By Nikos Chiladakis
In central Asia Minor in the region of Sebastea which was called Divrigi there was a large a population of Christians that settled around the great religious center and majestic Church of the Archangel Michael, famous and known for its therapeutic holy water.
As the Synaxarion tells us concerning the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, there once lived in Constantinople a great ruler named Studios. He became ill and was in danger of dying and there was no physician who could cure him.
While he was sick someone named Gouleon came to Constantinople from Germia to visit him. Gouleon told him that in Germia there was a holy spring named after the Holy General Michael and that people would go there to be cured of any type of illness.
Treatment would take place in the following manner: In the water of the holy spring there were small fish that licked the body of the person who was ill and miraculously the person would be healed. When Studios heard this he believed that God could help him and that he could be cured. Therefore he went, together with many others who were ill, overflowing with faith. As soon as he entered the holy spring he was immediately made well, and not only him but also everyone else who was ill that entered with faith and hope.
When the ruler Studios saw so many miracles, he was moved by these supernatural results, and spending most of his property he built out of gratitude and reverence a large church. He gave a large amount of money to the church and every day when someone came who was ill with faith they would be healed. Many blind people were given their sight even in the last years of their lives and the lame walked due to the grace of the holy spring of the Archangel Michael.
In this region there was built a resplendent church to Saint Michael and it was a dominating feature of central Asia Minor, and it was also a place of pilgrimage for people coming from other regions. The veneration of the Archangel thrived to such a large degree not only in the region of Sebastea, but in other places of Asia Minor as well (such as Chonae), to the point that many historians of the time (such as Theodoret of Cyrus) spoke about angel worship spreading throughout Asia Minor.
Unfortunately this church was destroyed in around the eleventh century, when the region gradually began to become Muslim. But because the inhabitants were Christians for centuries and the Greco-Roman Christian mindset was implanted within them, the Islamization was purely superficial.
This is how this region became the center of the Alevi, namely the Muslim heresy that many ascribe to the Greek Orthodox tradition of Asia Minor and until today there are strong roots from this Greek Orthodox tradition, such as their keeping of the institution of going to confession and a form of communion with water and cheese.
The Alevi constitute a clearly separate branch of Islam that never had good relations with "orthodox" Islam. Till today Sebastea is the center of the Alevi and, according to official statistics, around 80% of the population of the region today follows Alevite doctrines and firmly resists Islamization. This situation often creates major problems in the Turkish Islamic establishment.
The events of 1993 are known, when on July 2nd at the Madimak Hotel in Sivas (Sebastea) there gathered a large Alevite intelligentsia of Turkey for an important conference led by the largest institution of Alevites in Turkey, the Pir Sultan Abdal Culture Society. Among them was the known Turkish writer Aziz Nesin, as well as the known Turkish composer Zulfu Livaneli. This provoked a reaction from the Grey Wolves who organized a protest outside the hotel and they torched it, resulting in tragic the deaths of dozens of Alevis. The overall result was 51 dead and dozens wounded and there were complaints made of the stance of the police and firefighters, who deliberately took their time to intervene and consequently increased the number of victims in the tragedy. Since then July 2nd has been established by the Alevis of Turkey as a day of remembrance for the victims of Madimak and every year on that day a large demonstration is organized with marches in Sivas in remembrance of the tragic victims of Muslim fanaticism.
The actual location of the Church of the Archangel Michael and the miraculous holy water, after the Ottoman conquest, remained in obscurity for centuries and it was unknown, covered by hundreds of reeds that flooded this watery region.
Yet a great miracle took place in 1917 when the holy spring came back in the news. A peasant hunter who hunted in the area near the trough with the fish and the miraculous spring was injured and, having uncovered through the reeds of the trough the warm sanctified water he went to wash his wound. In astonishment he saw small fish approach him and they began to gently lick his wounds, which very quickly after this surgery of the small fish his wound closed in a miraculous manner to the great astonishment of the simple peasant. From that time other peasants of the surrounding region began visiting the trough with the holy spring to examine it and be healed of their wounds. The miraculous and sanctified fish once again resumed their holy therapy and their miracles.
It took a few decades for the work of the fish to begin to become more widely known. Thus for the first time in 1961 the local administration of Sivas became officially interested. Having examined the trough and small fish, they built the first accommodation for the sick who would come to be treated in the water of the holy spring of the Archangel Michael.
In 1983 a Turkish journalist published a revealing report on the trough with the miraculous fish and what was happening became more widely known throughout Turkey.
Since then, and especially since 1988, the Turkish state has decided to take advantage of this miraculous holy water. They began to build the first large hotel establishments that received the sick from throughout Turkey, who had come to swim in the miraculous holy water of the Archangel Michael and many illnesses were healed, such as arthritis, skin diseases, psoriasis, various myopathies and muscular pains, gynecological diseases, intestinal issues, blood diseases, and even psychosomatic disorders and many other diseases, slowly causing international interest. Turkish tour guides even began to call the fish "fish doctors". The healings take place, as the Turks say, by the sick entering the tanks that have now multiplied and immediately the small fish approach, which until now they were unable to explain where they came from. The fish begin to lick and bite them gently. The bite causes the treatment of the disease.
The healing properties of this miraculous holy water that has been awakened again after so many centuries, have begun to become known abroad also and in recent years there have come Germans, Russians, Ukrainians and others who suffer from various incurable diseases, and there in the trough that has been sanctified by the Archangel Michael himself they find their healing. Of course, the Turks in their brochures do not refer to the miraculous origin of these small fish, but history does not forget that this place is a sanctified place of pilgrimage for many centuries of Greek Orthodox Christians who resided in central Asia Minor, and it was for them that the Archangel Michael sanctified it.
In recent years they have built large hotels in the area around the sanctified tanks with the miraculous "fish doctors", making the region a center of Turkish therapeutic thermal tourism, and all this from the trough of the Archangel Michael and his holy water.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.