The courageous martyr told the kadi to keep his gifts, for they were merely temporal gifts. "Your threats of torture and death are nothing new," he said, "and I knew of them before I came here. In fact, I came here because of them, so that I might die for my Christ."

St Ignatios went on to call Mohammed "a false prophet, a teacher of perdition, and a friend of the devil." Then he invited the Moslems to believe in Christ, the only true God.

The kadi then became so angry he could not speak, so he motioned for a servant to lead St Ignatios out of the room. Ignatios turned and struck the servant, then knelt before the kadi and bent his neck, as if inviting him to behead him then and there. Other servants entered the room, however, and dragged him off to prison.

Later, Ignatios was brought before the kadi for questioning. When asked who had brought him to Constantinople, he replied, "My Lord Jesus Christ brought me here."

Again the kadi urged him to reconsider, for he was about to experience unimaginable tortures. "Do not expect to be beheaded so that the Christians can collect your blood as a blessing," he said, "for I intend to hang you."

Ignatios replied, "You will be doing me a great service whether you hang me or put me to the sword. I accept everything for the love of Christ."

Seeing that he could not turn Ignatios from his Christian Faith, the kadi ordered him to be hanged. He was taken to a place called Daktyloporta, where the sentence was carried out. The martyr's body remained hanging there for three days, then some pious Christians paid a ransom for it and took it to the island of Prote for burial.

St Ignatius gave his life for Christ in October, 1814. He is also commemorated on May 1 together with Sts Akakios and Euthymius.

The head of St Ignatios is in the Monastery of St Panteleimon on Mt Athos.


Saint Akakios of Neochorion in Thessaloniki (+ 1816)

The holy New Martyr Akakios was born at Neochorion, Macedonia near Thessalonica in the eighteenth century. The oldest son of Bulgarian peasants, he was named Athanasios at his baptism. When he was nine years old, his family moved to the city of Serres. Athanasius was apprenticed to a cobbler, who frequently beat him. On the night of Holy Friday, after a particularly severe beating, he wandered onto the street and two Moslem women comforted him, brought him home and fed him. Pretending sympathy, they urged him to deny Christ, the bread which came down from heaven (John 6:41). They took the boy to Yusuf Bey, who adopted him, gave him a Moslem name, and had him circumcised. He lived in that home for nine years.

At first, the wife of Yusuf Bey treated Athanasios with maternal love, but this later turned into a lustful passion. Just as the righteous Joseph (March 31) rejected the advances of Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:8-10), so did Athanasius spurn the advances of the Moslem woman. So she told her husband that Athanasius had tried to force himself on her. His Turkish father threw him out of the house, and the young man returned to Thessalonica to find his real parents. His mother told him it was too dangerous for him to stay with them, and so he went to Mt Athos.

At first he lived at the Hilandar Monastery for a while, but he spent time in other monasteries as well. He confessed his apostasy to Fr Nicholas at the Xenophontos Monastery, who read the prescribed prayers and received him back into the Church through Chrismation. Athanasios returned to Hilandar for about a year, then went to Iveron. While at the skete at Iveron he heard of Sts Euthymios and Ignatios, and desired to imitate their feat of martyrdom. He became filled with the desire to wipe out his sin by shedding his blood for Christ in the same place where he had denied Him. Athanasios revealed all this to Fr Nikephoros, who had been the spiritual Father of Sts Ignatios and Euthymios. He was placed under the direction of the monk Akakios, who was to prepare him for his difficult struggle. Athanasios spent his time in ceaseless prayer, vigil, and fasting. This, of course, aroused the hatred of the devil, who sowed the seeds of doubt and uncertainty in his soul. After thirty-five days Athanasios became faint-hearted and ran away in the middle of the night.

Athanasius went to Simonopetra Monastery, but found no peace there. He returned to Hilandar Monastery, but as a penance he had to live in the vineyard rather than in a cell. He soon became ill and was taken to Karyes, the capital of the Holy Mountain, but he refused medical treatment. Those who had brought him there were upset by this, and they said that he was neither a Christian nor a Moslem. Stung by their rebuke, Athanasius went into seclusion for forty days.

At the end of that time, Athanasius returned to Fr Nikephoros at Iveron and Elder Acacius was assigned to look after him again. He entered upon an intense program of prayer, prostrations, and vigil, and was granted the gift of tears. On the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent, seeing his repentance and progress in virtue, the Elder Acacius tonsured him with the name Akakios.

Soon he left for Constantinople with the Elder Gregory, who had also accompanied Sts Ignatios and Euthymios on their way to martyrdom. They left Mt Athos on a ship, arriving in Constantinople thirteen days later. On April 22, St Akakios received Holy Communion at a church in Galata, then returned to the ship. He changed into Moslem clothing and went with Fr Gregory to the Porte, where a doorkeeper asked them what they wanted.

St Akakios related his story, saying that he had been deceived into renouncing Christianity and accepting Islam, but now he had come to his senses. Denouncing Mohammed as a false prophet, he loudly proclaimed that he was a Christian. Then he threw his turban on the floor, trampled it under his feet, and spit on it.

St Akakios was seized, beaten, and thrown into prison. That night he was promised wealth and high position if he would return to Islam. When he refused, they began to beat him again.

The next day, St Akakios was brought before the vizier and repeated his story, then was returned to prison. Fr Gregory was able to send a messenger to bring Acacius a pyx containing the Holy Gifts, and he partook of the life-giving Mysteries of Christ.

Soon after this, the holy martyr was led to a place called Parmak Kapi, where he was beheaded. St Akakios gave his life for Christ on May 1, 1816 at six o'clock in the evening. Some pious Christians ransomed the saint's body from the Turks, and Fr Gregory brought it back to Mt Athos. The holy relics were brought to Iveron and buried in a church dedicated to Sts Ignatios and Euthymios.

Although some sources give the year of the saint's martyrdom as 1815, there is a letter from St Akakios to a certain spiritual Father on Mount Athos dated April 27, 1816 which states that he is on his way to martyrdom. Thus, the year is 1816.

The heads of Sts Akakios, Euthymios, and Ignatios are in the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon on the Holy Mountain.


Apolytikion in the First Tone

Equal in number with the uncreated Trin­ity, O wise ones, with the choirs of angels and the ranks of martyrs ye stand, rejoicing, before the throne of the Godhead; wherefore, receiving effulgence from thence through communion, ye impart to the faithful a well-spring of healings and divine enlightenment. O Euthymios, mar­tyr of Christ, wise Ignatios and godly Akakios, pray ye ever in our behalf.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone

The new celebration of the three passion-bearers hath today been shown forth to the Church, illumining the fullness of the Orthodox like beacons, O Christ.


All those living in asceticism on Athos, come gather in the holy Skete of the Forerunner, and together let us witness strange wonders worked through divine power. We find there three new Venerable Martyrs, Euthymios, Ignatios and Akakios, who denied Christ the Savior of all at a point in their lives (flee from this!), but later gave themselves up in asceticism, in the city of Constantine, bearing palms and branches as the former Three Youths of Abraham, and fought the error. They despised the false prophet and antichrist from Hagar, and strengthened and confirmed the Orthodox Faith with their own blood, proclaiming Christ the Savior to be God and man. And having passed the deep pit unharmed, this holy church has inherited their very tombs, and the treasury of their relics, which ever pour forth healings to those who approach in faith, illuminating the fullness of the Orthodox.

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